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Years after leaving war behind, Ami Lehem can’t shake the shadow of death.

When a meteor strike kills her husband and renders the planet Dibon uninhabitable, she vows to bring her mother-in-law Mara home to Melas. After a harrowing journey across the galaxy, Ami and Mara find hope in a new life. But even in a new place, they can’t seem to bury their past. For when she finds work on Melas, Ami recognizes a familiar face, a mysterious man named Bo who shared their journey. As they become closer, Ami discovers nothing on Melas is what it seems … including Bo. When her former commanding officer makes terrible accusations against her new love, Ami is torn between duty and hope. Ami must find truth within a web of lies, and one wrong move can send her back into the never-ending cycle of war she tried so hard to escape.

Worship Resources for December 3, 2023—First Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Narrative Lectionary: Promise of the Messiah, Jeremiah 33: (10-11), 14-18 (Mark 8:27-29)

Note: in the liturgical resources I am now including a brief Prayer of Invocation after the Call to Worship.

We begin the season of Advent with the cry from Third Isaiah, if only God would tear open the heavens and come down! In Isaiah 64:1-9, the people have returned from exile, but are going back to their old ways. The prophet recalls God’s deeds of power and how other nations trembled in awe and fear. Now, the people are turning away from God because they do not perceive God’s presence among them. The prophet prays for God to remember that these are all God’s people, and God is the one who can mold and shape them.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 is a plea to God to hear the people’s prayers, though the people have gone astray. The psalmist petitions God to deliver the people and to remind God that these are God’s people. The psalmist uses imagery of the divine throne room, showing the people participating in worship that God is the one with the power to save. The psalmist directs their complaint to God and prays for God to save the people from their neighbors and enemies. In response, the people will turn their hearts and minds back to God, so they might be restored.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 contains the opening to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, a message of thanksgiving for the people and how their lives have been transformed by Christ. While this was a church that experienced great conflict, in this opening section Paul offers a blessing because of God’s faithfulness. Paul knows that though they struggle with understanding the diversity of spiritual gifts, they have also been blessed by them and are stronger together because of their gifts. The church was called together in the fellowship of Christ, and it is together that they wait for Christ to be revealed.

The Gospel lesson turns to Mark for year B, and to Jesus’s own speech to his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed and handed over to death. He drew upon the images found in the prophets, especially Joel, of the day of the Lord. However, there is good news for those who are faithful, they will be gathered up by the angels. Much of this passage, however, contains Jesus’s instructions on the here and now for the disciples: to stay alert and to keep watch, for the Son of Man will return at an unexpected time. All the faithful are to live as if Christ will be revealed in our world and in our lives in a new way at any moment. The focus is blurry for what is to come when the Son of Man returns; the focus is clear on how we are to live our lives right now. What is out of focus will come into view. This is the meaning of Advent: “coming into view.”

The Narrative Lectionary looks to the Promise of the Messiah in Jeremiah 33: (10-11), 14-18. In verses 10-11, Jeremiah speaks of the people’s return to the land from exile, of God’s restoration of the people, as a bridegroom and bride rejoicing. What has been made desolate in the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the city will be restored, and the people will give thanks and rejoice. In verses 14-18, Jeremiah speaks of a righteous branch that will come up from David—a king who will rule as David did, keeping God first and foremost, and the worship in the temple will resume as it once did, without interference from a king gone astray.

The supplementary verses of Mark 8:27-29 contain Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus asked the disciples who everyone said he was—a prophet, John the Baptist, or Elijah. When Jesus asked his own disciples who they thought he was, Petere boldly declared he was the Messiah.

Advent means “coming into view.” On this first Sunday, we might ask ourselves what is it that we are waiting for? What are our expectations? What have we learned in two thousand years of waiting? Perhaps our expectations need to adjust. Perhaps the Second Coming isn’t what we thought it was. Or perhaps the powerful visions that the prophets beheld of the day of the Lord and Jesus’s own words might help remind us that the Word made Flesh was as earth shattering as the sun going dark. The world turned upside down. And perhaps our expectations should be none the less: that we know God desires for the world to change, but in order for the world to change we must be transformed. Perhaps that’s the problem—we want God to tear open the heavens like God did in ancient days. We want the big flashy signs that things are going to turn. Instead, we’re supposed to be the signs for the world. We’re actually supposed to do something about it. The watching and waiting was never meant to be passive, but active. We’re supposed to turn over the tables and make room for those on the margins and center their voices. We’re the ones who are called to speak against violence and tyrants and call for the tearing down of thrones and lifting up the lowly. We’re called to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. We’ve put a lot of expectations on God to perform for our satisfaction; what expectations have we put on ourselves? How do we live with the focus in the here and now, while we wait for what is to come into view?

Call to Worship
Now is the time to wake from sleep,
Now is the time to keep watch and stay alert.
Now is the time for the bridegroom to appear,
Now is the time to prepare for Christ.
For the tables are about to turn over,
Those on the margins will be welcomed in.
The powerful will be brought down from their thrones,
The lowly raised up and the hungry filled.
Now is the time to be ready,
Now is the time God will make all things new.

Prayer of Invocation
God of signs and wonders: we hear the call from the watchtowers, we listen for the song of the young woman, we light the candles of hope. Open our hearts and minds in this time of worship to hear Your word anew; to listen for new notes in the songs of old; to prepare for Your arrival in our world and in our lives in a new way. In the name of Christ, who makes all things new, we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we are bone-tired. We are drop-down-weary. There is too much to do. The season is upon us and we want to be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love, but there is so much war and violence, so much distrust. Lines have been drawn in the sand of us verses them, instead of a wide circle that includes all Your children. We are broken and bitter. Even more locally, signs everywhere tell us to buy and consume. Remind us that You are from everlasting to everlasting. The busy-ness can wait. We don’t need all the stuff. We can love those on different sides of conflict when we see them in Your image. We can remember that in this season, we come to worship a child born under empire, under the threat of annihilation, amidst fear and sorrow and grief—a child for whom the heavenly host, the army of God, declared peace on earth, and we can believe everything is possible. Help us to hold on, and to not lose hope. Amen.

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” -Romans 5:5. Through the Holy Spirit, we have this hope that endures through everything: through life and death, heights and depths, sorrows and joys. Through the cross of Christ, we know that the worst thing we have experienced will never be the last thing. Our sorrow will turn to joy, our mourning to dancing. So, cling to hope, despite the world’s hopelessness, and be assured of God’s presence with you, now and always. Amen.

God Who Watches, in this season we often speak of watching and waiting for You, but we know deep down, You are waiting for us. You are watching and waiting for us to sing our songs of justice like Mary. You are watching and waiting for us to declare that there is a new day like Zechariah. You are watching and waiting for us to bring good news like Gabriel to those who may think they are insignificant and unworthy. You are watching and waiting for us to do our part in this incredible drama of Your kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven. We’ve delayed too long, O God. We’ve put caring for the earth off onto the next generation. We’ve put living into peace onto the shoulders of politicians. We’ve wiped our hands and believed we don’t need to do anything, but You are the one who is watching us, O God. May we repent and turn back to Your ways. May we enter this season of Advent reminded that we are the ones who must act. We are the ones who must change. We are the ones who can build up Your kin-dom. Call us out of our slumber. Call us out of our seats in the audience. Call us into action, for Your kin-dom to come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 26th, 2023—Reign of Christ Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Narrative Lectionary: Josiah’s Reform, 2 Kings 22:1-10 (11-20); 23:1-3 (Luke 24:30-32)

We have come to the end of the season after Pentecost, the pinnacle of the year as we observe Reign of Christ Sunday. Advent will lead us into a time of active watching and waiting for Christ to enter our world and lives in a new way. This Sunday is a reminder that we are always at the moment of living into Christ’s reign now, as we wait for it to manifest.

The prophet Ezekiel speaks on behalf of God to a people who have been led astray by their kings and officials and have gone into exile. God Themself will become the shepherd of the people, coming to rescue them from the places they have been taken to. God will provide for them, especially the marginalized, including those in poverty and those with disabilities, but the “fat and the strong”—the people who have taken the power and wealth—will be destroyed, because all will be fed with justice. God is the one who will judge, like a shepherd determining between sheep, and will set up a shepherd over them like David, the shepherd king.

Psalm 100 is a call to worship and song of praise, reminding the people that God is their shepherd, and they are the sheep of God’s pasture. The psalmist calls upon the whole earth to worship God. For the faithful, they are to enter the courts of the temple with thanksgiving and praise, and God’s steadfast love endures for all generations.

The second psalm selection is Psalm 95:1-7a. This first half of this psalm is a call to worship for the people to enter the temple with thanksgiving and singing. God is above all other gods and kings. God has made all of creation, including the sea and the dry land. The people are the sheep of God, whom God loves, and the psalmist calls for the people to worship and bow down.

The Epistle lesson is Ephesians 1:15-23. The writer, probably not Paul but a disciple of Paul, writes of the faithfulness of the people of Ephesus and prays that they will have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus Christ. God’s immeasurable power and greatness has been put to work in Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, who has authority over all things, and is the head of the body—the church—and the church is the fullness of Christ on earth.

The Gospel lesson culminates the season after Pentecost and the series of Jesus’s last parables and discourse with Matthew 25:31-46, in a vision of when the Son of Man comes in his glory. The Son of Man will judge between all the peoples of all the nations, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The faithful are the ones who have lived out all Christ has taught of loving one’s neighbor as themselves: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to those in need, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison. Those who refused to do these things are the ones who will be sent into eternal punishment. The judgment is harsh, but as a final parable, it summarizes everything Jesus had taught the disciples and all his followers: if you want to love God, you must love one another, especially the most vulnerable of our community, as you love yourself.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to King Josiah and his reforms in 2 Kings 22:1-20 and 23:1-3. Josiah, unlike his predecessors, followed the ways of his ancestor David, who turned to God instead of others. During his reign, a copy of the book of the Law was rediscovered, and it was read aloud to the king. In verses 11-20, the king reacts by grieving, for the people and leadership had gone so far astray from what God intended for them. Josiah sought to find what the meaning was behind the law and what God would do to them, and the prophetess Huldah was consulted. It was too late to turn the tide of events caused by the kings of the past, but for Josiah’s time, there was still hope. Because he turned back to God and repented, God would not bring about disaster during his reign; there would be peace for a time. King Josiah then directed all the people, including the prophets and priests, but all citizens of Jerusalem and Judah, to hear the words of the book of the covenant, and to make a covenant again with God.

The supplementary verses are Luke 24:30-32, which contains Jesus’s resurrection appearance on the way to Ephesus. Jesus explained the scriptures to two travelers on the way, but the travelers did not recognize him until he broke bread before them. Then they recognized their hearts had burned within them as he explained the scriptures to them.

On this Sunday, we recall that Christ is the one who reigns over us for eternity, not any worldly king or president or leadership. As we prepare to enter an election year in 2024 (in the US), perhaps this is a reminder to take a breather and remember who has eternity. Who is always rooting for us, pushing us to be better citizens of the reign of God? Jesus is calling us to love our neighbor as ourselves, especially the most vulnerable. We begin to live into God’s reign on earth when we live out those promises to the marginalized and oppressed, those living in poverty, those with disabilities, those who are immigrants and strangers, those who do not have the same privileges we do. When we see them as the presence of God among us and care for them as we care for ourselves, then we are living into Christ’s reign on earth. We pray for the day when that dividing line of death is no more, when we all recognize that eternal life has already begun here on earth. Until that day is complete, we live into Christ’s way, truth, and life as best we can.

Note: this Call to Worship was also included in last week’s resources.
Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to the Lord;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Call to Worship (Psalm 95:1-3, 6-7a)
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
And a great Ruler above all gods.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For the LORD is our God,
And we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty and Wondrous God, we confess that at times we feel powerless to do anything. There is so much war and hate right now. Though voices in media tell us there’s one side or another, we know that the true evil is those who believe that violence is the only way. We know that so well, O God, for it is the story You lived through. On the night You were betrayed, You were given over from one group to another, people clamoring for power who hated the other, and in the end, it was violence that won for a brief moment. But Your Love was victorious over violence and death, and we must hold on to that, O God. Remind us to hold on to You as our Living Hope, the One who slips through the grasp of violence and death and shows us that we all can choose another way—the way of love, compassion, justice, and peace. Help us to live into Your ways, and not the violent pull of this world. Call us to resist, O God, and in our own powerlessness and helplessness, may we rely on You as the source of our strength and courage to live into Your ways. Amen.

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We know this ancient confession in our hearts. As the seasons change, we know that life will come again out of death, that every grain that falls becomes a seed of something new. We trust this, that when daylight is fading, dawn will still come. We trust this, that when hope is failing, the living hope in Christ will bring us through. We trust in God’s undying love for us through Jesus Christ. Know that you are God’s beloved child. You are forgiven, loved, and restored, and in Christ, you are made whole and new. Amen.

Eternal Savior, there is nothing that will ever separate us from You. Even in these despairing, hopeless times, we trust in You that somehow, this will turn, this will change, this pain and suffering we are experiencing will come to an end and that You will lead us through. We hold on to the hope of new life now, that we can be Your disciples on earth and live by example for others. We pray that we can find peace in our own lives, so we can live by that peace to one another. Help us to remember that You are an eternal God, not a temporary one. What we experience and know now is temporary, but what You have shown us—Your way, Your truth, and Your life—is eternal. We cling to that hope, O Sovereign of all. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 19, 2023—Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Thanksgiving (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Judges 4:1-7 and Psalm 123; Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 and Psalm 90: 1-8 (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Thanksgiving: Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Psalm 65; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19

Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah’s Vineyard Song, Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5 (Mark 12:1-3)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, we are at the end of our journey following the ancestors of faith, from a family into a nation, from a people who wandered in the wilderness, to tribes living amongst others. In Judges 4:1-7, the people have made the same mistakes they made in the wilderness and rejected God’s ways. The tribes of Israel were facing oppression again from an enemy, this time in their new home. Once they arrived in the land promised to them, after Moses and Joshua, the people were ruled by judges who discerned what was right, and Deborah was the judge as well as a prophet of God. She instructed Barak to command the army of the Israelites as God had instructed her and proclaimed that God will deliver their enemies into their hand. Though the physical journey was complete for the people of Israel, the journey of wrestling with God would continue.

Psalm 123 is a prayer for help from God. The psalmist calls for God to have mercy on the people, because they have had enough of ridicule and scorn. The people turn and call upon God, so that God will take notice and help them.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is from the prophet Zephaniah. Like last week’s reading, the focus is on the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Zephaniah was writing during the time of King Josiah, but before he implemented his reforms. For those who are complacent, Zephaniah warns, they will lose everything. They think that God will not allow bad things to happen to them, but they also have not turned back to God’s ways. Nothing worldly will be able to save people on the day of the Lord—no money, no power or authority or security measures. The whole earth will be consumed by God’s fiery passion. We are reminded that often the use of fire in the Hebrew scriptures refers to purifying, but it doesn’t mean a lack of destruction. Everything that is against God’s reign will be burned up, and Zephaniah warns that every inhabitant of earth will come to an end. This vision, like the one Amos shared in last week’s reading, countered the common view of the prophet’s day (and perhaps our own day, in common tropes about the world’s end) that only the wicked and evil, the enemies of the people, would be destroyed.

Psalm 90 is a prayer reflecting on God’s sovereignty and humanity’s fleeting place in the universe. From before anything was created, God existed, and has always been God. Humanity’s lifespan is so short, it passes quickly, yet humanity continues to sin and turn away from God. Human life isn’t easy—it’s mostly hardship—and then we are gone. The psalmist concludes this section with a beautiful statement of treasuring our days, asking God to help us understand how fragile we are, and to count our days in order “that we may gain a wise heart.”

The Epistle reading concludes its series with 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica to be both patient and vigilant as they wait for Christ’s return, which Paul believed would happen in his lifetime. The political climate of the Roman Empire was fairly volatile, with violence from within the emperor’s family and the political machinations of those in Rome and in the Greek cities. Paul calls for the faithful to remain alert, especially in times when there seems to be peace, because everything can change quickly. They are to be awake and live not in the shadows but in the daylight, where people will see and know them by their actions and values. Paul believes that on the day of judgment, the faithful will be saved through Jesus Christ, so they need to encourage one another and build up each other in the faith.

Jesus teaches a parable commonly known as the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, a man went on a journey and summoned his servants, entrusting them each with money worth several year’s wages. The one who was entrusted with five invested it and made five, the one who was entrusted with two invested it and made two, but the one who was given one dug a hole and hid it. The story tells us that each were entrusted according to their ability. But when the owner returned, the servant who had hidden the one talent told him that he knew he was a “harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” That servant had his talent taken from him to be given to the one who made ten talents, and the servant was thrown into the outer darkness. On the surface level of the parable, it may appear to be about faithfulness during a temporary absence. How do we use what God has given us in our lifetime? Are we worried about saving our own lives, or are we participating in the reign of God here and now? One could also say the parable teaches us that if we are not willing to risk, we are bound to lose. But the parable never equates the owner with God. The parable doesn’t even begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like …” So perhaps we should not assume this is about the kingdom of heaven, but rather, it could be about what happens when you resist worldly power and authorities. It costs to resist. Can you live with integrity when you resist evil? Can you face the judgment of others when you refuse to play by the rules of the world? Others will try to play the game and make more money and move up the ladder of worldly success, but at what cost, when we fail to live into God’s ways?

The Thanksgiving readings for the Revised Common Lectionary begin with Deuteronomy 8:7-18, part of Moses’s final discourse to the people preparing to enter the promised land, as he knew he would not be going with them. Moses reminds the people that when they are in the land God has led them to, they are to remember to keep God’s commandments and teachings. They are to recognize that everything they have comes from God and that they do not have a right to wealth. Instead, all have a right to food and water as given by God, and they are to remember how God led them out of their oppression in Egypt and through the wilderness safely, giving them water in the desert and manna from heaven. God is the one who has provided and will continue to do so, if they remain faithful.

Psalm 65 is a song of praise to God, who is the “hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea.” God is the great creator who answers the prayers of the faithful, and provides for all the earth, crowning “the year with your bounty.” Pastures and wilderness, meadows and hills and valleys—the are full of God’s presence that overflows on earth.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 is part of Paul’s plea to the church in Corinth to help with the collection for the church in Jerusalem, containing mostly poor followers of Jesus. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that all blessings come from God, and that each person must discern before God what they ought to give, not out of compulsion, but out of faithfulness. God is the one who truly provides, and we proclaim the Gospel in our generosity. The church in Jerusalem has prayed for the Corinthians, because of all that God is providing, and so the church in Corinth ought to respond in faithfulness.

Luke 17:11-19 contains the story of ten lepers whom Jesus encountered between Galilee and Samaria. They kept their distance, but they asked for Jesus to have mercy upon them. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and while they were on their way, they were made clean. But only one, when he saw that he was healed, went back and thanked Jesus, and he was a Samaritan, an outsider. Jesus told him that his faith made him well. The story reminds us that often those of us on the inside forget to be in gratitude to God for all we have, and it’s often the outsiders, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the strangers, the most vulnerable—who demonstrate faithfulness in ways that we fail to do, especially in showing gratitude.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard in 5:1-7 and 11:1-5. 5:1-7 was the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the Revised Common Lectionary on October 8th). This song, or parable, speaks of God’s relationship with the people during the time of First Isaiah, and Judah was not keeping to God’s ways. God has done everything to keep the people save and to help them thrive, but they have chosen to go wild and follow other gods and live their own ways. Therefore, God will let Judah go wild. Like a vineyard that has had its hedges and walls destroyed and where weeds and brambles overgrow, so too will Judah struggle with the nations surrounding them. Because they do not stay true to God’s teachings, they will make poor political choices and violence will overtake the land, instead of justice and righteousness as God intended.

However, 11:1-5 declares that a shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse. This section is not a continuation of the vineyard, but rather a reminder that even though the legacy of David has become like a stump instead of a mighty tree, but there is hope for a new king, one who rules as David did.

The supplementary verses of Mark 12:1-3 are from Jesus’s teaching in parables, and the beginning of the parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard, and how those entrusted to care for the vineyard seized the servant of the vineyard owner and beat him and sent him away empty handed.

When we look back on our ancestors of the faith, the stories in the Hebrew scriptures and the stories of the early followers of Jesus, we see a common teaching of God’s faithfulness and that it is made known to us through the bountiful resources of our earth. Thanksgiving is not only a time of gratitude for harvest, it is a time of gratefulness for God who made the whole earth, and is a time when we ought to remember that the earth belongs to God, not to us. As this is Native American Heritage Month in the United States, we also remember that indigenous stewardship continues to this day. European colonization brought a version of Christianity that exploits the earth, its resources and its peoples, for temporary individual gain. It is the exact opposite of what scripture teaches us. It is the opposite of what indigenous people continue to teach us. Thanksgiving, perhaps, is a time to not only remove the colonial narrative of the first Thanksgiving, but the colonial mindset of how we care for the Creator’s earth. May we listen and learn, from our ancestors, and from the people who have been here long before us and continue to share in the sacred responsibility of stewardship.

Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to the Lord;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator, we confess that we have not lived into Your first instruction for us in Genesis, to care for the earth as You have cared for us. We have failed to live into our created intention, to be stewards of all our glorious creation. As we gather in this season of thanksgiving, we confess our sins. We have turned to the ways of the world and not to Your ways as passed down from our ancestors of the faith. We have turned to worldly measures of success through wealth, possessions, and notoriety, instead of living as You first desired: to care for the earth and its bounty so there will be an abundance for all. Forgive us of our sins. Call us into accountability of our own use of resources, but collectively may we hold our elected officials accountable, that they not be swayed by wealth and power of corporations that do not care for Your earth. Hold us to Your intention for us, to care for this earth as a precious gift from You, in whom we give our thanks. Amen.

Our God is a God of new beginnings. There is always a new day, a new week, a new month, a new season. There is always time to start doing the right thing. Repent, turn back to God’s ways, and live into the promises of God, for God loves you so much. Go and do the right thing by practicing justice, kindness, and humility. Amen.

Creator of the Earth, we give You thanks for all that we have. We are thankful for the beautiful earth You have given us that provides for us. We thank You for blue sky and white clouds, deep rich earth and clear water. We thank You for the bold colors of leaves in autumn, the night sky in winter dotted with stars. We thank You for the snow and ice and frost, and that it lasts only for its season, for in all seasons there is great beauty from You. We give You thanks and praise for the turning of seasons, that we can hold on, and let go, and see how You are making all things new. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 12, 2023—Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Psalm 78:1-7; Amos 5:18-24 and Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-9 (Mark 10:13-14)

In our first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of the faith from a family to a nation, from their oppression in Egypt into the wilderness, and now, into the land promised them. God made a covenant with Abraham and with Jacob, and God made a covenant with the people through Moses at Sinai. In the final weeks of our journey through these stories in this season after Pentecost, God makes a covenant with the people at Shechem, as told by Joshua. Recalling the covenant made with Abraham, Joshua gives the people a choice. They can remember how God brought them out of Egypt, or they can follow the gods of the land they currently live in. The people respond that they remember God, who brought them out of oppression and protected them from their enemies. Once again, Joshua gives the people a choice: to serve others, or to serve the God who delivered them, for God is holy, but also described as jealous. The people declare their loyalty to God, so Joshua instructs them to put away the foreign gods and idols. The people pledge themselves to serve and obey God.

Psalm 78:1-7 is the first portion of a long psalm telling of Israel’s history of rebellion, until David is king. In the first four verses, the psalmist speaks of the mystery of old, the wisdom that has been passed down from their ancestors, and that they will not hide these stories, these teachings, from the next generation. They will declare what God has done for the people. In verses five through seven, the psalmist recalls the law that was established through Moess, most likely what was given in Deuteronomy, as Moses commanded the people to teach their children so the next generation might know what God has done, and to keep God’s commandments.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures focuses on the prophet Amos, and in 5:18-24, the prophet speaks about the day of the Lord. This day of judgment of God is not what people think it is. It is not something to be desired, but a reminder that we all, the entire world, is held accountable for not living into God’s ways. God further speaks through the prophet that what God desires is not festive worship for a show—God actually despises worship that is empty—but the actual practice of justice and living into righteousness, like waters that never cease.

Psalm 70 is a prayer to God for deliverance from their enemies. The psalmist prays against those who are threatening the psalmist’s life—or at least, those who are persecuting them with ridicule. The psalmist turns to a general prayer for all who seek God, that they would rejoice and glorify God. The psalmist concludes that they have nothing to offer, but they are in need, and God is the only one who can deliver them.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Thessalonians with 4:13-18, turning to Paul’s understanding of the resurrection for those who have died while waiting for Christ’s return. Paul writes against the belief held by the Romans that there was no resurrection, but that they who are faithful in Christ believe that he rose and that those who have died will also rise. Paul held on to the hope that Christ would return in his lifetime, and that somehow all the faithful would be gathered together with Christ. The worldview of the first century was that the heavens were physically above the earth, so we have to understand Paul’s words in the context of how he understood the physical world.

Jesus returns to teaching parables in this final discourse before his betrayal in Matthew 25:1-13. In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, we often focus on the bridesmaids who were foolish and didn’t bring enough oil, but the scripture teaches us that they all fell asleep. None of them were innocent; not one of them were completely faithful. While the surface level of this parable teaches that the wise were prepared for a longer wait for the return of the bridegroom while the foolish were not, when we did deeper, we might ask why the wise didn’t think they could share with the “foolish?” Why was their salvation more important? Perhaps the lesson could be that we are all called to share, and that we are responsible for living into the Gospel with our neighbors and not focusing on only ourselves.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the prophet Hosea in 11:1-9. Hosea, like many of the other prophets, used his family life as a way of sharing God’s story. In these verses, God recalls how God’s relationship with the people of Israel was like a father and son, caring for an infant and toddler, but that the child has grown up and rebelled against the father. At first, God declares that the people will get what they deserve: if they go after idols, they might as well go back to their oppression in Egypt. If they turn to the political power of Assyria, then they will go into exile in Assyria. The people seem bent on rebelling, the way a child might rebel against their parent. Yet God loves the people so much God cannot give them up. God cannot allow them to be completely destroyed. God vows at the end of verse nine not to come in wrath against the people.

The supplementary verses of Mark 10:13-14 contain Jesus’s blessing of the children, as people were bringing children to him, but the disciples were stern with the parents. Jesus told the disciples not to stop them but to let the children come to him, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those like them.

As we near the end of the season after Pentecost we are approaching Reign of Christ Sunday (November 26 this year). We begin reading these passages that point to the day of the Lord and to Christ’s return, though we know now our worldview is different than the worldview of the first century. How do these passages still speak to us today? What can they teach us about faithfully waiting for God, who is also actively at work in our world and in us? What does the return of Christ mean (perhaps it isn’t what we read about in popular literature?) What if it is more important to use the time given to us, now, to live into God’s ways of justice and righteousness?

Call to Worship
We know not the day or the hour,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
We know not when our own time will come,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
The prophets have taught us to do justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly with God,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
Wisdom continues to teach us to listen, and learn, and live,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
We join together to praise and worship our God,
For Christ is at work in our world and in us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we recall our ancestors of the faith, their faithfulness and their mistakes. We know that our own lives have failed to measure up. We have been swayed by the ways of this world to seek our own gain, our own safety and security and welfare, and have neglected the most vulnerable among us. In a world that is so broken right now, help us, O God, to become menders. Forgive us of our short-sightedness and selfishness and remind us to help one another. Remind us to pause and stop for the ones in need who cross our path. Call us into Your ways of justice and righteousness to make changes in our communities that will bring in the marginalized and lift up the downtrodden. Call us into Your glorious work of kin-dom building. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life so we might all have life now, we pray. Amen.

Therefore encourage one another with these words: God loves you so much. God’s love is made known to us in Jesus Christ and is a love that can never be taken from us and can never die. You are God’s beloved child, and every time you say yes to God, God is well-pleased with you. Say yes to God right now. Live into God’s ways of love, justice, and mercy, and know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

Holy One, as we lean deep into this season, knowing that the year is drawing soon to a close, we pause and give thanks for all You have done for us. You have brought us through hardship and loss. You have brought us through cold and warmth. You have brought us through brokenness and healing. We are not fully restored, but we feel Your healing work in us. As the season is about to turn again soon, we pause and give thanks that You are a God that is forever turning us to look at things in a new way, to view our world at a new angle, to open our hearts more deeply to Your love than we thought possible. We bring our brokenness, our messiness, to You, and know that You will turn our mourning into dancing, our sorrow into joy, even if we cannot feel it yet. We give thanks for all You have done, and all You will do. Amen.

New Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy for 2023 and 12 Days of Christmas!

New for 2023:

Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy:

Advent Candle Lighting 2023 Year B (PDF)

Advent Candle Lighting 2023 Year B (DOCX)

12 Days of Christmas Calendar

12 Days of Christmas 2023

You can find archives of other resources for Advent and Christmas under Special Resources.

Worship Resources for November 5th, 2023—Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, All Saints Day

Revised Common Lectionary:
All Saints Day: Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 3:7-17 and Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; Micah 3:5-12 and Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Elijah at Mt. Carmel, 1 Kings 18: (17-19) 20-39 (Mark 9:2-4)

All Saints Day is November 1, commonly observed on the first Sunday in November in many Protestant churches. The readings begin with the vision John of Patmos beheld of the heavenly throne room, in which the faithful who have come through “the great ordeal,” who have suffered because of their faith in Christ. They will find comfort, peace, and life in God, as they join together to praise God, from every tribe, nation, and language.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 is a song of praise for God’s deliverance. In the first three verses, the psalmist leads the people into worship and praise of God. In verses 4-6, the psalmist testifies to God’s answer and deliverance and God’s saving power. Verse 7 declares that God is with those who are in awe of God, and God protects them. Verses 8-10 remind the people that when they are faithful, they will know God’s goodness and provision. Verse 22 concludes that those who turn to God will be acquitted of wrongdoing.

1 John 3:1-3 reminds the readers that the faithful in Christ are children of God. However, the children of God will become something more, something yet to be revealed, but we have a glimpse in Christ, that we will be like Christ. So we must become Christ-like.

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day is the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12. Jesus shared blessings in verses 3-11 to those who usually did not receive good news: the poor in spirit (Luke’s account just uses the descriptor “poor”), those who are grieving, those who are powerless, those who strive for righteousness and justice, those who are kind and compassionate, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. Jesus concludes this section with a blessing for those who experience gossip and slander and persecution against them because they follow Jesus. Their reward, as for all those who has listed, will be great in God’s reign, and their experience is the same as the prophets who came before them.

For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the ancestors of our faith from Abraham and Sarah and their family into a nation that was liberated by God and wandered in the wilderness. Now, the people arrive at the land promised and cross the Jordan river. God speaks to Joshua, now the leader of Israel after Moses, and twelve are chosen to represent the tribes and to carry the ark of God across the river on dry ground. Similar to passing through the Red Sea from their enslavement to freedom, the people now pass from wilderness into homeland. Some words of caution for preaching this passage today, in light of the situation in Israel and Gaza: this is a complicated text. The passage in verse 10 speaks of the living God driving out the peoples in the land before them. This has far too often been used, by Christians, to justify what has happened in the Middle East. Rather, the focus ought to be on the living God being present: for we know the living God is the God of all people, a God who is active in the world, ever-expanding our limited understanding of who we are. This living God was the same God who was always with the Israelites and would continue to be with them even among other peoples.

Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving for what God has done for the people throughout history. Verses 1-7, 33-37 sing of God bringing in the people who have been scattered, leading them in straight paths, providing for those who hunger and thirst. Whether coming out of captivity in Babylon or coming out of oppression in Egypt, the song sings of what God has done and continues to do for the people.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Micah 3:5-12. A prophetic warning against the abuse of power, Micah speaks on behalf of God to prophets who proclaim peace when they profit from it, and war when they do not. Micah on the other hand, is “filled with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might” (vs. 8) and calls out the political leaders, priests, and prophets, and pronounces judgment on Jerusalem, the seat of political and religious power. Another word of caution preaching this passage, that Christians not be too hasty to point the finger in the current turmoil in Israel and Gaza, without reading this in the context of Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Psalm 43 is a plea to God for vindication. Most scholars believe it is the final stanza of Psalm 42, and the psalmist believes they are innocent and calls upon God to keep them from injustice. The psalmist cries out to God to send out God’s light and truth, but they rest assured knowing that God will justify them, and they know they can place their trust in God.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Thessalonians with 2:9-13. Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica of his witness to them before and his conduct as an example of encouragement in the faith, as a parent with children. Paul gives thanks that the Thessalonians accepted what Paul shared not as his own word but as from God, and that word is at work in them.

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 23:1-12 contains the beginning of Jesus’s final discourse to his disciples in Matthew’s account. In chapter 22, after a series of parables, Jesus was challenged by others—Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees. Now, Jesus turns to the crowds and his disciples to teach them directly and denounces some of the religious leaders of his day, among the Pharisees and scribes, for the hypocrisy he sees. Jesus calls out some of their behavior of showing off religiosity without living out the teachings they espouse. Jesus instructs the crowds and his disciples to listen to their teachings, but they do not practice as they do. Instead, they ought to see each other as equals, students with one teacher, children with one heavenly parent/Father, and they are to be humble and servants of each other.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the prophet Elijah at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. In verses 17-19, Ahab confronts Elijah as a troublemaker, but Elijah calls out Ahab for his unjust practices and following the Baals instead of God. Elijah instructs Ahab to have the priests of Baal meet him at Mount Carmel. In verses 20-39, all the Israelites joined the prophets at Mount Carmel while Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal and Elijah both set altars for sacrifice. When the prophets of Baal called for fire, nothing happened. Elijah built an altar with twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and had the wood for the offering soaked with water several times. When Elijah called upon the God of his ancestors, and fire came down, burning everything up, so there was no water left.

The supplementary verses of Mark 9:2-4 contain the beginning of the Transfiguration, when Jesus went up the mountain with three of his disciples and was transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him.

Again, a word of caution preaching from Revised Common Lectionary passages, even the Gospel lesson, as it can be taken in supersessionist ways. We must always look into the political, cultural, and historical contexts of these texts. We must always look for the message that was for the people who heard these passages in their time, and whether that is an appropriate message for us today, or whether God might be saying something new to us in those old stories. How do we live in lands where there were other peoples before us? How do we acknowledge and honor the people we live among today? How do we live faithfully to Christ when the words of Christ have been used in harmful, horrific ways to proselytize, colonize, and justify genocide? What can we do for the work of reparation, restoration, and reconciliation, if possible, with others? How do we avoid our own hypocrisy that Jesus warned against?

Call to Worship (1 John 3:1-2)
See what love the Father has given us,
That we should be called children of God.
The reason the world does not know us
Is that the world did not know God.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
What we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: when God is revealed,
We will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as he is.
Come, worship God, in spirit and in truth,
For we are God’s children.

Alternative Call to Worship (Psalm 34:1-3, 8)
I will bless the Lord at all times,
God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord,
Let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt God’s name together.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
Happy are those who take refuge in God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God of our Ancestors, we confess that we have failed to see one another as siblings, as Your children. We Christians have perpetuated division through stereotypes, prejudice, and hate. We have practiced supersessionism and harmed our Jewish neighbors. We have been ignorant of colonizing practices and Western supremacy and harmed our Muslim neighbors. We have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. As we ask for forgiveness, O God, we also ask for guidance on how we hold ourselves accountable. We pray for Your wisdom and insight in how we enter the hard work of reparation, reconciliation, and restoration. Lead us in Your ways of justice and mercy, in listening and understanding. Amen.

God made us, God knows us, and still, God loves us. God knows that we are capable of correction and transformation. God knows we can do the hard work together. God knows we have the capacity to love and grow and change, even the people we think are incapable of it. Know that when you turn back to God, you are forgiven, and you have been empowered to go and serve one another, forgive one another, and love one another. Go with this good news. Amen.

Teacher Jesus, we pray for Your instruction to be written in our hearts. We pray that we might practice what You taught us, every day, so that we learn it by heart. Not the verses of old, but the teachings You continue to instill in us: the practice of loving our neighbor as ourselves, the homework of justice, the exercises of peacemaking. Teach us how to open our hearts wider and embrace one another, with our differences. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Prayer for All Saints Day
Living God of our Ancestors, on this day we give You thanks for all who have gone before us, for the ancestors who gather at the table that has been prepared. We thank You for their example and witness. Help us to learn from our ancestors, to recall what they have learned by experience and knowledge, and to learn from their mistakes. Help us not to repeat them, but to grow from them so we may teach the next generation to live anew. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 29th, 2023—Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Worship Resources for October 29th, 2023—Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Narrative Lectionary: Kingdom Divided, 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29 (Mark 10:42-45)

We are drawing to a close in this liturgical year and we are nearing the end of our journey with the ancestors of our faith in the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 contains the story of Moses’s death and God’s continued promise. God showed Moses all the land that had been promised to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah long ago, and although Moses would not set foot in it, God allows him a glimpse before his death. Moses died in Moab and was buried, and the Israelites mourned him for thirty days. Previously, Moses had laid his hands upon Joshua, and Joshua had the spirit of wisdom Moses had. The people turned to follow Joshua, but there would never be another like Moses.

Psalm 90 is a prayer to God who is present throughout the generations, and the only psalm attributed to Moses. In verses 1-6, God was present before there was anything, and instead of a physical place, the psalmist views God as the people’s true home. For a wandering people with a promise of a homeland, how do you find home when you won’t see it? Know that home is wherever God is, and God is with you. Time for mortals is brief, but chronological time is nothing to God. Verses 13-17 turns to a plea for help, for God to have compassion on the people who have suffered. The psalmist calls upon God to make God’s works known to the people, and for the people’s work to have meaning and value.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18. In this part of the law, God told Moses that the people of Israel were to be holy because God is holy. Verses 15-18 are a reminder of how the people are to live among their neighbors, ending with “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The very first psalm in the book of Psalms is a reminder that for those who seek wisdom, they are like a tree planted by a stream of water who bear fruit and never wither. They are strong in the law of the Lord, which they meditate on day and night and ignore the voices of evil. The wicked, unfortunately, are like chaff blown away, with no roots. The righteous are the ones who are in the congregation and remain firm in righteousness, for they are faithful to God.

The Epistle reading continues the series in 1 Thessalonians with 2:1-8. Paul speaks of the deep care he and his companions have for the church in Thessalonica and contrasts that to an incident in Philippi where he and his companions were not treated well. Most scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is earlier than the letter to the Philippians and refers to something not addressed in that letter. In spite of how they were treated, Paul and others had the courage to share the gospel, and they did this not for their own gain but to please God. The Thessalonians have become dear to Paul, like a nurse caring for the children in her charge.

Jesus continues to be challenged in the temple in Matthew 22:34-46. In last week’s reading, Jesus was challenged by the Herodians on paying taxes. The lectionary skips over Jesus’s challenge by the Sadducees on the resurrection, and now he is questioned by some Pharisees over which commandment is the greatest. This is different than Mark’s account, in which a scribe asks this question but in curiosity because Jesus answered the others well. Debates were how rabbis taught and learned from each other, and while Matthew makes these different groups opposed to Jesus, it is possible, like in Marks’ account, they were not all opposed but curious. Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Then Jesus replies with a question of who the Messiah is by quoting Psalm 110:1, that the Messiah is not David’s son, but God’s son, since fathers would never address their own son as “Lord.” Jesus uses both the question about the greatest commandment and his own question on who is the Messiah’s son as a way to demonstrate his authority.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the divided kingdom in 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29. When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam went to Shechem to be made king, but he listened to the advisors he chose instead of his father’s advisors when the people complained, and he added on more taxes and forced labor. Jeroboam, who had previously rebelled against Solomon led the people to challenge Rehoboam’s orders, but Rehoboam refused to listen, and the people went to war. Rehoboam ruled in Jerusalem, but the tribes outside of Judah turned to Jeroboam, who made two calves for the people to worship in Shechem in Ephraim. Since the temple of God was in Jerusalem, Jeroboam turned away from the God of Israel.

The supplementary verses of Mark 10:42-45, in which Jesus instructs the disciples after James and John had asked to sit at his right and left hand in glory. The other disciples were angry, but Jesus told them not to be like the Gentiles who lord it over each other, but that they are to serve one another, to become last of all and servant of all, as Jesus came to serve and to give his life as a ransom.

Care, humility, and love go together. Moses cared about the people and the people cared for him, even though they were at odds at times, and the people wept when he died. Paul cared about new Christians and the early churches, like a nurse cares for her children. Paul didn’t just share the Gospel to spread the word of Jesus and definitely did not do so to puff himself up, but because he genuinely cared about these early converts. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam suffered from pride and power. Though the people thought of the Messiah as David’s son, a mighty warrior in his line, Jesus thought of the Messiah as the Son of God, not one who would come on a war horse to save the people, but one who came to give his life and to serve. Jesus deeply loved the disciples, had compassion for the people, such as the thousands that gathered once to hear him and were fed bread and fish. Jesus cared about the nobodies—the little girl that died, the Syrophoenician woman and her child who were ignored by others (and even by Jesus himself at first), the woman who bled for twelve years, and so on. We know the love we have is genuine when we are filled with deep compassion for those around us who are most vulnerable. In this time of heightened conflict and war, ethnic tensions in Azerbaijan, India, and Israel/Palestine, may we be moved from a place of deep compassion to embrace others, rather than hard lines. May our words for justice always be rooted in compassion and humility.

(I invite you to take your time and breathe at the commas for this Call to Worship)

Call to Worship
Take a deep breath, and breathe in God’s spirit,
We breathe out, knowing that God is always present with us.
Take a deep breath, and know God’ solve,
We breathe out, sharing God’s love with one another.
Take a deep breath, and know God’s joy,
We breathe out, rejoicing in God our Savior.
Take a deep breath, and be full of compassion for God’s people,
We breathe out, ready to worship our God, and follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, we confess that we are quick to judge and move to judgment at breakneck speed. We do not slow down to consider another point of view or give pause to allow compassion to open our hearts. We want to do right and to be right, sometimes at a cost. Remind us of how deeply You love us, how Your Son bent down to draw in the dirt before the crowd that wanted to condemn another. Call us into that same sacred pause, to remember that we are all human beings, all made in Your image, all Your children. May we withdraw our sharp words and judgments and instead break open our hearts for compassionate, deep listening to one another. In the name of Christ, who in all humility laid down his life for each of us, that we might have abundant life full of pauses, full of compassion, full of love, we pray. Amen.

You are precious to God, so loved and so worthy of love. I know you may not feel it all the time, but it is true: God loves you madly. God’s love is written inside your heart and can never be removed, never changed, never diminished. Know this, in your heart of hearts, that you are made in God’s image and that image is love. Go share that love with the world. Amen.

Great God, You are with us even in the shadows and bleakness, among the haunts and spooks. There is no place where You can’t be found. There is nothing we have to fear in You. We call upon You to draw close when we are in shadow, when it is difficult to find light. Help us to know You are always near. Guide us through the valley of the shadow with Your rod and staff before us, comforting us, until we come to the table You have prepared for us. But even when our hope seems lost, may we know You never leave us, and will always hold us fast. Amen.

Worship Resource for October 22, 2023—Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99; Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9 (10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Narrative Lectionary: David Anointed King, 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150 (Mark 11:8-10)

In the first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of our faith from a family to a nation. In last week’s selection, the people of Israel came to Aaron demanding that he make gods for them because Moses was gone for too long, and God became angry with the people, threatening to destroy them and make a nation out of Moses until Moses interceded. At the beginning of chapter 33, God has decided not to destroy the people, but will no longer go with them to the land promised them. I wrote in Judson’s Journeys for October 22 the following about this passage, where Moses tries to convince God that these are indeed God’s people:

There’s sort of a humorous understanding to this exchange, sort of like a child with an adult. Moses still tried to get God to be with the people, to be fully present, but God keeps distance. God dodges most of Moses’s questions and responding with answers that are not fully satisfying to the demanding and inquisitive Moses. Moses continually asks, “Have I found favor in your sight?” Is there anything Moses has done wrong so far? God knows Moses followed everything God said. Even intervening on behalf of the people was the right thing to do, because they are God’s people, and God cannot abandon them. How will God’s people know who God is, and how will the world know that these people are God’s people, unless God journeys with them?

What we experience in these verses is Moses’s perseverance and insistence that God is the God of the people, and that he was called by this same God at the burning bush to deliver the people from their oppression in Egypt. Nonetheless, we also experience God as one who cannot be manipulated or fit into the mold of humanity. God will be gracious to those whom God desires to be and show mercy to those God desires to show mercy (33:19). God will not do what Moses wants simply because Moses wants it. However, God will pass by, because God knows this is the best way for Moses to trust and understand. God remains sovereign (and part of God’s sovereignty is that we humans cannot comprehend all of God) and in close relationship with Moses.

Psalm 99 is a song that praises God as the one who reigns over God’s faithful people. God is the one who loves justice and establishes equity, and the psalmist calls upon the people to worship God. The song lifts up Moses and Aaron as God’s priests, along with Samuel, as those who called upon God and God answered. God held them accountable for when they went wrong, but also forgave them. The psalmist concludes with another call to worship God, for God is holy.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 45:1-7. This portion of Second Isaiah speaks of Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who’s coming into power made possible the return of the exiles from Babylon. However, Isaiah makes it clear through God’s voice that it is God who has prepared the way, who had led Cyrus by the hand, and no other gods. It is God who directs the steps, who leads the people.

Psalm 96:1-9 is a call to worship praising God for all of God’s wonderful deeds. God is not only above other gods, but all other gods are idols—only the same God of the faithful people made the heavens and earth. The psalmist gives liturgical instructions in calling the people to worship God and to bring their offering as they enter the courts of the temple, and all the earth shall tremble in response. In verses 10-13, the psalmist reminds the people that God is sovereign over all nations, and God judges with equity. The psalmist continues this great call to worship by calling all of creation to join in, for God will judge the people and the earth with truth and justice.

The Epistle reading turns to its final series this season after Pentecost in 1 Thessalonians, which many scholars believe is one of the earliest letters of Paul (it may be the earliest we have in our Bible). We begin with the introduction in 1:1-10, of Paul and his companions, Silvanus and Timothy, writing to the church in Thessalonica. Paul gives thanks for the church’s faithfulness, because they not only received the Gospel by word, but the Holy Spirit has been manifest in the church’s reputation. In spite of being persecuted, they became an example to all believers in neighboring regions. Word has made it back to Paul that the Thessalonians turned from idols and have served God faithfully, while waiting for Jesus to return.

The Gospel lesson takes a break from the parables of Jesus and turns instead to a time when some of those opposed to Jesus tried to trap him with a series of questions. In Matthew 22:15-22, some of the Pharisees got together with some of the Herodians—two groups that would normally be opposed—and asked Jesus about whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not. If Jesus said no, the Herodians, the family of Herod that was in power as a puppet government under the Roman Empire, would have proof that Jesus was a political revolutionary. If Jesus said yes, it would make the crowds upset with him. Instead, Jesus offers another way, to give what belongs to the Emperor and to give what belongs to God—recognizing that if everything comes from God, this question should not matter, for God is the ultimate authority.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of David anointed as king over Israel. In 2 Samuel 5:1-5 David, thirty years old at the time, was anointed king over all the tribes at Hebron. Though Saul had been their king, the leaders of the tribes had looked to David as their war hero who brought them victory. In 6:1-5, the ark of the covenant was brough to Jerusalem, signifying David as not only the war king but God’s anointed king, as David recaptured the ark from the Philistines.

Psalm 150 is a song of praise to God, calling all the people to praise God in the sanctuary, for all God’s mighty acts, and with all instruments and dance. Every living thing is called to praise the Lord.

The supplementary verses of Mark 11:8-10 contain the praise of the people when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The people spread their clothes along with cut branches on the road before Jesus and called out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” quoting Psalm 118, a song of praise before entering the temple, and also shouting, “Blessing on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,” a longing for the restoration of David’s throne while under the oppression of the Roman Empire.

We human beings are fickle. We try to make our own way instead of fully trusting in God’s ways. Paul praised the church in Thessalonica for, despite persecution, they had remained faithful, and the word of their faithfulness had spread to other churches. Jesus tried to show those questioning him, along with the crowds that were curious as to who Jesus was or what he was about, that the key was looking to God as sovereign over all. When we look to God’s ways and live into them, the questions about how we ought to live become clear: do what we can to bring about God’s beloved community, and not get caught up in the rest of it. Isaiah reminded the people that even if their liberation came from another worldly power, it was still God at work because God is always involved in the liberation of the people. The good things of this world always come from God, whether it be the resources we share as communities from paying taxes for things like schools, libraries, roads and fire departments, or whether it be a voice from another land that leads the way for justice. Moses reminds us that it is okay to argue with God, too.

When we lament why God isn’t more noticeably at work around us, God’s presence will be made known. We can trust in God and lament. Right now, in our desperate, violent world, we must cry out. The horrific violence experienced in Israel and Gaza calls for our collective lament. It calls for us to ask why, God, and where are You? It calls for us to demand justice and pray and work for peace. It calls us to not dismiss our neighbor. It calls us to look to the pain of people marginalized for different reasons, and how we can respond not from our pain but from the collective grief, and cling to any shred of hope that somehow, God will hear us, but maybe even more importantly, that we will hear each other.

Call to Worship (Psalm 96:1-4)
O sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless God’s name;
Tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Declare God’s glory among the nations,
God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
God is to be revered above all idols of the world.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Lord, Lord! We cry out to You, confessing that we have given into the ways of this world. We have allowed anger to fester into rage, distrust into hate, hopelessness into utter despair. We have given up on others. We have dehumanized those we do not understand and rationalized violence. We remember the prophet Habakkuk, who lamented the violence he witnessed, and still believed there was time for a vision, time enough to write something down, however, brief, that a runner could read it. There is still time for a vision of hope, O God. Something small that can change the world. If we can love one another, see one another as Your beloved children. If we can hear the cries of Your children’s prayers. If we can believe there must be something more for the children of today, we can live into hope for their tomorrow. Lord, Lord! Hear our prayers. Hear our laments. Hear our calls for justice. In the name of Christ, who called out from the cross asking why You had forsaken him, we pray, knowing Your answer is life. Your answer is hope. Your answer is love. Amen and Amen.

When Moses asked God how he could know if he had found favor in God’s sight, God responded in Exodus 33:17, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” God knows us by name. God knows our hearts. God knows how they break from the pain of the world, and how they can break open for each other. Allow your heart to be broken open by God, to God, and to God’s people, who are all created in God’s image that live upon this one planet we share. God will do the very thing we ask if we see one another as God’s children. God will restore us, forgive us, heal us, and set us out to share the good news of God’s love. In Jesus’s name, go in peace. Amen.

God of compassion and mercy, it is far too easy to give up, and even easier to fake it until we might make it. Help us not hold on to false hopes, fake cheeriness, cheesy-Jesus-joy that makes other people sick to their stomach. Help us to find that true joy in You, that we are made by You for love in this world. Help us to trust in You so that we do not give up in the pursuit of justice, in the practice of mercy, in our love for one another. We know in the end, only love has saved us, and only love will lead us forward. Help us to love. Call us to love. Guide us in Your ways of love, that also hold us accountable when we have gone wrong, to do the work of reparation and restoration in this world. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 15, 2023—Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Narrative Lectionary: Ruth, 1:1-17 (4:13-17), (Mark 3:33-35)

We have followed the ancestors of the faith, from a family to a nation, in the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures this season after Pentecost. The famous Golden Calf story happens while Moses was up the mountain with God. Moses not only received the commandments, ordinances, and statues, but also instruction on how they as God’s people will conduct worship, the duties of the priests, and how to construct the tabernacle, the tent of God that will travel with the people once they leave Mt. Sinai, symbolizing God’s continued presence. God had just finished giving all these instructions to Moses and also two tablets with the words of the covenant written on them. Meanwhile, the people went to Moses’s brother Aaron and asked him to make gods for them to worship because they didn’t know what happened to Moses, who’d been up the mountain for over a month. Aaron took the gold jewelry offered by the people and formed it into the image of a calf. The people worshiped the calf and had a raucous celebration, probably similar to the peoples around them that also worshiped idols in such ways. At first, God told Moses to go down to the people “that you brought out of Egypt.” God seems to have forgotten it was they who brought the people out. Then God decides to destroy the people, and instead will make a great nation from Moses. However, Moses intercedes, and reminds God that these are God’s people, whom God brought out of Egypt. If God destroyed them, it would give fodder to the Egyptians and other enemies that God wasn’t so great. Instead, Moses invoked the names of the ancestors and God’s covenant with them. God relented, changed their mind, and did not destroy the people.

Psalm 106 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness, despite the people not always remaining faithful themselves. Verses 1-6 praise God for God’s goodness and steadfast love. The psalmist blesses those who practice justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for God’s deliverance of the people and that they might be a witness of God’s faithfulness, and in verse 6, confesses on behalf of the people and their ancestors their sins in not following God’s ways. Verses 19-23 specifically recall the creation of the golden calf and how Moses interceded on their behalf, so that God would not destroy them, though they had forgotten God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 25:1-9. This is a psalm praising God for delivering the people from their oppression, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and needy, covered in God’s protection and shelter. In an apocalyptic vision, heaven and earth come together on the mountain of God, with a rich banquet for all the people. God will destroy death and wipe away the tears from those who mourn. God will at last save the people from all oppression, including death.

Psalm 23 is the Shepherd’s Psalm, long attributed to David the shepherd-king. The psalmist sings of how God cares for them like a shepherd cares for their sheep—leading them to nourishing green pastures and cool waters, restoring their soul like one tends to the needs of the sheep. Even when oppression and death close in, the psalmist has no fear because God is with them, present like a shepherd with their staff. God prepares the table for the psalmist even before their enemies, anointing them and overflowing their cup, and they know God’s presence and goodness and kindness will be with them always.

The Epistle reading concludes its short series in Philippians with 4:1-9. Paul gives final words of encouragement and instruction to the church in Philippi. There is a brief mention of Euodia and Syntyche, and what Paul urged back in 2:2 is repeated here in this context of seeking help for these two, to be united in Christ. The two have both worked for the Gospel alongside Paul and Clement. Paul had written of joy in the Lord and expresses it again here, calling upon the church in Philippi to rejoice and to be in prayer to God, and to know God’s peace. This section concludes with further words of encouragement to continue to live into God’s ways as they have been taught, and God’s peace will be made known to them.

Matthew 22:1-14 contains the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In this parable, it is a king who gave a wedding banquet for the son, but the invited guests refused to come. Some of the guests even mistreated or killed the servants the king sent. So the king sent soldiers to burn their city and destroy those who murdered. Then the king decided to send his servants into the city to invite everyone they saw into the banquet, because those originally invited were not worthy. Everyone was invited in, both good and bad, and the hall was filled with guests. However, one guest did not have a wedding robe, and was questioned by the king as to how he got in. He was speechless, so the king ordered him to be thrown out into the “outer darkness” to suffer. The parable concludes with a line, possibly added later, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Parables have layers, and while on the surface this parable about the kingdom of heaven might be about how Jesus saw the religious leaders as rejecting God’s kingdom, it could also be a warning to Christians during the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, around 75-85 C.E., that they, too, have forgotten what God’s kingdom was about.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Ruth. In the first seventeen verses, the reader learns that Naomi, her husband and two sons were from Bethlehem but had settled in Moab due to a famine. While there, her husband died. Her sons married but then they both also died. Her two daughters-in-law were Moabite women. Later instructions in Ezra-Nehemiah forbade marriage outside of Israel and specifically mentioned Moab, but the book of Ruth shows readers that these laws changed for different times. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because the famine was over, she urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their homes. Marriages were to help with inheritance, and if a husband died, a woman would marry the husband’s brother, and the first child would be considered the heir of the dead husband, to pass down the inheritance. But if there were no more brothers, then the widow would return to her father’s home and hope to be remarried. Naomi clearly wanted what was best for these women, who would be foreigners in Bethlehem, as she was in Moab. But Ruth refused to leave her, and shared a vow to remain with her” to live where she lived, to die where she died, and to worship the same God. Ruth essentially became Naomi’s adopted daughter. In 4:13-17, Ruth married Boaz, a close kinsmen, and had a son. Naomi was praised by her neighbors for God’s faithfulness, because Ruth, her daughter-in-law, provided for her. Ruth’s son Obed became a grandson for Naomi, and Obed was the grandfather of King David.

The supplementary verses of Mark 3:33-35 contain Jesus’s words about who his true family were. When his mother, brothers, and sisters came for him, he asked the crowd who were his family: “those who do the will of God.”

How do we do God’s will? Certainly we know from the story of the golden calf that we are called to remember what God has done for us and for our ancestors, and to repent of where we have gone astray. The parable of Jesus reminds us that faith is lived out in how we practice hospitality and equity, justice and righteousness. Isaiah reminds us that while in this life we struggle, God’s desire for us is an end to our grief and loss, for heaven and earth to join together, for God’s presence to always be known. And the Narrative Lectionary reminds us that our understandings of laws and rules change, but what is important is the relationships we foster. How we treat one another with kindness and compassion. How do we do God’s will? We look to our ancestors in the faith. We study the scriptures. We practice kindness and do justice. But it must become our way of life, not something we do when we want to and skip when we don’t. We must, as Paul urged the Philippians, keep on doing what we have learned, experienced, and witnessed, and the God of peace will be with us.

Call to Worship (Philippians 4:8, 7, 4)
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
Think about these things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received.
And the God of peace will be with you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
Guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always;
Again I will say, Rejoice!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, You created us to be in relationship with You, with creation, and with one another. We have distorted and abused those relationships. We have forgotten You and Your ways. We have neglected our fellow creatures that we share this planet with and have misused the Earth and its resources. We have oppressed and marginalized the most vulnerable among us, including those in poverty and living on the streets, those struggling with mental health, those suffering from addiction, those who are from other countries that we deem less desirable, those whose gender or orientation is in the minority. Forgive us for not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Forgive us for judging others. Forgive us, most of all, for the harm we have caused by neglect, ignorance, and bigotry. Call us into repentance. Lead us in knowledge of the ways of reparation and restoration. Guide us into paths of healing. Encourage us to seek forgiveness with accountability for our own actions where we have caused harm. Empower us to use our privilege to raise up the voices of others, so that justice and restoration can be possible. In the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, who laid down all his privilege, becoming humble to the point of death on the cross, we pray all things. Amen.

God is the Good Shepherd, who continues to lead us back to the paths of righteousness when we go astray. God knows our name, knows our needs. God knows our strengths and weaknesses and continues to encourage us to be who we were created to be: made in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10). Live into this knowledge of God’s intention for your life, to do good works, and prepare to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May you seek reparation and forgiveness and restoration and know that God forgives you and loves you. Amen.

God of Wisdom and Insight, quiet our minds from the busy noises of the world around us. Remind us now and then to put down the phones and turn off the computers. Perhaps even to turn off the lights and light a candle instead. To quiet our souls from all the notifications and flashing lights that tug our attention to things in this world. Call us to open our Scriptures and read the words passed down to us, to ponder them in our hearts, to use the best scholarly resources to understand them further. Remind us to seek You in prayer and meditation, in words and in silence, in the cool breeze in the forest or the waves on the shore. Help us to breathe, and to breathe deep of the air You have given us, the wind that hovers over creation, and the Spirit You instill in us. In the name of Christ, who often went away to deserted places to pray, we now pray. Amen.