Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The writer of Deuteronomy portrays a message of hope to the people of Israel, about to enter the promised land, but without Moses. Moses is near death and giving some final instructions, much of which is a repeating of the commandments, statues and ordinances of God found in Exodus and Leviticus. These words in 18:15-20 speak of God raising up a prophet like Moses from among the Israelites, their own people. Prophesy, the writer proclaims, is a gift from God and the words that the prophet speaks comes from God. However, there are some warnings: prophets need to heed the words of God (think of Jonah who ran away), prophets need to speak in the name of God and not of other gods, and prophets need to speak only the words that God has given them to speak. Prophets have a difficult job: they are often not respected, they are often persecuted, and besides all the trouble from their own people that they have to deal with, experiencing the presence of God the way a prophet experiences God is overwhelming: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die” (vs. 16).
Who are today’s prophets? Who have been our prophets in recent years? How difficult is it to speak prophetically in this day and age?

Psalm 111 is a song of praise to God, remembering that all things come from God and that God provides for his people when they are in awe of God, when the people turn to God. The psalmist sings of God’s covenant and that God never forgets God’s covenant. The psalm is full of joy–there are no warnings, no doubts–this was a song sung in the midst of the congregation to praise God.

Mark 1:21-28 is the first miracle in Mark’s Gospel. After Jesus has called the first disciples in the preceding verses, this is the first major act of Jesus’ ministry. We find Jesus going into the synagogues to teach, and Jesus teaches as one with authority. The scribes in the synagogues were interpreters of the law; they would argue legalistically, they would nitpick and discuss the scriptures and various points of view. Jesus, however, came in and taught to the people as one with authority. The challenge to Jesus’ authority, however, comes not from the scribes but from a man with an unclean spirit.

For many of us it is hard to understand what the Scriptures mean by unclean spirits and demons. It is easy for us to brush them off as mental illness or addictions or other demons that people deal with today. However, we must remember that Jesus himself believed these unclean spirits and demonic powers existed. What we must remember and learn is that even if the demon is a mental illness, there is a spiritual aspect to this illness that the person is struggling with as well. Jesus is very in tune with the spiritual realm that was understood by the people of his day. We need to tune our ears to understanding the spiritual dimension that Jesus is speaking to, and to understand that addiction and illness have spiritual dimensions. Jesus speaks with authority, and through this authority, the unclean spirit leaves the man.

In our world today, we often get caught up in theological and doctrinal arguments with other believers. We nitpick and argue Scripture and interpretation. Our focus, however, should be on the illnesses and afflictions, addictions and struggles that afflict people today. We need to speak with authority, believing that God’s desire is for whole people with whole lives, free from such afflictions. We need to use the authority given by Christ to challenge the demons of today and the systems and structures that allow for such demons and evil to exist: broken healthcare systems where mentally ill folks are not able to afford medications and therapies because they are not covered by insurance, lack of funding for substance abuse prevention, and other problems that leave people with mental illness and addictions poor, homeless, and incarcerated.

1 Corinthians 8 is Paul’s summation of the controversy of eating food offered to idols. In the days of Paul, in Greek culture animals were slaughtered to the Greek gods and goddesses and then the meat was then eaten at communal tables or sold. Some followers of Jesus, especially new converts from the Greek gods to Christianity struggled with the eating of this meat. Some felt it should not be eaten because it was sacrificed to other gods, not the one true God. Paul argues that the pagan gods do not exist, only God does, therefore it is not a sin to eat that meat because only God exists. However, Paul states, if some believers are “weak”–that is, they feel it is sinful to eat such meat offered to idols, then you should abstain in their presence, so as not to offend. Paul’s belief is to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion–to include those who think it is wrong rather than to exclude them by one’s own behavior. Note that Paul doesn’t say to lie or to be fake, but rather, when it is something inconsequential such as eating meat, don’t let it become a stumbling block.

The passages for this Sunday are difficult to string together. However, what I see in reading each one is that authority comes from God, and there are bigger problems, bigger issues that we need to be paying attention to, that we need to be challenging–systems and structures that lead to mentally ill folks on the street instead of receiving therapy and treatments, people struggling with addictions incarcerated instead of seeking help. We get into dense doctrinal arguments that don’t matter in the long run instead of working to end evil in our world. We forget to be prophetic, to speak with the authority of God. But God does not give up on us. God continues to give us opportunities to make a difference and to work towards healing and hope.

Call to Worship:
Leader: God calls out to those outside, “Come on in!”
People: Let us welcome and embrace God’s beloved.
Leader: God calls to us on the inside, “Go out!”
People: Let us reach out and share the Good News.
Leader: God calls to those on the margins, “You are mine.”
People: Let us share God’s love with those who are marginalized.
Leader: God calls to those who feel on the edge, “You are loved.”
People: Let us reach out, let us love, let us embrace all of God’s children.
All: Let us welcome each other as Christ has welcomed us; let us worship our God.

Prayer of Confession:
Holy God, we confess that our lives have become insular. We know few of our neighbors and we know fewer their concerns. Our lives are focused on our own problems and issues. We do not always see the teen contemplating suicide, the adult struggling with addiction, the homebound senior who is lonesome and grieving. Forgive us for not looking outward, for not reach out. Forgive us for allowing our lives to become so busy. Help us to fill our lives with people and not tasks. Help us to fill our lives in seeking justice and not arguing issues. Help us, Lord, to welcome others into our lives with the love of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
God never forgets. Even though our memories fade, God’s covenant endures forever. We belong to God. We are forgiven and loved, and sent forth to share the Good News. Go, knowing God’s forgiveness, and embrace the stranger in need of God’s love. Amen.

Jesus of Nazareth, we desire to follow You into the world but are afraid. We are afraid of meeting those who have such difficult struggles in their lives, of addiction and abuse, of poverty and homelessness. We are afraid to go to the streets and the prisons, the institutions and the shelters. God, open our hearts to see our people. Open our hearts to see our brothers and sisters, our family in Christ. Open our hearts to be like Christ to each other and to seek Christ in each other. Overcome our fears, dear God, and grant us courage and wisdom so that we might follow You, from Nazareth to Golgotha, from the wilderness to the garden and everywhere in between. In Your precious name we pray. Amen.

Music Suggestions: “I have decided to follow Jesus” and “Brother/Sister Let Me Be Your Servant” would be great choices for today. Any song or hymn about following Jesus’ ways and teachings in the world would be appropriate.

One Response to Worship Resources for Sunday January 29th

  1. Mike Britton says:

    Wonderful, filled with life giving thoguths and reflections. I enjoy your weekly commkly comments, prayes and reflections so much, they truly feed my soul.


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