Worship Resources for July 3rd, 2022—Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Psalm 30; Isaiah 66:10-14 and Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Narrative Lectionary: Series on the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:17 (Matthew 22:34-40)

Our first selection in the Hebrew scriptures follows the rise of the prophets, with the continuation of Elisha’s story in 2 Kings 5:1-14. You may recall that at the end of 1 Kings 19, Elijah was appointed to anoint a new king of Israel as well as a new king over Aram, and Elisha as prophet in his place. The commander of Aram’s army, Naaman, suffered from leprosy. The servant of Naaman’s wife, a young Israelite girl captured during war, told Naaman’s wife that the prophet in Samaria, Elisha, could cure Naaman’s disease. The king of Aram sent a letter to the king of Israel, but the king of Israel had no idea what he was talking about and freaked out that perhaps Aram’s king wanted to find a reason to go to war. Elisha told Israel’s king to calm down and have Naaman sent to him. Elisha then sent a messenger to Naaman, who had arrived, and told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be cured. Naaman was angry. He’d come all that way for what he expected, a flashy miracle, and instead was told to wash in the dinky river of Israel? There were nicer rivers in Damascus! But his servants advised him that if he had been told to do something difficult, wouldn’t he have done it? If it’s simple, does that mean it won’t work? Naaman took the advice of his servants, and washed seven times in the Jordan, and was healed of his leprosy.

Psalm 30 is a song of thanksgiving for deliverance. The psalmist celebrates that God rescued them from their enemies, saving them from death. They praise God, who continues to be faithful, even in times of difficulty. Deliverance and joy will come, for God remains true. Even during a time of crisis, the psalmist could not be despaired for long, for joy will always come. The psalmist refuses to be silent because God always remains faithful.

The writer of Third Isaiah uses feminine imagery for both Jerusalem and God in this passage of hope after the return from exile. In Isaiah 66:10-14, all will find comfort and satisfaction in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem the way an infant is satisfied by their mother’s milk. God will comfort the people the way a nursing mom comforts her children. The people will flourish as a people nurtured on God’s milk and will be strong against their enemies.

Psalm 66:1-9 is a call to worship. The song reminds the people to give glory and praise to God, the one who brought them out of oppression into freedom (reminiscent of the song Miriam sings with the women of Israel after the Exodus). The psalmist praises God for their awesome deeds, and reminds the people that God is the reason for their survival and safety.

The Epistle readings conclude the series in Galatians. Paul gives further instructions to this church that was divided on how to welcome and accept Gentile believers. In the first six verses, Paul calls upon the church to bear one another’s burdens, but all are responsible themselves for their own actions in how they live out the word of Christ. Paul reiterates the lesson from last week’s reading: those who live in the ways of this world, the flesh, will find those ways are dead ends. The way of Christ, the way of the Spirit, leads to eternal life. Paul encourages the church to work for the good of all, especially the family of faith which includes Gentile believers. One last time, Paul reminds the church that belonging to Christ is about faith, not about circumcision—and that controversy ought to be over because everyone in Christ has become a new creation.

Luke 10 points to the ministry of Jesus as it grew beyond the twelve disciples. This time, Jesus appointed seventy to go out into the world and carry nothing with them, they were simply to rely on other’s hospitality. They were to go where they were welcomed, to eat and drink and have fellowship, and where they were not welcome, they were simply to shake the dust from their shoes as a sign of protest and move on. All who wanted to know God would listen to them. When they returned, they shared stories with Jesus of how even the demons submitted to them, and Jesus declares that Satan had no power over them. Nothing evil could overcome them, for the authority of Christ was with them as they ministered among the people. This authority was recognized by others in their action of hospitality.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on the Ten Commandments with a single verse: Exodus 20:17. The first four commandments were about worship of God, the next five commandments the basics of how to love their neighbor, but this final commandment goes beyond the simple acts of not killing, not lying, etc. God commanded the people to not covet—to not desire what other people had. That commandment is the crux of the ten commandments because everything else comes from a memetic desire to want what others have, including the worship of idols and other gods. Cain killed Abel because Abel received a blessing Cain did not. All violence and murder and adultery comes from this idea of desiring what others have. Instead, we are to remember that everything comes from the one God. All we have is from our God, and we have enough.

The second selection is the same throughout this series: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time.

All authority and power is in Christ, who thus gives us authority and power to declare God’s reign and to live into it. No worldly authorities can have power over us in that capacity, and that includes religious and political and societal figures and teachings. No one else has the authority to declare the reign of Christ is at hand because Jesus already claimed it and gave us the authority to declare it. Jesus gave us the authority to love one another and to share the Good News, to cast out evil and to lift up good. Whether others believe or not is on them, not us. Naaman couldn’t believe how simple it would be to be healed, but he had to learn to trust the word of God through the prophet Elisha. Paul taught the church in Galatia that they must carry their own loads, and while they should bear each other’s burdens, when it comes to living into Christ that is on each of us. We cannot save others, it is Christ who does so, but we do have the authority to live into Christ’s reign and declare it is at hand, in word and deed.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 66:1-2, 4-5, 8)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing the glory of God’s name,
Give to God glorious praise!
All the earth worships the Lord,
We sing praise to our God,
Sing praises to God’s name.
Come and see what God has done,
God’s deeds are awesome among us.
Bless our God, O people,
Let the sound of God’s praise be heard.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, You have given all power and authority and dominion to Christ Jesus and laid it before his feet. Christ is the head of the church, and we are the body of Christ. We confess that we have not used our authority wisely. We confess that we have twisted it into an abusive, imperial, colonizing force, instead of the liberative message of Christ, in which we are free of the sins of this world. We have used the authority of Christ to have power over and dominate others, instead of the authority to bring freedom to the captives, to let the oppressed go free, to declare the year of our God’s favor. We have failed to live into the Good News. Forgive us, O Christ, and remind us that we must shake the dust of the world off our sandals and instead accept the radical hospitality You have opened for us to live into Your reign. In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, siblings, children of God, to declare the Good News and proclaim the time of God’s favor upon us all. This is the time to say “I love you,” to one another. This is the time to seek forgiveness, reparation and restoration. This is the time to say, “I forgive you,” to those who are making amends. This is the time to work for healing and justice. This is the time, because God has called us for such a time as this. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, as we pass the Solstice, we are reminded that You keep on turning the universe, the solar system, the earth, and us. As we revolve, we evolve. Bless us in this time of transition, as summer draws nigh in the north and winter in the south, may we look upon the last half of this year with gratitude, and to the future with hope. May we notice the shifts Your Spirit is moving us and adjust our paths accordingly. May we seek what fulfills and nurtures us into the second half of this year. Holy Spirit, breathe deeply into us, and prepare us for what is to come in the turning of the year. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 26, 2022—Third Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 and Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12-16 (Matthew 22:34-40)

Both selections for the Hebrew Scripture reading in the Revised Common Lectionary follow last week’s first reading. Because of the close proximity, I will reverse the order to explore both passages first and then both psalm selections.

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 (the second reading) picks up right where the first reading last week left off, after the prophet Elijah’s epic burnout. Elijah was exhausted from Ahab and Jezebel’s oppression, and in this section, God shares the succession plan with Elijah: he is to go on and anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel, and a new prophet to take his place. When Elijah left, he found Elisha plowing a field. Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, a symbol that Elisha was now under the care of Elijah. Elisha longed to go tell his parents goodbye, and Elijah explained he’s not keeping him from them in his call to the prophetic work. Elisha prepared a farewell feast for his community, then followed Elijah.

In the first selection, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Elisha becomes the prophet in Elijah’s place, the fulfillment of the succession plan. Elijah tried to tell Elisha to stay put, but Elisha would not leave Elijah, and followed him until Elijah reached the Jordan. Fifty other prophets of God were waiting—a reminder that Elisha was not alone (Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, clamed he was the only prophet left, but Obadiah, Ahab’s servant, had hidden one hundred prophets, fifty to a cave, in 1 Kings 18:7-15). Elijah took the mantle that he had cast over Elisha and parted the Jordan River with it so he and Elisha could cross on dry ground to the other side, symbolic of the separation of earth and heaven, oppression and freedom. Elisha asked Elijah if he could inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah warned Elisha that was a difficult ask, but it might be granted. Then Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, God’s chariot separating Elisha from Elijah in a vision of the separation of heaven and earth. Elisha tore his own clothes, a symbol of both mourning and the rending of heaven and earth. However, Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle, struck the Jordan, and crossed back over, symbolizing that he had taken up the role as prophet of God.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 is a song of assurance of God’s deliverance. Paired with the reading from 2 Kings, the first two verses tell the congregation that the psalmist cries out so God will hear them. Verse 11 begins with remembering all that God has done for the people, all God had taught them, and the psalmist acknowledges and remembers. God is the one who works wonders and delivers the people. God has rescued and redeemed the people in the past, through the waters and whirlwinds, and led the people “by the hand of Moses and Aaron” like a shepherd leads a flock through a storm. God isn’t on the other side of the storm; God walks through the storm with us.

Psalm 16 is paired with the 1 Kings 19 reading, a song of faith in God even in difficult times. God is the one who gives counsel, whose presence is steadfast. The psalmist sings of the joy of following God’s ways and knowing God will deliver them. Unlike those who worship other gods, the psalmist remains faithful because God is always faithful.

The Epistles selection continues in Galatians. In 5:1, 13-25, Paul writes of the freedom in Christ to a community still dividing on historic cultural lines. Paul writes of living by the Spirit as living in a way that lives out the commandments, as opposed to a literal legal understanding that Paul argued against (and we must remember not all Jewish people understood the law in a strict legalistic way). However, Paul is also concerned with those who would then toss out the law—instead, the law is summed up by Jesus as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul writes against those who would simply argue that they are saved by Christ and can do whatever they want. Rather, they are no longer under the law, but the law is lived out and is known by the fruits of the Spirit, and there is no law against living in kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc. When one lives by the Spirit they are guided by the Spirit and live as Christ lived.

In Luke 9:51-62, the Gospel shifts as Jesus sets his path toward Jerusalem, and these verses focus on following Jesus in two parts. In verses 51-56, the disciples are with Jesus visiting various villages, and they visit a Samaritan village but are not welcomed by them. Samaritans were those who lived in the northern kingdom after Solomon’s reign when Israel split into two. They had their own temple in Samaria instead of Jerusalem and believed that only the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) were scripture. They were often in tension with the rest of the Jewish community, and when Jesus was prepared to move on to Jerusalem, they rejected him. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are known as the “Sons of Thunder” in Mark 3:17. Perhaps this nickname was for their temperament as they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus rebukes them. Following Jesus is not about power and authority over others: it is about sharing the power and authority of Christ in changing lives.

In verses 57-62, Jesus encounters others on the road who want to follow Jesus, but don’t understand what discipleship is, either. These people want to follow Jesus, but something is holding them back. Jesus warned the first one who asked that they will not feel settled—there will be no place of rest if they choose to follow Jesus. It is assumed by scholars that the one who asked about burying his father was waiting until his father died before he could follow Jesus. The third wanted time to say goodbye, but if one wants to follow Jesus, they cannot allow anything to hold them back. Again, following Jesus is about changed lives—however, the inner transformation Jesus offers is not something everyone desires.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on the Ten Commandments, with this third part from Exodus 20:12-16. Last week’s selection focused on the first four commandments. This selection focuses on the next five (leaving the final commandment for the last week). These five commandments are about how we love one’s neighbor as one’s self, starting with our immediate family by honoring our parents. Then, moving into the basic rules of society—don’t murder or harm someone. Don’t destroy relationships, especially in the covenant of marriage. Don’t take from others. And don’t lie. This starts from the family and moves outward to our neighbors in the basics of not causing harm to others.

The second selection is the same throughout this series: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time. The section of the Ten Commandments reading today from Exodus can be summed up under Leviticus 19:18.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus is about following Jesus and becoming a student (that’s what “disciple” means, after all). Becoming a student of the Way of Christ means having the power and authority that God has given us but not using it in a way of domination and superiority, or even violence and fear, but using power and authority to free us all to love one another. The power and authority of Christ frees us from the ways of the world that prioritize the wrong values of wealth, worldly power, and notoriety. The people who wanted to follow Jesus were not necessarily pursuing those values outright, but Jesus hints that their underlying reasons might not be honoring their parents or wanting to say goodbye, but rather making sure their father’s inheritance passed on to them, making sure everyone knew as they said goodbye what they were off to do. In other words, playing subtly into the ways of this world rather than the way of Christ. Even the disciples struggled with this, especially James and John, who later wanted to be the greatest among the disciples. It’s not easy to let go of the ways of this world, but Christ calls us into a new way of being, a transformed life.

Call to Worship
Our God is great, and holy, and just;
We praise God’s name in the sanctuary.
Our God is merciful, mighty, and brings peace;
We proclaim God’s name in our world.
Our God is loving, kind, and strong;
We prepare for God’s work in our lives.
We gather here in worship,
For God has done so much for us,
We praise God’s name! Alleluia!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Living Christ, we confess that we are still tied to the ways of this broken world. These ways lead us to dead ends—concerns about wealth and inheritance, fame and notoriety. We want to have safety and security, to have enough, to be remembered in this world—yet we follow You, who gave up all possessions, and became humble enough to be another forgotten criminal executed by the state. However, Your name is exalted above all other names because of Your humility, because You gave everything up for us. Remind us that glory is not found in what we have or how our name is praised, but it is found in denying our own desires to love one another, care for one another, and live into Your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. We confess this is difficult for us, O Christ, so we seek Your wisdom and guidance, to live into the kingdom You are creating all around us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Wherever two or three are together, Christ is among us. Wherever two or three are together, the kingdom of God is at hand. Wherever two or three are together, love sustains us. Wherever two or three are together, we reflect the image of God’s oneness. Wherever we are together, we know God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and peace. Go and share the good news, together, that we are God’s beloved community, in which all are forgiven, all are restored, and all shall be made well. Amen.

Prayer
Spirit of the living God, fall upon us like dew in the morning. Refresh us and revive us. In a world of destruction and chaos, death and despair, breathe life into us. Mold courage into our hearts. Pour out Your love into our veins to move our bodies for justice. Spirit of the living God, bring us back to life, and help us to share Your life abundantly. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 19th, 2022—Second Sunday after Pentecost, Father’s Day (US)

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42-43; Isaiah 65:1-9 and Psalm 22:19-18; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-11 and Matthew 22:34-40

For the season after Pentecost, beginning on the second Sunday there are two choices for the Hebrew Scripture readings, each paired with a Psalm reading. The first selection for this season will follow the prophets from the time of the kings after David and be semi-continuous, while the second selection will move about the Hebrew scriptures, paired with the rest of the lectionary scriptures as part of a daily theme.

Prophetic activity in the Hebrew Scriptures tends to rise when kings are making poor political alliances, turning from God’s ways, and ignoring the poor. In 1 Kings 19, King Ahab was doing all three—he had followed the ways of his wife Jezebel to worship Baal, and worship of Baal required human sacrifice. The prophet Elijah had stood against the prophets of Baal, and in a showdown with 450 of Baal’s prophets, Elijah had them killed. Jezebel promised death for Elijah, and he fled. In his exhaustion, he fell asleep under a bush, longing to die, but an angel woke Elijah up and commanded him to eat and drink. Elijah ate and drank, slept, was woken again by the angel, and after a second meal was nourished enough to continue his journey. When he came to Horeb, God asked him why he had come. Elijah told God of all that happened, and that he was the only one left faithful to God. Now, just before the incident with the prophets of Baal, Obadiah, a servant of Ahab who was faithful to God, had hid one hundred other prophets of God, fifty to a cave (18:7-15). Elijah was not really alone, but in his exhaustion, he felt alone. He was burned out. And after God passed by Elijah—not in the forces of nature of power and destruction associated with other gods of the day, but in the sound of sheer silence. God listened to Elijah and told him to return to the wilderness of Damascus. In the verses immediately following, God shared the succession plan to Elijah. God still had work for Elijah to do, but now Elijah knew he could go on.

Psalms 42 and 43 are paired together as they have a common refrain in verses 42:5, 11, and 43:5. The psalmist asks in this refrain why their own soul is distressed, but finds encouragement in their hope in God. Psalm 42 begins with the metaphor of a deer longing for flowing streams of water—this is how we long for God. The psalmist longs to experience God while in the midst of sorrow and despair. However, the psalmist knows their hope is in God, and God will save them, even as their enemies taunt them as if God isn’t near. In psalm 43, the demands justice from God, for they have faced oppression and surely God will deliver them. The psalmist gives thanks to God before the altar in worship, for they put their hope in God.

The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures is from what scholars call Third Isaiah, the writings in the tradition of the prophet Isaiah but from after the exile, when the people had returned and began to resume their old ways. In 65:1-9, God is angry with the people who have gone back to worshiping idols and other gods. In the Hebrew scriptures, God often describes anger as a fire burning in one’s nose, the smoke coming out from God’s nostrils. Even though God had delivered them, was ready to welcome them back, the people resumed their abominable practices. Yet God will not destroy them; the people are the remnant that was saved. However, God will not forget, and the people will continue to struggle because they refuse to turn to God’s ways.

Psalm 22:19-28 is a cry from the psalmist for God to not turn away, but to hear their cries of suffering. The psalmist also calls upon the congregation to turn back to God, for God has delivered them before. God has previously answered the psalmist and God will do so again if the people turn back to God. God is the one who has dominion over all people, and the psalmist is assured that all nations will turn to God.

The Epistle reading picks up in Galatians midway at 3:23-29 and will follow Galatians for the next three weeks. This portion of Paul’s letter is the crux of his argument, that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female—there is no division of religion, race, class, gender, or any other sort in the reign of God, because they are one people in Christ Jesus. The church in Galatia, among others, were keeping Gentile believers in Jesus in a second-class status. Peter, though he had eaten with Greeks and included them before, now in the presence of other Jewish followers of Jesus, had gone back to the old rules about clean and unclean. Paul called him out earlier in the letter, and explains here that all belong to Christ, all inherit the reign of God, for all believers in Christ are God’s children.

The Gospel lessons return to Luke for this season after Pentecost. In 8:26-39, Jesus and the disciples enter Gerasene. This area was populated by mostly Gentiles, and Jesus encounters a man known to locals as someone possessed, living naked among the tombs. Though the people tried to chain him up, he broke the chains and was driven wild by his demons. Jesus cast out the demons, called Legion, who begged Jesus to cast them into the herd of pigs. The herd rushed into the water and drowned, but the man put on clothes and began to speak in his right mind. However, the locals were frightened by what Jesus had done, and begged him to leave. Perhaps, even though the locals had been afraid, they knew how to handle a man with demons—they didn’t know what to do with a man who had the power of God. The man who had previously been possessed wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go tell others. The man began to proclaim what Jesus had done for him throughout the city.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its four-part series with part two on the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3-11. This section covers the first four commandments: to have no other gods before God, to not make idols, to not make wrongful use of God’s name, and to keep the sabbath day as a holy day. These first four are about worship of God, keeping God first and foremost, and remembering that God had brought them out of oppression. God was not like other gods, and misusing God’s name includes not blaming God for things God did not do. This section concludes with remembering that God had given a day of rest and to take God’s gifts seriously.

The second selection for this series is the same throughout this series: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time. The first section of the Ten Commandments reading today from Exodus can be summed up under the Shema: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Burnout is a buzzword we’ve heard much about during this Covid time, but we were nearing burnout long before. Burnout isn’t just about overworking, but it is the emotional and mental exhaustion from dealing with so much violence, heartbreak, and despair in this world, that manifests itself in physical and spiritual exhaustion as well. The psalms often speak to that kind of burnout, of feeling downcast and wondering where our help will come from. The prophet Elijah was burned out. He was ready to die and be done, but God had him rest and eat, come to the mountain, and sit in silence. God then had a succession plan for him—even though it wouldn’t be enacted for some time—God was showing Elijah that it wouldn’t continue on forever.

Sometimes we are burned out to the point we can’t try something new. We’d rather stick with the old patterns even though they lead to dead ends because we are afraid that something new will fail us or be more trouble. The people in Gerasene had lived with the man possessed by demons, and even though they said they wanted to help him, when he finally was helped, they didn’t know what to do with the man who had the power of God. That was even more frightening to them, because it meant they would have to change their ways. Sometimes in the church it is more frightening to listen to where God may be calling us to be something new than to stick with the old ways, even though they haven’t worked as well, because we know them. But we will just continue the pattern of burnout unless we are willing to embrace the transformation God intends for us. Even Peter, having experienced the resurrected Jesus, still went back to his old ways around others because of the social loss he would experience if he embraced the Greek believers in the same way he embraced his fellow Jewish believers. Paul called him out for this, and knew that the church had to be something new if it was truly to be the church of Jesus.

Call to Worship
When we are down,
God lifts us up.
When we are proud,
God grants us humility.
When we are lost,
God searches until we are found.
When we gather to worship,
We know we are not alone,
For God is always present with us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we are exhausted. We are so tired of violence. So tired of being afraid. The various traumas we have experienced continued to cloud our minds, our hearts, our souls, that we are downtrodden and our soul disquieted. We long for You, O God, and we long for healing and rest and renewal. Remind us that our rest and our hope is in You, and not in the systems and structures of this world. Call us into Your beloved community, where in sharing and working with others, we find our own renewal and rest. Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through our savior Jesus Christ, in whom we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God leads us to the still waters and cool pastures. God restores our soul. God prepares a table before us in the presence of evil in this world, and our cup overflows. God’s mercy and goodness are with us all our lives, and we dwell with God forever. Know that God loves you. In God’s love, may you find restoration and renewal. May you be refreshed for your work here on earth to share God’s love with one another. May you know God’s forgiveness and healing. Go and share the good news of the rest we find in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, restore our souls. There is so much pain and sorrow in our world, in our lives, that we feel it. Our health is not as it should be. Our minds are troubled, our spirits low. Breathe into us Your life. Remind us to go outside when possible to know the fresh air of Your spirit. Drive us to connect with nature again, for in creation You are making all things new. Your covenant is alive in the trees and the deep roots, in the still pools and in the rushing waters. Holy Spirit, reconnect us to creation, so we may remember our Creator. Reconnect us to the soul of the earth, the very dirt in which God breathed us into life. Renew our hearts to live into the ways of Jesus, so that we might love one another as ourselves and become living hope for one another. Holy Spirit, renew us. Amen.

For Father’s Day, a suggestion to sing “This Is My Father’s World” to remind us of our connection to nature and to God as creator, with the image of a caring father.

Worship Resources for June 12, 2022—Trinity Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2 (Matthew 22:34-40)

For this first Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday celebrates the great mystery of God as Three-In-One: Creator (traditionally the Father), Christ (traditionally the Son), and the Holy Spirit.

Our first selection is from Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31. Wisdom, personified as feminine in the Hebrew Scriptures, calls out to us like a woman at a crossroads crying out to listen to her voice. Verses 22-31 is another account of creation, in which Wisdom is the first creation of God, from before anything else was formed. When the heavens were established, the waters given boundaries, the hills brought forth—when all of creation was made, Wisdom was there, and rejoiced as God inhabited the world with people. Wisdom delighted in the creation of humanity.

Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God’s creation, a song of wisdom, for the beginning of wisdom is the awe of God. God has built a foundation from the voices of children and infants, for their voices bring praise to God and silence enemies. When the psalmist looks at all of creation and the universe, the singer wonders why God made human beings and why God cares about us at all? Yet we were made a little lower than divine beings, and given the responsibility to care for the earth and all of creation.

Paul declares in Romans 5:1-5 that it is our faith that justifies us in knowing Christ as our Savior, not by our works. God’s love has been poured out to us through the Holy Spirit, and despite all our sufferings, all we have been through, we know that hope remains because of God’s love. We endure because we know God’s love is with us.

In John 16:12-15, Jesus prepares the disciples before his death and resurrection for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. Everything would be made known to them through the Spirit, even though they did not understand it all at that time, because everything of Christ belongs to God and everything of God belongs to Christ; they are one.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its summer series, and the first series contains four parts on the Ten Commandments. Beginning with Exodus 19:1-6 and 20:1-2, the people of Israel arrived at Sinai after crossing the Red Sea. God called to Moses from the mountain, declaring that the people were to be God’s priestly nation. God brought them out of Egypt, out of their oppression, and called them to obey God’s voice. God is their God, and they are to have no other gods before them.

The second selection for this series is the same for the next four Sundays: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time.

The Trinity is a mystery, as is the work of the Holy Spirit, Wisdom among us. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding,” Psalm 110:10 teaches us, but fear is better translated here as “awe.” It is that trembling sense of awe at the might and wonder of God. This is the beginning of wisdom. This is the beginning of our understanding of God as three-in-one, Triune. It is a mystery how God created the universe, how God became known to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and how God moves in and within us in the work of the Spirit. It is a mystery that we can come to know God through history and teaching and Scripture, but also through nature, and our own experience that leads us to understanding.

I lean toward Psalm 8 in this selection for a few reasons: 1) the recent events of violence, especially the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, remind me that we must listen and protect the most vulnerable among us, the ones Christ taught us that the kingdom of heaven belongs. 2) In that same psalm, the singer wonders at the works of God and who we are as human beings, and that we have been created a little lower than God to care for the earth. It is a sacred responsibility. And if we listen again to those voices from the mouths of babes, we hear the wisdom of God: care for the earth. We have a responsibility to God and also to the next generation. This is the wisdom that is crying out for us to listen.

Call to Worship
Wisdom calls out to us,
At the crossroads she calls us to listen!
Hear the voice of God:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Care for the earth, care for your neighbor,
And love our God: Creator, Savior, and Spirit.
With all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
May we worship God with our whole being.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Thou Wisdom from on high, we confess we have been foolish. We have not listened to our children. We have not protected them. We have not done everything we can to keep them safe and to help them thrive. We have exploited the most vulnerable of our society and have failed to leave the world better for them. Forgive us, O God, for our foolish and selfish ways, and call us into accountability. Remind us that we must care for the earth now for ourselves and for future generations. We must love one another now including the most vulnerable among us. We must see all children as made in Your image, all of us beloved by You, and we must work to make the world a better place. Help us, O God, to do the hard work to restore what we have broken, and to listen to Your Holy Wisdom. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God’s love has been poured out for us, and we know God’s love through the Holy Spirit, and the life of Christ. God has known your voice since you first cried out. You are God’s beloved child. You are forgiven and loved and very much part of God’s beloved community. Go and share the good news with others. More than ever, may we all know how much we are loved and may we love one another. Amen.

Prayer
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! We sing praises to You, Great God of Mystery, the God Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come. You gave your name to our ancestors as, “I Am” or “To Be,” and You breathed life into us and all of creation. You are the one in whom we live, move, and have our being, and You are Being. We come to You in this time full of wonder and awe at You, Great Mystery, Holy Spirit, Divine Presence, Source of Life. All our names for You fall short of who You are. May we simply take this time to be in awe of You, the works of creation, and the work of Your spirit in our lives. Amen and Amen.

Worship Resources for June 5, 2022—Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 (25-27)

Narrative Lectionary: Pentecost: Rejoice in the Lord, Acts 2:1-21 and Philippians 4:4-7 (John 14:16-17)

The readings for the Day of Pentecost for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary traditionally begin with Acts 2:1-21, the story of how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. The disciples had gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Moses receiving of the Torah at Sinai, along with the first fruits of the garden. Because the Jewish people who lived all over the Roman Empire had pilgrimaged to Jerusalem, there were Jewish people who spoke all different languages. Yet suddenly they heard the disciples speaking in their language, after the disciples experienced the Spirit like the rush of a violent wind, and its appearance like divided tongues of fire. While some bystanders were confused (and some thought the disciples were simply drunk), Peter quoted from the prophet Joel that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, God among all the people. Following this passage, Peter continues his speech that it was Jesus, crucified and raised, who poured out the promise of the Holy Spirit.

An alternative first reading is Genesis 11:1-9, the last of the “prehistory” stories, before Genesis turns to Abraham and Sarah and the ancestors of our faith. In this story, positioned after the great flood, all the people of the earth were one people, with one language, who migrated to Shinar and decided to build a great tower so they wouldn’t scatter but stay together. This tower was built into the heavens, the place where divine beings were thought to dwell, and God saw it and wasn’t pleased. God spoke to the heavenly beings and determined that humanity was dangerously close to having power and determination, and so God scattered the people so they would be confused and speak different languages, so they called the city Babel. In this story, speaking different languages is confusion and disunity, as contrasted to the story of Pentecost, where speaking and understanding other languages is the work of unity through the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is a song about creation, praising God for the wisdom of all God’s works. God’s spirit is sent forth in creation, and the breath is the life of creation. When God takes away their breath, they die. Breath, Spirit, and wind are all the same word, ruach in Hebrew, and pneuma in Greek. The song praises God for all of God’s work to bring life in creation.

Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:14-17. For all people, Paul claims, the Holy Spirit is a spirit of adoption, adopting Gentiles into the family with Jewish believers, so that all are joint heirs with Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that we are children of God.

(An alternative reading for the Epistle, if Genesis is chosen, is Acts 2:1-21).

The Gospel lesson turns to John. During Jesus’s final discourse in John 14, after Thomas told Jesus that he didn’t know the way and Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one gets to the Father except through me,” Philip then demanded, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Though Philip and the others had been with Jesus all along, they began to question him and not understand that he and God were one. They didn’t understand how God and Jesus abided in each other, and that Jesus was returning to God, whom he called Abba, or Father. Those who believed in Jesus would do greater works than the ones they had experienced. Jesus taught that if they loved him, they would keep the commandments, and the Parent God would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of all Jesus taught and would continue to teach them. Though Jesus would be leaving them soon, the Advocate would remain with them forever.

The Narrative Lectionary also begins with Acts 2:1-21 and uses Philippians 4:4-7 as its accompanying verses. This is part of Paul’s appeal to the church in Philippi that had experienced some infighting. He called on the church to rejoice in God, to not allow worry to overcome them and instead to bring their requests to God in a spirit of gratitude. “The Lord is near,” Paul wrote, and the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding would be with them as they discerned together.

John 14:16-17 are supplementary verses. This short selection speaks to Jesus’ promise of the Advocate, who will be with them forever. The world cannot know the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, because the world does not know the Spirit, but the disciples will receive the Spirit because it already abides with them.

This day marks the end of our seasons, from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, Ordinary Time to Lent and to Easter. We now enter the second half of the year until Reign of Christ Sunday in November. This is the season in which we experience and know the Holy Spirit continues to abide in us and be at work in our world. Pentecost is a great celebration, the birthday of the church, and a reminder of who we are and who we can be: a people filled and led by the Holy Spirit to include everyone, to be passionate for God in this world, and to rejoice and celebrate that God always has the final word and that word is one that begins everything new again.

Call to Worship:
The Spirit is among us now!
The Spirit calls us to rejoice together!
The Spirit is moving in our world now!
The Spirit calls us to do justice,
love mercy, and walk humbly with God!
The Spirit is within us, alive in us now!
The Spirit awakens us
to the movement of God in the world!
Come, worship God, and be filled with love,
For God is about to rush the world with the Spirit!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy Spirit, we confess that we have dampened our own spirits. The news of kindness and compassion and goodness often does not make it to our hearts, and instead we only feel and experience the brokenness and pain. You are alive, active, in the world now and in us, and yet we sometimes are stuck in cycles of despair and hopelessness. Lift up our hearts, O God, and call us to lift our voices. Even when we cry out in pain and suffering, may we be lifted up so that we rejoice. May we remember You always have the final word and You always make things new again. Hate and despair, hopelessness and violence and death will never have the last word, for You are about to make all things new again. Holy Spirit, may we trust in You and be filled with Your power. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:4-7)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May it be so. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, rush upon us with all the power of the wind, so we might feel Your presence. Fill our lungs with the breath of fresh air, the new life that You have brought into the world. Remind us that we are alive, as long as we have breath, we can do something that builds hope. As long as we have breath, we have Your Spirit, and You will not let us fail. As long as we have breath, there is an opportunity for something new to happen, far greater than what we have experienced and far beyond what we can imagine, for Your Spirit is in us. Renew our hearts and fill us, and call us forth in hope. Amen.

Lament for children who are no more

Not again, not again, not again! we scream, O God.

And yet our screams, our laments, are unheard.

The cries of parents and grandparents and siblings who have lost a loved one, murdered by gun violence, go unanswered.

How long, O Lord? How long, how long, how long?

For though we wish You would tear open the heavens and come down and save us,

You have given us every tool, every insight, every bit of wisdom and knowledge to know how to prevent this, but we are unwilling.

We have valued money and power over the blood of our children.

You desire mercy and not sacrifice, but we continue to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice

Believing that somehow it will save us?

We made a mistake, O God, those of us who are Christian

We made the cross our symbol and worshiped it instead of You.

We have worshiped violence,

Believing that only violence can stop violence

“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”

Jesus said this before he was taken away and killed.

So we know. We know.

That violence will not save us.

The only choice we have, if we believe in Christ,

Is to give up our love of violence.

To give up our weapons that are made to kill another.

This is the only choice if we

are faithful.

This is the only choice

if we want our children to live.

O God, may we be brave enough

to make the right choice.

Amen.

Worship Resources for May 29th, 2022—Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension Sunday: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Narrative Lectionary: The Christ Hymn, Philippians 2:1-13 (Luke 6:43-45)

For the Ascension, in Acts 1:1-11, we learn that Jesus remained with the disciples after his resurrection for about forty days, speaking about God’s beloved reign. When the time came near for him to depart, he assured them that while they were baptized with water, soon they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The disciples were to remain in Jerusalem for this promise. However, the disciples asked Jesus if this was the time when the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Most likely many of the disciples believed that the Messiah would re-establish the kingdom of Israel instead of “a kingdom not of this world.” Jesus simply tells them it is not for them to know. Instead, they will receive the Holy Spirit, and will be Jesus’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. As he was speaking, Jesus was lifted up and hidden by a cloud. While the disciples watched, two angels questioned why they were simply standing there and looking up? Jesus would return as he left: in an unexpected, hidden mystery.

The first selection for the psalm reading is Psalm 47, a song of praise for God who reigns over all the people of the earth. God is Most High, and yet God chose the people of Israel, to give them a heritage as God’s people. This song was most likely used in worship to call the people into praise as the people gathered, remembering their identity as descendants of Abraham and Jacob, children of God.

An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who reigns on high over creation. God is the mighty creator from everlasting, who established the world. The floodwaters lift up praise to God and God is greater than all the waters of the earth. God’s instruction is true and steadfast, for God reigns over all the earth.

The writer of Ephesians includes in their introduction a word of thanks for the receivers of this letter, for their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. As the writer prays for the receivers to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the writer is hoping they accept his message that was passed on to him: that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him in heaven, putting all things under his feet and setting Christ as the head of all things, including the church.

Luke 24:34-43 contains another version of Luke’s account of the ascension. Jesus reminds the disciples that he had told them that the Messiah must suffer and die, and on the third day rise. He taught them that this was found in scripture, and that they were witnesses of everything that had come to pass. In this version, Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in the city until they “have been clothed with power from on high.” After Christ’s ascension, the disciples returned to the city and worshiped in the temple.

The readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter begin with Acts 16:16-34, which was the Narrative Lectionary selection on May 8th. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.

Psalm 97 is a song of praise to God as the ruler of all, the one of power and might. Similar to descriptions of other gods in ancient times, God’s power is witnessed in the might of thunder, lightning, and fire—symbols of judgment. However, those who worship images are put to shame, for God is not an idol, God is the One God above all other gods. God delivers the faithful from the wicked, and the righteous worship God.

The Epistle readings in Easter have followed Revelation, and conclude with 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. The final vision is the completion of everything. The Spirit and the Bride (the church) invite all to join in the vision of God, and take the water of life for all who are thirsty. The beginning and the end, the bright morning star—Jesus invites us into this vision of eternity, and that it may come soon.

Jesus’s final prayer with his disciples is in John 17:20-26. Jesus prays not just for the disciples but for all those who will believe through the words of the disciples, that all may become one. That the world may come to believe, as Jesus and God Above are one, so may we all be one. The world does not know Jesus, but will know Jesus through the disciples, and through us, by the love of God that we share with one another.

The Narrative Lectionary tuns to the ancient hymn found in Philippians 2:1-13. Paul writes to the church and calls them to be in unity, to have the same mind and the same love. Instead of acting out of selfishness, look to the interests of others and serve out of humility. Paul then proclaims the ancient confession that Christ did not exploit his equality with God but emptied himself out of humility, becoming human to the point of death on the cross. Because of this, God exalted Christ above all others, so that everyone should become humble and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God Above.

The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 6:43-45, that good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. We will be known by the fruit that we bear.

Both readings for Ascension Sunday and the Seventh Sunday of Easter are stories of Jesus preparing the disciples for when he is not present with them in the way they have known him. Both stories prepare the disciples for what is to come, for how the Holy Spirit will be at work among them. The way that the world will know God is through their love for one another, for they are witnesses to what Christ has taught. Love must be shared out of humility, and not out of selfish gain. John of Patmos concluded his Revelation with the vision of an abundant city, full of life, a place where God and all people can dwell with no division, sorrow, or evil, and all that is needed is an acceptance of the invitation, for the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” The love is already here. We have been prepared for this journey of faith, and the invitation stands.

Call to Worship
Long ago, our ancestors asked for God’s name;
God became known as the great “I Am.”
“The Alpha and the Omega,”
“The First and the Last,”
“The Beginning and the End,”
“The Bright Morning Star.”
Come, worship God,
“Who was and who is and who is to come, The Almighty.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, Ancient of Days, we confess that we are caught up in our own timelines. We want to see promises fulfilled in our lifetime: an end to poverty and corruption, the saving of our earth from climate change, the powerless lifted up and the powerful brought down. We want peace on earth now, and to live in harmony the rest of our days. Like the disciples, we confess we desire Your kingdom to come to earth with worldly power, instead of us working for Your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Call us into Your ways, and to know that while we may not see the fulfillment in our lifetime, our work is necessary. Our love matters, and all that we strive for will make a difference for Your reign. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” These ancient words spoken to Noah after the flood remind us that God’s steadfast love endures forever. The earth endures from the beginning of creation, and so shall God’s love for us. No matter the struggles we face now, we will make it through by our love for one another. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to us, that whoever believes may have eternity now. God sent the Son not to condemn the world but in order for the world to be saved. Go, and share this good news: God’s love endures forever and there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
God of Mystery and Wonder, we do not fully understand how You came to be among us in the in the flesh, through the Incarnation, but we know it. We do not understand how You came to us on that third day, after suffering and death and the finality of the tomb, but we know it. We do not understand how You ascended to heaven, wrapped in clouds and hidden from our sight, but we know it. And we do not understand how You are returning to us, except that it will be in an unexpected way, for we know You are a God of Mystery and Wonder, making all things new, bringing light out of the face of the deep, and life out of death. We are in awe of You, O Mighty One, and come before You in our worship, our prayers, and our praise. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 22nd, 2022—Sixth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Narrative Lectionary: Partnership in the Gospel, Philippians 1:1-18a (Luke 9:46-48)

In Acts 16:9-15, Paul and some of his companions (including the author of Luke) beheld a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help. When they came to Macedonia, they arrived in Philippi, a Roman city, and found that some of the Gentile women were gathering to pray at the river. This group were probably among the “God-fearers,” Gentiles who believed there was only one God but had not converted to Judaism. Lydia, a merchant dealing in purple cloth, was one of those women, and she invited Paul and others to her home, to baptize everyone in her household, and to stay with her. Lydia is often understood in church tradition to be the founder of the church in Philippi.

Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing: a blessing from God to the people, and a call for the people to bless God. The psalmist prays that God’s ways might be known throughout all people, and that all people, all nations, would turn to God in praise. God is the one who judges all people and all nations, and God has provided for all people. The psalmist knows that all the fruits of the earth, the increase of the harvest—all they see, feel, and experience is due to God’s abundance, so the people in turn ought to bless and revere God.

John of Patmos beholds a vision of the heavenly city of Jerusalem in Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5. In this vision of the holy city that comes down from the clouds, there is no temple, because God is already present there. There is no sun or moon, because the Lamb is the light of the city. The gates of the city will never be shut, and all kings, peoples and nations will be drawn to its light. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God, through the middle of the street, and on either side of the river is the tree of life. This tree produces twelve kinds of fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. Those who worship and serve God, the faithful, are known to God, and God’s name is on their foreheads. The vision concludes with the image of no more night, and all the light needed comes from God and from the Lamb, who will reign forever. The importance of this vision is the idea that the fulfillment of God’s desire for us is a return to what was promised in Eden: God dwells with us, all our needs are met with God, and nothing will separate us from God.

The first selection for the Gospel lesson is John 14:23-29, in which Jesus prepares the disciples for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As part of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples in John’s account, Jesus reminds the disciples that if they love him, they keep his commandments, and that the commandments come not from him but from God Above who sent him. Jesus has taught the disciples while he was among them, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus taught them. Jesus teaches the disciples that though he is leaving, he leaves them with his peace—a peace that is not from the world, but a true peace from him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.” Jesus knows he will be leaving them soon, and though it is impossible to prepare for it, Jesus assures the disciples that he will return (his resurrection), and they will believe.

The alternative Gospel lesson is John 5:1-9, which was part of the Narrative Lectionary back on February 6th. Jesus returned to Jerusalem for a festival (in John’s account he goes to Jerusalem on multiple occasions; in the synoptic gospels he only enters Jerusalem once before his death). Near the Sheep Gate on the city wall, there was a pool called Bethsaida where those who were sick and disabled gathered. Jesus spoke to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, and asked him if he wanted to be made well. He told Jesus that there was no one who could put him in the water when it was stirred up and that others went ahead of him (some later versions of John’s account have additional verses explaining why people believed in the healing property of the water when it was stirred). Jesus instead told him to stand up, pick up his mat and walk. It happened to be on a Sabbath day.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s letter to the Philippians in 1:1-18a. Paul wrote to the church while he was in prison, writing in gratitude for their partnership with him in sharing the Gospel. Paul began by praying that their love would overflow and that they would be filled with knowledge and insight to discern what is truly important. Even though Paul was imprisoned, he knew that the Gospel message was still being shared, and perhaps his imprisonment inspired more people to come to faith in Christ. Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed from love, and even though there are some who proclaim the Gospel for their own selfish gain, Paul does not care, because the Gospel is being proclaimed nonetheless.

The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 9:46-48, where some of the disciples are arguing who is the greatest among themselves. Jesus took a child, sat the child by his side, and taught the disciples that whoever welcomes a child welcomes him, that the least is the greatest. It does not matter their worldly measures of success; what matters is how they welcome and love one another.

So much of how we live in this world is through the lens of this world: measures of wealth and notoriety become measures of success. We have to have more stuff, more money, more of everything and anything. We do not want to be forgotten when we die, so we work for these empty measures that can never be satisfied. Jesus reminds us that if we love him, we keep his commandments. In the stories of disability and healing, we must remember that in Jesus’ time, if one was disabled, they could not work, they could only beg. Healing not the same as curing—healing and wholeness is restoration of all of us, disabled and temporarily abled, as part of God’s beloved community together. Paul reminds the church in Philippi, begun by Lydia long ago, that the world’s goods and the world’s gains do not matter, only the sharing of the Good News in Jesus Christ—because it is proclaimed out of love. The measures of our world are based on wealth and notoriety, on a fear of losing out and being forgotten. The measure of God’s beloved community is love: if you love Christ, we keep Christ’s commandments. If we love God, we love one another.

Call to Worship (Psalm 67:2-5)
May Your way may be known upon earth,
Your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for You judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Love, we confess that we have shortchanged the word love for a fleeting feeling, something that does not require obligation. We say we love everyone but then gossip and slander. We seek power and wealth over others, putting our desires above other’s needs. We determine who is worthy of help and who is not based on our judgments and not on Your love. We have not loved others as You have loved us. We have failed to follow Your commandment. Loving God, forgive us of our selfishness and foolishness. Remind us of how helpless we are without You and without one another. Call us back into the ways of Your generous and abundant love, to seek to serve one another, especially the ones we might find unlovable. Grant us Your mercy and grace to repent and seek to restore what we have broken. Call us into the hard work of reparation and restoration. In the name of Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for all of us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Great is God’s faithfulness, and God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Know this: you are more precious than gold and silver. You are the apple of God’s eye. God loves you madly. Love calls us into accountability, to seek forgiveness and healing and restoration. Go into the world, share the good news of God’s love, and roll up your sleeves and get to work preparing the beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Prayer
Come, Holy Spirit. Overwhelm us and fulfill us, inspire us and guide us in Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Renew our hearts, open our minds, reenergize our spirits to seek You around us and to know You are within us. The terrible news of the world continues to drag us down, but You lift us up on the wings of eagles. Your Holy Spirit catches us at the first breath of dawn and does not let us go. Help us, Holy Movement, when we feel stagnant and stuck in despair, drowning in the losses of this world. Breathe new life in us and remind us that You are the One who truly makes all things new. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 15th, 2022—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Sermon at Athens, Acts 17:16-31 (John 1:16-18)

The Revised Common Lectionary continues to use selections from Acts for the first reading during the season of Easter. In Acts 11, Peter is questioned by some of the other early Christian leaders for eating with Gentiles. Verse 2 refers to “the circumcised believers criticized him,” yet at that time almost all the believers would have been Jewish. We must remember we are reading an account of events written perhaps 40-60 years after they occurred, from a time when Gentiles had already been included in some places and were a greater number than at the time of these events. These stories were needed to portray a universal message out of their roots in Judaism. Peter shared his vision that he beheld in chapter 10, how he was told that he must not call profane what God has made clean. Peter spoke of how the angel had sent him to the centurion’s home, and that the Holy Spirit came upon him as he spoke to this man and his household. If this Gentile soldier and his household believed in the same Jesus Christ and it was the same Holy Spirit, how could Peter hinder God? Then the other Christian leaders didn’t know what to say at first, except then they praised God for giving the Good News to the Gentiles.

Psalm 148 is a song of praise from all of creation to God. The psalmist calls all the heavenly beings, the celestial objects, everything God created above the earth to praise God. Then the psalmist turns to the earth: sea monsters and creatures from the birth of creation, all the meteorological elements, the earth itself, all animals and plants and birds of the air. Next, the psalmist calls upon the people: all rulers, kings and princes, young and old, women and men and all people, to praise God. God is above all, creator of all, and is the advocate for the people. The psalmist concludes by praising the faithful, the people of Israel closest to God, and all praise God.

John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21:1-6. The first heaven and earth have passed away, the sea is no more. Then John witnesses the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and the division of heaven and earth is no more as God’s home is now among humanity. All people are God’s peoples, and God will be their God. John recalls the vision of Isaiah in 26:6-9, where God will wipe away all our tears, and there will be no more death and pain. John turns in his vision to the one seated on the throne, who declares they are making all things new (Isaiah 43:19). God is the Alpha and the Omega, Beginning and End, as John uses this phrase three times in this letter. Jesus is the water of the wellspring of eternal life, an image used in the gospel according to John.

In John 13:31-35, Jesus speaks of being glorified as God has been glorified in him. Jesus calls the disciples, “little children,” a phrase also used by the writer of the letters of John, and tells them that he is about to leave them, and where he is going, they cannot come. However, Jesus has given them a new commandment that they love one another, just as he has loved them. By this, everyone will know they are Jesus’ disciples.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s sermon at Athens in Acts 17:16-31. Before, Paul was debating with leaders of Jewish institutions, but in Athens he found arguments with both Jewish and Gentile religious and philosophical leaders and was disturbed by the number of statues he found to idols. The Athenians seemed interested in hearing him only because he brought a new perspective; not because they believed it, but because if it was new, it was exciting and fashionable. So, Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and preached to them, turning their own rhetoric on them: “I see you are extremely religious in every way” for they even had a statute to an unknown god! Paul proclaims there is one God who made heaven and earth and God does not reside in statues. God gives everything life and from one ancestor made all people. Paul used their own poetic verses to describe the one God, and if they are indeed God’s children, then God is the heavenly parent. The unknown God is known by those who understand that God is calling all people to repent, because the world will be judged by the one God has chosen, who has been raised from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Greeks who heard him believed.

The accompanying verses for the Narrative Lectionary, John 1:16-18, speak of how no one has ever seen God, but the Son, close to God’s heart, has made God known to us. The law was given through Moses, and grace and truth through Jesus Christ.

We all fall into the ways of this world: the latest trends, popular fashion, gossip—who is in and who is out. Peter dealt with division in the early church based on traditional understanding of who belonged and who did not. The first followers of Jesus were Jewish. Their understanding of who they were as God’s people was in the identity of being Jewish, even if they followed Jesus. However, Peter discovered the work of the same Holy Spirit among Gentiles as it was among Jewish followers of Jesus, so how could he exclude Gentiles in the church? Paul proclaimed to the Greeks that in all their searching and philosophizing, looking for something new and exciting—the God who made them all was made known to them, and this was more important than the statues they built or the latest trend of belief. Jesus, however, told the disciples he was leaving them with one new thing: a new commandment, to love one another. The ways of the world distract us, but the way of Christ, the way of love—it leads us to eternity, a new heaven and a new earth, where mourning and death are no more. The ways of this world lead to dead ends; the way of Christ, the way of love, leads to life.

Call to Worship
We gather here to follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is the new commandment:
That we love one another as Christ loved us.
By this we are known as Christ’s disciples:
That we have love for one another.
Come, worship God, and follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we live in a world You did not intend for us. You crafted a beautiful earth full of life; we created a world of wealth and power, stripping Your earth of its bountiful resources. You created us all and called us good; we built walls and ways of dividing others by race and gender, sexual orientation and politics and economics. You made a vast universe full of mystery and wonder, and we made redlining and institutionalized racism, policies that take from those who have little to give to those who have more. You called us to be fruitful and multiply but did not call us to restrict and judge and cause harm to others. Call all into accountability when we have failed to seek You and instead have sought power and dominance. Call us back to Your ways, to the earth You created for us, and remind us of Your intention for us to care for the earth and for all of creation in the best way possible, through the love You gave for us. For You laid down your life for us, and called us to lay down our lives for one another. We have failed, O God, and put our own wealth and selfish gain above others. Call us back to You, to Your way of love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Romans 8:38-39)
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You are made in God’s image. You are beloved by God. Christ laid down his life for you, for all of us, and in Christ you have new life. You are loved and restored and forgiven. Go and share the good news, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
The psalmist declares, “Where can we go from Your spirit? Where can we flee from Your presence?” O God, You are always with us, even when it is hard to take notice. When the world is falling apart, You are carrying us through. Your love sustains us and is known through the love of others. Remind us when things are most difficult to carry on in love, because it is our mutual love that helps us survive. Call us to become living hope for one another, because we cannot carry it all by ourselves. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 8th, 2022—Fourth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Narrative Lectionary: Paul and Silas, Acts 16:16-34 (Luke 6:18-19, 22-23)

In the U.S. this Sunday is Mother’s Day. This can be both a celebratory and a painful Sunday. For women who are struggling with fertility, those unable to have children, and those who have lost a child, churches can be incredibly insensitive when they celebrate mothers, even if they celebrate all women. There are those who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers.

However, Mother’s Day was not created to be the commercial holiday it is today. Started by Anna Jarvis in 1908 as a church holiday, the original intention was to celebrate the work mothers did that was often unnoticed or not valued. Anna Jarvis eventually became disillusioned with the official holiday and the commercialization that followed. Other roots go back to Julia Ward Howe, who began an observance of Mother’s Day in the 1870 following the Civil War to commemorate mothers who had lost their sons due to war, and to commit to pacifism and nonviolence. Certainly a very different approach than how Mother’s Day is celebrated today.

The first selection of the Revised Common Lectionary may give some insight in how to approach Mother’s Day as a celebration of the ministry of women since the early church. Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, was a disciple (the first woman given that title in the New Testament). She was known for her acts of charity, especially ministering among widows. She became ill and died. Two disciples sent word to Peter to come without delay, so Peter hurried to Dorcas’ side. All the widows showed Peter all the good work that Tabitha had done, what she meant to them. Peter prayed, and called for her to rise up, and she got out of bed. The word spread that Tabitha was alive again throughout the community. Perhaps on this Mother’s Day we may remember Tabitha and her ministry and celebrate ministry among women who grieve.

The psalm for today is Psalm 23, an ancient poem of comfort. Often attributed to David, this psalm is recited at funerals and other occasions, reminding us that God is the one who provides for us, sojourns with us on life’s journeys, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and God prepares a table for us of goodness and mercy. As God dwells with us every moment in our life, so shall we dwell with God forever.

John of Patmos beholds another vision of the glorious heavenly throne room, this time with a multitude of people that no one can count, in Revelation 7:9-17. Those that have come to praise God are from every tribe and nation and speak every language. Along with all the heavenly beings, they have come to praise God, and all these people have come through the great ordeal. They have known suffering, but God will now comfort them, guiding them to the wellspring of life. In John’s time, there had been much suffering because of the Roman Empire’s persecution. Some churches that he addressed in his sermon/letter had become comfortable with the empire, but those that remained true to Christ would face further struggles. Those who remained true would know the fullness of God’s salvation and comfort.

The Gospel lesson from John 10:22-30 speaks of a time Jesus was in Jerusalem at the temple in winter. Only in John’s account does Jesus visit the temple before the last week of his life. In this passage, some of the religious leaders want Jesus to be clear as to whether he is or is not the Messiah. Jesus replies to them that those who believe know. Those who know his voice as his sheep. Jesus declares that he and the Father God are one, and those who are his sheep have inherited eternal life because they believe.

The Narrative Lectionary turns ahead in Acts to 16:16-34, when Paul and Silas ended up in prison. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.

On this Mother’s Day, may we remember the roots of this holiday and care for all women, especially the most vulnerable among us. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that trafficking continues today, and there are many organizations working to stop the trafficking of women and children (I encourage you to research those organizations, however, because some end up causing more harm, but there are organizations helping vulnerable people in your community). Dorcas’ story reminds us that the work traditionally done by women in this world has often been overlooked and undervalued—here is a story of a disciple of Christ who was needed so much that Peter prayed she would be brought back to life. And we are reminded that all of us—men, women, transgender, nonbinary—all people—are beloved and part of God’s plan for salvation as revealed to John of Patmos. May we celebrate and honor all today, grieve with those who grieve, and support those whose voices still need to be listened to.

Call to Worship (from Proverbs 9:1-3, 5-6)
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn her seven pillars.
She has mixed her wine,
She has set her table.
She has sent out her servants,
She calls from the highest places in town,
“Come, eat and drink and live,
Come, walk in the way of insight.”
Worship our God, and walk in Wisdom’s ways,
For she invites us into this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have created binaries and boxes, that we have sought to categorize people by gender and ability. We have valued one gender over another and valued one type of work over another. We have sought to label and place others in hierarchies that You never intended for us. You created us in Your image, male and female, and all of us, whether we fit into one or both or neither category, are still in Your image. You have transcended our categories and language that attempts to make sense of You. Forgive us when our boxes and categories have caused harm. Forgive us when we have devalued others. Forgive us when we have forced others to conform. You are the Holy One, the Creator of us all—how dare we attempt to devalue Your creation, Your image? Call us into accountability and the hard work of reparation and restoration, for You are our God, beyond gender and categorization. You made the universe and all that is in it. Call us back to Your ways of healing and wholeness. In the name of Christ, who died for us all, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The prophet Isaiah spoke in 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted.” God’s arms are around you, holding you. God has set you upon their knee like when you were young, to know that you are loved very much. May God’s comfort and kindness and compassion be known in your heart, and may you share that comfort with one another. Go in peace, and serve through compassion. Amen.

Prayer
Wise God, Your spirit traveled over the face of the deep and called forth life. You breathed life into the first human beings and into all creation. You taught us the commandments, Your precepts, Your way of life. You call us away from the world we created to be rooted in Your creation. In Your creation, there is always enough, there is always something new springing forth. You lead us beside the still waters and green pastures. You are our Mother, our Heavenly Parent, in whom we were born again through Jesus Christ, to be a new creation. Help us to live into Your wisdom. Amen.

A Prayer for Mother’s Day (written for Mother’s Day 2020)

The prophet Isaiah said, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
Mothering God, we cherish Your great love for us. As the Creator, You made us in Your image, and called life from the earth and water. In baptism, we are born anew, from water and Spirit, and Your love and care are made known to us as we grow in faith.
We give You thanks for those who have been mothers and stepmothers in our lives, for grandmothers and aunts and all those who have been like mothers to us, who have shown us Your comfort and courage, peace and strength.
God of Peace, we acknowledge that this day that was originally created for mothers grieving the loss of their children in war. We grieve with all who have lost a child, who have struggled with fertility issues, who have had to give up children in foster care and adoption. May Your love surround us, hold us in these tender times.
Loving God, we hold tenderly the ones who have difficult relationships with their mothers, for those who have separated in relationship. We weep with those who are missing their mothers.
In these difficult times, O God, we know the distance that separates us, the physical distance for safety, the distance of time for those gone, the distance of fading memories. We know the distance of estrangement. We pray for healing wherever possible, O God, for forgiveness wherever possible, and for the hope that You bring in our lives.
Hold us, Loving Parent, in Your healing hands, on this day. Amen.

Mother’s Day Litany (written for Mother’s Day 2015)

Holy God, on this day we honor You, as we do every day.
Today we honor You, our Mothering God, who cares for us and nurtures us.
May we comfort those who mourn their mothers on this day;
May we offer our support to those whose mothers are not present.
Guide us in our love for one another,
That we may be empathetic and caring for those dealing with fertility issues.
Hold us in Your love,
And may we seek justice for those who have been abused and harmed by those who were supposed to protect them.
Loving God who cares and protects us all,
We give you thanks and praise for those who have been like mothers to us,
For those who have mothered us in the light of Your love,
For all who reflect Your image of love, care, compassion and peace.
On this Mother’s Day,
May we give thanks for mothers in the world that do Your work of justice, that love us as You have first loved us, and that challenge us to live in righteousness and peace.
For Christ has said “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister, my brother and my friend.” May it be so. Amen.