Worship Resources for February 6th—Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13); Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Healing Stories, John 4:46-54 (5:1-18), (Psalm 40:1-5)

The selection for the Hebrew scriptures is another call story: this time of the prophet Isaiah, as God spoke to him in Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13). Isaiah beheld a vision of the heavenly throne room in the year of King Uzziah’s death—a time of turmoil in Israel. The vision of the eternal throne emphasizes stability in a time of instability; however, in witnessing God in all God’s glory, with smoke pouring forth, quaking and trembling, and the six-winged seraphs calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Isaiah didn’t feel very holy or worthy at all. One of the seraphs touched a coal to his lips, purifying him with fire, and declared that his sin was gone. When God asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah told God to send him. In verses 9-13, God instructed Isaiah on what a prophet’s job is: to speak to the people though they will not listen to him, though if they turn back to God they will be healed. This will happen until the people are taken away in exile, until everything is burned down to a stump, where the seed can grow again.

Psalm 138 is a song of praise, for God has answered the psalmist’s prayers. They live in a world of polytheism, but before all other gods, they sing the praise of their God, and call upon all kings to worship God. The psalmist is assured of God’s presence even during trouble, and praises God for God’s deliverance. The psalmist knows that God will fulfill God’s purpose for them, and that God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Following the section on spiritual gifts, Paul now turns back to the good news of the Gospel, bringing together his focus for the letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. The word that Paul testifies to is this: Christ died, was buried, and rose on the third day, all in accordance with the scriptures as Paul interpreted them. Resurrected, Christ appeared the disciples, including Peter, and many others, but lastly to him. Paul, who persecuted the church, who was the lowest of all, became an apostle—not so he could brag about it, but so that all might believe in the Gospel.

Jesus calls the first disciples in Luke 5:1-11. In Luke’s account, Jesus already has crowds following him and he went into Simon’s boat, asking him to pull out from shore so he could teach the crowds. After he spoke, he told Simon to put out his net. Simon told Jesus he’d been fishing all night and caught nothing, but he would do it again. This time, Simon and his workers caught so many fish the nets began to break. Simon fell at Jesus’ knees, confessing he was a sinner and calling Jesus “Lord.” James and John were also there, amazed at the catch. Jesus told them to not be afraid, for they would be catching people from then on. The three left everything and followed Jesus.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ healing stories in John 4:46-54, with the option of continuing through 5:1-18. Jesus returned to Cana, where he turned the water into wine at a wedding. Jesus knows that the people won’t believe unless they see miraculous signs. When a royal official asks Jesus if he will come see his son before he dies, Jesus tells the official to go home, for his son still lived. Before the official returned home, his own servants came to tell him that his son was alive and that the fever left him, the moment he was talking with Jesus. He and his entire household believed.

In chapter 5, Jesus returns 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, asking him if he wanted to get 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. Some of the religious leaders were upset that the man was walking with his mat, because on the Sabbath that was considered work (it is important to note that this is John’s telling of this story, perhaps some local interpretation, and there was no law in the Torah that would consider that work. Some of the religious leaders argued about Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus said that God, his Abba, was working, so he was working, too. This declaration of equality with God angered some even further.

Psalm 40:1-5 is a song of praise to God for healing and rescue from death. God has given the psalmist a new song to sing, and many people will hear and be amazed. God has done so many wonderful things that no one can compare to God. There are too many wonderful things to talk about that they cannot even be counted.

Sometimes in progressive Christianity we shy away from sin language, but the truth is that all of us have sinned. If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). However, sin does not mean we are unworthy. Sin means we need to acknowledge our wrongdoing or shortcomings and turn back to God, who accepts us and loves us. Isaiah didn’t think he was worthy because his whole people had failed to follow God, and he knew he himself had failed to follow in all of God’s ways. But the seraph touched a coal to his lips, a symbol of purification, and declared he was now free from sin. Paul believed he was the least worthy to share the good news, but by the grace of God, he had been called from his former life of persecution into one of sharing the Gospel. Peter, in Luke’s account, told Jesus to go away because he was a sinner. He wasn’t good enough. In John’s account in the Narrative lectionary, the man couldn’t reach the pool to be healed, to be restored, but Jesus declared he was restored. We can’t justify ourselves or heal ourselves, but we can believe in Jesus, and know that we are loved as we are, accepted as we are, and turn to the work of justice. We are worthy because God calls us by name and continues to call us. God knows we have the capacity to change our hearts and lives. This is the work of repentance.

Call to Worship (Psalm 40)
I waited patiently for the Lord,
God inclined, and heard my cry.
God drew me up from the pit,
And set my feet upon a rock.
God makes my steps secure,
And puts a new song in my mouth.
Many will come to know,
And put their trust in our God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Forgiving God, we confess that we have fallen short. We have deceived ourselves into the ways of this world that make us believe worldly success and wealth is a sign of blessing while we continue to live in sinful ways. We continue to oppress and marginalize others and take wealth for ourselves. We fail to take notice of those who hurt from our ways of life. We fail to make reparations for generations of excess wealth while others suffer. Call us into accountability, O God, so that we might be forgiven. Call us to return what we have gained by the ways of the world at the cost of others. Call us to repair what has been broken, the ways that have propped up privilege and power while others are trampled underfoot. Call us into the work of restoration, so that we may then know Your forgiveness, grace, and healing. No matter what, O God, may we know Your great love for all of us, because it is Your love that calls us into this work of resurrection life. Amen.

The deep, deep love of Jesus for us never ends. Jesus went to the cross for us and lives again, so that we might know new life now, not only life to come. This new life calls us into accountability and restoration. Live into the new life offered by Christ: forgive one another, restore one another, work for justice together and remember God’s grace is abundant. Love one another as God has loved you, and it will go well with you. Amen.

God of Stillness, still our hearts. Quiet our minds. Slow our breathing. Help us to find our pulse, the rhythm of life. In the midst of turmoil and chaos, we are reminded there is no work-life balance, but we can find Your rhythm when we listen to our heart. Help us to slow down. May the fears that edge our minds be eased. May the struggle in our gut still and calm. May the challenges we face fade back, while we find Your rhythm in our life. You are still here. You have always been here and always will be. You are with us, now, in this moment. Help us to be still. (pause) Help us to be still. (pause) Help us to be still, and know that You are God. Amen.

New Lenten Series for 2022: Sojourning

I’ve created a new series this year based off of the Revised Common Lectionary readings from Luke, called Sojourning. The series is based on preparing for a journey, like a road trip or a hike, and mirrors the journey of our lives and experiencing Christ now, not just waiting for the end of our lives. The reign of God is at hand.

Lenten Series 2022 Sojourning

Worship Resources for January 30th, 2022—Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13; Luke 4:21-30

Narrative Lectionary: The Woman at the Well, John 4:1-42 (Psalm 42:1-3)

Jeremiah described God’s call for him to prophesy when he was only a boy in 1:4-10. God told Jeremiah that God knew him from the time he was conceived to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah, similar to Moses, told God he didn’t know how to speak. In this case, Jeremiah was still young. God, however, told Jeremiah not to be afraid, not to say he was just a boy—he was God’s prophet. God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and told him he would give him the words to speak and gave him authority over the nations—words that would tear down and destroy as well as plant and grow.

Psalm 71:1-6 is a psalm of deliverance, a plea for God to rescue the psalmist from their current distress. They know that God has been their foundation since before they were born, and will continue to be their rock. They trust in God and believe in the assurance of God’s presence with them.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Corinthians, with perhaps one of the most well-known passages of Christian Scriptures due to its use in weddings. Paul, however, was speaking of spiritual gifts and addressing the conflict within the church in Corinth, where some believed certain gifts were greater than others along with certain teachings. This chapter is the penultimate section on spiritual gifts—without love, we are nothing. Love is the greatest, and what we should be striving for above all things, for God is love.

The Gospel lesson continues from last week in Luke 4:21-30. Jesus, coming out of the wilderness, began his preaching ministry and returned to his hometown of Nazareth, where he read from the scroll of Isaiah and declared that day the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. The scroll, from Isaiah 61:1-2, stated that the Spirit of the Lord was upon the prophet, to bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, release to the prisoners, and other good news to all who are marginalized. At first, Jesus’ neighbors in his hometown liked what he said. They knew him, he was Joseph’s son, and he said good news to them. However, when Jesus responded that no prophet is truly accepted in their hometown, and how Elijah and Elisha were sent to foreigners instead of the people of Israel during difficult times, Jesus’ neighbors grew angry and wanted to throw him off the cliff. They didn’t like that Jesus suggested the good news fulfilled in their hearing wasn’t necessarily for them, but for others. This wasn’t the sort of message they wanted in their synagogue. They wanted to hear words of comfort, not words of challenge. They wanted good news for themselves, not to be told that at times, good news is for other people, too.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Woman at the Well in John 4:1-42. Jesus crossed a number of societal and cultural barriers by staying at the well of Jacob in a Samaritan area, where he encountered a Samaritan woman, alone, and asked her for a drink of water. This was scandalous. Samaritans were the descendants of Israelites who had worshiped in Samaria and never reunited with the people of Judah after the exile. However, Jesus told her that if she knew who he was, she would ask him for his living water, the water of eternal life. When she asked to have that water so she may never be thirsty again, Jesus told her to go call for her husband and come back—which would have been appropriate culturally. She responded that she had no husband, and Jesus comments that she didn’t lie—she’s been married five times before, and she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Even more scandalous! However, Jesus didn’t judge her. Instead, she questioned him further about worship, and while Jesus upheld the worship by his own cultural group, he also told her that the day would come when true worshippers would know God in spirit and in truth. She finally seemed to understand that the water she was thirsty for was not the water of everyday life, but the water of eternal life. She told everyone in her hometown about this man who knew everything about her, and wondered if he might be the Messiah. The disciples were alarmed that Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman alone, but then they questioned Jesus about food in a similar way that Jesus and the Samaritan woman discussed water. Jesus taught them that his food was doing the will of God. The Samaritans of that town came to believe in Jesus and that he was the Messiah, first from the woman’s testimony, and then from their own encounter with him.

Psalm 42:1-3 poetically uses the metaphor of a deer longing for flowing streams—this is how our soul longs, thirsts for the living God. For the psalmist, their tears have been their food day and night, while they are taunted by others wondering where God is. Their yearning for God’s presence and deliverance is like thirst and hunger—we need God, for without God we are nothing.

Prophets had a terrible job of delivering news to people who usually didn’t want to hear it. The only truly successful prophet was Jonah, who delivered his news and the people repented and turned to God. One of the few times that people actually listened before it was too late. Sometimes the people were faithful for a while, like with Moses, but kept turning away from God because they didn’t like what God said to them through Moses. Poor Jeremiah started out his career as a boy, and later ended up in the stocks and was almost killed. In the Disney movie Encanto, Bruno could see the future, but it wasn’t what his mother wanted to hear because it didn’t sound like everything would be perfect. She tore her family apart, believing she was the one who could keep it together if everything turned out how she thought it should. If we don’t hear exactly what we want to, often we human beings get finicky with God and decide it must be the prophet or the teacher who is wrong, instead of listening and discerning to change our ways.

Sometimes, instead, it’s the outsiders, the outcasts, the people different from us who show us the way of God. Jesus referred to the widow at Zarephath, who was so desperate and ready to die that Elijah’s words, even though they seem foolish, are enough that she is willing to try. However, Naaman the Syrian didn’t believe the prophet Elisha at first, because it wasn’t a flashy miracle. Elisha told Naaman to just bathe in the Jordan seven times and he’d be healed of his leprosy. Naaman finally did it after his servant urged him to. In John’s account, it is the Samaritan Woman at the well, an outsider, an outcast, who isn’t judged but is searching for something greater in life. She is seen by Jesus for who she is—someone who has been put down by society—and Jesus offers her something more meaningful. And we remember that we began this season with the Magi from the east, pointing the way to something greater than the worldly kingdoms people knew.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 46)
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in time of trouble.
Though the earth should change,
We will not fear.
Though mountains tremble and waters foam,
God is in our midst.
We shall not be moved;
God is with us as the morning dawns.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Past, Present, and Future, You sent us prophets throughout the years to speak the truth to us, but we have conveniently ignored what we didn’t want to hear. We turn to anger when confronted with changing our ways, and violence when we are challenged. Forgive us, O God, for our stubbornness and short-sightedness. We give You thanks, O God, for the prophets You have sent and continue to send us: prophets who speak to us about the reality of climate change, prophets who cry out against the continued injustice of Jim Crow and restricted voting, prophets who clamor for change against a police and prison system that perpetuates violence and racism. Call upon us to listen, O God, to repent, and to change our ways. In the name of Christ, the one who laid down his life for us, we pray. Amen.

Every day, every hour, every moment is a chance for renewal, for this is a new time for us. Every moment is an opportunity to turn to God and follow God’s ways. Take this moment now to change one thing about your life. Take this moment now to forgive one person whom you have held a grudge, and may you know God’s forgiveness in this moment for you when you have done wrong. Take this moment to feel God’s love in your very breath. Breathe in God’s spirit, and breathe out God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. Amen.

Living Water, fill us with Your Loving Spirit. May we not be overwhelmed by the world, but press forward, steady on, knowing that Your Living Water will never stop flowing. As the river of life is endless, so we are endless. Death has no hold on us, for the Living Water has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life Eternal. Buoy us when the world seeks to consume us, O God, and may we experience Your ever-flowing love in You, Wellspring of Life. Amen.

Resouces for Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday–January 16th

If you are looking for resources for MLK Sunday, here are some from the archives:

Last year’s post

Litany from 2020:

Litany for Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

God of the prophets, God of justice, we call upon You today in our distress:

We weep for the violence in our world.

We cry out for the children locked in cages;

We lament that our neighbors sleep outside on the street.

We raise our voices against the violence of antisemitism and Islamophobia;

We are fed up, O God, with the injustice and hatred spewed in Your name.

We demand our elected officials take seriously the mass incarceration of Black people and police violence;

              We call out the systems and structures that have oppressed people of color for far too long.

We confess where we have fallen short, where we have been ignorant;

              We confess that at times we may have hindered rather than helped.

We confess that our silence has caused more harm;

              We seek forgiveness for the ways we have inhibited the work of justice.

We lift up to You, O God, our hearts, our voices, our own bodies.

              We pledge ourselves to live out Your ways of reparation and healing.

We commit ourselves to the pursuit of justice,

              For only through justice may we know peace.

On this Sunday, we remember and honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. and his legacy.

              We remember and honor all those in the long struggle for justice.

We recommit ourselves to Your ways, as spoken by the prophet Micah:

              We pledge to do justice, act in loving-kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

We go forth into the world as ambassadors of justice and peace;

              We live, knowing our very lives are witnesses of Your restoration.

We ask for Your guidance, O God, for our life’s journey; for Your wisdom in life’s struggles,

              And for Your peace in our hearts and in our world. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 23rd, 2022—Third Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Narrative Lectionary: Nicodemus, John 3:1-21 (Psalm 139:13-18)

Ezra the priest led the community of exiles who returned to Jerusalem in a ceremony of restoring the temple in Nehemiah chapter 8. Ezra read portions of the Torah out loud to the people, and the people worshiped God. The governor Nehemiah, along with Ezra and the Levites, instructed the people to rejoice–not to mourn what was lost in the exile or how the people had gone astray, but instead to celebrate God’s faithfulness.

Psalm 19 is a song of celebration for God’s instruction and word, from the heavens to the earth. The psalmist begins with a song of God’s glory extending from heaven, describing how the sun emerges like a groom newly married and ready for the day. The psalmist shifts to the law of God, the instruction given by God that is faithful and true, and more desirable than anything on earth. The psalmist concludes by seeking God’s forgiveness and purification before God for any wrongdoings they are not aware of, so they may be innocent before God.

The Epistle readings continue in 1 Corinthians with 12:12-31a, along the theme of spiritual gifts. This section focuses on unity in the body of Christ. The church in Corinth faced many divisions, chief among them which teacher to follow (1:12), and which spiritual gift was more important (1 Corinthians 12:1-11, last week’s reading). Paul now turns to reminding the church that they are one body in Christ, that the body needs a variety of gifts and cannot function without the others. All ought to have the same care and compassion for one another. While they are individually members of the body, they are one body in Christ, and not everyone can have the same gift; but all gifts are needed for the church.

Jesus’ ministry begins in Luke 4:14-21. Jesus taught in his hometown synagogue, reading from the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-2) and telling the people that the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing at that moment. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him to proclaim the good news to those who were oppressed, poor, marginalized because of their disability, and imprisoned. Jesus proclaimed that these words of liberty and restoration was fulfilled as they heard it.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was intrigued enough by Jesus that he came to visit him, but came at night so no one else would know. Nicodemus stated that he and others (“we”) knew that Jesus was sent by God because of the signs he performed, but Jesus replied that it wasn’t possible to know God’s kingdom without being born anew or born from above. Nicodemus took this literally, but Jesus spoke of being born of the Spirit. Nicodemus still didn’t comprehend. Jesus told him that if he couldn’t understand the earthly things Jesus taught, how could he understand heavenly matters? Jesus then used the example of Moses placing a serpent on a pole while the Israelites were dying from snakes—when they looked up, they were healed. So too must Jesus be raised up—on a cross—in order for the people to find healing and be saved. Jesus then declared that God’s love is so great for the world that Jesus came to save all who believe, and not to condemn. However, people preferred the world’s bleakness over the light that Jesus brought. All actions will be exposed in the light of Christ; this is the judgment.

In Psalm 139:13-18, the psalmist poetically describes the intimacy of God’s care for us as well as the mystery of God’s wonderful greatness. The psalmist writes of how God knew us in the womb as we were formed. Before we existed, God knew all the days of our lives, and all of God’s thoughts are beyond our comprehension.

The awe and wonder of God is revealed to us through the work of Jesus—through his teaching, through his healing, and through the way he turned the world upside down. For Nicodemus, what Jesus spoke of was impossible—and yet he was drawn to Jesus because he knew God was doing something new. The neighbors of Jesus in Nazareth were drawn to Jesus because of his authority and declarations of God’s good news—but as we will learn in next week’s reading, when it becomes good news for others, they will turn away. God is far beyond our comprehension and understanding. Far too often we have understood God in a small, personal way: a god who grants wishes and desires, instead of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth and the entire Universe, who also shows us the way of Wisdom through Jesus in how we ought to live. As the ancient Israelites worshiped and celebrated, God remains faithful to us, even our fickle and flighty selves.

Call to Worship (from 1 Corinthians 12:12, 21, 27)
Just as the body has many parts,
All parts belong to one body.
Though we are many,
We are one in Christ.
One cannot say to the other,
I have no need of you,
For we are indispensable.
We need each another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we think we know better. We think we know what’s up. We think we have the right to judge others. We think that we know what’s best for the world because it’s best for ourselves. Forgive us for our selfishness and short-sightedness. Remind us that You formed each of us as You formed the universe. Call us into repentance, to turn back to You. Creator of All, we humbly come before You, recognizing our own mortality and insignificance, and yet, because of Your love, we know we are valued, and we need one another. In humility and mercy, may we forgive as we are forgiven, and seek Your wisdom ways. Amen.

May the peace of Christ guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May we be thankful. May we be filled with God’s compassion, love, and mercy for one another. May we be at peace with one another. May we have peace in our hearts. May we go forward knowing the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is with us, now and always. Amen.

Patient One, You have watched humanity grow from the stardust and have patiently waited for us to seek You before all other things. You patiently waited millions of years for life to form on this planet. You waited in anticipation as we learned to communicate and create art and find You. You are still patient with us as we seek Your ways against the ways of this world that we have made. Guide us into patient living, O God: patient with one another, gentle in spirit, longing for forgiveness, rooted in compassion. Help us to know that our patience is rewarded as we pursue justice and peace by being slow to judge and quick to forgive. Keep us to Your ways and help us to abandon the ways of this world toward greed and selfish gain. Guide us into Your rhythm of life, so that we may hear the heartbeat of the universe and know the fullness of Your love in our lives. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 16th, 2022—Second Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Cleanses the Temple, John 2:13-25 (Psalm 127:1-2)

In this season after Epiphany, we look to signs of Christ revealed to the world.

The Hebrew Scripture lesson is again from Isaiah, in the time after the exile. The prophet promises the people of Israel that the nations will witness God at work through them. What they have been through will not be for nothing. They are the crown jewel of God’s creation. Like many prophets, Isaiah uses names as metaphors for the people, who will no longer be known as Desolate but as My Delight is in Her. In the metaphor of marriage from this particular time period and history, the forgotten young woman is now the delight of the new bride. It is a romance story of all romance stories—God loves the people madly and chooses them, though they were rejected by the world.

Psalm 36:5-10 speaks of God’s steadfast love. The psalmist writes of God’s faithfulness and righteousness like the strong mountains God has created. God provides out of the abundance of creation to the people, and God is the people’s refuge and salvation. “In your light we see light,” is a metaphor for understanding that when we embrace the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, we know God’s presence everywhere. When we look through the lens of God, we see God everywhere. When we take notice of God being revealed in us, we take notice of God revealed everywhere.

The Epistle reading begins a series in 1 Corinthians on spiritual gifts, starting with 12:1-11. Paul was concerned about divisions within the church at Corinth, and also some of their prior beliefs when they were followers of the Greek gods. Paul wants them to know that there are a variety of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Holy Spirit. If they claim to have gifts, but curse Jesus, then they do not have the Holy Spirit among them—the Holy Spirit is present with all good gifts and works. There is one God, though the manifestation of the Spirit may be different in each person, for we are all individuals, yet part of the same body of Christ.

The Gospel lesson was the Narrative Lectionary lesson last week, the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11. The passage begins with “on the third day.” The first day, back in 1:35-42, was John the Baptizer’s testimony—John’s revealing of who Jesus is to his own disciples. Andrew told his brother Simon, and they both followed Jesus. The second day, John 1:43-51, was Jesus’ journey to Galilee, where Philip from Bethsaida chose to follow Jesus and persuaded Nathanael to meet Jesus, and he also followed him. So the first day was the revelation by John to his own disciples, the second day a revelation by the disciples to new potential followers along the way. The third day, while still in Galilee, they went to Cana and attended a wedding with Jesus’ mother. The wine ran out—an embarrassing problem for the hosting family. Mary told Jesus that they were out of wine. Jesus was stubborn—he told his mother that his hour had not yet come, but she ignored him and insisted to the servants that they do whatever Jesus said. Mary reveals who Jesus is by his action of changing the water into wine, because he would not disobey her. Although no one, besides the disciples, Mary, and the servants, knew what happened, Jesus was revealed through a sign to his disciples, and they believed in him.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the next part of John’s Gospel account, 2:13-25, when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple. In John’s account this happens very early on in Jesus’ ministry, whereas in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it happens the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem during the last week of his life. In this account Jesus makes an early trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, and finds people selling animals for the sacrifices and the money changers at their tables. Jesus makes a whip of chords and drives all of them out of the temple, overturning the tables and dumping out all the money. He yells at those selling the doves that this was his Father’s house, and they were turning it into a market. The people in the temple asked why he was doing this, and what sign could he show them as to why. Jesus responds with, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In Mark’s account, at his trial his accusers use those words against him (though he did not speak these words himself in Mark’s Gospel), but in John’s account he speaks them here. Jesus was alluding already to his death and resurrection, his own body. By the time John’s account was written the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and perhaps this was speaking to a different kind of worship for the followers of Jesus after the temple’s destruction.

Psalm 127:1-2 contain the words of God’s blessing to the family and home. Unless God “builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” The foundation of family and home must be in God, or it is for nothing.

Relationships, family, marriage—all of these need a strong foundation. A strong foundation includes trust, respect, but also boundaries. Some of the marriage metaphors found in our scriptures are abusive, even in their historical contexts. Even in the way we speak of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, spiritual abuse has often been shoveled onto the marginalized and vulnerable. Churches and leaders have taken advantage of those seeking belonging. Jesus saw abuses in the temple and in his view, the whole thing needed to be turned over. Paul reminds us that in a world where we prioritize wealth and power there is a different way to live. Through the Holy Spirit, there are a variety of gifts: to appreciate everyone for what they bring from God to all of us. There are no gifts greater than others. We are reminded that in Christ we all belong to one another, we all serve one another. There is no fairy tale prince that rescues and redeems us—Christ laid down his life for us so that we would lay down our lives for one another. We are the ones who save each other, for Christ saved us. We are the ones who tear down the systems of oppression and injustice for each other, because Christ conquered those systems of sin in his death and resurrection.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 36:5, 9-10)
God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens,
God’s faithfulness to the clouds.
With God is the fountain of life,
In God’s light, we see light.
May God’s steadfast love be with us,
May we draw closer to God.
In this time of worship,
May we seek the presence of Christ in one another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, our Rock and our Salvation, we confess that our own foundation has been shaky. We have schemed in relationships, used friends and others for social gain. We confess that at times we tolerate the actions of others when they should be called out. Forgive us for the times we have transgressed boundaries and taken advantage of others. Show us how to be gentle with ourselves when we have been hurt and wronged by others. Teach us how to create good boundaries and sure foundations with one another of trust, respect, compassion, and mutual love. In Your love and grace may we grow in relationship with one another. Amen.

“There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has gifted each of us. We are all unique, but we are all needed. You are very much a part of the body of Christ; without you, we are not whole. Each of us is worthy of God’s love and worthy of being loved by others. Learn to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Learn to help heal and restore and seek healing and restoration for yourselves. Share in this Good News, this body of Christ, and help restore and repair our world together. Come, you are invited. Amen.

God of Many Names, we rejoice that You know us. You know our truename in our hearts: Beloved. Child. Holy and Wild Ones. Beautiful Creation. Dancer. Lover. Rejoicing One. You know our inmost parts, as the psalmist sings, and knit us together long ago. We rejoice that we can know You through the life of Jesus our Savior, Brother, and Friend; through the Holy Spirit, Breath and Wind and Refiner’s Fire, Sophia and Wisdom; and through Your work as Creator, Maker, Weaver of the Stars and Sky, Almighty One. So many names for You, O God, and yet You know each of us. Remind us to delight in You and to rejoice with one another, celebrating that we are made in Your image of love and light and laughter. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 9th, 2022—Baptism of Christ Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Narrative Lectionary: Wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11 (Psalm 104:14-16)

See last week’s blog post for Epiphany resources.

We begin this season after Epiphany with the Baptism of Christ, and the theme through the scriptures is God’s voice.

The Hebrew Scripture passage recalls the people of Israel returning after the exile, and God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the people in 43:1-7. God knows the people, for they are God’s own, the ones God has redeemed. Neither water nor fire will overtake or consume the people, for God will make sure they will return. These faithful are precious in God’s sight, and God would give everyone else up for them. God will gather all those in exile and bring them back to where they belong, for God has called them by name.

Psalm 29 is a song of how God’s voice commands over the heavens and the earth. The psalmist calls upon the heavenly beings to worship God, for God’s voice is over all creation, in command over the wilderness and wild waters and the wind. God’s reign is over the forces of nature and causes the neighbors of Israel to flee. The psalmist prays a blessing for God’s strength and peace to be upon the people.

In Acts 8:14-17, Peter and John traveled to Samaria where they met some followers of Jesus who were baptized in his name, but had not received the Holy Spirit. They were possibly disciples of John the Baptist. Peter and John laid their hands on these followers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke shares an account of Jesus’ baptism in 3:15-17, 21-22. While the people who gathered at the Jordan questioned whether John might be the Messiah, John told them that one was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John described the Messiah as the one with the winnowing fork in hand on the threshing floor, separating the wheat that grew together with the chaff. The chaff was thrown into the fire of purification, an unquenchable fire, and the wheat gathered into the granary. Baptism is a preparation for the work of the Messiah, a repentance from our sin and accepting of our belonging to God through the Holy Spirit. When it’s Jesus’ turn, however, John doesn’t make any special announcement about Jesus when he comes forward to be baptized. Perhaps he didn’t know. Even though Luke’s account has John and Jesus being cousins, they may not have known each other before this. It’s after Jesus was baptized and praying that the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven declared this was the Son of God, and God was well pleased.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Wedding at Cana (which will be the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel passage next week) in John 2:1-11. The passage begins with “on the third day.” The first day, back in 1:35-42, was John the Baptizer’s testimony—John’s revealing of who Jesus is to his own disciples. Andrew told his brother Simon, and they both followed Jesus. The second day, John 1:43-51, was Jesus’ journey to Galilee, where Philip from Bethsaida chose to follow Jesus and persuaded Nathanael to meet Jesus, and he also followed him. So the first day was the revelation by John to his own disciples, the second day a revelation by the disciples to new potential followers along the way. The third day, while still in Galilee, they went to Cana and attended a wedding with Jesus’ mother. The wine ran out—an embarrassing problem for the hosting family. Mary told Jesus that they were out of wine. Jesus was stubborn—he told his mother that his hour had not yet come, but she ignored him and insisted to the servants that they do whatever Jesus said. Mary reveals who Jesus is by his action of changing the water into wine, because he would not disobey her. Although no one, besides the disciples, Mary, and the servants, knew what happened, Jesus was revealed through a sign to his disciples, and they believed in him.

Psalm 104:14-16 is a portion of a song blessing God as Creator and Provider. In these verses, the psalmist praises God for cattle and plants that bring forth food, for the grass that feeds the cattle. The psalmist also praises God for the fruits of the land: wine that gladdens the human heart, oil that makes the face shine, and bread that strengthens us. Paired with the Wedding in Cana, we are reminded that God delights in our joy and celebrations, especially when we invite God and are reminded of God’s presence in our celebrating.

This season after Epiphany continues to be a season of revelations. The magi revealed Christ to the world; Jesus’ baptism reveals who he is yet again, as the Son of God, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends. Jesus is revealed in the wedding at Cana as God who celebrates with us. Jesus’ very human mother Mary reminds her Godly son to be human, too, and to be concerned when we are concerned and to celebrate when we celebrate. Jesus is revealed as both human and divine in his own baptism. God’s voice is the one with the power over all creation, but it is Jesus’ mother’s voice who reminds him of who he is, and his own voice is given authority by her saying, “Do whatever he tells you to.”

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 43:2-3a)
When you pass through the waters,
God will be with you;
And through the rivers,
They shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire
The flame shall not consume you.
For the LORD is our God,
the Holy One, our Savior.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we live at times as if You are far away. We live at times as if You are above us, distant in a cloud. We have forgotten the humanness of Your life, that You were born as vulnerable and messy as us. You were baptized as we were baptized, in water from this earth You created. You called forth followers who were Your friends. You celebrated at weddings and had family members tell you what to do. Remind us to invite You into the mess of our lives, O God, for You have lived it and experienced it. You know what it is like to be rejected by family, to be feared, to be forgotten, and to be loved and accepted and cared for. Remind us that You are very near to us, not only in Spirit, but in experience. You know us. You know our hearts. You know our lives. May we rejoice and celebrate that You are dear to us, and we are dear to You. Amen.

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister and my brother, my siblings, my family.” Whenever we turn back to Jesus’ way and live into God’s will, we know that we belong to God’s family, that we belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to us. Love one another, forgive one another, help one another in healing and encouragement. Live into this good news, knowing that God knows the number of hairs on your head, and loves you madly. Amen.

Wellspring of Life, we need water and air to live. By our breath we know Your Spirit; by the waters we know death and life. We are birthed into this world in the water of the womb, and born into You by the breath of the Spirit. In our baptism, we remember that we are both fully born of You and of this earth. As Jesus came to us, may we understand our unity in You. May we grow in understanding of our connection to the earth and all of creation. May we do our part to clean our water and air, to remember these gifts from You, gifts through the earth, that are part of us. In the name of Christ, who was born of Mary and brings us into new life now on Your beautiful earth, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 2nd, 2022—New Year’s Sunday, Second Sunday of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary Options
New Year’s Sunday: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46
Second Sunday of Christmas: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: (1-9), 10-18
Epiphany Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Says “Come and See,” John 1:35-51 (Psalm 66:1-5)

There are several options for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

For New Year’s, we begin with a poem on the seasons of humanity experienced in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. Part of the Wisdom Literature, this poem reminds us that that seasons of joy and mourning, of struggle and release, are part of life. As we look to a new year, we are reminded that things come and pass. Though other passages of scripture remind us to look to a future with hope, in these uncertain times the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of life is uncertainty, a balance of suffering and hope.

Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God, the one who made all the heavens. God’s strong foundation and fortress is in the newly born, who sing God’s praise. The psalmist wonders, however, that out of all the universe, the moon and stars—why make human beings? What are we that God is mindful of us? And yet, God made human beings similar to divine beings, only slightly less so, and has given them glory and honor, and all of creation is under the care of human beings. How wonderful is God who has done this for us!

John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21:1-6a. In John’s vision, the heavenly city of Jerusalem descends to earth, and God’s home is made with humanity. There is no more dividing line between heaven and earth. Sorrow and mourning will cease, and God will bring us comfort. God is making all things new, for God is the beginning and the end.

Jesus tells a final parable in Matthew 25:31-46, though it’s not like the other parables. It’s the capstone on parables about the reign of God, and in this one, the Son of Humanity will sit on a throne as a king and separate the sheep from the goats. To those who have welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the imprisoned, they have done so to him. To those who did not, they will depart to the eternal fire, for the righteous will inherit eternal life—those who have lived as if Christ was among the marginalized, poor, and oppressed.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Christmas begin with the prophet Jeremiah, the promise of the exiles returning in 31:7-14. God will bring back the exiles, the prophet declares, as God has fulfilled the promises of old. Celebration and restoration go hand in hand. God rescues the people from their oppression; as God has done so in the past, God will do so again. God, like a parent to all people, views Ephraim (another name for Israel) as the firstborn, the ones who changed how God related to all people the way a first child changes perspective for a parent.

Psalm 147:12-20 is a song calling for the city of Jerusalem to praise God as its protector. God is the one who gives strength and security to the people of the holy city. However, God’s commands are also for the whole earth. God is the one who works in all creation, yet also shares the commandments and ordinances with the people of Israel.

The opening of the letter to the Ephesians shares a blessing for God and for the community of believers, all of whom have become children of God through Jesus Christ. The theme of adoption is one used by the early church as a way of signifying that there were no divisions among the believers, for all were now part of one faith together. Through Christ, sins are forgiven, and God’s will revealed. Through the Holy Spirit, we are known to God and will know God’s salvation at the end of time.

John 1:1-18 was also the Narrative Lectionary choice for the fourth Sunday of Advent. John places Jesus at the beginning of everything with God, calling Jesus the Word (Logos). The Living Word was with God in the beginning, and is Life, the Light of all people, which shines in the darkness and is not understood. Dr. Wil Gafney translates darkness in this verse as bleakness in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Second Sunday after Christmas. We must always be weary of how darkness and light have been used by white Christians to link darkness with evil and lightness with good. Instead, what John is conveying is that Christ came into this world to bring forth life to all people and nothing is able to overcome or extinguish life. John (the Baptizer) was sent by God to testify to the Word, the Life, so that all would believe in the Life. But the world did not recognize the Life, and neither did the Life’s own people. The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Word/Life’s glory, full of grace and truth. This is the Life that John testified to.

For Epiphany Sunday, we begin with the traditional reading from Isaiah 60:1-6. The words of Second Isaiah are hope for a people returning from exile. God’s glory now shines in the people who have returned, and other nations are drawn to their light, to the knowledge that God has remained faithful to them. Kings are drawn to the brightness of this new beginning, and the gifts and goods of other lands shall once again flow to the holy city of Jerusalem, including the image of camels bringing gold and frankincense.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 is a prayer of blessing for a new king. The psalmist asks for God to bless the king with God’s sense of righteousness and justice for the poor. The prayer seeks God’s guidance for the king that they may have long life and peace. The psalmist continues, calling upon other kings to pay tribute and to bring gifts in service of this new king for Israel. This new king will pay attention to the marginalized and oppressed, rescue the poor and needy, and honor the lives of those often forgotten about by society, for they are precious to God.

In Ephesians 3:1-12, the writer declares that the mystery of Christ has been revealed: Gentiles and Jews, all people, are members of the same body. All share in the same promise of Christ, and all share in God’s grace. God’s wisdom is revealed through the church, in which all belong, and is made known to the whole world. The faithful can be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in whom we have the boldness and confidence of faith.

Matthew’s account of the magi occurs after Jesus’ birth. The magi came to Jerusalem, the royal city, and visited the current king, Herod, to ask where the new king was born. They observed his star at its rising, for they were probably astrologers. Herod, a puppet of the Roman government ruling under the governor’s authority, had no idea what the magi were speaking about and was afraid of an usurper of his power. He consulted the scribes, who searched the scriptures and found passages from the prophets about a new king being born in the city of David, Bethlehem, one to shepherd Israel. Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem to search for the child. The star stopped over the house of Mary and Jesus, and they presented their gifts to him, before returning home via another road, as the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The writer of Matthew uses more references to the Hebrew scriptures than other Gospel writers, and often out of context. This passage about the one to shepherd Israel from Micah 5:2 refers to a king in the prophet’s time when the Assyrian empire was invading. The writer of Matthew is concerned with proving that Jesus is the promised king for the people and tells a story in which Jesus fulfills those promises, though often not how people expected him to.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes chapter one of John’s Gospel with 1:35-51. When John sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God, his own disciples begin to follow Jesus. In John’s account, Andrew was first a disciple of John, but told Simon that they had found the Messiah. Jesus then calls Simon Peter. Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip tells Nathanael that they had found the one spoken about by Moses and the prophets. But Nathanael is doubtful that anything good comes from Nazareth, a small town. When he meets Jesus, Jesus seems to know him already. Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him under a fig tree, and Nathanael believes that he is God’s Son. Jesus tells Nathanael he will see greater things than these, including the vision that Jacob beheld of the angels ascending and descending from heaven.

Psalm 66:1-5 is a song of praise to God for God’s awesome works and deeds. All the earth worships God. In verse 5, the psalmist calls upon the people to come and see God’s deeds, and God’s awesome works for human beings.

It is hard to temper expectations when entering a new year, although the last few seem to have made us all pause. We do not know what the new year will bring, perhaps more than any other time in recent memory. Yet when we imagine two thousand years ago, an oppressive Roman Empire, a local government concerned with keeping power and the status quo, we can imagine that perhaps others were unsure how to have hope. In a time when there were several who claimed to be the Messiah (Acts 5:34-40) only to fail, it is the foreigners, the outsiders, who show those within the community that God is already present with them. Perhaps in a world of fear, we can look to the signs of hope and follow them. Life shines, despite the bleakness of our Covid world. Perhaps we can heed the warning signs from the past two years, and enter the new year by another way.

Call to Worship (for New Year’s Sunday, from Revelation 21:5b-6a)
God is making all things new,
For God’s words are trustworthy.
God is the Alpha and Omega,
The Beginning and the End.
We enter this new year with hope,
That we will draw closer to God;
For God has drawn near to us.
Together, we are Christ’s body.

Call to Worship (for Epiphany Sunday, from Isaiah 60:1-6)
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
The LORD will arise upon you,
and God’s glory will appear over you.
Lift up your gaze and look around,
Then you shall see and be radiant;
Your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
You shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All Beginnings, we confess our own despair and distrust. Our expectations have been tempered, our hopes subdued. We are afraid of being let down again by the world. Remind us that our hope is not in the things of this world, in our leaders or our systems, but our hope is in You, Creator of heaven and earth. Shape our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to accept what we cannot change but to transform our own lives to Your ways. Mold our lives to live as You lived, in compassion and loving-kindness, in gratitude and peace. Lift up our hearts, so we may enter this new year with Your living hope. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you enter this new year with expectation that the world will change. Emmanuel, God is with us, now and always, and we can never be the same. The worst thing in the world is not the last thing that will happen to us. Goodness, love, and mercy will always prevail. Trust these words in your heart, trust the promises of God, and know that you are forgiven, loved and restored. Amen.

Wondrous Star that shines so bright! Shine in the bleakness and misery. Shine in the shadows and gloom. Shine in our hearts when our hopes are failing. Shine in our lives when we feel out of place and lost. Shine in our world when the systems and structures of the world oppress and condemn. Shine in us, so that we may shine Your light and life to the world. Bright Morning Star, shine our way. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 26th, 2021—First Sunday after Christmas

Surprise! I’m posting resources a bit early as I know some may be planning ahead.

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Narrative Lectionary: A Voice in the Wilderness, John 1:19-34 (Psalm 32:1-2)

The Hebrew scripture lesson for this first Sunday after Christmas contains a few verses about the prophet Samuel, when he was a boy serving God in the temple at Shiloh under the priest Eli. The priest blessed Elkanah and Hannah, Samuel’s parents, and the boy grew in wisdom and in favor with God and the people. These remarks on Samuel’s upbringing are similar to the remarks Luke makes about Jesus at the end of Luke 2.

Psalm 148 is a song of praise, in which all of creation, all the heavens and earth and everything God has made is a participant in the act of worship. Among humanity, all people, no matter their privilege or gender or age, are called into the responsibility to worship God. God’s name alone is above all names. For the people of Israel, God encouraged them, and they have remained faithful and close to God.

The writer of Colossians encourages the church in Colossae to live as the body of Christ in community with one another. Like clothing, they put on kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for one another. All these things fall under the love of Christ in which they are clothed in. The church is called to a way of life of gratitude, with the peace of Christ ruling in their hearts. They show their faith and love by teaching one another through their songs of praise to God. Their whole lives are to be centered in Christ, shedding selfishness, and everything they do ought to be in Christ’s name.

The Gospel lesson is from Jesus’ childhood, the only story in our canonical Gospels of what happened between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood. Luke 2:41-52 contains a story of when Jesus and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover, and he stayed behind in the temple to talk with the teachers, though his parents did not know it. They had forgotten whose Son he was, and were frantic when they couldn’t find him. Jesus reminds them that he is in his Father’s house. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but Jesus returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents. Repeating verse 19, Mary once again treasures the words and experiences of her child that she doesn’t understand and ponders them in her heart. She knows there is something greater for Jesus than what she can perceive. Jesus grows in wisdom and favor, similar to the prophet Samuel, in his maturing years.

The Narrative Lectionary continues in the Gospel according to John. In 1:19-34, the middle part of this first chapter, John the Baptist was questioned as to who he was. He declared he was not the Messiah, nor was he the prophet or Elijah, whom many believed would come before the Messiah. However, he quoted Isaiah 40:3, which the other Gospels also use to place John as the voice crying out in the wilderness. The religious leaders questioned why John was baptizing if he was not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet. John shared that his baptism is only of water, and the one coming after him he was not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. The next day, Jesus came to him, and John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, an account is shared of John baptizing Jesus, but in this account, John the Baptizer shares that he already baptized Jesus. John testifies to the religious leaders that Jesus is the Son of God.

The first two verses of Psalm 32 blesses those whose sins are forgiven, for those in whom there is no deceit. This is not to say there is no sin, but the one who confesses and is forgiven is blessed and truly happy.

The First Sunday after Christmas is a time when one can be creative. It is the end of the calendar year, it is a time when we explore the childhood of Jesus, the wonder and awe of the Christmas season. It is a time to take stock and look back on the year that was, to look forward to a future with hope. The readings today remind us that we may not fully understand, as Mary and Joseph didn’t, all who Christ is for us and for the world, but that in service to God, we increase in wisdom and in favor.

Call to Worship (Psalm 148:1-3, 13b)
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all the angels;
Praise God, all the heavenly host!
Praise God, sun and moon;
Praise God, all you shining stars!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For God’s name alone is exalted.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that sometimes we speak the first answer that comes to our mind as if it is the truth, the only right way. We confess we are quick to speak and slow to listen and ponder. Remind us to slow down from the busy-ness of the world’s ways, to take in other views, to listen for Your word in our hearts and minds before responding. Call us into Your path of wisdom and insight, to take notice of creation around us and what You are speaking. Guide us into Your ways of speaking truth in love, to not judge one another but to extend kindness and compassion, to be gentle in correction and open to Your way of forgiveness and healing. May we grow in wisdom and in Your favor. Amen.

For God so loved the world that God sent the only Son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. You have that life now. You have God’s unconditional love now. Because God loves you and loves all of us so much that God made the beautiful earth for us and sent Christ to us to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Embrace the love of Christ. Forgive one another, and know you are forgiven. Seek restoration and reparation and may God’s peace be with you. Amen.

God of All Times, may we sit in Your time, Kairos time, for a while. May we not be worried about chronology, the turning of pages on a calendar and years in our lives. For a moment in this in-between time, this last week of 2021, may we sit with You and grow in Your wisdom. May we know that You have plans for us, plans for a future with hope as you spoke to Jeremiah all those years ago, though our plans and futures are far different. It is the hope we cling to, that somehow things will turn out better than they have been. But may we sit in this Kairos time, O God, and remember Your faithfulness to us in all times, in all days and months and years and seasons, and know You are present with us, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 19th, 2021—Fourth Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Narrative Lectionary: Word Made Flesh, John 1:1-18 (Psalm 130:5-8)

The prophet Micah, who witnessed the devastation by Assyria, knew the empire would attack Jerusalem and Judah. However, Micah hoped that a new king in the line of David would save them. Similar to Isaiah, both prophets found hope in the rise of Hezekiah as king of Judah after Israel’s fall. As David was from Bethlehem, so the new king would be like David, a shepherd king, and there was hope that those taken in exile in the north would return. Christians, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, found these passages meaningful in their understanding of who Jesus was.

Mary’s Song is the first choice for the psalm (or it can be included with the Gospel reading). Mary’s Song echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. God has looked with favor upon her, and she has accepted being the servant of God (read Dr. Wil Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Advent I, for more understanding on what it means for Mary to take on this role in Luke 1:26-38). Mary claims that God has done great things for her, but they are indeed for everyone. The mighty are brought down, the lowly lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent empty away. God has helped the servant Israel, for the people are God’s servants, and God remembered them in mercy because of the covenant made with their ancestors.

Psalm 80:1-7 is a song pleading for help from God, praising God who delivers the people. The psalm begins by speaking to the “Shepherd of Israel,” a title given to a king in the line of David, someone who rules in the ways of God. The people have suffered. They have only their mourning to nourish them, nothing that satisfies. They are laughed at by their enemies. The psalmist pleads for God to restore and save them.

Hebrews 10:5-10 explains how, to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus takes the place of sacrificial temple worship. This was the view of this writer to their community of Jewish believers in Jesus. Some of the prophets critiqued temple worship at times, when they felt it was hollow and empty while people suffered, and the priests and political leaders made poor choices. The writer of Hebrews sees Jesus as the ultimate and final sacrifice, ending the “first order” and establishes the second, in which Jesus’ own body is offered once for all.

In Luke’s account, Gabriel first came to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, and then to Mary, and the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth has also conceived. In this passage, Mary goes right away to her relative Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s own child, still in the womb, leaps for joy. Elizabeth calls Mary the “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth recognizes how God is using Mary to do something new. Mary is inspired by her encounter with Elizabeth, and sings her song (also inspired by Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Gospel according to John as its primary text until Pentecost. John places Jesus at the beginning of everything with God, calling Jesus the Word (Logos). The Living Word was with God in the beginning, and is Life, the Light of all people, which shines in the darkness and is not understood. Dr. Wil Gafney translates darkness in this verse as bleakness in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Second Sunday after Christmas. We must always be weary of how darkness and light have been used by white Christians to link darkness with evil and lightness with good. Instead, what John is conveying is that Christ came into this world to bring forth life to all people and nothing is able to overcome or extinguish life. John (the Baptizer) was sent by God to testify to the Word, the Life, so that all would believe in the Life. But the world did not recognize the Life, and neither did the Life’s own people. The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Word/Life’s glory, full of grace and truth. This is the Life that John testified to.

In Psalm 130:5-8, the psalmist sings of their whole being waiting for God’s promise, more than those on the overnight watch wait for the morning. The psalmist concludes by calling the people to wait upon God, because God is faithful and will redeem them.

While this is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, for many churches this is the Sunday of Christmas. Not everyone has Christmas Eve services or can attend; many families end up traveling at this time of year. This is the Sunday to sing Mary’s song, to know that God has turned the world upside down with the birth of Christ, and yet, God is still turning the world upside down. The powerful will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. The Life will shine in this world for others to know. But only if we participate in it. Only if we are willing to do the work of justice and mercy. Only if we are willing to testify to the Life that we have, in word and in deed.

Call to Worship (from Luke 1:46-49)
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
God has looked with favor on us,
For we are the servants of God.
The Mighty One has done great things,
And holy is God’s name.”
We await the birth of the Christ-child,
And God is about to do a new thing.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Just God, we confess that we have not kept Your ways of justice and mercy. We hear Mary’s song and think, “that’s a nice idea” but do not follow through. We hear the words of the angels and the prophets this time of year as hope for ourselves, but do not turn to others oppressed and marginalized, whose lives have not been changed for the better by those in power and privilege. We repeat the old stories as comfort for us, but fail to be transformed by them. Forgive us and deliver us from the ways of this world. Call us into accountability when we have propped up the powerful and discarded the lowly, when we have allowed others to go hungry while we continue to take what we want. Guide us into Your ways of justice, mercy, and peace, and help us in the work of restoration. In the name of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” May you know the grace, forgiveness, and peace of Jesus, who is born again in our hearts and lives. God makes all things new—even the old, old story becomes fresh. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

Loving Spirit, fill us and stir in us Your love for the earth, for all of creation and for all Your people. May we sing like Mary—may her love inspire us to fill the hungry with good things and to lift up the lowly. May her call for justice inspire us to work for rebalancing power and wealth in our society. May her joy in You as our Savior remind us to be joyful, knowing You always will have the last and final word, not what the world dictates to us, not what evil and oppression have done. Love always wins. May Your love be born anew in us this Christmas. Amen.