Worship Resources for July 31st, 2022—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 4:1-19 (Matthew 5:43-48)

The first selection for the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets, continuing in Hosea. The prophet spoke on behalf of God to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, using parental language toward the people. God loved Israel and Judah, remembering Israel as Ephraim, a son of Joseph also used to refer to Israel, but especially in the metaphor of a young child. God brought the people out of oppression in Egypt, but the people kept turning from God to worship Baals, gods of other countries, and made alliances with other countries. Therefore, God allowed the consequences of their actions, their poor decisions, to take place. They would return to a place of oppression under Assyria, and God would not deliver them. However, God is compassionate, like a parent, for Israel. God would not destroy them. After a time of loss, there will be a time of renewal and return for the people.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 is a song of thanksgiving for God who delivered the people out of wilderness and exile. God is faithful, and God will gather the survivors from all directions. God led the ones who were hungry and thirsty in the wilderness to a town where they received what they needed, an example of God’s faithful love. The psalmist concludes that those who are wise will listen and learn, knowing that God’s steadfast love endures forever.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ecclesiastes. Though the authorship has been attributed to Solomon, most scholars believe this is a collection of sayings and instructions compiled and shared by a Teacher who uses Solomon’s name for clout, for his reputation as a wise king. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees that everything human beings pursue in this lifetime is usually meaningless, like chasing the wind, or a mist that slips through our fingers. People work hard, either for money and possessions, or for wisdom and knowledge, and it all passes after they die. People take no time for rest, not even at night, thinking they must be productive. It is vanity. It is meaningless. It is chasing after things that do not matter and that we cannot grasp.

Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm. In the first half, verses 1-12, the psalmist speaks to all people of the world, of all economic backgrounds. Wealth can’t save anyone, can’t buy anyone out of the grave, and both foolish and wise people will die all the same. Though people buy and sell land and name places after them, none of it matters when they die, because the grave becomes their home.

The Epistle reading continues in Colossians with 3:1-11. The writer calls for unity in Christ, in behavior and in identity. The writer encourages the believers to set their minds on Christ. The true believer is clothed with a new self, one that lives by loving one another. In this renewal, all are a new creation in Christ. Their old identities were formed to be in rivalry with others, but their new identity in Christ is as a child of God, for Christ is in all.

Jesus told a parable after he was challenged by a person in the crowd in Luke 12:13-21. A man asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus responded to him with the word, “Friend,” followed by a rhetorical question: who appointed Jesus to be judge between them? In response, Jesus told a parable of a wealthy man whose land produced more than he needed, and even after his storage was full, he decided to tear down his barns to build bigger ones. The man was satisfied with this plan, telling his soul he’d done well, but that very night God demanded his life. For those who store up wealth for themselves have no wealth in God. The pursuit of wealth and power and notoriety in this world is meaningless and worthless. Excess in this world must be given to those without, not hoarded for one’s self, for that is all one will remember. The man who originally wanted Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance was more concerned about wealth and power than about the relationship with his brother and the rest of his family. That is what he will always be known for.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 1 Peter with chapter 4, focusing on living in Christ and not the ways of this world. Living by the flesh—a term used throughout the Epistles—is about satisfying one’s desires in the moment, living an enjoyable life. They become separate from the suffering in the world and focus only on themselves. God is ready to judge the living and the dead, the writer states. Perhaps the judgment of the dead is what they are remembered for—either a generous spirit, or a selfish, impatient life of debauchery that pleases only oneself. The writer then shifts in verse 8 to remind the believers to love one another, to use the gifts given by God to serve one another. In verse 12, the writer turns to the subject of suffering. The writer prays that no one will suffer because of their own evil actions, but that when they suffer for doing God’s will, they can rest assured that God will be faithful to them through end.

The supplementary text is Matthew 5:43-48, where Jesus encourages the believers to love even their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. They are not to repay evil for evil, but do good in all circumstances. For those who love only those who love them, what reward is that? Other people do that, but to love their enemies sets them apart as believers who truly love all, as God loves all people.

The prophets taught that the people had to live with the consequences of their leader’s actions. Israel, and later Judah, were taken into exile because their leaders worshiped other gods, made poor political arrangements, and caused the poor to suffer by their choices and lavish lifestyle. However, even today, people with certain advantages in society often pursue the wealth and power of this world and find they are not satisfied. They consume more and more, while those on the margins of society suffer. The early church leaders warned against falling into the “ways of the flesh”—the ways of this world that put personal pleasure and pursuit of happiness and satisfaction above the needs of others. The early church leaders also found joy in the work of serving Christ and others—a joy not found in the ways of this world. Pursuing the important things in this life: relationships, compassion, serving one another, sharing what we have with others—this brings the true joy to Christian life.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 107:1, 8-9, 43)
O give thanks to the LORD, for God is good;
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let the people thank the LORD for God’s steadfast love,
for God’s wonderful works to humankind.
For God satisfies the thirsty,
And God fills the hungry with good things.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we confess that we have continued to fall astray as our forebearers did. We have turned to wealth and power and trampled upon the poor and oppressed. Leaders have made choices for us that compromise the well-being of the most vulnerable among us, to satisfy the wealthy elite. Even those of us with little power have at times put those with wealth and fame on pedestals, in hopes that somehow it will pass to us. You, O Lord, came as one of us, emptying yourself of power and dying on the cross for us. Forgive us for our foolish, selfish ways, and call us into Your way, of loving and serving one another, of seeking the marginalized and lifting up the oppressed, raising up the poor and filling the hungry with good things. Call us into Your ways so that we might change our lives for You, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seek the Lord and live. Love one another. Serve one another. Become humble and full of compassion for one another. Leave behind the ways of this world—selfish greed and wealth and notoriety and worldly power—for they are dead ends. Find the way of Christ, and know love and life. Forgive, love, and care for one another and this planet, so that we might care for each other and built up the reign of Christ on earth. May this be a blessing and commission to you. Amen.

God of Peace, help us to lay down our weapons of war and weapons of power, our weapons of apathy and our weapons of harsh words. Lead us into Your ways, to love and serve one another. Help us to find peace by leaving behind the pursuits of wealth and power, and help us to dive into wisdom and understanding. Guide us in Your ways through the reading of scripture: the practice of compassion, the pursuit of justice, the way of righteousness, and the life of love for one another. In the name of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 24, 2022—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Hosea 1:2-10 and Psalm 85; Genesis 18:20-32 and Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 3:13-22 (Matthew 5:3-10)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the rise of the prophets. Hosea was a contemporary of Amos, warning of the destruction coming to the northern kingdom of Israel, whose sayings and writings were later shared among the southern kingdom of Judah as a warning against the same fate. In the first chapter, Hosea and his family are used as a metaphor of God’s relationship with Israel. Hosea married a sex worker named Gomer, a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to the One God. Gomer bore children, each one given a name that alludes to God’s relationship with Israel. Jezreel, “God Sows,” was named for a valley of crossroads where battles were fought. Lo-ruhamah, “No Compassion,” was named because God no longer had compassion for the northern kingdom (however, God did still have compassion for Judah). Lo-ammi, “Not My People,” symbolized how Israel had broken the covenant with God. Yet still, God did not break the covenant, and as promised to Abraham and Sarah, the people of Israel would be like the grains of sand, uncountable, and they would once again be known as “children of the living God.”

Psalm 85 is a song recalling God’s faithfulness, even though the people have gone astray. This prayer calls upon God to show mercy, to restore the people, to forgive them as God had forgiven them before. The psalmist calls upon the people to listen to God, for God is their salvation. For those who are faithful, for those who remain in awe, God will bring all good things together. Poetically, the psalmist imagines steadfast love and faithfulness embracing, righteousness and peace greeting each other in a kiss. Faithfulness springs up from the ground while righteousness reaches down from the sky. God draws forth everything together in goodness and leads the people in the way of peace and righteousness.

In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham tries to bargain with God in Genesis 18:20-32. In the verses preceding these, God ponders whether to keep what is about to happen from Abraham. In verse 20, God decides to tell Abraham that the cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are overwhelming as is their sin. God sends messengers (angels) to Sodom, and Abraham tries to bargain with God. What if there are fifty innocent people still there? God declares to Abraham that God will save the city if there are fifty innocent people. Then Abraham asks about forty-five, and so on down to ten. God finally declares that the city will not be destroyed if there are ten innocent people, and yet, we know in the next chapter the city is destroyed. While much has been made of the type of sexual activity of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, in careful reading of the text it is clear those men of the city were raping outsiders. The story is critical of rape and is similar to the end of Judges. Jeremiah 23:14 mentions Sodom and Gomorrah in terms of adultery. Ezekiel 16:49 speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin as hoarding wealth and ignoring the poor. Nonetheless, Abraham tried to intervene, and God did listen to him.

The psalmist sings a song of praise for God’s faithfulness in Psalm 138. God has answered the psalmist’s prayers, and God continues to deliver them from trouble. The psalmist calls upon the rulers of the earth to lift up their praise and thanksgiving to God, because God’s steadfast love endures forever. The psalmist concludes with a petition to God to not forsake the work God is doing.

The epistle reading continues in the letter to Colossians with 2:6-19. The writer (supposedly Paul) urges the church to live their lives in accordance with Jesus. At this time, there were competing views of how to follow Jesus among the early Christians. Some believed that they needed to hold on to the religious traditions they had been taught as Jewish believers. Others followed different teachers who may have been leading them astray. Paul was concerned that they live into Christ and remember that they are saved by faith in Christ, not through circumcision or any other practice. Any other actions necessary for salvation were destroyed by Christ’s death on the cross. Verses 16-19 urge the listener/reader not to worry about some of the cultural practices of the time, whether to participate or not. If the practice leads one astray from Christ, then it is best to avoid them, but there is nothing wrong with observing those cultural practices in themselves—as long as one understands their fullness is in Christ and not in any tradition or practice.

Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, as John taught his disciples, in Luke 11:1-13. Jesus teaches them a simple prayer that has evolved into what we know as the Lord’s Prayer today. However, Jesus elaborates on being given our daily bread, with a teaching about being persistent in asking for what we need. We give in when others are persistent with us because we are nagged by them and they wear us down, but God gives to us freely because God is good. We forgive so we can move on and get over it, but God forgives because God is good. Persistently pray for God’s reign to come and for our daily bread, to forgive others as we have been forgiven, because this is what we truly need, and we need to remember to give freely to others, too.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 1 Peter with 3:13-22. The writer encourages these early believers to do good, even if they suffer for it. Others will begin to see that true believers live with Christ in their hearts and their intentions are pure and will become ashamed of the suffering the true believers endure because of it. Christ himself was innocent and died as a human being but was raised by the Spirit. The writer then turns to the story of Noah as a metaphor of baptism, of wiping the slate clean as God started fresh with Noah. Salvation has come through Christ’s resurrection, but baptism marks us now as saved, preparing us for what awaits in heaven.

The supplementary text is Matthew 5:3-10, part of the Beatitudes (connected to the Narrative Lectionary supplemental texts on July 10). Those who suffer and struggle now are the ones blessed, because theirs is the reign of God. They will be filled, receive mercy, be with God and be called God’s children. In our struggles and suffering, we know that we are not alone. It doesn’t mean our struggles will be easier, but that God knows what we have gone through.

God is persistent. God does not give up on us, though we have gone astray, though we have broken the covenants. Christ remained faithful to the point of death on the cross, and did not turn to power over others, or violence, or evil. If we live into Christ, we also must be persistent. We must be faithful to the way of Christ and not turn to evil, even when we struggle. The way of this world, the way of empire, draws us into the empire’s ways of violence, domination, and greed, but the way of Christ is healing, forgiveness, restoration. Too often we have equated justice with punishment. We have misunderstood the “wrath” of God in the scriptures as divine punishment instead of understanding that we live with the consequences of our own actions, our acts of evil and violence. God is still good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. It is up to us to turn back to God, to put an end to the ways of this world, and to live into Christ.

Call to Worship (from Matthew 5:3-5)
Blessed are the hopeless,
For theirs is the reign of God.
Blessed are those who grieve,
For they will have comfort.
Blessed are those who are humble,
For they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are you who follow Christ,
For you know the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Come, let us follow Christ together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have not lived as the body of Christ. We have not remembered that You are the head, and we are Your hands and feet and heart and lungs. We have said to some, “We don’t need you,” and to others, “You must change and become like us,” and still to others we have even forgotten they existed. Forgive us, O Holy One, for without You we are nothing. We are dust. But with You, and with one another, we are the body of Christ. Remind us, bind us together, breathe new life into us and send us into the work of reparation and restoration of this world. In the name of Jesus Christ, who gave his own body for us that we might have life, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
If one part suffers, all suffer with it. If one part rejoices, all rejoice with it. We are all the body of Christ, members of one another, baptized by one Spirit into one Body. We need one another. We must work to restore one another. We must bring healing and hope to one another. We must remember that we cannot live our lives alone. Forgive, and know God’s forgiveness. Mend, and know God’s healing in your life. Repair, and know God’s restoration in your soul. Go and live into the Good News as the body of Christ together. Amen.

God Almighty, we look at the new images of the stars from the James Webb Space Telescope and are struck in awe and wonder at the work of Your hands. We are only beginning to understand how small we are and how vast Your universe is. With the writer of Psalm 8, we wonder how You are mindful of us, yet You made us a little lower than divine. You care for us. The atoms and molecules that form our own body, the cells that are the building blocks of life, are just as wondrous and awe-inspiring. In our moments when we think we know it all, O God, may we be reminded of how little we actually do. In our times of tunnel vision when we look at only our daily struggles, remind us that You are the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, the Maker of the Universe, and the Shaper of what is to come. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Amen and amen.

Worship Resources for July 17, 2022—Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Amos 8:1-12 and Psalm 52; Genesis 18:1-10a and Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 2:1-9, 19-25 (Matthew 16:24-26)

The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures continues its theme of the rise of the prophets, and we continue with the visions of the prophet Amos in 8:1-12. As shared last week, Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah, a herdsman and arborist, who saw how Israel’s kings and ruling elite were turning to other gods, making political alliances that benefited them but were detrimental to the poor and marginalized. In this vision from God, Amos beheld a basket of summer fruit—which is a play on words in Hebrew, as it sounds like “the end.” This is the best that the leaders would see—at that time, things were prosperous, but they had ignored God and trampled upon the most vulnerable of their people. The political alliances they made to prosper in the short term would set up their future conquest and exile, ending the northern kingdom of Israel.

Psalm 52 speaks of God’s faithfulness. The first half of the psalm addresses a mighty enemy who has attacked the people faithful to God. Evil will not overcome, however, because God is faithful. The ones faithful to God will laugh in the face of evil because they know God’s awesome power. The mighty enemy has put their trust in worldly wealth and power and notoriety, but it will not last. The righteous instead are like an olive tree planted in the sanctuary, a tree bearing fruit that cannot be uprooted.

The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of the visit to Abraham and Sarah by God. In Genesis 18:1-10a, three strangers are walking by, and Abraham runs out to the road to show them hospitality, inviting them to his tent for a meal and to rest. Sarah bakes cakes and Abraham has a servant prepare a calf along with curds and milk. The strangers promise Abraham and Sarah that Sarah will conceive and bear a son.

Psalm 15 is a prayer, perhaps a call to worship, reminding the people that the ones who may enter the temple, the sanctuary, are those who are faithful to God’s ways. These are the ones who do what is right, speak from their heart, and treat others with respect and dignity. They are not swayed by bribes and gossip but treat all people with equity and stay true to their oaths. These people are not moved by the actions of others, and will not be swayed, for they are rooted in God.

The Epistle reading continues the series in Colossians with 1:15-28. The writer, purporting to be Paul, continues in the introduction sharing their theology of who Christ is: the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God, the one in whom all things were created, the firstborn of the dead, the head of the church. It is through Christ’s death on the cross that God has reconciled the world. All who were estranged because of the evil they did can still come to God through Christ. Paul is a servant of this gospel, and even though he suffers, he does so for the sake of the church, that they might know God’s faithfulness. Paul (or the writer) interprets their own present circumstances as helping to reveal the good news of Jesus.

Luke 10:38-42 contains Luke’s account of Mary and Martha (John also mentions them in John 11, with Lazarus their brother). In this story, Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Mary, her sister, sat at his feet while he spoke, and Martha prepared to show Jesus hospitality. According to the gospel writer, Martha was distracted by her many tasks and got angry, asking Jesus to intervene because she was left to do all the work, but Jesus replied that Mary chose the better option. There will always be tasks to do, but what Jesus is sharing with Mary will not be forgotten or taken from her.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series with 1 Peter 2:1-9, 19-25. The writer of 1 Peter uses the image of nursing and calls upon the readers to seek the spiritual milk that satisfies. The next image the writer uses is that of a living stone, reminiscent of Psalm 118, that the stone the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone. Jesus alludes to this passage before his death, but the writer of 1 Peter takes the metaphor further, that the believers have been rejected by the world and they are living stones, the sanctuary of God. They are chosen by Christ and Christ dwells in them. The writer of 1 Peter then writes about suffering, for the believers are not simply rejected by the world, but have faced persecution. The writer attempts to make meaning of their suffering, remembering the words of the suffering servant in Isaiah. The write both alludes to Jesus as the one who suffered, and the believers as also suffering (and Isaiah originally referred to Israel as the suffering servant). Though the world led them astray, they have returned to the shepherd, to Jesus, the one who suffered on behalf of them and in solidarity with them.

The supplemental passage is Matthew 16:24-26, that those who wish to follow Jesus must deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him. Those who wish to follow Jesus must deny the comforts, wealth and security of this world. They must be prepared to die to the ways of this world to follow Jesus.

Following the ways of God is not easy. The leaders of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah fell astray by making political alliances that were advantageous in the short-term. Along with those alliances, they often worshiped the gods of those other countries, and ignored the needs of the poor and oppressed among them. They were distracted in their quest for power, and they failed to heed the warnings of the prophets and they were demolished and taken into exile. The quest for power, wealth, and notoriety continues to plague our peoples and our nations’ leaders to this day. As we look to Russia and Ukraine, we see the cost. We look to Afghanistan and see the cost. We see the violence in the United States and see the cost in Uvalde and in Highland Park and so many other communities. In our own lives, our values show us what is important to us—is it power and wealth, security or fame—or is it our relationships? Wisdom is found in listening to one another, as Jesus tried to show Martha. Wisdom is found in understanding that we do not suffer alone. Wisdom is found when we stop seeing suffering as a failure or punishment and instead as a part of life in which we can know we are not alone, that we suffer in solidarity with others in this world. For God so loved the world that God suffered with us through Jesus Christ. Christ knows our suffering, our pain, and is with us—not watching down from afar, but right in with the muck and pain and sorrow. Right in our own suffering.

Call to Worship
Come, open your hearts, and listen for the voice of God,
Come, open your heart to love one another.
Come, open your minds, and receive the Spirit of wisdom.
Come, open your mind to new understanding and insight.
Come, open your senses, and experience our Creator at work.
Come, open yourselves to the work of God around us.
Come, open your arms, awake and arise, for God is calling you:
Come and join in the worship of our awesome God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Sees All, we know that we are so short-sighted we sell out our own future, let alone our children and grandchildren. We fail to live into the wisdom that You have shared with all peoples around the world, that we must prepare for the next generations. We have lived for ourselves and have taken from the earth much more than we have cared for it. We have stolen from others by taking Your resources and hoarding them. We have not loved others as ourselves and failed to see our common humanity, let alone our connectedness as Your children. Forgive us for our foolish and selfish ways. Call us into accountability, to give back what has been taken, to repair what has been broken. Call us into the hard work of forgiveness which must begin with justice and restoration. For You see all, and we cannot hide from You. We cannot lie to You. We cannot hold onto the falsehoods we have told ourselves. We are bare before You, O God, and there is nothing hidden from Your sight. Call us into Your truth, so we might live. Amen.

Prayer of Blessing/Assurance
Seek first the beloved community of God, the reign of Christ on earth, and live rightly and justly, and everything will come unto you. God will see you through. God knows your wounds and binds them. God knows your mistakes and forgives them. God knows your sorrow and surrounds you with love. Live into the beloved community and God’s love will be shared through the love of others. Go and seek the community, and invite others to participate as we live into Christ’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Sweet God, You have shown us the beauty of the earth and have taught us through the scriptures how to savor life. Help us to hold on to the moments that show us Your awesome grace. Teach us to count our days so we may have a wise heart. Help us to taste and see that You are good. Open us to hear You whisper as Your spirit moves among the trees in the breeze and the waves upon the shore. Remind us to gasp and be in awe as we taken in Your wondrous work in creation and in ourselves. Sweet, Sweet Spirit, guide us into the full, abundant life You desire for us. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 10, 2022—Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17 and Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 30:9-14 and Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 1:3-23 (Matthew 5:11-12)

The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets in this season after Pentecost. Amos was from the southern kingdom of Judah but came north to Israel to prophesy against their ways. A herdsman and an arborist, he didn’t come from a wealthy family or educated background, but spoke from what he knew, and spoke out against the inequity of the wealthy elite and the poor who were suffering. Amos prophesied against Israel by sharing a vision from God using a plumb line, a tool for assisting with setting walls at the proper 90 degrees angle. Israel had not measured up, so God will allow Israel to fall. The priests benefited from the ruling elite, so when Amos spoke out against them and warned of the king’s death by violence and Israel’s fate, the priest Amaziah tattled to the king. However, Amaziah also warned Amos to stop prophesying and to get out of Israel. Amos replied to Amaziah that he’s no prophet, he’s just a herdsman and an arborist. God took him from the flock and the care of the trees to go care for God’s flock in Israel and to trim what needed to be pruned. Amos returned the warning to Amaziah with a curse upon the people, and the prophecy that the people of Israel would go into exile.

God is the God of justice, especially for the vulnerable in Psalm 82. In this vision of a divine court, God is among other gods (remember, the ancient Israelites were not monotheists). The other gods do not listen to the poor, the oppressed and the orphans, but God Most High does. All the nations belong to God, and all peoples, for the other gods will fail, but God will deliver the most vulnerable of the people.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Deuteronomy 30:9-14. In Moses’ final discourse to the people before his death and before they arrive in the land promised to them, Moses reminded the people to turn to the commandments of God and the words written in the law given to them. This commandment is not difficult, it does not require seeking and searching far and wide—the word of God is very near to them. It is what has been taught and passed down, and it is in their heart, and what they remember every day.

Psalm 25 is a prayerful song. The psalmist calls upon God to continue to teach them and make known God’s ways to them. They know that God will deliver them from evil and they will not be put to shame. They ask God to not remember how they went astray when they were younger, but instead to remember the covenant of steadfast love. God is the one who will teach and guide the humble and instruct sinners to the right path, for God is the God of covenant, and God desires for all to receive correction and to change their ways.

The Epistle readings begin a series in Colossians, starting with 1:1-14. Paul, or a writer purporting to be Paul, gives an introduction and prayer for the church in Colossae, for they have been faithful to the gospel. Their ministries are bearing fruit, and Paul and companions are in prayer for them. Paul shares a blessing that they will be made strong and will endure with patience and joy. They are living into the reign of Christ on earth, and they know Christ’s forgiveness and love.

Luke’s account of Jesus sharing the Greatest Commandment is different from Matthew and Mark in that the question asked isn’t about the greatest commandment, but what must one to do to inherit eternal life. In Luke 10:25-37, a lawyer asked Jesus that question, and Jesus responded the same as Matthew and Mark, quoting Deuteronomy 6, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, mind, and soul, and Leviticus 19:18 to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. But then the lawyer asks a further question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the one who is the example of a neighbor is the one that shocks us into remembering who we are supposed to be as faithful people. I highly recommend reading Amy-Jill Levine’s Short Stories of Jesus for her understanding of this parable.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a new series on 1 Peter for the next five weeks. 1 Peter was not written by Peter, but someone using his name to help establish credibility and authority, written toward the end of the first century. In 1:3-23, the author begins like many of the letters of the New Testament with an introductory statement of their faith as a blessing to the audience. They have a living hope through the resurrection of Christ, protected through faith “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” By this point, the early Christians have come to believe that Christ’s return represents a far-off consummation, a revelation for the end times. Those that came before and everything that happened before led up to this: to help the believers of their time (the audience of the letter) understand the fullness of the good news. They have been born anew and are ready. Though they live in exile from the reign of Christ while on earth, they wait patiently for when Christ comes.

The supporting verses of Matthew 5:11-12 come from the Beatitudes, when Jesus shares a blessing for those who are persecuted, for those who remain faithful, for their reward will be great in heaven. They were treated in the same way as the prophets who were before them.

“Pass on what you have learned,” Yoda said to Luke in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and so our ancestors of the faith call upon us to pass on what we have learned. To pass on the commandments, the ordinances and statutes. To pass on the stories of how God was faithful to our ancestors, and the lessons learned. To pass on the hope of our faith, that the worst of what we experience now will not have the final word. To pass on the knowledge of God’s steadfast love that endures forever. To pass on the teachings of Christ that lead us to eternal life, a new life that begins now.

Call to Worship (from Colossians 1:9-12)
May we be full of the knowledge of God’s will,
In all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
May we live lives worthy of the Lord,
May we bear fruit in every good work.
May we grow in the knowledge of God,
May we be strong with God’s glorious strength,
May we endure everything with patience,
Joyfully giving thanks to God our Creator,
And Christ Jesus the Son.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving Christ, we confess that the arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice, but it seems to go on forever. We wait with hope, but our hopes are dimming in the shadow of oppression. The bleakness at times is overwhelming. God of Light and Love, shine through us and remind us to be the living hope to one another. When the way of empire shrouds us, grant us the courage to cast off the veil of the world and to live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. For You lived in defiance of empire without falling into the ways of the empire. You resisted evil through Your love and compassion and mercy. Call us to do the same, for in You we have the true life. Amen.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. We are reminded in the blessings of Jesus that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, those who mourn will be comforted, those who are merciful will receive mercy. We will be restored. We are forgiven. We are loved. And we will find all things made new in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Holy Spirit, we seek Your guidance in the violent winds of empire and evil. May Your Spirit blow through us and direct us out of despair into hope. May Your Spirit carry us out of shadows into radiance, out of the valley of death to the still pastures and cool waters of refreshment and life. When the world seems to crash down around us, O God, give us the strength to resist and rebuild. Remind us that our ancestors didn’t see the fulfillment but still lived into hope, as we do today for tomorrow. Guide us, Holy Spirit, renew us and give us strength. Amen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.