Worship Resources for February 20th—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38

Narrative Lectionary: Living Water, John 7:37-52 (Psalm 147:1-11)

The Hebrew Scripture selection turns to the story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers in Genesis 45:3-11, 15. Though Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery and abandoned him, Joseph did not see what happened to him as a grudge in need of payback. Instead, he saw where God had been with him, and how God continued to help his family despite what his brothers had done. God was with Joseph and helped him become important enough to Pharaoh that Joseph was able to provide for his family and the whole land during the famine. Joseph told his brothers to bring their father to him, so that he might care for them all in Egypt during the time of famine.

Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm, reminding the reader/listener that following in God’s ways is the path to righteousness. While the wicked prosper temporarily because they follow the ways of the world, they will come to their end, withering like herbs, and fading like grass. Instead, the psalmist instructs the reader/listener to trust in God’s ways. God will act for justice for those who are righteous—they will know God’s vindication. The psalmist cautions the reader/listener to step back from anger and holding grudges, for those who stay true to God will inherit what is theirs. God is the refuge and salvation of the righteous, and God will deliver them from evil.

The Epistle readings following 1 Corinthians come to an end this season after Epiphany with 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50. Paul, addressing the largest concern he had for the church in Corinth, instructs on the resurrection of the dead, for some believed there was no resurrection. Asking how the dead will be raised is a foolish question, according to Paul, for a seed grows only after what gives the seed has died. What is planted is perishable, but what grows is imperishable. If there is a physical body, Paul argues, there is also a spiritual body. What dies is physical, but what rises is spiritual. We are made of dust and spirit, and both are bodies. Paul argues that flesh and blood will not inherit the reign of God, only what is imperishable will. This is an argument still playing out in theological studies today, for it is not a binary either-or argument, but a both-and. Jesus, fully human, died and rose, with his body and his scars. Verse 51, which is not included in this section, shows us that this is a mystery.

Jesus’ instructions continue in Luke 6:27-38, picking up from the teachings of last week’s lesson to the crowd and the disciples. Jesus instructs the disciples on how they ought to live in God’s ways of love, which include loving one’s enemies. Walter Wink has famously argued that Jesus is teaching nonviolent resistance—not a passive accepting of abuse, but an active resistance that would embarrass and force the one committing the wrong to recognize the humanity of the victim. Loving those who love us is the easy part, Jesus argues, but loving those who do not love us is much more difficult, because it is how God loves all people, even those who do not love God. Instead, seek the humanity of others. It goes beyond treating others how you want to be treated, but rather, treating others the way God treats us all.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ teaching in John 7:37-52. Jesus has once again gone to Jerusalem (in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus only goes to Jerusalem once, the last week of his life). On the last day of a Jewish festival, Jesus stood up among the crowds and shouted to them that all who were thirsty should come to him, for living water would flow from him. The Holy Spirit would come to those who believed in Jesus. The crowds were divided on who he was. Some thought he was the Messiah, others a prophet, and still others thought he couldn’t be because of where he came from. Some wanted to arrest Jesus, and some religious leaders were upset when the guards refused to arrest him because they’d never heard anyone speak like him. Nicodemus stood up for Jesus among the religious leaders, who thought they were all of the same mind about Jesus. None of them could believe a prophet could come from Galilee, from the countryside.

Psalm 147:1-11 is a song of praise to God, praising God for rebuilding Jerusalem and delivering the exiles. God is amazing, knowing all the stars created, and this same God helps the poor and overturns the wicked. God is the God of all creation, caring for even baby ravens when they are hungry, causing green grass to grow on the mountains and rain to fall. God isn’t interested in the strength of armies and warriors, but in people who honor and love God.

Living into God’s ways isn’t easy. The scriptures teach us of how tempting the ways of the world are. When someone takes from us, take back. When someone strikes us, strike back. We go around the world with chips on our shoulders. But the ways of Wisdom, the way of Jesus, is to see one another the way God sees us—that all of us are flawed, all of us experience brokenness, and all of us need mending and healing. This isn’t an excuse to let abusers off the hook. Those who have abused must be held accountable. Instead, this is an inner transformation for ourselves, that we don’t have to let the violence and harm that has happened to us define who we are. We can choose differently for our own hearts and lives. The powers of the world want us to conform, to respect those with worldly power and authority, but the faithful listen to God, and do the work of justice, healing, and restoration. For God is with us, always, and will deliver the faithful.

Call to Worship (Psalm 147:1-3, 7)
Praise God!
It is good to sing praise to our God.
God is gracious,
And a song of praise is fitting.
God gathers the outcasts,
God heals the brokenhearted.
Sing to God with thanksgiving,
Make melody to our God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that we have misconstrued justice for punishment. We want others to feel deeply the way we have felt deeply. We want others to hurt the way we’ve been hurt. We’ve been pushed around and pushed down by the ways of the world, and we want to punch back. O God, help us to unclench our fist. Help us to loosen our jaw. Help us to lower our shoulders. Remind us to breathe. Breathe in Your Spirit, breathe out Your peace. Help us to remember that all of us have fallen short and yet You love us so much. Remind us that our woundedness is not who we are. Bind our broken hearts, mend our wounds. Call us to love one another. Remind us that setting boundaries to reduce harm is good, for ourselves and others. Teach us how to reach out in repentance, to do the work of justice and reparation, to restore the world for Your reign, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Psalm 37:4 teaches us to delight in God, and God will give us the desires of our heart. You are not your wounds. You are not your bruises. You are not your scars. You will be healed. You will find wholeness. You will find justice, and you will find peace, if you seek it and pursue it. Jesus calls us into a life of repentance and forgiveness for where we’ve gone wrong, and to forgive one another as God has forgiven us, whenever possible. Take courage, and know God is with you in this journey of forgiveness, restoration, and healing. Go and love one another with the love of God. Amen.

Honorable God, You are not interested in worldly wealth or success. You disdain the strength of warriors and armies and politicians. Instead, You look into our hearts and perceive our thoughts. You know who we truly are, and the veils we show the world. Help us to be our true selves, O God. Help us to know where we have gone astray and to repent and turn back to You. Help us to truly live for Your reign on earth as it is in heaven, and not to keep the status quo. Remind us that life is not about our own security and self-satisfaction, but the redemption of all, the love You have for us through Your Son Jesus Christ. For Jesus laid down his life for us, emptied himself, served his disciples, and taught us to become last of all and servant of all. You are not a God who requires gold and sacrifices, but rather the love of our neighbor, and You know the truth of who we really are. Help us to repent and turn back to You. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 13th, 2022—Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

Narrative Lectionary: Bread of Life, John 6:35-59 (Psalm 34:1-10)

The prophet Jeremiah leans on the wisdom tradition in 17:5-10. For those who put their trust in worldly ways, human leadership and power and strength, and turn away from God, they will be like plants trying to grow in the desert, not knowing where their water comes from. But for those who trust in God, they are like trees planted by water. They will bear fruit and not be afraid of times of drought. The human heart leads people astray, but allowing God into our hearts and minds shows us our true selves and our intentions.

Psalm 1 uses similar imagery as Jeremiah. Those who live into God’s ways, who ponder and meditate God’s law and teaching—they are like streams planted by the water, whose leaves do not wither. They bring forth much fruit. The wicked are blown about by the wind of the world’s ways. Those who know God and God’s ways will flourish; those who reject God for the ways of the world will not gather with the righteous; they will perish.

The Epistle selection continues in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. Here, Paul addresses another controversy in the church in Corinth, that some do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. In last week’s selection right before this, Paul laid out his credentials, that he was the last of all because of his prior persecution, yet through God’s grace he testified to the Gospel of Jesus. Now, Paul argues that if one proclaims Jesus is raised, then it must be a physical resurrection. If Christ wasn’t actually raised from the dead, then no one is raised from the dead and they are hypocrites. Those who have died remain dead, and they have not been forgiven of their sins. If it’s only a hope and not the truth for them, Paul argues that they are truly foolish and deserving of pity. However, the truth is that Christ was raised from the dead, the first fruit of God’s harvest.

Mirroring the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke’s account, Jesus gathers with the crowd in a level place to teach in Luke 6:17-26. The crowd gathered for healing, and power came out of Jesus and healed them all. Jesus then teaches his disciples what we call the Beatitudes: blessing the poor and hungry, those who mourn and those who are persecuted, for they will receive everything in the reign of God. However, in Luke’s account, there are woes that Jesus teaches afterward: woe to those who are rich and full, woe to those who rejoice and for those who are well-liked, for you will be poor, you will be hungry, you will mourn, and you will be persecuted. This is what happened to the false prophets—they had the praise of the people and the wealth and the power, and they were their own downfall.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life in John 6:35-59. This was the Revised Common Lectionary series last August. In John’s account, this takes place after he fed the five thousand, and Jesus knows they are searching for him because of the miracle he performed. Instead of wanting him to create more bread, Jesus wants the crowds to understand that he is the bread of life. Those who believe will know that in Jesus they have eternal life. An important note: John’s gospel often uses the term “the Jews” in English translations. The Common English Bible uses the “Jewish opposition.” The writer of John and the community of the gospel were all Jewish followers of Jesus, so we need to understand that these were internal conflicts within a greater community and not “Jesus vs. the community” that it has often been interpreted as. Some of the leaders opposed Jesus, and in John’s account, they had serious issue with Jesus’ claim of being God’s son (which Jesus doesn’t explicitly say in the other Gospels, that is said about him instead). These leaders are also not unknown to Jesus—they know Mary and Joseph and they remember Jesus as a boy, which is why they have doubts about his claims. Jesus instead claims they do not know God, because they do not know him. He is the bread of life. When the leaders argue how can they eat his flesh, Jesus knows they have misunderstood but continues with the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, because he is the one who came down from heaven. Jesus teaches that unless the believers take on his life, accept his death and resurrection, they will not know God.

The companion scripture is Psalm 34:1-10. The psalmist praises God, calling for those suffering to listen and rejoice, for God has answered their prayers. The psalmist declares in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” It is another beatitude: those who know God and trust in God will find their safety and refuge. Something that tastes good reminds us to give thanks and to be content—a sensory way of knowing God that is not often used.

Through both lectionaries, Wisdom’s way prevails. Knowing God means keeping to God’s ways and commandments, and through them, a full life is to be found. And even when we suffer and struggle in this life, we ought to take heart, for the reign of God is for us. It is when we turn to the world’s ways for satisfaction and contentment that we must be wary, for when we neglect those in need around us to make sure we have enough first, we have put ourselves first, and often conflate our needs with our desires. The ways of the world never satisfy, and we consume more and more—but the way of God teaches us that we are to love one another. Jesus calls us to turn to him for all our needs, to know that in Christ we will be fulfilled, for the bread of this world will never satisfy us. We only have to look to the scriptures, to our ancestors in the faith, to see that those who sought their own gain met their folly. Those who sought God’s ways, though their lives were not easy, knew God was with them for all time.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 1)
For those who follow God’s ways,
They are like trees planted by water.
They bring forth fruit in due season,
And they never wither or fail.
Delight in God’s teachings,
Meditate on the Scriptures, day and night.
God watches over the righteous,
Life is found in living God’s ways.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Wise God, we confess that we have succumbed to the ways of this world. We have sought worldly pleasure and comfort. We have put ourselves first—not to care for ourselves, but because we worry about falling behind the world. We believe the messages of consumerism and wealth that drive us to have more at the cost of others going without. Forgive us for our foolishness. Call us back to Your ways. Remind us to study the Scriptures, listen to Your teachings, ponder the Spirit moving in our lives and in our world. Test our hearts that we might know You and trust in Your will for our lives and not what the world wants. Call us into Your ways of justice, for You hear the cries of the marginalized and oppressed, and we do well to listen and pay attention. Call us to repent, to turn back to You, and live into Your reign on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

God is all compassionate loving-kindness. God is nurturing and caring. God picks us up when we fall and holds us close. God loves you madly. You are forgiven of your sins. Go and do the work Christ has called you to do, to love your neighbor as yourself, to do justice, practice loving-kindness, and walk humbly with God. Amen.

Spirit of Life, turn us away from day-to-day living and remind us that we are eternal people. Guide us to the places of rest and respite. Remind us that we are not machines who consume and produce, but living, holy beings in need of tender love and care. Guide us into the ways of healing and wholeness that require justice work and lead us into Your peace. Spirit of Life, breathe on us, move us, and show us the way, the truth, and the life, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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.