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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship Resources for December 12th, 2021—Third Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Narrative Lectionary: Word Accomplishes God’s Purpose, Isaiah 55:1-13 (John 4:13-14)

The prophet Zephaniah calls for a song of praise in 3:14-20. The prophet praised God and called the people to rejoice for what God would do for them, bringing them out of exile. God removed the judgment against them and turned their enemies away. God will gather the outcast and those who are disabled, who were prevented from participating in society, and change shame into praise. God will gather the people, bring them home, and they will be praised among the nations. What was taken from them will be restored.

Isaiah 12:2-6 is also a song of praise to God. Both the Zephaniah passage and Isaiah passage are similar to the psalms and can be considered psalms in themselves. Isaiah sings of God as the water of salvation, and the people are called to draw upon that water with joy. God is among the people, and they are called to sing praise and shout for joy.

Philippians 4:4-7 contains Paul’s exhortation to the church in Philippi to continue to rejoice and pray without ceasing. The church is not to worry but to know God is near, and to pray to God for their needs in thanksgiving. God’s peace is made known to them through Jesus, and will guard their hearts and minds.

Luke 3:7-18 continues from last week’s passage about John the Baptizer. In Luke’s account, people from all walks of life—even tax collectors and soldiers—come out to be baptized by John, but John warns everyone that this baptism must change their lives and their heart. He calls them a brood of vipers—snakes looking for an opportunity to strike and to play a social game rather than making the necessary changes in their lives. John warned them against claiming their ancestry as enough, because it doesn’t matter where one came from but how one lived their lives. So when asked, John gave some examples: share what you have with those who have nothing. Don’t take more than you need. For tax collectors and soldiers, he called upon them to do their job but not take advantage of others because of their position. John told the crowds that one was coming after him who was more powerful, like one with a winnowing fork on the threshing floor, separating wheat from chaff. Wheat and chaff grow together in the stalk, and the chaff must be removed. So it is when one transforms their life for God—what is useless must be removed.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the word that comes forth from God in Isaiah 55:1-13. God has sent forth the word, spoken to the people to call them into God’s ways. The prophet calls the people to listen to God’s word, to take that as food that satisfies and nourishes rather than what the world offers. Those who turn back to God will be forgiven. God’s word nourishes the world the way the rain and the snow does. In many of the psalms, the waters and mountains and trees praise God in creation, but in this passage, they celebrate the people, and their return from exile.

In John 4, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well, and spoke to her about himself as living water, a water that satisfies and nourishes. This water becomes a wellspring of eternal life.

On this third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, we rejoice. Many of the scriptures for today focus on the theme of rejoicing at what God has done, rejoicing in God’s word and instruction, and rejoicing in God’s covenant. We also hear the word of John the Baptist, calling us into repentance and transformation. While “you brood of vipers” may not sound so joyful, it is the call into God’s ways, preparing ourselves for Christ that gives us joy. Shedding the ways we human beings often turn religion into social status and performance rather than transforming our hearts and lives. For the prophets remind us that when we turn back to God, there is rejoicing and forgiveness. New life can flourish in our hearts and in our world when we listen to the wisdom of God and find it in the commandments, in the rushing rivers, in the stories of our ancestors, and in the traditions of this season that remind us that God is still doing something new.

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 12:2, 5-6)
Surely God is our salvation.
We will trust and will not be afraid.
God is our strength and our might,
God has become our salvation.
Sing praise for God’s glory,
Let it be known in all the earth!
Shout aloud and sing for joy,
The Holy One is among us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God who called both John and Mary, You put words of revolution into their mouths. Mary rejoiced that You are changing the world; John called us to change our hearts and lives. We have failed to listen. We’ve paid attention for a season and then forgotten their challenge. We’ve turned back to the ways of this world, seeking wealth and worldly measures of success. We have forgotten the radical transformation that Mary sang of, and that John called us to pursue. Forgive us for paying lip service to Your covenant. Forgive us for failing to turn to Your ways. Forgive us for falling, once again, for the comforts and pleasures of this world while others suffer. Call us into repentance and true transformation. In the name of Christ, who continues to work in our hearts and lives, we pray. Amen.

The prophet Isaiah long ago declared that “with joy you will draw from the water of salvation.” The well runs deep, and whenever we turn back to God, we will find that the wellspring of life is everlasting and overflowing with God’s love for us. Rejoice! God is very near. Turn back to God’s ways, and may the peace of Christ be with you. Go and share the Good News.

Eternally Rejoicing God, we rejoice with You! You created a beautiful, wondrous expanding universe, swirling galaxies, exploding stars, and You made us out of the dust of the stars. Like a magnificent painting, we emerged in the work, and You delight in us as Your children. In times of deep despair, in the murkiness of our world’s struggles, in the muck of daily life, may we remember You are still creating and rejoicing. Help us to laugh when we have forgotten how. Remind us to find pleasure in life when the world presses down. Guide us to seek help when in all seems futile, for You desire for us to rejoice. Help us to seek, find, and keep joy in our lives. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 5th, 2021—Second Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Narrative Lectionary: Ezekiel: Valley of Dry Bone, 37:1-14 (John 11:25-26)

The prophet Malachi spoke of a messenger being sent ahead of God in 3:1-4. The prophet was concerned about abuse of temple worship and corruption. Malachi declared the messenger of the covenant was coming. God’s presence would suddenly be known in temple. The messenger to come would purify, like refiner’s fire and soap, those who served God in the temple, so that sacrifices and offerings would once again be acceptable.

Zechariah sings praise to God for raising up a mighty savior in Luke 1:68-79. Upon the birth of his son, John, who would later be known as John the Baptizer, Zechariah sang this song. God remembered the covenant made with their ancestors, and the words spoken through the prophets long ago. Zechariah also sings for his son, who will be called the prophet of the Most High and will prepare the way. Zechariah concludes with a blessing that light will break upon those who are in the shadow of death, and they will be guided into the way of peace.

Paul thanks God for the church in Philippi in Philippians 1:3-11. Paul is especially grateful for the way the Philippians have not forgotten him while he was in prison and have cared for him. Paul prays that they would continue to know the overflowing love of God and all the knowledge and insight, so they may be authentic in their conveyance of the Gospel and in judgment before Christ.

Luke 3:1-6 contains Luke’s account of John the Baptizer emerging from the wilderness. Luke firmly places John the Baptist as one prophesied to come before the Messiah in the time of Emperor Tiberius. Like the other Gospel accounts, the writer of Luke quotes Isaiah and links the voice of the one crying out of the wilderness with John the Baptist. While the writer of Isaiah was addressing the people coming out of exile and returning home, Luke links John the Baptizer with the work of justice and restoration, preparing for the work of Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones in 37:1-14. The prophet had experienced the first exile into Babylon and knew the fall of Jerusalem was coming. Yet, the prophet beholds a vision of God restoring Israel, raising up the bones from a battlefield, growing sinews and muscles. God will open the graves and breath the Spirit upon them. Those who live again, who survive the exile, will know that God is with them, and they will thrive. What seems dead is waiting to rise.

In John 11:25-26, John declares to Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus that he is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe, even though they die, will live. Those who live and believe in him will never die, for death will have no hold on them.

Prepare the way! Sweep clean! Purify yourselves. Be ready. Advent is a season of preparation. While the traditional theme of the day is peace (though no one knows where those traditions of hope, peace, joy, and love came from), peace is part of preparation. Resisting the worry of the world, resisting the news that causes us to fear. Peace prepares us for God’s presence to take root. It doesn’t mean we won’t still have anxiety or fear, but that in preparation for Christ to enter our world and lives in a new way, we do what we can to let go and remember that we are children of God, and that God is with us, now.

Call to Worship (Luke 1:69-70, 72, 78-79)
“God raised up a mighty savior for us,
As God spoke through the prophets,
God showed mercy promised to our ancestors;
God remembered the holy covenant.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Eternal God, we confess that we’re still not ready. We haven’t done all we can to be ready for Your reign on earth as it is in heaven. We have procrastinated and delayed, and at other times simply forgot who we are and who You are in our lives. Call us into noticing this moment, this time of Advent, this season of preparation. Help us to recall that You are Eternal and always with us, and remind us to set aside a moment and prepare our hearts and minds for You. We can make the time to allow Your peace to enter in and reign in our hearts. We can find the way. Eternal One, guide us in this season of Advent, of watching and waiting, signs that You are doing something new in our world and in our lives, right now. Amen.

God calls out to us from the wilderness of our lives, from the places that are tangled and full of shadows. God calls out to us and leads us in the way of peace. Listen to God call your name, and know that you are loved. Listen to God’s voice, and know that you are forgiven. Listen to God’s proclamation, and know there is new life, restored life, now. Go and live into the Good News. Amen.

Singer of Dreams, You sang into Hannah’s heart long ago when she longed for a child, and brought forth the prophet Samuel. You sang into Zechariah’s heart long ago when he longed for a child, and brought forth John the Baptizer. You sang into Mary’s heart, though she was so young, and sang a song of revolution to bear Your Son. Sing into our hearts, sing into our dreams, Singer of Songs. Sing into us the melodies of liberation and the harmonies of righteousness. Sing into us Your song, a new song, so that we might be ready for You, Singer of Life, as we sing the song of resurrection. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 28th, 2021—First Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Narrative Lectionary: Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles, 29:1, 4-14 (John 14:27)

Happy New Year! We have come full circle and a new year has begun in the Revised Common Lectionary, year C.

We begin with the promise of God as told by the prophet Jeremiah, a promise that will be fulfilled to Israel and Judah. God will cause “a righteous branch to spring up for David,” a fulfilment of the promise that David’s reign would endure forever. The rest of this passage includes a promise for Judah and Jerusalem, the safety of the great city. Jeremiah witnessed its destruction, but also declared God’s promise of hope and restoration.

Psalm 25:1-10 is a prayer of trust in God. The psalmist calls upon God to make known God’s ways, to lead them away from the path of sin. The psalmist prays that their enemies and those who are astray from God’s ways would know shame, but not for those faithful to God. Instead, the psalmist prays for wise instruction from God, that their own sins from their youth would be forgotten. God teaches in humility, and God is faithful to those who keep God’s ways.

Paul prays a blessing and thanksgiving upon the church in Thessalonica in preparation for Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13. Paul prays that they would be strengthened in their faith, in their love for one another, and in their hearts, as they prepare to be in the presence of Christ when he comes again.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he celebrated the Passover were about the signs of the times before Jesus’ return. We must remember that the Gospel According to Luke was written after the destruction of the temple, so some of the words of Jesus had already taken place by the time this Gospel was shared. In 21:25-36, Jesus follows a pattern of other writers and prophets, declaring that there will be visible signs of disturbance in the skies and on earth, but the disciples (and the readers/listeners) are to be ready. Jesus uses the example of a fig tree, how it grows leaves at the appropriate time of the year and people understand what season it is by the leaves on the tree. For those who believe, they will understand that God’s reign has drawn near by the signs they see in the world. Believers are called to be alert and ready, not weighed down by the worries and participation in day-to-day worldly living. Instead, pray for the strength to withstand, and be ready for the day of judgment with Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on Jeremiah, but a few chapters earlier. In chapter 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to those from Jerusalem were taken in the first exile to Babylon, before the destruction of the temple and the fall of their city. To these exiles, who may have contemplated rebelling against their captors, Jeremiah encourages them instead to go on with their lives in exile. The prophet urges them to build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children and grandchildren. Jeremiah asks the exiles to pray. Though there are some who desire to return home, the prophet knows that it will be generations before they will—yet God has plans for a future with hope. The people are called to seek God right where they are in exile, not longing for a dream of what once was.

In John 14:27, Jesus reminds the disciples that his peace is not the same as the world’s peace. Jesus encourages the disciples to not be troubled or afraid. Paired with the passage from Jeremiah, this continues a theme of encouragement in the midst of the world’s troubles.

A tradition of Advent, that no one is sure when it began or where it came from, is that each Sunday the candles symbolize hope, peace, joy, and love. There’s nothing that says we have to use that tradition, but hope is a theme we often look to in this time of year. Advent is the season of watching and waiting for signs of Christ’s return in our world and our lives in a new way. We practice traditions in the hope that something new will happen, rather than clinging to something old. Jeremiah reminds us that we can look to the past, but we can’t be beholden to it. Jesus reminds us in Luke’s account of the Gospel that the signs are all around us that God is doing something new, even when the world is falling apart. Be encouraged! Something new and wonderful is at hand.

Call to Worship (from Luke 1:28, 30, 37-28)
The angel said to Mary,
“The Lord is with you.
“Do not be afraid,
“For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary said to the angel,
“Here I am, the servant of God,
“May it be with me,
According to the word of God.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Hopeless, we confess that closing in on two years of living in a Covid world we have lost hope that things will return to normal. We are reminded, like Jeremiah reminded the exiles, that we cannot go back to the way things were. Instead, we must build in a new way, knowing that You are with us now. As we build a new way of being church, of being faithful in the world around us, of following You, remind us of the assurance that You are always doing something new, and always preparing for us a future with hope. In our despair and dejection, renew and restore our hearts. In the name of Christ, who is returning to us, we pray. Amen.

Jeremiah told the people that a shoot would rise from the stump of Jesse. Jesus taught us that something new rises out of what must die. God continues to teach us that all things are made new. There is hope to be found in this world, if we seek it, and if we be it. May we be living hope to one another, forgiving and loving one another, restoring and repairing the world. Go, and live into the Good News, and be good news for each other. Amen.

God of Advent, Coming into View, You are like the sun just before dawn, when twilight is fading. You are like the first star at night before all the stars blaze into glory. You are the moon rising, and the new moon, about to be born. We see everything differently by Your light and Your darkness. May the wonder and surprise of this season take root in us, though we know the old story. May we be caught up in the excitement and joy even when we repeat old traditions. May we be inspired by You, O God, even as the seasons turn as they always do—for they turn in a new way in this new year. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Amen.

Dear Christians: We have Advent, NOT Hanukkah

Dear Christians,

The days are growing shorter, the nights are long and dark. As we near winter solstice and Christmas, we will begin putting up lights and lighting candles and singing songs.

Because Hanukkah falls in the same season, it has come to my attention that some Christians are now attempting to observe Hanukkah, claiming that because Jesus celebrated it, so can we. There’s even a book out there promoting this idea.[i]

No. Just, no.

Yes, Jesus was Jewish. So were the disciples. So were the early converts that made up the first churches. All the Jewish observances named in the Christian scriptures (New Testament) were observed by Jews, not by Gentiles. They all observed Jewish festivals because they were Jewish.[ii]

But when Christianity moved from being a small Jewish group of followers of the rabbi Jesus into a separate movement of mostly Gentile believers, we gave up any claim on those traditions. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christianity developed its own practices, separate from those associated with Judaism. As Robert Frost once quipped, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence, two roads diverged in a wood …”[iii] Indeed, Christianity and Judaism have been two different roads for almost two thousand years now.

So, back to Hanukkah. I get it. It’s dark (in the northern hemisphere, mind you, lest we forget our southern hemisphere family), and for whatever reason Christmas lights are just not doing it for you.

But remember! We have our own tradition of lighting candles in darkness! It’s called Advent!

Advent is the season that begins four Sundays before Christmas (older traditions have it starting seven Sundays before). Originally, it was a season of fasting and prayer, mirroring Lent. In later years, Advent turned into a more cozy preparation time. It’s a time to ready your home for an anticipated guest. It even has its own carols, separate from Christmas[iv], and newer Advent carols have been written in recent years.

This is also the time of year to BAKE! While Advent began as a time of fasting, in the year 1490, Pope Innocent VIII granted the residents of Dresden, Germany the right to use butter during Advent.[v] I first learned this fact not in seminary but from the Great British Baking Show. This is why we have such rich traditions of breads and cookies and all sorts of yummy treats. If we want to share traditions, offer to trade with Jewish friends, who have their own rich tradition of fried foods during their holiday of Hanukkah!

Other ways of observing Advent include Advent calendars. However, the point isn’t to hurry through Advent to get to Christmas. It’s the exact opposite: Advent is the time to get cozy in your waiting and let the world slow down around you.

So back to Hanukkah, and back to candles! Each night of Hanukkah is special, with a prayer specific to the observance, each candle representing a night of survival and hope for the Jewish people. It is specifically about their own faith and beliefs.

Christians have our own traditions. Each Sunday we light a candle in an Advent wreath. Purple is the liturgical color of this season (not red and green!). There are three purple candles and one pink candle in the wreath. The pink candle is for the third Sunday, called Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice” in Latin. It was a way of breaking up the fasting in Advent—on Gaudete Sunday, you could have your butter and sugar and all your yummies. It also reminded us that Christmas was drawing near.

Some wreaths also have a fifth, white candle, which is the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is the end of Advent, and has always been my favorite day. Before the explosion of presents. Before all the decadence. It is a holy, special night, when all the candles are lit, when everything is ready.

Because that’s what Advent is about theologically—it is the season of preparation, waiting for Christ to enter our world and our lives in a new way. While we re-enact the Nativity story at Christmas every year, Advent reminds us that the world is still changing, that God is still doing something new in us and around us—and we are to be ready.

And practically, Advent practices developed and took hold in northern Europe, because it’s really cold and dark this time of year. Pagan traditions were also incorporated, such as holly boughs and evergreen trees for decorations, warm drinks and good food.

Isn’t that amazing, and enough?

So why do some Christians want Hanukkah, too?

Hanukkah is its own special, amazing festival of lights. It’s not about gift-giving. It’s about remembering a time when an empire, at its very worst, appropriated, took over, and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. When the lamp of God was relit, there was only enough oil for one night, but miraculously, it lasted the eight nights needed for more to arrive. It is about surviving genocide (as, many of my Jewish friends joke, are most Jewish holidays—“they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”—or in this case, light candles).

So with that knowledge, DO YOU UNDERSTAND how AWFUL it is when Christians try to appropriate Hanukkah? It’s the very thing this holiday is against!

However, there is another way to co-celebrate.

This year, November 28th, is the first Sunday of Advent. It also happens to be the first night of Hanukkah. That means on December 5th, when we light our second candle, our Jewish neighbors will light their last candle. The entire first week of Advent, we are sharing light as neighbors with roots. We are lighting candles in the darkest time of the year. I know many of my Jewish friends have a practice of using no technology while the candles are lit, and some of my Christian friends have taken on a similar practice when lighting the Advent candles, to enjoy the beauty of the light itself.

We all enjoy sharing food with each other. My Jewish friends love to have people over (when it’s non-Covid times, of course) to celebrate as they light the candles. There are public menorah lightings by synagogues and those are wonderful ways to celebrate with your Jewish neighbors. You can invite your non-Christian friends over when you light your Advent candle (and while we light them on Sunday in our worship services, you can continue to light your own Advent candles at home during the week). Those are some of the ways that we can share in these seasons together. Sharing our traditions together is wonderful. Co-opting another’s tradition Is not. Our Jewish neighbors love to share just as much as we do.

Appreciate, don’t appropriate, and may you find meaning and joy in your season.


Many thanks to Laura Anne Gilman for her clarifications on Hanukkah. Any errors are my own.


[i] Purposefully not linking the book.

[ii] From Time, Calendar, and Festivals by Sacha Stern, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, edited by Amy-Jill Levine. Oxford University Press, 2017 (New York) pg. 671

[iii] Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” 1916.

[iv] Alas, a warning: some of the old favorite Advent carols are very supersessionist—supporting the idea that Jesus completes or replaces the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Think of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” Yikes. It’s a beautiful tune, but you can’t sing that first verse (not to mention the chorus) without understanding how harmful it can be.

[v] https://whatscookingamerica.net/history/cakes/stollen.htm Note that there are other sites stating this happened in 1650 under Pope Urban VIII, but Pope Urban died in 1644 and Germany was Protestant by then.

Worship Resources for November 21st, 2021—Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary:
Reign of Christ Sunday: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132: 1-12 (13-18); Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Thanksgiving Sunday: Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah: A Child is Born, 9:1-7 (John 8:12)

We have come to the end of this season after Pentecost, and our first selection from the Hebrew scriptures is a psalm, titled David’s last words. Last week’s reading was the Song of Hannah, so the story of David, from the birth of the prophet Samuel to the last breath of King David, begin and end with songs of prophecy. David, anointed by God, spoke to the people that God made an everlasting covenant with him and called him to rule with justice over Israel. David hoped his kingdom mirrored the way God reigned over him. The king warned against those who did not follow God’s ways, and to be cautious in dealing with them.

Psalm 132 is a pilgrimage song for journeying to Jerusalem and worshiping at the temple. The psalmist recalls King David and his faithfulness to God by his desire to build a temple. Now, the people desire to worship as David hoped to, in the temple of God, with all the elements of temple worship. God has chosen to be among the people and has chosen to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem. This is where God will make the people thrive, and David’s reign everlasting.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures focuses again on Daniel, this time the vision of the heavenly courtroom in 7:9-10, 13-14. God is described as the Ancient One, dressed all in white and with white hair, sitting upon a throne of flames. The courtroom is in session, thousands are present, and the books are opened. In this vision, one like a human being is presented before the Ancient One and given all power and dominion and authority. This figure in Jewish tradition has often been understood as the people of Israel personified. Some traditions linked this with a Messiah figure, one who would come at the last days. Christians later interpreted this person to be the Christ.

Psalm 93 is a song of praise to God, the creator of the earth and the one who reigns on high. The psalmist describes God as robed like a king upon the throne. The waters on the earth lift up their voice in a roar, but God is the one who reigns over the earth, and God is more majestic than all of creation. God rules as the ultimate king, and God’s law is faithful and true.

The Epistle reading for Reign of Christ Sunday comes from Revelation 1:4b-8. This portion is part of the introduction by John of Patmos in his letter to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia. This opening blessing acknowledges the one who reigns on the throne, and the one who is coming with the clouds, as mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels. God is the Beginning and the Ending, the Almighty who reigns on high, and who made the faithful into a kingdom of priests who serve God on earth.

The Gospel lesson from John is a troubling one. Jesus’ response to Pilate, who asked if he was the King of the Jews, is to ask Pilate who put him up to asking that question. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, though he was born to reign. However, Jesus, in this account, also told Pilate that if his kingdom was of this world, his followers would not allow him to be handed over to the Jewish people. This passage is dangerous to read without questioning the motive of the author, as it places blame on the Jewish community and religious leaders, though it was Pilate who handed him over to be crucified. The emphasis needs to be on the reign of Christ not being of this world; however, we must also acknowledge the antisemitism in this text, regardless of whether the writer of John was Jewish or not.

For Thanksgiving in the U.S., the selection from the Hebrew scriptures comes from the prophet Joel. In his vision, probably after the exile and return from Babylon, God will restore the land. Everything will be green again, trees bearing fruit and vineyards full. God will provide abundant rain for the people, and the threshing floors and vats are overflowing with produce. God will restore what was taken from the people. The people will know that God is with them, and the people will never again be put to shame.

Psalm 126 is a song of restoration, another pilgrimage song, reminding the people of God’s faithfulness as they returned from exile. Other nations declared that God had done wonderful things for the people. Those who were mourning are now joyful. Those who went out with nothing but seeds have returned, carrying the full harvest.

The writer of First Timothy (purporting to be Paul) calls upon the reader (supposedly Timothy in Ephesus) to be in prayer and thanksgiving for everyone, including the rulers of the land in which the church resides. The author declares this is what God desires, so that the faithful of Christ may have the goodwill of the people around them. For there is only one God, and one Christ, who is the mediator between humanity and God.

The Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Sunday is Jesus’ declaration to the disciples not to worry in Matthew 6:25-33. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about their basic needs, for God has provided an abundance on earth. Instead, when we work for the reign of God and lift up one another’s needs, our own needs are met. Worrying doesn’t help us. Worrying raises our anxiety, causing us to spiral in our concerns, instead of remembering that when we are the body of Christ, we have one another. We can lift up one another and meet each other’s needs.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Isaiah 9:1-7. The prophet is speaking a word of hope to the people of Judah, who witnessed the northern kingdom of Israel go into exile. This hope is a great light in a time of darkness. A new king has been born (most likely the king Hezekiah), whom Isaiah hoped would lead the people into God’s ways as a descendant of David and establish peace. Though the people have been without hope, experiencing the destruction of the northern kingdom and the attack of Assyria on Jerusalem, they have withstood the conquest and have survived, and the prophet has hope for the new king.

In John 8:12, Jesus speaks of himself as the light of the world. Whoever follows Jesus will never be in darkness but will have the light of life.

We have come to the end of the liturgical year, a day of gratitude, a day of recalling that Christ is the one who truly reigns. As we prepare to enter Advent, a season of watching and waiting for signs of Christ’s return in our world and our lives in a new way, we remember that Christ reigns eternally. The One Who Was, and Who Is, and Who Is To Come, the Almighty. God has given us this wonderful earth, full of the abundance of creation. There is enough for all, yet the powerful and wealthy have hoarded so much from others. Tens of thousands die in our world of starvation every day. Millions live in poverty. A handful—a few hundred out of seven billion people—are billionaires. When we put our trust in worldly princes, as the psalmist said long ago, they will fail us. Instead, we must look to the reign of God and work to serve one another. We must dismantle the systems and structures that build up wealth instead of meeting the needs of one another. This isn’t easy work. But on this Sunday, may we remember that our calling is not simply to live in God’s reign after we die—it is to remember that God’s reign is not of this world that we have made. The world we human beings have made needs to be dismantled and destroyed, so that what is eternal will live in us forever. Where the reign of God can flourish here and now.

Call to Worship
With grateful hearts, we gather to worship,
We give God thanks and praise.
With open minds, we listen to the needs of others,
We give God thanks and praise.
With outstretched hands, we serve one another,
We give God thanks and praise.
With all our being, we follow Jesus Christ,
And we give God thanks and praise.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and Ending, we confess that we are far too often focused solely on what is in front of us. We miss out on what You are doing in the world. We can only perceive our own struggles and difficulties, and ignore the cries of the oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised. Forgive us. Call us to lift our gaze. Guide us to open our minds and hearts to one another. Remind us that You are the Almighty, the Holy One, who made all of creation and made us, who knows our hearts and calls us by name. Remind us that there is much more than what we think we know. Keep us to Your ways, and lead us into the work of love, justice, restoration, and peace. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7)
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you know Christ’s peace. May you know you are forgiven, loved, and restored. For God knows your name, and knows the hairs on your head. God loves you madly, and is so glad you have returned. Go forth, sharing the good news of forgiveness and love and join in the work of justice and restoration. Amen.

God of Abundant Love and Grace, in this season we praise You for the fruits of the earth, for springtime and harvest. As the seasons turn, we know that You are with us through all of life’s challenges and changes. In times of scarcity, may we find a double-portion of Your grace made known to us. In times of hardship, may we find a double-portion of forgiveness and love. In times of struggle, may we find a double-portion of hope and justice. Abundant God, shower us with Your grace, peace, and joy. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 14th, 2021—Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Amos: Justice Rolls Down, 1:1-2, 5:14-15, 21-24 (John 7:37-38)

We are nearing the end of the season after Pentecost, and have come full circle. The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures began with the people of Israel demanding a king, and the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. Now, we come back to 1 Samuel, in which a woman Hannah prayed to God for a son, for she was unable to have a child. She promised God that if she could conceive, she would dedicate her firstborn to God. The priest Eli at the temple of Shiloh saw Hannah praying, her lips moving but no sound coming out, and thought she was drunk. Eli confronted her, but Hannah confessed she was not drunk, only deeply troubled. She warned Eli not to accuse her of drunkenness when she was pouring out her soul to God. Eli then told her to go in peace, and hoped that God would grant her petition. Hannah and her husband worshipped God, returned to their home, and she conceived a son, whom she named Samuel, who became the great prophet.

In lieu of a psalm, the accompanying selection is 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hannah’s song. Hannah praises God, the source of her strength and her deliverer. God shatters the weapons of the mighty but lifts up the humble. Those who had more than enough now hire themselves out to earn bread, but those who were hungry now have an abundance. The woman who had no children now has seven, but the one who had many sons has lost them. God goes down to the grave and raises up the dead to life. God turns the world upside down, lifting up the poor and needy. Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 echoes many of these themes.

As we near the end of this season (next week is Reign of Christ Sunday), we also turn to themes of the reign of God and the day of judgment, and the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures focuses on Daniel’s vision in 12:1-3 of Michael. Michael is an angel seen as the heavenly personification of Israel. In this vision, Michael, or Israel, takes their stand against the forces of evil, and the dead will face their final judgment. Those who lead others in God’s ways will shine like stars.

Psalm 16 is a prayer of faithfulness in God. The psalmist puts their trust solely in God unlike others around them. They have chosen the way of life led by God, and in that life they have found blessing and peace. Their whole body and soul rests in God, and their life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

The Epistle readings conclude the series in Hebrews with 10:11-25. This passage summarizes the themes of the last few weeks in Hebrews: Jesus came as the final and ultimate sacrifice, ending the need for the sacrificial system for those who believe in him. Because God has offered forgiveness and will remember our sins no more, there is no need for further sacrifice and offering for sin. Because Jesus is our great high priest, we can confidently approach God without fear of judgment. Jesus remains faithful, and as the day of judgment approaches, the writer calls the faithful to encourage one another.

Mark’s Gospel account turns to Jesus’ words at the temple during the final days of his life in 13:1-8. As the disciples remarked on the temple and its large stones, Jesus foretold the temple’s destruction (which took place in 70 C.E.). Peter, James, and John pulled Jesus aside to learn more about when this will take place, but Jesus warned them instead to not be led astray. They would hear rumors of war and destruction (the Roman Revolt destroyed Jerusalem in 66-70 C.E.) but they were not to be alarmed, for this was only the beginning. The early Christians and community of Mark believed God would do something new.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the prophet Amos. The prophet lived during the reign of Judah’s King Uzziah and Israel’s King Jeroboam and was a shepherd. While Amos lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, he prophesied to both nations and called for the people to seek good and practice justice. Amos knew that Israel’s destruction would come if its leaders did not pay attention to the evil ways infiltrating their leadership. While the leaders and priests celebrated all sorts of festivals, God told Amos the rituals and practices were empty. God had no desire to listen to their songs and music—instead, God wanted justice to roar like a waterfall, righteousness like a mighty river.

In John 7:37-38, Jesus, at a Jewish festival, stood up and shouted that the people needed to turn to him, and that rivers of living water would flow from him. The Narrative Lectionary links this passage with the rivers of righteousness of Amos.

As we approach the end of the Christian year, we turn to the stories of the Day of Judgment. While apocalyptic passages from Daniel and from the Gospels are read at this time, it is important to remember that there have been endings and beginnings in our world. The destruction of the temple and the people being taken into exile was one ending. The desecration of the temple by the Greeks was another. The Roman occupation and suppression of the rebellion of 66-70 C.E. was yet another. The Hebrew prophets look to the Day of Judgment as God’s judgment of the faithful. How do we live our lives in accordance to God’s ways? It is also a sign of God’s faithfulness to us, that the evil of the world will not have the last word. For Christians, we turn to the reign or kingdom of God, the beloved community of Christ, as we work for its fulfillment on earth as it is in heaven. We know that God makes all things new, that what is considered dead will live again. We watch and wait, and we participate now.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 16:7-9, 11)
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
In the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the LORD always before me;
I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
My body also rests secure.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we turn to our own assurance and comforts instead of seeking You. We look to the ways of the world to measure ourselves instead of Your commandments and wisdom. Forgive us when our actions of holiness are empty and meaningless. Forgive us when we have mistaken the institution for authentic relationship. Call us back to Your way of loving our neighbor as ourselves, seeking forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Call us into the work of Your love, justice, and mercy. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

The One who calls you by name has known you, all along, through and through. The One Beyond Our Understanding knows all your flaws and thinks they are beautiful, for They made you in Their image. Know that you are holy and good and loved. Know that when you seek forgiveness and work to restore what you have broken and distorted, the Holy One is with you, helping you to heal and forgive. Go in peace, serve Christ by serving one another. Amen.

We near the turning of the year, O Wondrous Creator. As our earth revolves around the sun, help us to look all around and perceive how You are still at work in our world and in our lives. You have not given up on us yet. You have not given up on this one earth You made for us. You have not given up on creation. Help us to not give up. Call us to roll up our sleeves, to sweep away and clean, to build and plant, to pluck up what needs to be taken, to make space for what needs to grow. Help us to look all around and know that You are doing a new thing. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 7th, 2021—Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Narrative Lectionary: God Speaks to Elijah, 1 Kings 19:1-18 (John 12:27-28)

Resources for All Saints Day can be found here.

Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, even though she was not an Israelite in Ruth 3 and 4. Naomi, her mother-in-law, helped her pursue Boaz, a near kinsman, even though Ruth was a Moabite. Ruth trusted her mother-in-law to seek the well-being for both of them, for Naomi treated Ruth like her own daughter. The women of the community blessed Naomi for the gift of Ruth, who helped provide for her and gave her a new family in her old age.

Psalm 127 is a song of blessing for family life. The psalmist begins by reminding the listener/reader that unless they turn to God first as their foundation and strength, their efforts will be in vain. Instead, when they turn to God first, God will provide. Hard work does not bring blessings, but relationship with God brings us into relationship with one another. The second half of the psalm contains a blessing for large families, especially sons for inheritance, which was necessary in the culture and traditions of property and inheritance of Biblical times

God called the prophet Elijah to visit the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:8-16. The prophet asked the widow for water, and then asked her for bread while she was getting him water. She swore to him that she had nothing to eat, just some oil and a little meal, and she was about to make a cake for her and her son as their last meal before they starved to death. However, Elijah tells her to not be afraid, but to first make a little cake of it for him, and then make some for herself and her son. Elijah promised her that the oil and meal would not run out until the day God brought rain back to the land. The injustice of the world would be brough to an end. The woman and her son were able to eat for many days and did not go hungry.

Psalm 146 was the first Psalm selection last week. This psalm is a song of praise to God, the one who truly reigns. The psalmist reminds the people that worldly rulers will fail them and to not put their trust in them. It is God, maker of heaven and earth, who executes justice and remembers the poor and oppressed. Worldly kings will always be tempted by the ways of the world, but God watches over the widows and strangers and immigrants, the ones who are forgotten about, and God loves the righteous. God’s reign endures forever.

The Epistle reading continues in Hebrews with 9:24-28. Because Jesus entered heaven, and not the temple made of human hands, Jesus’s sacrifice was once for all and removed sin itself. Through Christ’s sacrifice, sin has no hold on our lives. Jesus will appear a second time, the writer states, because we appear a second time after our death. We will be saved by Jesus who is waiting for us in the resurrection.

The Gospel of Mark continues with Jesus’ teaching in the temple. In last week’s passage, Jesus was questioned by a scribe about the greatest commandment, and even though Jesus told that scribe he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God, Jesus warns those listening to him to beware other scribes who are scribes for appearances sake. They want everyone to know they are studying scripture, wearing their long robes, and saying long prayers so everyone knows who they are, to be invited for banquets as guests of honor. Instead, Jesus spies a widow putting in two copper coins into the temple treasury, and Jesus lifts her up as an example. Others might have put in large sums, but she put in all she had. Others contributed out of their abundance, but she gave all she had. She lived out her faithfulness.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on the prophet Elijah, when Elijah was persecuted and feeling abandoned. In 1 Kings 19:1-18, Elijah wanted to fall down and die. He complained to God he was all alone. Even though he hid 100 prophets still loyal to God before battling the prophets of Baal, Elijah complained he was the only one left, facing persecution. He sat down and fell asleep from exhaustion. However, God sent an angel to wake Elijah up and told him to get up and eat. This happened twice, and Elijah finally had the strength to continue on. Even then, when he arrived at Horeb, he told God he was the only one left, that he remained faithful while the people abandoned God. God told Elijah to stand at the mountain, for God would pass by. However, God was not present in the mighty wind, or the great earthquake, or the roaring fire. There was a sound of sheer silence, and Elijah wrapped his face before going to meet God. Elijah still complained he was the only one left, so God told him to anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel, and Elisha as a new prophet to take his place. In the midst of Elijah’s utter despair, his feeling alone and abandoned, God heard him, and God answered.

In John 12:27-28, Jesus himself was deeply troubled and despairing, and God responded to Jesus’ request to glorify God’s name. In the following verse, others heard the voice, but thought it was thunder, or perhaps an angel, not knowing that it was God speaking assurance to Jesus.

Those of us in the Northern hemisphere are preparing for harvest, and in the U.S. preparing for Thanksgiving. These scriptures remind us that knowing God’s abundance is not about an outward display of faith, but an inner transformation and trust in God. Ruth trusted her mother-in-law was not only looking out for her own interests but for all of them, including Boaz, as family. The widow at Zarephath trusted the prophet Elijah and fed him first before herself and her son, trusting his words that God would provide for her family as well as the prophet. Elijah himself, when everything seems to be collapsing, still trusts in God enough to know he can pour out his feelings to God, and God provides in his time of need. Jesus takes notice of a widow who puts in all she has, trusting in God, compared to the religious leaders who were concerned about looking religious. Trusting in God’s abundance doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes go without, but it means we believe God has provided a world of abundance. The systems and structures of the world create food scarcity, hunger, and poverty, but God calls us to the work of justice to dismantle the sin of the world. This is what Elijah did when he met the widow at Zarephath. This is what Jesus pointed out to the disciples when he lifted up the poor widow above the rich givers and the flashy religious leaders. This is what we are called to do.

Call to Worship
We gather now to give thanks to our God,
Whose steadfast love endures forever.
We lift up our hearts, our prayers and praise to God,
Whose steadfast love endures forever.
We reflect and ponder the word and wisdom of God,
Whose steadfast love endures forever.
We join together as followers of Jesus Christ,
Whose steadfast love endures forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Everlasting Love, we confess that we are short-tempered and short-sighted. We do not have patience for those who cry out for justice because we are focused on ourselves. We do not perceive how our lives are connected to others when all we notice are our own troubles. We fail to remember that our days are short, but You are the one who reigns forever. You remind us time and again that we are connected to each other. You have commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. You call us into Your work of justice and reparation. God, hold us accountable. Remind us when we are focused only on ourselves instead of the world You called us to participate in. Keep us to Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Amen.

There is more than enough love to go around. More than enough resources. More than enough of everything, when we remember we are one body in Christ, when we remember we are all children of God. Know that you are loved and needed, and that you need to love one another. When we love each other, our needs are met in the care of Christ’s community. Go and work to build up the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven, for you are loved, forgiven, and restored. Amen.

Steadfast Spirit, breathe into us new life when we are downtrodden. Lift up our hearts when the world crushes us down. Guide us into Your ways of peace when the violence and heartbreak is unbearable. Refresh and restore us, Holy One, for there is so much that drains us. Remind us that renewal and rest are holy acts, and You have created us and called us into the holy work of love in this world. *In the winds of November, may Your Spirit raise us and encourage us as the nights grow longer and the days short and cold, for You are the one who brings all things into renewal. In Your Holy Name we pray. Amen.

*for those in the Southern Hemisphere, alternative wording: In the growing light, may Your Spirit raise us and encourage us as the flowers bloom and birds sing, for You are the one who births all things in renewal. In Your Holy Name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 31st, 2021—Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Reformation Sunday, All Saints Day

All Saints Day is November 1st, and so it may be observed on either October 31st or November 7th. Reformation Sunday is October 31st.

Revised Common Lectionary
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost:
Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

All Saints Day (if not observed November 7th): Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Narrative Lectionary: Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13 (John 2:19-21)

The first set of reading from the Revised Common Lectionary are for those not observing All Saints Day or observing it on November 7th instead.

In the first selection from the Hebrew Scriptures, for the first half of this season after Pentecost we followed the rise of the kings of Israel, from Saul through Solomon. The second half of the season has moved into Wisdom literature, much of which is attributed to Solomon but contains other writings: poems, songs, and stories in the Hebrew scriptures. We move from Job to Ruth, who was the great-grandmother of King David, coming full circle in this season.

Naomi and her husband were from Bethlehem but had moved to Moab with their two sons when a famine came in the land. They raised their sons there, who married, but over time, Naomi’s husband died, and then both of her sons died without having children. A widow with no sons would have no one to provide for her, and the best place for her was back with her father’s family—anyone who was left. So Naomi set to return to Bethlehem, and told her daughters-in-law to go back to their father’s families. There was still time for them to remarry and have children. Though Orpah does go back, Ruth refuses to. Ruth clings to her mother-in-law and recites vows to her mother-in-law, that she is her kin, that she will not abandon her, and Naomi knew that Ruth was determined to go with her. Though the customs of the time dictated that Ruth was no longer bound to Naomi, Ruth felt something much deeper, a bond forged through common loss and grief and position in their cultures. They were family, no matter what had happened, or what would happen.

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to God, who is the one who truly reigns. The psalmist reminds the people that worldly rulers will fail them and to not put their trust in them. It is God, maker of heaven and earth, who executes justice and remembers the poor and oppressed. Worldly kings will always be tempted by the ways of the world, but God watches over the widows and strangers and immigrants, the ones who are often forgotten about, and God loves the righteous. God’s reign endures forever.

The call to prayer, called the Shema, of Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is one that every Israelite would know by heart, for God, through Moses, instructed the people to remember God’s commandment and to love God with their whole being: heart, mind, and soul. By reciting this call to prayer and commandment, by teaching it to their children, by reciting it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, by placing it on their doorposts so they would remember when they left their home and when they returned—this love for God would be centered in their hearts and lives.

Psalm 119:1-8 is the first stanza of a long-form acrostic poem, in which each stanza begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. This stanza, Alef, praises God for all who walk in God’s ways, for they are blessed and know God is with them. In the second half of this stanza, the plea is from the psalmist themselves, that they might live into God’s ways and keep their lives centered on God’s commandments. They pledge to praise God, and plea for God to not abandon them.

The Epistle reading continues in Hebrews with the writer’s argument that Christ’s sacrifice ends all sacrifices in 9:11-14. Christ didn’t enter the temple made in this world, but by sacrificing his own blood, he entered a spiritual temple. Through his sacrifice, all are purified in body and soul, according to the author of Hebrews.

Jesus teaches the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28-34. After being questioned by other religious leaders, a scribe asks him which is the greatest commandment. Jesus quotes both the Shema (the call to prayer) of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself, a common pairing in Jewish teaching. The scribe answers that this is indeed more important than the offerings and sacrifices of tradition, because it’s a call to live it out, and Jesus replies that the scribe is not far from the reign of God.

The lectionary for All Saints Day begins with the vision of the heavenly banquet table from Isaiah 25:6-9. While Isaiah prophesied destruction for the people because their leaders turned astray, the prophet also knew that God would bring restoration. Isaiah envisioned God on the holy mountain of Jerusalem, a place where heaven and earth meet in religious imagery and tradition, holding an extravagant banquet. This banquet contained food and drink that satisfies. At this banquet, God will comfort us. God will destroy death, the shadow over all people, and will bring the people who have waited for God salvation.

Psalm 24 is a call to worship at the temple. The psalmist begins with praising God who made the earth. Mountains and hills were seen as sacred places, where heaven and earth met in the ancient understanding of the world, and Jerusalem was set on God’s holy hill. Those who came to the temple were called to examine themselves before entering, to be certain they had upheld the commandments before daring to enter the gates of God.

John of Patmos beheld a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth in Revelation 21:1-6a. In this vision, God will re-create heaven and earth. John recalled the vision of Isaiah: the banquet feast is now a wedding feast, where there will be no more sorrow. The marriage of earth and heaven is done, and there is no more death. Christ has made all things new, and God declares that everything is complete, beginning and ending.

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day shares the story of Lazarus’ resurrection, beginning with Mary’s grief in John 11:32-44. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, did not come out of the house at first when Jesus arrived. Martha did, and Jesus asked her if she believed in the resurrection. Jesus then declared he is the resurrection and the life. However, Mary did not emerge until later, and when she confronted Jesus with her grief, kneeling at his feet, he also began to weep. From his tears, Jesus was moved to go to Lazarus’ tomb and commanded them to roll away the stone. He prayed to God and called Lazarus out of the grave. The dead man emerged from the tomb, still wrapped in his burial cloths. Jesus commanded the crowd to unbind him and let him go.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on King Solomon building the temple in 1 Kings 5:1-5, 8:1-13. David envisioned building the temple for God, but God told him not to do it, it wasn’t for his time. Solomon instead ordered the temple to be built. Solomon had a good relationship with the king of Tyre, who was under Solomon’s authority. Solomon ordered cedars to be cut down in Lebanon—the same type of trees his father used for building the palace. In chapter 8, Solomon dedicated the temple to God, which had in its place all the sacred objects made by the Israelites when they worshiped God in the wilderness, led by Moses. God had been present with the people as a cloud in the wilderness, but now, God’s glory would dwell in the temple made by Solomon.

In John’s account of the Gospel, Jesus came to Jerusalem more than once, and it was on his first journey to Jerusalem that he drove out the moneychangers from the temple. In this most violent version of the story (Jesus makes a whip of cords), Jesus responded to the leaders questioning him about his authority that if the temple was destroyed, in three days he would raise it up. Jesus was speaking about his own body, not the newly restored second temple that the leaders had just finished construction on.

What transcends death? Love. What is the greatest commandment of God to the people? Love. What does Jesus declare the greatest commandment is: Love God and Love Others as Yourself. Kingdoms rise and fall. Temples are built and crumble and are destroyed and rebuilt. People die, and those of us left have to go on. How do we live on? Love. How do we know our loved ones are with God? Love. Love is what resurrects Jesus. Love is what conquers death and sin. Love never fails, never ends, as the Apostle Paul declared. Love is the true foundation that will never crumble, never waste away. Love is in the end what helps us move on, because we know love will always be with us. When we center God’s love in our lives, we live out that love to one another, and we trust that the love of God will endure for eternity.

Call to Worship (Psalm 146:5-7, 8c)
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob and Rachel and Leah,
Whose hope is in the LORD their God,
Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD loves the righteous.

*(Another Call to Worship using Psalm 146:1-2, 6 was posted for October 10th)

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we have fallen astray from Your ways. We have made idols of worldly wealth and measures of success. Those of us with privilege and power have made You in our image, forgetting that You came and served among us, emptying Yourself of power and privilege to the point of death on the cross. Call us back to Your ways. On this Reformation Sunday, O God, reform our hearts, restore us to Your ways of love and justice and mercy. Reform our way of life to center You and those we have pushed to the margins, so that we might disrupt the evil of this world and cling to Your love that reigns forever. In the name of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.

God is making all things new. God is reshaping and reforming your heart. God will bring you into alignment with God’s ways of love and justice when you do justice and practice loving-kindness in your life. You are beautifully made, loved, and restored in the image of God. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

God of the tides, God of the changing seasons, at this time of year we take notice of what is being let go of and what is clinging to our hearts. The pang of loved ones gone rests on our hearts. The weariness of the pandemic aches in our bones. As we prepare for upcoming holidays, remind us to be gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves time and space for grief and for rest. For grief, like tides, ebbs and flows, but never ceases. The longevity of the pandemic has become too familiar, something we have longed to shed but do not know when that will come. Gracious God, love us gently in this season, so we might experience Your grace and gratitude. Refresh our minds with Your wisdom by helping us recall Your scriptures and stories and songs of old. Restore us with the knowledge that even long seasons will change and unfold into something new. For You remain with us, now and always, Eternal Spirit. Amen.

All Saints Day Prayer
The writer of Hebrews, chapter eleven, begins by writing “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

O Holy One, we give thanks for our ancestors of the faith: for Sarah and Hagar and Abraham, for Ishmael and Isaac and Rebekkah, for Leah and Rachel, Jacob and Esau, Bilhah and Zilpah, for Dinah and Tamar and Judah and his brothers. We pray we might grow and learn from them, from their blessings and mistakes, that have helped shape our faith stories passed down to us through today.

On this All Saints Day, we remember and give thanks for those who have guided us in our lives to You, who have been examples for us of Your love, mercy, and justice. We thank You for those for whom we learned from their mistakes, and those whose loss is still tender in our hearts. In many cultures and traditions, we celebrate and honor our ancestors. Today, we honor those who helped give birth to Your body here on earth, the church that binds us.

O God: may their memory bless us, and may we understand our tears to be holy. Until that day when every tear is wiped away and sorrow and death are no more, may we remember and give thanks, holding our hearts in gentleness. For we know that You will restore all things, bind all things, and carry us forward into eternity through the love of Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.