Worship Resources for August 15th, 2021—Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Baptism, Psalm 84 and Romans 6:1-11, or Series on Revelation, 5:1-13 (John 1:29-31)

This is one of those occasions with the whole of the Revised Common Lectionary—both selections from the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost—follow the same them: seeking Wisdom.

Solomon, who became king after his father David’s long reign and death, asks God for wisdom in 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14. The writer makes it clear that Solomon was not perfect—he still held to some of the local worship practices of offering incense at “high places”—other altars—but Solomon turned to God, to draw close to God. Instead of wealth or power, he asked God for the ability to discern what was right. God was pleased with Solomon’s request, and granted him power and wealth because God knew Solomon would do what was right. As the saying from Spiderman goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Solomon looked first to the weighty responsibility of being king before looking to all the benefits. He understood what his father David had lost, the violence that had torn his family apart, and sought to live and rule differently.

Psalm 111 is a song of praise to God for all of God’s wonderful works. God is always remembering the covenant made with the people, and God provides for the people’s daily needs. God is just and merciful. God’s work is righteous, and God lives out the covenant with the people. This psalm concludes with a saying found throughout wisdom literature in the Bible: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear, in this sense, is the awe-inspired trembling of knowing God. Those who are in awe of God will not go astray from God’s ways.

The second selection from the Hebrew scriptures is of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-6. The number seven was considered a lucky, fortunate, complete number, and Wisdom’s house is built on seven pillars—a strong foundation. Personified as a woman, God’s Wisdom has set the table for the wise to seek her, a table that will nourish. She calls out to the people to abandon the foolish ways of living in this world, and to truly live in the way of understanding, to know God.

Continuing in Psalm 34 from last week, the second psalm selection this week focuses on verses 9-14. This portion leans heavily into seeking Wisdom, the fear/awe of God, and that those who do will lack nothing. Living into God’s ways—turning away from evil, and pursuing peace—this is the way of life, the way of Wisdom.

The Epistle reading continues in Ephesians with 5:15-20. The writer calls upon the people to make “the most of the time.” Live into God’s ways, instead of the ways of the world that are full of fleeing pleasures. Seek to be filled with the Spirit, and turn to God in praise and joy, rather than the “spirits” of this world. Turn your life into a way of thanksgiving to God, for this is making the most of our days.

The Gospel lesson on Jesus as the Bread of Life continues in John 6, repeating verse 51 from last week’s selection, and continuing through verse 58, on the theme of Jesus as the Bread of Life. The religious leaders and crowds who have gathered do not understand what Jesus is saying, taking him literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In the line of Wisdom literature, to eat and drink of Christ is to rely on Christ for one’s daily life, to understand that one’s daily needs are met when living into God’s ways. The way of Christ will lead to eternal life, new life that begins now and that death has no hold over.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from August 20th, 2017 in the archives:

The Narrative Lectionary continues with two selections for the last month of the summer: Sacraments and Revelation. Psalm 84 declares how wonderful the home of God is, and how the psalmist longs to dwell there. Even one day would be better than a thousand elsewhere. Happy are those who find their home with God.

When we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into Christ’s death, as Paul declares in Romans 6:1-11. And so, we are also raised with Christ. Our old self is crucified with Christ, put to death, so that sin and death no longer have a hold on us. Jesus died to sin once for all, and now he lives for God, as do we.

In John’s Revelation, during his heavenly vision in 5:1-13 there is a scroll with seven seals. Only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals, the Lamb that was slaughtered. The Lamb has received power and wealth and wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing, and every creature sings blessings to the Lamb, even the creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

John the Baptist declares in John 1:29-31, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He declares this as Jesus is coming, and some of John’s disciples turn and follow Jesus. John proclaimed who Jesus was to the world, that he might be revealed to all.

The Wisdom of God is found in right living. In the fear, or awe, of God, we know how wondrous and awe-inspiring God is, to the point that we tremble with the love God has for us. Because of this, the faithful turn their whole lives to God, a life that begins now and that death cannot stop because love is greater than death. We seek God with our whole being, and we know that the pleasures of this world are fleeting. The gains of this world mean nothing and come with the cost of systemic sin. In seeking the Wisdom of God, we actively resist sin in this world. We actively oppose all forms of oppression and work to dismantle it, when we put our hearts and minds into following Jesus, into seeking Wisdom.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 111:1-3)
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord,
With our whole hearts,
In the company of the congregation.
Great are the works of our God,
Studied by all who delight in God’s ways.
God’s work is full of honor and majesty,
God’s righteousness endures forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Eternal and Wise, Holy One, we confess before You that we have failed to live into Your Wisdom. We have failed to be in awe of You; instead, we have taken Your works for granted. We have sought the ways of this world that lead to our immediate, short-term satisfaction and worldly gain. We have neglected those in need around us. Instead of seeking our daily bread, we have sought our daily pleasures, confusing wants for needs, the short-term gain instead of the eternal reward in You. Forgive us. Call us away from the streets of foolishness to Your house of Wisdom, built upon the pillars of justice, righteousness, and mercy. Guide us to Your steps upon the firm foundation of trust in You. In the name of Christ, in the name of Wisdom, our Wise Eternal Creator, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
May Wisdom lead us back to God. May we turn with trembling hearts, quiet minds, and open hands. May we know the love and grace of Jesus Christ and be filled with overflowing compassion. May we know the forgiveness, love, and assurance that Christ has given us, and share it with the world. In wisdom, may we live all our days, trusting in God’s word, and the assurance that new life has already begun. We are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
Hear our prayer, O Wisdom from on high. Draw us into Your Spirit. Pull us away from the gains of the world, the foolishness that deflects and deters us. Call us into Your ways of knowledge. May we study Your scriptures. May we listen for Your voice at work in creation still. May we perceive how You are making all things new. May we tremble in awe and wonder at the works of Your hands, and how You are still creating, even in our hearts. You are making a new thing that is springing forth. Help us to be open to the newness You breath in us. Holy Wisdom, lead us in the way of insight. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 8th, 2021—Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Baptism, Psalm 46 & Acts 2:37-42, or Series on Revelation, 4:1-11, John 17:1-5

In 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33, David’s son Absalom is captured by Joab’s men. Joab had been a loyal servant of David and served as commander of his army. Absalom had been on the run after killing his half-brother Amnon, who raped their sister Tamar. Though at one point he reconciled with David, he later rebelled against David’s rule. David did not want him to be killed and hoped that it could be resolved peacefully. When a messenger approached, David thought it was good news, but wept when he heard his son Absalom was dead.

Psalm 130 (which was also the first choice in the Revised Common Lectionary back on June 27th) is a prayer for help from God. The psalmist cries out for God to listen to their prayer, to offer them mercy. They know that in God there is forgiveness, and they wait with hope. They know God will answer their prayers and call upon the congregation to wait because God is faithful to the people.

The prophet Elijah is ready to give up in 1 Kings 19:4-8. He was persecuted by Jezebel, wife of Ahab, for Elijah killed the prophets of Baal. He was ready to give up and die. However, God made him get up and eat. Elijah did, then he lay back down again. God woke him up a second time, telling him to eat and drink, because he had a journey ahead and he needed nourishment to make it. Elijah did so and had the strength to go on to Mount Horeb.

The second Psalm selection for the next three weeks comes from Psalm 34. In vs. 1-8, the psalmist begins by praising God and calling the congregation into glorifying God together. The psalmist speaks of how God has answered their prayers when they were suffering, and God has delivered those in need. The psalmist then calls upon the listener to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to know God’s goodness in all our senses, but especially in the food and drink that nourishes us.

The Epistle reading continues in Ephesians with 4:25-5:2. The author reminds the reader/listener that they are part of the community, the body of Christ together. They are called to speak the truth to each other, but not to allow anger to last. Believers must put aside their selfish, harmful ways, and instead, work together and build up one another. The author teaches that the faithful are to imitate Christ and live in love with one another, because Christ gave himself up for us.

The Gospel lesson continues the series in John on the Bread of Life with 6:35, 41-51. The passage repeats the verse from last week’s selection where Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life, and those who came to him would never hunger again. In 41-51, the author of John uses the term “the Jews” to refer to the people and religious leaders who complained against Jesus, but we must remember that Jesus, his disciples, and his followers were also Jewish. A certain group of religious leaders and others were opposed to Jesus, especially those who thought they knew him. They didn’t understand how he could claim to come from heaven when they knew Mary and Joseph. Jesus called on them not to complain, but instead to understand that if they had listened to the teachings of God, they ought to be drawn near to Jesus. The ancient Israelites had manna in the wilderness, but Jesus was the living bread from heaven. God provided for the people to survive in the wilderness; Jesus provides for the people eternal life.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, beginning on August 13th, 2017 in the archives, for this summer:

The series on Baptism begins with Psalm 46. The psalmist sings of our hope in God’s faithfulness, who is with us in the roughest of seas. There is a river, the psalmist declares, whose steams make glad the city of God, and God is in the midst of the city. The city and river refer to Jerusalem as well as the hope of a new Jerusalem, in which the water of life flows through.

Following Peter’s proclamation on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2:37-42, the people who hear Peter’s testimony, now recognizing through Peter Jesus as the Christ, ask Peter what they ought to do, and Peter declares they ought to be baptized. The scripture tells us that about 3000 were saved, and following this, the newly baptized began to live in community, serve one another, break bread together, and have the goodwill of all the people.

The series on Revelation begins with 4:1-11. John of Patmos, after specific mentions of the seven churches of Asia, goes deeper into his vision of the heavenly throne room, into the lavish descriptions of the thrones and the elders who sit upon them, as well as the creatures from Ezekiel’s vision. All come before God to praise God, who is greater than all this beauty and awesomeness and wonder.

In John 17:1-5, Jesus prays for God to glorify the Son. Through the gift of eternal life, we may know God. Jesus glorified God by finishing the work Christ began. Jesus asks God to glorify him with the glory that he had in the presence of God before the world began.

Do we not perceive what God has provided in front of us, or are we still demanding signs? Those who knew Jesus’ family didn’t believe he could come from God, even though he was teaching as one of the prophets, instruction on how God provides for all our needs. The way of life God has taught us is a way of loving one another, remembering that we are connected, that we are part of the beloved community together. King David had to live with the consequences of his actions, mirrored in the actions of his sons that sowed discord and rebellion. When we live out of selfish desires, we sow division because we have put ourselves first. Sometimes, it’s easier to poke at the divisions rather than embrace unity with diversity. How we live out our faith is how we glorify God in our worship.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 38:1, 3-5)
We will bless the Lord at all times;
God’s praise shall continually be on our lips.
O magnify the Lord with me,
Let us exalt God’s name together.
When we seek God, God will answer us,
And deliver us from all our fears.
Look to God with radiance,
May we never be ashamed of worshiping God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Lord of Life, we confess that we have sought to save ourselves first. We claim to follow Your ways, to follow Jesus who laid down his life for us, but at the first sign of conflict, we become defensive, we look to shore up our possessions, and we hold on to our pride. Forgive us for not understanding sacrifice. Forgive us for not becoming last of all and servant of all. Call us into accountability for our own actions of self-preservation, instead of living into Your ways of love, mercy, and justice. In the name of Jesus, who gave over his life for us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We have all fallen short, and we’ve all been selfish at times. God knows this, because God knows you and loves you despite your faults and shortcomings. God made us all a bit imperfect, and that’s okay. We learn, we grow, we fail, we forgive. Continue to grow with God, to learn to do better, strive to do good, and know that you are not alone on this journey of faith. Forgive one another, and it shall go well with you. Amen.

Prayer
Ancient of Days, You formed us from the stardust of the universe, shaping us into Your image, and breathing Your spirit into us. May we remember that we are from the stars and from the earth. May we recall Your great love for us that molds and shapes us into who we are. May we know how precious we are to You, and to one another. May we view one another as You view us: a treasured child, a holy gift, unique, loved, and needed in this world. May we shine as Your stars while staying rooted to what You have created us to be. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 1st, 2021—Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 6:10-20 (Matthew 10:28-31)

The fallout from David’s assault of Bathsheba continues in 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a. Bathsheba, after a period of mourning for her husband, was brought into David’s house, but God knew what David had done. The prophet Nathan told David a parable, which David believed was a real story, of a rich man who exploited a poor man and stole one of the poor man’s sheep to feed his own guest. David was outraged and wanted the rich man dead, and reparations made to the poor man. Nathan then revealed that the rich man in the story was David, for he had exploited Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. Because of this, Nathan prophesied that violence would never leave David’s house and that his own wives would be taken from him. What David had tried to cover up, God revealed to everyone. David had to admit his sin to God through Nathan.

Psalm 51:1-12 is a song long attributed to David after Nathan’s revealing of David’s sin. The psalmist seeks mercy from God and requests to be cleansed from their sin. They confess their sin before God and seek to be purified and restored. The psalmist sings of how God desires truth from our inner heart, and requests that God create a new heart, to be restored to God’s presence.

Right after the people escaped their oppression in Egypt through the Red Sea, they began complaining on the other side to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15. They were hungry, and remembered how good the food was back in their captivity and how they had enough bread. God promised to rain down bread, just enough for each day, for them to collect, along with quails in the evening. In the morning, a flaky bread lay on the ground just under the morning dew. The Israelites wondered what it was, but Moses told them it was the bread, the manna, God provided.

Psalm 78 recounts the stories of the ancestors of the people, and vs. 23-29 recount the story of God providing food for the people in the wilderness. God provided the “mortals” with the “bread of angels.” God provided an abundance for the people, including the quail in their camp. They were “well-fed” for God gave into their cravings.

The Epistle lesson continues its series in Ephesians with 4:1-16, which was the Narrative Lectionary reading for last week. The author, purporting to be Paul writing from prison, begins the second half of the letter with an ancient creed of unity in Christ: “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” The writer shifts from the unity of all to the diversity within the body, through the gift of God’s grace—we all have different gifts for ministry. The author calls for the believers to grow into maturity and to come into the unity of faith, “seeking the truth in love” within the body of Christ.

The Gospel series continues on John’s passages on the Bread of Life. Picking up from last week’s passage, in John 6:24-35, the crowds went looking for Jesus after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus had gone across the lake with the disciples after walking on the water to meet them, but then the crowds followed them on boats to Capernaum. Jesus knew they pursued him because they wanted more bread, more physical, tangible ways of satisfying their needs. Jesus instead called the crowds to work for spiritual food, what nourishes for eternal life. The crowds wanted to know what they must do to perform the work of God, but Jesus said the work was to believe in the one God sent to them. The crowds then asked for a sign, and one of them remembered the sign of the manna in the wilderness from Moses. Jesus corrected him—the manna was from God, not Moses—for God’s bread gives life. The crowds ask for Jesus to give them that bread always (reminiscent of when the Samaritan woman asked for the water of life in John 4:15). Jesus responded that he was the bread of life, and whoever came to him would never be hungry, and whoever believed in him would never be thirsty.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Ephesians with 6:10-20, the Armor of God (this will be the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle reading on August 22nd). This metaphorical list of armor is all defensive, save for the Sword of the Spirit (the word of God). The rest of it is for proclaiming peace, abiding in God’s salvation and righteousness. This metaphor reminds the reader that the struggle is not against blood and flesh but the rulers and authorities and powers of the present time of evil. The author roots nonviolent protest as spiritual work, against the spiritual forces of evil: oppression, greed, marginalization—all the forces of empire. The author concludes with a call to prayer and a request for prayer while they are in prison, so they may speak boldly in faith.

Jesus tells the disciples to not be afraid in Matthew 10:28-31. Jesus reminds the disciples that the authorities in this world have the power only to kill the body and to not be afraid of losing one’s life, but to fear the evil that can destroy both body and soul. But all are valuable to God, and all the hairs on our heads are accounted for.

What is it that we are pursuing in life? Are we satisfied with what we have, or are we pursuing more simply to gain more? What is the cost—not financially, but spiritually, emotionally, physically? Even when we believe we are trying to meet our daily needs, are we so caught up in the “rat race” that we miss what God desires for us? Are we all scavenging for bread instead of sharing the bread that we have with all in need, so that all people’s needs are met? A common understanding of the Feeding of the 5000 is that while Jesus may have given them only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, those there began to share the food that they had brought only for themselves, and recognized that when everyone shared, there was enough. The miracle was Jesus knew that simply starting with five loaves and two fish, people would want to add to that feast. When the crowds, in John’s account, follow Jesus because they want more bread, they missed the point. The bread is already with them if they have Jesus, for they know there is enough, and need to live it out with one another. This is the bread of life, for whoever comes to Jesus and lives in Christ’s ways will never be hungry.

Call to Worship (from John 6:35)
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
Whoever comes to Christ will never be thirsty.
“Lord, give us this bread, always.”
May we come to God with hungry hearts;
May we come to Jesus with thirsty souls.
May we find fulfillment in the body of Christ;
May we worship God, knowing the fullness of God’s love for us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All, we come to You with broken hearts. We confess to You that we have sinned. We have broken faith with one another and with You. Our hearts have been led astray by the promises of the world. We have failed to live into Your intention for our lives. We have failed to view Your image in one another. We have taken what we wanted and taken it for granted and have harmed others in the process. Forgive us. Refine us and purify us, so that our hearts might heal, and fill with Your love for one another. Remove the stains of the world that blister and fester, that lie to us about our needs and confuse them with our desires. Restore us fully to You, O God, and help us to seek forgiveness, reparation, and restoration wherever possible. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Jesus said, as quoted in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Blessed are you when you seek the right ways of God; blessed are you when you pursue justice. You are forgiven, loved and restored on this journey of faith. Go with full hearts, wise minds, and the spirit of God in you, to love and forgive and bring healing to our broken world. Amen.

Prayer
Beloved Spirit, refresh in us Your image. Remind us that we are made to create, to do Your work in this world, to share beauty and awe. The ways of this world desire for us to produce, which is not the same as creativity, for creativity is breathed from You, Loving Spirit. Creativity inspires others and always reminds us of Your love in this world. Production leads us to wealth and worldly gain. Turn us away from the wheels of the world’s production and into the gentle movement of Your creativity, in how we live, how we move, and how we exist. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 25th, 2021—Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians 4:1-16 (John 15:1-4)

David turns from God’s ways in 2 Samuel 11:1-15. Instead of being off to war as other kings were at that time of year, David was home, where a king was not supposed to be. He spied Bathsheba bathing on the roof, and desired her, and sent for her. No matter who she was, a woman would have had little authority to say no in those days, and even today, the power differential is one all too familiar, a story played out in the #MeToo movement. Bathsheba was coerced. This is a story of sexual assault, though it is often told as a story of adultery, and Bathsheba is not often seen as the victim she really was. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover up his sin by getting Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to go home and sleep with his wife, but Uriah the Hittite—not an Israelite—was so faithful to David and Israel he remained with his soldiers, until David had to orchestrate his death in battle. While next week’s lesson will cover the ramifications of David’s actions, this marks a turning point in the David story. From here on out, much of the violence that threatens David’s family comes from this point of betrayal and assault. David’s own sons learn that no one can refuse a king, and power and greed take over following the ways of God.

Psalm 14 calls out the unfaithful who are corrupt and have gone astray. The psalmist sings of how foolish they are, for if they eat, they know God provided the food—yet they deny God and God’s goodness. God is with the righteous and is the refuge of those who struggle and suffer. The psalmist prays that deliverance would come from the holy city, instead of corruption, for God’s people will rejoice when they are rescued from evil.

Elisha feeds one hundred people from twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In this much older story that is less well-known to Christians (the more famous story is Jesus feeding the 5000), Elisha feeds a large group on very little, relying on the bountiful abundance of God. Even though Elisha’s servant questioned how to feed the people, Elisha knew there would be plenty left over.

Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God, and vs. 10-18 specifically praise God for God’s mighty deeds of power. The faithful speak the truth of God’s wonderful acts, and God’s reign will endure forever, proof of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God lifts up those who are struggling and provides for those in need. God is just and kind, and near to all those who are faithful to God’s truth.

The Epistle lesson continues its series in Ephesians with 3:14-21. The author prays that God will strengthen the believers through the power of God’s Spirit, and that they will know Christ dwells in their hearts through faith. In this section that concludes the first half of Ephesians, a sort of benediction is rendered, that the believers would know the fullness of God’s love and receive the blessing of God’s glory and power.

The Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel selection begins a five-week series in John on the Bread of Life. In John 6:1-21, we read John’s account of Jesus feeding the 5000. In this version of the story, Jesus asked the disciples where they were to buy bread for the crowds as a means of testing them. In this account, it is a young boy who has the five loaves of bread and two fish—one of the youngest who was willing to share. The people saw the miracle of the feeding of everyone, with twelve baskets left over, as a sign that Jesus was the prophet “who was to come into the world,” and the crowds wanted to take him by force to make him king. Because of this, Jesus withdrew to the mountain. His disciples went down to the sea, and in the evening, Jesus walked out on the water in the midst of stormy seas to meet them in the boat, and to go ashore to the place they were headed.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ephesians, departing from the Revised Common Lectionary’s series by moving to 4:1-16 (which will be the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle reading next week). The author, purporting to be Paul writing from prison, begins the second half of the letter with an ancient creed of unity in Christ: “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” The writer shifts from the unity of all to the diversity within the body, through the gift of God’s grace—we all have different gifts for ministry. The author calls for the believers to grow into maturity and to come into the unity of faith, “seeking the truth in love” within the body of Christ.

Jesus speaks of being the true vine in John 15:1-4. God is the vinegrower, and every branch that grows in Christ is made to bear fruit. Those that do not are pruned so they can grow more fruit. Only branches that abide in the vine can grow, so Jesus calls the disciples to abide in him.

God’s desires for us are not always the same as our own desires. We get caught up in the ways of the world, seeking worldly wealth, security, and notoriety. David had a glimpse of power and wanted more, believed he could have more without consequence—and assaulted a woman and murdered her husband because of it. The crowds saw Jesus having real, worldly power, and wanted to make him king over them—but Jesus desired to meet the needs of the people and show them that God was the one who provided for them. The writer of Ephesians emphasizes that diversity of gifts is wonderful, but we are also bound together as one body, Christ’s body. For the fruit of our lives—our righteousness, justice, kindness, compassion, joy, gentleness—all of these are witnesses to our unity in Christ, that we are rooted in God and not the ways of this world.

Call to Worship (Psalm 145:13b-14, 17-19)
The Lord is trustworthy and true,
Faithful in all of God’s ways.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
And brings us up when we are brought low.
The Lord is just in all ways,
Faithful in all things.
The Lord is close to everyone who calls upon God;
God hears our cries and will save us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy Spirit, Breather of Life, we confess that we have sought a different kind of life than the one You set out for us. We have desired to have the things we have made from this world. We have created possessions from the exploited resources of the earth. We have manufactured wealth off the labor of the oppressed and marginalized. We have pursued worldly means of satisfaction and security that separate us from the needs of others, believing in the myth of self-reliance and personal salvation. Forgive us. Call us into accountability with the greater community. Remind us of our responsibility to care for the one planet You made for us. Guide us into Your ways of repentance, reparation, and restoration to those we have wronged and exploited, even unknowingly. Lead us in Your ways of justice and righteousness, so we may truly know You, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We are made in God’s image, and that image is good. We are co-creators with God, and everything we create—art, music, poetry, beauty, and love—is good and necessary for the world. Make new things. Give space for new life to flourish. Bless and bless, and know God’s blessings. Love deeply, and know God’s love is with you. Be forgiven, seek restoration, and bless the world with your creativity. Amen.

Prayer
Bread of Life, Source of All, nourish us, for we have grown weak. The world has pressed down on us, the blight of oppression has suppressed us. Nourish our souls, Holy One. Feed us with Your words, Your wisdom, Your grace and Your peace. Quench our thirst for justice and righteousness. Restore us to Your strength, so we can pursue Your ways in this world. Guide us to use our resources to care and nourish others, because in You, there is always enough. You are a God of abundant love and grace. Feed us, guide us, and lead us on. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 18th, 2021—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 2:11-22 (Matthew 28:16-20)

David desired to build a temple for God, but God said, “not so fast” in 1 Samuel 7:1-14a. When David mentioned his concern to the prophet Nathan that he lived in a palace of cedar, but the ark of the covenant was in a tent, Nathan at first told David his idea sounded good and that God was with him. However, God spoke to the prophet that night, declaring that God never asked for a physical house like people. Instead, God, who appointed David as king, took David from among the sheep and commanded him to shepherd the people. God made a house out of David and his family. Because God had been with David and the people, God declared to Nathan that the people are God’s people—their home is in God. However, God will also provide a place for them to live. Once David passed on, his descendant would build a house for God. Nonetheless, the message from God is clear: God doesn’t desire a home; God desires for us to find our home as God’s people.

The psalmist sings on behalf of God in Psalm 89:20-37 that David is the one chosen and blessed by God, the servant of the Lord. God’s covenant with David will endure and God’s steadfast love will endure forever, as will David’s throne. Though David’s descendants may go astray, God will remain faithful and will not break the covenant with David and the people. David’s reign is established by God.

The prophet Jeremiah delivered God’s warning to the leaders, political and religious, who led the people astray, who were corrupt shepherds in Jeremiah 23:1-6. Though Jeremiah himself was preparing for exile, he shared a vision of hope for the future. God would raise up new shepherds and gather the people together. God would also, in the time to come, raise up from David’s legacy one who would reign as king and lead the people wisely, who would lead Judah and Israel to live in safety.

The Shepherd’s Psalm 23 is an ancient song of comfort attributed to David. The psalmist sings of God as their shepherd who leads them to places of rest and refuge, who restores their spirits and leads them through the vale of the shadow of death. God is with them like a shepherd, and they will not be afraid of any evil. God will be with them before their enemies, and they will dwell with God, knowing God’s blessings forever.

The Epistle selection continues its series in Ephesians with 2:11-22 (the same as the Narrative Lectionary series selection). Through Christ Jesus, Gentiles and Jewish people have been brought together as one. Though the law of the Jewish people was to remind them that they were a separate, holy people for God, in the writer of Ephesian’s view, the law has now been abolished to bring together the people, uniting them in peace. All people, regardless of background, have access to God. The spirit of unity in Christ brings all people together, Jewish and Gentile. The foundation of their faith is from the prophets and apostles, but Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and all believers form the holy temple of God.

The Gospel lesson bookends the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. In Mark 6:30-34, following the death of John the Baptist, and after Jesus had sent his own disciples out into the villages after his rejection in his hometown, Jesus called the disciples to come together and rest for a while. While they ministered to all those coming and going, Jesus had compassion on the people, who were like sheep without a shepherd. Following his feeding of the crowds from the seven loaves and two fish, and following his approaching the boat on the lake by walking on water, in vs. 53-56, they came to Gennesaret. This is where Jesus had previously cast out the demon Legion into a herd of pigs, and the people had begged him to leave. Now, they welcome Jesus, and they recognize him—most likely because the man who had the demon cast out of him continued to tell the story of Jesus. In that region they brought those who were sick to Jesus, believing that even if they touched the hem of his clothes, they would be made well.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ephesians, with the same selection as the Revised Common Lectionary of Ephesians 2:11-22 (see above).

The secondary selection for the Narrative Lectionary is the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus commanded the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them to obey everything he commanded, and that he promised to be with them for all time. The disciples were commanded to go teach as they were taught, among all nations of people, Jewish and Gentile.

The image of the shepherd is one of God’s favorite metaphors in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. God will never lose sight of us, never forget us, and will go after those who are lost, those who are considered least. In the Hebrew scriptures, the prophets looked to the hope of a new king who would lead in God’s ways, who would not lead the people astray the way the false prophets, priests, and kings had, becoming corrupt for power and money. The good shepherd would lead like David did, knowing God and seeking God’s will over their own. In Christian scriptures, Jesus, especially in John’s account of the Gospel, takes on the mantle of the good shepherd. In Mark’s account, Jesus recognizes that the people have lost hope—they are like sheep without a shepherd. They need hope again that they will find their way, that they will follow God’s ways. Jesus brings that hope to their lives in tangible ways by healing those who are sick, feeding those who are hungry. Jesus leads the people in a new way—not as a king, or a prophet prophesying against those who’ve gone wrong, but as someone who cares for their basic needs, someone who loves them deeply as a good shepherd loves their sheep.

Call to Worship

God is our Good Shepherd.

              God leads us to places of restoration.

God leads us in the paths of righteousness,

              And guards us in the valley of the shadow.

We fear no evil, because God is with us.

              God comforts us, and leads us to safety.

Goodness and mercy are with us now and always,

              For we worship and follow the Good Shepherd.

 

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession

God of All Nations, forgive us of the sin of nationalism. We may love our country, we may be proud and patriotic, but when we begin to believe that our country is better than others, that our ways are better than others, we deceive ourselves. For we are citizens of Your reign forever, and all nations, governments, and borders are of our making and are only temporary. When we unite our flag with the cross of Christ, we have been led astray and down a dangerous path, for the Cross is the path of sacrifice and living as last of all and servant of all. Remind us that You are the God of all peoples, of all tribes, nations, and languages, as declared in Revelation—this is what Your reign God looks like. There is no one flag that is under You, for all nations are under You, as all nations are human creations. You made the heavens and earth and made us in Your image. Remind us that all of us are Your beloved children and forgive us of our sins of nationalism that lead us astray from Your beloved community, Your kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Blessing/Assurance

You are God’s beloved child, made in God’s image. Your heart belongs to God, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Seek forgiveness, and know God forgives you. Show mercy, and know that God’s mercy and grace are with you. Practice compassion and loving-kindness, and your heart will be aligned to God’s heart. Go and live in God’s ways of love and compassion, for God is with you, now and always. Amen.

 

Prayer

Loving Shepherd, guide us into Your ways. Help us to never leave anyone behind, to remember the last, the lost, the least are Your beloved, and we have a mutual responsibility to care and love one another. Keep close to us in the shadows and save us from the wolves that seek to devour us with the world’s concerns for wealth, power, and notoriety. We know You have prepared a place for us, with cool waters and green pastures, a way of life where evil cannot harm us, especially when we remember that we dwell with You forever. Guide us into Your way of life, Loving Shepherd. Amen.

 

Worship Resources for July 11th, 2021—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 1:1-14 (John 14:25-27)

We continue the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures with the story of the kings. The ark of God, which had been in the custody of the Philistines, was returned via a cart to Israel. David celebrated the triumphal return of the ark, representing God’s presence with the people, and provided sacrifices and offerings along the parade route. David was so overcome with passion for God that he stripped down to almost nothing, dancing before God and rejoicing at what God had done for him and the people. However, Michal, David’s first wife and the daughter of Saul and sister of Jonathan, saw David dancing and despised him. In the verses following this passage, she accused David of lewd dancing that exposed himself even to the female servants of the people, an act too disgraceful for a king. Though the selection ends at verse 19 with the celebration concluding in gifts of food for all the people, it is important to note the story behind the scenes. When David fled Saul’s wrath, Michal helped him escape in 1 Samuel 19:12-18. Saul married Michal off to another man (1 Samuel 25:54), and David did not return for her until after Saul’s death (2 Samuel 3:14), to present a united kingdom after his conflict with Saul. In the time between she was sent away and David sought her retrieval, he had married other women. There is more history behind the conflict between Michal and David than what is presented in this short selection.

Psalm 24 is a song of worship. God is the creator of all the earth. Who is worthy to come before God in the temple on God’s holy hill in Jerusalem? Those who are innocent, pure at heart, who have not been deceitful. They are the ones who may come before God and receive blessings. The psalmist calls upon the temple to be open for the presence of God, calling the people into worship of their glorious King, God of the heavenly host.

The prophet Amos beheld a vision of God building a wall, using a plumb line to measure how the wall stood up to God’s standards. However, Jeroboam, the king of Israel, did not follow God’s ways, and God declared that all religious shrines and holy places would be destroyed because the people did not live into God’s standards. They did not measure up. Amos also declared that God would rise against Jeroboam’s rule. However, the priest Amaziah told Amos to flee and go to Judah instead of prophesying against the king of Israel, whom Amaziah had told what Amos prophesied. However, Amos was no career prophet that could be pushed over. He was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees, but God called him to speak on God’s behalf. Nonetheless, Amaziah and others did not want to hear the words from God, and God declared Amaziah and his family would end up like the others in Israel—taken into exile under the Assyrian empire.

The second half of psalm 85 is an assurance that God hears the prayers of the people, and God is faithful to those who trust God. The lines of this part of the psalm show how all good things come together for God: steadfast love and faithfulness meet. Righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, righteousness meets faithfulness from the sky. God will be faithful in goodness, and righteousness is the path before God.

The Epistle readings begin a series on Ephesians (as does the Narrative Lectionary this year) with Ephesians 1:3-14. Except for the mention of Ephesus in verse 1 (which is not included in other earlier manuscripts), this letter is fairly generic, and perhaps was a letter sent to one church, and then forwarded on to other churches with specifics omitted. This opening section writes of the blessings of God, and that all believers are God’s children by adoption through Jesus Christ. God chose us to be holy. We have redemption through Christ’s blood and forgiveness of sins through Christ’s grace. God’s plan for the fullness of time was for all people to be brought together in Christ—this is our destiny as believers. Through Christ, believers have obtained an inheritance, marked with the promise of the Holy Spirit for restoration with God.

The fate of John the Baptizer is told in Mark 6:14-29. When Jesus’ ministry became well-known after sending his disciples out into the villages, the stories reached King Herod’s ears. While some wondered who Jesus was, he believed he was John raised from the dead. John had spoken out against Herod marrying his brother Philip’s wife, so Herod had him thrown into prison, but he liked what John had to say. However, his wife did not. When his daughter Herodias danced before him and his court, she pleased him so much he promised to give her anything she wished (reminiscent of the rash vow Jephthah made in Judges 11:29-40, when Jephthah promised to sacrifice to God the first thing that came outside of his house in exchange for winning a battle). Herodias, after conferring with her mother, asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter. Herod did as she wished and had him executed, but he grieved his death, and after John’s head was presented on a platter, John’s own disciples came and buried him.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its series on Ephesians (see the Epistle reading above for the reflection).

The secondary text for the Narrative Lectionary is John 14:25-27. Jesus tells the disciples that while he is teaching them now, the Holy Spirit will come and be with them, reminding them of everything Jesus taught. Jesus assures the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, for Jesus leaves them with peace.

Living into God’s ways sometimes makes us look foolish to the ways of the world. David had no misgivings about dancing before God, even if it appeared scandalous. He was full of passionate zeal for what God had done for him and his people. The prophet Amos was a nobody compared to the priests of the land, but he was not afraid to speak God’s words to the king’s priest and tell them that they let the people down and they would be taken into exile, even if his own life was threatened. John the Baptizer spoke boldly to the point of being thrown into prison and became a victim of the actions of those in power, but still proclaimed a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. The early church, as revealed in the letter to the Ephesians, shows us that God’s intention for all times was that we would know ourselves as God’s children through Christ Jesus. In a time when the early believers faced marginalization among their own cultural communities and under the Roman Empire, it might be seen as foolish to live into a faith that included everyone, regardless of cultural and ethnic background, but based on belief. Jesus calls us to live into a way that seems foolish to the world—giving up our possessions, becoming last of all and servant of all, including those who are on the margins—but this is the beloved community, the reign of God on earth, in whom we have an abundance and inheritance.

Call to Worship
Blessed be our God,
Who created us in God’s image.
Blessed be our God,
Who called us to follow Jesus Christ.
Blessed be our God,
Who sent the Holy Spirit to be with us.
Blessed be our God,
In whom we live, move, and have our being.
Blessed be our God as we gather in worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we have succumbed to the ways of the world. We fret about what we don’t have. We worry there isn’t enough. We are consumed by the doubts of the world that we are not good enough, that we don’t have enough wealth and security by the world’s standards. Forgive us, Almighty God, for You called us to be Your children. In You we have an abundant inheritance. In You we know that we are called to be a community that provides and cares for each other. In You, the standards we ought to live up to are kindness, compassion, justice and mercy. Help us to cast off the cares of the world and live deeply into Your ways as Your children. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
There is abundant love to be found in God through Jesus Christ. Seek Christ in all you do, and know how much God loves you. There is abundant forgiveness in Christ’s name for all our sins, all the ways we have missed the mark. There is abundant grace for us all. Live into God’s ways, and know that you are loved and forgiven. Practice kindness and show compassion, seek justice and mercy, and you will know God now and for all time. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, help us to live into Your ways of holiness. Help us to cultivate a practice of holiness in our life, setting aside time for You. Guide us into ways of living that are sustainable, that care for the earth and all of creation, and do not waste resources for others. Lead us into Your ways of deep compassion for ourselves and for one another. Help us to find the holy in our everyday lives—in the dandelion that grows between the cracks of cement, in the simple acts of kindness that someone has shown us, in the pauses between the busy. Remind us to breathe, for this simple act is the first act of human life, when You breathed Your spirit, Your breath, into the first human being. May we cultivate holiness in our daily life, and be holy for You. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 4th, 2021—Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48; Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 2:1-10; Mark 6:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, Messiah and New Covenant: 33:14-18; 31:31-34

David was finally acknowledged as king over all Israel in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. Though he was anointed by Samuel in Bethlehem when he was a boy and Saul still ruled, his public inauguration was in Hebron after Saul’s death, where David reigned for a short time before he reigned in Jerusalem and built his stronghold there. God was with David as he became a strong king, for David looked to God.

Psalm 48 is a song of praise for Jerusalem, the city God chose to be holy. Kings tremble in the sight of the city where the temple of God was built, and God is the one who reigns over the people. The city itself is a witness of God’s power and reign, and this song was sung by pilgrims coming from faraway places to worship at the temple.

The prophet Ezekiel heard the call of God in Ezekiel 2:1-5. God’s spirit entered Ezekiel and sent him to speak to the people of Israel, knowing the people would reject the words of God as their ancestors had done. Still, God chose Ezekiel to go, whether they listened or not, so that it could be said God had sent a prophet among them, that God was still speaking to them even if they refused to listen.

Psalm 123 is a plea for God to have mercy on the people, who have faced rejection and ridicule. Another pilgrimage song, this psalm calls for the people who have lifted up their gaze to God to be recognized by God, for they have experienced much shame and contempt from those around them.

The Epistle reading concludes the series in 2 Corinthians with 12:2-10. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he has a “friend” (himself) who had a heavenly vision. He doesn’t want to boast about it, so he tells this tale of a friend who had this vision that convicted him of what God wanted him to do. Paul never mentions what the “thorn” is that he had to deal with, but some sort of spiritual struggle (and perhaps also physical) that Paul lived with. While Paul didn’t want to boast about his personal experience of a vision of heaven, he does share quite openly that he struggled in faith, and through those struggles, he found strength in Christ.

Jesus returned to his hometown in Mark 6:1-13, but because of the people’s unbelief, he could only heal a few sick people, and perform no deed of power there. The people all knew him, his family, and it seems they could not believe in him. They didn’t see a Messiah or Son of God—they saw the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy, the brother to his brothers. So instead, Jesus decides to send the disciples out in pairs, to go out to the surrounding villages, to accept the hospitality shown them. Wherever they were welcomed, they were able to cast out demons and heal people. For those places that didn’t accept them, they were to shake the dust off their sandals and move on.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Jeremiah with 33:14-18, and 31:31-34. In 33:14-18, Jeremiah speaks of a time after the exile, when God will fulfill the promises made to the people, that a new king will arise from David’s line, someone who will live out God’s way of justice. The priests will once again make sacrifices for the people to God, restoring the intermediary actions of the priesthood. This section, according to many scholars, is probably a much later addition to the prophet’s writing, a promise of a messiah and hope for the future. In 31:31-34, Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant God will make with the people, one that can never be broken because God is making it and writing it in the people’s hearts. They will know God is their God, they will be God’s people, and their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. Though Jeremiah would go into exile, over the centuries, scholars, rabbis, and believers would read these words and find hope for their time, for their people.

Throughout the history of God’s people, the faithful have at times faced scorn and ridicule. They have struggled to maintain faith while hope slips away. Even Jesus, coming to his hometown, was unable to help his own neighbors because they could not believe God would use one of their own people. Ezekiel was warned by God that the people wouldn’t listen to him, but to go and speak on God’s behalf anyway. Paul struggled and suffered and at times was afraid of what others would think, and yet he still preached, still wrote, still worked to share the Gospel at all times and in all ways. But there is hope. Jeremiah spoke words of comfort and hope in the midst of the siege of Jerusalem. Jesus had to change course and send out his unknown disciples into unknown places to share the good news, because in the known places, they didn’t want to listen to him. In this pre-post-Covid time, we might have to shift how we are doing ministry, how we are worshiping, how we live out the good news of God’s love, because the world has changed. But the message remains faithful: God’s steadfast love endures forever. Sin is forgiven, and remembered no more.

Call to Worship
Praise God from the highest mountains!
Praise God from the depths of the sea!
Praise God with loud instruments!
Praise God with the voice of our hearts!
Praise God in all things, at all times, in all ways,
For our God reigns over the whole earth.
Come, worship God, all nations, tribes, and peoples:
For God is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we struggle with so much, and at times believe its our own fault for our shortcomings, instead of understanding that this past year has held burdens much too heavy. Help us to ease our burdens by not blaming ourselves when we feel our faith is slipping. Remind us instead that we are not alone. Encourage us to seek help for mental health, to speak to those with experience and training when we are in need. Guide us in wisdom to care for ourselves, for our minds and hearts. You are the one who loves us so much that You sent Your Son for us, that we might have new life now. Help us to understand there is nothing we can do that will separate us from that love. There are no faults or shortcomings of our own that will break us from You. Instead, surround us with mutual care and concern, that we might lift up one another, and together, seek healing and wholeness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Romans 8:38-39)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Go with this good news: You are loved. You are forgiven. You are restored. You are called to share in the Gospel with the world. Amen.

Prayer
Ruler of all nations, remind us that the lines on a map are of our own making and not Yours. Remind us that the borders You made are ocean shores and riverbeds, living and moving, reminders of the boundaries of fragile ecosystems. You are the Maker of the earth, and have called us to be caretakers of the whole planet, not just our own country, county, neighborhood or dwelling. You have made us to care for one another and all of creation. Call us to remember that we have only one planet, and that we are one people in You. Bind us together, O God, to be Your body, and to care for the planet You so lovingly made for us. In the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for us; may we lay down our lives for one another, and care for this earth together. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 27th—Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130; Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, Planting and Building 32:1-3a, 6-15

David mourned the death of Jonathan and Saul in our first selection for the Hebrew Scriptures. David composed a funeral song and ordered that all the people in Judah learn it and preserve it. He sang of “how the mighty have fallen” and praised Saul and Jonathan. David refused to speak a bad word against Saul, for Saul was God’s chosen, even if he fell from God’s ways. David called for the song not to be sung among their enemies so they might gloat, but among those who truly mourned his passing. He called upon the “daughters of Israel” to weep for Saul who brought riches to the people, and he sang personally of his love for Jonathan, a love stronger than his love for any woman. David’s song concludes with a lament mourning the loss of these warriors for Israel.

Psalm 130 is a call for help from God. The singer pleads with God to listen to their cries. However, the psalmist knows that God will answer. They know God’s forgiveness and wait with hope in God’s word. The psalmist calls upon the people to put their hope and trust in God, who will answer and deliver them.

The lamentations of Jeremiah turn to hope in Lamentations 3:22-33. The poetry turns to hope in God’s steadfast love and mercy. For those who wait, who put their trust in God, they will know God’s deliverance. Though they suffer now, God will have compassion and will remember them, for God does not desire punishment for us.

Psalm 30 is a song of praise to God who has delivered the psalmist from their enemies. The psalmist calls upon the congregation to sing praises to God, because they have been saved from death. Though there may be mourning and sadness, joy will come to those who remain faithful. The psalmist gives thanks for God’s deliverance and faithfulness, and sings praises to God.

The Epistle selection continues in 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. Paul turns the attention of the letter to the collection for the church in Jerusalem, whose members have experienced poverty. Paul uses Jesus as an example, who gave up his power to become like us, to live and die as one of us, as an example of giving up power and wealth to those who are struggling and suffering. Paul insists he is not trying to persuade them to do what he wants, but rather that they choose to do the right thing and help those in need with what they can afford.

Jesus heals two people in Mark 5:21-43. Jairus, a leader of a synagogue, met Jesus as he came off the boat, for Jairus’ daughter was sick. Jairus asked Jesus to come lay his hands on her, so Jesus followed him along with his disciples. The crowds pressed in on him, and a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years reached out, touching the hem of his cloak, believing it would make her well. Immediately, (a favorite word of Mark’s Gospel account) Jesus recognized power had gone out from him, and immediately the woman was healed. The disciples were incredulous that Jesus wondered who touched him, because the crowds were so thick, but the woman came forward and told him everything. Jesus called her “Daughter,” and told her that her faith made her well. However, some people came from Jairus’ house while Jesus was still speaking to the woman, and told Jairus not to trouble the teacher, because his daughter had died. Jesus told Jairus not to be afraid, but to believe. Jesus took Peter, James, and John into the room with the little girl and told her to get up. They were all amazed, but Jesus told them not to tell anyone, and to get the girl something to eat. Jesus met the needs of these two daughters, whose stories are intertwined, when others (the disciples, and the people from Jairus’ home) didn’t think it was worth Jesus’ time or energy. He saved and transformed their lives.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Jeremiah. In chapter 32, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem, and Jeremiah was in custody of the palace prison under King Zedekiah. Jeremiah had told Zedekiah that Babylon would overrun and destroy the city, and take the people into exile, but Zedekiah would not hear of it. God spoke to Jeremiah, sharing that his cousin was coming to see him to sell a field, and he was to buy the field. Jeremiah did so—signed and sealed the deed with witnesses, kept an unsigned copy as well, weighed out the silver for the purchase and gave it all to Baruch, his scribe. Jeremiah instructed Baruch to place both deeds in an earthenware jar for safekeeping, as a proclamation from God that homes would be bought and built, vineyards and fields planted again. A promise for a time after exile.

Often, we human beings think that what is important to us must be the most important thing, and obviously, God must think it is important, too. Zedekiah desired winning above everything else. Winning against the Babylonians, playing a game of strategy that would fail him. God spoke through the prophets to warn the leaders years before of their political schemes that would fall apart, but they didn’t listen. Zedekiah refused to acknowledge that destruction and exile were eminent and instead locked up Jeremiah so he wouldn’t have to hear him. His need to win was more important than the needs of survival of his people. Zedekiah believed that survival could only come through his way of thinking.

The disciples couldn’t believe Jesus would be worried about anything so unimportant as a stranger reaching out to touch him, that they didn’t believe him when he knew power had gone out from him. The people in Jairus’ home couldn’t believe that there was anything to be done for Jairus’ daughter, that Jesus certainly had more important things to do if his daughter was dead. Even in death, however, Jesus came. Because our grief is also important. David shows us that grief is part of our faith life in his song for Jonathan and Saul. Even if Jairus’ daughter had not risen, Jesus would have come. Because she was alive, Jesus ordered them to meet her needs first—not to proclaim a miracle had occurred, not to put Jesus on a pedestal—but to meet the needs of this young girl, in the same way Jesus met the needs of the woman who touched him.

God knows our sufferings and our longings. However, our human desire is often for justification: justifying that we were right all along, that our way is the best way, that what is important to us must be important to everyone, and what is unimportant to us is a waste of time for everyone. God proves this wrong again and again—lifting up the poor, the widow and orphan. Raising the voice of the marginalized. Responding to the cries of the oppressed. Jesus proves the disciples wrong by going to the woman who touched him (which would have been scandalous in that time period), and caring about the basic needs of a young girl. We must shift our priorities to God’s priorities.

Call to Worship (from Hebrews 12:1-2)
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,
Who inspired us by faith to resist sin and evil.
May we journey together the path before us,
Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and protector of our faith.
For Christ endured the cross for us,
And is seated at the right hand of God.
Come, worship the God known to our ancestors,
Whose love is known to us now and always.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that our ways are not Your ways, our thoughts are not Your thoughts. We confess that our own lens clouds our view of the world, of others, and of Scripture. Our lens of privilege may keep us from understanding the hardships of others, whether that privilege is race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic privilege, ability, age, or otherwise. Call us into accountability, to do the hard work of removing the lenses that allow us to know only what we want to know, to remove the lens that allows us make judgments based on limited perception. Restore our vision to Your ways, O God, that views one another through love, mercy, and justice. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance of Pardon (from Lamentations 3:22-24)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.” God’s mercies are renewed every morning, and God’s love is steadfast, never-ceasing, enduring forever. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share God’s love and mercy with the world that desperately needs it. Amen.

Prayer
God of Love and Grief, when we grieve it is because we have loved so much. You grieved the oppression of Your people long ago and grieved when they made terrible choices in the wilderness. You grieved Saul, whom You chose as a king for the people but went astray from Your ways. You grieved David, Your beloved, when he went astray. You grieved for the people when they went into exile, and You grieved Your only Son, killed by the empire of violence to maintain a peace for the people. However, we know Your love is stronger than grief, and Your love will see us through our own losses. Remind us that grief comes before joy. That grief is necessary, and it is a sign of strength, not weakness. Help us to remember that grief is a sign of our great love, and the great love others have had for us. For we know that You grieve with us, and You bring comfort to us in the care and love of our family, friends, and neighbors. Remind us not to short-circuit grief, but to allow it to turn, in its own time, from mourning to dancing, from loss into joy, and may we know You are with us in this journey. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 20th, 2021—Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16; Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, Letter to the Exiles, 29:1, 4-14

This week, there are two choices for the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, following the rise of the kings of Israel. The first choice is the famous story of David and Goliath, a story of mythical proportions. The champion of the Philistines, Goliath, was a giant of a man, and challenged Israel to send out a warrior to fight him. David, the youngest and smallest of his brothers who fought with Saul, offered to fight Goliath. Saul was skeptical, for David was too small, but David shared how he protected his father’s sheep by fighting lions and bears. Saul relented, allowing David to challenge Goliath, but clothed David with his own armor. However, David wasn’t used to the armor and couldn’t walk in it. Instead, he took three stones and his sling, and declared that God would deliver Goliath into his hand. He struck Goliath in the center of his forehead, and the giant fell dead.

Psalm 9:9-20 is paired with this first reading. This song praises God for acting in justice. God is on the side of the oppressed and hears their cries for help. The psalmist turns personal in verse 13, calling upon God for mercy because of their suffering. God is the one who brings deliverance, and God has been made known to the psalmist. Other nations who oppress the poor are caught in traps of their own making, “snared in the work of their own hands” (vs. 16). Though the wicked nations will be forgotten in the place of the dead, the poor and needy will not be forgotten by God. The psalmist concludes by calling upon God to remind the other nations that they are only human, and that God is the one to be in awe of.

The second choice for the first selection follows right after the first selection: David’s return to Saul with the head of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16. When Saul asked who David is, he told him he was the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. David was introduced to Jonathan, and their relationship is of legend: their souls were bound to each other. David was taken into Saul’s house to live, and he served Saul over his army. However, the people loved David. Every time David was praised, Saul became tormented by an evil spirit, and set out to kill David. Saul was in awe, but also envious of David’s success and praise, and the people loved David.

The psalm paired with the second selection is Psalm 133, a wedding song blessing family that comes together in unity. When family joins together, it is a blessing, like an anointing of oil upon Aaron the priest’s beard. It is like the blessing of dew that refreshes the ground at Zion, where God’s blessing is ordained: “life forevermore.”

The third choice for this Sunday (which is normally the second selection), is from Job 38:1-11, God’s answer to Job. After Job faced the tragedy of losing his family and even his health in chapters 1-2, for the next thirty-six chapters, Job argued with God and with his friends. Job demanded an answer from God, wanting to know where God was when this tragedy befell him. God’s response was not what Job expected, answering Job from a whirlwind. God instead questioned Job, as to where Job was while God was forming the universe and the earth. God was setting the foundations of the earth, and limiting the sea, the waters below and above (in the understanding of the world from Genesis 1, there was perceived to be a dome of water above the earth). God was busy with the waters like a parent with a newborn, stopping the sea from breaking forth from the womb and tying a diaper around the waters above. God was even busy setting bars and doors—childproofing for creation!

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 is paired with the Job passage and the Gospel lesson, as it is a song of God’s mighty work in saving those at sea in disaster. The psalmist opens by calling the people to worship God, whose steadfast love never ceases, and who gathers the people from all directions. The psalmist praises God for rescuing those who were in danger on the waters, for God commands the wind and the waves. When the crew of the ships cried out in their trouble, God rescued them, calming the storm. The psalmist sings the story of what happened and calls for the people to give praise and thanksgiving, for God’s steadfast love that has saved them.

The Epistle readings continue in 2 Corinthians with 6:1-13. Paul urges the church in Corinth not to accept God’s grace in vain, but to understand the hardship that comes with following Christ. Paul shares the difficulties he and others have faced, and yet they have remained true to Christ even when they’ve been called “imposters.” Paul appeals to the church to listen and receive him and his companions, and their teachings, for it’s up to the church whether to open their hearts and minds, or not.

Jesus and the disciples crossed the lake in Mark 4:35-41, but Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat. When the disciples woke him up in the middle of a storm, they were already taking on water, and demanded of Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re dying?” (vs. 38). Jesus woke up from his comfy cushion, rebuked the wind, and told the water, “Peace, be still!” Immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words), the storm stopped and there was a dead calm. Jesus asked the disciples why they didn’t have faith, and why they were afraid. The disciples were amazed, wondering who Jesus was, since the wind and waves obeyed him.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Jeremiah, with his letter to the exiles in chapter 29. Jeremiah wrote to those who had gone into exile in the first wave of Babylon’s control of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of hope for return coming soon, Jeremiah instead wrote that they needed to build hope where they were: to build houses and live in them, get married, have children and plan for their children’s future. Instead of hoping for an immediate return, they ought to hope for goodness in their new home in Babylon. God has plans for a future with hope for them (vs. 11), but it will not be immediate. It is not what they want, but what God desires for them, since there is no turning back from Babylon’s domination.

Remembering that God is in control and that we are not doesn’t mean a literal “Jesus take the wheel.” We all have aspects of our lives we can control, but there are at times things we cannot: natural disasters, economic collapse, and yes, pandemics. We all know what happens when we don’t take precautions and assume the pandemic isn’t as big a deal as people made it out to be: we end up with hundreds of thousands dead in the U.S. and cities that experienced their hospital systems overwhelmed. We have seen it happen recently in India. In Jeremiah’s day, the king of Judah and the priests and other leaders didn’t want to listen to him while Babylon made war against them. They wanted to assume God was on their side and they would win, instead of understanding that God was with them wherever they went, and that they had to accept the consequences of their previous actions. For the disciples on the boat, going out on the lake means a storm might rise up. Just because Jesus was with them didn’t mean a storm would come up. However, their response was to blame Jesus for not caring about what happened to them, instead of trusting that Jesus would bring them through the storm. God doesn’t promise our lives to be easy, or for the outcomes to be what we want, but God does promise to be with us.

Call to Worship
Gather us together, O God,
Bind us together in Your love.
No matter where we are, online or here,
We are Your body, O Christ.
The same Spirit that stirred the water of creation,
Stirs in our hearts and calls us to justice.
Guide us, O Holy One, in this time of worship:
Remind us that we are one in Christ Jesus.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Creation, we confess that we fret and worry about little things that we will soon forget, but still, they consume our thoughts. We confess that we are disappointed when things do not go our way, unable to see that a better opportunity may come before us at another time. We become stuck and dejected, angry and hurt, when we are passed over for a promotion or recognition, when others do not observe the hard work we believe we have done. Forgive us, O God, for holding on to hurt feelings at times instead of participating in the greater work at hand. Grant us the wisdom to discern when injustice occurs, or when it is simply a mistake or different point of view, and help us instead to pause, reflect, and seek Your guidance, through the wisdom of those we trust. For it is in Your Wisdom we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God has searched us, knows us, and discerns our thoughts from far away. There is no place we can go, nowhere we can hide, where God is not with us. God restores our soul.
God forgives you, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and God loves you madly. Go and share the good news: no matter what the world has said to you, you are God’s beloved child, very much needed in this world. Amen.

Prayer
Prince of Peace, may Your peace reside in our very souls. May the reverberations of yesterday’s actions be stilled. May the feelings that consume us be quieted. May the thoughts that invade our minds and refuse to leave be silenced. Instead, may Your peace prevail in us. May the violence of the world not touch us, even if only for a moment, as we accept Your embrace and trust in Your love. May we find peace, one moment at a time, as we follow You, Gentle Shepherd of Peace. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 13th, 2021—Third Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Psalm 20; Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, Scroll Burned and Rewritten, 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-31

The first selection from the Hebrew scriptures continues the series on the rise of the kings of Israel. In this week’s reading, Saul grieved that he ever made Saul king. However, God moved forward, even in God’s own grief of Saul’s misguided ways. God instructed Samuel to visit Jesse in Bethlehem under the guise of performing a sacrifice, so Samuel could anoint a new king in secret. When Jesse brought his oldest son forward, Samuel was certain it was him, but God told Samuel to pass him by, along with six other sons of Jesse. Height nor stature were important to God. Instead, Samuel asked Jesse if all his sons were present. All the important ones were, but the youngest was out tending to the sheep. Samuel told Jesse to bring him. God declared the young, handsome boy David was the one to become king, and Samuel anointed him.

Psalm 20 is a prayer for a new king. The psalmist prays for God’s protection and guidance for the new ruler, that the king’s offerings and sacrifices be remembered and accepted. Blessings for victory are part of this prayer, for the psalmist assures God that the people and the king put their trust in God and not into their military or might. The psalmist closes with a plea for God to answer the people when they call upon God.

God’s justice is restorative in Ezekiel 17:22-24. God will take a sprig from a lofty cedar tree, just a small branch, and plant it to become a noble cedar where the birds of the air will nest. God will cut down the high trees and raise up the low trees, drying up the green trees and making the dry trees flourish. Similar to Isaiah 40, and Luke 1:46-55, God takes from what has too much and gives to what has too little, restoring what has been taken.

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 is a song of praise for those who are faithful to God. The first four verses sing of God’s faithfulness and how the psalmist will praise God with their musical gifts. Verses 12-15 sing of how the righteous, the ones who live into God’s ways, flourish like palm trees, full and lush, and strong like the cedars in Lebanon, famous trees that have withstood centuries of destruction. Even in old age, those who are faithful and righteous still bear fruit, and still produce lushly for God.

The Epistle selection continues in 2 Corinthians with Paul’s understanding of living the resurrected life in the here and now. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (vs. 7). In all that we do, living now in our bodies, or living at home with God with spiritual bodies, we aim to please God. The love of Christ encourages Paul and those with him to continue preaching the Gospel: that in Jesus’ death and resurrection we have new life. Everyone in Christ is a new creation, and the old ways, including death, have no hold on us.

Jesus told more parables in Mark 4:26-34. First, Jesus told a parable of one who scatters seeds at night. No one knows how a seed sprouts and grows, but the harvester knows when it is time to harvest. The second parable Jesus told is of the mustard seed. While not quite the smallest seed—that seems to have been an exaggeration on Jesus’ part—it is a small seed and from it a grand shrub is grown. But no one would plant it on purpose—it’s more of an invasive plant. But the kingdom of God is like someone deliberately planting this seed, so it becomes the greatest of shrubs, where birds of the air make nests in its branches. What God does is deliberate, though we do not always recognize it until after, when it is harvest time, when the birds have made their nests.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on the prophet Jeremiah. In chapter 36, God told Jeremiah to take a scroll and write down all the words God told him, about all the disasters that would come. Jeremiah dictated those words to his scribe Baruch, who then took the scroll to the temple. Jeremiah was not allowed to enter the temple because the leaders didn’t want to hear his words, but Baruch read the scroll out loud in his stead. However, the king’s officials were frightened, as they knew Jeremiah spoke the truth, but also knew the king wouldn’t want to hear those words. They told Jeremiah and Baruch to go into hiding. When King Jehoiakim had the scroll read out loud to him from his servant Jehudi, he cut up the scroll and threw it in the fire. However, God told Jeremiah to get another scroll, write everything that was in the first, and this time, also include a proclamation about King Jehoiakim. God declared not only would Babylon destroy Jerusalem, the king would have no heirs, and every disaster would be prescribed to the king. Still, King Jehoiakim refused to listen to him.

God is at work in all living things. God is at work in nature surrounding us, bringing forth new life. God is at work deliberately in the things we cannot see, and we live by faith that the seasons change and life grows and dies and grows again each spring. What seems useless to us is often useful by God, and God cares for creation as much as God cares for us. God cares for our well-being, but often we do not want to change from the worldly ways we created, the systems and structures that prop up powers that control and oppress others. We do not want to hear God telling us to change our ways. God speaks to us through the prophets of old, through the scriptures, but also through the stories nature tells. Currently, we hear the story of climate change, but many of our leaders refuse to listen. We hear the story of destructive practices, but those in power only listen to the story of profit. What is God speaking to us now, and in what ways? Are we listening? Are we becoming the new creation God intends us to be in Christ?

Call to Worship (Psalm 92:1-4)
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
To declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
To the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess the time we have turned from Your ways and listened to the false wisdom of the world. We confess we have sought profits over people. We have loved institutions over relationships. We have held up ideals and principals from times long past instead of understanding the newness of Your creation. We have failed to care for the earth You made for us, and instead abused and misused the resources You entrusted to us. Forgive us. Call us into Your ways. Guide us to listen, and to demand that our leaders turn back to Your ways of justice and mercy, care for the earth and for one another. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God continues to speak to us: in the Spirit moving as breeze through the boughs of tall trees, through the song of birds and the noisy squirrels making their homes in the branches God made for them. God continues to speak life and love to us. Know God’s love. You are forgiven. Listen to the voice of God in creation: You are called to restoration. God needs you, and you are God’s beloved child, made in God’s image. Go and share the Good News, and work for the reign of God. Amen.

Prayer
Great Creator, Source of Light, all things come from You, and all things return to You. All the trees grow in Your light, nourished by the star You burned to warm the earth, the home You made for us now. Like the cedars of Lebanon, may we outlast the dangers and destruction before us. May we tenderly care for the earth so all of creation may outlast the climate change we have wrought. May we return to restorative practices and bring healing to Your planet. And may we remember we belong to You, and have our purpose in You, set here to care for this earth, for all of creation, and You have made us co-creators in Your image. Restore in us Your intention as earth’s caretakers. Amen.