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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Worship Resources for June 6th, 2021—Second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138; Genesis 3:8-15 and Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, 18:1-11 Potter and the Clay

In the season after Pentecost, there are two selections for the Hebrew scriptures paired with a psalm. The first selection is continuous each week, and for year B, follows the rise of the kings of Israel, from Saul to Solomon, from June through September. In September, following Solomon, the first selection moves into wisdom literature, with Job, and ending the season with Ruth, from just before the time of the kings: the story of David’s great-grandmother.

The first selection begins with the prophet Samuel, for the people have come to him and are demanding to have a king. This wasn’t what God desired—God desired to be their king, but they insisted on having a human king. Samuel warned the people what would happen if they have a human king—a king would exploit their labor, tax their goods, and enslave the people. A king cannot save the people the way God can. But the people will not listen to Samuel, because they want to be like other nations and have a king rule over them. In chapter 11, Samuel anoints Saul as the first king over Israel.

The psalmist leads worship in the temple in Psalm 138, praising God, who has answered their prayers with steadfast love and faithfulness. The psalmist declares that all the kings of the earth will praise God. Even though God is king of kings, God knows the humble and lowly. God is with the psalmist in the midst of their persecution by their enemies, and God will be faithful to God’s intention for the psalmist in this world.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures in the season after Pentecost doesn’t follow a consistent pattern or theme but tends to be paired with the Gospel lesson. In Genesis 3:8-15, God has taken a stroll in the garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve, having given into temptation from the serpent, have hidden from God’s sight. Because of what the serpent has done, God curses the serpent. Later interpretations suggest the serpent as Satan at work in the garden, but the story in Genesis doesn’t necessarily imply this.

The psalmist cries out for God’s help in Psalm 130. The psalmist knows their help comes from God, and that God will forgive them of their sins. They patiently wait for God, knowing that God will answer. The author calls upon the people of Israel to put their trust in God and wait patiently for God’s deliverance and redemption.

The Epistle readings for the next five weeks are from 2 Corinthians. In 4:13-5:1, Paul, speaking from his faith experience, knows that Jesus who was raised from the dead will also raise them from the dead. Even though they face struggles now, they know that God renews their spirits. Paul encourages the church to focus not on what is temporary and visible, but on the eternal and internal, what cannot be seen: the hope of resurrection.

The Gospel readings in this season turn back to Mark, picking up from close to where they left off during the last season of Ordinary time after Epiphany. In 3:20-35, right after Jesus called the first disciples, the crowds gathered near to hear him while he was at home. His family believed he had lost his mind, and scribes from Jerusalem came and said he had a demon. Jesus asked them, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Jesus had been casting out demons before them, healing people with the power of the Holy Spirit. If they insulted him, that was one thing, but to insult the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus—the good works he was performing—that was a sin that was unforgivable in Jesus’ view. His mother and his brothers let some of the crowd know that they were looking for Jesus, but Jesus asked the question “who are my mother and my brothers?” Speaking to the crowd, he said that everyone who did the will of God was his family.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Jeremiah in 18:1-11. As with many of the prophets, God often used metaphors in conversing with the prophet to explain what was happening or what is was to come. Isaiah also used the image of God as the potter and the people as clay, molded by God. Jeremiah was sent to the potter’s house by God and observed the potter working on his wheel. The piece developed flaws, so the potter reworked the clay into another object. God spoke to the people through Jeremiah, using this metaphor, that God can also rework the people, deciding to build up a nation one day, or tear it down the next. If a people forsake God’s ways, God will shape the clay differently. God warned the people to turn from their evil ways, or God would shape their future into something else.

God’s desire for all of us, from Moses to the early church, is to live faithfully into God’s ways. We do not need human authority over us to determine this—in fact, human authority is often corrupt and leads people astray from God’s intention. The people wanted a human king even though God and the prophet Samuel knew no king would be perfect. Some religious leaders in Jesus’ day wanted Jesus to work within their understanding of what God would do for the people, and when he didn’t, they determined he must be working for evil instead, despite the healing miracles and other good works he performed. The prophets warned the people to turn back to God’s ways, especially the kings and priests of their day, but all too often, they chose their own way, and fell apart because of their actions. Instead, if we do God’s will, and love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we live into God’s intention, becoming children of God, siblings of one another.

Call to Worship (adapted from 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1)
We do not lose heart,
We are being renewed day by day.
We look at what cannot be seen,
For what cannot be seen is eternal.
We know we are from God,
In whom we have eternal life.
Come, follow Jesus, who leads us into life.
Worship God and trust the Holy Spirit, among us now.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Sovereign God, we confess that we have placed other powers ahead of You. We have turned to the power of wealth over Your generosity and abundance. We have given in to the power of fear. We have placed human authority above Your commandment to love one another. Forgive us for turning to the kings and rulers of this world that we have made, and not to the ultimate authority of love found in Your commandments from Jesus Christ, who lived and died for us. Forgive us for our selfish ways, and call us into Your ways of love, mercy, and peace. Amen.

God’s steadfast love endures forever. God’s mercy is far beyond what we can imagine. While we have wandered astray, God remains true, and when we turn back, God is waiting for us with open arms. You are forgiven. Trust in God’s commandments to love one another, and know that grace and mercy are with you, always. Amen.

Beloved Creator, You are always making something new, shaping life out of dust and breath. You made the universe, an ever-expanding canvas of atoms and molecules and particles we are still learning about. You molded the planets and set fire to the sun. You drew an atmosphere upon the earth and breathed life into its living creatures. You continue to mold and shape our hearts as we learn and grow, expanding our understanding of human beings and of all life. Shape us as we are needed, O God, to live into Your ways, to practice Your justice, to seek Your reconciliation, to love one another. You have made us in Your image. As creator, You made us to be creative. Guide us to shape new ideas, new ways of living, new hope for us now and in the time to come. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 30th, 2021—Trinity Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, 1:1-10, 7:1-11, Call and Temple Sermon

The prophet Isaiah experienced a vision of the heavenly realm of God in the year King Uzziah died. However, Isaiah did not perceive himself to be worthy of this vision. Stating that he was a man of unclean lips, how could he dare to speak in the presence of God? However, one of the seraphs, the six-winged creatures that attended God in this vision of the heavenly throne room, touched a coal to Isaiah’s lips, purifying him. The voice of God asked, “Whom shall I send?” and Isaiah, full of a new boldness from the act of purification, spoke up. “Here I am, send me.”

The psalmist describes the power of God through creation in Psalm 29. God’s glory is made manifest through thunder and rain, the downpour of mighty waters, the lightning that strikes the tallest trees. God’s voice is heard through the rumbles and lightning that quakes the wilderness, the wind that strips the trees bare. God is more powerful than even floodwaters. The psalmist calls upon God to bless the people with peace, for God alone has power and authority over the earth.

Paul writes that all people—Jews and Gentiles—are children of the Spirit in Romans 8:12-17. Those who live as children of the law will still die, but those who are children of Spirit will be heirs with Christ and glorified with him. By the Spirit, we are to put to death the works that lead to worldly ends, and instead live by the Spirit as children of the Spirit. The Spirit works in us as a witness that we are children of the Spirit and not of the world.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to see Jesus at night in John 3:1-17. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was sent by God, but did not understand when Jesus told him he must be born from above. Nicodemus took Jesus’ comment quite literally, so Jesus had to explain to him that all must be born of the Spirit, that all must believe in the Son of Humanity. Jesus referred to Numbers 21:9, when Moses placed a bronze serpent on a staff, and the people of Israel who were bitten by poisonous snakes would lift their eyes to the bronze serpent and live. In the story in Numbers, the people were complaining and acting venomous toward one another—by lifting their gaze up, they were saved. By lifting our gaze from the ways of this world—the ways we harm one another and creation—and turning to Jesus, we find new life. It’s not our own life that will save us, but by turning to the way of God, being born into a new way of life of faith, that will save us. For God loved the world that he sent the Son of God so we might have eternal life that begins now, and he sent the Son not to condemn the world—but in order to save it.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a six week series on Jeremiah, beginning in 1:1-10 with the call of the prophet Jeremiah by God. He was a boy when God spoke to him and appointed him to be a prophet to the nations, following the end of King Josiah’s reforms of worship and implementing God’s law in Jerusalem. Though Jeremiah protested because of his age, God told him that he had the authority to speak with the words of God, that his words would destroy and overthrow as well as build up and plant.

In 7:1-11, Jeremiah spoke from the gate of the temple and preached against the injustice he had seen against foreigners, orphans, and widows—the marginalized of society. He preached against those who worshiped other gods for their own gain. Jeremiah called the people to repentance, to “amend” their ways. The words they spoke in the temple were empty if they were to continue their wickedness by committing adultery, murder, and stealing, along with worshiping Baal. He questioned whether they had turned the temple into a den of robbers, and warned them that God was watching.

On this Trinity Sunday, we are invited into the mystery of the Triune God. The one who created the heavens and earthy, whose power is known through creation. The one who lived and died and lives again, Christ Jesus our Lord. The Spirit who comes forth into our world and turns everything upside down. This is the same Spirit present at the beginning of creation and in our very breath, the Word that was in the beginning with God and made flesh to dwell among us: God beyond our understanding. God who speaks to us, even though we are so small and lack understanding. God who called Isaiah, though Isaiah thought he was unworthy. God who called Jeremiah, though Jeremiah was so young. Our Mysterious, Triune God continues to work through us, and in us, and among and beyond us, and even despite ourselves.

Call to Worship
We worship God, shaper of creation,
Who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty.
We follow Jesus, Love incarnate,
Who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty.
We trust in the Spirit, breathing life into us,
Who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty.
We believe in God our Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Almighty God, in whom we have eternal love and life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Triune God, we come to You not fully understanding the Mystery of Your nature but knowing that throughout human history You have been made known to us. Though we grow in new understandings, You are the same God who breathed life into us, who stirred over the waters of creation, who made the ever-expanding universe that we barely comprehend. We confess our short-sightedness, our misunderstandings, our selfish ways that hold us back from a deeper knowledge that is present before us. Guide us into Your ways of wisdom, so we might grow our hearts to love You and one another more deeply. In the name of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, we pray. Amen.

Though God is far beyond what we can comprehend or imagine, God knows us. God knows you. And God has chosen you to be part of this world and you have an important part to play. Without you, it cannot be done. You are needed and very much loved. Turn to God’s ways, and seek God’s wisdom and insight in your daily life, through prayer, reading of Scripture, spending time in nature, or however else you connect with the Divine. God loves you, and desires you to know them. Go and share the good news of God’s love, wonder, and awe.

Mystery of Mysteries, shed light upon the shadowy places of our lives. Open unto us new insights, ideas, and understandings. Remind us that despair does not have the final word, and that light will always overcome the shadows of difficulty. We do not fully understand You, but we know You are with us, and that You do not abandon us. While we may at times struggle to know You are there, Your Mysterious Presence is in the very air we breathe, in the last slant of light at day and in the starlight at night. You are among us, always, and we cannot be forgotten. Help us to turn to You, Mystery of Mysteries, in our groaning and aching for justice, for mercy, and for forgiveness, with the knowledge that love shall overpower all. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 23rd—Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Narrative Lectionary: Pentecost, Fruits of the Spirit, Acts 2:1-4; Galatians 4:1-7 (5:16-26) (Luke 11:11-13)

For more ideas for Pentecost, see the Pentecost page under Special Resources.

The arrival of the Holy Spirit in Acts takes place on the day of Pentecost, the spring festival of the first fruits of harvest. It was one of the pilgrimage festivals in which Jewish people from all over the Roman Empire would come to Jerusalem. Many of them only spoke a little Hebrew that was needed for worship and were native speakers of the local languages from where they lived. When the disciples began speaking to them in their own languages, they were astounded. For the disciples had experienced the Holy Spirit while they were gathered together, like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues as of fire had rested on their heads. Peter proclaims to the crowds, some of whom are grumbling that the disciples are drunk, that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, prophesied by the prophet Joel, and that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The prophet Ezekiel was told by God to prophesy to a valley of dry bones in 37:1-14. Ezekiel lived during the time of the Babylonian Empire’s attack in Judah and later siege of Jerusalem. All he could see was death and destruction, probably an old battlefield. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and they rose up. However, there was no breath in them. Then God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, and they became alive. God declared that though the people of Israel had been without hope, God would bring them hope. God would bring them back to live in the land they were promised, even if God had to open the graves to do it.

Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God, giving thanks for creation. In vs. 24-34, 35b, the psalmist sings of how all God’s creatures are made from God’s wisdom, and how God provides for them. However, when their breath is taken from them, they die and return to the dust. When God sends forth the spirit, they are renewed. The psalmist sings praise for all of creation and rejoices in God the creator.

Paul writes of all creation groaning in labor pains, until now, in Romans 8:22-27. All of humanity and creation has been waiting for redemption. Paul reminds the church in Rome that while they are groaning, they are waiting for a hope unseen, and the Spirit intercedes in their prayers with “sighs too deep for words.” God knows our hearts because of the work of the Spirit in us.

(If Ezekiel is chosen as the first passage, then Acts 2:1-21 is used instead of Romans 8:22-27).

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate to come in John 15:26-27, and 16:4b-15. Jesus spoke to the disciples before his arrest and death, and he knew some of them are afraid and full of sadness. Nonetheless, Jesus told them he must die in order for the Advocate to come. The Holy Spirit as Advocate would prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment, and the spirit will guide the disciples into the truth and declare what is to come.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on Pentecost, with Acts 2:1-4. In these first four verses, we know that the disciples gathered together for Pentecost in one place, and the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues like fire rested upon each one of them. They were full of the Holy Spirit and had the ability to speak different languages.

Paul continues his argument to the Galatians in 4:1-7 that Gentiles are also heirs of the promise. Those who were born under the law also needed redemption, the same as those outside the law, and through Jesus, gentiles are children of God and heirs of the same promises of God. Because of the Holy Spirit, we all call God our Abba, our Father, our Parent. In 5:16-26, Paul speaks of two different ways of living. Living by the flesh, living by the world, means satisfying one’s desires through whatever feels good, including hate, fighting, adultery, idolatry, jealousy, and other things. These things go against God’s teachings and harm others. Living by the Spirit, however, produces the fruits of the spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There’s no law against those things. To live with the Spirit means to live by the Spirit.

In Luke 11:11-13, Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit gives good gifts to those who ask of the Spirit, for even people who are evil give good gifts to children. So God also gives good gifts to God’s children through the Holy Spirit.

Ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek are the words for wind, spirit, and breath. God breathes life into creation, and that life is the Spirit. When breath ceases, the Spirit goes on. We know the work of God through the Holy Spirit in the good works we do, through the gifts of God that we use and share, through the fruits of the Spirit that we bring forth—in our very way of life. People will know we are faithful followers of Jesus by the way we live. This is more of a testimony to our faith than a spoken or written confession. Our lives are examples of our faith.

Call to Worship
God’s Spirit has poured out on all flesh,
All our children shall prophesy.
Young people shall see visions,
Seniors shall dream dreams.
Even upon those whose voices are marginalized,
God’s spirit is poured out, and they will prophesy.
Rejoice, and worship God!
For the Spirit of God has come upon us all!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Spirit of God, we confess that we have failed to live into Your ways. We have failed to trust You in our lives. We have failed to use the gifts of the Spirit to further the reign of God in this world. Forgive us for our shortcomings. Forgive us when we have focused on our own personal gains, on our own security and well-being, and neglected the call of the Spirit for the sake of the world. Forgive us, call us into accountability, and move us into Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. God knows our hearts. God knows our prayers. God hears us when we confess our sins, and when we turn back to God. God knows we desire to set our lives right. Receive these words of assurance: you are God’s beloved child. Whenever you turn back, God is waiting with open arms. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

Holy Spirit, come into us as a cleansing fire. Purify our hearts from the blemishes of this world: the desires for wealth and notoriety, the consuming of vital resources, the lust for power. Burn in us so that we might live into the ways of the Spirit: love and kindness, mercy and peace—ways that live for others and not only for ourselves. Holy Spirit, dwell in us, burn brightly in us, and help us to shine Your way into the world. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 16th, 2021—Ascension Sunday, Seventh Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Narrative Lectionary: One in Christ, Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 (Luke 1:68-79)

Acts 1:1-11 contains the first of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension (the first is the gospel lesson, Luke 24:44-53). In this version in Acts, the author of Luke begins with a similar introduction to the Gospel in his name, speaking of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, in which Jesus “presented many convincing proofs” and stayed with the disciples for 40 days. Jesus speaks to the disciples before his ascension that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit soon. The disciples, however, ask the question about the kingdom being restored to Israel. It seems they are still focused on worldly concerns. Jesus tells them it is not for them to know, but they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Two angels ask them why they are still looking up toward heaven, for Jesus will return in the same way they saw him go. In other words, Jesus has told them what is to happen soon, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and they are to go to the ends of the earth—not stuck, staring up at nothing.

Psalm 47 is a song calling the congregation to praise God. God chose the people to be God’s heritage. God is the one who reigns over all the nations of the earth, and the people praise God as their king.

Psalm 93 is similar to psalm 47, belonging to a group of psalms that are songs of praise for God who is the people’s king, the ruler over all the earth’s nations. In this psalm, God also rules over creation, and God is greater than the roaring floodwaters. Creation praises God, who is everlasting and reigns from ancient times. The psalmist concludes by proclaiming God’s law as trustworthy and true.

In the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, the writer (purporting to be Paul) prays for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” for those coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord. The writer declares that Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all power and authority and dominion falls under his feet. Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, and the fullness of Christ is known through the church.

In Luke’s first account of the ascension of Jesus, Jesus explains the scriptures from the Torah, prophets, and writings, so that the disciples understand who he is as the Messiah, that he was to suffer and die and on the third day rise. The disciples are witnesses of what Jesus has done, and Jesus tells them to wait until they have “been clothed with power from on high” (received the Holy Spirit). In this account, as he was blessing them, he withdrew to heaven and the disciples returned to the temple in Jerusalem to praise God.

For the seventh Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary readings also begin in Acts 1, just a few verses later, when Peter speaks in front of the gathered believers. At this time, there are only one hundred twenty left. Peter declares that they need someone to replace Judas. Two names were brought forward, and they cast lots. Matthias was chosen to be added to the disciples to be among the twelve (and Matthias is not mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures).

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm, reminding the listener/reader that those who meditate on God’s instructions and find delight into living into God’s ways are blessed and happy, trees who are nourished by streams of water. Those who are foolish and wicked are like chaff blown about in the wind and will not stand in the congregation of the faithful. God watches over those who live into God’s ways; the foolish will fall away.

The Revised Common Lectionary concludes its epistle series of 1 John with 5:9-13. Those who believe in the Son have testimony in their hearts: God’s love. God’s testimony is greater than human testimony. The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life that is found in Jesus. Whoever has Jesus has life, and whoever does not have the Son of God in their life does not have this life. The writer states this so that those who have Jesus in their life will know that they have eternal life.

Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17:6-19. He prays for God’s protection to be with them as he is returning to God. Jesus prays that they would be one, as he is one with God. Jesus has sent them out into the world with God’s word, and the world has hated them, but they do not belong to the world, they belong to God. However, Jesus prays that they might be sanctified in truth and protected, for he knows his own betrayal, arrest, and death are coming.

The Narrative Lectionary continues in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he turns his attention to the members of the church, who are Gentiles but have been led astray believing they were not fully included. Paul’s argument is that faith is what makes a believer part of God’s family. Faith is what makes a believer a descendant of Abraham, not blood. In vs. 23-29, Paul declares that all who believe belong to Christ, and therefore are heirs of the promise given through God’s covenant to Abraham. There is no division or distinction between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male or female—any division created on earth dissolves in the new creation in Christ.

The secondary passage is from Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:68-79. Zechariah, who was unable to speak until his son John was born, now sings this song praising God who has raised up a mighty savior, one who fulfills the covenant promised to Abraham. To his own son, Zechariah sings that he will be the prophet of the Most High, the one who goes before the Messiah to prepare the way. Salvation comes to the people through the forgiveness of their sins, and they will be guided into the way of peace.

The ascension of Jesus is a funny story to tell, because it’s based on an outdated understanding of heaven above the earth—and yet, that’s exactly the point the angels make when they ask the “men of Galilee” why they are standing around looking up? They’re supposed to do Christ’s work on earth. Christ has told them what to do: not to spend time worrying about worldly things such as when the kingdom will be restored, but living into God’s beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Later, the disciples will learn that this new beloved community is made up of all of God’s people, Jew and Gentile and everyone. Paul will go from, in his own words, being a Pharisee to one of the strongest voices for Gentile inclusion in the early church, that it is faith that makes us God’s people, heirs of the promise of Abraham. Belief in Jesus is what is required, and Jesus requires us to go and share the good news, God’s love for the world, with all; for Christ is at work in us now.

Call to Worship
We worship God, who created the heavens and earth,
God’s reign endures forever.
We follow Jesus, who made God’s love known to us,
Through his life, death, and resurrection
We listen for the Holy Spirit, who breathes in us,
And grants us wisdom and insight.
Come, worship our God together,
Celebrate all the ways God is made known to you, now.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that at times we are stuck. We are unable to move forward, and only can look back on what once was. We wonder where You are leading us, as it seems we are alone. Help us to become unstuck. Help us to move by faith, to trust that You are with us, guiding us along the way. Call to us so we will follow Your ways. Encourage us to live into hope instead of frozen in fear. Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, help us in this journey of life and faith, now and always. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Know that the peace of God is with you. You are loved by God. Sink into that knowledge, and allow God’s wisdom and insight to fill your mind so that you might live into faith. Go in peace. Amen.

God of Resurrection, we are grateful that the new life You have promised through Jesus Christ is made known to us now. We rejoice that we are a resurrection people, and that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from Your love. At times we have become complacent with the worldly life of our own making, but You are the creator of heavens and earth. We rejoice, because You are the one who made us and makes us new! Help us to leave behind the ways of this world and live into Your ways of restoration: love, justice, mercy, and peace. Amen and Amen.

Worship Resources for May 9th, 2021—Sixth Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Narrative Lectionary: Living by Faith, Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 (Luke 18:9-14)

Following Peter’s bold declaration that God shows no partiality in the preceding pages, after meeting Cornelius the Centurion, the Jewish followers of Jesus were amazed at the Holy Spirit working through Gentile believers in Acts 10:44-48. The Holy Spirit showed Peter and others that there ought to be no prevention of baptizing anyone with the Holy Spirit, and Peter orders them to be baptized. Baptism becomes the symbol of conversion of faith, not circumcision, in the account of the early church in Acts.

Psalm 98 is a song of praise after battle. The people have survived and are victorious, and the psalmist invokes images of the Exodus. All of creation sings praises to God, and the psalmist calls upon the people to make music to God with their instruments and voices, and creation to clap with the floods and for the hills to sing. God is the one who judges the earth, and the people with equity.

The writer of 1 John reminds the reader/listener that they are children of God and that they are called to love one another. The love of God is to live out the commandments of God, for God is love, and faith conquers the world. The writer alludes to a sort of trinity of birth: water, blood, and Spirit. The waters of birth and baptism, the blood of birth and sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of who Jesus is, the Son of God.

In Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples in John 15:9-17, Jesus leaves them with his commandment: that they love one another. Our joy is complete because God’s joy is in us when we love one another. If we love one another, we are Christ’s friends. We are no longer called servants because we willfully fulfill the commandments. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another, and that love is exemplified in Jesus. Jesus chose the disciples, and chooses us, and appoints us to bear fruit in this world by loving one another.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:13-17 and 2:11-21. Paul shared his experience of the Son of God being revealed to him when he was trying to destroy the church. In his own words, he was “far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” Paul understood this revelation of Jesus as a call by God to proclaim Chris to the Gentiles. Skipping ahead to 2:11, Paul wrote about the hypocrisy he experienced. He himself was a Jew and was appalled that Cephas (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles but stopped after members from the Jerusalem church sent by James came to visit, keeping up a tradition of separating themselves from Gentiles who were considered unclean under the law. This is not the true Gospel that Paul knew through Jesus Christ. In Paul’s view, if the law was enough for salvation, Christ died for nothing, for justification comes through faith in Christ.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed out loud, using his prayer as a time to boast of everything he had done and compared himself to others, that he was better than even the tax collector. The tax collector, however, beat his chest and simply prayed for God to have mercy on him. Jesus declared the tax collector, in his humility, went home justified more than the Pharisee in his boasting.

Any religious tradition can turn into an insider’s club. While in Christian scriptures we read of Jesus and Paul calling out those who adhered to the law in ways that were restrictive of others, Christians have done the same thing. We have been concerned about church membership instead of inviting others into the life of Christ. We have created hurdles to becoming a member of the beloved community instead of recognizing that everyone is a child of God. When the Ethiopian Eunuch declares, “Look, there is water! What is to prevent me from becoming baptized?” those of us inside church life might ask, “What are we doing to prevent others from joining into the life Christ has promised?” When those with Peter were amazed that Gentile believers had the Holy Spirit, Peter ordered the Gentile believers to be baptized. If the Spirit is present, who are we to try to stop God?

Call to Worship (from John 15:9-12)
As God our Parent has loved us, so Christ has loved you;
Abide in Christ’s love.
If you keep Christ’s commandments,
We will abide in Christ’s love.
Christ said these things to us so that God’s joy may be in you,
And that our joy may be complete.
This is Christ’s commandment:
That we love one another as Christ has loved us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Breaks Open, we confess that we have closed in, boarded up, and cut ourselves off from others. We have made churches into boxes that only allow certain people in, all while stating that we welcome everyone. We’ve placed requirements on people who need help, that they prove it to us first, that they show us their need, their vulnerability, while we hold the power. Forgive us, O God, for we might not recognize Jesus if he came to us. Forgive us, O God, for not being open to the power of the Spirit that blows through windows and doors. Forgive us, O God, for hardening our hearts. Open unto us Your love and forgiveness. Break open our hardened hearts to receive one another graciously. Break us open, O God, to Your ways, made known to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our God is the God of dawn, the God of breaking open, the God of the empty tomb. Our God continues to do a new thing that springs forth—can you not perceive it? You are made new. You are loved. You are forgiven. Go and share the good news, that God is making all things new.

Parent God, You are the one Jesus called Abba. You are the one who has nurtured and cared for us as a good parent. You call us as midwifes to aid what You are bringing forth. Mother, Father, Parent, Abba: Your love knows no bounds, and we are all Your children. We thank You and praise You, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us to grow in Your love, to live out Your commandment through the Son to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to continue to hold holy Your image in all of us, which is love. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 2nd, 2021—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Council at Jerusalem, Acts 15:1-18 (Luke 2:29-32)

The reading from Acts beginning the Revised Common Lectionary is the same as last week’s selection from the Narrative Lectionary about the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip was told by an angel to go south of Jerusalem, and on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, who was a eunuch. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home, reading from the prophet Isaiah. There were non-Jews who believed there was one God, and who read and studied the scriptures. Non-Jews were allowed to worship in the outer court of the temple, but not all were able to convert. A eunuch would have been prevented by tradition. Instead, Philip explained the passage of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:7-8 and interpreted it through the lens of Jesus. When they found water near the road, the eunuch asked Philip what was preventing him from being baptized, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch was one of the first converts, and church tradition holds he was the first missionary to Africa.

(As I shared last week: we must know that Jewish tradition has long interpreted the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah as referring to the people of Israel and their suffering in exile. Early Christians, who were Jewish, resonated with those passages because of what they had witnessed Jesus experience in his death on the cross. We can hold both interpretations as Christians, in our struggle to understand Jesus’ suffering, as the people of Israel were challenged to find meaning in their suffering, as long as we do not erase the experience of Israel.)

The end portion of Psalm 22, a prayer for help, turns to praise in verses 25-31. God has remained faithful despite the hardships the psalmist has faced, and the psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, vowing to declare God’s goodness before the congregation. God is the one who has dominion over all the nations, over the earth. Even the dead are part of God’s congregation of praise, and those living shall live for God, even the generations yet to come.

The writer of 1 John declares that God is love in 1 John 4:7-21. If you know love, you know God, and if you do not love, you do not know God. God’s love was revealed through God’s Son, and he has called us to love one another. No one has seen God, but we know God through the love we have for one another—that is how God is made known to us. We love because God first loved us. “Fear has to do with punishment” the writer declares, but love casts away fear. There is no fear in love. Note that this is not the same use of “fear” as often in used in the term “fear of God,” for that word fear in the Hebrew scriptures might be better translated as “trembling awe.” Instead, perfect love from God as known through Jesus is not about a fear of hell or punishment, but instead mirroring the image of God’s love in us. If we do not love our neighbors, we do not love God, for this is God’s commandment through Christ. If we cannot love those we have seen (or known by other senses), we cannot love God whom we have never seen.

Jesus uses the example of being a vine and we are the vine branches in John 15:1-8. God is the vine-grower, and through Christ we are called to bear fruit. We cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in the true vine, which is Jesus. Branches that do not bear fruit are useless. We must live out our faith, otherwise, we are useless branches.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Council in Jerusalem as told by Luke in Acts 15:1-18; however, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a different account of the event. Luke’s account in Acts gives a more favorable view to Peter of what happened in the controversy surrounding whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas came bringing good news of conversions of Gentiles, but some of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem believed that the Gentiles must fulfill the law of Moses. Peter describes this action as placing a yoke upon the Gentiles backs that neither they nor their ancestors were able to fulfill (vs. 10), and that it is Christ who saves, not the actions of people. James agrees with Peter in that the fulfillment of scripture is to include the Gentiles as they are, remembering Simeon, who gave a blessing for Jesus in Luke 2:32. This contrasts with Paul’s version of events in Galatians 2, that Peter used to eat with the Gentile believers, but once James and others came from the church in Jerusalem, he stopped, and would not eat with Gentiles. Paul calls out Peter’s actions in Galatians.

The blessing of Simeon in Luke 2:29-32 foretells that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” James reminded the Christians gathered at the Jerusalem Council of this blessing during their question of how to welcome in the Gentile converts.

Love calls us away from drawing borders and building walls, to erasing lines and building bridges. Loving one another calls us to see the burdens we have placed on others that excludes them: the burdens of racism, sexism, ableism, the burdens of homophobia and transphobia. Perfect love casts out fear, and the love we know of God calls us to grow beyond what we have known ourselves. When we grow, we bear fruit. When we include others, we extend the love of God beyond what we have experienced. For God is love, and we cannot love God unless we grow and expand our love for one another.

Call to Worship (from 1 John 4:7-8, 11-12)
Beloved, let us love one another,
Because love is from God;
Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
We also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another,
God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.
Come, worship God, who is love,
And follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, we confess that we have not loved as we ought. We have used love as if it was to be hoarded rather than shared freely. We have set limits on something that not ought to have borders. We have guarded how we love others instead of sharing Your grace. Forgive us for not loving as You have first loved us—without condition. Forgive us for determining who is and who is not worthy of love, when You are Love. Forgive us for not following the example of our Savior, who became last of all and servant of all, who laid down his life for us all in the name of love. Call us into Your way, that by caring for the most vulnerable, we care for all. By loving those who are different than us, we love ourselves best. By sharing in this love, we reflect Your image in us. In the name of Jesus Christ, who came to us in the name of love, we pray. Amen.

The steadfast love of God endures forever. There is no limit to God’s grace. You are God’s beloved. You are forgiven and restored. Love one another deeply as God has loved you, and you will know the peace of Christ in your hearts. Amen.

Author of Life, You have written love into the beginning of our stories. You have written love into the blood that flows in our veins, into our very DNA, for we are made in Your image and You are love. We have strayed from the story You intended for us, so help us find our way back. Open our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to seek Your wisdom and to grow beyond what we know. Open our lives to recognize that Your Beloved Community is beyond the people of our family unit, beyond our friends and neighbors and churches, but the whole world. Help us to live into ways that sustain and nourish this planet and all Your children, and remind us that You are the Author of our lives, in whom we find our beginning and ending. Amen.