Worship Resources for March 17, 2024—Fifth Sunday of Lent

A note on Rev-o-lution:
After seventeen years of blogging, first on an old Blogger site and then for the past thirteen years at this domain, providing worship resources on the Revised Common Lectionary (and for the past ten years on the Narrative Lectionary), it is time to hang up my blogging hat.
I will continue to post new resources through Pentecost (May 19, 2024) and keep the website up through at least November 2024, perhaps longer, for access to the archives.
It has become more difficult to say something new week after week, and it has taken more of my time than I can give.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. I’ll be sharing those sites in the coming weeks.

Thank you all for your kind words over the past few weeks.

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Narrative Lectionary: End of the Age, Mark 13:1-8, 24-37 (Psalm 102:12-17)

Through most of Lent, the Hebrew scriptures have followed the theme of the covenants of God, starting with all of the earth (Genesis 9 after the flood), with Abraham and Sarah and all of their descendants (Genesis 17), and then with the people of Israel (Exodus 20). Last week’s lesson from Numbers was a reminder of what happens when the people forget the covenant. This week, the new covenant that God shares through the prophet Jeremiah 31:31-34 is a covenant that cannot be broken. It is a covenant written into the people’s very hearts. No one can say, “Know the Lord” because everyone will know God, because everyone is beloved by God. God’s love is that powerful that even though the people are about to be taken into exile, God will not forget them. Their identity is in God’s love for them. God will forgive them, remembering their sin no more.

Psalm 51 is a song of confession to God and plea for forgiveness, for the psalmist knows they have sinned. Attributed to David, admitting his sin after the prophet Nathan confronted him, the psalmist prays not only for forgiveness but to be purified before God, restored in relationship with God in a way that they might sin no more. They seek a new heart from God, and a new spirit that is right with God and may rejoice again, for while they acknowledge their sin, the guilt remains. The psalmist desires full restoration with God and asks for the willing spirit to keep themselves true to God’s ways.

The psalmist seeks God and desires to stay in God’s commandments in Psalm 119:9-16. This is a very long psalm about observing the commandments and ways of God, but in these verses, the psalmist writes of how they treasure God’s word in their heart. They live their life into God’s ways, by living out the ordinances, statutes, and precepts, reciting them on their lips and finding joy in living out God’s word. This section concludes with a vow not to forget God’s teachings.

Jesus is now the high priest according to Hebrews 5:5-10. Jesus has fulfilled the role of the high priest in the temple, the perfect priest who saves all who are faithful by his sacrifice, submitting to God and suffering by human hands. He is the eternal priest and source of salvation. The writer of Hebrews declares Jesus in the line of Melchizedek, a priest who met Abraham and blessed him in Genesis 14:7-20, but again mentioned in Psalm 110:4 in an obscure verse about a line of priests established forever. Because Jesus cried out to God to save him, those prayers were heard by God, and Jesus’s salvation is salvation for all humankind.

When some Greeks come to see Jesus in John 12:20-33, he knew the time had come to prepare for his death. He told those who wished to follow him that they must follow and serve him. Those who loved their life would lose it. Those who would hate their life in this world would keep it for eternal life. For a grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die in order to bear fruit. Jesus was troubled by what was to happen, but knew it must happen. Jesus knew that after his death, when he was lifted up, all kinds of people, including Greeks and other Gentiles, would be drawn to him, and seemed to recognize that the hour was at hand when Greeks were drawing close to the disciples and wanted to see him. Those around him did not understand, and thought he was speaking to an angel as he spoke about his time to be glorified. The writer of the Gospel of John’s view is that Jesus spoke plainly, but the people around him did not get it. Jesus made it obvious, in John’s account, that he was the Messiah sent by God, but others refused to recognize him as the Messiah.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the End of the Age in Mark 13:1-8, 24-37. While Jesus taught in the temple during his last days, he spoke about how the temple would eventually be destroyed, and warned there would be wars and destruction. There would be teachers who would lead others astray. However, they ought not to be alarmed, for those events did not mean the end. However, after those things, Jesus declared that the Son of Man would return, and this age will pass. Jesus states that only God the Creator knows, but he urged the disciples to watch for the signs just as they do for the signs of the seasons, and to keep awake, to be ready for Christ’s return.

The supplemental verses of Psalm 102:12-17 sings of God’s enduring reign, and how God will restore Zion. God will rise up, restoring what was destroyed, and all nations will turn to God.

As we near the end of our Lenten journey, we are reminded by the Narrative Lectionary to keep alert. In the United States, we are in an election year. We are a world involved in wars. The massive amounts of death and destruction in Gaza are unquestionably horrific. Christian Zionists point to the end times as if it was something predictable and according to God’s plan. We know from scripture God does not desire destruction but restoration. God does not want war or suffering. These are the sins of human beings. Instead, we must look to the signs as Christ did, and keep awake: when we see insurmountable suffering, we must be doing our part to act in love. We must do our part to stop violence. We must do what we can to rebuild and restore and repair. Even if it seems impossible, this is our work to do. So many wanted Jesus to begin a revolution, to restore the earthly kingdom of Israel, but that was not what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to save the world, and he did so through giving up his own life, refusing to return violence for violence.

The world does not recognize Jesus still as a Messiah because they still want a conqueror, a glorified war hero, a victorious god who is on their side. Jesus will always be on the side of the oppressed, the crushed, the hopeless, the ones who have lost everything. The ones amidst the rubble, either in Ukraine or Myanmar or Gaza. And until we see the signs for what they are, we are doomed to perpetuate the systems of destruction and death.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-4)
O give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to the Lord,
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s holy name,
Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the strength of our God,
And seek God’s presence continually.

Prayer of Invocation
Blessed are You, O Lord our God. We come before You in humility, recognizing that You are the God of all creation. We ask You to open our hearts, to hear our prayers, to listen to our songs, to fulfill our needs, and to encourage us in our faithfulness. In this time of worship, may we be full of awe and wonder, knowing You are the Author of Salvation, the First and the Last, the Almighty One our God. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Covenanting God, we confess we have broken all our promises. We have not remained faithful. We are caught up in so many things that we sometimes forget to give thanks, to turn to You and acknowledge You, to even take a single moment for a deep breath, a reminder of Your Spirit among us. Call us into a holy pause. Remind us to slow down. Guide us into a more contemplative path of seeking You in every moment. Turn us away from the busy-ness of the world, and turn our hearts to Your pace, savoring all that You have made for us, this one holy and precious life. We give thanks for Your Son, Jesus the Christ, who taught us how holy and precious our lives really are by laying down his own for us. In his name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Take a deep breath, and know God’s spirit is in you. Breathe out, and know God’s peace is all around you. Remember this: God is in every breath, God is in every moment, and you are beloved to God. You are cared for. You matter. Give thanks to God, and give grace to one another, and live into God’s peace. Amen.

Prayer
God of all seasons, as we near the vernal equinox, we give You thanks for the turning of the world, that all things become new. In the northern hemisphere, we are seeing the signs of spring: the birds returning, the buds forming, the worms and bugs crawling. The days are growing longer. We know that while horrible and terrible things are happening in our world, You are still making everything new. The trees are older than our conflicts. The migratory patterns are older than our roads. You continue to turn us again and again to something new. We give You thanks for the seasons in our lives, that nothing lasts forever, and that the struggle and suffering we see now will not last forever. We are reminded in this election year in the U.S. that this, too, will not last forever, but we must be prepared for the long journey of justice, hope, and peace. The seasons will turn, but Your love is the one constant in this universe. May we cling to Your love, live into Your ways, and speak and act from Your love into this world. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 10, 2024—Fourth Sunday of Lent

A note on Rev-o-lution:
After seventeen years of blogging, first on an old Blogger site and then for the past thirteen years at this domain, providing worship resources on the Revised Common Lectionary (and for the past ten years on the Narrative Lectionary), it is time to hang up my blogging hat.
I will continue to post new resources through Pentecost (May 19, 2024) and keep the website up through at least November 2024, perhaps longer, for access to the archives.
It has become more difficult to say something new week after week, and also, I’m now writing novels, and it has taken more of my time than I can give.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. I’ll be sharing those sites in the coming weeks.

Revised Common Lectionary: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Narrative Lectionary: Great Commandment, Mark 12:28-44 (Psalm 89:1-4)

The lesson today in the Hebrew Scriptures from Numbers veers from the theme of covenants that we have been following. The lesson is not about a covenant, but that God provides a way to life even when the people disobey God’s ways. The people once again are complaining against Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. They complain there is no food or water, except that they “detest this miserable food.” They were tired of the manna God provided. So poisonous serpents came and bit the people, and many died. The scripture reads that the Lord sent the serpents, but what if the serpents biting the people were really the people “biting” each other with their complaining and slander? The people came to Moses and confessed their sin, and Moses prayed for the people. God told Moses to make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole, for everyone who looked at the serpent on the pole would live. Moses did so—he made a serpent of bronze, and everyone who was bit lifted their eyes, and upon looking at the serpent, they lived. Once the people stopped looking at the problems right in front of them and lifted their eyes, they were able to find a way to live together.

Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving and remembrance for what God has done for the people throughout time. The psalmist begins by addressing “the redeemed of the Lord,” which implies those coming out of exile. Verses 17-22 speaks of a time when the people were “sick through their sinful ways,” and “loathed any kind of food,” and how God healed and delivered them. This psalm pairs well with the story in Numbers, reflecting that God does not desire punishment, but restoration and healing.

In Ephesians 2:1-10, the author (purporting to be Paul) writes about how we live in the world versus God’s intentions for us. We have followed the course of this world which leads to sin and death—worldly measures of success, wealth, notoriety—all those lead to dead ends. None of it will last and all of it leads to supporting systemic sin—oppression, enslavement, cruel workplace practices, racism, marginalization, etc. By grace, however, Christ came for us. By grace we have been saved and shown the immeasurable riches of God. Because of Christ, none of us can boast about what we have or haven’t done. Rather, Christ restores us to God’s intentions, which is for goodness and good works. This was God’s intention from Genesis 1. We have been restored, and God has prepared this to be our way of life.

John 3:14-21 is the second part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who has come to see Jesus by night. Verse 14 begins with using the story of Moses and the serpents in Numbers 21:4-9. The people were saved when they looked to the serpent on the pole, when they looked beyond what they could see in front of them—the poisonous grumblings that had infiltrated the camp—and instead looked to God and God’s ways. So the Son of Man must be lifted up, according to John’s account, on a cross. As the people in Moses’ day were saved from poison when they looked up, those who believe will be saved when they believe in Jesus and will have eternal life. While vs. 16 is one many know by heart, it is just as important to know vs. 17, that God did not send the Son to condemn the world, but to save the world. The condemnation comes for those who love the ways of the world more than the ways of God, but those who know the truth know the goodness of God’s created intention for us, and their works reflect that intention.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28-44. These verses contain the content of Jesus’ teaching in the temple, during the days before his betrayal and arrest. A common way of learning in Jewish community in the first century was through health debate, and the rabbis debated each other. When a scribe heard Jesus answering the questions of others well, he asked him which commandment was the greatest. Jesus responded with the Shema, the call to prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4, that everyone present would have known by heart. He also quoted Leviticus 19:18 about loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, which other rabbis of Jesus’ day also linked together. The scribe responded that Jesus was correct, and the scribe offered his own thoughts on living into those commandments, that they meant more than the burnt offerings and sacrifices of the temple worship. Jesus responded that he wasn’t far from the kingdom of God. Jesus then asked those gathered around him about the Messiah and David’s son, quoting Psalm 110, and warned against those scribes that wanted to be looked upon for their position rather than the work they did. Lastly, Jesus observed a poor widow putting all she had into the temple treasury, and taught his disciples that the sacrifice she made was greater than what all the rich gave out of their abundance.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 89:1-4 begin with praising God as the one who chose David as king and made the covenant with David. The psalmist declares that God’s steadfast love endures forever, as David’s reign and descendants will endure forever.

What turns us away from the promises of God? If the theme of the Hebrew scripture lessons has been on covenants, today is a day to remind us that we human beings are the ones who break them, not God. Yet God always provides a pathway to life—and not just life after death, but new life that begins now and lasts through eternity. God has prepared a way for us, for we were created for good works, though we have gone astray. For God so loved the world that Jesus came to show us this way through his life, death, and resurrection. The way to get out of the dead ends of the world is to lift our gaze to Christ, who has shown us that death has no hold on us. Get out of worldly thinking in which we attack and harm one another, in our words and actions, fighting over the things of this world. Remember that we serve a risen Savior. Whoever believes will not die, but have eternal life, a gift that no one can take from us.

Call to Worship (paraphrased from Psalm 107:1-2, 21-22)
O give thanks to the LORD, for God is good;
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
For God has redeemed us from trouble.
Let us thank the LORD for God’s steadfast love,
For God’s wonderful works to humankind.
Let us come before God with thanksgiving,
And tell of God’s deeds with songs of joy.

Prayer of Invocation
Everlasting God, we gather together knowing You are present among us. Guide our hearts and minds to listen for Your word: in our hearts, in our movement, in our prayers. Open us to new insights, to be challenged by the scriptures, to be assured by our songs, to be encouraged in prayer, knowing that You are making all things new, including us. May we be open to the Spirit in this time. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have failed to live into the covenants You have made with us. We have turned aside from Your ways and sought our own gain. We have ignored those in need among us and fought with our neighbors. We have abandoned our love for You and failed to love one another, loving instead the things of this world: wealth, power, security, notoriety. Forgive us for not living the life You have assured us. Guide us away from the empty promises of the world we have made and into the promise of eternal life in You, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Ephesians 2:4-10)
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

You have been created for good works in Christ Jesus. Remember your created intention. Remember your purpose. Go back to your roots, and know God’s love and grace and forgiveness have always—always—been there. Accept it, know it in your heart, and live into the life Christ has promised you, now and through eternity. Share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
Sojourning God, as we move through the halfway point of Lent, journeying toward the cross at Calvary, we remember where we have gone astray on our own journey of faith. At times we have taken You for granted. We have taken the church for granted. We have assured ourselves that we are good people, and that we do good things. Remind us that the journey is as important as the destination. We are called to help others in this world, not only to know You, but to know Your love through our love of them. Call us to truly love our neighbor, in which we take notice of their needs, understand the systems and structures in place that continue to oppress and harm, and work for justice in this world. For it is this life that matters. It is in this life that we measure ourselves, whether we have lived into Your ways. It is in this life that we have the opportunity to practice hospitality, welcome the stranger, lift up the poor, work for justice, and pursue peace. In the name of Christ, who journeys with us, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 3, 2024—Third Sunday in Lent

A note on Rev-o-lution:
After seventeen years of blogging, first on an old Blogger site and then for the past thirteen years at this domain, providing worship resources on the Revised Common Lectionary (and for the past ten years on the Narrative Lectionary), it is time to hang up my blogging hat.
I will continue to post new resources through Pentecost (May 19, 2024) and keep the website up through at least November 2024, perhaps longer, for access to the archives.
It has become more difficult to say something new week after week, and also, I’m now writing novels, and it has taken more of my time than I can give.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. I’ll be sharing those sites in the coming weeks.

 

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Narrative Lectionary: Parable of the Tenants, Mark 12:1-12 (13-17) (Psalm 86:8-13)

We continue during the season of Lent to turn to the covenants between God and the people in the selection from the Hebrew Scriptures. Exodus 20:1-17 focuses on the covenant at Sinai and the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. The commandments teach that there is only one God, and the people are to worship no other gods. They are not to make idols, nor misuse God’s name. God will show steadfast love “to the thousandth generation” for those who remain faithful, for God is the one who brought them out of their oppression in Egypt. Verses 8-9 teach that keeping the Sabbath is a way to honor God, and they are to remember it each week, for they were not allowed to rest when they were in Egypt. Verses 12-17 are about how to live in this new community: honor one’s family, especially one’s parents, and remain faithful in relationships. Don’t lie, kill, steal—don’t want what others have. This is the covenant: God will be their God, and to be God’s people, they need to remember who they are, how to live with one another, and who they worship.

Psalm 19 praises God for both God’s work in creation and in the law. Creation is orderly, and even the sun rises like a bridegroom ready for their wedding day. The sun was often associated with ancient deities and the psalmist links God to the sun, who lights and brings warmth, but also brings the law. As creation is orderly, so is God’s law. God’s teachings are more valuable than any worldly pleasure, they are their own reward. But the psalmist knows they may stumble, they may have erred unknowingly, and they ask God to keep them safe from going astray. The psalmist concludes with the famous meditation of seeking God’s acceptance for their words and meditations.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 reveals that the power of God is revealed through the cross, according to Paul. The cross was the instrument of torture and death in the Roman Empire, but for those who believed in Jesus, it was also the symbol of eternal life, that the cross—that death itself—was not the end. The wisdom of God is not the world’s wisdom. Paul declares that the “Jews demand signs”—in other words, their Jewish neighbors, in Paul’s view, wanted proof that Jesus had resurrected, and “Greeks desire wisdom”—the Greek philosophers wanted to understand from a human point of view. Paul proclaims Christ crucified—which worldly wisdom cannot understand, but both Jewish and Greek believers could attain by faith in Christ. This might seem foolish to the world, but wiser than human wisdom to God.

John’s account of the Gospel differs greatly from the Synoptic gospels in that Jesus travels to Jerusalem early on in his ministry for the first time at Passover, enters the temple, and drives out the moneychangers with a whip of cords. In John 2:13-22, it appears that when Jesus calls the temple, “my Father’s house,” the other religious leaders present want a sign from Jesus. He tells them to destroy the temple and in three days he will raise it—a reference to his own death and resurrection, but those present refuse to believe the temple can be destroyed. This is the temple that Herod had begun restoring, but was destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70 C.E. It is important for us to remember that while John’s account purports to tell what happened in Jesus’ day, John was most likely written around 90 C.E., well after the events of the destruction of the temple. John’s account is trying to show how wrong the people were about Jesus, to prove his account of Jesus is the right one. It’s interesting to note how many times in John’s account the Jewish people demand signs, when it seems that the gospel account itself is all about proving who Jesus was, as if over-responding to that demand for a sign. It’s important to look at these passages with a critical eye, in light of how John’s account has been used to fuel antisemitism, and at the same time, recall the reforms Jesus brought to practice and religious life (and in all four accounts of the Gospels, Jesus did enter the temple and drive out the moneychangers).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Parable of the Tenants in Mark 12:1-12. In this parable, told after Jesus had entered Jerusalem and driven out the moneychangers, Jesus echoes back to the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. In Isaiah, God uses the metaphor of planting a vineyard, but the grapes have grown wild, so God has taken down the protective hedge and fence and destroyed the winepress. In this parable in Mark, Jesus tells of a vineyard leased to tenants, and when the landowner sends back servants to check on the vineyard, the tenants beat one servant, insult another, and kill a third. They keep mistreating the servants so the landowner decides to send his son, thinking they will respect him. But the tenants kill him to try to gain the inheritance of the vineyard. Jesus then asks the question, “What will the owner do?” The owner’s intention was to send his son to change the behavior of the tenants, not to die. Nonetheless, because the tenants did not change their ways, Jesus declares that the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Jesus then quotes from Psalm 118, of the stone that the builders have rejected becoming the chief cornerstone. The religious leaders know that Jesus has spoken this parable as a warning against him, but they do not do anything because they are afraid of the crowds.

In verses 13-17, Jesus is further questioned by some Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes. The Herodians were those who supported Herod and his position in government and his family. They would have supported taxpaying to the Roman government because Herod served under the rule of Caesar. However, Jesus refuses to be trapped in the question put forth to him, stating “Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The supplementary verses of Psalm 86:8-13 is the portion of the psalm that gives praise and thanksgiving for God who has helped the psalmist and the people. There is no God like God, and all nations turn to God. The psalmist calls upon God to continue to teach them God’s ways so they may draw close to God and give thanks for God’s steadfast love and deliverance.

How do we live into God’s ways today, in 2024? The death of Christendom is all around us (we’ve been talking about it for over 30 years now). The institutions we have built up will not survive—they may not even survive us. But the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Our ancestors have passed down the wisdom of the faith. Jesus teaches us that what will remain with us are his words, his teachings, and everything else will pass away. How do we draw closer to God, and to one another in faithful community, while understanding that the things we make of this world will come to an end—good or bad, whether we like them or not? The temple that was central to our ancestors was destroyed a generation after Jesus’s death. The churches that Paul visited and helped to begin no longer exist. Neither Jesus nor Paul imagined the institutionalized Western church that many of us have known as the only way to be church, but it is not the only way to live faithfully. If we think of the world as the vineyard we have been entrusted to care for, how good of a job are we doing? How well are we caring for those who serve one another, those who speak out for justice, those who cry out for mercy? How do we live into this faith, understanding that the systems and structures we as human beings made are no longer adequate?

I believe there is hope. We are being made into something new, individually and collectively. We are being called back into a way of life that centers God’s ways and not our own. A way that lives into the commandments we have been taught and passed down, less focused on boards and bylaws and structures and more focused on the love we express and the kindness we practice and the justice we do. What that looks like yet we do not know, but what we know is this: the stone that the world rejects becomes the chief cornerstone. What the world’s systems that fuel the gain of wealth and power by the elite would reject: rest, respite, care for the earth and one another, kindness, compassion, slowing down from the busy nature of our world—this is the chief cornerstone.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 86:8-11a, 12)
There is none like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any words like Yours.
All nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
For You are great and do wondrous things,
You alone are God.
Teach me Your ways, O Lord,
That I may walk in Your truth.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
And I will glorify Your name forever.

Prayer of Invocation
God of the Covenant, we give You praise and honor and glory, for You have always remained true. Your steadfast love endures forever. We gather our hearts and minds in worship, knowing that You are faithful and just. Guide us away from distracting thoughts, worries and cares, and instead, help us to focus on You so we can know Your great love in our lives, Your mercy and forgiveness and compassion, and be filled with hope to live out Your gospel into the world. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty and Everlasting God, we confess that we have failed to live into Your covenants. We have declined to follow Your commandments. We have forgotten Your teachings, Your ordinances and statutes. We have disobeyed the simplest of teachings to love our neighbors as ourselves. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Remind us that when we love one another, we are loved. When we care for one another, You care for us. When we meet the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable among us, You make sure there is enough for everyone. Guide us back into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 85:9-11)
“Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear God, and God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness look down from the sky.”

God gives what is good and leads us in the way of righteousness. When we live by God’s ways, we know God’s blessings in the love of one another. Extend hospitality and grace and forgiveness when possible, participate in the reparative and restorative work of justice, and it shall go well with you. Share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ in how you live your life. Amen.

Prayer
Creative Spirit, help us to think outside of the box the world has put us in. Erase the lines that we have drawn. Draw the circle wider. Color outside the lines. Pull back the veil that has us divided. Remove the wall that creates binary thinking. Open our hearts, our minds, our souls, to the inescapable love You have for us, and may we be full of that love for one another. Help us always to be open to more and to shut out less, for hate and fear keep us small, but love is always expanding us. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 25, 2024—Second Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Narrative Lectionary: Bartimaeus Healed, Mark 10:32-52 (Psalm 34:11-14)

During Lent, the selection from the Hebrew scriptures focuses on the covenants of God. This week’s reading tells of the covenant of God with Abram and Sarai, who are given new names: Abraham and Sarah. God promises they will be ancestors of a multitude of nations, with kings as their descendants. God’s covenant is not only with the two of them, but with all generations descending from them, who will be known as God’s people. God promises that they will have a son, securing their own immediate future and needs for passing on inheritance, but that generations and kings will be descended from Sarah.

The portion of Psalm 22:23-31 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God who has responded. God answered the psalmist’s cry, and the psalmist calls the congregation to praise God. God remembers the poor and all those on the margins at the ends of the earth. All the families of the nations will praise God, for God is the one who is sovereign over all nations. Future generations, even those yet to be born, will be told about what God has done for them.

Romans 4:13-25 contains Paul’s argument that it is not the law that brings faith. Abraham was the ancestor of all nations, and it was his faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, not the acts of the law. The law does not bring faith, Paul argues, so for Jewish Christians it is faith in Jesus that saves, not adherence to the law. This same faith is available for Gentiles without living under the law, for those who believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, for Christ was raised for the justification of all.

The first selection for the Gospel reading is Mark 8:31-38, part of the Narrative Lectionary reading two weeks ago on February 11th. This is the pivotal moment in the Gospel of Mark (from here through the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9). Before this, in Mark’s account, Jesus did not speak about his suffering and death and resurrection—this is the first time he did so, and he did so very openly. And Peter was horrified by it, so much that he pulled Jesus aside to rebuke him. However, Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan, a stumbling block fixed on human things and not on the divine. Jesus further instructed the crowd how to be his disciples: to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This is the moment when Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, and began to teach what it really meant to follow him, but the disciples did not fully understand.

The second selection for the Gospel lesson is the Transfiguration, Mark 9:2-9, which was the Gospel reading on February 11th. Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. The mountain in this passage is similar to crossing the Jordan in the 2 Kings passage: they have passed into a space where both the spiritual and physical world are present. Suddenly, Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white as he is transfigured before them, and they see Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, who previously had the right answers before he rebuked Jesus, also gets this one wrong: he wants to make dwellings for the three of them, tents to signify that all three were divine (the Common English Bible uses the word “shrines” here to get the point across of what Peter was trying to do). At this moment, a cloud overshadows them, and tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The only other time we hear that voice is at Jesus’s baptism. Then suddenly, only Jesus is left with them. In verse 9, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Peter, and perhaps the other disciples, truly did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever they had imagined, it wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about suffering and death. It wasn’t about giving up everything to follow him. And for a brief moment on the mountain, perhaps they thought they could still have their own vision of what a Messiah, or Messiahs, could be.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of Bartimaeus healed by Jesus in Mark 10:32-52, but there is a lot that happens before they find Bartimaeus on their way out of Jericho. In 32-34, Jesus again told of his upcoming suffering and death. The first time Jesus spoke of his suffering and death Peter tried to talk him out of it. This time, James and John ignored the suffering and death and focused only on the coming kingdom, not understanding that they also would suffer. The other disciples were upset about James and John’s request, and Jesus reminded them that they didn’t know what they were asking for. Jesus then taught the disciples that they were not like the Gentiles around them who lorded their power over others, but that whoever wished to become great must become a servant, as Jesus came to serve all.

When the disciples and Jesus passed through Jericho, they encountered Bartimaeus on their way out. He was a blind beggar and began shouting at Jesus, calling him the Son of David and to have mercy on him. Even though others ordered him to keep his mouth shut, he kept calling out to Jesus, and Jesus then called out to him. Jesus asked him what he wanted, and the man said he wanted to see again. Jesus told him to go, for his faith had made him well, and the man regained his sight. In this story, Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted—he didn’t presume—and he answered Bartimaeus’s call with a call of his own. When we call out to God, God hears us, and calls to us to follow.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 34:11-14, in which the psalmist gives instructions similar to the Proverbs. Learn how to be in awe of God. Don’t speak evil, don’t tell lies or falsehoods. Leave behind evil and pursue peace.

What does it mean to trust in God’s ways? Abraham and Sarah had to wait a long time, and even though God promised them they would be the ancestors of a multitude, they still had to wait for one baby boy to be born, long after they hoped for him. Peter wanted to trust Jesus but thought in that moment, when Jesus spoke of his death for the first time, that Jesus must be wrong. Peter had the audacity to try to call out Jesus on it, but Jesus instead called him Satan, the one who had set his mind on human ways and not on God’s ways. Paul spoke to the church in Rome that God’s ways were about faith, trust in God, pursuing God, and that the law was not necessary for that. The psalmist reminds us that trust in God is a pursuit of God’s ways of peace and justice, of giving thanks for all God has done for us and resting in the assurance of what God will do. We are called to deny ourselves—our own selfish desires, safety and security, wealth and power, the assurance of this world—and take up our cross. Put to death what holds us back, what makes us try to trust the world’s ways that will continue to fail us—and instead, put our trust in God and the assurance that God will continue to be with us, and will continue to fulfill the promises of old.

Call to Worship
We are in it for the long haul,
Our God is an everlasting God.
From the beginning to the end, Alpha and Omega,
We know that God is with us, now and always.
When life is difficult, we know God’s presence through the love of one another,
Trust in God and lean into the love of your neighbors.
Focus your hearts and minds in this time of worship,
For in all things and all times, we shall praise the Lord our God!

Prayer of Invocation
Gracious and loving God, You are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We have joined our hearts in this time of worship, for we remember all You have done for us and all You will continue to do. In this time and space, quiet our minds, slow our hearts, and remind us that You are with us, now and always. We give this time and space to be reminded of Your love and grace given to us, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Timeless One, we are so focused on the short-term that we forget You have carried our ancestors and You carry us. We are focused on the next election, the next paycheck, the next shoe to drop. We are afraid of the unknown and yet You have not abandoned us. You call us back to You, time and again. May we hear Your call in our hearts to turn away from the fleeting satisfaction of worldly wealth and gain. May we be moved by Your call to work for justice and peace beyond today but also for future generations. May we be driven by You to care for Your earth that You entrusted to us. Call us to listen and feel where You are nudging us to move and act in ways that build up Your reign on earth, a reign that is eternal. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
You are beloved by God, and that love is eternal. There is nothing you can do, no place you can go, where God’s love cannot find you. You are God’s child. Go and share the good news with others, in word and deed. Amen.

Prayer
Creator of the Stars, You made us out of stardust. You are the one who knits us whole when we unravel. You are the one who carefully shapes us back together when we fall apart. You are the One who makes all things new, and You are continuing to remake us into vessels of Your love. There is so much heaviness among us: climate change, politics, education, war, genocide, fear, and so much pain. Remind us that we do Your work when we love one another, when we care for the most vulnerable in our society. Keep us to Your ways of reparation and restoration, and no matter how difficult it gets, keep encouraging us to do better. For You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 18, 2024—First Sunday of Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Narrative Lectionary: First Last and Last First, Mark 10:17-31 (Psalm 19:7-10)

During Lent, the selections from the Hebrew scriptures focus on stories of God’s covenant. For the first Sunday of Lent, the story is of the covenant between God and Noah and all of creation—all flesh—that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. The sign of this covenant to Noah and all future generations is the rainbow—God’s weapon. God has hung up their bow and will no longer make war on creation. This covenant to the people showed how God was different than the other gods, and how God will remember on their part that they are not a God who makes war on the people or the creatures of the earth.

Psalm 25:1-10 is a song of trust in God. The psalmist desires to draw closer to God’s ways, and prays for deliverance from their enemies. While they long for a response from God to their situation, they also pray that God would not hold against them their previous sins. Instead, the psalmist focuses on the goodness of God, and how those who keep God’s faithfulness will know God’s steadfast love.

The author of 1 Peter 3 writes in verses 18-22 how Christ’s suffering for sins unites all believers to God. Christ descended into the place of the dead, “the spirits in prison,” to proclaim the good news. The writer of this letter also interprets the story of Noah as a story of baptism, saving all of humanity before Noah from their sins through the floodwaters, and now baptism saves the believers who are alive.

Mark’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness is scant on the details, so the Gospel lesson also includes Jesus’s baptism before he went into the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, in 1:9-15. Again, all three of these stories are expanded in Matthew and Luke. Mark simply lets us know that before Jesus began his ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist; he was affirmed by God the Father/Parent as the Son; he was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and he was tempted by Satan. Jesus had all of these experiences happen to him, and then, Jesus went and proclaimed the Gospel, that the kingdom of God had come near. The action shifts, and Jesus knows he must go out on his own, as baptized, affirmed, and driven by the Spirit. How our past experiences shape us into sharing the Gospel may be one angle in which to present this story.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the rich man who came to Jesus in Mark 10:17-31. The rich man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. He’s kept all the commandments, but he questions whether he’s done enough. Jesus is filled with compassion—the text in Mark reads that he loved the man—but tells him that he lacks one thing: he must go sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, and then he can follow Jesus because he will have treasure in heaven. But the man is shocked, and leaves grieving, because he has many possessions. Jesus then laments to his disciples that it is hard to enter the kingdom of God, and very difficult for those who are rich. Peter begins to tell Jesus, “look, we’ve left everything behind to follow you,” as if to justify their actions. Jesus acknowledges that those who do leave everything behind to follow Jesus will receive everything of the reign of God—but warns that those who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 19:7-10 speaks of following the law of God, and that the ordinances of God are worth more than fine gold and sweet honey. God’s ways are perfect, true, right, and simple to follow: a clear vision for life.

As we enter into Lent, what is it we hope to gain in observing this season? A deeper understanding of Jesus’s journey to the cross? Perhaps it is remembering the promises of God to our ancestors, and how God is not like the gods of this world. God chooses not to act in violence. God chooses peace. God recognizes that their actions affect not only humanity but all the creatures of the earth. Or perhaps it’s a focus on repentance and renewal, turning back to God’s ways. Lent comes from the Latin “to lengthen,” and as daylight grows, what is being revealed? When we look at what Jesus experienced before and while in the wilderness, where do we find affirmation and assurance to keep going during the hard parts of life, the temptations and struggles we face?

Call to Worship
God has given us the sign of the rainbow,
A covenant between God and all of creation.
God has given us the commandments,
The teachings of old to guide us to God.
God has sent his son Jesus to us,
The Word made Flesh to live among us.
God has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
May we turn our hearts and minds to worship and follow Christ.

Prayer of Invocation
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, in this time, may we pause and listen for Your word right here and now. You hold all of eternity, yet our time is brief. We give over this time now, so that in all our time, we may draw closer to You, Ancient of Days, Holder of Tomorrow. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Wilderness, we come to You searching for help in our wilderness times. Guide us to find our way when we are lost. Help us to know Your presence when we feel alone. Keep us to Your promises when we face despair. Hold us to Your love when we face temptation. Lead us on this journey of faith into a deeper relationship with You, and to know ourselves more fully in the way You know each of us. Lead us, God of the Wilderness, to the wellspring of life found in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God does not leave us alone when we are in the wilderness. God provides angels along the journey, and we can be angels to each other. Show love and compassion to others and receive that kindness and mercy in your own life. When you forgive others for the things you still struggle with, you will find that forgiveness is extended to you. Be gentle with yourselves, but firm in your resolve to repent and turn back to God’s ways, and know God’s grace, peace, and love in your life. Amen.

Prayer
Ancient of Days, the earth flooded long ago, and we were given a sign: the rainbow, a reminder that Your covenant is with the whole earth, that You will never again destroy the earth by flood. Your covenant is a reminder to us that the world is still broken, but You strive to make it whole. We have failed and fallen short, but You have remained steadfast. Your love for us has never ceased, though we have wandered and sought after the world’s desires. Call us back to Your covenant. Remind us of how You formed the world and made us in Your image. Remind us that we come from You, and we return to You, and Your promises never end. You may be ancient, but You also make all things new. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 11, 2024—Transfiguration Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Mark 8:27-9:8 (Psalm 27:1-4)

On Transfiguration Sunday, we begin with the story of Elijah taken up by God, and the passing of the mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elisha knew that Elijah was to be taken up to heaven, yet refused to leave him, until they crossed the Jordan together. Elijah used his mantle, rolling it up and striking the river, just like Moses parted the Red Sea. When Elisha and Elijah crossed the Jordan together, it is as if they entered a space not of this world. Elisha asked Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit—asking that he become the spiritual heir of Elijah. Then the two were separated by a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind. In a similar manner with the Gospel lesson, there are some physical places where the division between heaven and earth is thin, and in this space across the Jordan, Elisha was able to behold this vision of Elijah taken up. Following this passage, Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah, and struck the Jordan River to return to the other side.

The beginning portion of Psalm 50 is a reminder that God is not silent; God sees all, and calls the heavens and earth together in judgment. God calls specifically for the faithful to gather and renew the covenant by sacrifice. Fire is often referenced to God’s judgment—a purifying fire that removes blemishes, and this portion of the psalm reminds the listeners that God judges the faithful by the ways they keep the covenant. God desires purification: restoration to how things ought to be.

The Epistle readings conclude the letters to the Corinthians with 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth and was aware of the controversy surrounding him and the way he shared the Gospel. Paul refuses to water down the message of Christ, but boldly proclaims the Gospel, even as others turn to “the god of this world”—those who refuse to change their lives for Christ and instead focus on worldly gains. Paul declares that they do not proclaim themselves, but proclaim Jesus as Lord, and that they are called to share the Gospel of Jesus, and no other.

The Transfiguration marks a pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark and is the lesson for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. The Narrative Lectionary gives some further context: before Mark 8:27, Jesus’s ministry was preaching, teaching, healing, and proclaiming the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. In 8:27, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and following Peter’s bold declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus’s message turned toward the cross. He first tells of his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus said this openly to all who could hear, but Peter took him aside and rebuked him. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter, by calling him Satan, a stumbling block fixed on human things and not on the divine. Jesus further instructed the crowd how to be his disciples: to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It became clear in this moment what it really meant to follow Jesus, and it was also clear the disciples did not fully understand.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. The mountain in this passage is similar to crossing the Jordan in the 2 Kings passage: they have passed into a space where both the spiritual and physical world are present. Suddenly, Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white as he is transfigured before them, and they see Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, who previously had the right answers before he rebuked Jesus, also gets this one wrong: he wants to make dwellings for the three of them, tents to signify that all three were divine (the Common English Bible uses the word “shrines” here to get the point across of what Peter was trying to do). At this moment, a cloud overshadows them, and tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The only other time we hear that voice is at Jesus’s baptism. Then suddenly, only Jesus is left with them. In verse 9, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Peter, and perhaps the other disciples, truly did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever they had imagined, it wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about suffering and death. It wasn’t about giving up everything to follow him. And for a brief moment on the mountain, perhaps they thought they could still have their own vision of what a Messiah, or Messiahs, could be.

The supplementary passage to the Narrative Lectionary is Psalm 27:1-4. These first four verses sing of the psalmist’s trust in God: even when their enemies attack, or the armies surround them to bring war, they will be confident in God’s presence. They only ask that they live with God all their days, to know God’s love and blessing.

I have always found Transfiguration Sunday a difficult one to preach because we’re not quite sure what happened up there on the mountain. The description of the Transfiguration is vague. But with the context of the previous verses, we understand that this is the pivotal moment in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has set his life and ministry toward Jerusalem, toward his own death on the cross. There are some who cannot grasp this, who just want “the good stuff,” that the Good News that is for them, the miracles and teachings that make them feel good. But the Gospel is good news for everyone, and to achieve that, even God will give up God’s power for the sake of humanity. We are all called to deny ourselves and take up our cross. We are all called to let go of the power and privilege of this world for the sake of one another. Jesus said in John 14:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus calls us all to lay down our power and privilege for one another. To show this, Jesus went up the mountain, and while Peter wanted to stay up there and worship Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, God told them to listen to the Son. And the Son told them they had to go back down the mountain. We can’t stay back where things are safe. We can’t stay in our old way of thinking that only gives us “the good stuff.” We have to understand the suffering in the world. We have to be in solidarity with those who suffer. Only then, when we lay down our privilege and power, might we all be transformed and live into the kin-dom on earth.

Call to Worship
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to us.
God is calling us to listen to the Gospel news.
The voices of this world promise us worldly things,
But only God promises us eternity.
Stop for a moment. Pause. Take a deep breath.
(Pause for a few seconds)
Listen to what God is speaking in your heart.
May we be open to the word of God in our songs and stories,
in scripture and sermon.
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to you:
For we are God’s beloved children.

Prayer of Invocation
God Who Speaks, we hear the stories in Scripture, the words of the prophets, the tales of our ancestors, the songs of the psalmists and the proverbs of the poets. Help us to listen to the words You have given us, and to listen to the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us, Jesus Christ our Lord. When we hear God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” may we stop and listen. May we humble ourselves instead of thinking we know it all and we’ve heard it all before. Speak to us so we might listen in a new way, to know Your love in new ways and to share that love with the world. Invite us into this time and space that is Yours, so we might draw closer to You. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come to this time, O God, confessing that often what we believe is the Gospel is not Your Gospel. We water down the Gospel so that it makes us feel good, instead of living into the hard truth that we must turn back to Your ways and be in solidarity with those who suffer. We do not want to deny ourselves our power and privilege, and we do not want to take up our cross to follow You. We want things the easy way, O God, and we remake the kin-dom into our own dream, of a next life where everything is perfect, instead of doing the hard work of living into the kin-dom now, which calls us to be in solidarity with those on the margins, those who are oppressed, those who have suffered. Call us away from our own visions of escape and into the hard work of living right here, right now, and proclaiming the Good News in our lived lives. In the name of Jesus, who is in solidarity with us to the point of dying as one of us on the cross, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When the world is too much for us, even as we try to live into the kin-dom, we remember that Jesus is the one who died for us and took upon this burden. Find rest in him and know that you are loved exactly as you are. None of us can do everything, and none of us will succeed in always living the Gospel, but when we try with our heart, when we do what we can to love one another, we know God’s love is with us. Give over your burdens to God, and trust in Christ. You are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well pleased.

Prayer
God of Transformation, we stand on the precipice of the metaphorical mountain, preparing to enter Lent, preparing to enter Your story of journeying in the wilderness and journeying toward the cross. We come to this moment recognizing our own need to transform our point of view: to look away from the fake gospel of this world that tells us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that tells us if we work hard we will be blessed, and instead, turn to the Gospel of Truth: that to live is to die to the ways of this world. Help us to put aside the worldly measures of success and instead seek You and Your ways. We cannot go back to the simple understanding of being a good person to get into heaven, for that is a false gospel. Instead, we must work to dismantle systems and structures of sin in this world. To put ourselves in the shoes of those who have never had the opportunity to know a world without suffering and pain. To listen with kindness and compassion to the stories of injustice and wrongdoing, and work to restore what has been taken, repair what is broken, and pursue justice, in order to live into Your kin-dom. For only then might we understand that faith is more than a simple confession in Your sovereignty over us, but a lifelong commitment to solidarity with You, Jesus the Christ, who lived and died and lives again, and in whose name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 4, 2024—Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Narrative Lectionary: Death of John the Baptist, Mark 6:1-29 (Psalm 122)

Isaiah 40 is considered the beginning of Second Isaiah, a prophet who witnessed the events at the end of the Babylonian exile. King Cyrus of Persia, having come into power, allowed the exiles to return home. This was a chance to start again with God as God’s people. In this passage, the prophet reminds the people that they know this already. They’ve heard this from the beginning of time. God is over all creation, over all the earth, and the rulers of this world have no power over God—they are temporary and will pass. Some of those hearing these words may have been alive when they were taken into exile and remember what they have lost; they will recognize God’s faithfulness. There is no one like God. God questions the people as to why they say that God has ignored them. God’s response is that God has been there since the beginning, renewing and reviving the people. For those who are young in their understanding of God will struggle, but those who know how to wait (those who have lived through the exile to the return, or those who held on to the promise) will find their strength renewed. God is with them, and God will help them to soar like eagles.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c is a song of praise to God who has gathered in the outcasts, those scattered, and brough them home to Jerusalem. God is over all creation, including the stars, and yet God cares enough for the people to lift up the downtrodden, and cast down the wicked. God is the one who provides for all and doesn’t look to strength and might for favor. God does consider those who live in God’s ways, are in awe of God, and have hope in God’s everlasting love.

The Epistle readings continue in the series of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul was entrusted to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. There is no reward for this, but by preaching the Gospel with no charge, he can be true to the Gospel and not to the rewards of wealth. Paul has become all things to all people—seeing cultural differences as a gift, not a dividing tool, to sharing the Gospel.

In Mark 1:29-39, Jesus continues the beginning of his ministry with his first four disciples. In last week’s reading, he taught for the first time (that we have recorded) in a synagogue and cast out a demon from a man. In today’s reading, he left the synagogue and went to Simon and Andrew’s house, and cared for Simon’s mother-in-law who had a fever. Once the fever left her, she got up and began serving Jesus. Everyone from the city came to Jesus at Simon and Andrew’s home, bringing those who were sick or possessed with demons. Jesus ministered among them, but early in the morning went off by himself to pray in the darkness. Already, Jesus needed to take some time for spiritual renewal. The disciples went and “hunted” for him, and when they found him told him that everyone was looking for him. However, Jesus told them it was time to go on from that place to the neighboring towns in Galilee, for that was what he came to do. Jesus was not mean to stay in one place.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the death of John the Baptist and Jesus’ rejection in his hometown in Mark 6:1-29. In contrast to the RCL reading where Jesus is beginning his ministry, at this time, when he returns to his hometown synagogue, he is met with rejection by his neighbors. They all know him, know his family, know where he came from, so who does he think he is? Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. So, Jesus refocused his ministry. He went out into the countryside to teach, sending out the twelve two by two to minister to those in need. Jesus told them to not take anything with them but to simply rely on the hospitality of others. When King Herod heard of Jesus, as his reputation grew, he wondered if it was John the Baptist come back to life, for he had John beheaded. Herod had arrested John, for John denounced Herod publicly for marrying his brother’s wife. Herod actually liked John, and knew he was a holy man, but had to have John arrested because he said such things in public. Nonetheless, in a rash oath to his daughter, Herod offered her anything she wanted, and she asked for John’s head on a platter. After Herod had John killed, John’s disciples buried his body in a tomb.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 122 contain a short prayer of peace for Jerusalem, a song for those pilgrimaging to the holy city. The psalmist declares that Jerusalem is where the thrones of judgment are set, the thrones for the house of David. The psalmist concludes by praying for peace and security and wishing peace upon all.

Living faithfully to God has its consequences. We know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. We’ve been taught this in the scriptures, we’re taught this in our songs and prayers. Yet, when we look at the world and see the horrors of war and violence, repeated generation after generation, and we know that poverty and homelessness are social concerns we could end if we had the political power to do so, we may wonder why God doesn’t intervene. Or we may question how God can exist when such terrible things happen. In the stories of our ancestors, we remember God’s faithfulness, and that the exiles did not lose their identity as God’s people even when they were away seventy years. Jesus knows if he stayed in the same place, he could go on and on healing and teaching, but nothing would change. Through time alone with God and prayer, Jesus knew he must go on, and continue the work in other villages. Eventually, Jesus would call other disciples, and have helpers in his ministry. But it came with a cost. In his own hometown, he was not received. John the Baptist lost his life speaking out for what he thought was right. There is a cost to living faithfully in God’s ways, but the promise of God to our ancestors, and the promise of Christ to us, is that we are not alone, and God will see us through.

Call to Worship (Psalm 147:1, 3-5, 7, 20c)
Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God;
For God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
God heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
God determines the number of the stars;
God gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
God’s understanding is beyond measure.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Invocation
God who names the stars, You have also named us as Your beloved children. May we hear You calling our name in this time of worship. May we be open to the movement of Your spirit. May we discern Your wisdom and deepen our understanding of Your wondrous love. Lead us and guide us as we worship You. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Steadfast Love and Mercy, we confess that at times we give up. It’s all too much. It’s too hard. There’s too much suffering and pain and loss. Too much grief. Too many balls to keep in the air, too many responsibilities, too many bills. Sometimes the world just feels so heavy. We confess that we need to know Your love more deeply, O God, and we call upon You to remind us of Your love. Help us to turn to one another in our time of need. Remind us that You have called forth not only ministers but teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, coaches, and others, for seeking our physical and mental well-being is as important as our spiritual care. You have called us to love You with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. May we remember most of all that we are not alone. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Know that the most difficult thing you go through is not the last thing you will go through. Know that even in the most difficult times God’s love is with you. It is imprinted in your heart. You are precious to God, and God will renew your strength. Go and encourage others, and you will find yourself encouraged. Amen.

Prayer
God of the Dark, You are the giver of dreams and visions, the One who sits with us in the quiet, who accompanies us in the loneliness. As Your Son ventured out into the darkness to pray, may we also find times to seek You without the distractions of the world. May we remember how expansive Your love is, like the endless stars at night. May we listen for Your word in our heart, and may You grant us a dream and vision for our own lives, to seek You, to love You and Your ways, and to share Your love with the world. May we know that periods of loneliness are temporary, for we are called into community to journey together. Sit with us in the dark as necessary and guide us back to our beloved community. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 28, 2024—Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Jairus’s Daughter Healed, Mark 5:21-43 (Psalm 131)

In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses prepared the people before they entered the promised land, knowing he would not go with them. The people requested God to raise up a new prophet after Moses, because they believed if they heard the voice of God themselves, they would die. God promised to raise up a prophet from among them, someone who would speak on behalf of God and God’s ways. God would hold accountable those who did not listen to God’s words through the prophet, and God would also hold accountable any prophet who spoke words God did not say or spoke on behalf of other gods.

Psalm 111 is a Hebrew alphabet acrostic poem, like many of the psalms, and is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God. The psalmist speaks in the first person but on behalf of the congregation, telling all the wonderful deeds of God who has been faithful to the covenant with the people. God’s ways are established for eternity, for the covenant was established forever. The psalm concludes with a reminder that the fear, or awe, of God is the beginning of wisdom. Those who are in awe of God have a foundation, a good understanding for how to live.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth about how to live with others and cultural differences in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. The church in Corinth was predominantly Greek, but some of its members were newer to the faith than others. While Paul knows that the church leaders know there are no other gods but God and no idols are real, some of those who have recently begun to follow Christ might be appalled at those eating meat, for meat was obtained at the local temple sacrifice to the Greek pantheon. For Paul this wasn’t an issue—those gods didn’t exist, it’s just meat, buy it and eat it. But he knew for new converts this might be a struggle because of how that sacrificed meat was determined as sacred by the Greeks, and suggests that if this was a stumbling block, don’t eat meat around those who view it as offered out of sacrifice. Even if we have the knowledge that there are no idols or gods, we ought not to hold it over others, but rather to live out of compassion and kindness. How we live ought to be a reflection of the same love we have from Christ, who died on behalf of all of us.

In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus taught for the first time at a synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus astounded the people there because he taught differently than the scribes—he taught with authority. When a man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue and challenged Jesus, Jesus rebuked the spirit, and it left the man. The people who witnessed this were amazed at this new teaching with authority, authority that even the spirits obeyed him. This is a hard passage for us today to interpret and understand. In the first century, the understanding of the spiritual world and the physical world was such that everything had both a physical and spiritual component. Jesus addressed the evil spirit and rebuked it. Perhaps the authority Jesus demonstrated was knowing that this person needed help in that moment—not something to be pushed off, addressed at another time. Consistently through scripture, when someone comes to Jesus with an immediate need, he immediately (especially in Mark’s gospel account as Mark loves that word immediately) addressed the person and the need.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the healing of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:21-43, which also contains within it a story of a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years. Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, came to Jesus and begged him to help his daughter who was near death. Jesus went right away with his disciples, but on the way to the little girl, a woman reached out and touched the hem of his cloak. Jesus stopped to ask who touched him, and his disciples tried to urge him along because they were in a crowd, anyone could have touched him, but Jesus knew someone had reached out to him in faith and had been healed. The woman who had bled for twelve years crossed several social boundaries (being a woman, being unclean) and touched him out of faith. In turn, Jesus called her “Daughter” and told her that her faith had made her well. Jesus continued on to Jairus’s house, where he was told the girl had died, but he told them the girl was not dead but sleeping, and he called to the girl, “Little girl, get up.” Jesus addressed both the woman in need of healing and this girl with tenderness and care and addressed their immediate needs.

Psalm 131 is a short prayer, focusing on trusting in God like a young child trusts their mother, who fed them before and will feed them in new ways. The psalmist concludes this prayer calling upon the people to put their trust in God now and always.

Wisdom might be the theme for this day in both lectionaries, being in awe of God. Putting one’s trust and hope in God the way Jairus and the woman who was bleeding put their trust in Jesus, and like the psalmist of Psalm 131, quieting their soul and knowing their hope comes from God. The beginning of wisdom in the passage from Deuteronomy starts with trusting the voice of our ancestors through the prophets in our scriptures. For Paul, the beginning of wisdom is knowing when not to flaunt knowledge but to rely instead on love and compassion and kindness. The wisdom we see in Jesus in Mark 1:21-28 is that Jesus did not ignore the needs of the person who came into the synagogue, who probably made others uncomfortable, even embarrassed. Jesus addressed the spiritual issue before them as one with authority and did not push aside or ignore the person’s needs. The beginning of wisdom is being in awe of God, that knee-trembling notion that God is far beyond what we can comprehend or imagine, yet it teaches us again and again to love one another, practice kindness and compassion, hospitality and humility, to remember what we have been taught from our ancestors, and to live into Christ’s ways.

Call to Worship (Psalm 111:1-4, 9-10)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
In the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.
God has gained renown by God’s wonderful deeds;
The LORD is gracious and merciful.
God sent redemption to the people; God has commanded the covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
All those who practice it have a good understanding.
God’s praise endures forever.

Prayer of Invocation
Almighty and Amazing God, we come before You in awe and wonder that You have made another day. You have made the heavens and the earth and the vast universe that surrounds us, and You made each of us in Your image. We can’t begin to imagine everything that You have done for us and all that You do in the universe. Nonetheless, we set aside this time and space to give You praise, to bring our prayers before You, and to share together in thanksgiving and love in this time of worship. Guide our hearts and minds to follow You in all Your ways. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Mercy and Love, we come before You confessing that we have failed to show mercy, failed to extend kindness and compassion, and have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have ignored those in need like the priest and the Levite instead of becoming the good Samaritan for others. We have been embarrassed by the actions and words of those who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses and have failed to offer care and concern. We have been afraid of losing our own precious time and resources and have passed by those who call out to us for help. Forgive us for our failures. Remind us of how You have shown us love and mercy in every moment of our lives and call us back into Your ways. Challenge us to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Remind us that every failure is an opportunity to do better next time. Guide us so that we might live better into Your ways of doing justice, practicing loving-kindness, and walking humbly with You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from John 3:16-17)
God love us so much God sent the only Son to us, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. God doesn’t use our mistakes and shortcomings to condemn us, but that we might learn and do better. God doesn’t hold them against us like a scorecard of wrongdoings, but rather picks us up like a child, dusts off our knees, gives us a hug and reminds us to go back out and learn so we can do the right thing. God does not condemn you. God wants you to be saved, and to help save others from the harm of injustice, the harm of ignorance, the harm of hate. God needs you. So know this: you are forgiven. You are loved. Learn and do better. Now go, play, help, repair, and heal the world. Amen.

Prayer
Compassionate One, this month always seems like the longest of the year, moving away from the joy of Christmas and the hopes of the new year, having long left the starlight the magi followed, to find a different way. We look back and see that You have been with us, and You are continuing to lead us on. For the resolutions and goals and intentions that have already fallen away, help us to leave them behind, and instead, remember that each day is a new beginning with You. Each day is one full rotation of the Earth and one million six hundred thousand miles from where we were yesterday. We are always moving, O God, and You are moving with us, and leading us forward. As we prepare to say goodbye to January and hello to February, these marks on the calendar, the days, months, and years that we created, we give You thanks for what has passed, and pray for what is to come. Lead us on, Sojourning God, for Your time is not our time. You are what has been, what is, and what is to come, the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty Ancient of Days, and Spirit of New Life. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 21, 2024—Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac, Mark 5:1-20 (Psalm 89:1-4)

Like last week, the Revised Common Lectionary has a focus on God’s call and our response to God.

We begin with the call of Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh, after he ran away the first time. In Jonah 3:1-5, the prophet obeys God and proclaims the message God sent him to deliver: in forty days, Nineveh, a large city, will be overthrown because they have not followed God’s ways. However, all the people of Nineveh, of all backgrounds, fasted and put on sackcloth, showing outwardly how they recognized where they had gone wrong and turned back to God. In verse 10, God recognized that they had changed from their evil ways, and God changed their mind about overthrowing the city. Jonah, in turn, was the most successful prophet in the Bible (but has some things to say about that in chapter 4).

Psalm 62:5-12 is a contemplative psalm. The composer knows that God alone is their hope and salvation. The psalmist calls for all people to put their trust in God and not in wealth, for people of all economic standings come before God and wealth is not to be trusted. All power belongs to God, and God’s way is restoration: leveling out what is unequal and restoring what has been taken. The psalmist reminds us that God “repays” us according to the work we have done for God’s justice in this world.

The Epistle readings in this season after the Epiphany follow the letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul believed that the return of Christ was imminent. He saw the kingdom of heaven as one we ought to live into now: for in heaven, as Christ taught, there is no marriage, there are no possessions, and there is no more mourning. Paul believed the world we have known was passing and we ought to live in the reign of God here on earth.

The Gospel lesson of Mark 1:14-20 contains the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. After Jesus’s baptism and John’s arrest, Jesus took up the same sermon message: “The kingdom is near; repent, and believe in the Good News.” As Jesus ministered along the sea of Galilee, he called his first disciples, fisherman, to follow him and fish for people. Two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John, were among the first. James and John even left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the men Zebedee hired to help him with his fishing business, to follow Jesus.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’s encounter with a man who had an unclean spirit in Mark 5:1-20. We must be cautious in how we approach this passage. In the first century, the spiritual world was not seen as separate from the physical world. Mental illness was sometimes attributed to demons. In this passage, it seems both clear that Jesus believed demons were real, and that this man may have also had some form of illness. The man was troubled, and the people had tried to stop him from harming himself (mostly by trying to isolate and restrain him) but could not keep him from bruising. When the demons addressed Jesus, Jesus addressed them, and Jesus listened to their demand to not be cast out of the country but instead into a herd of pigs. The herd of two thousand pigs then drowned themselves. Those that witnessed this event and others in the town who heard about it begged Jesus to leave, so he did, but the man who had the demons cast out begged Jesus to be allowed to go with him. Instead, Jesus called him to tell his friends what God had done for him. The man went to Decapolis (the ten cities) and told everyone what Jesus had done for him, and the people were amazed. While we may not fully understand the context of the spiritual and physical world as understood in the first century, when we look at Jesus’s actions, Jesus listened to the man, listened to the voices that he struggled with, and treated him with compassion and dignity. The man, in turn, listened and became a disciple of Jesus.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 89:1-4 is a song of praise for God’s faithfulness. The psalmist declares that God’s steadfast love is established forever. Because God made a covenant with David, God has declared that David’s throne will last forever, for all generations.

Last week and this week’s readings really compliment each other on a theme of following God’s call. This week, the theme rests on God’s knowledge of us. God called Jonah knowing that Jonah was temperamental. Jonah didn’t want to follow God, and then when he did and the people actually listened to his proclamation, they changed their ways. Jesus knew the disciples and must have known that the life the way they were making a living was not how they wanted to live their lives. James and John even left their father behind in the boat to follow him! Jesus called them exactly as they were—fishers who would now fish for people. In the Narrative Lectionary, Jesus saw the man afflicted by demons as a human being, a person in need of compassion and kindness and respect. Jesus treated him with dignity, and in turn, the man wanted to follow him. Paul saw the call of Jesus so clearly that he believed Christ’s reign was imminent and that we all ought to live as if heaven was on earth here and now. Following Jesus is a full transformation, a way of life. We all ought to be like the people of Nineveh, and fully commit to God’s ways, especially in our outward showing of repentance by living into God’s ways of justice.

Call to Worship (Psalm 89:1-2, 8, 52)
I will sing of Your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
With my mouth I will proclaim Your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that Your steadfast love is established forever;
Your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as You, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds You.
Blessed be the Lord forever.
Amen and Amen.

Prayer of Invocation
O Mighty and Ancient One, we gather knowing Your presence is always among us, but in this time and place, we call upon You here and now. Enter our homes and our hearts with thanksgiving as we come to You with praise. We call upon Your name, for You know each one of us. Guide our hearts and minds to remember Your promises and to renew our spirits to live faithfully in Your ways. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Steadfast God, we confess that we are fickle and our hearts waver. We go back and forth between committing wholeheartedly to You and following the trails of desires the world we have made promises to fulfill. We are misled by greed and power. We follow the false assurances of security and satisfaction. We neglect our neighbors whom You called us to love as ourselves. Turn us back, O God. Turn us from our selfishness and from the promises of the world we have made, with its systems and structures of oppression and harm, and turn us back to You: to love one another, to lift up one another, to seek the well-being and wholeness of our neighbors so that we might also experience wholeness and healing in Your beloved community. We ask for forgiveness, and we pray that we might truly repent and turn back to You, the One who Forgives, Heals, and Restores. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Here these words from the Apostle Paul: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). May you know Christ’s peace, and rest assured in God’s love, forgiveness, and restoration. Live into God’s ways, and you will always know God’s voice, calling you back. Go and share the good news: God is calling your name, for God loves you so much. God wants you to find the right way. God wants you to have abundant life. Live into this good news. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Divine, we ask for Your aid in turning from the violence of this world. The violence that separates us from one another. The violence that dehumanizes, diminishes, ignores and marginalizes human beings. The violence that silences, squashes, oppresses, and denies the voices of our neighbors, our kin. The violence that afflicts our hearts with jealousy, rage, and hatred. Holy Divine, overpower the violence of the world by transforming our hearts with empathy, kindness, compassion, and most of all, love. Call us into the way and life of Christ. It is not enough for us to follow Christ; remind us that we are called to be transformed by Christ, to be a new creation in this world. In Christ’s name we pray in anticipation, knowing that we are being transformed into the living hope this world needs. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 14, 2023—Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6 (13-18); 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Narrative Lectionary: Parables in Mark, 4:1-34 (Psalm 126)

The next two Sundays in the Revised Common Lectionary will have a focus on God’s call and faithful response.

The Hebrew Scripture lesson from 1 Samuel 3 contains the call of the prophet Samuel as a young boy. Samuel, dedicated by his mother Hannah to the temple at Shiloh, served under the priest Eli in a time where not many had visions or heard the voice of God. Nonetheless, the boy Samuel, lying in the temple near the ark of the covenant, heard the voice of God in the middle of the night. Twice he woke up Eli thinking Eli had called him, but Eli sent him back to bed. When Samuel did this a third time, Eli recognized it was God that was calling Samuel, and he instructed him how to respond to God. In verses 11-14, God tells Samuel what he is about to do, and it isn’t good news for Eli and especially for his sons who have turned from God’s ways. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had told him, but Eli encouraged him to tell it all, and Eli accepted it. From then on, Samuel spoke on behalf of God and became known as a trustworthy prophet of God.

Psalm 139 is an intimate song of God’s care and love for us as individuals. God knows us deeply, knows our thoughts even before we speak them. God is the one who made each of us, and knows all our habits, all our ways of being. God beheld us before we were formed, and we cannot comprehend or fathom God’s power, glory, and love.

In this season after Epiphany the Epistle readings follow the letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul writes about how our bodies are members of Christ’s body. Paul’s argument here also argues against the idea the spirit is separate from the body—we are a whole being, connected to Christ. We are to care for our bodies in remembering we are connected to Christ. In Corinth, prostitution was connected to worship of the Greek pantheon. Paul’s argument against fornication is also against worship of other gods, that our devotion to Christ calls us into caring for and honoring our bodies and seeking healthy and whole relationships. While we may have the choice to do whatever we want as long as it is legal, it isn’t right or healthy for us to do whatever we want. We must seek Christ’s way.

The Gospel lesson focuses on the call of the first disciples in John 1:43-51. Jesus called Philip of Bethsaida, the same town Andrew and Peter were from. Philip responded by following Jesus. He went and told his friend Nathaniel that they had found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. However, Nathaniel was skeptical that anything good could come from Nazareth. When Nathaniel showed up, Jesus said out loud that this was an Israelite who was up front and true, and told Nathaniel that he saw him sitting under the fig tree before Philip called him. Nathaniel believed and proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God, the king of Israel. Jesus asked if he believed because of what Jesus told him? He would see greater visions than that!

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the first parables of Jesus in Mark 4:1-34. Large crowds gathered around Jesus as he taught by the sea, and he taught using parables. The first was the Parable of the Sower, in which seed fell on different kinds of soil—but the seed that rooted in good soil brought forth a large yield of grain. Jesus explained to his disciples later, alone, about the different types of soil. He then taught his disciples with more parables: about a lamp not being hidden under a bushel basket or under the bed, but on a lampstand; then another parable about the kingdom of God being like seed scattered on the ground, and when the grain is ripe, it is harvested. Lastly, he told a parable of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed, growing into a mighty shrub in which the birds of the air make their homes. The writer of Mark’s gospel taught that Jesus used many parables, but only explained them to his disciples in private. Parables are stories with multiple meanings. When we go below the surface level, what do we learn about the kingdom of God? How do we purposefully plant the kingdom of God here? How do we participate in the harvest of God? How do we shine our light? How do we cultivate our soil?

The supplementary verses are Psalm 126, a song of praise for deliverance. When the people of Israel are restored to their homes, it is like the rivers in spring, restored to their fullness. Those who left weeping with only seeds will return home, carrying the full heads of grain with them, and be full of joy.

As we continue to enter this new year, what might God call us to be doing differently? We remember the ministry of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the call to justice. The prophet Samuel was called to speak words that were hard to hear, even for Eli the priest, but God challenged corruption and abuse in the temple through Samuel. Samuel lived his life in a way that helped others trust him and his words. Jesus called the disciples, preparing them to experience even greater visions of God’s justice—one where the dividing line of heaven and earth is erased. The parables of Jesus challenge us to understand who we are in God’s reign and what are we doing—what kind of soil are we for the seeds of God’s justice to be planted? Where are we called to speak up, and how are we called to live that out? Honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be simply reading his “I Have A Dream” speech. It must also be reading, digesting, and understanding his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It is a call to action that builds up the beloved community, and recalls that all of us are bound up together in this work of justice.

Call to Worship
Our Creator has molded and shaped us,
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Christ is calling our names,
We accept the invitation for the wondrous journey of faith.
The Spirit is whispering in our hearts,
We have been given spiritual gifts to follow Christ.
The roll is being called, not up yonder, but right now in this time of worship:
To do justice, to practice loving-kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Prayer of Invocation
Ancient and Holy One, we hear You calling our name in our hearts. As we enter this time of worship, may we listen for Your word to us. May we be challenged by the scriptures we read, inspired by the songs we sing, and guided by the words and reflections of our leaders. May we focus our whole being, our heart, our soul, our strength, our mind, on You in this time of worship, and may we be encouraged to follow You. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that we often pay lip service to Your commandments. We read the words of our ancestors, hear their stories, know the lessons, and fail to internalize them. We fail to live into Your word in a way that transforms our lives. We confess that we have short attention spans and are distracted by many things. Call us into accountability. Remind us that the Word became Flesh and lived among us, so we might embody the life of Jesus in our own lives. Challenge us to be faithful in our study and reflection so that our lives bear witness in response to the Word we know as Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Christ promises us that there is so much more than what we know or can sense now. There is so much more than what is right in front of us. Know this, on these long winter days, in this never-ending election cycle, in the violence and greed of our world—there is so much good, so much love, so much hope and more peace that we can have in Christ. We know we must do the hard work of reparation and restoration, forgiveness and healing, but there is so much more good than the pain we have known. Trust Christ. Trust in the words of our ancestors in scriptures. Trust the songs we sing, not just the words, but the music itself, how it makes you feel. Trust that Christ is always leading us to new life. And share this love and trust with one another. Amen.

Prayer
God of our ancestors, we remember and give thanks for the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others on this day who lived their lives in faithfulness to You and the call of justice for all. Remind us of the call of the prophets to speak out against corruption and injustice and build a community that is safe and inclusive of all Your children, on earth as it is in heaven. In this election year, remind us of our civic responsibility to elect leaders that we hold accountable for change, that uphold the values of justice, equity, and inclusion of the most vulnerable in our society. May we live into the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not simply with platitudes but with a commitment to action and mutual love and care, to be part of this beloved community together. Amen.

Prayer for MLK Sunday (first written in 2015)
God of Deborah and Samuel,
God of Anna and Simeon,
God of all the prophets, we honor our prophets of old and our prophets of today. We honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who called out for Your justice and righteousness for all people, but especially those who were oppressed because of racism and white supremacy. We remember how he put his own life on the line, dying in the struggle for freedom from oppression for all God’s children. We remember all of the prophets, from Biblical times to today, who cried out for the oppressed. We cry out with the prophets:

*for orphans and widows
for women
for children
for Black Lives
for disabled persons
for asylum seekers and refugees
for Jews
for Muslims
for Sikhs
for religious minorities
for those who are poor
for transgender individuals
for queer teens
for those who experience homelessness
for different racial and ethnic minorities
for those who speak different languages and have different cultures
–for all people who have been marginalized.

In this time, we lift up the names of our own prophets, those who have felt the movement of the Spirit compel them to work for justice. Names such as Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and Oscar Romero. But there are lesser known prophets among us who have worked for justice, and we lift up their names in this time:**

Lord, we give You thanks for the prophets who have raised their voice and put their lives on the line on behalf of Your people. We mourn their loss and pray for all of our prophets. God, stir in us the call to speak out when we see injustice, to act where there is injustice on behalf of all who suffer from oppression. Grant us Your courage and strength to do Your work, for You know each of us, You know our strengths and our challenges, and You call each of us to justice, forgiveness, and love. In the name of Christ, we give honor and thanks for those that have gone before us, and we pray for our prophets today. Amen and Amen.

*this list can be read responsively, or divided up among readers.

**optional, but allow for time for people to lift up the names of prophets in their lives.