Thank you to Rev. Monica Guepet and Rev. Emily Owen for sharing books with me! I greatly appreciate this gesture. I look forward to reading these!
Thank you to Rev. Monica Guepet and Rev. Emily Owen for sharing books with me! I greatly appreciate this gesture. I look forward to reading these!
Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Narrative Lectionary: Lost Sheep, Coin, Son, Luke 15:1-32 (Psalm 119:167-176)
For the third Sunday of Lent, the Hebrew Scriptures focus on the covenant that God made with the people on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20:1-17. Known as the Ten Commandments, God reminds the people that they were once oppressed in Egypt, and God brought them out of slavery. Therefore, to remember who their God is, they should worship no other gods or idols. They should not take God’s name in vain, and they should remember and honor the Sabbath, a gift from God. For a people who were forced to work, God reminds them that there is one day they should not work, a rest day, and no one among them, even their animals, should be forced to work all the time. The remaining six commandments are how they ought to treat one another as God’s people: honoring their parents, no stealing, murdering, or committing adultery, no lying, and refrain from desiring 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 is a song of praise from God’s creation. Everything God created tells of God’s glory: the heavens, the sun rising like a bridegroom running out to meet the bride. God created the perfect law, which revives the soul and rejoices the heart and endures forever. God’s instructions are more valuable than any precious metal and sweeter than honey. The psalmist closes this song of praise with a plea to be cleansed of any unknown wrongdoing and to be protected from sin so that sin does not have power over them. The psalm concludes with a prayer that their words and meditations would be pleasing and acceptable to God.
Paul argues that the cross reveals the power of God in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. 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 focuses on three parables that Jesus told in Luke 15 that are all similar. The context given is that some religious leaders grumbled about the company Jesus kept, tax collectors and sinners, and Jesus even ate with them. I highly recommend Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary Short Stories of Jesus for interpreting these parables. The first parable Jesus tells is of the lost sheep. It’s foolish to think that a shepherd would go after one lost sheep over the 99. No good shepherd would. But Jesus tells the story that a good shepherd would go after the lost sheep, and then have a party with friends and neighbors (and that party probably cost more than the one lost sheep). In a similar manner, a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Now, the coins were worth one day’s wage, so it makes sense for her to search for the lost one—but again, she calls over her friends and neighbors to celebrate in a way that would probably cost about as much as the coin that was lost. Both parables conclude with a similar theme: there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than others who are righteous and have no need to repent.
Then Jesus tells a story about a man with two sons, and how one demanded to have his inheritance early—something that wouldn’t have been prudent. But the father relents, giving half the inheritance to the younger son, who then goes off and squanders it. He ends up hiring himself out to work and drooling over the scraps the pigs are eating. But then he realizes the servants in his father’s house get better than this, so he decides he will go back to his father, repent, and ask to be hired on. Instead of refusing to welcome his son, or hiring him as a servant, the father rushes out to meet him and celebrates that he has returned. The older son refuses to celebrate. The father reminds the older son that everything he has belongs to him already, but they had to rejoice for the one son who returned. Jesus seems to be telling those who think they know the way to God that perhaps what Jesus is teaching is not necessarily for them—and instead of hindering him or grumbling about it, to rejoice that others who have been left out and rejected are being included by Jesus.
Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm, but instead of each line beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, each stanza begins that way. Verses 167-176 conclude the psalm with a plea from the psalmist who has kept God’s decrees and statutes, a plea for understanding. The psalmist promises to continue praising God and singing of God’s promise, but also prays for deliverance, for they have gone astray like a lost sheep from God’s ways. This confession at the end calls for God to seek them out, for they know God’s commandments and know that God will always be their God.
From the beginning, God has desired for us to be known as the people of God, and to live into that identity by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Indeed, this was what the covenant, commandments, ordinances and statutes were all about. But human beings are flawed, and we’ve gone to extremes in our understanding and interpretation of the commandments and decrees instead of understanding that our identity is how we shape our lives, as God’s people, and not the other way around. And lest we Christians accuse Pharisees of doing that in Jesus’ day, I would argue it’s the same problem with the writer of John’s account of the Gospel—caught up with proving who Jesus was that they forgot their identity as a follower of Jesus, as God’s people, is what shapes us and calls us into a life with one another and accountability. The sinners and tax collectors that others grumbled about understood themselves as beloved children of God because of Jesus’ welcome and inclusion. They knew they had failed to follow all the commandments, but strove for a better relationship with God and with one another. The commandments are there to help us better love one another, but it is the loving of one another and God that shapes who we are.
Call to Worship (from Gen. 1:27; Psalm 8:5-6; Eph. 2:10)
God created humankind in God’s image,
Male and female, all of us, created by God, and blessed in goodness.
When we look at the heavens, the work of God’s fingers,
What are human beings that God is mindful of us?
Yet God made us a little lower than the angels,
And we have been entrusted to care for all creation.
We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
Which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
This is good news: we are God’s beloved children,
Called into service and worship of our God.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, we confess that we have not held Your commandments holy. We have squandered our rest, forgetting how important Your rest is for us. We have filled our lives with busyness, with meetings and tasks. We’ve filled our moments with worry over the next thing. Call us into accountability, knowing Your rest is a gift for us, and help us to accept and embrace this gift. Lead us into moments where we love You and love others best by loving ourselves, too. Help us to find our peace and rest in You, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God’s love has been made known to us in the rising and setting sun. God’s love is whispered in the breeze among the leaves, in the tingles in your toes. God loves you madly. Trust in this love and know that you are forgiven. There is no perceived fault or failure that could ever keep you from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. Go and share the love of God with one another, and watch and listen for all the ways God loves you.
Holy One, You are the same one who called us forth into being along with light and all creation. You are the same one who called a people to become Your people, giving them commandments, a way of living with one another and You. You are the same one who hears the cries of the oppressed and leads the people out of exile. You are the same Spirit that moves in and among us. You are the same love incarnate in Jesus Christ. You have been present from before time began, and You are present, with us, now. Help us to perceive You at work in the world around us and in our lives. Help us to know we are not alone. Grant us strength for the journey of life before us. In Your Holy presence and name we pray. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38 or 9:2-9
Narrative Lectionary: Lament over Jerusalem, Luke 13:1-9, 31-35 (Psalm 122)
The second Sunday of Lent begins with the second of God’s covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures: the covenant with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. God gave Abram and Sarai new names, promising they would become the ancestors of a multitude of nations. This was an everlasting covenant, that God would be their God, and that they would have a son, and kings would be born from their descendants.
This portion of Psalm 22 praises God for God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn, in verses 23-31. The psalmist praises God for God’s deliverance when the psalmist was in need and calls upon the people of Israel to join in praise. All the families of all nations shall worship God and future generations told of God’s greatness.
Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the fulfilment of God’s promises to the people descended from Abraham came not from following the law but from faith, in Romans 4:13-25. Abraham’s faith in God fulfilled the promises made to him in his old age, that he and Sarah would have a son. That is what saved him, not his works of the law. The believer’s faith in Jesus’ resurrection is what saves believers, not the works of the law, according to Paul, and Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfills all righteousness.
Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to his death, but Jesus rebuked Peter in Mark 8:31-38. Right after Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to tell the disciples that he must undergo suffering and death. This marked a shift in Jesus’ ministry, turning toward Jerusalem and death—a different direction that the disciples understood the Messiah to be going before this. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, but Jesus turned and rebuked him back with the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter and the others had set their mind not on divine things but human things. Jesus then addressed the disciples along with the crowd that had gathered, declaring those who were faithful must deny themselves and take up their cross. Those who wanted to save their life would lose it. Those who would lose their life for Jesus’s sake, for the sake of the gospel, would fine it. This passage marked a pivotal point for the Gospel of Mark, from the teaching and healing ministry, into who Jesus knew the Messiah would be, not what others thought the Messiah should be.
Mark 9:2-9, the Transfiguration, was also our lectionary passage two weeks ago. While Peter, James, and John are on the mountain with Jesus, Jesus was transfigured. His clothes appeared dazzling white—an unnatural brightness—and Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus, talking with him. Peter didn’t really know what to say because he was afraid, but he said what he thought he was supposed to: he was glad to be there, and suggested making tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses: shrines to each of them. But a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” (A similar voice declared Jesus as the Son, the Beloved, at his baptism). When the three disciples looked around, there was only Jesus, and Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Humanity had risen from the dead.
The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke, and in 13:1-9 Jesus was told about some Galileans killed by Pilate while they offered sacrifices. Jesus questioned those who thought perhaps the Galileans deserved what happened to them because of something they did. Jesus asked them also about another incident, where the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. The accident that happened wasn’t punishment for sin. However, unless people repent and turn back to God’s ways, everyone comes to the same end: death. Jesus then told parable of a fig tree (in Matthew and Mark, Jesus curses a fig tree). In this parable, a gardener begged a vineyard owner who wanted to cut down a fig tree that hadn’t produced any fruit to give this tree one more chance, one more year, to see if it would bear fruit, before cutting it down. The parable served as a warning—one does not know when their time would come. Repent before it is too late.
In 13:31-35, some Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, but Jesus told them to tell Herod he would continue to do his ministry, because Herod’s threat wouldn’t stop him. Jerusalem itself was where many of the prophets were killed, and Jesus lamented the death and destruction that happened there. Jesus longed to gather the people like a hen gathers her chicks, but Jesus knew what would happen: he would be killed, and a generation later, the temple destroyed by Rome.
Psalm 122 is a prayer for peace for Jerusalem, a pilgrimage song for when the tribes came to worship at the temple. The throne of David is in Jerusalem, and justice is served from there. The psalmist prays for peace for the city, for its inhabitants, and for the pilgrims coming there.
In this season of Lent, we remember in the Hebrew scriptures the covenant of God that endures forever—not because of anything we do, but because God established the covenant, and our faith that God will fulfill God’s promises sustains us. In faithfulness, Jesus turned toward Jerusalem, toward death, not afraid of Herod or of the religious leaders. The disciples didn’t understand, because their mind was set on human things. We often think the goal is to prolong our lives as much as possible. Jesus argues that to save our life, we must be willing to lose it. To deny ourselves and take up the cross. To become last of all and servant of all. It’s about living for God, living for others, that we find our lives, not in trying to save ourselves. Jesus came for the sake of the world, showing us an eternal life that begins now, not simply after we die. But it’s a hard transition to eternity thinking, as Peter and the others learned.
Call to Worship
The promises of God are like bulbs deep in the soil,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are like crocuses peeking out of the snow,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are like fresh turned earth,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are all around us, though we cannot perceive it yet—
God is making all things new.
Come, worship our God, for we know the seasons will change,
And our God will make all things new.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, we are a stubborn people. We become set in our ways. We only know the past, so we look back with nostalgia like the Israelites in the wilderness, who remembered only the good things about their past and forgot all the hardship and toil they went through. We, too, often only remember the good things and push aside the difficult memories. Call us into accountability. Help us to remember the sins of our past so that we might learn to live into a future with hope. Call us to repent, to turn back to Your ways, to seek to repair the damage we have caused, to dismantle systems of sin at work in our world and our lives, so that we can build a future that You have called us to with more mercy and grace. In Your name we pray. Amen.
The peace that surpasses all understanding is with us, now. Christ Jesus has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Your sins are forgiven. Rejoice, and reclaim the life that God has in store for you. Seek forgiveness where you have gone wrong, and work to repair and restore. Turn your hearts to the newness of God’s promises, and live into God’s ways. Amen.
Holy Light, shine bright in our lives when the shadows threaten. Shine bright in our lives when despair creeps in. Shine bright in our world when the systems of sin threaten to overpower us. Shine bright in our world when evil seems to prevail. Shine bright in us, so we may be beacons of hope for others. Shine bright in us so that nations will be drawn to Your light, as Isaiah spoke long ago. Shine bright in us, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Narrative Lectionary: Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-42 (Psalm 15)
The first covenant God makes is after the great flood in Genesis 9:8-17. The covenant is not just for humanity, but for all of creation, that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. God has hung up the bow, God’s weapon, and will never again use it against the earth. In a world where people believed in gods who often went to war with the people in their stories and myths, the God Noah knew was unique, in that God made a covenant and promised to never again make war with the earth by flood.
Psalm 25:1-10 is the first part of an acrostic poem, in which each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist turns to God, praying that God will deliver them from their enemies. The psalmist desires to follow God’s ways, to trust in what God has in store for them. They pray for God to not remember the sins of their youth, when they fell into the ways of the world. They know that God is the one who instructs sinners into the path of right-living. For those who keep God’s covenant, they will know God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in their lives.
1 Peter 3:18-22 speaks of Christ’s suffering for all—for both righteous and unrighteous. In the writer of 1 Peter’s view, and how the early church creeds interpret this passage, 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’ temptation in the desert is sparse on the details. It’s really two verses long. So the pericope for the Revised Common Lectionary includes Jesus’ baptism (again, sparse on the details) and Jesus’ first sermon, that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of heaven has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (1:15). While we often focus on Jesus’ time in the wilderness on the temptations he faced from the devil, thanks to Matthew and Luke’s more detailed account, perhaps we ought to focus on Jesus’ time with the wild beasts, the Spirit, and the angels who waited on him. This helped Jesus become clear about his message, who he was setting out to call as disciples, and that the time was fulfilled. He was ready. The world was ready.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:25-42. Luke’s account of Jesus giving the greatest commandment is different from Matthew and Mark, in that the question asked is not which is the greatest commandment, but “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question of “what is in the law,” and the lawyer responds correctly, with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self in Leviticus 19:18. But then the lawyer wants to know who their neighbor is, and Jesus tells the parable. Amy-Jill Levine’s take in Short Stories of Jesus is a must-read for understanding this parable. The known anecdote would have been, “A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite,” meaning if a priest or a Levite didn’t respond, then it’s up to everyone else to fulfill that role (pg. 103). Jesus’ twist in using a Samaritan—someone that the listeners in his day would have despised—is not putting down the religious leaders for failing to fulfill their role, but rather that sometimes the outsiders, the people we despise, are the ones who show us more clearly how we ought to be living. The question “who is my neighbor?” by the lawyer was really to find a loophole, a way out of not having to love everyone, but if a Samaritan can do it, then we all must.
Now on to Mary and Martha. There’s an excellent take on this in a Facebook post by Amy Courts (I do not know her) that is a must read. There are many different ways to interpret this story, but I like her take on the fact that Mary has taken up the ministry of discipleship in the way the men have, but that Jesus validates both Mary and Martha in their ministry.
I also like to contrast this with the story of Mary and Martha in John 11, in which they live with their brother Lazarus. Whereas Martha may seem distracted in Luke’s gospel, in John’s, Martha is the first to declare that she believes in Jesus and the resurrection and is ready when Jesus comes to visit, and Mary is not.
The psalmist asks the rhetorical question of who can come into God’s presence in Psalm 15. The psalmist responds that those who live into God’s ways faithfully. Those who are honest and true, who do no harm to their neighbors, who cannot be bribed and do not exploit those in need. They will remain faithful to God and nothing will cause them to fall.
This first Sunday of Lent gives several options to think about: the forty days and nights of Noah and his family aboard the ark with wild beasts, and the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and angels. The Narrative Lectionary asks the questions of who is our neighbor, and what is authentic ministry? Lent is a time to reflect on our faith journey with Jesus: who are we, and who is God calling us to be? How do we get from here to there? Repentance and faithfulness, yes, but living out our faith is a call to love our neighbors and meet their needs. There are many ways to be faithful: to seek God in our prayers, to spend time alone with God, to do the work that needs to be done for others to serve God faithfully, and to care for our neighbors in need. Perhaps Mary and Martha teach us that there is no one right way, but multiple ways to live in righteousness. Rather than judging how we live into faithfulness, we ought to honor and lift up each other in our faithful ways.
Call to Worship
The time is fulfilled.
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
The reign of God is at hand.
Follow Jesus, who calls us to gather others.
For the work has begun.
Believe in God’s love for you, for the world,
For God sent his Son for us, that we might know eternal life.
Roll up your sleeves, and be prepared:
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
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.
Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 25:7-10)
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore God instructs sinners in the way. God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble the way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and decrees.
Know God’s love and forgiveness are with you, and your sins are remembered no more. Go forth, and live into God’s ways.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! We are in awe as we think of how You created the earth and the heavens, the universe that we know hardly anything about, the galaxies that we have only a glimpse of. You made everything, and You made us. What are we to You, O God? Yet we know You care for us, You love us, and we know You draw near to us. Help us to draw near to You, O God. Help us to seek Your wisdom, insight, and understanding in our lives, and help us to keep the awe and wonder alive in our hearts. If we would only remember how much we do not know, perhaps we would hold more tenderly our relationships, our lives, our world. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory, Lord God Almighty! Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Turns to Jerusalem, Luke 9:51-62 (Psalm 5:7-8)
The prophet Joel warned of the day of the Lord, the day of judgment in 2:1-2, 12-17. This is the time, the prophet called out, for the people to change their hearts, to take on fasting and mourning as outward shows of remorse and repentance. If they turned back to God, perhaps God would not bring about destruction, and God would hear the cries of the people and the sincerity of their heart. Joel called even the priests to participate in the mourning and fasting, to gather the people in a solemn assembly and seek God’s mercy. The prophet called the people to appeal to God, for surely God would want to be known to the world, and how could that be if God wiped out the people who worshiped and knew God?
God declared to the prophet Isaiah what a true showing of humility and penitence was in 58:1-12. Those who declared themselves humble did so to show off, and those who fasted so others could see were not truly repenting before God. Rather than a showy display of sackcloth and ashes, God desired a loosening of the bonds of injustice and letting the oppressed go free. To turn God’s anger, the prophet suggested feeding the hungry, bringing the homeless indoors, and satisfying the needs of those who were suffering. God will restore what has been broken, and those who are faithful to God in this way will be called “repairers of the breach” (58:12).
Psalm 51 is attributed to David, written when he recognized his own sin of adultery and murder. Whether it was written by David or not, the psalmist has recognized that what they have done has separated themselves from God and they long to make this right. They come before God understanding they have been a lifelong sinner, and desire for God to purify them, to have a new heart and spirit before God. The psalmist pleads with God to not turn them away because of their sins, but instead to deliver them from their wrongdoing and be restored in relationship with God. The psalmist recognizes that no ritual act will make this right; they must turn from their sinful ways and turn their heart to God.
Paul urged the church in Corinth to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. Paul used his ministry as an example—he and his companions suffered, but no one could complain they were not living into Christ’s ways because of it. Paul urged the church in Corinth to do the same. He and his companions told the truth, shared the Gospel, cared for one another. Some thought them to be false witnesses of the Gospel, but there was nothing that Paul and his companions did that could be disputed or used against them.
Jesus warned against making one’s faith practices for show in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, because then it wasn’t about drawing closer to God but looking better in front of others. Instead, Jesus taught a practice of humility, of not drawing attention to one’s self, but instead to give in secret, to practice fasting and private prayer that gave attention to God.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the shift in Jesus’ ministry to turn to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-62. When Jesus’ disciples encountered a Samaritan village that refused to welcome them because Jesus was going on to Jerusalem, James and John suggested raining down fire on the village. However, Jesus rebuked them. The Samaritans, who did not view Jerusalem’s temple as the only temple to worship God, did not agree with Jesus’ desire to go there. James and John, called “Sons of Thunder” in Mark’s account (Mark 3:17), were known for their temper. Instead of calling down fire from heaven, they moved on to another village. Others wanted to follow Jesus, but they were all concerned about worldly things. When Jesus told them that to follow him, they had to leave everything behind, many could not.
In Psalm 5:7-8, the psalmist sings of entering God’s temple to honor God, as opposed to those who follow the ways of violence and are dishonest. The psalmist prays for God to lead them in the way of righteousness, to make their pathway clear.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays. Sundays are seen as mini-Easters, a time of breaking the fast and celebrating the resurrection. During the season of Lent, Christians are reminded to draw closer to God. Traditional practices of fasting and prayer and giving to those in need can help us draw closer to God, as long as that is their intention. If we practice them so others take notice, we’ve drawn attention away from God to ourselves. However, there are many ways to fast and pray. The prophet Isaiah, like Amos, noted that God prefers our actions that bring justice for the poor and help those in need to traditional practices of sacrifice and piety. In contrast, the prophet Joel reminds us that collective fasting and mourning as a people can show God our communal need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are many ways to observe Lent. With the practice of marking our foreheads with ashes, we are reminded of our own death, as Jesus began his journey toward Jerusalem and his death, and that death does not have the final word. We are marked with ashes as a symbol of repentance, turning back to God who made us from the dust of the universe, and makes us new again.
A simple service for Ash Wednesday
Call to Worship (from Psalm 51:10-12, 6)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Prayer of Invocation
Holy One: we are always in Your presence. In this moment, may we be aware of You as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We were created in Your image, born as You were, and we know that death awaits us. In this brief span of time, may we turn back to You in a spirit of repentance and renewal. May we remember that we are Your beloved children, and we belong to You, in life and death. Holy One, make Your presence known to us, now and always, as we worship You. Amen.
Hymn: Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we come to You on this Ash Wednesday, remembering that You made us from the stardust of the universe, and to dust we return. In this brief moment of time, our lives are a gift from You, but we have squandered that gift. We have turned to the ways of the world, seeking wealth and notoriety, worldly comforts and desires. We have turned from Your commandments, Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. We have turned to selfishness and greed.
We now enter a time of silent confession of our sins:
We repent, O God. We repent of our worldliness. We repent of the systems and structures humanity has created that exploit others to create wealth for a very few. We repent of the worldly measures of success that pit us against each other. We repent of white supremacy that has manifested in our lives as privilege for those with lighter skin and oppression for those with darker skin. We repent of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the ways we despise, hate, and reject our siblings in You. We repent of genocide and colonization. We repent of the mechanisms of wealth that create poverty, hunger, and homelessness. We repent of our fears that stigmatize those with mental illness. We repent of ableism. We repent of our sin, our complicity in the systems around us. We repent to our very bones, made of the stardust You created the universe with. Wash our hearts, O God. Make us clean. Turn us back to You. Transform our hearts to love with the love You have for us, O God. In the name of Jesus, who bore the cross for us and calls us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him, we pray all things. Amen.
Scripture: (one of the readings above)
Imposing of the ashes:
These ashes remind us that all things come to an end, and all things begin again. Stars are born, and then they die. The dust from exploding stars becomes the building blocks of planetary bodies, written into our DNA, our very bones. We are born and we breathe, and then we die, ceasing to breathe. But we will become a new creation. These ashes remind you that You are God’s beloved child, made from the dust of the earth, the dust of the universe, and you will return to God’s care at the end of your days. These ashes are a symbol of your turning back to God’s ways, and renewed trust in the Creator of the Universe.
Impose the ashes with these words (they can also be imposed by one’s self during Covid restrictions):
(Name), You (I) have come from the stardust of the universe, and to the stardust you will return. Repent, and believe in the good news.
Blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24):
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.
Closing Hymn: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
For this Covid time, I created Lent bags of activities for the children in my church (most of the children in my church are 7 years and younger). Much of what I used were leftovers from previous craft purchases. The cross boxes were purchased at some point before my time here. The cutout people and the butterflies were leftover from another craft. I purchased the candles from Dollar Tree, the rocks from Michaels along with the paint pens, and the sidewalk chalk. I put the butterfly craft with the pipe cleaners in Easter paper bags that I had lying around, and purchased the purple bags from Dollar Tree.
Rev. Meriah Tigner, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Tipton, Indiana, adapted the idea for younger children and for youth:
Feel free to use and adapt!
Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Luke 9:28-45 (Psalm 36:5-10)
The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven, but not without Elisha tagging along for the journey beforehand in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elijah keeps trying to tell Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha refuses to. First, they go to Bethel, where the prophets there tell Elisha that Elijah is going to be taken up to heaven. Elisha basically says, “Yes, I know. Shut up.” The same thing happens when Elijah goes to Jericho—he tries to get Elisha to stay behind, Elisha refuses, the prophets in Jericho tell Elisha what is going to happen, and Elisha tells them he knows and to shut up. Then they go on to the Jordan River, and Elijah tells Elisha that God is sending him on, but Elisha says he will go with him. Elijah strikes the Jordan with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part, and they cross over. Then Elijah asks Elisha what it is he wants Elijah to do for him before he leaves, and Elisha requests a double-portion of his spirit. Elijah tells him that he is asking for a difficult thing, but he’ll see when he is taken up whether Elisha’s request is granted or not. And then Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind. A chariot of fire pulled by horses separates Elisha from Elijah, and he can no longer see Elijah. He tears his clothes, a symbol of rending and mourning, as Elijah was taken, and now Elisha will carry on Elijah’s mantle.
Psalm 50:1-6 describes God in the heavenly realm, calling out to the earth. Before God’s presence is a devouring fire, similar to what is seen in the chariot of fire in 2 Kings and also common in ancient descriptions of the heavens and heavenly beings. God calls the forces of heaven and earth to witness as God judges the people, based on the covenant made with them.
Paul writes of those who are unable to experience the light of the gospel of Christ because of their unbelief in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. The same God who declared “Let there be light” in the beginning has shone in their hearts the love of Christ Jesus, the glory of God. However, the gospel is veiled for the unbelievers. The god of this world, the ways of this world, makes it difficult for unbelievers to see, experience, and know the gospel of Jesus.
Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus up a mountain in Mark 9:2-9. While they are on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes appear dazzling white—an unnatural brightness—and Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, talking with him. Peter doesn’t really know what to say because he’s afraid, but he says what he thinks he is supposed to. He’s glad to be there, and suggests making tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses: shrines to each of them. But a cloud overshadows them, and a voice declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” (A similar voice declared Jesus as the Son, the Beloved, at his baptism). When the three disciples looked around, there was only Jesus, and Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Humanity had risen from the dead.
The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. Luke gives many more details than Mark, adding that Moses and Elijah also appeared in bright clothes. Luke also records that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about what would happen in Jerusalem and his “departure.” Peter, James, and John apparently were about to fall asleep but managed to stay awake (contrasting how the same three fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane later on). Peter, as in Mark’s account, declares its good to be there and suggests making three dwellings. The voice from the cloud tells them to listen to the Son, the Chosen One. In Luke’s account, they are simply speechless after all this, and don’t tell anyone what happened. The Narrative Lectionary continues with what happened the next day: a large crowd met Jesus, Peter, James, and John. A man brought his son forward to Jesus, a boy possessed by a spirit that made him shake and foam at the mouth. The other disciples were unable to cast the spirit out. Jesus, sounding frustrated, said, “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I put up with you?” Jesus rebuked the spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father. While everyone was amazed at what happened, Jesus pulled the disciples aside and warned them that he was about to be betrayed into human hands, but they didn’t understand, and were afraid to ask him about it.
The psalmist praises God in Psalm 35:6-10, for God saves human beings and all creatures. God’s righteousness is like mighty mountains, and God’s steadfast love stretches to the heavens. People find refuge in God, who is the fountain of life, the source of all light, in which we see everything. God satisfies the hungry and thirsty, and grants salvation to those who are faithful.
The Transfiguration is an event that is hard to describe—even the gospel writers are limited by human language and most of us are reading a translation, giving another layer of separation from the writer’s intention to convey that experience of the disciples on the mountain with Jesus. All we know is that somehow, the disciples understood and experienced Jesus in a way that they hadn’t before—in a way that was more divine than human. Peter misunderstood the intention for them to simply witness, and wanted to do something about it, but God’s voice boomed down, saying, “listen to the Son.” What do we do with what we cannot comprehend? Do we keep busy trying to find answers? Do we trust in God and do the work of God in this world? Or, as hard as it can be at times, can we be silent, listen, and wait for God to reveal to us what has been hidden from our understanding?
Call to Worship (from 1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
But then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
Then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
And the greatest of these is love.
Come, let us worship God,
Who is Love, and will reveal all to those who are faithful.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we fear what we do not understand. We are afraid of what comes to an end, because we cannot perceive a new beginning. We are afraid of death. We are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes we ignore our fears, and sometimes we are immobilized by them. Guide us, Holy One, into the way of faith. Help us to move forward despite our fears, knowing You are with us. Grant us a curiosity to ask helpful questions and to sit with the answers we receive, or to patiently wait when there are none. May Your Wisdom help us to comprehend Your presence, even when we do not know what lies ahead. Holy One, may we know, first and foremost, that we are not alone, and that You will never leave us or forsake us, for You made us in Your image, and You delight in us, and You love us. In the name of Christ, whom You sent for us, and who guides us on, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 139:1-14)
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
God of Steadfast Love and Mercy, help us to pull back the veil to notice how You are at work in our lives and in the world around us. Help us to find Your secret notes for us in the turning leaves and new buds and shoots. Guide us to find Your hidden messages in the snowprints of Your creatures and the dripping icicles. Lead us to the knowledge of Your love in the care and compassion of our neighbors and friends, and help us to share Your love messages with others in our own acts of mercy and forgiveness. You are at work, in us and through us and around us; help us to reveal Your works to the world. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Narrative Lectionary: Raising the Widow’s Son, Luke 7:1-17 (Psalm 119:105-107)
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to a people returning to their homeland from exile in Isaiah 40:21-31. The prophet reminded the people that God was the one who created, who set up the foundations of the earth. God sits enthroned on high, and human rulers are nothing. The things humanity builds and plant fade and fall away, but God is eternal. The youth, the ones returning (for their grandparents were the ones who were taken into exile) may tire and wear out, but those who wait for God will renew their strength. They will be strong, like having the wings of eagles, and will not tire out or faint.
The psalmist calls the congregation to praise God in Psalm 147:1-11, 20c. The psalmist sings of how God gathers the outcasts of Israel, how God holds together the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. God cares for and provides for creation. God doesn’t take joy in worldly victories but rather delights in those who draw close to God, who are in awe of God and find their hope in God.
Paul writes of how he has “become all things to all people,” in order that they might know Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. This explains why Paul doesn’t always send the same teaching to each church, but rather, he addresses the context of each community and their different cultural values. Paul tried to identify with the poor and oppressed in the communities he visited, so he could share with them the Gospel, the Good News.
Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-39. Jesus, James, and John went to the home of Simon and Andrew after they left the synagogue where Jesus preached (the lectionary reading last week). The town began to bring their sick to Jesus, and he healed them, and cast out demons. But by morning, Jesus left the disciples to go to a deserted place to pray. By the time Simon, Andrew, James, and John found him, everyone was looking for him. Jesus told them it was time to move on, to go to the neighboring towns in Galilee to continue his ministry.
The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry, and in chapter 7, he entered Capernaum and was met by Jewish elders who asked Jesus to come and heal a centurion’s servant (Capernaum happens to also be where the Revised Common Lectionary lesson in Mark 1:29-39 takes place). They told Jesus how this centurion loved the people and built the synagogue for them. Jesus went with the elders, but before he reached the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to bother. He believed in authority and understood how it worked, and that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus was impressed—he had not met anyone which such faith, even among his own people. When the centurion’s friends returned, the servant had been healed. Jesus left Capernaum and went to Nain, where he found mourners for a man who had died. Among them was the man’s mother, who was a widow. For a woman to lose both her husband and son was to lose her security in those days—titles and inheritance passed down from father to son, and women had to live with their closest male relative. But Jesus had compassion for her, and told her not to cry, then told the dead man to get up—and the man sat up and began to speak. Everyone began to speak about the great prophet among them, and the word spread about Jesus throughout the area.
Psalm 119:105-107 speaks of God’s word as a light unto our path. The psalmist kept faithfully to God’s ways, even though they suffered. They prayed for God to make them live again according to God’s promise.
In both lectionaries, Jesus’ ministry includes healing and authoritative teaching. People come to Jesus and bring their loved ones to him out of hope, and because Jesus has compassion for the people. Jesus often healed by touching people—taking them by the hand, calling them to get up. This act of compassion from Christ is compassion with authority: Jesus sees us as we are and knows us. Jesus sees, touches, guides those who are ill, or even dead, to rise. This compassion of Christ is physical, it is here and now and tangible, and not something that is promised after we die. The authority of God over life and death is ours, now, through Christ Jesus, when we show compassion to one another. That is true healing.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 147:1, 3, 7)
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.
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Merciful God, we confess that we have hardened our hearts. We stare ahead instead of taking notice and acknowledging the person asking for help on the side of the road. We turn away when we hear a voice of someone calling out in their agony because we are afraid. We make empty promises to do better for others, for the environment, for organizations that help those in need when we have more money, more time, more resources. However, we often fail to follow through. Forgive us. Soften our hearts so to break open to compassion for those in need. Soften our heads so that we can discover Your abundance and how to use our resources now. You have shown us kindness and compassion time and again; help us to live into Your ways of mercy and justice for others. Amen.
God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is no limit to God’s great mercy. God showers you with kindness and compassion. Revel in it. Feel it wash over you. Soak it in. And knowing the abundance of God’s love that is within you, share it with others. Go and share the love of God, the compassion of God, and the peace of God with the world. Amen.
Architect of the Universe, who made the particles that formed the atoms and molecules that became bodies of gas and light and rock—the one who made the very earth we live upon—we give You thanks and praise. Your works are beyond what we can comprehend, and You are still at work, creating new stars and galaxies, things we will never see or know. Yet You have made Yourself known to us, and You have broken open our lives to understanding Your love at work in us. Our words fail us, for we are in awe of You, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of All Things, and the One who makes everything new. We praise You, and lift our prayers to You, El Shaddai, Almighty One. Amen.
It’s Hard to Love January
It’s hard to love January.
The glamor of Christmas is far gone,
The lights put away and the tree out by the street.
New Year’s resolutions are already forgotten by the final week,
The weather is miserable in the northern hemisphere, with no joy in sight.
The party is over. All that’s left is the mess.
But this is when we pick up ourselves,
Pick up our lives, and dust off our knees.
This is when we put those boxes away of expectations that have failed us.
As January gives way to February, we accept that this is the new year.
We accept that this is how it will be, and we lift up our chin,
And move on.
Winter’s breath is cold, its icy grip on our lungs and heart
Can chill even the brightest spirits.
But when we look January in the eye, and say,
“I have no fear of you,”
January may give the tiniest glimpse,
The hint of a smile
In a cloudy day that doesn’t quite bear the same gloom as the others.
For even January knows there is a thirty-first.
There is an end.
February is so fleeting,
In many places they even take a week off from school
To go sledding or skiing or stay in from the cold.
March will soon be here, and though March can be ugly, the days grow longer.
It’s January that is the harshest of all,
But January knows its days are numbered,
The end always comes,
And we move on.
This year, January, I salute you.
You kept us on our toes.
We almost lost our country, more than once, it seems.
But here we are, the final days,
And your fingers are relaxing your grip on us,
For you know
You have to let us go.