Worship Resources for October 2nd, 2022—Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Lamentations 1:1-6 and 3:19-26 or Psalm 137; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Narrative Lectionary: Rescue at Sea, Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (Matthew 2:13-15)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets through the season after Pentecost. Several weeks have been spent in Jeremiah, and now we turn to Lamentations. Though Lamentations was probably not written by Jeremiah, historically they were attributed to the prophet, a collection of poetic witness to the destruction of Jerusalem during the siege by Babylon in 587 B.C.E. In 1:1-6, the author personifies Jerusalem as a woman, a war widow who has lost everything and has been taken captive by all her enemies. The city is utterly destroyed, and all the people taken into exile after suffering the siege. Verse 5 states that God has caused this because the leaders of Jerusalem did not follow God’s ways and abandoned the people.

Lamentations 3:19-26 contain the only words of hope in Lamentations. All the author can remember is their suffering and homelessness, their hopeless despair. They can’t let go of the memories, the terrible trauma. Yet they still trust in God’s faithfulness, and because God’s steadfast love never ceases, they have hope. God’s mercy is renewed every day. God is with those who wait, and God’s deliverance will come. They wait in hope for the salvation of God.

The alternative choice to Lamentations 3:19-26 is Psalm 137, a song of lamentation in Babylon, where the exiles mourn for their lost city of Zion. Their captors taunt the people, asking the exiles to sing a song of Zion, but how could they sing a song of their home in the land of their captors? How could they sing celebratory songs when they are mourning? They cannot forget their home, and the psalmist sings to not forget what happened, and to pray for vengeance. Psalm 137 is a song of raw emotion, and the captive Israelites do not hold back any of their thoughts including infanticide and revenge, for they have experienced such trauma and violence that they wish their enemies to experience it, too. To know what they have gone through: the horrors of war and exile.

The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures focuses on the prophet Habakkuk, who lived around the time before the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Habakkuk argues with God in 1:1-4, because all the prophet experienced was violence. He couldn’t see any hope from God to deliver him or the people from evil. Justice was not possible because the law couldn’t be upheld. However, in 2:1, the prophet remained faithful to God, keeping their position at the fortress, watching and waiting for God to respond in 2:2-4. God told the prophet to write a vision, so simple that a runner could read it, because there was still a vision for their time. Whether it was a vision of hope, or a vision of doom, is unknown, but God would answer if the people waited for it. For the righteous live by their faith and are justified, unlike the proud who live for themselves.

Psalm 37:1-9 is a song reminding the listener to trust in God. Do not be afraid of evil, because God is steadfast. Commit yourself to God and God will act. Be still and wait patiently. Do not participate in evil or revenge, because these are not God’s ways. Instead, know that God will not allow the wicked to prevail but will see you through.

The Epistle reading continues its series through 1-2 Timothy in the introduction to 2 Timothy. Paul gives thanks for Timothy and is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith. Paul is inspired by Timothy and wants to assure him that God is with him. Though Paul is in prison, he has no regrets or shame in sharing the Gospel, and he wants Timothy to hold on to what he has been taught, the faith and love in Christ Jesus. The last three verses of chapter one, not included here, share how some other churches and believers have turned against Paul, but some are still faithful to God and supporting Paul while in prison in Rome. Paul writes to encourage Timothy to keep living out the faith handed down from his mother and grandmother, to endure in the faith.

Jesus warned the disciples to be careful of the things that led people into temptation, to warn those around them who might sin and to forgive those who change in the verses prior to Luke 17:5-10. Here, the disciple’s response to Jesus is, “Increase our faith!” Jesus responds that if they had any bit of faith, they could tell a mulberry tree to go plant itself in the ocean and it would obey them. Jesus then uses an example that is hard for us to understand today. In Jesus’ time, slave ownership was part of society and slaves were expected to work all day and not eat until everything was taken care of, and the household manager was in bed. The household manager would not invite a slave to eat dinner after working in the field, nor would they thank slaves for doing their work. Jesus uses this example to show the disciples they ought to simply be living out their faith because that’s what they are to do. It’s not a great example for us today, but what Jesus seems to be saying is that we can’t expect anything in return, not to expect God to grant us anything special in our faithfulness. It’s who we are already supposed to be.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God rescuing the Israelites at the Red Sea in Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, and 21-29. When the Israelites fled Egypt, Pharaoh chased after them with all his chariots and army. The Israelites were afraid, crying out to Moses that it might have been better to stay in Egypt than to die there in the desert (they were already complaining before the even crossed the Red Sea!). Moses told them to not be afraid, because God would fight for them and rescue them. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and it turned to dry ground and the Israelites crossed. Moses then stretched out his hand once the people were across and Pharaoh’s entire army was on the dry ground, and the waters overtook them. The Israelites, however, crossed safely with a wall of water on either side, never touching them.

The supplementary verses are from Matthew 2:13-15, when Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt after being warned in a dream that Herod wanted to kill the child. According to Matthew, this was to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet, that out of Egypt God would call his son.

What is faithfulness? The challenging message of the Gospel lesson is that faithfulness is trusting that God is already with us and not asking for anything more, even when it is hard to stay from sin, hard to forgive others, hard to do the right thing. We are simply to do it. Lamentations reminds us that it is hard to have faithfulness in the midst of trauma, but that the anchor when things are out of control is remembering that God’s mercy is with us and renews every morning. It’s okay at times to feel despair and hopelessness, but in our memories of sorrow we also remember God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk reminds us that there is always a vision for the appointed time, that God is with us, forging ahead. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that fear is a powerful weapon and that it’s easy to give up, but God is with us, in the midst of the waters that might overwhelm us. God will see us through. God will always remain faithful to us even when we fail. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 reminds us “the saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

For those celebrating World Communion Sunday, perhaps the passages might remind us of the refugees and immigrants among us who have escaped horrors many of us cannot imagine. In my own context, we have many churches made up of immigrants and refugees from Burma who have described fleeing from their own life, the murders by the military government, and the oppression of their people. They have shared stories of living in refugee camps in Malaysia. In their faithfulness, may we be in solidarity with all refugees and asylum seekers, celebrating at Christ’s table together that we are one.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 37:3-5, 7, 9)
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Live and grow in faithfulness.
Take delight in the Lord,
For God knows what your heart desires.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust in God, and God will act.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently,
For those who wait will find hope in their God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that it is hard for us to trust. It is difficult to wait. Some have waited for so long. Many have experienced violence and trauma that is unimaginable to endure. You call us to wait, but we call upon You to answer. You are our God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and we call upon You to respond to our cries against injustice. We call upon You to comfort us in our despair. We call upon You to open our minds to listen to Your wisdom and our hearts to listen to Your children. We call upon You, O God, to forgive us where we have gone astray, where we have sinned against You and one another. Lead us into the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. May we know the overflowing cup of Your forgiveness and mercy all the days of our lives. May we dwell with You forever. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Lamentations 3:21-26)
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Wait for the Lord, and God will answer. God will renew your strength, forgive your sins, and send you into the world to share God’s love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, our hope and trust are in You. We quiet our soul so we might listen. We calm our mind so we might comprehend. We still our bodies so we might take notice. May we experience the holy in the here and now, where You dwell with us. May we know we are not alone in this journey of faith. Quiet our souls, our minds, our bodies, and break open our hearts to Your love, O God. Amen.

World Communion Sunday Prayer
At this table, O God, You sat with your friends, including the one who betrayed You, the one who denied You, the one who doubted You, the ones who argued over who was the greatest. All your friends fell away in fear, and all Your friends loved you dearly. We gather at this table, O God, with friends whose hearts we may not know, whose troubles and trauma we have not fathomed. We gather at this table, O God, with our siblings around the world on this World Communion Sunday, some of whom have experienced the harshness of betrayal by their government and neighbors, some of whom have been denied their basic human rights, and their stories for asylum cast into doubt. We gather with those who have been told they are less important than others because of citizenship or papers, because of the color of their skin or gender or sexual orientation.

We gather together as Your body, O Lord, and in its brokenness, You give of Yourself, broken for us. We gather together as Your church, O Lord, to celebrate the new covenant in Your blood. We seek forgiveness, O Christ, for where we have caused or held on to division instead of healing. We seek forgiveness for those we have denied a place for at the table, which is not ours, but Yours. Grant us Your mercy and steadfast love as we celebrate with You, remembering that You gave Yourself for all of us, that we might be forgiven of our sins, restored to You and have the gift of eternal life. For this is Your table, and we are made in Your image, and Your body and blood are given for all of us. We share in this meal to remember You and to remember each other. We will not forget the victims of genocide. We will not ignore the horrors of war. We will not dismiss the refugees and asylum seekers among us. We will listen. We will learn. We will seek forgiveness and resolution, and work to repair the brokenness in the world, together. For by Your brokenness, we are made whole. In Your precious, healing, holy name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 25th, 2022—Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Joseph in Prison, Genesis 39:1-23 (Matthew 5:11-12)

The first selection for the Hebrew scriptures follows the rise of the prophets, and the second half of this season after Pentecost spends several weeks in Jeremiah. In the midst of the siege of Jerusalem, while Jeremiah was imprisoned by the king, he managed to secure a land deal despite his captivity. Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel sold a field to Jeremiah because the right of redemption passed to him, meaning, Hanamel went down the line of succession within the family and Jeremiah was next in line to either buy it or refuse it. Despite the war going on and being under guard, Jeremiah purchased the field because he knew God was using him as a sign of hope for the people, especially for the guard and the officials close by, that there would be those who survived, a remnant that returned. The deed was placed in an earthenware jar so that it could survive a long time, when those who return would rebuild and plant again.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 is a song of praise to God who delivers the people from evil. The psalmist assures those who put their trust in God will have shelter and safety and need not fear for their lives. In the latter verses, God declares through the psalmist that They will deliver those who love God and call out to God, for God is their salvation.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to the prophet Amos, who warned what was to come to the people of Israel and Judah before the conquest of the Assyrians in the northern kingdom. In chapter 6, the prophet warned those in both nation’s capitals who gorged on their wealth and luxurious lifestyle, ignoring the poor and oppressed among them, that they would be the first taken into exile. Their judgment was at hand.

Psalm 146 sings praise to God who watches over the marginalized. The psalmist warns against trusting worldly leaders, for they will not last, but instead the psalmist sings praises to the eternal one. God is the Creator of all and cares for the needs of the poor, hungry, and oppressed, and brings liberty to those in captivity. God watches over especially the most vulnerable, the orphans and widows, and those who practice evil will come to their end. God’s reign will endure forever.

The Epistle readings continue the series on the pastoral letters of 1 and 2 Timothy with 1 Timothy 6:6-19. Paul warns against those who desire wealth because they will never be satisfied. Instead, Paul praises those who find contentment. “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” reminds us that if we love wealth, we do not love God, for Jesus warned us we cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Instead, Paul urges the pursuit of righteousness (right-living with God), faith, love, gentleness, and so on. Take hold of eternal life. For those who are rich already they ought to be generous and share of their resources. They need to set their hope on God and not on their wealth and use their resources as a “good foundation” for the church in the future.

Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Prior to this story, Jesus was teaching his disciples and encountered some Pharisees who were opposed to him. It is good to remember that just a few chapters ago, in 13:31, some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. Not all the Pharisees were at odds with Jesus, and at different times Jesus had different encounters with this particular Jewish group. In this part of chapter 16, Jesus challenged the Pharisees and others on wealth ownership, and how wealth can lead us away from what God desires for us. In this story Jesus told, a man named Lazarus, who was poor and covered with sores on his body, used to sleep at the gates of a rich man’s house—a man who lived in luxury without a care in the world. Lazarus longed to eat even the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but instead, the rich man’s dogs would come lick his sores. When both men died, Lazarus was taken by the angels to Abraham, while the rich man suffered. The rich man called upon Abraham for mercy but also had the nerve to tell Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his suffering! Abraham reminded the rich man that he had everything during his life while Lazarus had to suffer, so now it was time for Lazarus to be comforted. Besides that, it was impossible to cross the chasm separating them. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, but Abraham said if they didn’t believe the prophets, they weren’t going to believe, even if someone rose from the dead—foreshadowing Jesus and the hardness of heart some people would have toward him.

The Narrative Lectionary continues a series on the promises of God with the story of Joseph in prison in Genesis 39.
A content warning for this story: Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of attempted sexual assault. However, the number of sexual assault cases turning out to be false is extremely low. The story might lead some to believe it happens more often, but in actuality it is a rare occurrence. We need to believe women when they come forward with their stories of assault.
Joseph had already been betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, taken to Egypt, and then served in the household of Potiphar, chief officer for Pharaoh. While he was there, he served Potiphar and helped make him successful. God blessed Joseph in all he did, and Potiphar trusted Joseph. However, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and when he refused, she accused him of assault and Joseph was thrown into prison. Nonetheless, even in prison, Joseph knew God’s steadfast love. The chief jailer saw Joseph’s potential for leadership and his loyalty and put him in charge of caring for all the prisoners. Despite everything that happened to Joseph, he believed God was with him and he remained loyal and faithful.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 5:11-12. At the end of the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who are persecuted and accused falsely on his account. For those who are faithful to God, Jesus’s words are to bring encouragement and to remind the faithful this is what happened to the prophets before them.

Faithfulness to God’s ways does not usually lead to worldly rewards. The prophets faced persecution. Jeremiah was imprisoned. Joseph was sold into slavery and then imprisoned. Jesus himself was crucified. Paul warns that wealth can distort our values and lead us away from God unless we “store up the treasure of a good foundation for the future”—in other words, using wealth to care for those in need around us, being generous and eager to share. Otherwise, far too often wealth leads us to be like the rich man in the story Jesus shared—a man who had no cares in this world and didn’t care for others, and even in death was quite selfish. Unless we change our lives and our values in the here and now and use our resources for God’s reign, we are like those who lounged on the couches in luxury that Amos warned about: the first to lose. Rather, when we are faithful to God, we know that storing up wealth does nothing for the reign of God and we can let go of the way wealth possesses us.

Call to Worship (Psalm 146:1-2, 5, 7, 10)
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the LORD their God,
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
The LORD will reign forever,
Your God, for all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Faithful God, we confess our unfaithfulness. We have sought the idols of this world: wealth, notoriety, and worldly power. We have stored up treasure on earth instead of treasure in heaven. We have put the value of money over the value of human lives. We have made our lives more convenient and secure and put our very earth at risk from climate change. We have failed to live rightly by You. We have forgotten Your ways, O God. Turn us back to You. Call us by name and lead us in the path of repentance, reparation, and restoration, for You are our only hope, our Saving Grace. In the name of Christ, who lived, died, and lives again for us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 2 Timothy 2:11-13)
“The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God will always remain faithful, even when our faith fails us. Turn back to God and know God’s love is with you. Turn back to God and know you are forgiven. Turn back to God and know you are restored. Prepare to go forth, ready to share the good news to others that they, too, can know God’s love, forgiveness, and restoration. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, our world moves at a rapid pace of work, school, care of loved ones, paying bills, and all the other things that are important but can overwhelm us. Help us to find the holy in the midst of it all: the brief moments of quiet, the time to read a chapter of a book, the sunshine breaking through the clouds, the task of watering plants. Wherever we find a bit of Sabbath rest, O God, may we find it a holy moment. Whenever we find a bit of good, O God, nurture that goodness in us. May we seek the holy in our daily lives, for it escapes us in the world that pursues values away from You. May we find the holy moments already among us. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 18, 2022—Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Psalm 79:1-9; Amos 8:4-7 and Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Call of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-9 (Matthew 28:19-20)

The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, following the rise of the prophets, turns solely to Jeremiah for several weeks. In 8:18-9:1, God speaks through the prophet, grieving for the people of Jerusalem. God mourns because the people cry out wondering where God is, and God is right there, but they have turned to idols. The people expect God to still be there though they have rejected God and do not notice God is with them. God despairs along with the people for the consequences of their actions. If God were made of water, God’s tears would never stop flowing.

Psalm 79:1-9 is a song of lament, for the temple has been ransacked by other nations, the holy city destroyed. The people cry out to God because they have been humiliated and have witnessed the desecration of God’s holy temple. The psalmist cries out on behalf of the people, wondering why God’s anger is on them and not on the other nations. The psalmist pleads with God to have compassion for God’s people and to not hold them accountable for the sins of their ancestors, but to deliver them now, as they call upon God’s name.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Amos 8:4-7. The prophet warns the people in the northern kingdom of Israel that they have abandoned God by turning to their own greed. They only observe the Sabbath and festivals because the businesses are closed then. They want to be able to swindle the poor and oppressed among them for their own gain and God is furious, for God knows what they have done and will not forget.

Psalm 113 is a song of praise to God, who is above all of creation and all nations. God lifts up the poor and needy from the trash and gives them seats at the table with kings and rulers of all nations, but especially of God’s own people. Those who have been denied respect and honor among their own people, such as women struggling with infertility, will be full of joy and at home with God.

The Epistle reading continues a series in 1 and 2 Timothy with 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Paul instructs Timothy and the church in Ephesus on the importance of prayer, urging prayer for everyone, including kings and rulers. For a church that was under oppression from the Roman Empire, Paul is striving for peace so they can survive, and praying for leaders is a way of both praying for their hearts to change and praying the leaders do not interfere in the church. God is God of all, and Christ is the mediator, not worldly rulers. Paul sees himself as called to this mission to the Gentiles and calls upon the people in Ephesus to pray for everyone, regardless of their background.

The Gospel lesson of Luke 16:1-13 contains a parable about using worldly wealth to make heavenly gains, and it is a strange parable with questionable morals. The NRSV translates this as “dishonest wealth,” but the Common English Bible translates it as “worldly wealth.” In this parable, a rich man calls forth his manager because he’s heard the manager is squandering his property, and he demands a report of his accounting. The manager doesn’t know what to do, and since he knows he will be sacked, he reduces the debts of everyone who owes the rich man money and settles all the accounts. The rich man had to commend him because even if he fired the manager, the manager now has friends to go to, favors that are owed to him. Jesus uses this parable to teach the disciples that even dishonest people know how to survive in this world, and that wealth is a tool of survival, not the purpose. If you serve God, you can’t serve wealth. Instead, all the possessions of this world must be used to work for the reign of God, not for serving ourselves. We need to be clever, eyes open to the shrewdness of dishonest people, but stay true to our values and our faithfulness to God.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the promises of God this season, turning to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-9. God spoke to Abram, the son of Terah, who had traveled all the way to Haran in Canaan after leaving Ur. At Haran, God called Abram and Sarai to leave Haran for a new land that God promised to show them. God promised a great nation would come forth from them, and they would be a blessing. Lot, Abram’s nephew, also went with them. Abram built altars along the way, taking notice of God’s presence with them at sacred spaces such as the Oak of Moreh and the land of Bethel, and they worshiped God as they traveled.

The supplementary passage is Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that Christ is with them until the end of the age.

God laments when we turn from God’s ways to the ways of the world, pursuing wealth and possessions for our own gain to consume more. God calls those with wealth and privilege instead to be shrewd in the ways of this world and to not forget the oppressed, those who live in poverty, those who are marginalized. All of us are called to be subversive in the midst of the empire’s ways that others take for granted. We are called to be subversive in building up the beloved community of God. We must always keep our vision on God and living into God’s ways and not the ways of this world that we have created, the way of empire that demands more wealth and power to consume more and take from those in need. The way of God is to love one another, pray for one another, lift up one another, and seek to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Call to Worship (Psalm 113:1-4)
Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD;
Praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of our God.
From this time on and forevermore,
From the rising of the sun to its setting.
The name of our God is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations,
And God’s glory above the heavens.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Compassion, we know that we have withheld our own compassion toward others. We have clung to the myths of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps and hard work as a way to avoid those who live in poverty among us. We have failed to encourage empathy and have refused to listen to the voices that challenge us in our privilege and power. Call us to repent, O God. Open our hearts to be full of Your love that breaks us open to compassion. Open our minds to listen to the pain of others instead of making assumptions about their lives. Call us into the active work of repentance and reparation, so we might be forgiven, and we may forgive others. Strong Redeemer, Mighty Healer, we pray all this in Your name. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Exodus 34:6-7a)
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” God hears our pleas and answers them with steadfast love and mercy, our promise of repentance with assurance of forgiveness. May God guide us into the ways of reparation and restoration, to forgive one another as we are forgiven, and go forth sharing the Gospel with the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, as we approach the equinox, we give thanks to You who bless us in all seasons, summer and winter and springtime and harvest. We thank You for this beautiful earth and we pray for the wisdom to learn how to care for this planet better. Help us to raise our voices and advocate for You and Your creation. Guide us in ways of caring and tilling, so that our lives bear fruit as does the earth in all seasons. Lead us away from harmful practices that reduce the earth to consumption and our lives into productivity machines, and instead, cultivate in us a rhythm of balance, to heed the turning of the earth and the revolution around the sun. May we instill a revolution in our hearts, to turn back to You, to love one another, and to care for this earth. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 11th, 2022—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Psalm 14; Exodus 32:7-14 and Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Flood and Promise, Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17 (Matthew 8:24-27)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in the season after Pentecost follows the rise of the prophets, but in this second half of the season, the readings remain primarily in Jeremiah. Today’s reading speaks of Jeremiah’s prophesy of destruction. The people have turned away from God and turned to evil. The consequences of their actions result in utter desolation, of the land, the cities, the people, all of creation. Yet God’s promise of creation will break through. There will be a remnant, and there will be restoration. God is the God of life, not destruction, and life will always prevail.

Psalm 14 is another Wisdom song. The wisdom of God is found in following the commandments and teachings of God, but the foolish say there is no God. They turn to their own ways and do not do good. Those who take advantage of others, including committing acts of violence to others have followed other gods. However, God is with the faithful, the ones who stay true to God’s ways. The psalmist concludes that the people who trust in God will find salvation.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Exodus 32:7-14. Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, who have abandoned God and made a golden calf to worship, claiming the golden idols are their gods who led them out of Egypt. God wants Moses to step aside so God can destroy the people and make a new great nation from Moses. However, Moses refuses to step aside, reminding God that God is the one who brought the people out from oppression in Egypt. What will it say to Egypt, that they witness a God of liberation who then destroys the very people liberated? What will it say to other nations, that God delivered the people out of oppression only to destroy them before they reached the land God promised them? God changes their mind and does not destroy the people.

Psalm 51:1-10 is a song often attributed to David, for the psalmist confesses they have sinned. They want to be restored to God so they know they must come clean with all of it. God desires the truth and they desire restoration and the ability to receive joy again, so they call upon God to create in them a clean heart and a new and right spirit.

The Epistle readings follow 1 Timothy into 2 Timothy over the next few weeks. Paul confesses in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 that his former actions were not godly actions. He committed violence and persecuted others, and in doing so, was blasphemous against God. However, through Christ, Paul received mercy, and Paul sees himself as an example of the transformation possible through Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners.

The Gospel lesson is Luke 15:1-10. The remainder of this chapter is the parable known as the Prodigal Son, but it is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary this year. Instead, the focus is on these two smaller parables. After tax collectors and other sinners come to listen to Jesus, some of the Pharisees grumble that Jesus includes them and eats with them. Jesus was in actuality close to the Pharisees in belief and practice, including the belief of the resurrection of the dead. There were times when Jesus and the Pharisees bumped heads on differences, and this is one of those times where Jesus’s practice diverges from the others. In response, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The truth is that a good shepherd would not leave ninety-nine others to find one lost sheep. To go after that one lost sheep is the opposite of what the world teaches, but Jesus teaches us that the lost one is just as important. In the story of the lost coin, the story is a bit different. The protagonist is a woman with power, which is unusual, and one coin would be worth a lot and worthy of searching and finding. However, the cost of celebrating with neighbors and friends would be extravagant. God’s grace and love is extravagant (and this leads into the father’s celebration of his son returning in the next parable). God’s love and grace does not make sense in a world where we want people to be punished for their wrongdoing. Even when they realize they have done wrong and wish to turn back, as a society we often want people to pay their dues. Christ erases those dues, embracing the lost, and celebrating their return to the way of God. God is both like a shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, and like a woman who finds a lost coin and celebrates with extravagant grace and mercy.

The Narrative Lectionary moves into the fall series in the Hebrew Scriptures on God’s Covenantal Promises, beginning with the story of Flood and Promise in Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12, and 9:8-17. Another sort of creation story, God re-creates the world with the family of Noah and the creatures who survived the flood. The symbol of God’s bow—God’s weapon—is hung up as a symbol that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. Natural disasters are not God’s wrath. God has promised this will not be so. God will not commit violence against the earth or humanity. God’s covenant is with all of creation, not just humanity. Rainbows appear in the midst of storms and after storms when sunlight appears—a reminder that the shadow and violence of the earth will not prevail. God will always see us through, and we must also remember the covenant and care for creation.

The companion verses, Matthew 8:24-27, share of the time Jesus was on a boat with his disciples when a violent storm came upon the boat, but Jesus was sleep. The disciples woke up Jesus, afraid, but Jesus asked them why they were afraid? He rebuked the wind and sea and a calm settled on them, and the disciples wondered who Jesus was, that the wind and seas obeyed him.

God is not a God of punishment, but a God of restoration. This does not mean we do not live with the consequences of our own actions. Time and again, when the people turned away from God, they had to live with their choices. When the leaders made poor political choices, they ended up in terrible conflicts, including exile, and those choices were often accompanied with a worship of other gods and the desolation of the poor. However, God is always offering restoration. God is always there for those who turn to God’s ways. Mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love are always present for those who turn to God, even when we have made mistakes. Holding people accountable for their actions is important, but God calls for a restorative society, not a punishing one, for God forgives and restores us, and leads us to eternal life. The work of restoration/reparation is not easy. It requires confession and commitment to do right and an openness to understanding the transformative power of God. However, God is always with us on this journey of healing and hope, in the work of restoration, and all of us are transformed when we engage in forgiveness and reparation.

Call to Worship
We come to this time and space with our brokenness,
We come knowing healing takes time and can be painful.
We come to this time and space with open minds,
We come to be challenged and to grow.
We come to this time and space in faithfulness,
Knowing God will never leave or abandon us.
Come, let us join in worship together,
For God will renew and restore us, now and always.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, You molded and shaped the earth for us, and established Your covenant with our ancestors. We have forgotten the covenant You made with us and with the earth and all of creation, turning to our own ways. We have misunderstood our role and have seen ourselves as having dominion and authority over creation and other people. We have misused resources and abused or neglected our neighbors instead of sharing Your love and building up Your reign on earth. Forgive us, O God, for not actively remembering to renew our covenants, with You, with one another, and with the earth. Call us into the work of reparation and healing, confessing our sins so we might receive forgiveness, sharing mercy so we might know mercy, and working together for reconciliation and restoration. For You are the Great Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of the Broken, the Binder of Wounds, the Great Healer. May we turn back to You, and remember Your covenant endures forever, as Your steadfast love remains with us eternally. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God is the Great Restorer and Healer. God is always ready and waiting to embrace us, to care for us, and to remind us of the covenant to love one another, and the promise of eternal life. Live into God’s embrace, feel the Spirit moving, and know Christ is with you. Forgive, love, heal, and restore. Cultivate empathy, practice compassion, live into the work of restoration, and it shall go well with you. Share the good news of God’s love in Christ Jesus by living into it yourselves. Amen.

Prayer
Loving One, we live in a world that pulls us in so many directions. We live in a world of trauma experiences, where depression and anxiety effect all of us in different times and various ways. May we know Your love never ends, and there is nothing that can ever separate us from Your love. Remind us to practice that compassionate, unconditional love for one another even when it is hardest to do, so that we might be reminded of Your unconditional, all-encompassing love. Help us to care for ourselves by seeking help when needed, through family and friends and medical professionals. Remind us how much we are loved and help us to remind others. Give us the courage to speak up and encourage others to seek help when needed, for we are not good as a society on speaking up for mental health care. Help us to erase the stigma, and to help one another, as You have helped us. We need each other, O God, as much as we need You, and we feel Your love in the love of one another. Amen and amen.

A Prayer for the Anniversary of September 11, 2001
God of Memory, it has been twenty-one years since that tragic, awful day, when so many lives were lost. We grieve with those who grieve. We lament with those who lament. We know that anger and frustration still comes from the aftermath of this day. Call us into repentance for the ways our responses, collectively or individually, may have led to hate of others, especially our Muslim neighbors. May our memories of this day challenge us to love our neighbor even more, to build up communities of hope and peace rather than hate and war. Call us into Your peacemaking ways, to pursue justice, to practice loving-kindness, and to live humbly as Your people, for You are our God. As memories fade, help us to pass on the lessons we have learned in twenty-one years so we may not repeat the mistakes of the past, but build a future of love, compassion, and peace. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 4th, 2022—Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 1; Philemon; Luke 14:25-33

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ruth, Chapter 4 (Luke 1:46-55)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets, and as we enter the second half of this season after Pentecost, we remain with the prophet Jeremiah for several weeks. God is warning the people through Jeremiah one more time that if they turn from their evil ways, they might prevent the disaster they have brought upon themselves. Using the image of the potter at the wheel, God can remake the people of Jerusalem and Judah. God can reshape them if they allow it. Otherwise, if the pottery is spoiled, it is of no use and must be smashed down, in order to be made into something new.

Psalm 139 is often paired with readings from Jeremiah because the prophet, like the author of Psalm 139, was called by God before they were born. The psalmist poetically describes their relationship with God who knows them intimately. God discerns all their thoughts and feelings and there is no place they can go where God will not be, not even in death. This psalm is in the Wisdom tradition, a collection of writings throughout the scriptures that convey how impossible it is to know or understand God, yet the praise and awe of God is the beginning of understanding. The psalmist, in sharing their musings, comes to knowledge that they cannot possibly know everything, but they know God is with them.

Moses reminds the people before his death that they have a choice in Deuteronomy 30:15-20. As they prepare to enter the land promised to them, ending their wilderness journey, they can choose to follow God’s ways and commandments, and they will know God’s blessings. However, if they choose their own path and follow other gods, they will lead to dead ends and they will not receive what God has promised them. Moses urges the people to choose life, to choose God, to choose the right way as promised to their ancestors, so their descendants will know God’s blessings forever.

Psalm 1 is also a Wisdom psalm, teaching that those who follow God’s ways and commandments are deeply rooted and watered and will bear fruit. They will face the winds and not wither; they will be alive and flourish. Those who do not listen to God are like chaff blown about by the wind. They will not be able to stand with the faithful because they are all over the place, following other gods and other paths leading to dead ends, but those who trust in God are watched over by God.

The Epistle readings shifts to Philemon, the shortest book in the Bible and possibly the last letter Paul wrote. Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, enslaved in Philemon’s household. Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon to carry this letter and encourage Philemon through the use of rhetoric to accept Onesimus as a member of the family, as he was a part of Christ’s family. Of course Philemon, if he believes that Paul is a brother, would also welcome Onesimus as a brother since Paul has accepted him. Of course Philemon would love Onesimus because Paul is confident in Christ that Philemon will do the right thing. This use of rhetoric makes it impossible for Philemon to reject Paul’s wishes and treat Onesimus as a slave unless he is willing to reject Christ. Paul’s letter serves as an example to all believers that if they believe in Christ and that we are all part of the body of Christ, all children of God through Christ, then we cannot treat others any differently. We cannot hold the boundaries of slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female, or any other differentiation as a weapon of division against one another, because all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). We must speak boldly against oppression and injustice.

The Gospel lesson of Luke 14:25-33 speaks about what holds us back from following Christ, and that sometimes division is necessary. Consistent with Paul, difference is not to be used as a weapon of division, but that division does happen when we choose Christ over the world. The footnote on 14:26 in The CEB Study Bible suggests that possibly family members had accused the disciples of hating them as they left their homes to follow Jesus. Choosing Jesus may mean choosing to follow Jesus over the expectations and desires of others. Jesus further states that those who do not carry the cross and follow him cannot be his disciple. They must be willing to put to death the hold this world has on them. Jesus then tells two short stories: the first begins with imagining that if you were to build a tower, you’d first sit down and figure out how much it costs before building, or otherwise you might run out of money and have an incomplete tower. The second is told more like a parable: a king going off to war would discern whether he will win or lose by the strength of the armies. If he knows he will lose, he will attempt to make peace beforehand rather than lose it all. Jesus then concludes by saying no one can be his disciple if they are unwilling to give up their possessions. We must weigh the cost, and if we value the things of this world over Jesus, we cannot follow him. We cannot allow the things of this world that we have created to have a hold on us, and that includes the traditions and expectations of families to create and build wealth for inheritance. To give that up would amount to hatred of family in order to be Jesus’s disciple.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Ruth with chapter four. In the bold actions of faith that we have witnessed of Ruth and Naomi in the first three chapters, it is now Boaz’s turn. He fulfills his commitment to Ruth to settle the matter of the close kinsmen, acting on Naomi’s behalf in selling the portion of the field that belonged to her husband. The other, closer kinsmen at first is ready to buy it, but when he learns he would also have to marry Ruth and provide children for Naomi’s husband’s line, he then refuses. It would harm his own inheritance because of the cultural family obligations. Boaz is then free to marry Ruth. Even though the children will be seen as part of Naomi’s husband Elimelech’s family line, Boaz accepts the responsibility in front of the entire town. The town in turn blesses Boaz and his new family because he has taken this bold responsibility, sacrificing his own gain to help Naomi and her family. He marries Ruth, and Ruth has a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of David. However, it is Naomi, who was once called Bitter, who also rejoices, for Ruth has provided the family for her that was lost.

Luke 1:46-55 contains Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, rejoicing in what God was doing through her by raising up a mighty savior. Paired with Ruth 4, both passages celebrate women who said yes to God and were willing to help birth God’s hope into the world. Ruth is named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.

Doing the right thing is not always the respectable thing. Much may have been made of Ruth’s boldness to find Boaz at night on the threshing floor. Mary probably underwent humiliation as an unwed young mother, and we know Joseph planned to dismiss her quietly when she was found to be with child. Moses warned the people what would happen if they didn’t choose God’s ways, but he didn’t warn them what would happen if they did—he only shared the good parts. Jesus, however, shows the disciples that they will face persecution and rejection by even their own families. In order to follow Jesus, one must be willing to risk the fortunes we have created: worldly wealth and power and notoriety. If we live boldly, as Paul did, and speak truth to power and dismantle oppression, we will be hated by the world, but through Christ we are saved.

Call to Worship
Seek the wisdom of God,
Come, learn the commandments, and take them to heart.
Listen to the Holy Spirit,
Come, and practice justice and loving-kindness.
Follow the way of Christ,
Come, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Find that the door is open,
Come, and worship God together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we come before You in humility. We have made too much of ourselves and have neglected our neighbors in need. We have sought our own gain and discarded the earth You created for us and all living creatures. We have pursued the pleasures of this world we made and have found that wealth and notoriety and worldly power will never satisfy us and lead us to dead ends. Turn us back, O God, to Your ways of justice and mercy. Have compassion on us, O God, and break open our hearts to love one another. Guide us, O God, into Your truth and grace, that we might repair what we have broken and care for what we have disdained, to help renew the bountiful earth for all of creation and for the future generations You have yet to call into existence. Bless us, O God, as we repent and seek forgiveness. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Jesus is calling our names, for the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. Listen and respond. Call each other’s names in love and forgive one another. Participate in the restoring work of God in this world, and it shall go well with you. Follow the commandments, take them to heart, and know that God loves you more than anything. God is leading you to the still waters and cool pastures, and will always be with you, even in the valley of the shadow, and will dwell with you forever. Amen.

Prayer
Glorious God, we praise You for the turning of the year. As many students return to school, we pray for their safety and well-being. We pray for the friendships that will be formed, that they may be strong and encouraging. We pray for those who feel left out, that they will know You are with them, and we pray for open hearts to reach out. We pray for teachers and staff, for bus drivers and nurses and crossing guards and administrators and counselors. We ask for Your protection and mercy. May all be gentle with one another. May all students learn to lift up one another, and may all adults grant grace and peace when conflicts and stress arise. May all of us in the greater community extend a helping hand, an open mind, and generous hearts wanting to help and heal. This is an exciting and difficult time of year, and we pray, O God, that Your presence is made known to us all, as students, disciples, of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 28, 2022—Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ruth, chapter 3 (Matthew 7:7-8)

The first selection in the Hebrew scriptures focuses on the rise of the prophets, continuing this week in Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a young prophet to Judah, prophesying before and during the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. God speaks through Jeremiah to the people that have abandoned God. God delivered them from Egypt, brough them through the wilderness into their home, but they took advantage of the land and worshiped other gods. God is especially angry at the priests who didn’t call the people back to God but instead led them after others. When the people should have cried out for God, they did not, and God stands in judgment. No other nation has abandoned their gods, but Israel has done so. Verse 13 ends this section poetically: God is the Living Water, but they have abandoned the living water freely given to them and have made their own wells; they are broken and cannot hold water. Only in turning back to God can the people be made whole.

Psalm 81 begins as a song of praise, but quickly turns to God’s judgment. The people God brought out of Egypt refused to listen to God and follow God’s ways, so God turned them over to their own leadership, and they fell into difficult times with many enemies. God laments that they have done so—if only they would turn back to God, God would deliver them! If only they would follow God’s ways, they would know God is near and they would know God’s bounty and be satisfied.

Proverbs 25:6-7 contains wisdom sayings about humility. Don’t assume you know your place—instead, act with humility and be asked to join the presence of the rulers, instead of being demoted in shame.

Psalm 112 is an acrostic poem, in which each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist calls the people into praise of God by staying true to God’s commandments. They will know all of God’s blessings and will be blessings for other people. They will be firm in their foundation, not shaken by the ways of the world, and stay true for God. The ones who are faithful give freely to those in need. Though evil comes their way, the ones who practice evil will be thwarted and their plans not come to fruition.

The epistle series in Hebrews comes to an end with Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16. The writer concludes this letter with advice to continue loving one another and to practice what they have been taught: to show hospitality, to visit those in prison as many of the early believers were, to hold true to their marriage vows, to be content with what they have. As they have lifted up their ancestors in faith as examples, so may they look to those who have shared the faith with them as examples of how to live in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This selection concludes with a conviction to continue to do good, and to praise God freely as Christ gave himself freely, for this pleases God.

Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house for dinner in Luke 14:1, 7-14. Jesus noticed how the guests all tried to sit closer in the seats of honor. He taught them that when they go to a banquet not to assume the seats of honor but to take the lower seats so they may be invited to move closer. For all who exalt themselves are humbled, but those who humble themselves are exalted. Jesus then further instructed that when they are the host, they need to invite not the rich and famous ones around them, because that’s expected, but to invite the people on the margins who cannot extend the invitation back. The reward is not quid-pro-quo here on earth, but the reward is knowing you have been kind and good and will receive your reward in the resurrection.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ruth in chapter three. In chapters one and two, Ruth took the bold initiative of vowing to remain with her mother-in-law, even though she would leave behind all she knew, and then to go out and provide for her mother-in-law. Now, Naomi advises the next steps. Naomi devises a plan to provide for Ruth in the future and advises Ruth to prepare for an encounter with Boaz on the threshing floor, as Boaz is their close relative and hopefully he will receive Ruth as a possible companion. Naomi trusts that Boaz will do nothing to disgrace Ruth, given how much hospitality he has shown her, even though Ruth is taking a risk by going to him at night. Because Ruth chose Boaz instead of the other younger or richer men, Boaz admires her courage and loyalty. However, there is one small problem—there is another relative who is related more closely, and Boaz needs to settle the matter with him first. Boaz, in his act of boldness, keeps Ruth hidden until she can go out without notice, giving her enough grain to supply her and Naomi’s needs for quite some time should the deal with the other close kinsman not work out. Naomi, seeing the bounty that Boaz has shared with them, is assured of Boaz’s tactfulness and trustworthiness and that he will settle the matter that day.

Matthew 7:7-8 are the supplementary verses for Ruth 3, similar to last week’s supplementary verses of Luke 6:36-38. Whoever asks will receive, and whoever seeks will find, and whoever knocks, the door will be opened. Having courage means trusting in God’s faithfulness as we remain faithful to God.

Being humble is a key quality of those who are faithful to God. We are called not to trust in our own ambition or perceived worthiness, but instead to put ourselves last, to seek to serve others, to make sure others needs are met. There is a difference, however, between the boldness that comes from the courage of faith, and selfish ambition that seeks to be right. The boldness that comes from faith is rooted in humility. It is rooted in trusting in God’s strength and presence and knowing that we are mere mortals in the vast universe. It is trusting that our worth comes from God’s love for us and not in anything we do. However, there are many who do not see the distinction, and assume that it is because of their possessions or fame or wealth that they are blessed. They assume they have received the places of honor. They look down upon others, instead of regarding others as at least equally deserving of respect and honor. Throughout the Wisdom literature of the Bible—Proverbs, Psalms, the parables of Jesus, and much of the advice of the Epistles—we are called to remember that we live for Christ, not for ourselves. In living for Christ, we live for one another, to share with all the joy of God’s love, the new life given to us by Christ, who gave his life for us. May we live with humility boldly, challenging the systems of oppression, and supporting those who speak up and live against the systems and structures of sin that continue to marginalize and deny the basic humanity of the children of God.

Call to Worship
To be in awe of God is the beginning of wisdom;
Open our hearts, O God, to seek Your ways.
As we gather together in worship,
May we remember that each of us is made in God’s image.
We are vessels to be filled with love, knowledge, and insight,
So that we might pour out mercy, compassion, and grace to all.
Lead us, O God, into Your ways,
Lead us in the spirit of humility and openness to follow You.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Invitation, we confess that we have not heeded Your call on our lives. With power and privilege we have assumed our place and position and have denied Your image in others. We have humiliated others rather than being humble ourselves. We have held power over others to oppress instead of sharing freely of resources to liberate and lift up. We have ignored Your teachings in Scripture and among sages, discounted the stories of our ancestors as well as those who are marginalized and suffer among us, and refused to listen to the prophets of the past and present who cry out to us to repent, to turn back to You. Forgive our foolishness, O Lord. Remind us that we are ashes, made from the dust of the mighty stars You created, and to dust we will return. It is through Your love that we are transformed, O God, and You have called us into that transformation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Call us to heed Your call, Your invitation, and to accept it with humility. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 2:1-11)
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Creator.”
Christ became one of us, lived as one of us, died as one of us, and showed us how to love one another and to live again. Know that in Christ you are lifted up, so that you may proclaim God’s love to the world. In example of Christ’s humility, go and live humbly, serve one another, and share Christ’s love and forgiveness and restoration. Amen.

Prayer
In the peace that we have known, may we be known.
In the love that we have known, may we be known.
In the grace that we have known, may we be known.
You cultivate inner peace; may we live out that peace in our homes and communities.
You give us love though we do not deserve it; may we love one another as ourselves.
You grant us grace; may we extend grace and compassion.
May we live into Your ways. May we speak Your truth. May we claim eternal life now, a life that is renewed and restored and seeks to repair and heal. For we know this is not simply life after death, this is life that matters now, that changes the world now, that transforms our hearts now.
And gives us peace.
Amen and Amen.

Worship Resources for August 21, 2022—Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6; Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ruth, chapter 2 (Luke 6:36-28)

The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, following the rise of the prophets, moves to the call of Jeremiah in 1:4-10. God called Jeremiah when he was a boy and told him that before he was born, he was consecrated to be a prophet. However, Jeremiah, like many prophets before him including Moses, is afraid to speak in public. God tells Jeremiah to not be afraid and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, putting God’s own words into this young boy and appointing him to prophesy over the nations. Jeremiah’s words will tear down and destroy what is evil and build up and plant what is good for the future.

Psalm 71:1-6 begins a petition to God for deliverance; however, the psalmist knows God will be faithful even during injustice because God has been faithful from the beginning, even before the psalmist was born. The psalmist calls upon God’s steadfastness and surety, knowing that God is their rock and salvation. They have put their hope and trust in God since their youth and know that they will always praise God, for God is faithful.

The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures turns to Second Isaiah in 58:9b-14. God speaks through the prophet to the people who have returned from exile that if they put aside their evil and oppressive ways and instead provide for those in need, God will satisfy their needs. They will rebuild and be strong and be known as the ones who repair the brokenness and restore the way. If they turn back to God’s ways, they will know the fullness of God’s promises to their ancestors.

Psalm 103:1-8 is a song of praise and blessing. The psalmist calls the people to worship God who forgives, heals, redeems, and restores. God works justice for the oppressed and is full of mercy and steadfast love. God’s ways were made known to Moses and through all the prophets and will satisfy the faithful with goodness.

The Epistle reading continues in Hebrews with 12:18-29. For their ancestors, only Moses could approach God’s holy mountain of Sinai, but now, all believers can approach God upon the new Zion, the holy mountain city of God. Jesus has mediated a new covenant with his blood. The writer warns against rejecting Jesus the way the people rejected Moses, for Moses warned from earth but Jesus warns from heaven. Though the earth and worldly kingdoms are shaken, heaven cannot be, and the faithful receive the unshakable reign of God. God is a consuming, purifying fire, the one whom we serve in faithfulness, ready to be cleansed and made pure.

Jesus heals a woman suffering from physical disability in Luke 13:10-17. The woman was unable to stand up straight due to a spirit, but Jesus called her over and told her she was set free, and immediately she could stand. She began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue was upset that Jesus healed her on the Sabbath when she could have been healed at any other time. Jesus calls them hypocrites, for surely they would water and feed their animals on the Sabbath, so why could he not set free this daughter of Abraham? While there are several stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and someone being upset by it, the people upset are in the minority. The issue is not that Jesus healed this woman or that it’s the Sabbath, it’s that this particular leader didn’t see this woman as part of his community, a “daughter of Abraham.” Jesus showed her kindness and compassion. The demon removed perhaps is the demon of separation, the way we “other” people, especially those with disabilities.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ruth, this time in chapter two. Ruth, a Moabite woman, has traveled with her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem since both were widowed. Ruth chose to travel with her mother-in-law instead of returning to her father’s family. That was the first of Ruth’s bold actions showing her commitment to her mother-in-law. The second is in chapter two, where she advises her mother-in-law to let her go glean in the fields to provide for them both, and Naomi acquiesces. Ruth happens to glean in the field belonging to Boaz, who is from the family of Naomi’s husband. Boaz is moved when he hears of Ruth’s story, traveling away from her own family and people of origin to help Naomi, and tells Ruth not to glean elsewhere, but to stay at his field as he will make sure she is not harassed. He also serves her dinner. Ruth brought the gleanings home to Naomi, who was surprised, and when Ruth told Naomi who had helped her and whose field she had gleaned in, Naomi knows they are blessed by this close relative, but that it comes from Ruth’s actions: she was kind to Naomi, and Boaz in turn was kind to Ruth. Compassion begets compassion.

The companion verses in the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 6:36-38. Jesus teaches the disciples to be merciful just as God is merciful. The Common English Bible translates merciful as “compassionate.” Jesus further teaches the disciples not to judge, then they won’t be judged, and to forgive as they have been forgiven. The measure they give is the measure they will receive.

Compassion begins in us, a stirring in us that moves us to do the right thing for another person. Jesus had compassion on the woman who was bent over and unable to stand up because she was ignored by others in her community that could have helped her, that didn’t see her as worthy. Ruth was moved to compassion for her mother-in-law who had lost so much, and in turn, Boaz was moved to compassion to help her. God is merciful and compassionate. However, when we do not act in compassion but act in vengeance, jealousy, selfish ambition—we reap what we sow. It is hard to receive compassion when we are not practicing it ourselves. Jesus reminds us to see one another through the lens of covenant, of relationship—that we are all connected. When one suffers, we all suffer together. When one shows compassion to another, we receive compassion together.

Call to Worship (Psalm 103:1-4a, 8)
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me,
Bless God’s holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And do not forget all God has done for us.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
For God forgives, heals, and redeems us.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me,
Bless God’s holy name.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Blessed One, we come before You, Author of Compassionate Love, Forgiver of Sins, Redeemer of us All. There is no one name that comes forth from our lips that conveys the breadth and depth of Your love for us. We confess that our words often fall short and fail us. Instead, may our hearts be open to Your mercy. May our souls be open to Your grace. May our bodies be open to live out Your compassion to one another by doing justice, practicing empathy and kindness, and living in humility with You. You are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love that endures forever and ever. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God is our Rock and Refuge, our Strength and Help, and God shall not be moved. We have a sure foundation, and we cannot be shaken. Know that You are loved, forgiven, and restored. The strength and wisdom and mercy of God is in you, to be shared with the world. This indeed is the Gospel of Christ. Live it out. Love it out. Shout it out! Proclaim it with praise! Share God’s love with all. Amen and amen!

Prayer
Spirit of Peace, in a world of violence, war, and destruction, help us to make peace with ourselves. Help us to forgive our own brokenness. Remind us to speak tenderly to us, that we are worthy and beautifully made. In awe You have formed us. Call upon us to speak in love to our bodies, our hearts that wander, our souls that tremble. Speak peace to us and help us to live into Your peace. For then may we live as peacemakers and peacebuilders, justice-seekers and love-bringers. Spirit of Peace, breathe peace into us, so we may live. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 14, 2022—Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19; Jeremiah 23:23-29 and Psalm 89; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ruth, Chapter 1 (Matthew 5:3-9)

In the series of the Hebrew scriptures following the rise of the prophets, we continue with First Isaiah and the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. The song begins with the prophet singing about a “loved one” who cared for a vineyard and protected it, but the vineyard grew wild grapes. The loved one, God, takes the mic at verse three, speaking to the people of Judah and Jerusalem and asking the question of what God was supposed to do? God did everything to help the vineyard, but it chose to grow wild. Therefore, God is tearing down the protection for the vineyard. God expected the people, whom God had covenanted with, to live into God’s ways, but they turned to violence and injustice instead.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 is a song seeking God’s deliverance and salvation from their enemies. The first two verses call upon God, who shepherded the people, to come and shepherd again and save them. In verse eight, the psalmist refers to the people as a vine brought out of Egypt by God, a vine that was protected, but now God has torn down its protections. The psalmist asks God why this has happened and calls upon God to return to the people and save them. Besides the image of the vine and vineyard, the psalmist also refers to the people as the root, and the son (or the anointed one) that God has chosen as God’s very own.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Jeremiah 23:23-29. The prophet speaks on behalf of God, that God isn’t like one of the local deities the other peoples around them know, but God is the God of the universe. There were prophets claiming to speak for God to the people, but they told the people what they wanted to hear, instead of the way of God. God’s word is like fire that consumes and a hammer that shatters rock. It calls us to change our ways and destroys the walls of injustice.

Psalm 82 sings of God’s power among other gods. In a polytheistic society, the psalmist sings of God’s might and power, and how God looks to the marginalized, the poor and oppressed, against other gods. For other deities will not stand, they will die like mortals, and only God will endure before God is the God of all people, the one who judges the earth.

The Epistle reading continues to follow Hebrews in 11:29-12:2. Last week’s portion began this section about faith, and how Abraham and Sarah believed in God’s word. God promised that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars, though they only had one child and in their old age. They were also promised a new home, but when they arrived, they still referred to themselves as strangers in a strange land, a hint that the promise of God was still to be fulfilled. In this section, the writer continues with the stories of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants but also some of the most notorious figures, such as Rahab and Samson, Gideon and Jephthah and others, to David and Samuel and the prophets, up through the first century and the early church, the martyrs of the faith. All of these were worthy, and yet still did not receive what was promised. These are our cloud of witnesses, so that believers may endure and persevere, shedding the sins of the world and looking to Jesus as the example.

Jesus continues to speak about his purpose and the time of judgment in Luke 12:49-56. Jesus came with a message that divides, that will destroy sin and purify the earth. This message will divide family and friends and communities. The time is coming, but people are not aware of the signs. The people are hypocrites for they understand how to prepare from season to season and year to year but cannot comprehend the vast transformation coming because of Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a four part series in Ruth, beginning with the first chapter. The family of Naomi had left Bethlehem and moved to Moab during a time of famine. While they were in Moab, her husband died, and her sons married Moabite women, but then her sons died. In the culture of the time, if a woman had no husband or sons to care for her, she went back to her father’s family. Naomi tells her daughters in law to go back to their father’s home, for they are still young enough to be married again, but Ruth refuses to go, and shares her own vows to Naomi, pledging to remain with her. They return to Bethlehem, where Naomi continues to mourn her loss, and they arrive in time for the barley harvest. Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi is reminiscent of God’s faithfulness to us, and that God’s family goes beyond the bounds of blood but in the relationships we build, even across cultures.

The supporting passage is from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9. Jesus shared in the sermon on the mount that those who are hopeless now, those who are grieving now, will find hope and joy. Those who show mercy will receive mercy, those who are humble will inherit the earth, those who are peacemakers are called children of God. When we struggle and suffer, God draws close to us. It doesn’t mean life becomes easier, but we know we are not alone, and God takes special notice.

Call to Worship
God made a covenant with our ancestors,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
God delivered our ancestors from oppression and exile,
Shepherding the people into the way of peace.
God sent the Word through prophets and proverbs,
Becoming flesh and living among us.
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And we are God’s beloved children.
Come, worship God,
Who covenants with us through Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, we confess that we have broken the covenant You made with us. We have followed the idols of this world, worshiped wealth and power, sacrificed the next generation to our greed. We have polluted Your earth for our own gain. We have failed to seek Your wisdom. We even fail to meditate and read Your words from long ago and to apply them to our lives. Instead, we use Your words as weapons against each other instead of judging ourselves in how we measure up to You. Forgive us, O God, for our cruelty and selfishness. Call us back to Your ways and to seeking Your wisdom and insight. Grant us mercy, and help us humbly seek Your way again, through Jesus Christ, our pioneer and protector of our faith. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 119:10-16)
“With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
May we be true to God. May we seek God’s wisdom and meditate on God’s teachings. May we know God’s grace, mercy, and love in our lives, and extend that grace, mercy, and love to one another. Amen.

Prayer
Spirit of the Living God, move in us, stir in us, call upon us out of our sleep to be awake. Awaken us to the cries of injustice and despair and help us to respond. Awaken us to what You are doing in our world and in our lives and guide us in harmony with Your work. Awaken us to the promise of new life and help us to live into that truth for one another. For in You we live, move, and have our being, Spirit of Life. Fall fresh upon us, mold us and make us into who You desire us to be. In the name of the Son, the Living One, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 7th, 2022—Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 5:1-14 (Matthew 20:25-28)

The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the theme of the rise of the prophets. Unlike his contemporaries of Amos and Hosea who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah (specifically First Isaiah) prophesied in Judah, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah saw the kings of Judah were following the same steps of Israel, and therefore Judah would befall the same fate unless they changed. The practice of worship without justice for the poor and oppressed was empty, meaningless to God. Their ways of violence stained their hands with blood. If the leaders of the people turned back to God’s ways, if they listened to God’s reasonable argument, they would still thrive. The blood would be washed from their hands. If not, they would die by the very violent ways they turned to.

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 speaks to how God the mighty creator does not keep silent amidst injustice but comes to judge the people who are in covenant with God. God’s testimony shows that the people have not been faithful. Their sacrifices, their acts of worship, are not the problem—it is their practice of injustice that testifies against them. In verse 21, God admits that They have kept quiet, but no longer, and in verses 22-23 God reminds them of what happens if they forget God—they will be torn apart by their own actions. Instead, the one who turns back to God in thanksgiving, who offers their sacrifices in gratitude, is the one that God will show the way to salvation.

The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures turns to Genesis 15:1-6. Abram is worried that he has no heir, and that a servant born in his house will inherit. However, God speaks assurance to Abram, that just as numerous as the stars are, so shall his descendants be. Abram believed what God said, and so God trusted in Abram’s faithfulness.

Psalm 33:12-22 is a song of praise, praising the people who have made the Lord their God, and whom God has chosen to be God’s people. God watches over all peoples and all nations. Leaders and warriors are not saved by their own strength and might, but by God. Faithful ones wait for God and put their trust in the One who is their defender. The psalmist concludes with a petition for God to bless the faithful ones who wait for God.

The Epistle reading turns to a four-part series in Hebrews, beginning with 11:1-3, 8-16. This section speaks of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Our ancestors in the faith are ones to look to as an example, for they did not see the fullness of what was to come. Specifically, Abraham and Sarah were promised a new home, a new land. They were also promised that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and yet, they waited until their old age and had only one child. But from one person—and one might be as good as dead, for all their hopes of the future were literally in one fragile human being—God fulfilled the promise. They spoke of themselves as strangers in a strange land, and while on earth they hoped for a new home, God has shown that the true home is still to come, a home with God, a heavenly city prepared for them.

Luke 12:32-40 contains part of Jesus’ discourse on preparing for Christ’s return to our world and our lives in a new way, living as if Christ may come again at any moment. That preparation begins by living into God’s reign in the here and now. Jesus called upon his disciples to not be swayed by treasure on earth but to share what they have with those in need and to turn to treasure in heaven. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding banquet and servants ready to serve the groom when he returns. In this metaphor, the groom will in turn serve the servants at the table, and the groom is grateful when the servants are ready, no matter what time he returns. Then Jesus switches metaphors to a homeowner and a thief, and describes himself like a thief in the night, coming at an unexpected time, for Christ shall come at an unexpected time in an unexpected way.

The Narrative lectionary concludes its series on 1 Peter with 5:1-14. This final chapter encourages the leaders of the church to care for the congregation, the flock, and to do so as a shepherd would—not by lording it over others, but by humility and compassion. For the true shepherd will come. The writer also urges those who are younger in the faith to accept the authority of the elders. The writer encourages the believers to continue to be humble, to look to God in times of worry and stress, and to resist evil. The believers here are not alone in their struggles—all who believe in Christ are suffering, but God will restore the faithful. In the final greetings of this letter, the writer brings greetings through Silvanus who probably carried the letter (and may have written it), from the church in Babylon (meaning Rome, the church in the empire), and encourages peace to all in Christ.

The supplemental passage of Matthew 20:25-28 is Jesus’s words to his disciples after James and John’s mother asked that the two brothers be seated at Jesus’s right and left hand in the reign of God. The disciples were angry, but Jesus reminded them that in the Roman world around them the rulers lord it over the subjects, but that this is not the way of the reign of God. Instead, whoever wishes to be great must become a servant, for Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life.

Living in humility is living for God’s reign on earth. For if we truly want to live into Christ’s reign, we know we have to give up the ways of this world. Jesus gave up all worldly power. Our ancestors lived in faith, understanding that they would not live to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We live with FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. We want everything now. We want both the reign of God and worldly wealth and security. The song “The Wanderer” by U2, sung by Johnny Cash, has this line:

I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it

We may want the kingdom that we have imagined, but not the actual beloved community in which everyone is invited and welcomed and where worldly wealth and notoriety have no power. It’s a struggle to live into the humility of Christ, who willingly gave up his life for us, and to imagine the reign of God without the ways of the empire, the ways of this world.

Call to Worship (Hebrews 11:1-3)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
And by faith we understand.
The worlds were prepared by the word of God,
so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
Come, join in worship of our God,
In whom we have faith, though we have not seen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator, we confess our pride. We confess our lack of humility. We break down and destroy in seconds what took centuries, even thousands of years to build in creation. We take for granted all You have made in Your wisdom and consume it selfishly and discard what we don’t need as if Your creation was trash. Forgive us, O God, for not valuing the work of Your hands. Forgive us, O God, for our short-sightedness and foolishness. Help us to become humble, O God, as You became humble for us, a God who came as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again so that we might live. May we learn in graciousness, in deep compassion, and be filled with kindness and love for Your creation. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God is a God of renewal, of new beginnings, of new life. God is the God of the Rainbow, the covenant of restoration and life. God loves you, and God knows where you need a fresh start. Repent: turn back to God. Know God’s forgiveness and restoration are yours. Seek to love one another, forgive one another, and join in the work of reparation and healing among each other and the world. Go and share the Good News of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in Christ Jesus, who lives again and brings new life to all. Amen.

Prayer
Violence, Violence! The prophet Hosea cried out in ancient times, and we cry out, O God, for the violence of the world continues to destroy our lives. We come to You, O God of peace, and ask that You help us transform our hearts. Help us to become peacemakers. Guide us to put away the violence that is in our bodies, that is in our consumer choices, that is in our selfishness while others suffer injustice. Mold us into peacemaking people, and help us to make peace in our lives, in our homes, in our communities, and together, may we make peace in our world. Prince of Peace, lead us into the path to seek peace and pursue it. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 31st, 2022—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 4:1-19 (Matthew 5:43-48)

The first selection for the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets, continuing in Hosea. The prophet spoke on behalf of God to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, using parental language toward the people. God loved Israel and Judah, remembering Israel as Ephraim, a son of Joseph also used to refer to Israel, but especially in the metaphor of a young child. God brought the people out of oppression in Egypt, but the people kept turning from God to worship Baals, gods of other countries, and made alliances with other countries. Therefore, God allowed the consequences of their actions, their poor decisions, to take place. They would return to a place of oppression under Assyria, and God would not deliver them. However, God is compassionate, like a parent, for Israel. God would not destroy them. After a time of loss, there will be a time of renewal and return for the people.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 is a song of thanksgiving for God who delivered the people out of wilderness and exile. God is faithful, and God will gather the survivors from all directions. God led the ones who were hungry and thirsty in the wilderness to a town where they received what they needed, an example of God’s faithful love. The psalmist concludes that those who are wise will listen and learn, knowing that God’s steadfast love endures forever.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ecclesiastes. Though the authorship has been attributed to Solomon, most scholars believe this is a collection of sayings and instructions compiled and shared by a Teacher who uses Solomon’s name for clout, for his reputation as a wise king. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees that everything human beings pursue in this lifetime is usually meaningless, like chasing the wind, or a mist that slips through our fingers. People work hard, either for money and possessions, or for wisdom and knowledge, and it all passes after they die. People take no time for rest, not even at night, thinking they must be productive. It is vanity. It is meaningless. It is chasing after things that do not matter and that we cannot grasp.

Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm. In the first half, verses 1-12, the psalmist speaks to all people of the world, of all economic backgrounds. Wealth can’t save anyone, can’t buy anyone out of the grave, and both foolish and wise people will die all the same. Though people buy and sell land and name places after them, none of it matters when they die, because the grave becomes their home.

The Epistle reading continues in Colossians with 3:1-11. The writer calls for unity in Christ, in behavior and in identity. The writer encourages the believers to set their minds on Christ. The true believer is clothed with a new self, one that lives by loving one another. In this renewal, all are a new creation in Christ. Their old identities were formed to be in rivalry with others, but their new identity in Christ is as a child of God, for Christ is in all.

Jesus told a parable after he was challenged by a person in the crowd in Luke 12:13-21. A man asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus responded to him with the word, “Friend,” followed by a rhetorical question: who appointed Jesus to be judge between them? In response, Jesus told a parable of a wealthy man whose land produced more than he needed, and even after his storage was full, he decided to tear down his barns to build bigger ones. The man was satisfied with this plan, telling his soul he’d done well, but that very night God demanded his life. For those who store up wealth for themselves have no wealth in God. The pursuit of wealth and power and notoriety in this world is meaningless and worthless. Excess in this world must be given to those without, not hoarded for one’s self, for that is all one will remember. The man who originally wanted Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance was more concerned about wealth and power than about the relationship with his brother and the rest of his family. That is what he will always be known for.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 1 Peter with chapter 4, focusing on living in Christ and not the ways of this world. Living by the flesh—a term used throughout the Epistles—is about satisfying one’s desires in the moment, living an enjoyable life. They become separate from the suffering in the world and focus only on themselves. God is ready to judge the living and the dead, the writer states. Perhaps the judgment of the dead is what they are remembered for—either a generous spirit, or a selfish, impatient life of debauchery that pleases only oneself. The writer then shifts in verse 8 to remind the believers to love one another, to use the gifts given by God to serve one another. In verse 12, the writer turns to the subject of suffering. The writer prays that no one will suffer because of their own evil actions, but that when they suffer for doing God’s will, they can rest assured that God will be faithful to them through end.

The supplementary text is Matthew 5:43-48, where Jesus encourages the believers to love even their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. They are not to repay evil for evil, but do good in all circumstances. For those who love only those who love them, what reward is that? Other people do that, but to love their enemies sets them apart as believers who truly love all, as God loves all people.

The prophets taught that the people had to live with the consequences of their leader’s actions. Israel, and later Judah, were taken into exile because their leaders worshiped other gods, made poor political arrangements, and caused the poor to suffer by their choices and lavish lifestyle. However, even today, people with certain advantages in society often pursue the wealth and power of this world and find they are not satisfied. They consume more and more, while those on the margins of society suffer. The early church leaders warned against falling into the “ways of the flesh”—the ways of this world that put personal pleasure and pursuit of happiness and satisfaction above the needs of others. The early church leaders also found joy in the work of serving Christ and others—a joy not found in the ways of this world. Pursuing the important things in this life: relationships, compassion, serving one another, sharing what we have with others—this brings the true joy to Christian life.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 107:1, 8-9, 43)
O give thanks to the LORD, for God is good;
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let the people thank the LORD for God’s steadfast love,
for God’s wonderful works to humankind.
For God satisfies the thirsty,
And God fills the hungry with good things.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we confess that we have continued to fall astray as our forebearers did. We have turned to wealth and power and trampled upon the poor and oppressed. Leaders have made choices for us that compromise the well-being of the most vulnerable among us, to satisfy the wealthy elite. Even those of us with little power have at times put those with wealth and fame on pedestals, in hopes that somehow it will pass to us. You, O Lord, came as one of us, emptying yourself of power and dying on the cross for us. Forgive us for our foolish, selfish ways, and call us into Your way, of loving and serving one another, of seeking the marginalized and lifting up the oppressed, raising up the poor and filling the hungry with good things. Call us into Your ways so that we might change our lives for You, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Seek the Lord and live. Love one another. Serve one another. Become humble and full of compassion for one another. Leave behind the ways of this world—selfish greed and wealth and notoriety and worldly power—for they are dead ends. Find the way of Christ, and know love and life. Forgive, love, and care for one another and this planet, so that we might care for each other and built up the reign of Christ on earth. May this be a blessing and commission to you. Amen.

Prayer
God of Peace, help us to lay down our weapons of war and weapons of power, our weapons of apathy and our weapons of harsh words. Lead us into Your ways, to love and serve one another. Help us to find peace by leaving behind the pursuits of wealth and power, and help us to dive into wisdom and understanding. Guide us in Your ways through the reading of scripture: the practice of compassion, the pursuit of justice, the way of righteousness, and the life of love for one another. In the name of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.