Worship Resources for May 29th, 2022—Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension Sunday: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Narrative Lectionary: The Christ Hymn, Philippians 2:1-13 (Luke 6:43-45)

For the Ascension, in Acts 1:1-11, we learn that Jesus remained with the disciples after his resurrection for about forty days, speaking about God’s beloved reign. When the time came near for him to depart, he assured them that while they were baptized with water, soon they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The disciples were to remain in Jerusalem for this promise. However, the disciples asked Jesus if this was the time when the kingdom would be restored to Israel. Most likely many of the disciples believed that the Messiah would re-establish the kingdom of Israel instead of “a kingdom not of this world.” Jesus simply tells them it is not for them to know. Instead, they will receive the Holy Spirit, and will be Jesus’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. As he was speaking, Jesus was lifted up and hidden by a cloud. While the disciples watched, two angels questioned why they were simply standing there and looking up? Jesus would return as he left: in an unexpected, hidden mystery.

The first selection for the psalm reading is Psalm 47, a song of praise for God who reigns over all the people of the earth. God is Most High, and yet God chose the people of Israel, to give them a heritage as God’s people. This song was most likely used in worship to call the people into praise as the people gathered, remembering their identity as descendants of Abraham and Jacob, children of God.

An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who reigns on high over creation. God is the mighty creator from everlasting, who established the world. The floodwaters lift up praise to God and God is greater than all the waters of the earth. God’s instruction is true and steadfast, for God reigns over all the earth.

The writer of Ephesians includes in their introduction a word of thanks for the receivers of this letter, for their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. As the writer prays for the receivers to have a spirit of wisdom and revelation, the writer is hoping they accept his message that was passed on to him: that God raised Christ from the dead and seated him in heaven, putting all things under his feet and setting Christ as the head of all things, including the church.

Luke 24:34-43 contains another version of Luke’s account of the ascension. Jesus reminds the disciples that he had told them that the Messiah must suffer and die, and on the third day rise. He taught them that this was found in scripture, and that they were witnesses of everything that had come to pass. In this version, Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in the city until they “have been clothed with power from on high.” After Christ’s ascension, the disciples returned to the city and worshiped in the temple.

The readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter begin with Acts 16:16-34, which was the Narrative Lectionary selection on May 8th. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.

Psalm 97 is a song of praise to God as the ruler of all, the one of power and might. Similar to descriptions of other gods in ancient times, God’s power is witnessed in the might of thunder, lightning, and fire—symbols of judgment. However, those who worship images are put to shame, for God is not an idol, God is the One God above all other gods. God delivers the faithful from the wicked, and the righteous worship God.

The Epistle readings in Easter have followed Revelation, and conclude with 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. The final vision is the completion of everything. The Spirit and the Bride (the church) invite all to join in the vision of God, and take the water of life for all who are thirsty. The beginning and the end, the bright morning star—Jesus invites us into this vision of eternity, and that it may come soon.

Jesus’s final prayer with his disciples is in John 17:20-26. Jesus prays not just for the disciples but for all those who will believe through the words of the disciples, that all may become one. That the world may come to believe, as Jesus and God Above are one, so may we all be one. The world does not know Jesus, but will know Jesus through the disciples, and through us, by the love of God that we share with one another.

The Narrative Lectionary tuns to the ancient hymn found in Philippians 2:1-13. Paul writes to the church and calls them to be in unity, to have the same mind and the same love. Instead of acting out of selfishness, look to the interests of others and serve out of humility. Paul then proclaims the ancient confession that Christ did not exploit his equality with God but emptied himself out of humility, becoming human to the point of death on the cross. Because of this, God exalted Christ above all others, so that everyone should become humble and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God Above.

The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 6:43-45, that good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. We will be known by the fruit that we bear.

Both readings for Ascension Sunday and the Seventh Sunday of Easter are stories of Jesus preparing the disciples for when he is not present with them in the way they have known him. Both stories prepare the disciples for what is to come, for how the Holy Spirit will be at work among them. The way that the world will know God is through their love for one another, for they are witnesses to what Christ has taught. Love must be shared out of humility, and not out of selfish gain. John of Patmos concluded his Revelation with the vision of an abundant city, full of life, a place where God and all people can dwell with no division, sorrow, or evil, and all that is needed is an acceptance of the invitation, for the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” The love is already here. We have been prepared for this journey of faith, and the invitation stands.

Call to Worship
Long ago, our ancestors asked for God’s name;
God became known as the great “I Am.”
“The Alpha and the Omega,”
“The First and the Last,”
“The Beginning and the End,”
“The Bright Morning Star.”
Come, worship God,
“Who was and who is and who is to come, The Almighty.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, Ancient of Days, we confess that we are caught up in our own timelines. We want to see promises fulfilled in our lifetime: an end to poverty and corruption, the saving of our earth from climate change, the powerless lifted up and the powerful brought down. We want peace on earth now, and to live in harmony the rest of our days. Like the disciples, we confess we desire Your kingdom to come to earth with worldly power, instead of us working for Your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Call us into Your ways, and to know that while we may not see the fulfillment in our lifetime, our work is necessary. Our love matters, and all that we strive for will make a difference for Your reign. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” These ancient words spoken to Noah after the flood remind us that God’s steadfast love endures forever. The earth endures from the beginning of creation, and so shall God’s love for us. No matter the struggles we face now, we will make it through by our love for one another. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to us, that whoever believes may have eternity now. God sent the Son not to condemn the world but in order for the world to be saved. Go, and share this good news: God’s love endures forever and there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
God of Mystery and Wonder, we do not fully understand how You came to be among us in the in the flesh, through the Incarnation, but we know it. We do not understand how You came to us on that third day, after suffering and death and the finality of the tomb, but we know it. We do not understand how You ascended to heaven, wrapped in clouds and hidden from our sight, but we know it. And we do not understand how You are returning to us, except that it will be in an unexpected way, for we know You are a God of Mystery and Wonder, making all things new, bringing light out of the face of the deep, and life out of death. We are in awe of You, O Mighty One, and come before You in our worship, our prayers, and our praise. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 22nd, 2022—Sixth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Narrative Lectionary: Partnership in the Gospel, Philippians 1:1-18a (Luke 9:46-48)

In Acts 16:9-15, Paul and some of his companions (including the author of Luke) beheld a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help. When they came to Macedonia, they arrived in Philippi, a Roman city, and found that some of the Gentile women were gathering to pray at the river. This group were probably among the “God-fearers,” Gentiles who believed there was only one God but had not converted to Judaism. Lydia, a merchant dealing in purple cloth, was one of those women, and she invited Paul and others to her home, to baptize everyone in her household, and to stay with her. Lydia is often understood in church tradition to be the founder of the church in Philippi.

Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing: a blessing from God to the people, and a call for the people to bless God. The psalmist prays that God’s ways might be known throughout all people, and that all people, all nations, would turn to God in praise. God is the one who judges all people and all nations, and God has provided for all people. The psalmist knows that all the fruits of the earth, the increase of the harvest—all they see, feel, and experience is due to God’s abundance, so the people in turn ought to bless and revere God.

John of Patmos beholds a vision of the heavenly city of Jerusalem in Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5. In this vision of the holy city that comes down from the clouds, there is no temple, because God is already present there. There is no sun or moon, because the Lamb is the light of the city. The gates of the city will never be shut, and all kings, peoples and nations will be drawn to its light. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God, through the middle of the street, and on either side of the river is the tree of life. This tree produces twelve kinds of fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. Those who worship and serve God, the faithful, are known to God, and God’s name is on their foreheads. The vision concludes with the image of no more night, and all the light needed comes from God and from the Lamb, who will reign forever. The importance of this vision is the idea that the fulfillment of God’s desire for us is a return to what was promised in Eden: God dwells with us, all our needs are met with God, and nothing will separate us from God.

The first selection for the Gospel lesson is John 14:23-29, in which Jesus prepares the disciples for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As part of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples in John’s account, Jesus reminds the disciples that if they love him, they keep his commandments, and that the commandments come not from him but from God Above who sent him. Jesus has taught the disciples while he was among them, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus taught them. Jesus teaches the disciples that though he is leaving, he leaves them with his peace—a peace that is not from the world, but a true peace from him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.” Jesus knows he will be leaving them soon, and though it is impossible to prepare for it, Jesus assures the disciples that he will return (his resurrection), and they will believe.

The alternative Gospel lesson is John 5:1-9, which was part of the Narrative Lectionary back on February 6th. Jesus returned to Jerusalem for a festival (in John’s account he goes to Jerusalem on multiple occasions; in the synoptic gospels he only enters Jerusalem once before his death). Near the Sheep Gate on the city wall, there was a pool called Bethsaida where those who were sick and disabled gathered. Jesus spoke to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, and asked him if he wanted to be made well. He told Jesus that there was no one who could put him in the water when it was stirred up and that others went ahead of him (some later versions of John’s account have additional verses explaining why people believed in the healing property of the water when it was stirred). Jesus instead told him to stand up, pick up his mat and walk. It happened to be on a Sabbath day.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s letter to the Philippians in 1:1-18a. Paul wrote to the church while he was in prison, writing in gratitude for their partnership with him in sharing the Gospel. Paul began by praying that their love would overflow and that they would be filled with knowledge and insight to discern what is truly important. Even though Paul was imprisoned, he knew that the Gospel message was still being shared, and perhaps his imprisonment inspired more people to come to faith in Christ. Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed from love, and even though there are some who proclaim the Gospel for their own selfish gain, Paul does not care, because the Gospel is being proclaimed nonetheless.

The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 9:46-48, where some of the disciples are arguing who is the greatest among themselves. Jesus took a child, sat the child by his side, and taught the disciples that whoever welcomes a child welcomes him, that the least is the greatest. It does not matter their worldly measures of success; what matters is how they welcome and love one another.

So much of how we live in this world is through the lens of this world: measures of wealth and notoriety become measures of success. We have to have more stuff, more money, more of everything and anything. We do not want to be forgotten when we die, so we work for these empty measures that can never be satisfied. Jesus reminds us that if we love him, we keep his commandments. In the stories of disability and healing, we must remember that in Jesus’ time, if one was disabled, they could not work, they could only beg. Healing not the same as curing—healing and wholeness is restoration of all of us, disabled and temporarily abled, as part of God’s beloved community together. Paul reminds the church in Philippi, begun by Lydia long ago, that the world’s goods and the world’s gains do not matter, only the sharing of the Good News in Jesus Christ—because it is proclaimed out of love. The measures of our world are based on wealth and notoriety, on a fear of losing out and being forgotten. The measure of God’s beloved community is love: if you love Christ, we keep Christ’s commandments. If we love God, we love one another.

Call to Worship (Psalm 67:2-5)
May Your way may be known upon earth,
Your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for You judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Love, we confess that we have shortchanged the word love for a fleeting feeling, something that does not require obligation. We say we love everyone but then gossip and slander. We seek power and wealth over others, putting our desires above other’s needs. We determine who is worthy of help and who is not based on our judgments and not on Your love. We have not loved others as You have loved us. We have failed to follow Your commandment. Loving God, forgive us of our selfishness and foolishness. Remind us of how helpless we are without You and without one another. Call us back into the ways of Your generous and abundant love, to seek to serve one another, especially the ones we might find unlovable. Grant us Your mercy and grace to repent and seek to restore what we have broken. Call us into the hard work of reparation and restoration. In the name of Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for all of us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Great is God’s faithfulness, and God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Know this: you are more precious than gold and silver. You are the apple of God’s eye. God loves you madly. Love calls us into accountability, to seek forgiveness and healing and restoration. Go into the world, share the good news of God’s love, and roll up your sleeves and get to work preparing the beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Prayer
Come, Holy Spirit. Overwhelm us and fulfill us, inspire us and guide us in Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Renew our hearts, open our minds, reenergize our spirits to seek You around us and to know You are within us. The terrible news of the world continues to drag us down, but You lift us up on the wings of eagles. Your Holy Spirit catches us at the first breath of dawn and does not let us go. Help us, Holy Movement, when we feel stagnant and stuck in despair, drowning in the losses of this world. Breathe new life in us and remind us that You are the One who truly makes all things new. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 15th, 2022—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Sermon at Athens, Acts 17:16-31 (John 1:16-18)

The Revised Common Lectionary continues to use selections from Acts for the first reading during the season of Easter. In Acts 11, Peter is questioned by some of the other early Christian leaders for eating with Gentiles. Verse 2 refers to “the circumcised believers criticized him,” yet at that time almost all the believers would have been Jewish. We must remember we are reading an account of events written perhaps 40-60 years after they occurred, from a time when Gentiles had already been included in some places and were a greater number than at the time of these events. These stories were needed to portray a universal message out of their roots in Judaism. Peter shared his vision that he beheld in chapter 10, how he was told that he must not call profane what God has made clean. Peter spoke of how the angel had sent him to the centurion’s home, and that the Holy Spirit came upon him as he spoke to this man and his household. If this Gentile soldier and his household believed in the same Jesus Christ and it was the same Holy Spirit, how could Peter hinder God? Then the other Christian leaders didn’t know what to say at first, except then they praised God for giving the Good News to the Gentiles.

Psalm 148 is a song of praise from all of creation to God. The psalmist calls all the heavenly beings, the celestial objects, everything God created above the earth to praise God. Then the psalmist turns to the earth: sea monsters and creatures from the birth of creation, all the meteorological elements, the earth itself, all animals and plants and birds of the air. Next, the psalmist calls upon the people: all rulers, kings and princes, young and old, women and men and all people, to praise God. God is above all, creator of all, and is the advocate for the people. The psalmist concludes by praising the faithful, the people of Israel closest to God, and all praise God.

John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21:1-6. The first heaven and earth have passed away, the sea is no more. Then John witnesses the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and the division of heaven and earth is no more as God’s home is now among humanity. All people are God’s peoples, and God will be their God. John recalls the vision of Isaiah in 26:6-9, where God will wipe away all our tears, and there will be no more death and pain. John turns in his vision to the one seated on the throne, who declares they are making all things new (Isaiah 43:19). God is the Alpha and the Omega, Beginning and End, as John uses this phrase three times in this letter. Jesus is the water of the wellspring of eternal life, an image used in the gospel according to John.

In John 13:31-35, Jesus speaks of being glorified as God has been glorified in him. Jesus calls the disciples, “little children,” a phrase also used by the writer of the letters of John, and tells them that he is about to leave them, and where he is going, they cannot come. However, Jesus has given them a new commandment that they love one another, just as he has loved them. By this, everyone will know they are Jesus’ disciples.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s sermon at Athens in Acts 17:16-31. Before, Paul was debating with leaders of Jewish institutions, but in Athens he found arguments with both Jewish and Gentile religious and philosophical leaders and was disturbed by the number of statues he found to idols. The Athenians seemed interested in hearing him only because he brought a new perspective; not because they believed it, but because if it was new, it was exciting and fashionable. So, Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and preached to them, turning their own rhetoric on them: “I see you are extremely religious in every way” for they even had a statute to an unknown god! Paul proclaims there is one God who made heaven and earth and God does not reside in statues. God gives everything life and from one ancestor made all people. Paul used their own poetic verses to describe the one God, and if they are indeed God’s children, then God is the heavenly parent. The unknown God is known by those who understand that God is calling all people to repent, because the world will be judged by the one God has chosen, who has been raised from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Greeks who heard him believed.

The accompanying verses for the Narrative Lectionary, John 1:16-18, speak of how no one has ever seen God, but the Son, close to God’s heart, has made God known to us. The law was given through Moses, and grace and truth through Jesus Christ.

We all fall into the ways of this world: the latest trends, popular fashion, gossip—who is in and who is out. Peter dealt with division in the early church based on traditional understanding of who belonged and who did not. The first followers of Jesus were Jewish. Their understanding of who they were as God’s people was in the identity of being Jewish, even if they followed Jesus. However, Peter discovered the work of the same Holy Spirit among Gentiles as it was among Jewish followers of Jesus, so how could he exclude Gentiles in the church? Paul proclaimed to the Greeks that in all their searching and philosophizing, looking for something new and exciting—the God who made them all was made known to them, and this was more important than the statues they built or the latest trend of belief. Jesus, however, told the disciples he was leaving them with one new thing: a new commandment, to love one another. The ways of the world distract us, but the way of Christ, the way of love—it leads us to eternity, a new heaven and a new earth, where mourning and death are no more. The ways of this world lead to dead ends; the way of Christ, the way of love, leads to life.

Call to Worship
We gather here to follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is the new commandment:
That we love one another as Christ loved us.
By this we are known as Christ’s disciples:
That we have love for one another.
Come, worship God, and follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we live in a world You did not intend for us. You crafted a beautiful earth full of life; we created a world of wealth and power, stripping Your earth of its bountiful resources. You created us all and called us good; we built walls and ways of dividing others by race and gender, sexual orientation and politics and economics. You made a vast universe full of mystery and wonder, and we made redlining and institutionalized racism, policies that take from those who have little to give to those who have more. You called us to be fruitful and multiply but did not call us to restrict and judge and cause harm to others. Call all into accountability when we have failed to seek You and instead have sought power and dominance. Call us back to Your ways, to the earth You created for us, and remind us of Your intention for us to care for the earth and for all of creation in the best way possible, through the love You gave for us. For You laid down your life for us, and called us to lay down our lives for one another. We have failed, O God, and put our own wealth and selfish gain above others. Call us back to You, to Your way of love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Romans 8:38-39)
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You are made in God’s image. You are beloved by God. Christ laid down his life for you, for all of us, and in Christ you have new life. You are loved and restored and forgiven. Go and share the good news, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
The psalmist declares, “Where can we go from Your spirit? Where can we flee from Your presence?” O God, You are always with us, even when it is hard to take notice. When the world is falling apart, You are carrying us through. Your love sustains us and is known through the love of others. Remind us when things are most difficult to carry on in love, because it is our mutual love that helps us survive. Call us to become living hope for one another, because we cannot carry it all by ourselves. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 8th, 2022—Fourth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Narrative Lectionary: Paul and Silas, Acts 16:16-34 (Luke 6:18-19, 22-23)

In the U.S. this Sunday is Mother’s Day. This can be both a celebratory and a painful Sunday. For women who are struggling with fertility, those unable to have children, and those who have lost a child, churches can be incredibly insensitive when they celebrate mothers, even if they celebrate all women. There are those who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers.

However, Mother’s Day was not created to be the commercial holiday it is today. Started by Anna Jarvis in 1908 as a church holiday, the original intention was to celebrate the work mothers did that was often unnoticed or not valued. Anna Jarvis eventually became disillusioned with the official holiday and the commercialization that followed. Other roots go back to Julia Ward Howe, who began an observance of Mother’s Day in the 1870 following the Civil War to commemorate mothers who had lost their sons due to war, and to commit to pacifism and nonviolence. Certainly a very different approach than how Mother’s Day is celebrated today.

The first selection of the Revised Common Lectionary may give some insight in how to approach Mother’s Day as a celebration of the ministry of women since the early church. Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, was a disciple (the first woman given that title in the New Testament). She was known for her acts of charity, especially ministering among widows. She became ill and died. Two disciples sent word to Peter to come without delay, so Peter hurried to Dorcas’ side. All the widows showed Peter all the good work that Tabitha had done, what she meant to them. Peter prayed, and called for her to rise up, and she got out of bed. The word spread that Tabitha was alive again throughout the community. Perhaps on this Mother’s Day we may remember Tabitha and her ministry and celebrate ministry among women who grieve.

The psalm for today is Psalm 23, an ancient poem of comfort. Often attributed to David, this psalm is recited at funerals and other occasions, reminding us that God is the one who provides for us, sojourns with us on life’s journeys, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and God prepares a table for us of goodness and mercy. As God dwells with us every moment in our life, so shall we dwell with God forever.

John of Patmos beholds another vision of the glorious heavenly throne room, this time with a multitude of people that no one can count, in Revelation 7:9-17. Those that have come to praise God are from every tribe and nation and speak every language. Along with all the heavenly beings, they have come to praise God, and all these people have come through the great ordeal. They have known suffering, but God will now comfort them, guiding them to the wellspring of life. In John’s time, there had been much suffering because of the Roman Empire’s persecution. Some churches that he addressed in his sermon/letter had become comfortable with the empire, but those that remained true to Christ would face further struggles. Those who remained true would know the fullness of God’s salvation and comfort.

The Gospel lesson from John 10:22-30 speaks of a time Jesus was in Jerusalem at the temple in winter. Only in John’s account does Jesus visit the temple before the last week of his life. In this passage, some of the religious leaders want Jesus to be clear as to whether he is or is not the Messiah. Jesus replies to them that those who believe know. Those who know his voice as his sheep. Jesus declares that he and the Father God are one, and those who are his sheep have inherited eternal life because they believe.

The Narrative Lectionary turns ahead in Acts to 16:16-34, when Paul and Silas ended up in prison. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.

On this Mother’s Day, may we remember the roots of this holiday and care for all women, especially the most vulnerable among us. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that trafficking continues today, and there are many organizations working to stop the trafficking of women and children (I encourage you to research those organizations, however, because some end up causing more harm, but there are organizations helping vulnerable people in your community). Dorcas’ story reminds us that the work traditionally done by women in this world has often been overlooked and undervalued—here is a story of a disciple of Christ who was needed so much that Peter prayed she would be brought back to life. And we are reminded that all of us—men, women, transgender, nonbinary—all people—are beloved and part of God’s plan for salvation as revealed to John of Patmos. May we celebrate and honor all today, grieve with those who grieve, and support those whose voices still need to be listened to.

Call to Worship (from Proverbs 9:1-3, 5-6)
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn her seven pillars.
She has mixed her wine,
She has set her table.
She has sent out her servants,
She calls from the highest places in town,
“Come, eat and drink and live,
Come, walk in the way of insight.”
Worship our God, and walk in Wisdom’s ways,
For she invites us into this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have created binaries and boxes, that we have sought to categorize people by gender and ability. We have valued one gender over another and valued one type of work over another. We have sought to label and place others in hierarchies that You never intended for us. You created us in Your image, male and female, and all of us, whether we fit into one or both or neither category, are still in Your image. You have transcended our categories and language that attempts to make sense of You. Forgive us when our boxes and categories have caused harm. Forgive us when we have devalued others. Forgive us when we have forced others to conform. You are the Holy One, the Creator of us all—how dare we attempt to devalue Your creation, Your image? Call us into accountability and the hard work of reparation and restoration, for You are our God, beyond gender and categorization. You made the universe and all that is in it. Call us back to Your ways of healing and wholeness. In the name of Christ, who died for us all, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The prophet Isaiah spoke in 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted.” God’s arms are around you, holding you. God has set you upon their knee like when you were young, to know that you are loved very much. May God’s comfort and kindness and compassion be known in your heart, and may you share that comfort with one another. Go in peace, and serve through compassion. Amen.

Prayer
Wise God, Your spirit traveled over the face of the deep and called forth life. You breathed life into the first human beings and into all creation. You taught us the commandments, Your precepts, Your way of life. You call us away from the world we created to be rooted in Your creation. In Your creation, there is always enough, there is always something new springing forth. You lead us beside the still waters and green pastures. You are our Mother, our Heavenly Parent, in whom we were born again through Jesus Christ, to be a new creation. Help us to live into Your wisdom. Amen.

A Prayer for Mother’s Day (written for Mother’s Day 2020)

The prophet Isaiah said, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
Mothering God, we cherish Your great love for us. As the Creator, You made us in Your image, and called life from the earth and water. In baptism, we are born anew, from water and Spirit, and Your love and care are made known to us as we grow in faith.
We give You thanks for those who have been mothers and stepmothers in our lives, for grandmothers and aunts and all those who have been like mothers to us, who have shown us Your comfort and courage, peace and strength.
God of Peace, we acknowledge that this day that was originally created for mothers grieving the loss of their children in war. We grieve with all who have lost a child, who have struggled with fertility issues, who have had to give up children in foster care and adoption. May Your love surround us, hold us in these tender times.
Loving God, we hold tenderly the ones who have difficult relationships with their mothers, for those who have separated in relationship. We weep with those who are missing their mothers.
In these difficult times, O God, we know the distance that separates us, the physical distance for safety, the distance of time for those gone, the distance of fading memories. We know the distance of estrangement. We pray for healing wherever possible, O God, for forgiveness wherever possible, and for the hope that You bring in our lives.
Hold us, Loving Parent, in Your healing hands, on this day. Amen.

Mother’s Day Litany (written for Mother’s Day 2015)

Holy God, on this day we honor You, as we do every day.
Today we honor You, our Mothering God, who cares for us and nurtures us.
May we comfort those who mourn their mothers on this day;
May we offer our support to those whose mothers are not present.
Guide us in our love for one another,
That we may be empathetic and caring for those dealing with fertility issues.
Hold us in Your love,
And may we seek justice for those who have been abused and harmed by those who were supposed to protect them.
Loving God who cares and protects us all,
We give you thanks and praise for those who have been like mothers to us,
For those who have mothered us in the light of Your love,
For all who reflect Your image of love, care, compassion and peace.
On this Mother’s Day,
May we give thanks for mothers in the world that do Your work of justice, that love us as You have first loved us, and that challenge us to live in righteousness and peace.
For Christ has said “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister, my brother and my friend.” May it be so. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 1st, 2022—Third Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Conversion, Acts 9:1-19a (Matthew 6:24)

The Revised Common Lectionary begins with selections from Acts during the season of Easter. The Narrative Lectionary readings also turn to Acts and follows the same passage this week. Saul, who was persecuting the early followers of Jesus, happens to meet Jesus in a vision on the road in Acts 9:1-6. Saul had gone to the high priest and asked for letters to bring to the synagogues in Damascus, so he could arrest followers of “The Way” as the followers of Jesus were called. However, on the road, a light from heaven flashed around him, and a voice called out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asks who it is, Jesus replies, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus then tells Saul to go to Damascus and he will be told what he is to do. The men with Saul help him up, perplexed because they heard the voice but didn’t see what happened, and Saul was unable to see anything afterward. Meanwhile, in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias receives a vision that he is to go look for a man of Tarsus named Saul—the very Saul that Ananias was warned about. However, Christ tells Ananias to go lay his hands on Saul so he might regain his sight, and that Saul is now an instrument of God’s purpose. Once Saul’s sight was restored, Ananias baptized him, and Saul began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus is Lord.

Psalm 30 is a song of praise for deliverance from death and defeat. God has rescued the psalmist from whatever ailment befell them and they rejoice in God’s healing and restoration. The psalmist praises God for faithfulness even in the face of death, for how could the psalmist praise God from the dead? Instead, God has turned the psalmist’s mourning into dancing, and they rejoice and praise God, who is their Savior.

John of Patmos beholds a vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 5:11-14. This vision is very reminiscent of Daniel 7:13-14, right down to the heavenly creatures. All heavenly beings and all earthly creatures come together in universal worship of God in this vision, worshiping the one on the throne as well as the Lamb that was slaughtered, who now has all authority.

John 21:1-19 is a post-resurrection story only found in John, but with hints from other accounts, such as Jesus eating broiled fish in Luke 24:42-43. Simon and the sons of Zebedee were fishermen before they followed Jesus, and now they, along with Thomas and two other disciples, return to fishing. After everything they have been through, they go back to what they knew. But all night long, they caught nothing, until a mysterious stranger, who called them children, told them to cast their net to the right side of the boat, and then they couldn’t haul it in because there were so many fish (this is very similar to the story in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called Simon and the sons of Zebedee to follow him, and so it may be from the same source). Simon Peter recognizes that it is Jesus and puts on some clothes before jumping into the sea to swim to shore. Jesus serves them breakfast of bread and grilled fish (reminiscent of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish). After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter the same question with slight variation three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon always replies yes, and Jesus always tells him to feed and tend to his sheep. Peter is hurt that Jesus asks him this three times, but Jesus reminds Peter that he once thought he could do things on his own and couldn’t. As time goes on, if he remains faithful, he will be forced to go where he doesn’t want to go (a foreshadowing of Peter’s own death). Peter, who swore he’d remain faithful and then denied he knew Jesus, had a difficult time being questioned by Jesus about his faithfulness, but Jesus wanted him to know that following him, taking care of the flock of Christ as the church, would be a harder task than he expected.

The Narrative Lectionary is the same as the first reading from Acts, but adds a secondary verse of Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters.” Eluding to Peter being question by Jesus, Peter would have to choose whether to serve himself or to serve Christ. He had failed before, but Jesus was urging him to do the right thing this time.

On this third Sunday of Easter, we are reminded that all too often we desire change and then go right back to the way things were. We fall back into the patterns and routines that are comfortable and known. We believe that our baptism is a new start, a new life now that lasts for eternity—and this is the truth. However, far too often we forget that newness and just return to the way things were. We fail to see the reign of God, the beloved community, around us. Simon and the others went back to their old profession—fishing—because it brought them some comfort. However, Jesus called them out of the boat and reminded them that to follow him meant giving up their old way of life for something unknown. For Saul, who fought against following Jesus, when Jesus was finally revealed to him, it transformed his entire life, even physically as well as spiritually. True transformation in Christ means we can’t go back to the way we used to be. We are new creations in Christ.

Call to Worship (Psalm 30:10-12)
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
My soul praises You,
And will not be silent.
O LORD my God,
I will give thanks to you forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Faithful God, we confess that we wander away from You. We confess that at times we are taken up by the concerns of the world and fail to seek You. We know, O God, that our doubts and questions are good and lead us back to You. It is our indifference that can lead us astray. Help us, O God, to turn to others in our times of doubt and fear, for You created us not to be alone. Guide us, O God, to seek our questions before You, before our scriptures and traditions and teachings, and even if we do not find the answers, we know this is part of the journey. Turn us back, O God, when we become apathetic and indifferent, for that is the true enemy of faith—not doubt, but indifference. In the name of Jesus, who sought You in the garden, we pray as he did: “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 139:7-10)
“Where can I go from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” There is no place we can go where God is not with us. There are no questions we can ask, no doubts we can hold, that will separate us from God, as long as we continue to seek God, God is seeking us. You are loved. You are known. Share the good news that God is with you, alive in you, now, and love one another. Amen.

Prayer
God Who Watches In The Night, watch over us in our times of struggle. May we, like the disciples, find comfort in the presence of one another, and may we find healing in the silence. For we know the silence is not a rejection, but it is the stillness of Your presence, that You are listening to us. The darkness of night is like the darkness of the womb, preparing us for what is next to come. It is not the valley of the shadow, but the great inhaling of the first breath. We wait for Your Spirit to stir in our lives, as we wait for You, God of Night and Day. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 24, 2022—Second Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Thomas, John 20:19-21 (Psalm 145:13-21)

The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary during the Easter Season is from Acts in lieu of the Hebrew Scripture reading.

Peter and other apostles were brought before the council and the high priest in Acts 5:27-32. Previously, they had been arrested after performing miracles and signs at the temple, but an angel let them out of prison and told them to continue to teach the people. The captain and guards went and brought Peter and the apostles from the temple again, and the high priest told Peter and the others that they were already ordered not to teach in “this” name. Peter declares they must obey God rather than human beings, because they are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. A word of caution on this passage: the priest is concerned that the apostles are blaming the religious leaders, and in extension, the Jewish people, for Jesus’ death. Peter’s response is “you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” Peter’s “you” is meant to be a universal you to all in authority, or even to all of humanity, but it has far too often been used in the very way the high priest criticized Peter for it.

Psalm 118:14-29 encompasses both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday’s Psalm selections into one. The psalmist declares that they shall not die, but they will live. Calling the congregation to worship in the temple, as the people prepare to process in, the psalmist reminds the people that though the world rejected them, God has chosen them. This is God’s day—rejoice and be glad! The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. God shines a light on the people who know God’s salvation. The blessing is given to one another, for all who come in the name of God are blessed.

An alternative is Psalm 150, a song calling the congregation to worship and praise. Praise God on earth and above with all instruments, with song and dance. May all living creatures praise the Lord.

John of Patmos writes an introduction to his sermon in Revelation 1:4-8. John’s letter is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, now modern-day Turkey. Poetically writing about God as the One who Was, who Is, and Who Is to Come, the writer also includes the seven spirts before the throne—the heavenly representation of these churches. John uses imagery similar to the writer of Hebrews, referring to Jesus as the one who made us all priests as Jesus is our priest, and Jesus is the firstborn of the dead as we are all now born anew. John echoes the gospels in the image of Jesus coming on the clouds, and uses the images from Daniel and Zechariah to proclaim that Christ is coming again, as he was the one who came before. This vivid image-filled introduction gives authority to John, that the same Christ who came before is with him as he addressed these seven churches.

The Gospel lesson is the same for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. This story of Thomas doubting also begins with a word of caution: the disciples were in a house with locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” All the disciples, and Jesus, were Jewish. The Common English Bible opts for “Jewish authorities,” but it doesn’t quite address the problem. The writer of the gospel of John and the Johannine community were probably Jewish in background but were opposed to the Jewish communities that didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. This tension has fueled antisemitic interpretations of these texts to today. The disciples certainly feared persecution and feared Roman authorities, but we must understand this conflict as between two communities forty to sixty years after Jesus’ death and not what was necessarily happening in the time of Jesus. This is confirmed by the other Gospel accounts that show different views of Jesus’ death (see Luke 23:48, where the crowd returns from the crucifixion beating their breasts, a sign of mourning).

In John 20:19-31, Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked and shut room and declares, “Peace be with you.” He breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit, and have the power to forgive sins. However, Thomas was not among the disciples gathered that night. Thomas is given a passing mention in the other three Gospels that he is called the Twin (Thomas in Aramaic sounds like the Greek name Didymus, which means Twin), but Thomas first appears in John in 11:16. When Jesus speaks of going to Lazarus, which the other disciples warned him against because of the authorities that wanted to kill Jesus, Thomas declares, “Let us go so that we might die with him.” This first appearance of Thomas is bold, willing to die for Jesus. Yet a few chapters later, in 14:5, when Jesus has told the disciples they know the way to the place he is going (referring to his death), Thomas replies, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Thomas’ journey is one of boldness to doubt that first Sunday after the resurrection. Unless he sees and touches Jesus, experiencing the resurrected Jesus himself, he will not believe. However, when Jesus appears before Thomas the next week, Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’s journey is woven through John’s narrative of Jesus—what we think we know will fall apart, but what we hold on to in faith will not die. Doubt is a part of our faith journey, but if we allow doubt to separate us from others, we will miss out.

The Narrative Lectionary’s secondary reading is Psalm 145:13-21. This psalm praises God for faithfulness from one generation to the next. God’s reign is everlasting. God lifts up those who are struggling. God provides for all people and all creatures in due season because God is just and kind. God stays near to those who call on God in sincerity, watching over the faithful, and hearing our cries—but God will execute justice against those who do evil. The psalmist concludes with a commitment to praise God and a call for all of creation to bless God.

How does our faith endure when terrible things keep happening? How do we stay true when everything around us continues to fall apart? We remember that we are not alone. This is why we come together as the ecclesia, the church, the gathered body of believers. When we fall, others lift us up. When we doubt, others encourage us (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that two are better than one, and woe to the one who falls and does not have another to lift them up). When we think of the disciples, all of them fell short, all of them failed, but they all came together again after Jesus’ death, except for Judas. Perhaps that was the great betrayal—he not only betrayed Jesus but all of them by opting out. Thomas tried to opt out, but the others encouraged him, and in their encouragement and inclusion, he experienced the risen Christ.

Call to Worship (from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Two are better than one,
For they have a good reward for their work,
For if they fall,
One will lift up the other.
Woe to the one who falls alone,
For we were not created to be alone.
We were created to be the body of Christ,
In whom we live, and move, and have our being.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Breaker of Chains, Render of Tombs, we confess that somehow we still think we can do this all alone. That we don’t need others, and at times, that we don’t need You. Somehow, we think we are strong enough, but when we fall, we feel hopeless and helpless. You are the God who rolls away the stone. You are the God who breaks the chains. You are the God who brought a people out of oppression through the wilderness to their safety. You brought a people out of exile into liberation. You bring forth life from death. Remind us of how much we need You, O God, and help us to rejoice and give thanks that You have not left us alone, but created us to be in community. For You are the God of us all, the God of the people, and we praise Your name. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God never leaves us alone. Even when we run as far away as we possibly can, God is still within us. God brings the people into our lives that we need, and God provides a home for us on this bountiful earth full of God’s creatures. We are never alone. We are always loved. We are always needed. Know how much God loves you and needs you as part of God’s beloved community. Go, embrace others, forgive one another, and share God’s love with the world. Amen.

Prayer
God of Wild Winds and Rain, You move in awesome ways upon our earth. After the storm in autumn, the trees are stripped bare and the nakedness of the world is revealed, a stripping away of the old to prepare for winter and the rebirth that comes. Following the storms of spring, the grass is bright green, full of life, and the soil ready to burst forth with life. You are the God of all seasons in all parts of our world. As storms roll through our lives, help us to be ready to serve those in need, for those who face destruction and loss, and help us to be ready for opportunities of new life to flourish. In our own seasons of need, may Your love be made known to us in the love of others. May we become the living hope others need in this time. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 17th, 2022–Easter Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Resurrection of our Lord, John 20:1-18 (Psalm 118:21-29)

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

In the Easter season, the first scripture reading for the Revised Common Lectionary is usually from the book of Acts. To give some background to this passage, in chapter 10, a Roman Centurion named Cornelius was sent by a vision to Peter. Meanwhile, Peter beheld a vision in which a tablecloth was spread with all kinds of food, including foods considered unclean. A voice beckoned him to eat, but Peter refused. However, the voice told him to never consider unclean what God made clean. This was different than what Peter had been taught. Then Peter met with Cornelius, wanting to know why Cornelius sent for him when it was known that Peter, as a Jewish man, was not to associate with Gentiles, according to the writer of Acts. Note that according to The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, some Jewish people did associate with Gentiles, so this was not a universal understanding. Cornelius shared his vision from the angel. In the reading for today, Peter declares that he now understands God shows no partiality, but that the message of God is for all nations, all people. Peter understands that Jesus was sent by God, anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach peace to the people of Israel. Peter and the others witnessed his ministry along with his death on the cross, and that God raised him on the third day. Peter declares that Jesus commanded them after his resurrection to preach to the people and testify to him, and that all who believe in Jesus’ name will have forgiveness of sins.

The alternative for the first reading is from the prophet Isaiah 65:17-25. The prophet, having witnessed the return of the exiles both to their home and back to their old ways, speaks on behalf of God, who is about to create new heavens and a new earth. There will be no more sorrow or mourning, no more death. All that was in the past will be forgotten. There shall be peace in all of creation, and everything that the people have worked for, to build community, health, and well-being for all people of all ages and abilities—they shall enjoy the work of their hands and the fruit of God’s creation. God is making all things new.

The selection for the psalm is similar to Palm Sunday’s, choosing Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 (the Narrative Lectionary follows the reading from Palm Sunday as it’s secondary passage of vs. 19-29). Repeating the refrain of God’s steadfast love endures forever, this slightly different selection begins at verse 14 with songs of gladness for victory. The psalmist declares that they shall not die, but they will live. Calling the congregation to worship in the temple, as the people prepare to process in, the psalmist reminds the people that though the world rejected them, God has chosen them. This is God’s day—rejoice and be glad!

Paul declares to the church in Corinth that if Christians don’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead, we have indeed been foolish. In 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 Paul addresses the controversy where some Christians were saying it only seemed like Christ raised from the dead. Christ is the first of the new creation, as Adam was the first of the original creation. We are created as something new because of Christ, who is the one who will outlast and endure over all other rulers, and all power will come under him, including the power of death, the last enemy to be destroyed.

(If the Isaiah passage is chosen, then the Acts passage is chosen in lieu of the Epistle reading).

John 20:1-18 is the primary Gospel lesson for the Revised Common Lectionary and is the lesson for the Narrative Lectionary. All four gospels tell this story slightly differently: in John, it was still dark when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb alone and found the stone was already rolled away. Mary ran to tell Peter and the “other,” “beloved” unnamed disciple that the writer of John alludes to as being present in the second half of the gospel, and they both came running. The other disciple outran Peter, but Peter managed to go inside first, finding the linen wrappings and the cloth on Jesus’s head all rolled up neatly. The other disciple then entered the tomb, and “saw and believed.” However, both Peter and this other disciple returned to their own homes. Mary stayed. She was weeping in the garden, and she looked in the tomb and saw two angels who asked her why she was crying. She told them that “they” (we assume some local religious authorities, although it isn’t explained) had taken her Lord and didn’t know where he was. She then confronted a gardener who also asked her why she was crying, and she asked him if he had taken away the body. Then the gardener said her name, and Mary recognized her teacher. Jesus told her not to hold on to him, but to go and tell the disciples that he was ascending to God. Mary went and witnessed to the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord and told them all what Jesus said to her, the first to witness the resurrection and proclaim the good news.

An alternative selection is Luke 24:1-12. In Luke’s account, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women who traveled with Jesus came to the tomb at early dawn. They found the stone rolled away and were perplexed. Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. These angels remark, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Then they remind the women what Jesus told them in Galilee, and they went and told the remaining disciples and “the rest,” other followers of Jesus. At this point, Peter ran to the tomb and found the linen wrappings by themselves, amazed at what happened.

Even though Jesus said that on the third day he would be raised, how could anyone believe it? How could anyone who witnessed such horrors as the crucifixion, the last and final punishment by the empire, believe that anything good could still happen? How could anyone live again after dying? Paul knew that some were skeptical and believed that Jesus only appeared to die, or appeared to live again, that it couldn’t be a physical resurrection. But that’s just it: God has done the impossible. Everything else in our world and our lives can be explained, but not this. God made life triumph over death. This is unexplainable. It is unbelievable—and yet, belief has triumphed over skepticism. Love has triumphed over hate. Life triumphs over death. The reign of Christ triumphs over the empires of the world. Christ is Risen!

Call to Worship
On the first day of the week, at early dawn,
The stone was rolled away!
The women entered the tomb,
There was no body to be found!
The angels said to them,
“Do not be afraid!
He is not here,
For Christ is Risen!”
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, Loving One, that Christ is Risen Indeed! We confess that we are still beholden to worldly notions of what is final and done, and do not yet understand the fullness of Your Gospel, that Your love endures forever. Guide us from the shadows of the tomb into the radiance of dawn. May we understand now that even if we see in a mirror dimly, one day we shall understand face to face and be blown away by Your compassion, mercy, and grace. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We know who our Redeemer is. Flesh and blood, born as one of us, living and breathing as one of us, and dying as one of us, we confess that Christ is Risen, and there is nothing that holds us back from the love of God. Beloved, you are forgiven. You are precious to God. In Christ, you hold the resurrection, and new life that is blooming now. Go and share the Good News of Christ. Amen.

Prayer
God of Ever-Flowing Life, our ancestors in the faith paused for a day after Your death. They paused before entering the tomb. They paused at the words of the angels. Life flows on in endless song, as we are taught, and nothing can stop love and life, but remind us that the pauses are necessary. Even now, as we rejoice in Your resurrection, help us to pause and ponder what it means to move from one moment to the next. Help us to remember to pause for death so that we have space to grieve, and then the space to rejoice in Your resurrection. Help us not to fill pauses with busy-ness, but to create more pauses in our life so that we might contemplate Your life, death, and resurrection, all for us, out of Your great love. For Your love and life are ever-flowing, and will sustain us in the pauses and rests. Amen.

Worship Resource for April 10th, 2022—Palm and Passion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary
Palm Sunday: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:15-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus’s Last Words, John 19:16b-22, or Triumphal Entry, John 12:12-27 (Psalm 24)

We begin Palm Sunday’s readings with Psalm 118, a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from both Egypt and the Exile, for entering the temple and proclaiming God’s reign. This psalm is repeated as a lectionary choice in the Easter season, proclaiming God’s steadfast love and faithfulness which endures forever. In verses 19-29, the psalmist calls the community into worship, processing into the temple. The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. God shined a light on the people and the people know God’s salvation.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is very similar to Matthew and Mark, but the words from the disciples mirror the words of the angels proclaiming Jesus’s birth. The angels spoke of glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those whom God favors. Here, the disciples call out “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” They refer to Jesus as the king who comes in the name of God. And in a unique portion of Luke’s account, some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to order his disciples to stop. Remembering that some Pharisees warned Jesus back in 13:31-35 that Herod wanted to kill him, perhaps they were concerned that now Pilate would want to kill Jesus, who was probably entering Jerusalem on a white horse, maybe even that same day. However, Jesus responds with, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Just as the angels spoke on the day of Jesus’ birth, now the disciples speak with heavenly authority: peace will come, the Messiah will reign.

The readings for Passion Sunday begin with Isaiah 50:4-9a. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah is the people of Israel personified. God is the one who lifts up and helps the servant and knows their true innocence though they have suffered from their enemies. God is the one who justifies the people, and the servant knows there is no reason for shame or disgrace, for God is the one who knows them and will bring help and deliverance.

The psalmist has suffered in Psalm 31:9-16. They are distressed and grieving, forgotten by their neighbors, and in anguish. Their enemies have schemed against them, and their life is in danger. Yet they put their trust in God and know that God will be faithful. They plea for God’s deliverance, and know the future is in God’s hands.

Philippians 2:5-11 contains an ancient confession of the church. Whether originally by Paul or quoted by Paul, this confession states that though Christ was equal to God, he did not abuse his power, but became humble and emptied himself as a human being, humble and obedient to the point of death on the cross. God lifted him up and exalted him so that everyone will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The Passion selections are either the shorter selection of Luke 23:1-49 or the longer narrative of Luke 22:15-23:56. The longer passage begins with the Passover meal. Note that this is not the same as the seder meals celebrated today, but rather the tradition of the seder and the tradition of Communion both emerged as Jewish and Christian practices respectively after the destruction of the temple in the year 70 C.E. Instead, Jesus had gathered for a Passover meal. In Luke’s account, Jesus does lift up a cup before the bread, and an additional one after the bread, which has led some to think this was a new interpretation of the Passover meal. However, we must remember that Luke’s account was also written after the destruction of the temple, and the author may be inserting some of what has become tradition onto the narrative of what happened years before when Christ was betrayed. In Luke’s account, the argument among the disciples over who was the greatest also takes place after the meal, instead of earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus speaks of the importance of serving one another at the table and warns Simon of betrayal and denial.

When they are about to leave, Jesus tells them they will be counted among criminals, and some say to him “here are two swords.” Later, however, when one of them strikes the ear of the slave serving the high priest with their sword, Jesus declares, “No more of this.” It appears that while Jesus wanted them to be prepared for what was to come, violence was not what Jesus intended or desired. He touched the slave’s ear and healed him. Meanwhile, while they are in the garden, unique to this account of Luke’s, there is a vision of an angel who comes while Jesus is praying, and Jesus’s sweat becomes like drops of blood. Jesus is betrayed, Peter denies him, and Jesus is mocked and abused before he is taken before the religious leadership in Jerusalem.

In chapter 23 (beginning the shorter reading), Jesus is first brought before Pilate, and then he is brought to Herod—a story unique to Luke’s account. Herod was interested in Jesus, as he had been in John the Baptist, and wanted Jesus to perform a sign. However, when Jesus wouldn’t respond to his questioning, Herod was displeased, and had him dressed up in a robe and sent back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod, who had been enemies, were now friends—two people united in a common cause to stop any revolution from happening in Jerusalem that would usurp either’s power.

As with Matthew and Mark, Pilate doesn’t find any reason to charge Jesus, but gives in to the crowd who wants Barabbas released instead of Jesus and orders him to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus, while the women who followed Jesus mourned and wailed. Jesus told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, for what was to come—the revolt in Jerusalem and destruction of the temple.

Also unique to Luke’s account is that of the others crucified with Jesus, one rebukes the other, saying they deserved death while Jesus was innocent, and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus responded that on that day they would be together in paradise. Jesus is killed on the cross, and the centurion standing by declares that truly Jesus was innocent. In verse 49, Luke’s account states that all who knew Jesus—including the women who followed him—stood at a distance observing these things.

The longer reading continues with Jesus’ burial by Joseph, a member of the council who didn’t agree with the others. He was from Arimathea and had Jesus’ body taken down while the women prepared spices and oils for the tomb. All rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

The Narrative Lectionary has been following John’s account of Jesus’s last night for several weeks, concluding this Sunday with the Crucifixion in 19:16b-22. In John’s account, Jesus carried the cross, not Simon of Cyrene. This section, however, mainly focuses on Pilate’s words. Pilate had a sign placed above Jesus’ head that read in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” While the religious leaders complained, Pilate refuted them saying, “I have written what I have written.” Pilate’s sign clearly made this a political execution, that Jesus had challenged Roman authority and failed.

The alternative passage for the Narrative Lectionary is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in John 12:12-27. Similar to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, although in John’s account it is Jesus who found the donkey rather than sending his disciples for it, and his disciples did not understand until after Jesus was glorified. The crowd was testifying about Jesus because they had witnessed Lazarus raised from the dead. Some of the religious leaders were furious. Some Greeks came and also wanted to see Jesus. When his disciples told him this, Jesus declared it was time for the Son of Humanity to be glorified. He further taught his disciples that a grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die in order to bear fruit, otherwise it is only a seed. Those who serve Jesus must follow Jesus and must hate their lives in this world in order to save them. This was the time, the reason Jesus had come, even though he was deeply troubled about what lay ahead.

Psalm 24 is a song of worship, proclaiming that the earth is God’s sanctuary, and everything in it belongs to God. While the worshipers travel to the temple, they are reminded that God is everywhere, mighty and awesome, strong to save, the Ruler of all. The ones who can ascend God’s mountain, who can stand in the sanctuary, are the ones with clean hands and pure hearts—the ones who are true to who they are and are not deceitful. They will receive blessing and righteousness as they seek God.

From Palms to Passion, from “Hosanna” and “Blessed” to “Crucify Him!” On this Palm Sunday, we proclaim Christ reigns even in the face of death. Christ reigns in the face of worldly revolution, while calling us to a revolution of our hearts. Empires can squash rebellions and crucify leaders, but God can raise the dead. The true revolution is understanding that hate and death will never have the final word, but love and life will. Hope endures. Palm Sunday reminds us that in one moment we can be at our very best and the next at our very worst. We are a fickle people, and have been, all the way back to our ancestors of the faith. We fail and fall short. And yet, we still see glimpses of hope. “Hosanna, save us!” “Peace in heaven,” we call out to the angels who once sang, “Peace on earth.” We desire peace, but it is difficult to pursue in this world (Psalm 34:14). As we continue to experience the war in Ukraine, violence by brutal military regime in Myanmar, violence in our streets and in our homes, we cry out in desperation: “Hosanna, save us!” And may the peace we call out to heaven be reflected here on earth.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1, 19, 21 and 24)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Open to us the gates of righteousness,
May we enter through them and give thanks to our God.
We thank God, for God has answered us,
And has become our salvation.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we sing Your praises in one breath and curse one another in the next. We fail to follow You and to live into Your ways. We follow the ways of this world, the crowds of power, and feed the fears of the powerful. We abandon faith in You to chase a passing glimpse of worldly satisfaction and security. Forgive us for our foolishness. Call us back into Your ways of love, compassion, and hope. Call us into living into Your ways of healing and reparation and restoration. In the name of Jesus Christ, who entered Jerusalem as one of us and died for us all, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We know that our Redeemer lives. We know that in the face of all our faults and shortcomings, Christ lifts us up, embraces us, and forgives us. You are loved. You are forgiven. You belong to Christ and can never be forgotten. You are valued. Know your worth—you are God’s beloved child, and with you God is well pleased. Go forth and share the good news of God’s hope to the world. Amen.

Prayer
God of Death and Life, You have made us to become like seeds that fall to the ground, so that we will bear much fruit by dying to the ways of this world and being born in Your way. We are afraid to let go. We have known only this way that the world has taught us, to put ourselves and our desires first, but we know Your Way is the Truth and the Life. Help us to let go of the worldly understanding of success. Help us to let go of the world and to fall into You. Help us to take root and to bear fruit, so that all may know Your abundant love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 3, 2022—Fifth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Condemned, John 19:1-16a (Psalm 146)

The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people returning from exile on behalf of God in Isaiah 43:16-21 that God will make a way for them. As God made a way for the people in the Exodus out of their oppression in Egypt, so God will make a way for the exiles out of Babylon through the wilderness. God is doing a new thing—can’t the people sense it? Even the wild animals honor God because God provides for them in the wilderness, and so God will provide for the people. God chose the people of Israel that they might praise God, that they might know God’s mighty deeds in history, as God brings them once again into a land promised.

Psalm 126 is a song of rejoicing in returning from the exile. God has brought great joy to the people. It’s like a dream—those who went out weeping have returned rejoicing. God has restored the people the way God restores the seasonal waters in the desert of the Negev. The people who had everything taken from them except their seeds are returning with arms full of the harvest.

Paul appeals to the church in Philippi because of his background and what he has given up for the sake of Christ in 3:4b-14. He could boast of his heritage and education and experience, but he gave it all up for the sake of Christ. In Paul’s own experience of suffering and imprisonment, he has understood Christ’s sufferings and the power of resurrection. Whatever gains he may have had from his legacy and upbringing, only the knowledge of Christ as his Lord has given meaning to his life and hope for new life. This is what Paul strives for, as he has left behind who he was to cling to who Christ has made him to be.

In John’s account of the Gospel, it is Mary, Martha’s sister, who anoints Jesus’ feet in John 12:1-8. Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus to listen and learn in Luke 10:38-42, and who wept at his feet in John 11:32-36, took a jar of perfume of costly nard to anoint Jesus’ feet. In the other three accounts of this story in the Gospels, more than one disciple complained, not just Judas, who asked why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus commands Judas (and the other disciples) to leave her alone, that she bought that perfume for the day of his burial, indicating that she was anointing him before death. Jesus then quotes Deuteronomy 15:11, which states that there are always opportunities to show kindness to the poor, though this is often lost in context. In the very next chapter, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, mirroring the act of kindness and preparation that Mary bestowed upon him.

The Narrative Lectionary is following the events of Jesus’ last night before his crucifixion. In last week’s reading, Jesus was questioned by Pontius Pilate. In this week’s reading of 19:1-16a, Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers, having him whipped. The soldiers dressed him in a purple robe and crown of thorns, a mockery of a king. Pilate declared he found no reason to charge Jesus, but the crowds called for him to be crucified. The religious leaders claimed Jesus had blasphemed and that was enough for death, but that Pilate needed to be the one to sentence him. Pilate warned Jesus he had the authority to release him, if Jesus would back down from his words, but Jesus told Pilate that Pilate’s authority was given to him from above. It is important to remember that the community of John’s Gospel account was in deep division with their Jewish neighbors in the community, and so the portrayal of Pilate as someone who didn’t want to hand Jesus over but felt forced to is skewed. It is still clear that Pilate had Jesus whipped and beaten. The religious leaders told Pilate they had no king but the emperor, a clear call to Pilate’s authority under Rome, and yet Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Psalm 146 is a song of praise, but also contains a warning not to trust any human beings, any worldly leaders, because they will fall away, and only last so long. God’s faithfulness endures forever. God is the God of our ancestors, of Jacob, and God made the whole earth. God is the one who gives justice to the people oppressed and bread to the hungry, frees the prisoners, protects immigrants, and helps the most vulnerable, the orphans and widows among us. God reigns forever.

Worldly leaders fail us, but God’s reign endures forever. In the stories of our ancestors we know that God will make a way where there is none. God will do a new thing when only the old has remained. God will find a way where there has been no way. Jesus prepares us to serve by washing his disciple’s feet, because we will always have an opportunity to serve one another. Jesus himself was prepared by Mary who acted with compassion to him, because even Christ needs our compassion. Our worldly leaders have failed us, but Christ is victorious, because he emptied himself, becoming like us, and shows us how to love one another and serve one another.

Call to Worship (Psalm 146:1-2, 6, 10)
Praise the Lord!
Let my whole being praise our God!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
I will sing praises to God as long as I live
God is the maker of heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them.
God is faithful forever,
Reigning from one generation to the next.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come before You, O God, recognizing that we have put our trust in worldly rulers, in worldly wealth and power. We have lifted up the strong and powerful and have trampled on the poor and needy. We have failed to show compassion to one another, and therefore, have failed to be compassionate to You. Forgive us, O God. Remind us of Your commandment to serve one another, to become last of all, to love one another as we love ourselves. Guide us into Your ways of justice and mercy and restoration, and most of all, Your way of deep compassion, as You have deep compassion for us. In the name of Jesus, who was moved to tears to raise the dead, moved to feed the hungry, moved to turn tables and heal those in need—may we be moved as well. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God is on the move. God is always at work, in our world and in our lives. Can you not perceive it? God is doing something new in you. Listen! The rustle of the wind, the song of the bird, even the faint buzz of the electric lights—God is alive. God is amazing. And God loves you madly. Seek healing and forgiveness and work for justice and reparation. God is with you. God is for you. Go! Do the work Christ has called you to do, and know that you are loved and are not alone on this journey of faith. Amen.

Prayer
God of Compassion, remind us that You breathe life into us. You are the still, small voice. You are the one who enfolds us. You know our hearts. You know the knots in our stomachs, the weight on our shoulders, the pain in our temples. Help us to breathe deeply into Your compassion, to love ourselves. Help us to breathe Your love into the stresses of our lives and to release them to You. May we hand over our burdens, O God. May we lay them down. May we stretch out and feel Your love flow through our very veins, knowing that You knit us together, and are continuing to make us new. Heal us, O God, and help us to have deep compassion for ourselves, so we may be filled with Your compassion for one another. Amen.