Worship Resources for January 31st, 2021—Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Healing on the Sabbath, Luke 6:1-16 (Psalm 92)

Moses, as part of his final discourse to the people in Deuteronomy, spoke to the people about their future in 18:15-20. God would raise up a prophetic line that would intermediate between God and the people. Because of the tradition that if one beheld the face of God or heard the voice of God they would die, God chose prophets to speak to them instead. More importantly, God would choose someone from among them, not an outsider, to speak to them. They would speak for no other god, or they would die—and God would hold the prophets accountable for what they said on God’s behalf.

The psalmist sings praise to God in the midst of the congregation in Psalm 111. God is the one who keeps the covenant with the people, even providing food for those in awe of God. The psalmist praises God for God’s works and power, shown to the people and studied by the faithful. Those who are in awe of God have the beginning of wisdom. God has redeemed the people through the covenant, and God’s precepts and ordinances are established forever for the faithful.

Paul speaks to a specific concern in the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. In the city of Corinth and many other Greek cities, meat to eat was obtained at the temples to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon after they were sacrificed. For the new Greek converts in the church in Corinth, they took the call to not serve idols very seriously and abandoned eating meat. For Paul and other Jewish followers of Jesus, who did not believe in any other gods existing besides God, it was of no concern, but Paul urged them not to become stumbling blocks for the new Greek believers. If it came down to it, Paul would never eat meat again rather than causing an issue for a new believer to fall away.

Jesus speaks in a synagogue in Capernaum in Mark 1:21-28, and astounds the members of the synagogue as he teaches with authority. A man with an unclean spirit challenges Jesus, and Jesus rebukes the spirit, which leaves the man alone. The people who witness this are astonished at Jesus’ authority even over unclean spirits, and declare it a “new teaching—with authority.” The word gets out throughout Galilee of what Jesus is able to do.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Jesus in Luke’s account, healing on the Sabbath in Luke 6:1-16 right before he appoints the twelve disciples to be apostles. Jesus and his disciples pluck grain and eat the grain heads on the Sabbath, and some of the religious leaders question why he is doing this on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by reminding them that David ate the bread of presence in the Temple, reserved only for priests, and ate it along with his companions when they were hungry. On another Sabbath, Jesus also taught in a synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand. Jesus questions the religious leaders as whether it is lawful to do good on the sabbath or not. Jesus’ questions are about what the Sabbath is for—is it to keep law and order, or is it to do God’s will? It does us well to remember that not all Jewish leaders understood the Sabbath in this way, and that Jesus’ questioning was in line with how rabbis in Jesus’ day learned from each other, by questioning and discussing with each other the teachings of scripture.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist gives thanks to God and sings for joy for what God has done for themselves as well as for all the people, as they worship God and ponder God’s works. God has delivered the psalmist from their enemies. The faithful are like planted trees, an image from Psalm 1, that God helps to grow strong and flourish and produce fruit, even in old age. This psalm has a notation that it is a psalm for the Sabbath day.

“The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom.” This is a phrase repeated throughout Wisdom literature, especially in Psalms and Proverbs. All too often, human beings like to reign in God, to claim to know how God works through our own human understanding. Jesus’ questions about the Sabbath, or calling out unclean spirits, spoke to the people of a new understanding of how God was at work—a “new authority.” However, God often spoke to the people throughout the Bible in new ways—raising up prophets, inspiring the sages of old who taught about the awe, or fear, of God. God is beyond our understanding, and our attempts to place limits on what God can do or act often fail—and sometimes, others are excluded, marginalized, and oppressed by our attempts to limit our understanding of God. Paul warned against this in the church in Corinth. Nonetheless, God manages to show us God’s works despite human beings attempts, and human beings go in waves of understanding God is doing something new.

Call to Worship
God is awe-inspiring, more wondrous than the depths of space,
God is the Creator of the Universe, beyond our understanding.
God is Almighty, powerful and amazing,
And God is also in the stillness, the Spirit moving in the breeze.
God is far beyond our comprehension,
Yet God knows each of us, and God is made known to us.
We worship God, though we do not fully understand now,
We know that God is still being revealed to us, through us, and in us.
God is here, among us now, wherever we are gathered.
Listen to the movement of the Spirit, and follow Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we have placed limits on You. We’ve tried to fit you into a box of theology, a box of polity and rules, a box of limited human understanding. You’ve broken the world, even the universe, open to us again and again, but still we try to be gatekeepers. O forgive us, our human, faulty selves, for not listening to You, for not comprehending, for not simply sitting in Wisdom’s understanding and contemplating Your teaching. Forgive our selfish impulses to try to reign You in and put harmful limitations on others. Call us into Your deeper ways of understanding, and may we truly love one another and love You, for this is what You have commanded. In the name of Wisdom, in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Spirit among us, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love is with us, always, for God is love. That love has no boundaries or borders, no limits. God’s love is within you, now. You are forgiven, because you are beloved of God, so much so that Jesus came and showed us the way, the truth, and the life. Go into the world with the grace of God, and share God’s love. Amen.

Prayer
God Who Speaks, speak in our hearts the way You spoke over the depths of creation. Speak to us tenderly the way You spoke to the first human beings. Speak to us as You spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend. Speak in our hearts, speak in our bodies to remind us that we are made in Your image and made to be good. Speak to us in the stillness and silence the way You spoke to Elijah long ago. Speak to us as You speak to the poets and prophets of all the ages. Speak to us through art and dance and music. Speak to us in the waves on the water and the gentle breeze. Speak to us, O God, so we may remember Your voice, in all the ways You speak to us. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 24th, 2021—Third Sunday after Epiphany

Worship Resources for January 24th, 2021—Third Sunday after Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Fish for People, Luke 5:1-11 (Psalm 90:14-17)

Jonah was the most successful prophet in the Bible. Though for the first two chapters of Jonah he tried to do the opposite of what God had told him (literally fleeing in the opposite direction), he went to Nineveh and proclaimed that the city would be overthrown by God. Everyone in Nineveh believed what Jonah said, and they put on sackcloth and fasted. God changed their mind about what would happen to Nineveh, because the people changed their ways, and God did not bring about their destruction.

The psalmist sings of how God alone is the one they wait for, the one they know is their rock and holds their salvation in Psalm 62:5-12. They call upon the people to put their trust in God, and not the ways of the world. Greed, robbery, and extortion will lead people astray; however, power is found in God, and God knows our works.

Paul warned that “the present form of this world is passing away” in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. This brief passage warned the things believers took for granted—marriage, possessions, wealth, even grief and joy—all of this was changing soon in Paul’s view. The things that made meaning for people in his day would no longer have meaning.

Jesus began his ministry and called his first disciples after John was arrested in Mark 1:14-20. Jesus declared that the time was fulfilled, and the reign of God was at hand. He took on the message of John the Baptist: repent, and believe in the good news. Jesus then came upon some fisherman along the sea of Galilee—first Simon and Andrew, then James and John. He called them to follow him, for he would make them fish for people. James and John left their father Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired men, and followed Jesus. What Jesus said, or how he presented himself, we do not know, but it was enough that these fisherman left everything they knew, everything that gave their life meaning before, to follow him.

The Narrative Lectionary also follows the call of the first disciples, following Luke’s account in 5:1-11. In Luke’s account, Jesus has already begun preaching, even teaching in his hometown synagogue. Here, the crowds have followed Jesus to Lake Gennesaret to hear the word of God, and Jesus gets into the boat belonging to Simon. He teaches the crowds from the boat. After he finishes speaking, he tells Simon where to put his nets in the water. There is a miraculous catch of fish, in which Simon needs help to pull the nets in. Simon recognizes that Jesus must be from God, for he falls to Jesus’ knees and calls him Lord, telling Jesus to go away for he feels he is not worthy. However, Jesus tells him, and James and John, that from now on they will catch people.

Psalm 90:14-17 is part of a prayer to God for blessing upon the people who have served God faithfully, that God’s work would be made known among them. The psalmist specifically asks God to bless the work of the faithful, that God’s power would be made known through them and their children, that God’s favor would be upon them.

In the United States, we are living through a tumultuous time. This will be the first Sunday after the inauguration of a new president while the former president faces an impeachment trial (at least, at the time I am writing this). Who knows what is in store for us, and what is coming ahead in our Covid world? 2020 taught us that we can’t predict what is to come. But perhaps what we can do is listen for when Jesus is calling us. Listen to God, and we can’t go wrong, even if it is inconvenient, like it was for Jonah, or even if we are afraid we aren’t good enough or prepared enough, like Simon in Luke’s account. Or maybe we’re called, like James and John, to leave a relationship behind in the boat. Can you imagine what it felt like when they left their father behind in the boat? Or what was going through Zebedee’s mind as his sons just walked away from everything they knew? What might we be called to leave behind that is painful, but necessary in order to follow Jesus?

Call to Worship
“The time is fulfilled;
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
The reign of God has drawn near;
Repent, and believe in the Good News.”
Jesus is calling out to us;
“Repent, and believe in the Good News.
“Come, follow me, and gather people,
Repent, and believe in the Good News.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Savior Christ, we confess that though we have heard You call our name, we have been reluctant to follow You. We are stubborn to live into Your ways of justice that call us to dismantle structures that empower us over others. We hesitate to turn away from systems that benefit us. We squirm when called to repentance, unwilling to abandon the worldly systemic sin that create wealth and power for some, and requires others to go without. Forgive us. Call us into repentance, and call us by name, so we may turn our hearts to You. Savior Christ, help us to live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Jesus calls us by name, calls us from the ways of the world and to use our gifts for the kin-dom of God. You have gifts that are precious to the work of Christ in this world. God needs you. You are blessed and beloved of God. Turn back to God, repent, and know God’s forgiveness, grace, and love. Show your love for one another and use your God-given gifts for Christ’s work in this world. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, hold us gently in this time of turmoil and uncertainty. Remind us of the everyday blessings of sunshine and rain, wind and clouds. Your presence is as sure as the ground beneath us. Help us to be rooted in You and to reach toward the sun, to stretch beyond what is in front of us to know Your warmth and grace are within us. May Your spirit move in us, reminding us that we are not alone, and we were created to be with one another. Grant us assurance in this season. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 17th, 2020—Second Sunday after Epiphany, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday (U.S.)

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

Narrative Lectionary: Sermon at Nazareth, Luke 4:14-30 (Psalm 146)

The boy Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, a long-wanted child promised to Hannah by God after she prayed that she would conceive, and she dedicated him to the Lord. Samuel was raised in the temple at Shiloh and ministered under the priest Eli. Samuel was sleeping in the room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and he heard a voice call his name. He went to Eli three times, and on the third time, Eli recognized that it was God calling the boy’s name, and he told Samuel to respond to God that he was listening. When God called Samuel’s name a fourth time, Samuel listened. God told Samuel what he was going to do, that it would make the ears of those who heard it “tingle.” God’s judgment would come down on the house of Eli because his sons did not follow God’s ways. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli, but Eli told him not to be afraid, because if it came from God, he should not hide it. So Samuel told Eli what God had spoken to him about Eli’s sons, and Eli understood. Samuel listened to God and told others what God told him, and thus became a prophet for God.

Psalm 139 is an intimate prayer to God. The psalmist writes poetically of how deeply God knows them, how wonderful God is, and how God is far too wondrous for the psalmist to grasp. It is God who knitted the psalmist in their mother’s womb, God who knows their inmost thoughts. God is the one who knows our beginnings and endings. God is beyond our understanding, and the psalmist cannot begin to comprehend the thoughts of God.

The Epistle reading follows 1 Corinthians for the next few weeks. In 6:12-20, Paul writes of the body as a temple for the Holy Spirit, and how we care for ourselves and care for our relationships with others is also how we care for God within us. Paul specifically writes of the social context of the city of Corinth, where temple prostitution was common among Greeks. In contrast, for Christians, the temple is our body. We honor God by caring for those we are in sexual relationships with as well as ourselves. Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about two becoming one flesh. In Paul’s view, those who engage in relations with the temple prostitutes are not caring for their temple for the Holy Spirit: their body. They are worshiping other gods in their sexual relationships.

John is the only gospel that mentions the disciple Nathanael, and in 1:43-51, he follows Jesus, but only after some persuasion. At first Philip answers the call to follow Jesus, and then Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that he’s found the Messiah, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. But Nathanael asks the famous question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” A small backwater Galilean town was not where one would normally go looking for a Messiah. But Philip persuades him, and when Nathanael approaches Jesus, Jesus knows there’s no fooling him. Jesus tells Nathanael he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, and Nathanael believes, proclaiming “Rabbi, you are the son of God!” Jesus asks him if he believes because Jesus told him, and that he will see greater things than these. Jesus then alludes to the image of heaven that their ancestor Jacob beheld, of angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account. Jesus preaches in his hometown synagogue in 4:14-30, reading from the scroll of Isaiah, chapter 61. When Jesus declares the Good News has been proclaimed and fulfilled in their hearing, those in the synagogue spoke well of him. They were proud that this was Joseph’s son, someone they knew. But then Jesus changes the tune. He knows they would want him to perform the same miracles he performed elsewhere to prove to them who he was. He declared that no prophet would be accepted in their hometown. Elijah was sent not to the widows of Israel, but the widow in Zarephath. There were many lepers in Israel, but Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian. And when Jesus’ neighbors heard this, these examples that Jesus used to show how God turned to outsiders, they turned from praise to rage. They drove him out of town, and wanted to throw him off a cliff—but somehow, Jesus managed to pass through them, and went on his way.

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to God, reminding the people that they can’t trust worldly leaders, but they can trust God who made the heaven and earth and keeps faith forever. God is the one who delivers justice for the oppressed, gives food the hungry, sets the prisoners free. Mirroring Isaiah 61 and what Jesus preached in his home synagogue, the psalm sings of God’s good news to those in need, and praises God for God’s reign, which endures forever.

In the United States, this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. We do well to remember not only Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, but also his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and countless other letters and sermons. Like Jesus in Luke 4, often white Christians want to hear what Dr. King had to say when it is easy. When it is hard, white Christians tend to dismiss or ignore his teachings. Like the prophets before him, Dr. King called out for justice—which is good news for the poor, marginalized and oppressed, but not so good for those in power. Prophets have honor except in their hometown—or when they speak truth to power.

Call to Worship
God hears the cries of the oppressed;
Speak to us, O God, so we may listen.
God notices the plight of the hungry and homeless;
Call to us, O God, to take notice.
God knows the struggles of the imprisoned;
Open our hearts, O God, to Your mercy and justice.
God speaks to us, calling us by name,
And we are listening, O God; ready to do Your will.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that privilege allows us to not recognize the plight of those around us. We confess that the assumptions we have from our experiences shade how we view the struggles of others. We judge based on what we know, instead of learning from others views and understandings. Forgive us when we unintentionally cause harm by our assumptions and fail to recognize the ways others are oppressed by our actions, words, and most importantly, by our silent indifference. Call us into repentance and accountability. Help us to listen to the prophets of old as well as the prophets among us today. Guide us into thoughtful action to change our ways and dismantle the systems of oppression that we live in. In Jesus’ name, who lived and died for us, and lives again, breaking the chains of sin and death, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Hagar, long ago, named God the God Who Sees. God sees us and knows our struggles. God takes notice of us, as God took notice of the Hebrews under Pharaoh’s rule, and God hears our cries of oppression. God knows where the sin of the world weighs us down. When we turn back to God, God forgives our sins. When we work to dismantle the systems of oppression in the world, we work to undo the power of sin. It is an act of repentance. It is hard work, but it is Godly work. Let God work in your hearts, and may God work in us as we work for justice, restoration, and healing in this world. Go with this good news: God loves you, God sees you, God knows you. God is working in you, and forgives you, and calls you into God’s ways. Amen.

Prayer
God of the Prophets, stir in us Your prophetic voice, manifesting Yourself in the gifts You have given us. Help us to be prophetic teachers, leaders, caretakers, artists and creatives. Call us to be prophetic parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, coaches and aides. Guide us to be prophetic in our workplaces when we witness injustice. May we be prophetic in whatever work we are in, and may our work empower us to do Your work. Help us to live prophetically to proclaim Your Good News for the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, as Isaiah and Jesus spoke long ago. Stir in us, O God, so that we might live out Your call to love, justice, mercy, and peace. Amen.

(From January 20th, 2013 archives)
Prayer
God of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God of Deborah and Anna, God of all our prophets: on this day, we honor the legacy of Dr. King, who prophetically witnessed to Your radical inclusive love. Help us to carry forth Your call to justice beyond this Sunday and into our daily lives. Help us to have the courage of Dr. King to stand with the oppressed, to lift up the poor, to live into God’s ways of peace demonstrated by Jesus the Christ. Give us the strength to build a better future for all our children. May we be challenged by this call, by the example of Dr. King, to live into Christ’s ways of love, justice, and peace. Amen.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Prayer/Litany (originally written in 2012 and updated in 2019; can be used as a single prayer or responsive litany):
Prayer:
God of Deborah and Samuel,
God of Anna and Simeon,
God of Isaiah and Jeremiah,
God of Huldah and all the prophets,
We honor our prophets of old and our prophets of today. We honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who called out for Your justice and righteousness for all people, but especially those who were oppressed because of racism and white supremacy. We remember how he put his own life on the line, dying in the struggle for freedom from oppression for all God’s children.
We remember all of the prophets, from Biblical times to today, who cried out for the oppressed.

We cry out with the prophets:

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

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

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

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

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

An Epiphany Prayer: January 6th, 2021

O God,
I want to pray, but there is no peace in my heart,
Only a fire of outrage that burns bright.
I want to know what to say, but all that comes forth
Are words not fit for a pastor to say publicly.
I am reminded that today is Epiphany,
The star is shining,
And the Magi are whispering words of wisdom.
“We’ve observed the star at its rising,
Proclaiming the birth of a newborn king.
Where are we to go?”
Where are we to go, indeed?
When we turn to the sages of old, our Scriptures teach us
To look for the unnoticeable,
To search for the undesirable,
To seek the forgotten and forlorn,
To bring our gifts and pay homage—to take notice of those
Whose voices have continuously been silenced by violence and rhetoric.
To listen, and to remember.
We know that this, too, will pass,
Kings and kingdoms rise and fall;
But we will return home by another way.
For we cannot go back, we can only go forward.
We cannot unlearn, we can only learn anew.
We can choose to remain in fear, or we can choose hope.
And hope does not disappoint, as the Scriptures remind us.
But hope can be painful. Hope can hurt,
Because Hope requires an awakening to what is real.
But Hope stretches beyond, and leads us on,
As the star did long ago.
O God of Wonder, Love, and Light,
Lead us on, Lord, Lead us on.

The Most Eclectic Book Review of 2020

As many of you know, every year I write a book review for every book I read throughout the year. For 2020, my goal was sixty books and I made it! This book review covers everything from Christian theology, nonfiction works on racism and white supremacy, to science fiction, fantasy, young adult romance. This year, I also read comic books! It’s an eclectic mix showing you what I read and what I have thought about them. To read more, follow me on Goodreads as Melinda Mitchell.

By the numbers, in 2020 I read:

34 Fiction, 26 Nonfiction

Fiction breakdown:

Science Fiction: 9
Fantasy: 8
Young Adult Fantasy: 7
Young Adult Contemporary/Romance: 3
Comic Books: 3
Middle Grade Fantasy: 2
Mystery: 1
Science Fiction Anthology (also contains nonfiction): 1

Nonfiction breakdown:

18: Christian theology, inspiration, leadership, prayer, meditation, etc, including 4 that focused on racism and/or decolonization of theology and church
5: Racism/White Privilege (not having to do with church)
1: Memoir
1: Collection of essays/opinions
1: Photo Journalism

Here is my eclectic book review of 2020:

1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Nonfiction: Memoir
I loved reading the story of Michelle Obama’s life, her dreams, goals and passion. Her insights into politics and the presidency were not only insightful, but at times I cried for where we are now as opposed to where we were. I appreciated that she shared her struggles in marriage and with infertility, with figuring out herself and her own dreams and desires, balancing work and motherhood and being the first lady. Highly recommend.

2. The Sacred Valley by Peggy Hahn
Nonfiction: Church Leadership
A companion to Faithful Metrics, the resources from LEAD (Live Everyday As Disciples) are essential for pastors today in casting vision and deepening spiritual life. The resources provide great tools for thinking differently about purpose, values, and how we grow.

3. Noumenon Infinity by Marina J. Lostetter
Science Fiction
The sequel to Noumenon, which I read at the end of 2019, provides some closure as to what happens to humanity a hundred thousand years into the future, through two different timelines. I loved the setup of Noumenon, of convoys from Earth leaving one hundred years from our present and traveling for thousands of years, each chapter jumping ahead to a new generation of the clones, so you are sort of following character lines. However, the conclusion was rushed, and left a lot of unanswered questions and some plot lines that were much weaker than others. I honestly enjoyed it up until the last few chapters, when I could see where it was trying to wrap up and the reader had to make leaps to accept the actions and reasoning of some characters that didn’t seem to mesh with what we’d read to that point.

4. Trauma and Grace: Theology In a Ruptured World by Serene Jones
Nonfiction: Christian Theology
I appreciated this book and an attempt to begin to understand trauma through a theological lens, as these questions are some of the most crucial for the church in these days. The book is from 2009 with the first two chapters written earlier, and I think that in 2020 the author might have new insights into collective trauma from our mass shootings. She does address it in the aftermath of 9/11, but I think the epidemic of mass shootings is a different scenario. It’s no longer terrorists and enemies, but people from our own communities, our neighbors with white supremacist ideology and hate for women. I also felt the author failed to address trauma caused by the church, and how we minister in a world where the church has caused incredible trauma through colonization and abuse. It’s a good start, but we need an update.

5. Pride Wars: The Four Guardians by Matt Laney
Upper Middle Grade Fantasy
The Pride Wars series is an incredible adventure! The people of the Pride Wars are descendants of evolved cat-people, and prince Leo, the main character, is on a quest to find out the truth about his people, his family, and his gifts of being a Spinner, able to bring fiction to life. In this second book, Leo travels across the border with his close friends to the Maugar, a people who are enemies of the Singa, his own pride. But the Singa reject Spinners and fiction, whereas the Maugar embrace these gifts and see Spinners as the way to stop evil in this world. Highly recommend this series!

6. Shameless: A Sexual Revolution by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Nonfiction: Christian Sexual Ethics
Bolz-Weber targets specifically shame surrounding sex through Christian tradition and a new Christian ethic. She doesn’t go too broadly into forming that new ethic, but specifically addresses the harm done by purity culture and the hypocrisy of what has been taught in evangelicalism. The stories she shares in this book offer grace and healing. There are other progressive Christian books that give a broader view of Christian sexual ethics that go beyond the traditional one-man-one-woman no-sex-before-marriage box, but this book is specifically speaking to shame, and on that narrow target, the author hits it directly.

7. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction: inspiration
This was a letdown for me. Anne Lamott was a writer I looked up to for many years. She was an inspiration in my faith journey. But her derogatory remarks towards a transgender person on Twitter and her subsequent un-apology left me holding her works at a distance. Still, I loved her writing. Help, Thanks, Wow was a fantastic read as was Small Victories, among her more recent works. Hallelujah Anyway begins with a great premise and a fantastic first chapter—and then it sort of falls apart with nonsensical ramblings and further attempts to justify her derogatory remarks. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t simply apologize and use it as a moment of stating where she had gone wrong, instead, it was shown as a moment where her son distanced himself from her, while she doubled-down on why she tweeted what she did. I wrote a longer review on Goodreads of what I found problematic.
Nonetheless, what moves me is when she writes of her own, personal experience. Her struggles with sobriety. Her struggles with finding the good, that sometimes God doesn’t have the answers. The way she finds herself in the stories in Scripture—they help us to find our own stories. These are the insights I received from Anne Lamott in the past, and appreciate.

8. Kiska: The Japanese Occupation of an Alaskan Island by Brendan Coyle
Nonfiction: Photojournalism, Military History
Many people don’t know that Attu and Kiska, the furthest reaches of the Aleutian Islands, were occupied by the Japanese in WWII. Kiska had no civilian population at the time when the Japanese occupied it. Coyle’s pictures are incredible, woven in with the history of the occupation, the attack by Allied troops after the Japanese had unknowingly withdrawn, and the environmental impacts almost eighty years later. These harsh, far-flung volcanic islands of Alaska contain some of the most sorrowful stories of war and loss.

9. Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha #2) by Tomi Adeyemi
Young Adult Fantasy
A thrilling sequel to the first, I love that the story continues to center on Zelie and Amari, two girls shaping the destiny of Orisha. The story is fast-paced and an emotional ringer of betrayal and loyalty, love and mistrust and loss. There were some twists that I think were supposed to be surprises (no spoilers) but once you employ a plot device, we expect it again. I enjoyed the first one more than this, but I’m hopeful for the conclusion when book three comes out.

10. Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Re-Entry by Kelly Thompson (author), Carmen Carnero (Contributor), and Annapaola Martello (Illustrations)
Graphic Novel
I haven’t read many comics but I loved the movie Captain Marvel, so I was delighted to start on this series, beginning with Carol Danvers returning to earth, attempting to mentor a young hero, rekindling a romance with Rhodey (!!!) and having it all sidelined while she takes down Nuclear Man, a 7 foot misogynist. Full of fun girl-power action, celebrating women, non-binary folks, deaf superheroes and friendships, I enjoyed the ride!

11. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Oh my heart! I haven’t read a book that I couldn’t put down in so long. Think Oceans 11 set in a Victorian world from Amsterdam to Denmark with magic. Each of the six main characters set to pull off the biggest heist in their world have flaws and shortcomings, some with horrific pasts. I cared about each one of them, even when I was furious with the choices they made. I didn’t want to stop reading. I immediately downloaded the sequel afterwards. Bardugo is a master of worldbuilding, character arcs, and layering backstory details so they don’t bog you down but make you fall harder for each character. Loved it. Except …

12. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
I loved this one even more than the first. It’s hard for sequels to live up to their predecessor, but Bardugo does it. Relationships are strained, torn apart, and mended. Trust is broken and rebuilt. Love isn’t some rush of the hearbeat or sweaty palms, but what actually saves each other, and saves the people and the city they love. I haven’t loved a book this much since The Poppy War (read in 2018).

13. Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Graphic Novel
Loved this origin story for Kamala Khan, who at first takes on Carol Danvers mantle, but becomes her own superhero—a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl in New Jersey trying to find her way to fit in, and with her new superpowers, finds a bigger role to play.

14. Shadow and Bone (The Grishaverse #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
After reading Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I had to read more of Bardugo’s Grishaverse. We meet Alina, an orphan who discovers her magical powers, is taken by the Darkling to hone her skills for the kingdom, but learns that not is all as it seems. I quickly sped through this one and the next two.

15. Siege and Storm (The Grishaverse #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Alina’s power grows, but so does the Darkling’s pursuit of her to use her magic to rule the kingdom. She is torn by love, loyalty, and a sense of right/wrong, resulting in gut-wrenching decisions. The plot meanders a bit, so I gave this one four stars instead of five, but the character of Alina and the worldbuilding is compelling enough that you have to know what happens next.

16. Ruin and Rising (The Grishaverse #3) by Leigh Bardugo
Young Adult Fantasy
Alina has lost her powers. She has sacrificed everything to save everyone, and has lost everything. It’s gut-wrenching, but so good! What a satisfying ending. I think Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are slightly better stories, but this original trilogy wraps up nicely in this third installment.

17. Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life by Meta Herrick Carlson
Nonfiction: Christian Inspiration/Prayers
This book was a NECESSARY read in 2020. Carlson keeps it real and raw. I have come back to these prayers again and again this year, speaking plainly to the pain that we know and the joy that is sometimes buried deep.

18. The Forbidden Stars (Axiom #3) by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
I LOVE this series. Captain Callie’s wit and determination leads her to discover the truth about their galaxy, the gates, and the aliens that created them and may be waiting to destroy everything again. The crew of the White Raven have become fond friends of mine as I’ve read this series. I’m not sure if there will be more, but I have enjoyed the sharp wit and humor of the narration throughout.

19. Bright and Beautiful: A Reverend Alma Lee Mystery (Book #2) by Amber Belldene
Mystery
I received a copy of Bright and Beautiful in exchange for an honest review.
This is the second installment of Alma Lee’s series—she was a minor character in Belldene’s Hot Under Her Collar romance series. All of the main characters are women Episcopal priests. I enjoy Rev. Alma Lee as a character and this murder mystery series so far, and about halfway through this one I had a good guess (that turned out to be correct) of who the murderer was. However, I did find this book to be a bit preachy compared to others in the series, and there’s a point where Alma breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader, which I didn’t remember happening in the first. But it’s a good cozy mystery with a satisfying ending.

20. I HAVE STRONG OPIONIONS: A Collection of Frothing, Fuming, and Funny by Laura Anne Gilman
Nonfiction Novelette
You have to know author Laura Anne Gilman in order to truly appreciate the humor and wit of this one. But if you follow her on social media, this will be familiar to you.

21. This is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls by Anna Woofenden
Nonfiction: Christian
I know the author and knew of The Garden Church when Anna was envisioning it, but I didn’t know the whole story. This is an excellent read and her narrative draws you in immediately, in her story of God leading her to plant a church right where the people’s needs are. Highly recommend for all pastors and church leaders interested in planting new ministries and communities of faith.

22. Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry by Elizabeth Mae Magill
Nonfiction: Christian
The title is pretty self-explanatory, and is a great resource for anything thinking of or beginning a relational food ministry. Each chapter contains questions at the end and would be a good study for a pastor or ministry team thinking of engaging this kind of ministry. The author shares her experiences as well as research and findings from her doctoral project, sharing the challenges and trials of seven churches she visited and interviewed in the process.

23. Weave the Lighting by Cory L. Lee
Fantasy
I LOVED this story, similar to the Grishaverse in that it’s another Russian-inspired fantasy story, but adult fantasy and not YA. A thriller of magic, revolution against the empire, and learning who to trust. I fell right into this world and loved it. The only critique I have is that I am not 100% sure how the magic works in this world, and would have loved to have a glossary at the end. But I’m sad that it has lower stars on Goodreads because it doesn’t deserve that—it’s well-written and I couldn’t put it down.

24. For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World by Emily M. D. Scott
Nonfiction: Christian
For years, many of us in progressive Christian circles have heard about St. Lydia’s, the dinner church in New York City and it’s wild success. The author is the founding pastor and shares her vision and story. I appreciated her raw authenticity about its failures and false starts. She tells the tenacious truth about starting new ministries and planting new churches, and her own call as it grows and changes. This was a great read, once again, for clergy and leaders considering planting new churches and ministries.

25. The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
Young Adult Fantasy-Western
An interesting premise of five girls who break out of sex slavery and end up on the run in a fantasy/paranormal Wild West world. However, I felt that the fantasy elements detracted from the story rather than enhanced it at points, with a lot of worldbuilding that was wasted. But it has an interesting plot that kept me turning the page. The last third gets a bit rough, with some very predictable plot points and clues that are spelled out more for the reader than necessary, but I want to cheer this author on to go deeper into this world and really make it what it could be in a future story

26. An Illusion of Thieves (Chimera #1) by Cate Glass
Fantasy
A delightful story I didn’t think I would like! I’m so glad to be proven wrong. The first quarter was hard, with some ghastly scenes as Romy lost everything in her life. But there were pleasant surprises, twists and turns, moving from a story of a fall from grace to a righteous heist. A satisfying conclusion and a door open for more. The last quarter I couldn’t put it down and I was thrilled to get the ending the reader deserved. No spoilers, but I really was happy with how things ended up.

27. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Nonfiction
This was a must read for 2020. However, since I read and wrote my original review, I have read some criticism from other Black authors and people of color about his definition of antiracism. But this is a great, thorough overview of the history of racism and racist policies since the creation of the slave trade. Woven in with memoir, Kendi works to tie in how the politics and policies of racism must be dismantled, and that generally speaking in the U.S. we’ve been too focused on individual acts of racism. His argument is that we change the policies and we change the behavior. I’ve read some good critique of this approach since I read this book, but I still think it’s a must read.

28. Riverland by Fran Wilde
Middle-grade Fantasy
I won an ARC of this story in a raffle.
I gave this book a 5 star rating on Goodreads on behalf of my son, because he LOVED this story whereas it was not my usual read (I do read some middle-grade fiction, but tend to read more high fantasy). This is a portal fantasy that deals with domestic violence.
I was worried how my son, AJ, who is autistic and primarily nonverbal, would react. I read it to him most nights (some nights just a page or two, and sometimes we skipped nights) so it took us a long time to read it. I had not planned to read it to him but he picked it up out of my pile of books and was so taken by the cover he would not let go of it.
This is the story of El and Mike, sisters, who discover in their neighborhood of Riverland that there is a dreamlike world that sometimes seeps into theirs, especially when things get bad at home with their abusive father.
There were parts where AJ said “scary” and so we would put the book away for a day or two, and indeed, there is violence and fear. But it is a good story of how to be brave, how to trust friends, and that there is an adult somewhere who will listen and understand.

29. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo
Nonfiction
I gave this book a higher rating than I would today, because I’ve not only read some criticism by Black women authors of DiAngelo, but also have read books on the same subject by Black women authors who do a better job of explaining white privilege, the concept of white fragility, and how white people need to work on this. This is a white person problem. I still recommend this book as a good starting place for white people who are not there yet. Let them read this book and have their beliefs and questions challenged here before going on to learn more from Black women, but you have to move past this book. This cannot be your stopping place, but it can be a starting place.

30. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Fantasy
Think Downton Abbey, except the characters are dragons who occasionally eat each other. This was a delightful surprise to read. It did take me a while to get into the story, but after the first few chapters I was hooked. Proper intrigue, family drama, marriage proposals and rejections, secrets that shock society and truth revealed, with dragon scales, gold, and cannibalism for a bit of flair. A father on his deathbed requests an unorthodox religious sacrament; a greedy son-in-law; young sisters, now fatherless, must be married, and a brother who has secrets of his own tries to do his best to help his family.

31. Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
Young Adult Romance
Thoroughly enjoyable contemporary love story. The author weaves in the practices of Islam by both characters as well as cultural differences (Muslims are not a monolith, there are a variety of cultures and experiences and practices). I highly recommend reading the authors note at the end, especially white readers, because sometimes it’s easy for us to believe patterns of hate are exaggerated, and she shares how the examples in the story come from her own personal experiences. The author especially emphasizes how sexism and Islamaphobia often go together against women who wear the hijab. The bones of this story is a typical YA romance, and it hits all the right notes.

32. The Archronlogy of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim
Fantasy Novelette
A fascinating sci-fi novelette of how digging for clues can destroy what we are trying to discover. Saki, continuing her research into how an entire colony died, also longs to find out what happened to her partner. This volume also contains a flash story with the same characters.

33. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart
Nonfiction: Christian
This is a good starting place for white churches to begin to engage racism within and to move toward being an Antiracist church. The author weaves their personal narrative of experiencing white church spaces. Instead of bringing the Gospel, much of the white Euro church brought western European culture, in everything from practices to images of Jesus. Hart works to remove Jesus and the kingdom of God from the racial structures imposed by the white European church, and gives practical advice along with explanations of what steps need to be done to begin to dismantle racism within white church spaces. Even churches that claim to be multicultural are often steeped in white racial hierarchies, and this is a good beginning book to study, learn about intersectionality, and how to move toward Antiracist church practices.

34. Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson
Graphic Novel
Such a great series! Ms. Marvel discovers the Inventor while fangirling Wolverine, learns of her background with Kree genetics, and gains a new furry, slobbery sidekick named Lockjaw. Great commentary on Gen Z and how society sees kids and how we’ve destroyed the world they are saving. And I love how Kamala’s faith is part of her background. Instead of being lectured, the sheikh at her mosque encourages her to have the right motivation and someone to teach her.

35. The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
Nonfiction
This is a must read. Though the author may draw some conclusions that others might argue, the overview of the history of policing is excellent. His main conclusions are that we need to end the War on Drugs and decriminalize/regulate drugs, and legalize and regulate sex work.
Overall, it is a well-researched argument. However, I believe the author could have delved more into the current systemic racism of policing in the U.S.
One issue I had was in chapter four, on how calling the police for help has resulted in police shootings and death. “Studies show that standard police approaches actually tend to escalate and destabilize encounters.” But there is no footnote, no source to those studies. Given the rest of the book has extensive notes and resources, I hope this is simply an editorial error. I still give it five stars as it is a necessary read for today.

36. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) Rebecca Roanhorse
Fantasy
Started and finished in less than 24 hours. Picks up right after the first book, Trail of Lightning. Maggie, a Diné monster killer, is now known as a Godslayer, and this newfound status comes with unwanted attention, especially from an old “friend.” She’d prefer to work alone, but new people continue to insist on tagging along, as she searches for someone close to her who has gone missing.
The amazing world Roanhorse created in the first book is expanded as Maggie travels outside Dinetah for the first time, traveling to newer communities and peoples, and a villain bent on bringing another catastrophic end to the world.

37. To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Science Fiction Novella
Chambers has a way of telling a story with so much detail perfectly. The worldbuilding is tangible, with all the senses envoked. Maybe it’s due to one of the characters having a name close to Chidi, this felt like The Good Place in space, and at the end, not knowing what comes next is okay. The crew was sent out to explore four planetary bodies, and return to Earth, but Earth has gone silent (similar to Noumenon by Marina Lostetter). After surviving a difficult planet and the uncertainty of Earth, the crew must make a difficult decision for their future–but they cannot make this decision alone.

38. Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
Nonfiction: Christian
A great first read on decolonization. Kaitlin masterfully weaves her personal journey of discovering herself and claiming her identity as both Potawatomi and Christian and the work of revolutionizing her life and faith. Her story is pointed toward those who are white to do the work of decolonization, and to those who are Native American to seek healing. As a woman coded white, she shares her own journey of revolutionizing her own spirituality. It’s a beautiful book, with prose that whispers and carries a call to justice and further work. The author intends this to be a beginning and not the ending, citing other works and a challenge for white readers to continue to do the work.

39. Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies: The Wake-Up Call Guide for White Women who want to become Allies with Black Women by Catrice M. Jackson
Nonfiction
This is the book that made me realize Robin DiAngelo cannot be the voice for white women in learning about white supremacy. White women continue to perpetuate violence, even when trying to learn more about white supremacy. We need to listen to Black women and their experience.
The author distinguishes between three types of white women: antagonists are the type who don’t believe they are racist, they tone-police Black women who share their experiences, and tell Black women they are being racist for bringing racism into the conversation. Advocates listen to Black women’s experiences but often silence or fail to react in meaningful ways to racism. Advocates still care about self-preservation and while they may seem understanding, are unwilling to risk themselves. Allies understand that in order for the world to change they must put their whole lives into racial justice work the way Black women have to in order to survive. Allies must commit themselves and their lives to the work.
Catrice Jackson addresses many of the same concepts and issues that DiAngelo does, except Jackson did this years before her and it’s clear that a white woman is profiting off the labor of Black women. White Fragility be where some white women start, but the rolling up of the sleeves to get to work starts with Jackson, in terms of dealing with fragility.

40. The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Science Fiction
This is my favorite of the series, which takes place in an alternate history of the space race in the 1950’s and 60’s. The previous two were Elma York’s story; this is Nicole Wargin, wife of the governor of Kansas (he’s a potential presidential candidate) who was one of the original six astronauts in this alternate history. She’s more no-nonsense than Elma, and the things that made Elma blush, Nicole doesn’t bat an eye. But tragedy strikes the Moon mission she is on over and over again, and as she still battles sexism, she also battles an unknown suspect of the Earth First movement that is sabotaging their future in space. There’s a whodunit vibe to this story set in an alternate 1960’s, driven by Nicole’s efforts to save the Moon colony and get past the stupid sexism that holds her and other women back. I enjoyed the first two but this story builds off the others in a satisfying spinoff story.

41. Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service as a Spiritual Practice by Meredith Gould
Nonfiction
A short primer on how to get started in service to others, with a framework of healthy practice. There are writing exercises in each chapter to help someone discern their path to service, and it includes helpful tips on setting boundaries, red flags to watch for, and how to determine one’s own gifts and strengths as well as areas where one might not be a good fit. For those outside of the church, especially those who consider themselves spiritual, this is a good starting place for rediscovering values and purpose out of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions toward serving others.

42. White Spaces Missing Faces: Why Women of Color Don’t Trust White Women by Catrice M. Jackson
Nonfiction
A must-read for white women, especially for those who have had “diversity training” and why it doesn’t go nearly far enough. This is a how-to undo our racism. It’s not easy. But white privilege is so entangled in our lives that it’s hard to dismantle even when we know it’s there because we have to give up power to do so, and we don’t want to. I recommend reading her first book Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies first, and then this one. She has also released Weapons of Whiteness and I plan to read it. Her style is no-nonsense, no coddling. We need to get over ourselves and get to work.

43. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Young Adult Romance
Read this all in one evening. Rachel’s characters have such strong voices that I’m instantly drawn in and can’t put it down. A delightful story of two high school seniors in Seattle, academic rivals who discover, on their last day of school, they have more in common than they realized and the things that annoyed them about each other are what spurred them on to do better. A nice swoony teen romance that is relatable and yet unique.

44. For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church by James H. Cone
Nonfiction: Christian Theology
Cone wrote this in 1984 and it’s still valid today, especially chapters 1-3 that lay out an understanding of Black Theology as attacking White Theology and as Liberation Theology. He writes extensively about the civil rights movements of the 60’s, police violence, MLK and Malcolm X, and sadly, not much has changed, but Cone’s understanding and theological reflection is still sound and poignant. He writes of Black feminism as it was beginning, but misses a lot of even secular leaders of the time. I imagine he’d write much more extensively on Black Womanist theology today. It’s still an excellent, accessible read with extensive notes for further reading.

45. The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
Fantasy
I’m pretty generous in my book ratings, and most books get four or five stars from me. It’s rare for me to give three stars. I gave this one two. I really wanted to like this book, and though there were issues starting in the beginning, even 2/3 of the way through I thought they would be resolved. They were not. I almost did not finish this book.
The story is hard to follow. There are two alternate timelines, which I’ve read other stories that do this well, so that wasn’t an issue for me. One timeline is in first person, the other is in third and that timeline switches POV’s on occasion. The major issue is that there is another minor character who is narrating over both and gives lengthy footnotes. It tries too hard to be funny, and instead is annoying and makes it so no narrator is reliable. Also, there are certain characters who can possess other characters, so you think you know a character and it turns out you don’t, and they’ve actually been dead for years. This was really aggravating. A lot of characters had similar names. I couldn’t keep track. Also, a lot of rape, sexual slavery, and unnecessary violence.
There are a lot of loose ends that are not tied up and the last one hundred pages were disappointing. Read my Goodreads review for more information, and some spoilers if you want them.

46. One Breath At A Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation by J. Dana Trent
Nonfiction: Christian
Excellent beginners guide to Christian meditation. I have not completed the 40 days of meditations, but the guide is fantastic. There are five different practices shared, with a guide to do each practice for eight days, plus additional tools and resources to tweak each practice. Begin with three minutes a day. I’m hoping to start this soon once I know our fall schedule more clearly, as the best practice is to use the same time each day. This would make a good communal practice for a small group as well as for an individual.

47. Take This Bread by Sara Miles
Nonfiction: Christian
I wanted to like this book more than I did. So many colleagues have recommended it over the years. Miles writes eloquently of her experiences and conversion to following Jesus through the serving of food, the breaking of bread together. The vivid descriptions ground the theological statements into real lived experience. But I was disturbed by the descriptions of people, using racial stereotypes, negative body image, a transphobic slur and the r word. There was no reason for this. In all circumstances different wording would have led the reader to the same points Miles was trying to make. It was sloppy as a writer and for her editors to allow those remarks to be published, and it made it hard to complete what might otherwise have been an excellent book. It also makes me wary of trusting this author not to cause harm in future works.

48. How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont
Nonfiction: Christian
A good, thoughtful read about sitting in the unknown, finding a way in liminal space. Beaumont doesn’t offer solutions, but tools to use to help congregations with identity and purpose. She doesn’t lead you to the next steps, but helps you to figure out how to get there. This was a good reminder read during this Covid liminal time that the church is becoming something new, but we don’t know what that is yet.

49. Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5) by Martha Wells
Science Fiction
This is the first full-length novel in this series, the first four are all novellas (and there’s a short story that began it all). I love Murderbot. I won’t post spoilers but the dry humor of SecUnit continues as they are reunited with an old friend, a mystery to solve, pesky humans to rescue and strange human emotions that keep popping up. Start with All Systems Red and keep reading. This is the best installation yet.

50. Tam Lin: A Modern Queer Retelling by T. J. Deschamps
Fantasy Novella
Content advisory for very steamy sex scenes
Fantastic worldbuilding lends to a vivid modern take on old stories of fae, knights, queens, love and betrayal. This short novella packs a punch. The author is one of my critique partners!

51. Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mother God by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
Nonfiction: Christian
A short read that connects mothering and pastoring together, in how God has mothered us and how what we traditionally–and not always traditionally–view as maternal aspects open God’s love to us in new and creative ways. Through this book, I found my own aha moments of mothering experiences that led me to a deeper understanding of myself as a pastor. The author also goes into the challenges that many clergy mothers face, as well as the everyday challenges women in ministry often experience. The author names at the beginning that this is not a book just for mothers, and there are mothers of all kinds, and specifically names those who have experienced fertility struggles and pregnancy loss. This is instead a book of connecting experience traditionally held under the umbrella of motherhood and applying it to all in the ways God mothers us and how we “mother” in our pastoring.

52. The Truth Project by Dante Medema
Young Adult Contemporary
This was my favorite book of the year. Grips your heart and doesn’t let go. As someone who grew up in Alaska it resonates so strongly. It’s so beautifully written, a poetic epistolary of a senior in high school struggling to know who she is while what she has known falls apart. I started it last night and finished in the morning as I could not put it down.

53. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
Nonfiction: Christian
This may have been the most important book I read this year. While I have read about the history of racism in the US before, this book focuses on the white church and the harm done–not just in supporting slavery and segregation, but in the harm done by our compromising, by our feeling that others weren’t ready yet. Pastors in the early 1800’s were afraid of losing their positions so they compromised with segregated pews or notions of sending freed slaves back to Africa. White Christians are still making damaging compromises today instead of working to eradicate white supremacy. Highly recommend this book. There is also a series of videos on Amazon Prime. I haven’t checked them out yet but plan to.

54. Velocity Weapon (The Protectorate #1) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Science Fiction
It took me a while to get into this one, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. The author does an amazing job of setting up an overarching story of mind games, manipulation and twists I didn’t see coming. Similar to Murderbot with a rogue AI and human beings overreaching into realms of control and destruction over the very beings they create.

55. Chaos Vector (The Protectorate #2) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Science Fiction
The author blew my mind with the worldbuilding and the intricate details, from nanotechnology to spaces busting gates, and artificial intelligences that inhabit ships and human bodies. In both this book and the last, a gut-wrenching twist midway through that made it impossible to stop reading. Can’t wait for the third.

56. Queen of None by Natania Barron
Fantasy
A heart-wrenching retelling of Arthurian legends through the eyes of Anna Pendragon, Arthur’s sister. The lyrical writing immediately drew me in and set me right in Arthur’s family and court, but through the eyes of someone oft-forgotten and ignored. As someone who also studied Arthurian legends in college, there was both a familiarity and bright newness to Anna’s Arthurian setting. Brilliant plot twists and turns, and characters that remind us, ultimately, of the sad falling of Arthur’s kingdom before his very eyes, but with a hope of survival.

57. Architect (Last Resistance #3) by Hayley Stone
Science Fiction
This is the third and final installment in a story of the robot apocalypse that takes over the earth and the final showdown. The first two books primarily took place in Alaska, which is why I was drawn to the story to begin with. The worldbuilding rises to another level in the war of machines vs humanity, twisting to remind us that no conflict is simple, and neither are the ways we live our own lives. What version of ourselves do we live out with friends, lovers, others? This third installment takes the reader to a deeper level of questioning what it means to be human. I loved it.

58. Uncanny Magazine Issue 24: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue edited by Elsa Sjunneson, Dominik Parisien, Nicolette Barischoff, S. Qioyi Lu, and Judith Tarr
Science Fiction, Nonfiction Essays, and Poetry Anthology
It takes me a long time to read anthologies (I often have to put the book down after reading a single story or essay to think about it, just like I would with a whole novel) so I started this over a year ago.
This is an excellent collection of short stories, essays, poetry, and interviews, featuring a variety of people with disabilities and their experiences. This is a must read for able-bodied folks. I’m married to someone on the autism spectrum and have a nonverbal autistic son, and this collection opened my eyes to basic representation that is missing often in our science fiction.
Favorites include Birthday Girl and Disconnect, and I especially appreciated the essay “Design a Spaceship.” The personal essays are probably the most important piece in my opinion. There’s so much in one volume. I’ll be coming back to this work for quite a while.

59. The Burning God (The Poppy War #3) by R. F. Kuang
Fantasy
I absolutely loved this series.
I wish for a different ending.
At the same time, this wasn’t my story to tell, and I think the author did an amazing job of showing us through the narrative the horror that is the Doctrine of Discovery (if you don’t know what that is look it up). This is the tragedy of empires, and that violence begets violence and there’s no coming back from it. This is a gory, graphic series. It’s awesome. It’s also heartbreakingly tragic and a roller coaster of a ride. I’ve reread The Poppy War three times because I love it so much. And I’m sad it’s over and sad it ended the way it did.

60. Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary by Frederick Beuchner
Nonfiction: Christian
I’d been told to read this since I graduated seminary 18 years ago, so I finally did. I have not ready any of Buechner’s other works though he’s been highly recommended. My lower star rating is mainly due to the outdated nature of some of these essays, now 35+ years old, written when I was a child. Some, like Advent and Lent, are timeless, whereas I rolled my eyes at the essay on female and his outdated understanding of feminism, outdated even for the 80’s though he may have held a more mainstream opinion. Still, there was much I enjoyed, and I’ll keep a few of these essays handy for sermon illustrations.

Worship Resources for January 10th, 2021: First Sunday after Epiphany—Baptism of the Lord

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus’ Baptism, Luke 3:1-22 (Psalm 51:6-17)

We begin the Revised Common Lectionary reading in this season after Epiphany with the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of Creation in Genesis 1:1-5. In the beginning, a wind from God swept over the waters, the formless void, and God called forth light. Wind in Hebrew is the same word as spirit and breath: ruach. God saw that it was good, and separated the light from the darkness, and the first day was created.

Psalm 29 is a song of praise to God the Creator who is revealed in creation. The psalm begins with calling the heavenly beings into awe and worship of God. God is the one whose voice thunders over the waters of creation. God’s voice is so powerful creation was brought forth, and can also break the strongest of trees, the cedars of Lebanon, shaking the wilderness and stripping the forest bare. Perhaps written about a thunderstorm, the psalmist marvels at God, who reigns over everything, especially through the forces of creation.

Paul encounters some of John the Baptist’s disciples in Acts 19:1-7. These disciples had not heard of the Holy Spirit and were only baptized into the waters of repentance that John taught. However, John did teach that one was coming after him, named Jesus. Paul laid his hands on John’s disciples to receive the Holy Spirit. He did not call them to go back into the water again, but instead, prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon them in the name of Jesus. There were “about twelve” of John’s disciples who received the Holy Spirit that day.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is short and to the point. John the Baptizer (note that the verb is active) appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the city and the country came out to John to be baptized, confessing their sins. John wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. Many scholars believe he was connected to the Essenes, a community that had separated themselves from other Jewish communities, waiting for the day of the Lord to come. However, John came away from them, to where the people were gathered, and told them one was coming after him that was more powerful, one whom he was not worthy to tie the sandals of. Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him, and the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove. A voice came down from heaven, declaring that Jesus was the Son, the Beloved, and God was well pleased.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s account. Contrasted with Mark’s account, Luke has several details to give us the setting—who was in power in Rome, who the local governor was, who the high priest was—all the important historical details to know what was going on in the world when John, son of Zechariah (according to Luke) began proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Luke links John to the passage in Isaiah of the “voice crying out in the wilderness” (Mark does this as well in the verses prior to today’s RCL reading). However, in Luke’s account, John warned those coming to be baptized, calling out to them “you brood of vipers!” He warned them that they must “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” to show that their lives had actually changed. John gave them examples: those with more than one coat needed to share. Tax collectors should collect no more than they were prescribed to collect. Soldiers should not extort anyone. Luke used the image of the Messiah as the one holding the winnowing fork, separating the wheat from the chaff. The wheat and chaff grow in the same stalk. The winnowing fork separates out what needs to be burned, so the wheat can be gathered up. Luke’s account also wrote of John’s fate at this point—that he was arrested by Herod. Jesus was baptized along with others, and when he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice from heaven said that this was the Son, the Beloved, with whom God was well pleased.

The psalmist in Psalm 51:6-17 desires to be made pure before God, to repent and turn back to God’s ways. They long to return to God, and teach others to repent and turn to God as well. This psalm is often attributed to David, after his admission of guilt in having coerced Bathsheba, who was married, to sleep with him. The psalmist truly desires to draw close to God, to be cleansed of their sin, and calls upon God for their deliverance, as well as the deliverance of Jerusalem.

Repentance simply means “to return.” To return to God, to turn back to God’s ways. This was the simple message of John the Baptizer, who probably came from the Essenes and took their particular understanding of the mikveh, the ritual cleansing bath practiced by many Jewish people, and used it as a ritual of repentance. But instead of separating himself on the shores of the Dead Sea with the other Essenes, John went to where the people had gathered. The Jordan was where people bathed, washed their clothes and dishes. And there, in that muddy and dirty water of everyday muck, John declared God was doing something new, and that God simply desired the people to turn back to God and God’s ways, to turn from their selfishness. Jesus came, and was baptized along with them, and God was well pleased.

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 40:3-5, 8b)
A voice cries out:
 “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
  Every valley shall be lifted up,
      And every mountain and hill be made low;
The uneven ground shall become level,
And the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all people shall see it together,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The word of our God will stand forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess our sins to You. We confess that we have failed to live into Your commandments. We have failed to follow Your teachings and ordinances in Scripture. We have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. As we come together today to remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows, we renew our commitment to You. We repent of our sins. We ask for Your forgiveness. We pray that we might do better in this new year to live into Your commandments, to follow the teachings of Christ, and to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We pray all things in You, God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us now and forever. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Jeremiah 31:33-34)
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
God continually offers us forgiveness. Your sins are remembered no more. Remember instead your baptism, how God called your name, and still calls you beloved, and that God is well pleased with you. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, You hovered over the waters of the deep at creation, waiting for the Word. Draw near to us and hover over us, for You are calling our name, and You are waiting for us to turn. Call us to return to Your ways. Call us to return to our created intention: to care for this world as You have cared for us. And call us, again and again, by the name Beloved, so we may remember that we belong to You. In our belonging, may we remember our kinship with one another, and Your commandments to love one another as You first loved us. Holy Spirit, hover near us, and call us back. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 3rd—Second Sunday of Christmas, Epiphany, and New Year’s

Worship Resources for New Year’s Sunday can be found here.

Revised Common Lectionary:
Second Sunday of Christmas: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: (1-9), 10-18
Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Boy in the Temple, Luke 2:41-52 (Psalm 2:7-8)

The Hebrew Scripture selection for the second Sunday of the Christmas season is the prophet Jeremiah’s vision of God gathering the remnant of Israel from the first exile of the northern tribes. God has not forgotten them, nor has God forgotten the other marginalized among them, including people with disabilities that would have been left behind. God will lead them home, for God has become a parent to them, Ephraim (a name associated with the northern kingdom of Israel) like God’s firstborn. Jeremiah envisions a time of celebration and rejoicing as all the exiles return home to Zion.

Psalm 147:12-20 is a song of praise and blessing for Jerusalem, that there would be peace within its borders. God is the one who provides for the harvest, and in the psalmist’s view, provides the weather. God is also the one who declares the law and ordinances, and what God will do to the people. No other nation knows God the way Israel knows God and God’s ways.

The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians is an introduction to the writer’s understanding of Christ’s role in their Jewish tradition and understanding. Scholars debate whether Ephesians was written by Paul or is taken from an earlier letter of Paul. In the writer’s view, all may become children of God by adoption through the grace of Jesus Christ. In Christ, all have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. God’s will was made known through Jesus Christ, and all who believe have obtained an inheritance through Christ as God’s own people.

The Gospel According to John begins with the Word. The writer of John sets Jesus as the Word (Logos), at the very beginning of creation with God, as the light of the world, the Word that became flesh and lived among us. John introduces John the Baptist to us at the beginning, the one who came before to testify to the light. Verse 10 focuses on the Light being in the world, but the world didn’t know the Light as Jesus, nor did his own people accept him. But to all who believed, they became known as children of God. John testified to the Light, the Word that became flesh and lived among us. While the law was known through Moses, according to the writer of John, grace and truth were made known through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God, but the Son has made God known, for the Son is close to the Father’s heart.

The readings for Epiphany begin with the prophet Isaiah’s declaration to the people who have come out of exile in chapter 60. “Arise, shine, your light has come!” For a people who had been in darkness (an image Isaiah uses multiple times, including 9:2), the light has come. God’s glory is their light, but then the people themselves are called to shine their light, for nations are drawn to them. The exile has ended, and the people are returning home. Leaders and nations are drawn to the brightness of their new beginning, and even the wealth of nations, brought on camels, will come to the people.

Psalm 72 calls for God’s blessing on a new king, to judge righteously, to rule with justice and equity. The psalmist charges the king in God’s presence with defending the cause of the poor and delivering the needy, crushing the hand of the oppressor. Later in the psalm, the psalmist calls upon other nations to pay the new king tribute, to bring gifts and offer service, for surely the new king will lift up the cause of the poor and needy and defend them from oppression.

The writer of Ephesians purports to be Paul, although most scholars believe the letter we have to the Ephesians is taken from an earlier letter of Paul’s and edited. In this chapter, the writer explains the mystery of Christ, revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles are now co-inheritors of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. This is the gospel the writer was given to share: the mystery hidden for the ages is now revealed, in accordance with God’s eternal purpose through Jesus.

Matthew 2:1-12 is the story of the visit of the magi to Jesus. These magi from the east traveled to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea and the seat of King Herod and asked where had been born the king of the Jews. The magi had observed his star at its rising, suggesting they were astrologers. The chief priests and scribes were called by Herod to search the scriptures to learn where the Messiah was to be born, and sent the magi on to Bethlehem, where they followed the star to the place where the child lay. They were overcome with joy and brought gifts for the child and were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to go home by another way.

The Narrative Lectionary follows the story of Jesus in Luke’s account, now a twelve-year-old boy in Luke 2:41-52. When his family pilgrimaged to Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus stayed behind in the temple as his parents returned home. They made it a day out of the city before they realized Jesus wasn’t with them, and went back to search for him. He was found in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions, and those who heard him were amazed. His parents were shocked, worried sick about him, and Mary said that his father and her had been looking for him. However, Jesus responded, “Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but Jesus returned home with them and obeyed them.

Psalm 2:7-8 is part of a song of God’s anointed king. Kings were referred to as God’s sons, and in this psalm, the psalmist sings of how everything on the earth will belong to the son of God, the king ruling and anointed by God.

Epiphany means “revelation.” In the traditional story found in Matthew 2:1-12, it is the magi, wise ones from outside of Israel who reveal that a messiah, a new king, has been born. We must be careful in our reading and interpretation to understand that Jesus was not born to be king of the Jewish people—that is a claim that the magi make from their point of view, not anyone else. Instead, the story shows us that holding on to power makes us afraid of losing it. Both the stories of Christmas and the words of John’s gospel have been used to fuel antisemitism. Christians must be aware of this and pay attention to how we read and interpret these scriptures, understanding that both the writer of Matthew and John’s gospel accounts were Jewish themselves. Instead, we might look to these scriptures, where the Magi see something Herod and others do not, and where John writes about Jesus’ own people not accepting him with a new understanding. We might look at times we have not accepted other Christians, or not accepted where Jesus is leading us to new understandings and insights. For Epiphany, we may look at places where we have failed to recognize what God is revealing to us, and look to the voices on the outside that continue to speak the truth against the systems and structures of power that we often hold on to so dear, to hold on to our own power over others.

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 60:1-2)
Arise, shine, your light has come!
The glory of the Lord has risen upon you!
Darkness has covered the earth,
But the Lord has risen upon us.
A new day, a new year, a new moment is here.
Come and worship, Come and worship,
     Worship Christ the newborn king!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, O God, that it is hard to be hopeful when there is so much pain and sorrow in the world. We confess, O God, that we keep our heads down and fail to envision where You are at work in our world and lives in a new way. We fail to perceive You, even as You are revealed to the world. Be revealed to us, O God, in new and uplifting ways. May hope and joy be revealed to us long after the ornaments and lights are put away for another year. May Your justice, mercy, and love be revealed to us when we so desperately need it. Be revealed in our hearts, O God, so that we might break open Your light into the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray that all things will be revealed. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
As the magi revealed Christ to the world, God’s love is revealed in us by others who love us. Let yourself be loved. Let yourself be cared for. Let yourself break down and cry when you need to. Let others lift you up. Know God’s love is in the words of assurance from friends, the listening ear, the shoulder to cry on. Know God’s love is with you when you love one another and care for them as well. Go and share God’s love. Amen.

Prayer
God of the Ages, we have faced difficult times in this past year. Remind us of how You cared for Your people when they were oppressed in Egypt, when they were lost in the wilderness. Remind us of how Your love was made known to the exiles in Babylon, and how You made their joy complete as they returned home. As we prepare to return from an exile, remind us that it took years for our ancestors in the faith, and it may take longer than we expect to return from this exile. Prepare our hearts, O God, to love one another more deeply than we did before. Prepare our minds, O God, to pursue justice more heartily than we did before. Prepare our bodies, O God, to embrace and care for each other in ways that honor boundaries and protect each other, but also offer the nurturing touch that many of us need. Prepare us, O God, to love and care for each other as You have loved and cared for us in this time of exile. We look to our future with hope in this coming year, knowing You are with us, every moment, as we wait. Amen.

An Update on this Website status

An update:
http://rev-o-lution.org is working again. However, all of the content from my previous rendition is lost.
This is bare bones. I will be redesigning/reorganizing over the holidays.
Currently, if you go under Special Resources, you will find an Archive page that contains all posts from Oct-Dec and I posted the resources for December 27th as a blog post.
Everything else will take a while for me to reload.
Because I have paid for a one-year hosting plan with my current provider, my goal is in the next year to find a new host and move rev-o-lution permanently.
Rev-o-lution Resources are free to use, and that’s what I hope to continue. So, to help with this effort, I am accepting Venmo and PayPal donations. Anything received will go to the cost of maintaining and transferring the website in the next year.
Venmo: @mindi-welton-mitchell
PayPal: revmwm@gmail.com
Thank you so much for your continued support of Rev-o-lution Worship Resources.

Worship Resources for December 27th, 2020–First Sunday of Christmas

Worship Resources for December 27th, 2020—First Sunday of Christmas

Revised Common Lectionary
First Sunday after Christmas Day: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46

Narrative Lectionary: Simeon and Anna, Luke 2:21-38 (Psalm 131)

The Revised Common Lectionary begins the readings for the first Sunday in the twelve days of Christmas, with the prophet Isaiah speaking a promise to the people in Isaiah 61:10-62:3. The prophet praises God, who has honored the prophet like both a groom and bride, prepared for a celebration. The prophet promises to continue to speak on behalf of God until Jerusalem is known throughout the nations for what God has done for the people. Jerusalem itself is the crown jewel in God’s hand, and will shine for all nations.

The psalmist calls all of creation, the heavens and earth, to praise God in Psalm 148. The psalmist begins with all things in the heights: sun, moon, shining stars, and the angels. The psalmist praises God for the boundaries God has set between the heavens and the earth, the sea and the land. Even the sea creatures of the great deep are called to praise God, the monsters that lurk, along with the wind and snow and fire and hail—all the things that we might fear, were created to fulfill God’s command. Mountains, hills, trees, wild animals and domesticated cattle, all people—including kings and princes, young and old, everyone—are called to praise God. Everything in the order of Genesis 1 is called to praise God, and the psalmist concludes with a call to the people of Israel to remember that they are close to God.

This portion of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia speaks of Christ, born of a woman and born under the law, reminding the Galatians that Jesus came as one of them, and was born a Jew as they were. While Paul is writing that Jews and Gentiles both can receive the promises of God, here Paul is writing to the Galatians, who were Jewish, that they are also adopted and heirs of the promise because of Jesus, not because of the law, in his view.

Luke 2:22-40, which is also the reading for the Narrative Lectionary (which contains vs. 21 about Jesus’ circumcision and naming) contains the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple after his birth. Jesus was dedicated in the temple following Mary’s completion of the purification cleansing, and Simeon, a righteous man who believed he would see the Messiah before he died, took Jesus in his arms and blessed him. Simeon also shared a word of warning to Mary that a sword would pierce her soul, for many would oppose him. The prophet Anna, who remained in the temple every day after her husband died began to praise God and shared the good news about Jesus to everyone. The Narrative lectionary ends at vs. 38, but the RCL continues with vs. 39-40, that Mary and Joseph fulfilled all that was required of them by the law, and they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee to raise Jesus.

The lectionary readings for the New Year begin with Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, a poem about the turning of the seasons. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, a time to pluck up. The poem goes on, ending in a time for war, and a time for peace. Then the author turns to the question of life—what does it all mean? What are we living and working for? The author concludes that the purpose of life is to find enjoyment now, for even though we understand there is a past and a future, we cannot comprehend what God has done and will do. God’s gift to us is to eat, drink, and find enjoyment in our work in this life.

The psalmist praises God for all of creation in Psalm 8, and wonders why God made human beings? When the psalmist looks at the works of God, what are mortals that God is mindful of them? Yet God has made human beings a little lower than the angels, and given humanity dominion over the earth and creation, in the way God has dominion over everything.

John of Patmos has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21:1-6a. There is no boundary of heaven and earth any longer. The new Jerusalem has come down, and God will dwell with human beings forever, wiping every tear from our eye. Death and mourning will be no more, for everything old has passed away, and God has made everything new, for God is the beginning and the end.

Matthew 25:31-46 was also the lectionary reading on Reign of Christ Sunday. Jesus’ final parable (or allegorical story—it’s disputed whether this is a parable, but in any case, it is his final teaching before his betrayal, arrest, and death) is one in which the Son of Man is seated on the throne. The people are separated, like sheep are separated from goats. Those who have fulfilled the commandment to love their neighbor as themselves by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned are welcomed into the heaven that was prepared from the beginning, for they have cared for the least among them, and therefore, cared for Christ. But for those who did not do these things, they did not do these to Christ, and therefore, they will go to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. As I wrote back on November 22nd, God’s intention was the heaven that was prepared for the beginning, but the consequences of our actions when we do not follow God’s ways lead to suffering.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on the story of Simeon and Anna (see above). The secondary reading of Psalm 131 is a very brief three-verse prayer. The psalmist turns inward, quieting themselves like a weaned child no longer in need of their mother’s milk. They wait for God, and call upon their people to wait for God in humility.

The last Sunday of 2020. The first Sunday in Christmas, the Sunday before New Year’s. The dedication of Jesus in the temple, the blessings received by Simeon and the proclamation of Anna lead us to new hope, though we know those wonderful blessings Mary heard and received will come with a cost. We long for the day when everything is made new, when the mess that has been and still is 2020 will be long in the past and we have brighter and better days. Perhaps, what we may need to do is find the blessing of God right now in this moment as Simeon and Anna did, and find the moments every day, as much as possible.

(For New Year’s Day)
Call to Worship
We look to the past with gratitude,
We look to the future with hope.
We have been through a difficult year,
We remember that God is present with us, now.
As we prepare for resolutions and renewal,
May we seek a new understanding of ourselves.
May we seek a deeper relationship with God,
 Turning to Jesus Christ our Lord.

(For the First Sunday of Christmas)
Call to Worship
Joy to the World!
Come and worship Christ, the newborn king!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
All is calm, and all is bright,
For Jesus Christ is Born!
We sing our carols, we sing our praise,
For the Creator of these days,
     Our Savior of the world is here!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All Seasons, we come to You in the waning of this year. We confess it has been miserable. None of us could have seen a year ago that a pandemic was coming. None of us could see the hardship, the suffering, the loss of jobs, the despair, the panic, and the death that so many have experienced. We confess our brokenness to You, O God. Our broken systems that are supposed to help the least among us have failed. We confess our broken social systems that keep us from finding new ways of reaching out and connecting with others. We confess that this year was hellish, O God. We pray for Your wisdom and guidance to lead us into this new year, learning from the past, finding the moments that were good, and pushing ourselves to live into Your ways. Help us to repair what has been broken, O God. Help us to restore ways of caring for the most vulnerable. Guide us to repairing or planting new communities that live into Your ways of love, justice, and healing. And lead us into ways of deep compassion and empathy to care for our neighbors in need. We pray all these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, who leads us into life. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
A new year is dawning, a new hope. Every day is a new day. Jesus’ first sermon was Repent, and Believe in the Good News. Repent simply means to turn back. Turn back to God and believe that you are a new creation, made in God’s image, and you are fiercely loved. Share the good news of God’s love with the world, and know that we all have a fresh start in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
Savior Christ, we give You praise in this Christmas season. May we continue to share in the spirit of joy and peace with one another. May we brighten someone else’s day with good cheer. May we fill the hungry with good things however we can, whenever we can. May we carry the spirit of this season each and every day in our hearts, for You came to us as one of us. You were born as we were born. You cried as each of us cried, and You loved and were loved, as we have loved and continue to love. Each and every day, may we remember that unto us is born a Savior, Christ our Lord. Amen.