Worship Resources for May 21, 2023—Ascension of the Lord, Seventh Sunday of Easter

(Apologies this post is a couple of days late–very busy week the last week!)

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Hope of Resurrection, Romans 6:1-14 (Matthew 6:24)

The Ascension of the Lord is observed ten days before Pentecost, so this year on May 18th. It is an additional choice for this Sunday’s readings.

We begin with the beginning of Acts, written by the author of Luke, who summarizes what they wrote in the Gospel according to Luke and begins with the ascension, whereas the Gospel according to Luke ends with the ascension. Jesus instructs the disciples to remain near Jerusalem, for as they were baptized by water, soon they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. At this point, some of Jesus’s disciples ask him if this is when the kingdom of Israel will be restored. Some of the disciples still have a worldly understanding of a kingdom like David’s. Jesus reminds them this is not something for them to know; instead, what they will know is the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Jesus is preparing them for living into God’s reign on earth, rather than a worldly reign, and this kingdom is through the Holy Spirit, not a worldly throne. As Jesus literally ascends into the clouds, two angels (perhaps the two from the tomb?) ask the disciples why they are standing around and looking up? Jesus will return the same way he left—unexpectedly. Since we can’t know the time or what exactly God will do, we are not to be passive in our waiting, but active, knowing the Holy Spirit will do so much more than we can imagine through us.

Psalm 47 is a song of praise to God who is the God of all people, ruler of all nations. God chose to be the people’s God through their ancestors, but all nations and all peoples will know God, the one who rules over all. The psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, for God is exalted above the whole earth.

An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who is sovereign over all. God’s reign is established from of old and all the earth, even the floodwaters, roar their praise to God. All praise belongs to God, for God’s holiness endures forever.

The writer of Ephesians, purporting to be Paul, writes in 1:15-23 of the faithfulness of the people of Ephesus and prays that they will have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus Christ. God’s immeasurable power and greatness has been put to work in Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, who has authority over all things, and is the head of the body—the church—and the church is the fullness of Christ on earth.

The account of the ascension at the end of Luke’s Gospel account is different than the account given in Acts 1, though it is the same author. In Luke 24:44-53, Jesus explains the scriptures to the disciples, about how he was to suffer, die, and on the third day rise, and they are now the witnesses of what has happened. Jesus instructs them to stay in the city to receive the Holy Spirit promised to them, and then, as he blesses them in Bethany, Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples worshiped him, and continued to worship in the temple and praise God.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter readings overlap a bit with Ascension Sunday, beginning with Acts 1:6-14. Following the ascension and the message of the angels in verse 11, the male disciples, along with the women disciples, Jesus’s mother, and brothers, gathered in Jerusalem at the house they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. They trusted in Jesus’s words as they waited for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 is a song of praise to God for victory in battle. The psalmist sees God as the defender and protector of the most vulnerable of society, becoming a father to orphans, assurance to widows, and liberator to prisoners. God brings restoration to those who have lost everything. God led the people through the wilderness and showed power through nature, providing for the people. The psalmist concludes by calling all of creation and the people to praise God—because God is the one who will fight for those on the margins.

The Epistle reading concludes the series in 1 Peter with 4:12-14, 5:6-11. The writer again assures the beloved community of Christ that they do not suffer alone. In the time when they are facing persecution, they are sharing in Christ’s sufferings and are blessed by God’s glory in those times. The author urges the listeners to be humble and steadfast with God and to resist evil. All believers are struggling and suffering around the known world, but the author gives assurance that Christ will restore, support, and strengthen those who are faithful.

Jesus’s final prayer for the disciples in John’s account begins in John 17:1-11. Jesus prays that he might be glorified so that all people will know that God is the true God and he, Jesus, is the one whom God has sent. Jesus has finished the work God gave him to do, and now Jesus prays on behalf of the disciples, because they believed. They were sent by God to Jesus, and now Jesus prays that they will be protected by God as Jesus returns to God, and that the disciples may be one, as he and God are one.

The Narrative Lectionary looks to the Hope of Resurrection in Romans 6:1-14. Paul uses rhetoric to show that even though Jesus has saved all from sin, believers are not to continue in sin. All who are baptized are baptized into Jesus’s death and have new life now because Jesus was raised. The old self has been crucified, and believers live into a new life. Death frees us from sin at the end of our life, but Jesus’s death frees us from sin now. We are alive in Christ. Sin has no hold on us anymore.

The supplementary verse of Matthew 6:24 is Jesus’s teaching that we cannot serve two masters. Jesus declares we cannot serve God and wealth. Paul would say we cannot live into the ways of this world if we live into Christ. Our old lives are put to death.

The Ascension is a mystery to us—we know Jesus didn’t just fly up above because heaven is not above us, though that was the understanding of the heavens and the earth at the time. Rather, Jesus came to earth in an unexpected way—as vulnerable as a helpless baby—and will return to us in a similar way. Somehow, Jesus attained oneness with God, and we, too, will one day be at one with God and one another.

Call to Worship
Praise God, who reigns over all.
Praise the One who made heaven and earth, the whole universe.
Praise God, whose reign is not of this world.
Praise the One who commanded us to love one another and laid down his life for us.
Praise God, who will never fail us as worldly politicians do.
Praise the One who became last of all and servant of all.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Architect of the Universe, You created the expanse beyond our wildest imagination. There are stars so massive and particles so small that we can never comprehend it. We struggle with day to day living when You have made so much that we will never know. The world’s challenges seem unsurmountable and yet You made planets so distant that none of us will live to see even half of Neptune’s orbit around the sun, though we witness Mercury in retrograde a few times a year. Great Designer, may we remember with humility how small we really are, and yet Your love for us is as vast as the galaxy. May we recall in our moments of loneliness that You know the number of stars and the number of hairs on our heads. May we hold on to the knowledge in our most despairing times that You sent Your Only Son for us, to show us Your Way, Your Truth, and Your Life. All in all, if there is nothing we can truly know except one thing, may it be Your love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God fashioned us all out of stardust, the same molecules that are the building blocks of the universe are in our bones and tissue. We were made out of love. You are made in God’s image. When you look in a mirror, God is winking back at you. You are precious in God’s sight. May we hold one another tenderly, forgiving each other as we are forgiven, working to repair what has been broken, and to live into the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God loves you so. Amen.

The Ascension is a mystery to us, O God. We know that Christ is not above us physically, but the oneness You have known from the beginning is the oneness Christ experienced at the Ascension, a oneness we live into as the body of Christ on earth. It is a mystery how all of us, with all our differences, with all our struggles and challenges, can be one in You, but You have ordained it so. Help us to live into the Body of Christ with our diversity of gifts and strengths, to remember we need one another, and to build each other up. Christ is our head, we are the body, and we are joined at the heart by our love for one another. May we seek to share that love and oneness with the world. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 14, 2023—Sixth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Narrative Lectionary: God’s Love Poured Out, Romans (3:28-30), 5:1-11 (Matthew 11:28-30)

Continuing in Acts this season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary turns to Paul’s speech to the people of Athens in 17:22-31. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, had left Thessalonica in 17:10 for nearby Beroea where they were received more warmly by the Jewish community there, but the leaders from Thessalonica showed up and stirred up trouble, and Paul was sent to Athens. While Paul waited for Silas and Timothy to arrive, Paul noticed all the statues to idols in the city. Athens was a religious center, as Paul went to the synagogue to debate with other Jewish people and the marketplace to debate with Greek philosophers. But Paul was distressed over the idols. Paul then went and stood in front of Ares Hill (Mars Hill) and addressed the people of Athens on their religiousness, including the statue to the unknown god, and declared that the Creator who made everything of heaven and earth is a known God. This is the God who made all people from one ancestor. Paul then quoted the philosopher poets Epimenides and Aratus and showed that God has been made known through other traditions, but God called all people to repent, for the world will be “judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Paul also stated that this man, Jesus, gave assurance to everyone by raising him from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Athenian women followed him and became believers.

Psalm 66:8-20 is a portion of a song of gratitude. This second part of the song is framed by blessings and praise to God who has heard the psalmist’s prayer. The psalmist acknowledges the hardships the people have faced, but God has continually delivered them, through water and fire, out of burdens and traps, and into a safer place. In verses 13-15, the psalmist makes commitments of worship, sacrifice, offerings, and vows—all to demonstrate faithfulness on behalf of the singer. Verses 16-19 share the psalmist’s experience of crying out to God, and how God listened. The psalmist encourages others to be faithful in seeking God, for God has not rejected the psalmist’s prayer.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Peter with 3:13-22. The author writes of doing good despite suffering, encouraging others to be faithful and honest, to keep their conscience clear. Christ himself suffered and was innocent, and so suffering is part of life for the faithful (though God does not desire suffering). The author comments that it is better, if one must suffer, to suffer for doing good rather than evil. The writer uses the image of Noah and the ark as a metaphor for baptism. In the midst of the flood, Noah and his family were saved. They survived. They started anew. The writer of 1 Peter uses this as an image of baptism: we are made new, despite our suffering.

The Gospel lesson continues with part of Jesus’s final discourse in John 14:15-21, moving to what will come next for the disciples. Jesus reminds them of the commandment to love one another, and that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to be with them forever. Only the faithful will know this Spirit of Truth because the world does not know the Spirit. Jesus knew he would die, but the disciples did not understand he would rise and be with them again, and because he lived, they also would live. The disciples would know that Jesus and God the Father not only abide in each other but abide in all believers. The fullness of Jesus will be revealed to those who love him, and so they must love one another.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its theme on Paul in Romans. In 3:28-30, Paul argues that a person is justified by faith. God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, because God is one and there is no other God. In 5:1-11 (which was the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the 3rd Sunday in Lent on March 12), Paul writes that because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.

In the supplementary verses of Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the disciples to give over their burdens to him, to be faithful to God by learning from Jesus and to take his yoke upon themselves. In our suffering, we know we can go to Christ, and know that we will find assurance and comfort.

Love is the way. Jesus said it to his disciples long ago that if they loved him, they would obey his commandments, and his commandment is to love. We know the work of God through the love of one another. In the midst of our struggles and suffering in this world, we know that we cannot make it alone. It is the love of others that encourages us and keeps us going. In faithfulness to God, we love one another as God’s children. The world teaches us to put ourselves first and our own desires, but Jesus teaches us that when we love one another, we meet each other’s needs. We recognize that God, who dwells in Christ, also dwells in us. When we love one another, we share that indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit gifts us with the ways we can share that love. Christ came for all and died for all. It is a message to be shared with the world through love. Far too often Christians have failed and have instead judged others, laid upon heavy burdens, and caused other’s suffering instead of relieving it. But we still have hope. We know God’s love has transformed our lives through Jesus Christ. God’s love can transform this world, if we live into it.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 66:16, 19-20)
Come and hear, all you in awe of God,
and I will tell what God has done for me.
Truly God has listened;
God has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God, because God has not rejected my prayer;
God has not removed God’s steadfast love from me.
Come and worship, all you in awe of God,
Let us tell the story of God’s love together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we have followed idols that distract us from You. The idol of wealth. The idol of notoriety. The idol of busy-ness. The idol of worldly success. All the things we wish we had more of, or that we have paid far too much attention to. Help us to let go of these idols, to remove them from our lives. Help us to counter these idols. For wealth, remind us of Your generous and abundant love. For notoriety, remind us that You know our inmost thoughts and the hairs on our head, more than anyone else could ever know us. For busy-ness, remind us to practice Sabbath rest. For worldly success, remind us that our treasure is in You, and in the hearts of one another. May we leave the idols of this world behind and instead live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” John 14:21
If we love one another, we must forgive one another.
If we love ourselves, we will seek forgiveness and restoration.
If we love God, we will seek to serve God in the world.
Know this, that you are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well-pleased. Go forth into the world sharing God’s love, grace, forgiveness, healing, and restoration, and may God’s peace be with you. Amen.

Spirit of Truth, You have promised us that we will not be left alone, that we will not be orphaned. On this day that can be both joyous and difficult, we are reminded that we are Your children, that You are our God, our Creator, our Parent, Mother/Father, the Source of our Being. You are the only one who will never leave us or forsake us. No matter what has happened to us or will happen, You are with us every moment. You are Trustworthy and True. We know that in You is all love and light and hope. May we hold Your promise tenderly on days that are difficult and know that You are alive in us. May we love one another and share Your grace and peace, on this day and all days. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 7, 2023—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Narrative Lectionary: Gospel as Salvation, Romans 1:1-17 (Matthew 9:10-13)

On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary continues its series of the first reading from Acts, this time of Stephen’s martyrdom in 7:55-60. Stephen, after his arrest, responded to the charges by sharing how God had delivered the people throughout history and sent prophets to them, but the people of God had rejected God’s prophets and had not kept God’s commandments. The council was enraged against Stephen, but it was when Stephen beheld a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God and proclaimed it to them, the council rushed him out of the city, refusing to listen to him (they covered their ears), and stoned him. Stephen prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit, and that the Lord wouldn’t hold this sin against the crowd, right before he died at their hands.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 is a prayer of help and trust in God. The psalmist calls upon God to rescue and deliver them, but also prays for God to grant them strength and salvation. They know God is the one who protects them, and the psalmist commits their spirit to God, knowing that whatever happens, God is with them. In verses 15-16, the psalmist puts their trust in God, praying for God to deliver them from their enemies, that they might be saved in God’s steadfast love.

The Epistle readings continue in 1 Peter, backing up to 2:2-10 (before last week’s reading). The writer uses the metaphor of spiritual milk, as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 3:2, but this time it is a positive metaphor: for new believers, they need to desire what will nourish and satisfy so they can grow in faith. Quoting Psalm 34:8, the writer calls upon the faithful to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The writer then switches metaphors to that of a living stone. Quoting Psalm 118:22, they are the stone rejected by the world. Jesus also quoted this scripture in referring to himself, but now the writer uses it for the believers, now chosen by God to be the foundation of the church in their day. These believers, mostly Gentile, now have an identity in Christ as a people, the temple of God here on earth.

John 14:1-14 contains the beginning of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples before his arrest and death. Jesus shares how he is going ahead of the disciples to prepare a place for them, but the disciples are still thinking physically rather than spiritually, and they do not understand what he is talking about. Jesus, speaking directly to the disciples in response to Thomas’s question about knowing the way, explains that for them, he is the way, the truth, and the life—there is no other way to know God. Philip then tells Jesus if he just shows them God the Father, that would be enough. Jesus replies with, “Don’t you know me?” Jesus has shown them that he and God the Father are one. Jesus calls on them to believe in him, to know that he is going to the Father but that Jesus will answer their prayers, so that God the Father’s glory will be made known. While we may want to move away from gendered language for God, Jesus uses the term Father to show the intimate relationship he has with God, as God’s beloved One. The disciples have not understood the Messiah in this way before, as being the Son of God.

The Narrative Lectionary for the remainder of this season of Easter moves to the mission of Paul. In Romans 1:1-17, Paul introduces himself to the church in Rome, a church made up of Gentile and Jewish believers in Jesus. Though a previous emperor had expelled the Jewish people from Rome, Emperor Nero had allowed them to return. Anti-Jewish sentiment existed among the Gentile population, even among Gentile believers in Jesus. Paul wrote to them to share that while he had not visited them yet, he wanted to preach the Gospel to them and that they can mutually build up one another. God’s salvation was revealed first to those who are Jewish, but also to those who are Greek. The theme of Paul’s letter can be summed up as this: Both Jewish and Gentile believers are saved by faith.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him, and Matthew invited Jesus to eat at his house along with other tax collectors and sinners. Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus’s disciples why Jesus would eat with those people, but Jesus replied to them that those who are sick need a doctor, not those who are well. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners. For those who do not believe themselves in need of a relationship with God or do not see themselves as separated from God, they will not understand Jesus’s message, but for all those who desire to know God more deeply, they will listen to Jesus’s call on their life.

How do we remain faithful to Christ’s call on our life, even when we do not fully understand? How do we remain faithful when we are uncertain about the future, or the struggles of today? Jesus taught the disciples that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What that means has been debated over the years, but it is clear that to those who trust Jesus, there is no other way. Jesus calls us to this new, different life, and we follow. We love one another and live into Christ’s reign on earth, even though we still wait for it to fully arrive. We believe that sin, death, and hell do not have the final word. While some have the certainty of heaven and what heaven might look like, others may simply have the hope of resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). This is our way. This is our truth. And this is our life.

Call to Worship (John 14:1-3; 13:34; 14:6; 13:35)
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe in Jesus Christ the Son.
For God has prepared something new for us,
The reign of Christ that we have glimpsed here and now.
For this is Christ’s commandment,
That we love one another.
Christ has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
For everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples,
If we have love for one another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Parental God, You love us as Your children, but as children we have not always listened to You. We fail to heed Your warnings and hear Your call to turn back. We make mistakes, and fall down, and struggle to learn. Nonetheless, Your love for us through Jesus Christ Your Holy One reminds us that love can lift us up, love can restore us, and love can heal us, teach us, and guide us to live in Your ways. Call us back to Your way, Your truth, and Your life, by loving one another, for this is the commandment that all others fall under: may we love one another. In this love, may our faith grow that You make all things new, and restore all things, even us. Amen.

Jesus never gave up on the disciples, even though they betrayed him, denied him, doubted him, argued who was the greatest, tried to call down hellfire and brimstone in a fit of anger, and didn’t believe their sisters who told them repeatedly that he had risen. Jesus doesn’t give up on you, either, when you struggle in your faith, say things you regret, and fail to trust others. So get up. Dust off your knees, wipe your eyes, and know that Christ loves you so much. You are precious to God, despite any flaws or shortcomings. God loves you madly and wants you to be part of Christ’s reign on earth. Join in the fun and the heartache. Love one another, forgive one another, and take up the challenge to live into Christ’s way, truth, and life. Share the good news. Amen.

God of Oneness, through our ancestors Sarah and Abraham and Hagar, You showed yourself to be the same God no matter where our ancestors wandered, no matter where they called home. You showed yourself to be the One who knew their pain and suffering under oppression, their loneliness in exile, and the One who helped restore our ancestors when they returned home. Through Jesus, we know Your oneness in a new way, a oneness with us that outlasts the grave and transcends the world that we know. Your Oneness was revealed to the early followers of Jesus as they recognized themselves as Your body in Christ, regardless of their culture or ethnicity or gender, or any other way of dividing. You are One. You bring us together and bind us as One people. In all the divisions of the world that we know, may we be united by Your love, across gender, orientation, race, culture, economic status, language, politics—may we recognize Your face in each other and strive to be Your people, Your body, Your love to one another. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 30, 2023—Fourth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Mission, Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18 (Matthew 10:40-42)

The Revised Common Lectionary continues with lessons from the early church in Acts. Following the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we learn that awe came upon everyone in Acts 2:42-47. The new believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, and became a new community that shared their resources with each other, broke bread together, worshiped and fellowshipped together. Their faithfulness was observed by others as they had the “goodwill of all the people,” and new believers came to join them every day because of how the Spirit was lived out in their life together as a community of faith.

The Shepherd’s Psalm of Psalm 23 has long been attributed to David, but this ancient song of assurance and comfort while facing evil and death continues to speak to us today of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God is the one who provides for us and cares for us as a good shepherd, and will be with us through life’s greatest challenges and loneliness. Even in the face of evil, God’s blessings overflow, and we know God is present with us, now and always.

The Epistle readings for the season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In this week’s selection of 2:19-25 (coming after next week’s selection of 2:2-10), the writer of 1 Peter identifies Christ’s suffering with that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. The writer assures the believers in the early church who were struggling that their suffering was in solidarity with Christ, who also suffered unjustly. The writer states that Jesus suffered on the cross for sin, so that sin would not have a hold on humanity. In Christ, believers have healing and hope, even while they suffer. Christ is our shepherd, the one who guards us and has delivered us from the sin of the world.

The Gospel readings turn to John for the remainder of the season. In John 10:1-10, Jesus speaks of the shepherd as the one who guards the sheep and is the gate, for the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and know how to enter through the gate. Anyone who does not enter by the gate are thieves and bandits, those who want to cause harm to the sheep. Jesus as the gate wants to save the sheep, while others want to steal and kill (in the first century, there were others claiming to be the Messiah before Jesus). Jesus shared this metaphor but those listening did not understand that he wanted to lead the people to eternal life, not to a temporary safety, but an eternal assurance of God’s faithfulness.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul for the remainder of Easter, though in this lesson is Luke’s account in Acts of Paul’s mission in 13:1-3 and 14:8-18. In 13:1-3, the Holy Spirit speaks to some of the leaders gathered at the church in Antioch, calling Barnabas and Saul (Paul). In Lystra, a disabled man approached Paul and listened to him speak. Paul turned to the man, calls him to stand upright, and the man was able to walk. Immediately the crowds identified Paul and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus, and the priest of Zeus wanted to offer a sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas insisted that this was the work of the living God, the one who made all heaven and earth and the sea. Paul and Barnabas were simply human beings, not gods. There is only one God, the God who provides for everyone and all things. But it was hard to convince the crowds otherwise.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 10:40-42 contain Jesus’s teaching to the disciples about welcome and hospitality, and that the one who welcomes Jesus welcomes not just him but the one who sent him. Those who welcome a prophet receive a prophet’s reward. All are called to welcome and receive one another as if God is among them.

In this season of Easter, we remember that Christ was present with the disciples after his resurrection before his ascension. We think of Christ as our Good Shepherd, the one who is with us always and is calling us to listen to his voice. We are reminded that there is no other shepherd who would suffer for us and knows when we are suffering. Christ calls us into fold, and we are not alone. We are also reminded that in the early days, the first followers of Jesus came together in community, sharing in worship and fellowship together and witnessing to others by their way of life. Others were drawn to their practices and sharing so joyfully and faithfully of Christ. When Paul began his ministry, he did not bring healing and hope to people so they would worship him, but so they would know Christ. Even when others thought he was a god, he pointed them back to Jesus. The early church did the same, with awe and wonder and deep joy as they fellowshipped with one another, they shared the Good News in all their actions as well as their words. May we be inspired by those early believers and leaders, and listen to the voice of Christ who calls us into community with one another.

Call to Worship
Awe and wonder, gladness and generosity;
May we witness God’s love in community.
May we share in worship and fellowship together,
Knowing God’s faithfulness and steadfast love.
God calls us to share what we have with those in need,
For our own hearts and lives are full of God’s abundance.
The Shepherd is calling you by name, listen to their voice,
For you belong to God, and we belong together in Christ.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Covenant, You called us from the beginning to be in community. You covenant with us through our ancestors to be our God, and You promised to be faithful in steadfast love. You have always remained true to us, though we have strayed from You. Remind us that Your covenant is written on our hearts, that even when we are faithless, You remain faithful. Instill in us the hope that we always can find forgiveness, healing, and peace in You, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the maker of the unbreakable Covenant that is love in our hearts. Amen.

The Lord is our Shepherd, the one who leads us in safety and assurance, providing for us out of an abundance of steadfast love. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Know the Good Shepherd in your life, and listen for Christ’s voice. Go forth and help one another to know the voice of love that is in their heart, that they are God’s beloved child. Listen to that voice yourself, for You are God’s beloved. God is well pleased with you. Share the good news. Amen.

God of Peace, bless us with peace in our heart. May peace be on our tongue; may we speak truth in love. May peace be in our gut, to calm the rage we feel; may our anger be channeled into positive work for justice. May peace be in our hands, to help those in need, rather than to harm those who’ve hurt us. May peace be in our soul, for we are not alone. God of peace, we know You are with us, in the friends who share their love with us. Bless us with peace, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 23, 2023—Third Sunday of Easter, Earth Day Weekend

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Narrative Lectionary: Peter’s Vision, Acts 10:1-17, 34-48 (Matthew 9:36-37)

The first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary concludes Peter’s declaration on the Day of Pentecost with Acts 2:14a, 36-41. In this portion, Peter states that God made Jesus Lord and Messiah, whose crucifixion all of Jerusalem witnessed and knew about. Those gathered asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Using the term “brothers” indicates that they honored and recognized Peter and the disciples and were convinced by their message. Peter called upon them to repent and be baptized so they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter assured them the promise was for everyone who believed, and on that day about three thousand persons were added to the followers of Jesus.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 is a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The psalmist was near death, but God saved them, and they love God because God has heard their pleas. The psalmist asks what they can give back to God for all God has done for them? They can fulfill their promises and keep all their vows, call upon God’s name and serve God faithfully, as their own mother served God. They know God is the one who brings liberation. The psalmist will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, upholding their promises to God before the congregation in the temple.

The Epistle reading continues the series in this Easter season in 1 Peter. In 1:17-23, the author writes of the believers with the metaphor of exile, one the Jewish followers of Jesus certainly knew from their own scriptures and history, but one in which all the followers of Jesus could understand. They were not part of Judaism anymore and were certainly not part of the empirical religion. They were waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s reign to come, and the author uses another metaphor of ransom, that through the blood of Jesus’s sacrifice they now belong to God. They are no longer part of the old pagan ways of their parents and ancestors but are part of the beloved family of Christ. Through Jesus, they have come to trust God who gave his only Son for them, and in obedience to God’s love, they also love one another, for they need each other as ones set apart, ones living in a sort of exile from the world around them.

Luke 24:13-35 contains the story of Jesus’s resurrection appearance to two of Jesus’s followers on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus were perplexed because some of the women who traveled with the followers of Jesus found the tomb empty, and claimed to have received a message from angels that Christ had risen. They come across another traveler on the road to Emmaus away from Jerusalem and tell this traveler all they experienced. This traveler, in turn, explained the Scriptures to them, and how they explained the Messiah and that these things must take place. Cleopas and the other urge the traveler to stay with them, and it was as they sat down to the table and the stranger took bread, broke it and blessed it before them that they finally recognized it was Jesus. He vanished from their sight. Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem quickly, to share their experience of the risen Christ, who had also appeared to Simon Peter at this point, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Peter’s vision of inclusion in Acts 10:1-17, 34-48. Verses 34-43 were part of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on Easter Sunday. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion stationed in Caesarea who was a God-fearer, what Gentiles were called who had come to believe in one God, the same God that their Jewish neighbors believed in, but had not converted to Judaism. An angel told Cornelius to go to Simon Peter, who was staying with Simon the tanner. While Cornelius was on his way, Peter had a vision himself, of a large tablecloth descending from heaven with all sorts of food, those considered clean and unclean by the dietary restrictions of Judaism. A voice told him to eat, but Peter refused, because he had never eaten anything ritually impure. However, the voice told him to never call unclean what God had made clean. This happened three times before the tablecloth returned to heaven. Peter wondered what the vision meant, and then Cornelius came to see him. Cornelius explained his own encounter with an angel, and Peter recognized that God had shown him a new truth: there was no one considered impure by God. There was no one who could not be included in Christ’s reign who loved Jesus Christ. This was the message: Christ had died for all people. Christ rose from the dead and commanded the disciples to preach to all people. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all those gathered, Jews and Gentiles. Peter then had Cornelius and all with him baptized.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:36-37, when crowds had gathered near Jesus, and he had compassion for them. He saw them like sheep without a shepherd and called his disciples to pray for more servants of God to serve the people.

In this Easter season we are preparing for Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit. While we look around our world for signs of resurrection, of new life, we cannot help but see signs of the Holy Spirit at work. Every time the disciples, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, went to proclaim the Gospel, they found people who were outcasts longing to belong. They were unsure how to welcome them, but the Holy Spirit did the work. They saw the risen Christ when they showed hospitality and broke bread together. They experienced the Holy Spirit in the transformation of lives, in the baptisms of those who repented and gave their life over to Christ. They experienced the Holy Spirit at work in the inclusion of Gentile believers who believed in the same God and shared in the same gifts of the Holy Spirit, even though they were not Jewish. In everything good, in everything life-transforming, in everything compassionate and kind, in everything merciful—they found God was the one at work. So may we experience the Risen Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our world, in the here and now.

Call to Worship (from Philippians 4:8-9)
Whatever is true, whatever is holy,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is worthy of praise,
Keep your hearts and minds on these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received,
And the God of peace will be with us.
May we come to this time of worship,
Focusing our hearts and minds on God
So we may live into the world practicing God’s love, grace, and mercy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Author of Salvation, we confess that You keep drawing the circle wider, but we keep trying to cut corners. You remind us throughout Scripture to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the meek—all the most vulnerable among us—but we have given far too much concern to the wealthy and powerful among us. We have showed favoritism to those who have things we want, instead of favoritism to those whom You always take notice of and whom You have commanded us to care for. Forgive us for rewriting Your commandments to fit our own desires. Forgive us for cutting out people You have called us to welcome. Call us into a greater hospitality. Call us into a greater humility. Guide us into Your way of love for one another, in which we become last of all and servant of all—not to be walked all over, but to know that when we meet the needs of others around us, our own needs are met. In the name of Christ, who came to us humble as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again, we pray all things. Amen.

God’s love knows no limits, no boundaries. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and so we ought to not limit our love for one another. Love and forgive others for the same things that you continue to do. Strive to live into God’s ways of compassion and kindness, even to those who do not deserve it, and remember how much God loves you. Go and share the good news, knowing you are forgiven, redeemed, and restored. Amen.

A Prayer for Earth Day weekend
Creator of the Earth, we thank You and praise You for all Your wondrous works in the universe, and for this special planet we call Earth. We know from the scriptures that everything You made is good: all light and darkness, all water and earth, everything that lives in the sea and all birds and insects that fly in the air. Every creature on this planet You have breathed life into and given purpose. Even us, O God, You made in Your image to care for the earth and all creation as You care for us. We thank You and praise You for this sacred responsibility. Forgive us, O God, for all the times we have taken Your earth for granted. Forgive us for misusing Your resources for our own material, temporary gain. Forgive us for not heeding Your very first commandment to us, which was to be fruitful, to care for the earth in our fruitfulness, to have dominion over the earth the way You have dominion over us. Call us into accountability, to repair what we have broken and destroyed, to turn back to Your first commandment and to love this beautiful planet You made for us, the only one that is our home. We trust in You, our Maker and Shaper of Who We Are and of All Things to Come, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 16, 2023—Second Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 (Psalm 40:9-10)

The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary for the season of Easter comes from Acts. In this portion of Acts 2:14a, 22-32, on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly declared that the work of the Holy Spirit was among the disciples. In this selection, Peter explained the purpose of Jesus’s death—though crucified by human hands, Peter believed this was part of God’s plan to free Jesus and all of humanity from death. Peter quoted from the Psalms, presuming the author to be David, and interpreted the life and words of David as foreshadowing and prophesying about Jesus, of whom Peter, the disciples, and everyone present on that day of Pentecost were witnesses.

Psalm 16 is a prayer for help and assurance that God is the one true God. The psalmist asks God for deliverance because they have remained faithful to God, choosing no other gods. The psalmist refuses to participate in the worship of other gods, but blesses, rejoices, and give thanks to God who has provided for them. God has not abandoned them to death, but instead, God has instructed them in the way of life, and there are always blessings for those who remain faithful to God.

The Epistle readings for this season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In 1:3-9, the writer speaks of the new hope given to us through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the time of the writing of 1 Peter, Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension had occurred a few generations before, and believers were weary in waiting for Christ’s return. The writer assured the believers that in faithfulness, God would reveal all. The faithful were struggling and suffering in that time and needed assurance. In their genuineness of faith and trust in Jesus, the author wrote that they would come to know unspeakable joy. They may rejoice in their salvation because Jesus was raised from the dead.

John 20:19-31 continues the story of Easter Sunday, with the appearance of Jesus to the disciples the same evening Mary found him in the garden. However, Thomas was not with them. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” to the disciples as he showed them his hands and his side, and he breathed on them, sharing with them the Holy Spirit. Since Thomas was not with them, when they told Thomas what happened, he said he wouldn’t believe unless he also saw Jesus’s hands and side. The next week, Thomas was with them, and even though the doors were shut (just like the last week) Jesus appeared to them, and showed Thomas his hands and side, and told him not to doubt but believe. When Thomas finally declared that this was Jesus who has appeared to him, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” When one follows the story of Thomas through John’s Gospel account, one sees a follower who goes from great zeal “Let us also go that we may die with him” (11:16), to “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5) to scattering with the other disciples after Jesus’s betrayal, to missing out on the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Thomas thought he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus’s movement was about. When he realized he didn’t know, doubt entered in. But the faith of his friends brought him back to the room where it happened. Also, paired with the Narrative Lectionary reading below, in Matthew’s account we know there were other disciples who also doubted, they just were not all named (Matthew 28:17).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. When the remaining disciples went ahead to Galilee, where Jesus had told the women he would meet them, they worshiped when they saw him, but some doubted. Even in seeing him, there are others who doubted (Thomas was not the only one). Jesus declares he has received all authority in heaven and earth and now gives that authority to the disciples, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them everything Jesus has commanded, and to remember that Christ is always with them.

The supplemental verses of Psalm 40:9-10 share the author’s profession that they have shared the news of their deliverance in front of the congregation. They have not held anything back. They have been a witness of God’s salvation and faithfulness to all.

This is a good Sunday to talk about doubt as part of the faith journey. Even after Jesus’s death and resurrection, some of the disciples doubted. Even as he stood before them and they worshiped him, some of them held doubts. This is part of our faith journey. It is the showing up and continuing to follow the commandments that makes us faithful. The father of a child possessed by demons brought his child to Jesus’s disciples, but they were unable to cast out the demon. Jesus told the man that all things were possible for the one who has faith, and the father declared, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-25). Doubt is part of the struggle of the faith journey. And there are times when we may even want to walk away from it all, as Thomas did. The good news is that we are not alone. What makes us faithful sometimes isn’t our own faith but the faith of those around us, the ones we can rely on. The other disciples didn’t give up on Thomas. The disciples who doubted in Matthew 28:17 still worshiped. They still received the Great Commission. As far as we know, they stuck around and continued the ministry, even in their time of doubt, because the faith of others urged them on. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, sometimes our prayer is, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Help me through the times of doubt and struggle. Help me when I want to walk away from it all. And when I can’t even pray, may others pray for me.

Call to Worship (from 1 Peter 1:3, 8a; Mark 9:24)
Blessed be our God and our Lord Jesus Christ!
I believe; help my unbelief.
We have been given a new birth into a living hope.
I believe; help my unbelief.
A living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I believe; help my unbelief.
Although you have not seen Christ, you love Christ.
I believe; help my unbelief.
In this time of worship, may we hold on to the faith of others,
May we pray for each other, and follow Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that at times we have shared empty phrases and platitudes to assure ourselves when others have struggled and suffered. We have tried to force a faithful response instead of sitting with the questions and doubt. Forgive us for putting our feelings above another’s struggles. We also confess at times others have done this to us, and we acknowledge the pain and hurt we have felt. We confess boldly that doubt is not the opposite of faith, and that there is no shame in holding doubts and sharing our struggles. We ask instead, O God, for the wisdom to help one another on the journey of faith. We ask for the strength to sit in silence. We ask for the courage to listen without judgment. We ask, O God, for Your love to prevail, for it is love that sees us through our struggles of faith. It is the love of others that assures us and presses us forward. May we love one another as fully as You have loved us, and may we love ourselves in our times of struggle. We remember Your prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and Your cry on Calvary, and know that You, too, know what it is to struggle in faith. We confess boldly that we are not alone, and that You know us and love us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are you on the journey of faith and doubt. Blessed are you when you love one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. Blessed are you when you allow others to pray for you, comfort you, and assure you. Blessed are you when you forgive one another and do not hold doubts and misgivings against one another. Blessed are you when you share the Good News to the world. Go and share the Gospel of Love. Amen.

God of Resurrection, help us to acknowledge the signs of new life all around us. Help us to find hope and joy and gratitude. These are signs that encourage us on the journey of faith. Open our vision to take notice of all the good things You are doing in the world and in our lives. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of Your grace and peace. For Your love is written not only in the words of Scripture, but in the sap rising in the trees, the green blades of grass, the turning of seasons, the calm after the storm, the lofty clouds and blue skies and the rain. We give thanks to You, Risen One, in all the signs of life. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 9, 2023—Easter Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Easter, Matthew 28:1-10 (Psalm 118:19-24)

For the season of Easter, often a reading from Acts is used instead of the Hebrew scriptures. The first selection from Acts 10:34-43 contains Peter’s bold revelation from both a vision he beheld from God in vs. 9-16 and in his encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in 17-33. In the vision, God gave Peter food to eat that was both from clean and unclean animals, with the lesson that whatever God declared holy, others must not call profane. In Peter’s conversation with Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter understood that Cornelius’s own encounter with the Holy Spirit was valid and true. There was no need for Cornelius to become Jewish, he knew God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God shows no partiality between Jewish and Gentile, for Jesus is Lord of all. Peter and the other disciples were witnesses of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and called to testify in his name. Peter confirmed that everyone who believes in Jesus may be forgiven of their sins through Christ’s name.

An alternative to the Acts reading is Jeremiah 31:1-6. In the midst of war, in the knowledge that the people of Judah will be taken into exile, God still brings a word of hope to the prophet Jeremiah. Just as God brought the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God will restore the people with joy. God’s faithfulness will continue, as God’s faithful love of Israel endures forever. Even in the north, taken long ago into exile, there will be vineyards planted and wine poured, because God restores all, and even the people gone long ago will return to worship God in Zion.

Portions of Psalm 118 are read for both Palm Sunday and on Easter, with some overlap. The portion for Easter includes the declaration that God is the psalmist’s strength, might, and salvation. Death will not have a hold on the people, for they will live with God as their God. Though the people of Israel have suffered, God did not allow them to die out, but instead, they have returned to worship as the psalmist calls them into the temple. The people rejected are now the foundation of the knowledge of God around the world, for God has chosen the people of Israel to demonstrate God’s glory and salvation to all.

Colossians 3:1-4 speaks of the life of the Christian with the resurrected Christ. Believers always have a heavenly worldview. Christ has been revealed to the world, and therefore our lives are testimony to Christ’s resurrection. We have already been raised from death as we walk this earth, for death has no hold on us.

(An alternative to the Colossians reading is Acts 10:34-43, if the Jeremiah passage is chosen for the first reading).

In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene was by herself when she came to the tomb and discovered the stone had been rolled back. Mary went to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, who then raced to the empty tomb. Though Peter went in first, the beloved disciple went in after, and he saw and believed. Nevertheless, both he and Peter went home because they did not understand the scripture. Only Mary remained, weeping. She looked into the tomb and saw two angels. They asked her why she was weeping, because Mary thought someone had taken Jesus’s body. When she turned around, she thought she saw the gardener, who asked her the same question. She asked if he had taken the body to tell her where he had put it, so she could take care of the body. She kept asking questions. But then the gardener said her name, and she immediately recognized her teacher. Jesus warned her not to hold on to him, but instead to go and tell the disciples that he had risen and would be ascending to God (the Father). Mary then announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and what he had spoken to her. Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles because she remained faithful and kept asking where Jesus was, when the other disciples went home, and even the beloved disciple who believed. A good teacher has students who ask good questions. And nevertheless, Mary persisted.

Both an alternative Gospel reading for the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the reading for the Narrative Lectionary, Matthew’s account of the resurrection contains both Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” Only in Matthew’s account is the stone still in place—it is rolled back by an angel after an earthquake, and the angel sits on the stone. Also, only in Matthew’s account are guards posted at the tomb, but the guards are shaken out of fear. The angel tells the women that they are looking for Jesus, but he isn’t there—he has been raised. Instead, they are to go to Galilee where Jesus will be waiting for them. The women leave to tell the disciples, out of great joy and fear, when they encounter the resurrected Christ. In John’s account, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, but in Matthew, both women take hold of Jesus’s feet and worship him. Jesus tells them both not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee, for that is where they will see him.

The supplementary reading for the Narrative Lectionary is a shorter portion of Psalm 118, covered under the Revised Common Lectionary above.

It is hard to know what to say differently this year for Easter than any other year. Death does not have the last word. Love wins. Life endures forever. I’m personally drawn to Mary’s persistence in John’s account of the resurrection, out of grief, out of faithfulness—the way she continues to seek Jesus and will not give up until she has found him. Despite the despair in our world—gun violence, continued Covid-19 illnesses and death, legislation against healthcare for transgender children—the pursuit of Jesus inspires me. The pursuit of life. The pursuit of justice. Despite the hopelessness, a refusal to give up. Mary is not hopeful—she’s looking for a dead body, not a risen Savior. But she refuses to give up until she finds Jesus. And in that pursuit, she finds the unexpected.

Call to Worship
In emptiness of night,
We wait for dawn to break open.
In our grief and suffering,
We weep and look for something to hold on to.
In the finality of the tomb,
We wait for the dead to rise.
In the face of death,
We declare the Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Stormclouds and Sunshine, Springtime and Autumn, we know You are present with us in all seasons of faith. At times we sing Hallelujah with joy and declare that Christ is Risen! At times we sit quietly with our pain and loss and hold on to the small kernel of hope that we are not alone. You are with us in all seasons of our lives. On this Easter day, may we not be ashamed of our doubts or our struggles, nor may we lord over our faith on others who are skeptical. Instead, may we all come to You, reminded of Mary Magdalene who wouldn’t give up until she found you, persisting in our questions. You are our Rabbi, our Teacher, and no matter where we are on the path of faith, You are calling our name, revealing Yourself to us. May we listen and follow. Amen.

From Mary Magdalene proclaiming to the other disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, to each of us saying to one another Christ is Risen, we know that our faith is passed on, shared, and only grows over time. May you live with the assurance that in your times of struggle, others have faith enough to pray for you, help you, and care for you. May you have the grace to accept the help you need. May you pray for others in their times of struggle and be there to lift them up. May we help one another on this journey of faith, knowing that we are not alone, as we question, doubt, praise and proclaim that Christ is Risen. Go and share the good news. Amen.

God of Death and Life, Adversity and Hope, we give thanks for the celebration of Easter, of the hope of resurrection, the promise of new life found in Jesus Christ our Lord. May we remember that eternal life begins here and now and is not about life after death but a life that is transformed and transverses earth and heaven. If we seek You, may we search with all our heart so that we may find You. We pray that You would strengthen our hearts and strengthen our faith, for we know that there will be grief and pain in our lives ahead, but there is also great joy and comfort with You, and with one another. Grant us the courage to live into faith, each and every day, that You have risen and give us the hope of new life, now and forever. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 2nd, 2023—Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary
Palm Sunday: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54

Narrative Lectionary: Triumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-17 (Psalm 118:25-29)

We have drawn near the end of the season of Lent with the beginning of Holy Week. The Revised Common Lectionary offers two choices, either the Liturgy of the Palms, or the Liturgy of the Passion.

For Palm Sunday, the lectionary begins with the processional call to worship of Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. This portion of the psalm was probably used by the worship leader as they entered the temple. Rejected by the world, exiled into Babylon, the people chosen by God, to reveal who God is to the world, have returned home and have restored the temple. The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. The psalmist leads the people into worship through the temple gates, up to the altar, giving thanks and praise to God for this day of celebration, and calling upon God to continually save the people.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21:1-11. The writer of Matthew’s gospel, while Jewish, was not as familiar with Hebrew poetry and misinterpreted Zechariah 9:9 in his understanding of the humble leader riding on a donkey. Therefore, Matthew wrote of Jesus riding on a donkey and its colt, rather than understanding the second line of “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” as an emphasis of the first line, “humble and riding on a donkey.” The crowds cried out “Hosanna, save us!” as Jesus entered the city, and the crowds quoted Psalm 118, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Perhaps this misunderstanding of Zechariah helps us understand why the crowds and the disciples misunderstood Jesus, and their expectations of God’s anointed one.

For Passion Sunday, the lectionary begins with one of the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah in 50:4-9a. The prophet Isaiah personified Israel as a suffering servant, which Christians later looked back upon and found connections with in terms of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Israel knows that God is with them despite what they have suffered, through the exile and return, for God is the one who knows they are innocent and will vindicate them. The prophet, speaking as the suffering servant, knows God’s faithfulness and assurance of deliverance.

Psalm 31:9-16 is the middle portion of the psalm, and the author is in distress, both physically and mentally. No one around them will help them, but they reach out to God, for they trust in God’s faithfulness. Despite how everyone else has turned away from them, they rest assured of God’s commitment. They pray for God’s deliverance from their enemies and their suffering.

Philippians 2:5-11, part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, is an ancient church confession. Christ was fully divine, yet also fully human. He emptied himself of all divine power and followed God’s will, even to die on the cross. Because of his fulfillment of God’s will, Christ was exalted so that everyone would know and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to give glory and honor to God.

The longer selection of the Gospel lesson in Matthew begins at 26:14 and concludes at 27:66. 26:14-26:75 are all the events that took place the night before Christ’s death: Judas went to the chief priests, Jesus and the disciples observed a meal together as part of Passover (though not a seder meal as celebrated today, see this article for more information), and then Jesus went out to pray with a few of the disciples, where he was betrayed by Judas. Jesus was arrested, accused by the high priest, and Peter, keeping watch in the courtyard, denied he ever knew Jesus. Chapter 27 begins on the morning of Jesus’s death, when he was handed over to Pilate. Unique to Matthew’s account, Judas, seeing that Jesus was condemned to Pilate (for Judas only gave Jesus over to the priests, who could not sentence Jesus to death), repented, and gave back the silver, but the chief priests and elders didn’t care that Judas confessed that Jesus was innocent. Judas then hung himself. Both the writer of Matthew and of Luke-Acts link the death of Judas to a place called the “Field of Blood,” referenced by both Zechariah and Jeremiah, but Judas’ death is accidental in Acts 1.

27:11 (where the shorter selection for the Passion begins) picks up with Jesus before Pilate, and in verse 15, Pilate went before the crowds, ready to release a prisoner as custom during the Passover to help keep the Jewish population satisfied under the control of Rome. In Matthew’s account, the other prisoner, Barabbas, is also known as Jesus Barabbas. Pilate gave the crowds a choice: Jesus the insurrectionist, or Jesus called the anointed one of God? Also unique to Matthew’s account, Pilate’s wife had a dream and warned Pilate to leave Jesus the Christ alone, but the crowds, urged on by the religious leaders, called for Jesus Barabbas to be released and Jesus Christ to be crucified.

Again, unique to Matthew was the response of the crowd to take upon the guilt of Jesus’ death, something later Christians used to condemn all Jewish people. These passages must be read carefully and understood that all the Gospel writers were Jewish, along with Paul and all the New Testament writers—as well as Jesus himself—but the belief that this passage condemns all Jewish people is at least as old as the second century. Instead, the writer of Matthew may be interpreting this as accepting Jesus’s sacrifice for all people, including the crowds that condemned him, even when they did not know what they were doing.

The narrative shifts to Jesus’s crucifixion in 27:33, with Simon of Cyrene compelled to carry Jesus’s cross. Like Luke, in Matthew’s account Jesus was crucified with two others, probably political prisoners, and Jesus was mocked upon the cross. Vs. 45-56 contain Jesus’s death. There was an earthquake, and the curtain of the temple torn after Jesus’s last breath. The centurion and other guards who witnessed his death declared he was truly God’s son. The women who followed Jesus watched from a distance (and the shorter selection of the Gospel lesson ends here).

Vs. 57-61 contain the story of Jesus’s burial by Joseph, a rich man who was a disciple of Jesus from Arimathea. He had Jesus’s body placed in his own tomb, carved out of the rock, and a stone rolled in front of the tomb, where Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat. Vs. 62-66 take place on Saturday, in which the chief priests and other religious leaders went to Pilate and told him to place guards around the tomb because they were afraid that people would say he rose from the dead, since that’s what Jesus told them. These verses, paired with 28:11-15, are meant to counter any stories that Jesus’s own disciples took his body and lied that he rose from the dead. While the writer set out to prove that Jesus rose from the dead within this narrative, these verses have also been used, like 27:25, to cast blame on Jewish people for Jesus’s death and to say that Jewish people lied about Jesus. Again, we must remember that Jesus and all the disciples were Jewish, and the only people who actually put Jesus to death were Pilate and the Roman soldiers and authorities, not the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people. The Gospel accounts were written at least forty years after Jesus’s death, when there was significant division between the followers of Jesus and others in the Jewish community—a division that wasn’t the case when Jesus and his disciples lived.

The Narrative Lectionary is the same as the Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday lesson of Matthew 21 with the addition of verses 12-17, in which Jesus visited the temple. The first thing he did was to throw out the sellers and overturn the tables of the moneychangers. While he was there, people came to Jesus to be healed, and the religious leaders were angry that children praised Jesus and called him the Son of David. In response, Jesus quoted Psalm 8:3, that out of the mouths of children and infants would come praise for God. While the writer of Matthew quoted Hebrew scripture to prove Jesus was the Messiah, the author also used scripture to show that the people’s idea of the Messiah would be different. Jesus did not arrive as a warrior on a white horse, but humble, on a donkey and its colt. The people shouted Hosanna and praise for one entering a temple, who then went not to worship and be anointed, but to overturn the systems he saw as corrupt. He did not go to the religious leaders for wisdom or praise, but instead turned to those in need of healing and received praise from children, and the author of Matthew backs all of that up with scripture.

The supplemental scripture is also a portion of the Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday, Psalm 118:25-29. These four verses emphasize the calling out to God by the psalmist to save the people, and blessing the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The psalmist brings the worship to the altar, and gives thanks to God, whose steadfast love endures forever.

From Palms to Passion, from triumphal entry to death on the cross, from hope to loss—the fullness of Holy Week is hard to express in one worship service, let alone a week of services. What we learn from the Gospel writers and all the stories, from the people coming out of exile, to the women at the tomb, is that God continues to do the unexpected. Even in the most difficult times, like the women who followed Jesus, sometimes all we can do is wait upon God. Wait and keep an active watch, for God will not keep silent.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1-2, 24, 26)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let all the people say,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
May we bless one another, and our God, in this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of all peoples, across all times, we come before You confessing that at times we hear what we want to hear. We listen for stories and scriptures and songs that affirm our view of the world and that we are on the right side. We confess that at times we have misheard and distorted the words passed down to us, believing we have the truth and others do not. We recognize that throughout history those with power and privilege have twisted accounts to shape their worldview, scapegoating and demonizing others. Forgive us, O God, for our pride, our selfishness, and our greed. Forgive us for the times we have demonized and scapegoated groups of people. Forgive us, most of all, for the ways we have minimized Jesus’s own identity as a Middle Easter Jewish man under the oppression of the Roman Empire, and the ways we have forgotten our own places of power and privilege. Call us into accountability to tell the truth of our shared history as Christians, and as followers of one who died for us all. We confess and pray, God of all the nations. Amen.

The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. All of the times you have felt rejected, discarded, minimalized, and left out—you are God’s cornerstone. You are God’s beloved and are wondrous in God’s view. Know your worth, that you are loved beyond measure. Christ is the cornerstone of Your life. Build your foundation upon Christ’s love for you, a love so strong that death could not stop it—and know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

God of all seasons, we come to You at the beginning of this Holy Week, a reminder of the fullness of Christ’s life and death. We know that while we shout “Hosanna!” and wave our palms to remember Your Son entering Jerusalem, we also remember the authorities closing in, that Jesus’s friends betrayed him and denied him, and in at the end of the week, he was killed among the other political criminals. We know that this week will get worse. When we know that things are going to get worse, it gets so much harder to hold on to hope. We feel the shadows closing in and despair crawling closer. The hope we hold on to this day is not for next Sunday, not the hope of resurrection and restoration, but right now, the hope that Jesus knows our most desperate moments. Jesus knows the very shadows we have faced. Jesus knows our loneliness, our despair, our hopelessness. Jesus knows the emptiness of the tomb. In that we find our hope and our life, for there is nothing we have been through that Christ, the Word Incarnate, has not also lived through. The hope found in this week is that even at our loneliest point, Jesus knows, and we are never truly alone. We thank You, Loving God of all seasons, for not letting us be alone, and for being with us in every moment, even the most difficult ones. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 26, 2023—Fifth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Narrative Lectionary: Last Judgment, Matthew 25: 31-46 (Psalm 98:7-9)

The prophet Ezekiel had been taken into exile during the first wave of the Babylonian invasion of Judah, though he continued to prophesy through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He beheld strange visions of what God had done and would do. Like his contemporary Jeremiah, he saw through the corruption of the priests and prophets who only told the Judahite kings what they wanted to hear, and they failed to listen to God’s warnings. In 37:1-14, the prophet beheld a vision of a battlefield, a valley of dry bones. In dialogue with Ezekiel, God asked the prophet rhetorical questions about whether the dead could live and commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. The bones rose from the earth, with sinews, muscles, and skin, but they were just lifeless bodies. Then God called upon Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. The Hebrew word for breath is the same as wind and Spirit. The four winds came upon the bones and the bodies came to life with breath. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the people, that God would open up the graves, that God would bring to life what was dead, and that God would put Spirit into their own bodies so they would live on their own land. A prophecy of hope for the exiles, that God would be with them in spirit and they would find new life.

Psalm 130 is a prayer of hope and forgiveness. The psalmist prays on behalf of the people, knowing that if God held their sins against them, no one could come before God. However, God is the one in whom there is hope and forgiveness. God will deliver them, just like a watchman waits all night for dawn, they know that God will bring deliverance and redemption. They are forgiven, for God is all powerful, and God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Paul uses the image of flesh and spirit in Romans 8:6-11 as a metaphor of the ways of the world humanity has created and God’s ways. For those who live by the Spirit, they know God’s ways and are not tempted by what the world offers. Those who have the Spirit are alive in Christ, and death has no hold on them. Christ is the one who brings us true life and will raise us from the dead, giving life to our mortal bodies.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-45. There is much to unpack in this story and various points of interest In John’s account. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and while they sent word that Lazarus was ill, Jesus delayed in going to them. When Jesus finally decided to travel to Judea to visit, the disciples tried to talk him out of it because they knew some of the community leaders wanted to kill him. Nonetheless, Jesus insisted on going, though he knew that Lazarus was dead, for he was going to awaken him. Thomas, in his first appearance in this Gospel, was ready to go with Jesus even to the death. Martha was the first to greet Jesus as he arrived, stating that if he had been there, her brother would not have died. Yet she claimed her faith, knowing God would give Jesus whatever he asked. Jesus declared to her, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and Martha proclaimed her belief in him as the Messiah. Martha then went back and called Mary to see Jesus. Mary said the same thing Martha did, that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. However, instead of boldly claiming her faith as Martha demonstrated, Mary knelt and wept. Jesus’s response to her was different. He also wept. For even bold declarations of faith did not keep Jesus from grieving himself. When other neighbors began to question why Jesus could not keep Lazarus from dying, Jesus rose, went to the tomb, and ordered them to roll away the stone. Martha warned him about the smell, since her brother had been dead for four days, but nonetheless, Jesus prayed, and called Lazarus out of the tomb. The dead man walked out, and many who witnessed the event came to believe.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. Sometimes thought of as a parable, it’s different from the previous parables in that Jesus doesn’t begin with, “the kingdom of heaven will be like …” Instead, Jesus begins with “when the Son of Man comes in his glory.” Already we know this is not like the other stories Jesus has told. This one, while using some metaphor, is more clearly about Jesus’ vision of what the final judgment will be like. Some Bibles title this “the Judgment of the Gentiles” because the word used for nations is translated as Gentiles elsewhere. Perhaps this is a statement of what the Jewish followers of Jesus are to do in sharing the Gospel among the Gentiles—it is important to teach about right living, right behavior in how they love their neighbor. All the Gentiles (nations) will be gathered before the Son of Man as he separates people like sheep from goats. Those who give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, hospitality and welcome to the stranger, those who clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison—those are the ones who have lived faithfully, as if God was among them. Those who did not do these things are those who never lived as if God was with them, and are sent into eternal punishment, while the righteous are given eternal life.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 98:7-9 are about God coming to judge the world and all its peoples. All of creation celebrates the arrival of God, who rules in righteousness and judges with equity.

As we approach the end of Lent, we are nearing the end of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem in the scriptures. In the Narrative Lectionary we look at Jesus’s final teachings in Matthew, a reminder that we are judged by how we live. Do we believe Christ is among us, now? Then we must live like it. In the Revised Common Lectionary, we are reminded that God is a living God, God is the God of life. But this doesn’t mean we aren’t spared death. We aren’t spared grief. We aren’t spared loss. No, that is the cost of loving one another. God loved us so much, but the cost was Christ’s death. We love our friends and family so much, but the cost is that we will grieve their loss when the time comes. This is the price of love. But the promise of love is that death cannot separate us. The promise of Christ’s love is that love will live on through eternity. Somehow love will carry us through, whether we are bold in our faith like Martha or fallen on our knees like Mary. Whether we are brave like Thomas now or doubtful like Thomas later on in John’s account. Love will still carry us through.

Call to Worship
Christ is the Resurrection and the Life,
Even though we die, we believe, and we have life.
Death will not have the final word,
For Christ has shown us the way of life eternal.
For truly as we have cared for the least among us,
We have cared for and loved Christ himself.
We enter this time of worship together,
Living in the way, the truth, and the life of Christ Jesus.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Son of Humanity, You wept when Mary wept for the death of her brother. You grieved when Your friend Lazarus died. You cared for Simon’s mother-in-law when she was sick. You know our hearts and our bodies all so well because You lived our lives. Call us to have compassion on ourselves and to seek the care we need—therapists, physicians, teachers, coaches, social workers, and pastors. Restore our hearts and minds and bodies so that we might care for one another’s needs. Help us to be gentle with our souls, Loving One, as we share in the work of caring for each other and meeting the needs of those around us. Guide us, Holy Spirit, to care for ourselves and for one another, for all the least among us, as You care for us. Amen.

“For with the Lord there is steadfast love,” the psalmist declares, and we know God’s love through Jesus Christ—through his life, death, and resurrection. But we know God’s love more intimately through the love of one another. When we love and care for others, we are loved for and cared for. When we give, we receive. When we mourn, we are comforted. When we feel despair, others pray for us. Know this: you are never alone. There is nothing you can do that can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus, and the whole congregation is here for you. When we love and care for each other, Christ’s love grows in us. So grow with Christ, grow in love, and serve one another. Amen.

God of All Seasons, as spring arrives in the north and autumn in the south of the world, we remember our ancestors marked the Equinox as a turning point in the year. If we have struggled, this is a time of change and renewal. This is a time when colors burst forth in autumn leaves to the south and in budding flowers to the north. This is a time when we are reminded that all things change, and You bring about both the challenge and promise of change in our lives, through repentance, reformation, and redemption. Your Holy Spirit is moving among us now. Help us to grow in new ways, to experience the new life You have promised us in this moment. You are making all things new. Help us to embrace hope and the challenge to change our hearts and lives for You, Spirit of Life, Spirit of Seasons. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 19, 2023—Fourth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Narrative Lectionary: Parable of the Bridesmaids (Parable of the Talents) Matthew 25:1-13 (14-30); (Psalm 43:3-4)

The call and anointing of King David happen while Samuel was still grieving Saul in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. Saul, chosen by God, turned from God’s ways. As a prophet, Samuel anointed Saul, and perhaps took it as a personal failure that Saul didn’t work out. Nonetheless, God sent Samuel to Jesse in Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice, and God promised to show Samuel who to anoint. Although Samuel assumed it would be one of the eldest, tallest, or strongest, none of Jesse’s first sons were chosen by God. Jesse had not brought the last, youngest, smallest son who was out with the sheep. Instead, God chose the one who was known probably for being too cute. Too small, too young, probably picked on by his brothers for his looks. And God told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

A song long associated with David, Psalm 23 sings of the assurance of God’s presence even in the most difficult times. God is the one who provides, protects, and shelters us, and whose presence is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. God is the one who honors us, even in the presence of our adversaries, and the psalmist concludes with a blessing of knowing God’s steadfast love and mercy all of our days, and dwelling in God’s presence forever.

The Epistle reading shifts from Romans for one week in Lent to Ephesians 5:8-14. The writer uses the images of light and darkness to show that everything in light is exposed, and we ought to live with nothing hidden in us. We ought not to hide any part of who we are—for if we do, it is because of shame—and instead we should live as people without shame. Live with the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of light, and know that everything will become visible. The writer concludes this section with “Sleeper, awake!” In other words, be alert and ready for Christ, coming at an unexpected time, and live with nothing to hide before God.

The account of the blind man receiving his sight in John 9:1-41 must be approached with caution. There was a societal view that disability was the result of sin, which is the question the disciples have when they find a man who is blind from birth. Jesus’s reply is that no one has sinned. However, Jesus uses this moment to show that God’s work might be revealed in this man. The work that is revealed is one of deconstructing cultural and theological beliefs that are harmful, for the man born blind could only beg; he was not able to or allowed to work until he was freed from the marginalization of society. Far too often we have focused on a miraculous healing and that the man could then see, instead of the liberation that Jesus proclaimed from society’s sin of marginalization and oppression. Jesus then used sight and blindness as spiritual metaphors for those opposed to the kind of radical liberation he brings. Again, approaching with caution the antisemitic ways John’s gospel has been interpreted, this was a general societal belief that forced disabled people to beg, instead of inclusion of all people in the community. Some of the leaders opposed Jesus because he was claiming to be the Son of God, something blasphemous to their religion and culture, and therefore they questioned his authority.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Parable of the Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. One thing to note is that while five bridesmaids packed extra oil and five “foolish” ones did not, all of them fell asleep. Jesus knows that we all have moments where we are not paying attention, where we fall short, where we fail to live into God’s intentions for us. We might do better to look at this parable from the context of the whole, rather than the separation of the foolish and the wise. How do we ground ourselves in community, tradition, scripture, and prayer? Who do we know to turn to when we need guidance and help in our struggles? Whom can we count on? And can we be that person for the other? The five “wise” bridesmaids refused to help others, and therefore marginalized the five that they thought of as foolish. Perhaps this parable is less about preparing ourselves as preparing to help each other and to build a community so that all may enter the reign of God.

The Narrative Lectionary also gives the possibility of the Parable of the Talents in verses 14-30. This is another parable that, on the surface, seems very harsh and cruel. One possible interpretation is that the one who refused to risk anything has the most to lose. Another might be that this master is harsh and cruel, and that does not change with the ending of the parable, but the last one refused to participate in the systems and structures of oppression in this world, and it cost him his life. Given Jesus’s own death on the cross, this is a possible way to look at a parable that has no satisfactory answer.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 43:3-4. The psalmist asks God to send light and truth, so that the psalmist may praise God with celebration and joy. In reading the parables, we ask for light and truth to help us understand the mysteries and myriad of possible interpretations, as we do with all scripture.

How we fight systemic sin: oppression, marginalization, and power/privilege over others underlies how we interpret Scripture. If we believe we are all on equal footing, then it makes sense to think of the bridesmaids as foolish or wise, the servants with the talents as worthy or not. It’s the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” idea that if everyone works hard they will get what they want and need. John 9:1-41 upends that thinking, as does Jesus’ own life and death on the cross. If it isn’t good news for the most vulnerable—disabled, poor, low-wage earners, anyone on the margins of society—then it isn’t good news at all. This ought to be the lens for interpreting parables as well as all the Gospels. When we look to David, the youngest, smallest, cutest boy picked on by seven older brothers (most likely)—we see why God chose him. We see in both the Epistle reading and the parable of the bridesmaids that all of us have the tendency to fall asleep. Even those among us in the struggle for justice against the powers of oppression have times when we fail to observe how empire has entered our own way of life. The point is, when we wake up, who do we go to? Who do we turn to? Who do we help on the way? Who do we view as part of God’s beloved community and how will we make sure they are included? How will we practice mercy, grace, and forgiveness? How will we love our neighbor as ourselves?

Call to Worship (Psalm 43:2a, 3-5)
God, You are the One in whom we take refuge,
O send out Your light and Your truth.
Let them lead us;
Let them bring us to Your holy dwelling.
Then we will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy;
And we will praise you, O God, our God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again sing praise,
Our help and our God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Awakening God, we confess at times we have fallen asleep. The weight of the world is too much. There is too much pain, injustice, sorrow, oppression—it all is weary and it seems no matter what we do, it doesn’t make a difference. Nothing seems to change. Yet we know from our ancestors in the faith that You have made promises to us that still hold true: promises of love, hope, mercy, grace, and peace. Promises that we have experienced through the love and care of others. Beloved God, may we not give up on You, though the world has failed us, though even the church has failed us. For You are our Creator and Sustainer, Redeemer of us all. You are the one who reminds us that there is nothing in all of creation that will separate us from Your love. You are the one who rose after the deepest night. Wake us up, O God, to what You have intended for us, and let us not hold on to daydreams of the past or nightmares of helplessness. Wake us up, O God, to live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, in Christ’s name. Amen.

We sing the words, “There is a balm in Gilead,” to respond to the rhetorical question of the prophet Jeremiah. There is healing for our sin-sick souls. There is hope still to be found. There is love. There is always love. Know that you are God’s beloved child, and there is no place you can hide, no place where you will be lost. There is nothing you can do that will take you from God’s love. Trust in this truth: God loves you and the promise of that love is written inside you, from your first breath until the end of time. Go and share that love with one another, a love that builds up and holds fast against the struggles of the world. You will endure. You will make it through. Love one another. Amen.

Holy Spirit, fall afresh on us. Fill us, renew us, mold us and shape us into who You need us to be. Help us to let go of the ways this world confines us, so that we might be free in You to love, care, and lift up one another. Holy Spirit, inspire us when the well is dry. Care for us when we cannot rise again. Empower us to rise up, and to keep rising when we fall down again. As we are reminded from scripture, from the beginning to the end, You breathed life into us and formed us into a community of faith. We are not on this journey alone. Refresh us, Loving Spirit, and remind us that You are with us, now and always, and we have one another. Amen.