Worship Resources for October 29th, 2023—Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Worship Resources for October 29th, 2023—Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 and Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Narrative Lectionary: Kingdom Divided, 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29 (Mark 10:42-45)

We are drawing to a close in this liturgical year and we are nearing the end of our journey with the ancestors of our faith in the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 contains the story of Moses’s death and God’s continued promise. God showed Moses all the land that had been promised to the descendants of Abraham and Sarah long ago, and although Moses would not set foot in it, God allows him a glimpse before his death. Moses died in Moab and was buried, and the Israelites mourned him for thirty days. Previously, Moses had laid his hands upon Joshua, and Joshua had the spirit of wisdom Moses had. The people turned to follow Joshua, but there would never be another like Moses.

Psalm 90 is a prayer to God who is present throughout the generations, and the only psalm attributed to Moses. In verses 1-6, God was present before there was anything, and instead of a physical place, the psalmist views God as the people’s true home. For a wandering people with a promise of a homeland, how do you find home when you won’t see it? Know that home is wherever God is, and God is with you. Time for mortals is brief, but chronological time is nothing to God. Verses 13-17 turns to a plea for help, for God to have compassion on the people who have suffered. The psalmist calls upon God to make God’s works known to the people, and for the people’s work to have meaning and value.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18. In this part of the law, God told Moses that the people of Israel were to be holy because God is holy. Verses 15-18 are a reminder of how the people are to live among their neighbors, ending with “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The very first psalm in the book of Psalms is a reminder that for those who seek wisdom, they are like a tree planted by a stream of water who bear fruit and never wither. They are strong in the law of the Lord, which they meditate on day and night and ignore the voices of evil. The wicked, unfortunately, are like chaff blown away, with no roots. The righteous are the ones who are in the congregation and remain firm in righteousness, for they are faithful to God.

The Epistle reading continues the series in 1 Thessalonians with 2:1-8. Paul speaks of the deep care he and his companions have for the church in Thessalonica and contrasts that to an incident in Philippi where he and his companions were not treated well. Most scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is earlier than the letter to the Philippians and refers to something not addressed in that letter. In spite of how they were treated, Paul and others had the courage to share the gospel, and they did this not for their own gain but to please God. The Thessalonians have become dear to Paul, like a nurse caring for the children in her charge.

Jesus continues to be challenged in the temple in Matthew 22:34-46. In last week’s reading, Jesus was challenged by the Herodians on paying taxes. The lectionary skips over Jesus’s challenge by the Sadducees on the resurrection, and now he is questioned by some Pharisees over which commandment is the greatest. This is different than Mark’s account, in which a scribe asks this question but in curiosity because Jesus answered the others well. Debates were how rabbis taught and learned from each other, and while Matthew makes these different groups opposed to Jesus, it is possible, like in Marks’ account, they were not all opposed but curious. Jesus replies with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Then Jesus replies with a question of who the Messiah is by quoting Psalm 110:1, that the Messiah is not David’s son, but God’s son, since fathers would never address their own son as “Lord.” Jesus uses both the question about the greatest commandment and his own question on who is the Messiah’s son as a way to demonstrate his authority.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the divided kingdom in 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29. When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam went to Shechem to be made king, but he listened to the advisors he chose instead of his father’s advisors when the people complained, and he added on more taxes and forced labor. Jeroboam, who had previously rebelled against Solomon led the people to challenge Rehoboam’s orders, but Rehoboam refused to listen, and the people went to war. Rehoboam ruled in Jerusalem, but the tribes outside of Judah turned to Jeroboam, who made two calves for the people to worship in Shechem in Ephraim. Since the temple of God was in Jerusalem, Jeroboam turned away from the God of Israel.

The supplementary verses of Mark 10:42-45, in which Jesus instructs the disciples after James and John had asked to sit at his right and left hand in glory. The other disciples were angry, but Jesus told them not to be like the Gentiles who lord it over each other, but that they are to serve one another, to become last of all and servant of all, as Jesus came to serve and to give his life as a ransom.

Care, humility, and love go together. Moses cared about the people and the people cared for him, even though they were at odds at times, and the people wept when he died. Paul cared about new Christians and the early churches, like a nurse cares for her children. Paul didn’t just share the Gospel to spread the word of Jesus and definitely did not do so to puff himself up, but because he genuinely cared about these early converts. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam suffered from pride and power. Though the people thought of the Messiah as David’s son, a mighty warrior in his line, Jesus thought of the Messiah as the Son of God, not one who would come on a war horse to save the people, but one who came to give his life and to serve. Jesus deeply loved the disciples, had compassion for the people, such as the thousands that gathered once to hear him and were fed bread and fish. Jesus cared about the nobodies—the little girl that died, the Syrophoenician woman and her child who were ignored by others (and even by Jesus himself at first), the woman who bled for twelve years, and so on. We know the love we have is genuine when we are filled with deep compassion for those around us who are most vulnerable. In this time of heightened conflict and war, ethnic tensions in Azerbaijan, India, and Israel/Palestine, may we be moved from a place of deep compassion to embrace others, rather than hard lines. May our words for justice always be rooted in compassion and humility.

(I invite you to take your time and breathe at the commas for this Call to Worship)

Call to Worship
Take a deep breath, and breathe in God’s spirit,
We breathe out, knowing that God is always present with us.
Take a deep breath, and know God’ solve,
We breathe out, sharing God’s love with one another.
Take a deep breath, and know God’s joy,
We breathe out, rejoicing in God our Savior.
Take a deep breath, and be full of compassion for God’s people,
We breathe out, ready to worship our God, and follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, we confess that we are quick to judge and move to judgment at breakneck speed. We do not slow down to consider another point of view or give pause to allow compassion to open our hearts. We want to do right and to be right, sometimes at a cost. Remind us of how deeply You love us, how Your Son bent down to draw in the dirt before the crowd that wanted to condemn another. Call us into that same sacred pause, to remember that we are all human beings, all made in Your image, all Your children. May we withdraw our sharp words and judgments and instead break open our hearts for compassionate, deep listening to one another. In the name of Christ, who in all humility laid down his life for each of us, that we might have abundant life full of pauses, full of compassion, full of love, we pray. Amen.

You are precious to God, so loved and so worthy of love. I know you may not feel it all the time, but it is true: God loves you madly. God’s love is written inside your heart and can never be removed, never changed, never diminished. Know this, in your heart of hearts, that you are made in God’s image and that image is love. Go share that love with the world. Amen.

Great God, You are with us even in the shadows and bleakness, among the haunts and spooks. There is no place where You can’t be found. There is nothing we have to fear in You. We call upon You to draw close when we are in shadow, when it is difficult to find light. Help us to know You are always near. Guide us through the valley of the shadow with Your rod and staff before us, comforting us, until we come to the table You have prepared for us. But even when our hope seems lost, may we know You never leave us, and will always hold us fast. Amen.

Worship Resource for October 22, 2023—Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99; Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9 (10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Narrative Lectionary: David Anointed King, 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150 (Mark 11:8-10)

In the first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of our faith from a family to a nation. In last week’s selection, the people of Israel came to Aaron demanding that he make gods for them because Moses was gone for too long, and God became angry with the people, threatening to destroy them and make a nation out of Moses until Moses interceded. At the beginning of chapter 33, God has decided not to destroy the people, but will no longer go with them to the land promised them. I wrote in Judson’s Journeys for October 22 the following about this passage, where Moses tries to convince God that these are indeed God’s people:

There’s sort of a humorous understanding to this exchange, sort of like a child with an adult. Moses still tried to get God to be with the people, to be fully present, but God keeps distance. God dodges most of Moses’s questions and responding with answers that are not fully satisfying to the demanding and inquisitive Moses. Moses continually asks, “Have I found favor in your sight?” Is there anything Moses has done wrong so far? God knows Moses followed everything God said. Even intervening on behalf of the people was the right thing to do, because they are God’s people, and God cannot abandon them. How will God’s people know who God is, and how will the world know that these people are God’s people, unless God journeys with them?

What we experience in these verses is Moses’s perseverance and insistence that God is the God of the people, and that he was called by this same God at the burning bush to deliver the people from their oppression in Egypt. Nonetheless, we also experience God as one who cannot be manipulated or fit into the mold of humanity. God will be gracious to those whom God desires to be and show mercy to those God desires to show mercy (33:19). God will not do what Moses wants simply because Moses wants it. However, God will pass by, because God knows this is the best way for Moses to trust and understand. God remains sovereign (and part of God’s sovereignty is that we humans cannot comprehend all of God) and in close relationship with Moses.

Psalm 99 is a song that praises God as the one who reigns over God’s faithful people. God is the one who loves justice and establishes equity, and the psalmist calls upon the people to worship God. The song lifts up Moses and Aaron as God’s priests, along with Samuel, as those who called upon God and God answered. God held them accountable for when they went wrong, but also forgave them. The psalmist concludes with another call to worship God, for God is holy.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 45:1-7. This portion of Second Isaiah speaks of Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who’s coming into power made possible the return of the exiles from Babylon. However, Isaiah makes it clear through God’s voice that it is God who has prepared the way, who had led Cyrus by the hand, and no other gods. It is God who directs the steps, who leads the people.

Psalm 96:1-9 is a call to worship praising God for all of God’s wonderful deeds. God is not only above other gods, but all other gods are idols—only the same God of the faithful people made the heavens and earth. The psalmist gives liturgical instructions in calling the people to worship God and to bring their offering as they enter the courts of the temple, and all the earth shall tremble in response. In verses 10-13, the psalmist reminds the people that God is sovereign over all nations, and God judges with equity. The psalmist continues this great call to worship by calling all of creation to join in, for God will judge the people and the earth with truth and justice.

The Epistle reading turns to its final series this season after Pentecost in 1 Thessalonians, which many scholars believe is one of the earliest letters of Paul (it may be the earliest we have in our Bible). We begin with the introduction in 1:1-10, of Paul and his companions, Silvanus and Timothy, writing to the church in Thessalonica. Paul gives thanks for the church’s faithfulness, because they not only received the Gospel by word, but the Holy Spirit has been manifest in the church’s reputation. In spite of being persecuted, they became an example to all believers in neighboring regions. Word has made it back to Paul that the Thessalonians turned from idols and have served God faithfully, while waiting for Jesus to return.

The Gospel lesson takes a break from the parables of Jesus and turns instead to a time when some of those opposed to Jesus tried to trap him with a series of questions. In Matthew 22:15-22, some of the Pharisees got together with some of the Herodians—two groups that would normally be opposed—and asked Jesus about whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not. If Jesus said no, the Herodians, the family of Herod that was in power as a puppet government under the Roman Empire, would have proof that Jesus was a political revolutionary. If Jesus said yes, it would make the crowds upset with him. Instead, Jesus offers another way, to give what belongs to the Emperor and to give what belongs to God—recognizing that if everything comes from God, this question should not matter, for God is the ultimate authority.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of David anointed as king over Israel. In 2 Samuel 5:1-5 David, thirty years old at the time, was anointed king over all the tribes at Hebron. Though Saul had been their king, the leaders of the tribes had looked to David as their war hero who brought them victory. In 6:1-5, the ark of the covenant was brough to Jerusalem, signifying David as not only the war king but God’s anointed king, as David recaptured the ark from the Philistines.

Psalm 150 is a song of praise to God, calling all the people to praise God in the sanctuary, for all God’s mighty acts, and with all instruments and dance. Every living thing is called to praise the Lord.

The supplementary verses of Mark 11:8-10 contain the praise of the people when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The people spread their clothes along with cut branches on the road before Jesus and called out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” quoting Psalm 118, a song of praise before entering the temple, and also shouting, “Blessing on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,” a longing for the restoration of David’s throne while under the oppression of the Roman Empire.

We human beings are fickle. We try to make our own way instead of fully trusting in God’s ways. Paul praised the church in Thessalonica for, despite persecution, they had remained faithful, and the word of their faithfulness had spread to other churches. Jesus tried to show those questioning him, along with the crowds that were curious as to who Jesus was or what he was about, that the key was looking to God as sovereign over all. When we look to God’s ways and live into them, the questions about how we ought to live become clear: do what we can to bring about God’s beloved community, and not get caught up in the rest of it. Isaiah reminded the people that even if their liberation came from another worldly power, it was still God at work because God is always involved in the liberation of the people. The good things of this world always come from God, whether it be the resources we share as communities from paying taxes for things like schools, libraries, roads and fire departments, or whether it be a voice from another land that leads the way for justice. Moses reminds us that it is okay to argue with God, too.

When we lament why God isn’t more noticeably at work around us, God’s presence will be made known. We can trust in God and lament. Right now, in our desperate, violent world, we must cry out. The horrific violence experienced in Israel and Gaza calls for our collective lament. It calls for us to ask why, God, and where are You? It calls for us to demand justice and pray and work for peace. It calls us to not dismiss our neighbor. It calls us to look to the pain of people marginalized for different reasons, and how we can respond not from our pain but from the collective grief, and cling to any shred of hope that somehow, God will hear us, but maybe even more importantly, that we will hear each other.

Call to Worship (Psalm 96:1-4)
O sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless God’s name;
Tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Declare God’s glory among the nations,
God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
God is to be revered above all idols of the world.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Lord, Lord! We cry out to You, confessing that we have given into the ways of this world. We have allowed anger to fester into rage, distrust into hate, hopelessness into utter despair. We have given up on others. We have dehumanized those we do not understand and rationalized violence. We remember the prophet Habakkuk, who lamented the violence he witnessed, and still believed there was time for a vision, time enough to write something down, however, brief, that a runner could read it. There is still time for a vision of hope, O God. Something small that can change the world. If we can love one another, see one another as Your beloved children. If we can hear the cries of Your children’s prayers. If we can believe there must be something more for the children of today, we can live into hope for their tomorrow. Lord, Lord! Hear our prayers. Hear our laments. Hear our calls for justice. In the name of Christ, who called out from the cross asking why You had forsaken him, we pray, knowing Your answer is life. Your answer is hope. Your answer is love. Amen and Amen.

When Moses asked God how he could know if he had found favor in God’s sight, God responded in Exodus 33:17, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” God knows us by name. God knows our hearts. God knows how they break from the pain of the world, and how they can break open for each other. Allow your heart to be broken open by God, to God, and to God’s people, who are all created in God’s image that live upon this one planet we share. God will do the very thing we ask if we see one another as God’s children. God will restore us, forgive us, heal us, and set us out to share the good news of God’s love. In Jesus’s name, go in peace. Amen.

God of compassion and mercy, it is far too easy to give up, and even easier to fake it until we might make it. Help us not hold on to false hopes, fake cheeriness, cheesy-Jesus-joy that makes other people sick to their stomach. Help us to find that true joy in You, that we are made by You for love in this world. Help us to trust in You so that we do not give up in the pursuit of justice, in the practice of mercy, in our love for one another. We know in the end, only love has saved us, and only love will lead us forward. Help us to love. Call us to love. Guide us in Your ways of love, that also hold us accountable when we have gone wrong, to do the work of reparation and restoration in this world. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 15, 2023—Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Narrative Lectionary: Ruth, 1:1-17 (4:13-17), (Mark 3:33-35)

We have followed the ancestors of the faith, from a family to a nation, in the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures this season after Pentecost. The famous Golden Calf story happens while Moses was up the mountain with God. Moses not only received the commandments, ordinances, and statues, but also instruction on how they as God’s people will conduct worship, the duties of the priests, and how to construct the tabernacle, the tent of God that will travel with the people once they leave Mt. Sinai, symbolizing God’s continued presence. God had just finished giving all these instructions to Moses and also two tablets with the words of the covenant written on them. Meanwhile, the people went to Moses’s brother Aaron and asked him to make gods for them to worship because they didn’t know what happened to Moses, who’d been up the mountain for over a month. Aaron took the gold jewelry offered by the people and formed it into the image of a calf. The people worshiped the calf and had a raucous celebration, probably similar to the peoples around them that also worshiped idols in such ways. At first, God told Moses to go down to the people “that you brought out of Egypt.” God seems to have forgotten it was they who brought the people out. Then God decides to destroy the people, and instead will make a great nation from Moses. However, Moses intercedes, and reminds God that these are God’s people, whom God brought out of Egypt. If God destroyed them, it would give fodder to the Egyptians and other enemies that God wasn’t so great. Instead, Moses invoked the names of the ancestors and God’s covenant with them. God relented, changed their mind, and did not destroy the people.

Psalm 106 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness, despite the people not always remaining faithful themselves. Verses 1-6 praise God for God’s goodness and steadfast love. The psalmist blesses those who practice justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for God’s deliverance of the people and that they might be a witness of God’s faithfulness, and in verse 6, confesses on behalf of the people and their ancestors their sins in not following God’s ways. Verses 19-23 specifically recall the creation of the golden calf and how Moses interceded on their behalf, so that God would not destroy them, though they had forgotten God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 25:1-9. This is a psalm praising God for delivering the people from their oppression, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and needy, covered in God’s protection and shelter. In an apocalyptic vision, heaven and earth come together on the mountain of God, with a rich banquet for all the people. God will destroy death and wipe away the tears from those who mourn. God will at last save the people from all oppression, including death.

Psalm 23 is the Shepherd’s Psalm, long attributed to David the shepherd-king. The psalmist sings of how God cares for them like a shepherd cares for their sheep—leading them to nourishing green pastures and cool waters, restoring their soul like one tends to the needs of the sheep. Even when oppression and death close in, the psalmist has no fear because God is with them, present like a shepherd with their staff. God prepares the table for the psalmist even before their enemies, anointing them and overflowing their cup, and they know God’s presence and goodness and kindness will be with them always.

The Epistle reading concludes its short series in Philippians with 4:1-9. Paul gives final words of encouragement and instruction to the church in Philippi. There is a brief mention of Euodia and Syntyche, and what Paul urged back in 2:2 is repeated here in this context of seeking help for these two, to be united in Christ. The two have both worked for the Gospel alongside Paul and Clement. Paul had written of joy in the Lord and expresses it again here, calling upon the church in Philippi to rejoice and to be in prayer to God, and to know God’s peace. This section concludes with further words of encouragement to continue to live into God’s ways as they have been taught, and God’s peace will be made known to them.

Matthew 22:1-14 contains the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In this parable, it is a king who gave a wedding banquet for the son, but the invited guests refused to come. Some of the guests even mistreated or killed the servants the king sent. So the king sent soldiers to burn their city and destroy those who murdered. Then the king decided to send his servants into the city to invite everyone they saw into the banquet, because those originally invited were not worthy. Everyone was invited in, both good and bad, and the hall was filled with guests. However, one guest did not have a wedding robe, and was questioned by the king as to how he got in. He was speechless, so the king ordered him to be thrown out into the “outer darkness” to suffer. The parable concludes with a line, possibly added later, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Parables have layers, and while on the surface this parable about the kingdom of heaven might be about how Jesus saw the religious leaders as rejecting God’s kingdom, it could also be a warning to Christians during the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, around 75-85 C.E., that they, too, have forgotten what God’s kingdom was about.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Ruth. In the first seventeen verses, the reader learns that Naomi, her husband and two sons were from Bethlehem but had settled in Moab due to a famine. While there, her husband died. Her sons married but then they both also died. Her two daughters-in-law were Moabite women. Later instructions in Ezra-Nehemiah forbade marriage outside of Israel and specifically mentioned Moab, but the book of Ruth shows readers that these laws changed for different times. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because the famine was over, she urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their homes. Marriages were to help with inheritance, and if a husband died, a woman would marry the husband’s brother, and the first child would be considered the heir of the dead husband, to pass down the inheritance. But if there were no more brothers, then the widow would return to her father’s home and hope to be remarried. Naomi clearly wanted what was best for these women, who would be foreigners in Bethlehem, as she was in Moab. But Ruth refused to leave her, and shared a vow to remain with her” to live where she lived, to die where she died, and to worship the same God. Ruth essentially became Naomi’s adopted daughter. In 4:13-17, Ruth married Boaz, a close kinsmen, and had a son. Naomi was praised by her neighbors for God’s faithfulness, because Ruth, her daughter-in-law, provided for her. Ruth’s son Obed became a grandson for Naomi, and Obed was the grandfather of King David.

The supplementary verses of Mark 3:33-35 contain Jesus’s words about who his true family were. When his mother, brothers, and sisters came for him, he asked the crowd who were his family: “those who do the will of God.”

How do we do God’s will? Certainly we know from the story of the golden calf that we are called to remember what God has done for us and for our ancestors, and to repent of where we have gone astray. The parable of Jesus reminds us that faith is lived out in how we practice hospitality and equity, justice and righteousness. Isaiah reminds us that while in this life we struggle, God’s desire for us is an end to our grief and loss, for heaven and earth to join together, for God’s presence to always be known. And the Narrative Lectionary reminds us that our understandings of laws and rules change, but what is important is the relationships we foster. How we treat one another with kindness and compassion. How do we do God’s will? We look to our ancestors in the faith. We study the scriptures. We practice kindness and do justice. But it must become our way of life, not something we do when we want to and skip when we don’t. We must, as Paul urged the Philippians, keep on doing what we have learned, experienced, and witnessed, and the God of peace will be with us.

Call to Worship (Philippians 4:8, 7, 4)
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
Think about these things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received.
And the God of peace will be with you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
Guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always;
Again I will say, Rejoice!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, You created us to be in relationship with You, with creation, and with one another. We have distorted and abused those relationships. We have forgotten You and Your ways. We have neglected our fellow creatures that we share this planet with and have misused the Earth and its resources. We have oppressed and marginalized the most vulnerable among us, including those in poverty and living on the streets, those struggling with mental health, those suffering from addiction, those who are from other countries that we deem less desirable, those whose gender or orientation is in the minority. Forgive us for not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Forgive us for judging others. Forgive us, most of all, for the harm we have caused by neglect, ignorance, and bigotry. Call us into repentance. Lead us in knowledge of the ways of reparation and restoration. Guide us into paths of healing. Encourage us to seek forgiveness with accountability for our own actions where we have caused harm. Empower us to use our privilege to raise up the voices of others, so that justice and restoration can be possible. In the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, who laid down all his privilege, becoming humble to the point of death on the cross, we pray all things. Amen.

God is the Good Shepherd, who continues to lead us back to the paths of righteousness when we go astray. God knows our name, knows our needs. God knows our strengths and weaknesses and continues to encourage us to be who we were created to be: made in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10). Live into this knowledge of God’s intention for your life, to do good works, and prepare to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May you seek reparation and forgiveness and restoration and know that God forgives you and loves you. Amen.

God of Wisdom and Insight, quiet our minds from the busy noises of the world around us. Remind us now and then to put down the phones and turn off the computers. Perhaps even to turn off the lights and light a candle instead. To quiet our souls from all the notifications and flashing lights that tug our attention to things in this world. Call us to open our Scriptures and read the words passed down to us, to ponder them in our hearts, to use the best scholarly resources to understand them further. Remind us to seek You in prayer and meditation, in words and in silence, in the cool breeze in the forest or the waves on the shore. Help us to breathe, and to breathe deep of the air You have given us, the wind that hovers over creation, and the Spirit You instill in us. In the name of Christ, who often went away to deserted places to pray, we now pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 8, 2023—Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Canadian Thanksgiving)

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 and Psalm 19; Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Narrative Lectionary: Hear O Israel, Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9 (Mark 12:28-31)

Both the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Ten Commandments. While the Narrative Lectionary looks to Deuteronomy and the connection with the Shema as part of the community in preparation for entering the Promised Land, the Revised Common Lectionary, as part of its series on the ancestors of the faith, is on the first giving of the law, when the people were new to the wilderness and only beginning to understand themselves as God’s people. Exodus 20:1-4 and 7 teach that there is only one God, and the people are to worship no other gods. They are not to make idols, nor misuse God’s name. Verses 8-9 teach that keeping the Sabbath is a way to honor God, and they are to remember it each week. Verses 12-17 are about how to live in this new community: honor one’s family, especially one’s parents, and remain faithful in relationships. Don’t lie, kill, steal—don’t want what others have. The people were afraid when God spoke, but Moses told them to not be afraid, only follow God’s ways.

Psalm 19 praises God for both God’s work in creation and in the law. Creation is orderly, and even the sun rises like a bridegroom ready for their wedding day. The sun was often associated with ancient deities and the psalmist links God to the sun, who lights and brings warmth, but also brings the law. As creation is orderly, so is God’s law. God’s teachings are more valuable than any worldly pleasure, they are their own reward. But the psalmist knows they may stumble, they may have erred unknowingly, and they ask God to keep them safe from going astray. The psalmist concludes with the famous meditation of seeking God’s acceptance for their words and meditations.

The second selection for the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. This song, or parable, speaks of God’s relationship with the people during the time of First Isaiah, and Judah was not keeping to God’s ways. God has done everything to keep the people save and to help them thrive, but they have chosen to go wild and follow other gods and live their own ways. Therefore, God will let Judah go wild. Like a vineyard that has had its hedges and walls destroyed and where weeds and brambles overgrow, so too will Judah struggle with the nations surrounding them. Because they do not stay true to God’s teachings, they will make poor political choices and violence will overtake the land, instead of justice and righteousness as God intended.

Psalm 80:7-15 also uses the image of the vine and vineyard. In this part of the psalm, the author sings of how God brought a vine out of Egypt, the chosen people out of their oppression. But the psalmist asks why God has broken down the walls and allowed others to take its fruit. The author pleads with God to have compassion and take care of this vine, because God did plant it with a purpose. God did call this people out of Egypt not to be destroyed later, but to survive and thrive.

The Epistle readings continue in the letter to the Philippians, now in the third chapter. Paul reminded the church in Philippi to stay true to the call of the Gospel and the promise of resurrection, and not be swayed by the teaching of some Jewish followers of Jesus that required circumcision. Paul himself was circumcised, and was even a Pharisee, but he didn’t regard any of his background or previous positions as important to the cause of Christ. Rather, his sufferings (especially as he was in prison while he wrote this letter) taught him more about Christ. Paul knew he hadn’t seen the fulfillment of Christ’s promises, but he persevered in his pursuit, leaving behind what he once knew for the promise of Christ, the promise of resurrection.

Jesus told a parable of a landowner who planted a vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46. While there are echoes of Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, in this parable it is the behavior of the people that is of concern: how the tenant farmers treat the servants sent by the landowner—beating some, killing others. The landowner then sent his son, believing they would respect him. They wouldn’t dare harm the son of the landowner. But they took him, threw him out, and killed him. This was not the intention of the landowner, that his son would die—the landowner’s intention was that the tenant farmers would listen and do what they were supposed to do in caring for the vineyard. However, when Jesus asked those listening what they think the landowner would do, they answered that they thought the landowner would put those tenants to death and lease the vineyard to someone else. Jesus then quoted Psalm 118, that the stone rejected has become the cornerstone, and told those gathered in the temple that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to a people that produced the fruit of the kingdom. The religious leaders knew Jesus was speaking about them. While Jesus’s words are harsh to those gathered, Jesus also makes it clear that God’s intention is not for harm. God’s intention was not to send the son to die. God’s intention is that all people would turn back to God’s ways, to live into God’s reign here and now.

The Narrative Lectionary, as mentioned before, also turns to the Ten Commandments, this time in Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Moses reminds the people of the covenant made by God at Horeb, remembering God’s words to the people. Moses also recalls how the people were afraid of God, so Moses stood between God and the people and received the words from God directly. In 6:4-9, Moses gives what is known as the Shema, the call to prayer, the commandment to love God with all one’s being. These words are to be recited and remembered, passed down and kept at the forefront of one’s mind always.

In the supplementary verses of Mark 12:28-31, Jesus was debating with other rabbis, and a scribe who recognized that Jesus responded well asked the question of which was the greatest commandment. Jesus responded with the Shema, the call to prayer.

What is at the heart of who we are? Is it our identity as God’s child, as God’s people, as God’s community? Or is it what others think of us, what other nations think of us, what the world thinks of us? The leaders of Judah were more enthralled with the practices of other nations, the worship of other gods and making political alliances that were good for them but not for the most vulnerable among them, than they were about following God’s ways. Jesus’s own parable speaks to what happens when people want power for themselves instead of looking to God as the authority and power. Paul reminded the people that it wasn’t what people thought of him from his background or profession or even his social position that was important, it was that he understood Christ’s suffering in his own suffering. He understood the promise of resurrection as a hope yet unattained because he himself had been imprisoned, perhaps close to death. The commandments, both given soon after entering the wilderness and again before the people entered the Promised Land, reminded the people of what was most important: remembering that God was with them, the same God who liberated them, and that there was no other God who would do this. There was no other God who was their God, who knew them and loved them, and this God also taught them how to live as a people with one another. The heart of who we are is our love for God, and our love for one another—not what anyone else, or the whole world, thinks about us.

Call to Worship
God is calling you by name; what is your response?
I am God’s beloved child, and I will follow.
God is showing us the way; what will you choose?
I choose the path of God’s commandments and teachings.
God’s reign is being prepared for you; what will you do?
I will live into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
In this time of worship, what is your answer to God?
In my breath, in my song, in my silent prayer,
My whole being responds to God’s call through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator of All, we confess that You have shown us through our ancestors, through our Scriptures, throughout all history and tradition that You are with us and have prepared a way for us, but we have rejected You and Your ways. We seek the ways of the world we have made: we seek notoriety, wealth, power, and security. These false idols have led us away from serving our neighbors in need, taking notice of the most vulnerable, and instead oppressing those who are different and choosing violence over love. Call us away from the false idols of the world we have made and lead us into Your way of justice, mercy, and love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Psalm 80:7 reads, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved.” May we seek to repair and restore as God restores us. As we pursue justice, may we live into God’s ways of justice. As we pursue peace, may God’s peace be made known to us. As we love one another, let us be assured of God’s unending, unmeasurable love for us. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

God of Bounty, God of Harvest, in the southern hemisphere the first fruits of spring are about to come forth, and in the north, we give thanks for the autumn yield. We thank You for sunlight and rain, the good earth and the wind that brings down the leaves and cones and seeds for the future. You have provided for all living things. Help us, O God, to remember this sacred charge to leave enough for the future, to take only what we need, to make sure others have enough for this generation and for the ones to come after. Guide us away from harmful practices to become better stewards of the earth. Raise our voices against corporations and leaders whose greed continues to damage and destroy. Turn us all from evil toward Your good earth, and teach us how to live into Your intention, from the first chapter of Genesis, from the first breath of air: to care for the earth and all of creation the way You care for us. Great Creator, we pray in Your name for all things and give thanks in all seasons. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 1, 2023—Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 17:1-7 and Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Narrative Lectionary: Moses and God’s Name, Exodus 1:8-14 (1:15-2:10), 3:1-15 (Mark 12:26-27a)

As we follow the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in the season after Pentecost, we have come to the second occasion where the Israelites complain after their liberation from Egypt. First, it was over food. This time, it is over water. They demand water from Moses and quarrel with him. Moses in turn cries out to God because the people are holding him responsible. God tells Moses to take some of the elders and go ahead to Horeb, and to take the staff that he struck the Nile with. Horeb was where Moses encountered the burning bush, and here, at the rock, God instructs Moses to strike it so that water will flow, in the sight of the elders and the people. The people questioned whether God was with them or not, and the sign of the water at Horeb was a reminder that God had been with them all along. When Moses struck the Nile with his staff, the water was made undrinkable, but here, when Moses strikes the rock under God’s instruction, drinkable water is found.

Psalm 78 is a long poem of instruction, reminding the people of their history and past mistakes in failing to listen to God. In verses 1-4, the psalmist introduces this wisdom psalm, a lesson for the people of what has been learned from God throughout their history. In verses 12-16, the psalmist recalls how God led the people through the Red Sea, splitting water to walk through and splitting rocks to drink from. Though most of the psalm focuses on what the people have failed to do or learn, this portion focuses on what God has done for their ancestors as they came out of the wilderness, despite that the people have forgotten this.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32. A troubling passage, the first four verses use a common saying among the people that Jeremiah 31:29-30 also questions, about parents eating sour grapes and children suffering for it. In short, the idea that children would suffer because of the sins of their parents is put to rest by these two prophets. Those who sin will be responsible for the repercussions of their actions. In Ezekiel’s view, everyone has sinned, and everyone is responsible, not God, for the consequences of their actions. Verses 25-32 continue this discourse. The people say that God’s ways are unfair, but they are the ones breaking from God’s ways repeatedly. In God’s view, the people’s ways are unfair because they are still unjust and irresponsible—all of them. But if the people repent and turn back to God, they will find life. This is what God desires—that they find a new heart and new spirit. God does not desire destruction and death, but life.

Psalm 25 is an alphabet acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 1-9 is a plea to God to not allow their enemies to overtake them, and for God to make known God’s ways. The psalmist desires for God to lead them because they want to follow God all their days. The author seeks forgiveness for the sins of their youth and to remember God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God is a good teacher, leading sinners in the right way, and teaches those who are humble in the ways of justice.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Philippians with 2:1-13. A theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is to be of the same mind and to have the same love. This doesn’t mean one necessarily agrees with everything, but that they remember their purpose is to follow Jesus Christ. Verses 6-11 contain an ancient confession of Christ, the one who was equal to God but did not exploit his power, emptied himself and became humble to the point of death on the cross. Because of Christ’s humility, we all ought to humble ourselves before the name of Jesus Christ, who has been exalted by God. Verses 12-13 contain encouragement for the people of Philippi to know Christ’s salvation personally in their lives, because God is at work in each of them. The urging of unity comes with the understanding that each person has a relationship with Christ, and that in humility, we serve and worship Christ together.

Jesus’s authority is challenged in Matthew 21:23-32. Jesus doesn’t come from a recognizable group, and so members of other first-century Jewish groups want to know who he is. Jesus, in turn, asks them a question about John’s authority, knowing that the crowd would have strong opinions about it because they liked John. So when those who questioned Jesus refuse to respond, Jesus also refuses to respond directly. Instead, Jesus tells a parable about two sons and who obeys God. Is it the one who said they would do something and failed to do it, or the one who refused but later changed their mind? A good question for us today is who really has the authority—the people who claim the moral high ground but don’t think it applies to their own personal lives, judge others and treat others poorly, or those who know they struggle and are not perfect, but attempt to live into justice and compassion for all?

The Narrative Lectionary covers the beginnings of Moses in Exodus 1:8-2:10 and 3:1-15, which were the first selection of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on August 27th and September 3rd. Exodus 1:8 begins with a great reminder of what happens when we do not tell our stories and keep history alive: a new king came into power in Egypt who did not know Israel. The king’s lack of knowledge turned to fear. To manage their fear, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites. But the Israelites were of a greater number, so the oppressors turned to genocide—killing the boy children born to Israelite mothers. Nonetheless, even at the point of genocide there were those who resisted—the midwives. Chapter two turns to the particular story of a Levite woman who gave birth to a boy and hid him until she could no longer do so. With his sister watching over him, his mother hid him among the reeds until he happened to be discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who took him into her household. The boy’s sister even helped Pharoah’s daughter find a nurse—the boy’s mother—so that they could remain together. Pharoah’s daughter named him Moses. The story of the midwives to Moses’s mother, to his sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show that resistance to empire does not always come through violence, but through the building of relationships necessary to survival. Exodus 2:1-10 has all the elements of a mythological figure—or superhero—birth story. The one who was supposed to die lived. Raised in the household of his people’s greatest enemy. He survived when others his age were slaughtered. He would someday rise up for his people. In Exodus 3:1-15, God is revealed to Moses through Moses’s encounter of the burning bush at Mount Horeb, a place so holy God instructs Moses to remove his shoes. God is revealed to be the same God of their ancestors, who led Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all their descendants long ago and will now lead them out of Egypt and into freedom. However, Moses is skeptical, first of his own ability, and then wondering if the people will know who God is. God replies to Moses’s question about God’s name with, “I AM.” God’s name is a verb. God’s name is Being. God also instructs Moses to tell the people that this is the God of their ancestors from even before they entered Egypt. God has not forgotten the people, even if they may have forgotten.

The supplemental verses from Mark 12:26-27a are from Jesus’s teaching on resurrection, that God is the God of the living. Jesus quotes from Exodus, when God spoke to Moses and said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus shows this is the same God of their people who is revealed again.

For World Communion Sunday, one could focus on the Philippians text, to be of the same mind and the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Hospitality requires humility. On World Communion Sunday, we are making space, sharing hospitality, for siblings around the world. We recognize that our practices around communion vary but that we are united in this meal of remembrance through the simple act of drinking the cup, eating of bread together. In this act we are one. This, along with baptism, are unifying symbols of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We don’t use the same breads, we don’t all drink from the same cup or use wine, but we all do this in remembrance. We all pause for a moment to be united in the same mind and same love.

Life isn’t fair. One of the earliest teachings we all learn, and it is not a happy lesson. Ezekiel reminds us that we can’t blame others for our own actions. We are all responsible for ourselves. However, the prophet also reminds us that God desires life, not death, and restoration, not punishment. Moses tried to show the people that God was still with them, in hopes that they would turn back to God from their complaining, as God instructed him to strike the rock at Horeb. Jesus in turn shows the people in power that true authority is found in faithful lives, not in what group one belongs to. On World Communion Sunday, our denominational lines, our lines of class, race, gender, orientation—anything that we use to divide—are erased in an act we share together in faithfulness to Christ’s instruction. Our faithfulness is demonstrated in our oneness, that includes all our diversities.

Call to Worship (from Philippians 2:1-5, 13a)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
Any consolation from love,
Any sharing in the Spirit,
Any compassion and sympathy,
Make our joy complete:
Be of the same mind,
Having the same love,
Being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
In humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of us look not to our own good,
But take notice of what is good for others, too.
Let the same mind be in us that is in Christ Jesus.
For it is God who is at work in us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we talk a good game about unity but we don’t like to play it. We claim unity on our home court with our own rules. We talk about being on the same team but ignore those who don’t play the same way we do, or we tell them they’re doing it wrong. We become competitive and aggressive when we all have the same goal in mind, to follow You, to live into Your ways. Remind us that our churches, our neighborhoods, our homes are not places to demonstrate our superiority but our humility. You came to us as one of us, instead of an all-powerful deity who could destroy and raise up. You came to heal and to love and to feed and encourage. You called us into the work of justice and compassion. Why we think we still own a corner of the truth, that our church, or our version of the Bible, or our way of praying or doing anything can compare to what You have done for us is beyond words. Forgive our selfishness and short-sightedness, Creator of us All. Forgive our foolish ways. Forgive our empty words and rituals and traditions and call us to do justice, love kindness, and to walk with You. Remind us that each living person is our sibling in Christ and that every living thing was made by You. Call us into the work of peacemaking, living into Your reign on earth as it is in heaven, and remind us that we are one people: human beings, on one planet: Earth, with the same Creator. In the love of Jesus we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 2:6-11)
“though Christ was in the form of God, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Christ and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Because Christ was raised, because Christ is exalted above all, we know the fullness of God’s love and compassion. We are forgiven and set free. We have the power to go into the world and share God’s love. This is our calling. This is our commitment. Go with all of Christ’s humility to serve and share as Christ did, that the reign of God is here and now, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Prayer for World Communion Sunday
Almighty Creator, we give You thanks and praise. On this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that You made us all in Your image, all with different gifts, but the same Spirit. In all parts of the earth we have come to know You in different ways through our cultures and traditions and teachings, but we are united in Your love for us, demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. In these symbols of the cup and of the bread, these simple gifts of nourishment, we recognize that we are one. We all must eat, we all must drink. We eat and drink of You because You are the one who created, redeems, and sustains us. As we share these gifts from You, in humility we show our gratitude for Your creation. We give our thanks for Your wondrous diversity that breathes in each of us. And we share together our common humanity, and our common hope that is found in You, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 24, 2023—Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Worship Resources for September 24, 2023—Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 16:2-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Narrative Lectionary: Jacob Wrestles God, Genesis 32: (9-13), 22-30 (Mark 14:32-36)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of our faith from one family to a whole people. Following their liberation from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, they immediately began complaining against Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:2-15. They complained of hunger and how they had their fill back in Egypt. God promised Moses that they would get more than their fill of bread, for God would rain down bread upon the people. God rained down manna in the morning and in the evening, God provided quail. Moses in turn went to the people and reminded them that though they complained, God had provided for them bread in the morning and meat in the evening—so what did they really have to complain about? But the people did not recognize the bread provided for them, as it was white and flaky, covering the ground. Moses informed them this was the manna God gave them.

Psalm 105 is a song praising God for all of God’s deeds for the people throughout their history. Verses 1-6 serve as a call to worship, calling the people into singing praise, glorifying God, and remembering God’s works as God’s people. Verses 37-45 contain the final stanza, remembering how God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and out of their oppression. God provided quail, manna from heaven and water from the rock, remembering the promise God made with their ancestor Abraham. God brought the people through the wilderness and into the land promised them so they could worship and obey God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Jonah 3:10-4:11. Jonah, the most successful prophet in all the Hebrew scriptures, is upset that God changed their mind and did not destroy Nineveh, because the people of Nineveh repented and turned back to God. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh to begin with, and now that God brought him all the way here, God isn’t even going to destroy the people for their disobedience. God is full of mercy and love, and Jonah is so upset about it that he’d rather die. God questions Jonah as to whether he has a right to be angry. God then causes a bush to grow and shade Jonah from the heat, but also appoints a worm to attack the bush so it died. Jonah again wanted to die because of the heat, and because the bush died. The final words of this story are from God: God challenges Jonah’s right to be angry over the bush as a metaphor for being angry at what happened in Nineveh. God’s concern is for creation and for all the people; Jonah’s inconvenience at being called to Nineveh is like his inconvenience with the bush dying. Jonah has no control over those things. Jonah, however, can control his own actions and reactions. Jonah is feeling his big feelings and missing the whole picture, of an entire community, including all the animals, saved from destruction.

Psalm 145:1-8 is the first part of an alphabetic acrostic poem in Hebrew, in which each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In these first eight verses, the psalmist blesses and praises God, declaring God’s greatness from generation to generation, and concludes this section with an ancient confession in verse 8, repeated in Jonah 4 and from Exodus 34:6: the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Epistle readings begin a four-week series in Philippians with 1:21-30. Paul begins this section of his letter with an acknowledgement that he lives for Christ, but that in death he will gain the resurrection. He desires to be with Christ in resurrection, but he knows that it is necessary for him to live now and continue to witness, especially to the church in Philippi. Paul encourages this church, though he is in prison, to continue to live their lives in a manner worthy of Christ. He knows their struggles and sufferings living in the Roman Empire as believers in Christ.

Matthew 20:1-16 contains a parable of Jesus about a landowner who went out and hired workers to work in his vineyard throughout the day. At the end of the day, he paid those who only worked one hour just as much as those who had worked all day. Parables always have layers. On the surface, the lesson is that life is not fair, and those who come to believe late in life are as worthy as those who have believed their whole life. The justice concern is that all receive a daily wage to meet their daily needs. One of the workers who worked all day complains that those who only worked one hour were made equal. The landowner in turn reminds the worker that he is allowed to do what he wants with what belongs to him, and questions if the worker is jealous of his generosity. Perhaps a deeper level of the parable is to explore what it means to be generous, or what it means to understand there is enough for everyone. The systems of the world work to pit workers against each other, but God shows us there is enough for everyone.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32: (9-13), 22-30. Jacob, his wives and their handmaidens, his children and all the household have left Laban, but on their way, he learns that his brother Esau is waiting to meet him. The story of Jacob is told in layers: (A) Jacob had tricked and deceived Esau out of his birthright and blessing and ran away to Laban. (B) On his way to Laban, he had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. (A) Laban had tricked and deceived Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel. (C) Laban was reckoned with Jacob upon his eventual departure and they made an agreement with each other. (B) While on his way to Esau, Jacob prays for God to deliver him from his brother Esau, and then encountered a stranger at night with whom he wrestled until daybreak. Jacob overpowered this messenger from God, though the messenger had knocked Jacob’s hip out of joint. The angel blesses Jacob and tells him that his name will be Israel. (C) Following this passage, Jacob and Esau will meet and Esau will forgive Jacob. Though this passage focuses solely on the encounter with the angel and the name given to Jacob, it’s important to see the story layers of deception, encounters with God, and reckoning/forgiveness. It is the encounters with God that transform and change our lives, but also the lives of others.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in the supplemental verses of Mark 14:32-36. Right before Judas shows up on the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the garden for God’s will to be done. The Narrative Lectionary parallels this with Jacob’s prayer before his encounter with Esau, that God’s will be done.

Most of us would agree that life is not fair. However, some of us might understand that our perception is not always accurate. Jonah reminds us in a funny story that God’s ways are not our ways, and that sometimes our concerns are quite petty compared to the concerns of the world around us. The people of Israel, having escaped their oppression, turn around and complain to Moses and Aaron in the next moment, because they are afraid. They don’t know how to find food in the wilderness, and the food they do find is different than the food they are used to. This doesn’t seem like freedom. It’s easier to look back at what they knew and even easier to minimize what had happened to them now that they were away from it. The Exodus story reminds us that oppression affects the generations that follow. For the workers in the vineyard that worked all day, it didn’t seem fair that those who worked only one hour received the same wage, even though it wasn’t the worker’s fault that they hadn’t found a job before then. It’s much easier to look at what we’ve lost, or what we don’t have, then to see all that God has provided in the world. This doesn’t mean we necessarily have enough. Many of us don’t, and far too often we minimize the hardships many of us have faced. We may struggle in different ways with student and medical debt, childcare costs, lack of retirement, cost of living, etc. The lessons of scripture remind us that we often focus on the wrong thing—what our neighbors have, instead of what those in power have. We focus on what isn’t fair to us, instead of the injustice that affects all of us.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done,
God’s miracles, and the judgments God uttered.
Give thanks to God as we enter this time of worship,
Remembering all God has done for us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of justice and mercy, we confess that it is easier for us to argue with one another than to address systemic injustice. It is easier for us to be jealous and angry about unfairness we experience than to be concerned that our neighbors have their needs met. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Call us into the work of justice with compassion, to love our neighbors and to seek justice for those around us. We remember that when we care for the needs of others, our own needs will be met. When we speak against injustice for others, we work for justice for ourselves. Remind us that we are interconnected with one another, that none of us are truly alone. Call us into Your beloved community to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. Amen.

God’s steadfast love endures forever. God is full of compassion and mercy for all of us, even all of creation. God desires repentance and restoration, not judgment and punishment. Don’t believe the hype of a judgmental, wrathful God. Instead, believe in the power of an all-loving, merciful and forgiving God who desires justice, and know that mercy and forgiveness are gifts to you when you work for justice and restoration in the world. Go and share the good news. Amen.

God of Creation, we give You thanks for all the biodiversity You have woven upon our earth. You have created us to be part of an interdependent web of life. We have forgotten this, O God, far too often. We misuse and overuse our earth and do not remember that we share this planet, not only with seven billion other children of God, but billions of species You made with intention to share the air and water and food You gave all of us. Call us into accountability and to do our part to make changes that benefit Your creation, personally as well as collectively. Guide us in our civic duty to hold our elected officials accountable, for You gave us only one planet to live on and we were called to be good stewards. Remind us of this sacred charge and send us to live into Your justice for creation. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 17, 2023—Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 14:19-31 and Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21; Genesis 50:15-21 and Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Narrative Lectionary: Isaac Born to Sarah, Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7 (Mark 10:27)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the stories of our ancestors of the faith. In today’s lesson from Exodus 14, the pillar of cloud that was seen as the presence of God moved between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. When Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, a strong wind drove the waters back, and the Israelites crossed on dry land. Though the Egyptian army pursued them, the Egyptian army was thrown into confusion by God, as their chariot wheels became clogged, and the water came back over them. But the people of Israel made it across dry land and were in awe of God and God’s servant Moses.

Psalm 114 is a song of praise to God, recalling how God brought the people of Israel out of their oppression in Egypt. The psalmist uses the image of creation itself skipping, fleeing away from what God has done for the people, for the earth trembles at the presence of God. The psalmist concludes with a reminder that God is the one who provided water out of the rock, out of the wilderness, for the people after they left Egypt.

An alternative to Psalm 114 is Exodus 15, the song of Moses and Miriam. While there is more to the song of Moses, many scholars believe that Miriam’s song is the older song and includes the dance and musical instrument to praise God for what God has done in bringing the people out of Egypt and wiping away their oppressors. This is also the first place where Miriam is mentioned as a prophet. The image of God letting out breath through the nostrils is one found in other psalms, that as breath and wind are the same word as Spirit, God also breathes the Spirit as we do, and blows out, causing the floodwaters to wipe out the people’s oppressors.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Genesis 50:15-21, the story of how Joseph’s brothers went to him after their father died and asked that he forgive them, because that’s what their father would have wanted (or so they said). Joseph’s brothers were worried that Joseph still had a grudge for what they had done. Instead, Joseph sees that God used what happened to him for good, though his brothers intended harm. Joseph was able to save them all by being sent to Egypt ahead of them. Joseph assures his brothers that he will not only provide for them, but for their children, as indeed Joseph’s legacy did until the time of Moses.

Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13 begins with a blessing for God, and a reminder that God is the one who forgives, redeems, satisfies all needs, and restores the people. In verses 1-7, God is on the side of the oppressed, working for justice. God was made known to Moses and to the people of Israel. In verses 8-13, God deals with the people through steadfast love, not by holding sins against the people, for God is slow to anger. God is the one who forgives, removes transgressions, and has compassion for the people as a parent has compassion for their child.

The Epistle readings conclude its long series in Romans this season after Pentecost with 14:1-12. Paul gives further instructions for the church in Rome, made up of both Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile converts. Some of the new converts would not eat meat that came from sacrifices in the Greek temples, and some of the Jewish believers no longer kept kosher. Paul warns the church not to judge but to accept these differences, the same with those who keep the Sabbath on the last day of the week and those who did not. All those practices were done to honor God, and therefore should not be used to judge others, upholding any one way as better than another. Instead, Paul reminds the Roman church that they live and die for Christ, not for themselves. All bow before God, not before each other; therefore, all are accountable to God for judgment, not as to what practices and customs they uphold.

Matthew 18:21-35 continues from last week’s Gospel lesson of vs. 15-20 about discipline in the church. Peter continues the conversation about forgiveness, which leads Jesus to tell a parable about a king settling accounts with his servants and how one could not pay, but the king showed him mercy. Nonetheless, that same servant turned around and had someone who owed him money thrown in prison. This parable is about hypocrisy, how we want our sins forgiven and refuse to forgive others. Sometimes forgiveness can be abused—some people demand and expect to be forgiven because it is what we are supposed to do, what we have been taught, when they have done nothing to repair the wrong that has been done. When Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” it is implied that we are called to forgive others for the same things we still do. The last line of this lesson is a warning about holding grudges. Forgiveness is a concept that has been misused to force victims to forgive their abusers. Nonetheless, forgiveness is also central to Jesus’s teaching. Forgiveness is not the same as trust. Forgiveness is not about allowing the perpetrator to continue to victimize. It is something that allows us to let go of the way that hurt and pain of someone’s wrong have a hold on our own lives. When we hold on to a grudge, that can cause us more harm than the person who has wronged us.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the birth of Isaac born to Sarah in Genesis 18:1-15 (one of the lessons for the Revised Common Lectionary back on June 18th). Abraham, standing at the entrance to his tent near the oaks of Mamre, in the heat of the day, notices three strangers. Abraham implores them to come stay, and he offers them some food and respite. He tells Sarah to bake cakes while he has a calf killed and prepared, and brings the strangers a hearty meal. The strangers ask where his wife Sarah is, and Abraham tells them she’s in the tent. One of the strangers declares they will return in due season, and Sarah will bear a son. But Sarah overhears this and laughs. How can she be a mother in her old age? God asks why Sarah laughed, because is there anything too wonderful for God? Though Sarah denies that she laughed, she does indeed become pregnant, has a son, and names him Isaac which means “laughter,” for God has brought laughter to her. The joke, it seems, was on her.

In the supplementary verse, Jesus declares that for mortals things are impossible, but with God, all things are possible, in Mark 10:27.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust. We hear the story of Joseph’s brothers, the very ones who threw him into a pit and had him trafficked into Egypt, making up a story to coerce forgiveness from him. However, Joseph wanted to forgive his brothers because he loved them, not because he believed he fulfilled his father’s wishes. Joseph’s desire for forgiveness was to not hold a grudge and so he could love them as his brothers. Joseph was in a position where he did not have to trust them again—he was safe, he had agency, and he could make the decisions freely despite what his brothers said or did. Forgiveness is a touchy subject these days because of how it has been misused, but it is central to us as Christians. We believe we are forgiven of our sins by Jesus, but before forgiveness is a call to repentance, to turn back to God and God’s ways. John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. That repentance work comes first. Along with repentance comes humility. In Paul’s situation, the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians didn’t so much need to forgive each other as to stop judging each other, and to come to a place of mutual hospitality and respect for each other’s cultural differences. They had to learn how to live together with their differences instead of judging each other as right or wrong. I highly recommend Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s book On Repentance and Repair for further study of the Jewish understanding of repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness and living in community with our differences, and without judgment, is a concept we continue to wrestle with as Christians.

Call to Worship (Psalm 113:1-2, 6, 8, 13)
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And do not forget all that God has done.
The Lord works vindication and justice
For all who are oppressed.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
As a parent has compassion for their children,
So God has compassion for those who are in awe of the Creator.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Merciful God, we confess we are not good at practicing mercy. We would rather cultivate anger than compassion. We would rather hold grudges than practice forgiveness. We would rather judge others than repent and turn to You. We would rather let ourselves off the hook and condemn others for their actions. You are the Almighty One, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We know that You continue to call our names, to call us back to You, to show us the way, and to forgive us. We know that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to lead us into the way of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Your Son laid down his life for us, so that we might know that nothing could separate us from Your love, not even our own sins. Guide us into Your ways of forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. In the name of Christ, who lives again for us, we pray. Amen.

You are God’s beloved child. You were formed by the Creator and filled with God’s compassion and love. We all fall short and go astray, but know that God is always calling you back, ready to welcome you with open arms. There is nothing you can do that will stop God from loving you. There is nowhere you can go where God won’t find you. God loves you madly. Open your hearts to God’s transformative love in your lives, and know God’s love, grace, and peace, are with you, now and always. Go and share this good news. Amen.

God of all seasons, as we near the Solstice we recognize the balance shifting in the world. We move from summer to autumn in the north, and from winter into spring in the south. As the earth is blanketed with greenery and flowers in spring, moving north into the golds and crimsons and oranges of autumn, may we be awakened to the new things You are doing all around us. May we take a moment to appreciate the earth, now, and how You bring all things in due season. May we turn back from practices that cause harm to the earth, that raise temperatures, that pollute our waterways and landscapes. May we be reminded of the power to call upon our elected officials to change our ways. May we remember that in this season, now is the time when we can do something to help Your beautiful earth, our only home, so that no season is too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, but that all of creation would be in the balance You set and intended from the beginning of the world. In Your name, Great Creator, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 10, 2023—Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 12:1-14 and Psalm 149; Ezekiel 33:7-11 and Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Narrative Lectionary: Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:4b-25 (Mark 1:16-20 or Mark 10:6-8)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we are following the stories of our ancestors of the faith. Exodus 12:1-14 contains the establishment of Passover. Moses and Aaron instruct the people, as God has shown them, that this is a new beginning: God is about to lead the people out of oppression and into liberation. The Passover commemorates the last plague, and how the angel of God passed over the people of Israel to pass judgment on their oppressors. The Passover is a day of remembrance to be passed down throughout the generations of how God delivered the people.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise for the congregation. The psalmist calls the people of Israel to give praise to their maker, for God delights in the people’s worship and praise. Probably sung as a song of victory after battle, the psalmist invokes the image of enemy kings and rulers as trapped by the praises of God, bound and in chains, with swords drawn by the faithful. The psalmist concludes with an image of battle glory for the faithful of God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ezekiel 33:7-11. The prophet has been called to speak on behalf of God as a sentinel, a watchman, to warn the people to turn from evil ways. If the prophet does not warn the people, God’s judgment is on the prophet’s hands, but if the prophet does warn them and they don’t listen, at least the prophet will have saved his life while others will perish. But the truth is God does not enjoy the punishment of those who do evil—it is rather the consequences of their own actions. God would rather that those who do evil would turn back to God’s ways and live.

Psalm 119:33-40 is part of an alphabetic acrostic poem. This section is a prayer to God to help the psalmist turn back to God’s ways. They desire to learn from God and gain understanding of the commandments and decrees. They long to turn their heart and mind to God’s ways, and away from the fleeting pleasures of the world. They call upon God to confirm God’s promises, and to find life in living into righteousness.

The Epistle lessons continue in Romans 13:8-14. In this section, Paul turns to the Christian life and how to live as part of the greater community—for the Roman church, that meant among the rest of the Jewish community for gentile believers. They are to follow the commandments, especially loving their neighbor as themselves. Paul writes that the fulfilment of Christ’s promises is coming but has not yet arrived. They are called to live as children of God and not to go back to their old ways and pagan practices. Instead, they are to live in community with one another and remain faithful to Christ.

Matthew 18:15-20 contains Jesus’s instructions to the disciples about how to deal with wrongdoing in the church, and how to start with the person who has offended you before going to others. This passage is followed by Peter’s question about forgiveness, and it is important to remember that these are bound together. When Jesus says that the one who refuses to listen to the church should be treated like a gentile and tax collector, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are to be kicked out. It means they are to be treated as those who do not understand. Boundaries are important, and forgiveness is an ongoing process. Sometimes people must be asked to leave, or victims may be harmed. Sometimes forgiveness is not possible. Instead, we must hold these passages in tension, knowing at times forgiveness is not the same as restoration to the community, and at times we have to live with the people we are in conflict with.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its Year 2 cycle with the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:4b-25, the second account of creation is told. A human being, adam in Hebrew, was formed from the dust of the earth, adamah. The Lord God (the term used in most English translations to designate that this is from the Yahwist tradition, originating in Judah rather than in the northern kingdom of Israel), took the human being and placed them in the garden planted in Eden, with all trees good for food and beautiful to look at, along with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A continuous flow of water through the four river branches kept the plants watered. The Lord God instructed the human they could eat of every tree, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God made all the creatures to be a helper for the human being, but none of them were suitable to be a partner so the Creator made a partner from the human being’s side, a man and a woman, who were naked and not ashamed. While this story is often used as a precursor to the institution of marriage, the story shows us that we are created not to be alone, to have a partner, and to help care for the Creator’s work.

The supplementary verses contain two options. Mark 1:16-20 contains an account of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats to follow him and fish for people. James and John even left their father Zebedee who was mending nets with other hired men to follow Jesus. In Mark 10:6-8, Jesus uses the end of Genesis 2 as his argument against divorce. Genesis 2 shows that God’s intention is for marriage to be a partnership, two becoming one. Nonetheless, we must always be cautious in preaching from these passages, knowing that divorce is a reality for many people. Divorce often causes harm, but sometimes it is necessary in a harmful marriage. What we can preach is that God’s intention is for us to not go through that harm. God’s intention for us is to be in partnership with one another, but we are human beings with faults and flaws.

God’s intentions for the people about to go into exile in Jeremiah 29:11 is often a verse shared out of context: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” However, in the broader context of all of scripture, we can say that this is God’s intention for us: plans for welfare and not for harm, a future with hope. Nonetheless, our own actions can derail us. In scripture, the consequences of the people’s actions are often coined in terms of God’s wrath and judgment—but it is always the consequences of bad decisions. When the people began worshiping other gods and following the ways of other nations, they made poor political choices and neglected the most vulnerable. They were overrun by invaders and taken into exile. If they had turned back to God’s ways, they would have turned away from other nations’ ways. God’s intentions for us are collective: they are for the good of humanity. We are responsible for our own actions, but we also suffer the consequences of our leader’s actions. One reason God cares so much for the poor, widow and orphan is that they were among the most vulnerable of society and suffered the consequences of the actions of those who should have protected them. The same goes today, in that our most vulnerable—our elderly, disabled, houseless, refugee, suffering from mental illness, LGBTQ+ youth neighbors—are the ones who suffer the consequences of our leaders’ actions with laws, policies, and funding (or lack thereof. Ezekiel was warned by God of what would happen if the people turned from God’s ways, but also encouraged that if they turned back to God, they would find life. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that they needed to be neighbors of each other and to love one another, to live as if Christ’s promises were already fulfilled. Jesus taught the disciples that we have to live with people who wrong us, and that there are no easy answers, but we must try to work for restoration. For this is God’s intention for us: a future with hope. Restoration and reconciliation. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Call to Worship (Psalm 139:33-37)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,
And I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
And observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
Give me life in your ways.
In this time of worship,
Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Merciful God, we confess that we often desire justice that is retributive and not restorative. We want those who have wronged us to suffer, while we desire mercy for ourselves. We confess that at times we shirk our responsibilities for other’s suffering in this world, and at other times we do not hold those in power accountable for injustice. Forgive us and call us into Your ways. Teach us how to begin the work of reparation and restoration. When we seek forgiveness, remind us to forgive others who wrong us in the same way. Teach us how to do better and guide us in living into Your righteousness. Call us to seek justice for the most vulnerable among us. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

God hears our own cries when we have been wronged. God knows our inmost hearts and knows our hurts. God knows the hairs on our heads and restores us when we have been downtrodden. God grants us forgiveness when we seek it and when we work to repair what we have wronged. Know that when you seek forgiveness, it will be granted, if you work for restoration. Know that when you have been wronged, God knows your wounds, and will aid you in healing. You are not alone in your suffering. You are not alone in your pain. You are not alone when you have wronged another, unintentionally or intentionally, and forgiveness is possible in the work of reparation and restoration. Roll up your sleeves. Be prepared to do the hard work, whether you need forgiveness or are seeking it. But know this: God loves you, and nothing anyone has done or will do, and nothing you have done or will do, can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God of our Ancestors, we give thanks for the stories we have in Scripture, stories passed down to us through word and song, through geography and archaeology, in myth and legend. We thank You for the stories shared to us by our elders. Guide us in how we shape these stories to the next generation, so they might not repeat the mistakes our ancestors made, or the ones we have participated in, but that they may learn and grow. May we not water-down the lessons but be truthful in the harm some stories have caused and in the misuse of others. May we embrace our ancestors as part of who we are, and yet not all of who we are becoming. We are made in Your image, O God, an image that is ever-changing and renewing, day by day, and we are ready to pass on what we have learned for a new generation to live into Your ways, better than we did. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 3, 2023—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b; Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, Acts 2:1-18 and Matthew 28:17-20, or Series on Sabbath, Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11 and Luke 15:11-32

In the second half of the season after Pentecost, the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures follows the people of Israel, from oppression into liberation. In Exodus 3:1-15, God is revealed to Moses through Moses’s encounter of the burning bush at Mount Horeb, a place so holy God instructs Moses to remove his shoes. God is revealed to be the same God of their ancestors, who led Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all their descendants long ago and will now lead them out of Egypt and into freedom. However, Moses is skeptical, first of his own ability, and then wondering if the people will know who God is. God replies to Moses’s question about God’s name with, “I AM.” God’s name is a verb. God’s name is Being. God also instructs Moses to tell the people that this is the God of their ancestors from even before they entered Egypt. God has not forgotten the people, even if they may have forgotten.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise to God, giving thanks and remembering what God has done through the people’s ancestors. In verse 6, the psalmist specifically refers to the people as descendants of Abraham, children of Jacob. In verses 23-26, the psalmist turns to the story of the people of Israel living and thriving in Egypt, and when they became a hated people, God sent Moses and Aaron to help them. The psalmist concludes with a word of praise to God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to the prophet Jeremiah 15:15-21. The prophet did what God commanded, said what he was told. The words of God that were a delight to Jeremiah did not bring joy once Jeremiah spoke them, for the people in authority did not heed them. Therefore, the prophet laments, bringing a complaint to God. God’s response, however, is if Jeremiah turns back to God and continues to speak for God, God will continue to be with him, and will deliver him from evil.

Psalm 26 is a plea to God for justice and deliverance. In verses 1-8, the psalmist knows they are innocent and have stayed true to God’s ways. They have not fallen astray and will not even keep company with those who do evil, let alone hypocrites. They remain faithful to God and sing God’s praise, and they love being in the presence of God.

Romans 12:9-21 contain Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome on how to live in community. Continuing the Epistle series, Paul has instructed the Roman Christians who are both Jewish and Gentile how to live among the greater community that doesn’t follow Jesus: caring for each other, but also extending hospitality to strangers, living in peace as much as possible, sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows. They are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good—for their very lives also witness to Christ.

The Gospel lesson continues in Matthew 16:21-28. In last week’s reading of 16:13-20, Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus praised Peter and declared that the church would be built upon that foundation of faith. But in the next breath, we find that when Jesus began to speak about how he would be betrayed, how he would suffer and die, and on the third day rise, we find that this isn’t what Peter signed up for. Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Imagine having the guts to do that! But we make God into the image of what we want, not who God really is, all the time. Peter had an idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and until this point, Peter’s imagination and Jesus lined up. But at this moment, when Jesus reveals what will happen, Peter believes he can change the outcome. The faith Peter thought he had was in himself, giving the right answer, instead of faith in Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter with the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” and went on to teach that whoever wants to become a follower of Jesus must deny themselves—and deny any image of God that we might make—take up our cross (whatever we need to put to death that is holding us back) and follow him. Jesus says this to his disciples—who have already been following him! But if Peter didn’t get it, Jesus knew the others might have a different idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be. If we make the image of the Messiah into what we want, then we have lost our way. But if we are willing to set aside what it is we want, what it is we desire God to do, and instead seek God’s will, then we might find our lives.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes both of its late summer series, on Creeds and Sabbath.

The series on Creeds is completed with the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-18, and Jesus’ final words and Great Commission in Matthew 28:17-20. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and Peter boldly proclaimed to all that had gathered for the festival that the Holy Spirit, as prophesied through the prophet Joel, was at work. God was doing something new out of something very old. With Jesus’ Great Commission, the disciples are sent out into the world to make disciples, to baptize, and to do the work of the Holy Spirit. They are reminded that Christ is always with them.

The series on Sabbath finishes with the concept of the sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11—a year of sabbath after six years. God calls upon the people to forgive debts, to give willingly to their neighbor in need, and to free the Hebrew neighbors enslaved to them in the seventh year. The Gospel passage is the parable of the Forgiving Father or Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, and though the younger son had squandered everything, the father forgave him. The other son was indignant, but the father tells him they had to welcome home the son that was lost, who was dead, and is now alive and found.

Follow God is never easy. Jeremiah struggled, because what he said on behalf of God was at odds with what the political and religious leaders wanted. Peter thought he knew who Jesus was as the Messiah, but it was clear he did not understand when Jesus said he would give up his own life, and Peter still didn’t understand when Jesus said that whoever wished to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross. Moses was skeptical about following God because he didn’t think anyone would believe him. Paul suggested in Romans that one way we follow God is how we live among others who are different than us, who do not believe in Jesus, by sharing God’s love through our actions. We remember it took until the day of Pentecost for Peter to finally understand—and even then, he still stumbled (see Galatians in Paul’s argument against him). He still didn’t get it until he had a vision from God and an encounter with the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. We’re never going to fully get it. We’re always going to stumble in trying to make God in our own image. We are always going to struggle with speaking and living into Christ’s ways. But we try, and try, and try again. Even Jeremiah got called by God to turn back to God’s ways. No one is perfect. We keep trying, anyway. God still shows up despite our imperfections and reminds us that we are not alone.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5a, 45b)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God who Guides Us, we confess that like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, we are often running after the wind and trying to hold on to something that isn’t really there. We look to the world’s pleasures and power, rather than the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We seek our own gain over the cries of the marginalized and oppressed. We ignore the systems and structures of the world that cause harm to others when they benefit us. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Forgive us for going astray. Forgive us for not listening to the words You have passed down to us, the spirit of those words that causes us to set aside our own selfishness and live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, may we listen, may we deny the temptations of the world, and may we take up our cross to follow You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Lamentations 3:22-23)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Great is God’s faithfulness, who renews us day by day, offers us forgiveness moment by moment, and calls our name with every breath. May we turn back to God’s ways and know God’s forgiveness and restoration for our lives, and may we seek to repair and restore the world to God’s intention, with justice, mercy, and love. Amen.

Ancient of Days, may the stories of our ancestors continue to remind us we do not have to be perfect. May our ancestors inspire us to stick to Your ways, and to turn back when we notice we have gone astray. May our ancestors also inspire us to learn from their mistakes, so we may not repeat them. We know You are doing a new thing, O God, something we cannot fathom, but in turning to the Scriptures we are reminded to be awake and ready, to trust when we feel the Spirit moving, and be prepared to step out in faith. May we not forget those who have walked before us, but may we trust You in moving forward on a new path. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 27, 2023—Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124; Isaiah 51:1-6 and Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, John 1:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, or Series on Sabbath, Genesis 2:1-3 and John 15:9-15

We have passed the halfway point in this season after Pentecost, and the first selection in the Hebrew scriptures shifts from following the ancestors of our faith as a family from Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, to Joseph and his brothers and children as they settled in Egypt. For the second half of this season, we will follow their descendants who became the Israelites, a great people. Exodus 1:8 begins with a great reminder of what happens when we do not tell our stories and keep history alive: a new king came into power in Egypt who did not know Israel. The king’s lack of knowledge turned to fear. To manage their fear, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites. But the Israelites were of a greater number, so the oppressors turned to genocide—killing the boy children born to Israelite mothers. Nonetheless, even at the point of genocide there were those who resisted—the midwives. Chapter two turns to the particular story of a Levite woman who gave birth to a boy and hid him until she could no longer do so. With his sister watching over him, his mother hid him among the reeds until he happened to be discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who took him into her household. The boy’s sister even helped Pharoah’s daughter find a nurse—the boy’s mother—so that they could remain together. Pharoah’s daughter named him Moses. The story of the midwives to Moses’s mother, to his sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show that resistance to empire does not always come through violence, but through the building of relationships necessary to survival. Exodus 2:1-10 has all the elements of a mythological figure—or superhero—birth story. The one who was supposed to die lived. Raised in the household of his people’s greatest enemy. He survived when others his age were slaughtered. He would someday rise up for his people.

Psalm 124 is a song of victory, remembering the people’s escape from their enemies. The people remember what God has done for them, and that without God they would have died in the waters. The psalmist praises God who did not allow their enemies to overtake them, and ends with a reminder that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the source of their help.

The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 51:1-6. In verses 1-3, the prophet calls the people to look back to their beginnings. Look back to their own beginning as a people, the culture and faith that shaped them. Look to the ancestors, and their story of faith. Look back, and see where God has been faithful, and God will be faithful again to the people coming out of exile. In verses 4-6, the prophet turns to God’s voice, calling the people to listen to God’s teaching and justice. God’s deliverance is near for all people. In a glimpse of the future, the prophet declares that the division of heaven and earth will pass, along with the people, but God’s salvation will endure forever.

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving and praise to God for God’s deliverance. Attributed to David, the psalmist thanks God for answering their prayer. The psalmist calls all the rulers of the earth to praise God. In an echo of Psalm 23, the psalmist knows that even among their enemies, God is present with the singer and will deliver them, for God’s steadfast love endures forever. God will fulfill the psalmist’s intended purpose, however God sees fit.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans this season with 12:1-8. Paul changes gears in this part of the letter, having successfully argued that Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ, that oneness in Christ means believers live life anew. The believer’s very life is a living sacrifice, a witness to God’s work in the world. Though each person is different with different gifts and abilities, all gifts, all members are necessary as the body of Christ.

Jesus questions the disciples about who they think he is in Matthew 16:13-20. He first asks the disciples who people say the Son of Man is, and they respond with the various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Peter responded with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is delighted that Peter understands this and what has been revealed by God to him, and that the church will be built on that foundation—that Jesus is the Christ. However, Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. It seemed important in Matthew and Mark’s account that believers discern this for themselves.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series: one on Creeds, and the other on Sabbath.

The beginning of the gospel according to John begins with the poetic prologue that the Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word is the Light of the World. John came to testify to the light, though he himself was not the light. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through him, but the world did not know him. The Word became Flesh and lived among us. No one has seen God, but we have been made known of God through the Son. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 speaks of the message of the cross as foolishness to the world, for the world did not know God through wisdom. Instead, the world came to know God through Christ crucified, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In both passages, Christ is the one who has revealed the hiddenness of God’s wisdom to the world.

The second series for the Narrative Lectionary on Sabbath begins with Genesis 2:1-3, and the account of the last day of creation, the seventh day, which God rested. God blessed the day and hallowed it. This account in Genesis from the priestly tradition reminds us that the purpose of this story of creation is to teach us about the sabbath and why it is holy. In John 15:9-15, Jesus reminds the disciples to keep his commandments, and to abide in Christ’s love. These commandments are given so that Christ’s joy may be complete. The commandment Jesus gives is to love one another, for no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

We must continue to tell the stories passed down to us, the good and the bad. That means we must also listen to the stories others have passed down. To erase history, to erase the stories erases the truth. The story of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt reminds us of what happens when we do not know our history. When we don’t know the stories of enslavement, reconstruction, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs—when we do not remember the lessons of Europe in the 1930’s and the rise of fascism and Nazis—when we don’t tell the stories of indigenous boarding schools often run by churches—we perpetuate racism and genocide and oppression. We have to remember our stories. We move forward only after looking back. The people coming out of exile saw their future entwined with other nations. Paul knew that differences could divide—or they could be celebrated and become part of the body together. God’s desire for us is wholeness, without division—to the point that heaven comes down to earth in Revelation 21. But we cannot move forward without understanding and learning from our past.

Call to Worship (from John 1:14, 16-18)
The Word became flesh and lived among us,
We have seen God’s glory, full of grace and truth.
From God’s fullness we have all received grace upon grace,
Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but we have experienced the Son,
For Christ is God’s heart, made known to us.
As we enter this time together, focus your heart on Christ,
Be prepared to live into God’s love within and beyond this time and space of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our ancestors, we confess we have distorted history. We have told the stories of those in power, not necessarily the stories of all the people. We have ignored the most vulnerable, erasing the survivors from the narrative. Remind us through the scriptures the importance of listening to the voices on the margins. Call us to listen to the stories that challenge what we think we know, and to be mindful of those whose narratives are silenced: those in poverty, disabled, elderly, refugees, indigenous, those whose ancestors were brought by slavery and trafficked. May we be open to learning from the past so we can help shape a future You desire, one in which the boundaries that keep people out are erased, one in which we truly can be Your body on earth, with many members, with all our gifts of diversity. In the name of Jesus Christ, who binds us together, we pray. Amen.

God knows us, all of us—the stories of our ancestors that have helped shape us, the hairs on our head, our inmost thoughts and concerns and wounds. God loves you so, so much—for you are made in God’s image, scars and all. You are beautiful and precious to God. Share this love with one another, for in Christ we know we belong to each other, we are neighbors in the beloved community of God and God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

Maker of the Earth, we give thanks that the seasons continue to change. In the southern hemisphere, winter is preparing to thaw into spring. In the north, we look to fall and cooler temperatures. We pray for an end to the wildfires and scorching heat, we pray for the safety of students heading back to school, we pray for teachers and principals, nurses and librarians—that all may know Your grace and care. As the seasons turn, may we be open to our own minds changing. May we be open to our connection to the earth, the beauty of creation and the bounty of springtime and harvest. May we be open to new insights and ideas and learning. May we be open to new people who express Your image in new ways, remembering that all of us reflect Your divinity. Great Creator, guide us through this seasonal transition, open to where You may lead us next. Amen.