Worship Resources for June 19th, 2022—Second Sunday after Pentecost, Father’s Day (US)

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42-43; Isaiah 65:1-9 and Psalm 22:19-18; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-11 and Matthew 22:34-40

For the season after Pentecost, beginning on the second Sunday there are two choices for the Hebrew Scripture readings, each paired with a Psalm reading. The first selection for this season will follow the prophets from the time of the kings after David and be semi-continuous, while the second selection will move about the Hebrew scriptures, paired with the rest of the lectionary scriptures as part of a daily theme.

Prophetic activity in the Hebrew Scriptures tends to rise when kings are making poor political alliances, turning from God’s ways, and ignoring the poor. In 1 Kings 19, King Ahab was doing all three—he had followed the ways of his wife Jezebel to worship Baal, and worship of Baal required human sacrifice. The prophet Elijah had stood against the prophets of Baal, and in a showdown with 450 of Baal’s prophets, Elijah had them killed. Jezebel promised death for Elijah, and he fled. In his exhaustion, he fell asleep under a bush, longing to die, but an angel woke Elijah up and commanded him to eat and drink. Elijah ate and drank, slept, was woken again by the angel, and after a second meal was nourished enough to continue his journey. When he came to Horeb, God asked him why he had come. Elijah told God of all that happened, and that he was the only one left faithful to God. Now, just before the incident with the prophets of Baal, Obadiah, a servant of Ahab who was faithful to God, had hid one hundred other prophets of God, fifty to a cave (18:7-15). Elijah was not really alone, but in his exhaustion, he felt alone. He was burned out. And after God passed by Elijah—not in the forces of nature of power and destruction associated with other gods of the day, but in the sound of sheer silence. God listened to Elijah and told him to return to the wilderness of Damascus. In the verses immediately following, God shared the succession plan to Elijah. God still had work for Elijah to do, but now Elijah knew he could go on.

Psalms 42 and 43 are paired together as they have a common refrain in verses 42:5, 11, and 43:5. The psalmist asks in this refrain why their own soul is distressed, but finds encouragement in their hope in God. Psalm 42 begins with the metaphor of a deer longing for flowing streams of water—this is how we long for God. The psalmist longs to experience God while in the midst of sorrow and despair. However, the psalmist knows their hope is in God, and God will save them, even as their enemies taunt them as if God isn’t near. In psalm 43, the demands justice from God, for they have faced oppression and surely God will deliver them. The psalmist gives thanks to God before the altar in worship, for they put their hope in God.

The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures is from what scholars call Third Isaiah, the writings in the tradition of the prophet Isaiah but from after the exile, when the people had returned and began to resume their old ways. In 65:1-9, God is angry with the people who have gone back to worshiping idols and other gods. In the Hebrew scriptures, God often describes anger as a fire burning in one’s nose, the smoke coming out from God’s nostrils. Even though God had delivered them, was ready to welcome them back, the people resumed their abominable practices. Yet God will not destroy them; the people are the remnant that was saved. However, God will not forget, and the people will continue to struggle because they refuse to turn to God’s ways.

Psalm 22:19-28 is a cry from the psalmist for God to not turn away, but to hear their cries of suffering. The psalmist also calls upon the congregation to turn back to God, for God has delivered them before. God has previously answered the psalmist and God will do so again if the people turn back to God. God is the one who has dominion over all people, and the psalmist is assured that all nations will turn to God.

The Epistle reading picks up in Galatians midway at 3:23-29 and will follow Galatians for the next three weeks. This portion of Paul’s letter is the crux of his argument, that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female—there is no division of religion, race, class, gender, or any other sort in the reign of God, because they are one people in Christ Jesus. The church in Galatia, among others, were keeping Gentile believers in Jesus in a second-class status. Peter, though he had eaten with Greeks and included them before, now in the presence of other Jewish followers of Jesus, had gone back to the old rules about clean and unclean. Paul called him out earlier in the letter, and explains here that all belong to Christ, all inherit the reign of God, for all believers in Christ are God’s children.

The Gospel lessons return to Luke for this season after Pentecost. In 8:26-39, Jesus and the disciples enter Gerasene. This area was populated by mostly Gentiles, and Jesus encounters a man known to locals as someone possessed, living naked among the tombs. Though the people tried to chain him up, he broke the chains and was driven wild by his demons. Jesus cast out the demons, called Legion, who begged Jesus to cast them into the herd of pigs. The herd rushed into the water and drowned, but the man put on clothes and began to speak in his right mind. However, the locals were frightened by what Jesus had done, and begged him to leave. Perhaps, even though the locals had been afraid, they knew how to handle a man with demons—they didn’t know what to do with a man who had the power of God. The man who had previously been possessed wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go tell others. The man began to proclaim what Jesus had done for him throughout the city.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its four-part series with part two on the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3-11. This section covers the first four commandments: to have no other gods before God, to not make idols, to not make wrongful use of God’s name, and to keep the sabbath day as a holy day. These first four are about worship of God, keeping God first and foremost, and remembering that God had brought them out of oppression. God was not like other gods, and misusing God’s name includes not blaming God for things God did not do. This section concludes with remembering that God had given a day of rest and to take God’s gifts seriously.

The second selection for this series is the same throughout this series: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time. The first section of the Ten Commandments reading today from Exodus can be summed up under the Shema: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Burnout is a buzzword we’ve heard much about during this Covid time, but we were nearing burnout long before. Burnout isn’t just about overworking, but it is the emotional and mental exhaustion from dealing with so much violence, heartbreak, and despair in this world, that manifests itself in physical and spiritual exhaustion as well. The psalms often speak to that kind of burnout, of feeling downcast and wondering where our help will come from. The prophet Elijah was burned out. He was ready to die and be done, but God had him rest and eat, come to the mountain, and sit in silence. God then had a succession plan for him—even though it wouldn’t be enacted for some time—God was showing Elijah that it wouldn’t continue on forever.

Sometimes we are burned out to the point we can’t try something new. We’d rather stick with the old patterns even though they lead to dead ends because we are afraid that something new will fail us or be more trouble. The people in Gerasene had lived with the man possessed by demons, and even though they said they wanted to help him, when he finally was helped, they didn’t know what to do with the man who had the power of God. That was even more frightening to them, because it meant they would have to change their ways. Sometimes in the church it is more frightening to listen to where God may be calling us to be something new than to stick with the old ways, even though they haven’t worked as well, because we know them. But we will just continue the pattern of burnout unless we are willing to embrace the transformation God intends for us. Even Peter, having experienced the resurrected Jesus, still went back to his old ways around others because of the social loss he would experience if he embraced the Greek believers in the same way he embraced his fellow Jewish believers. Paul called him out for this, and knew that the church had to be something new if it was truly to be the church of Jesus.

Call to Worship
When we are down,
God lifts us up.
When we are proud,
God grants us humility.
When we are lost,
God searches until we are found.
When we gather to worship,
We know we are not alone,
For God is always present with us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we are exhausted. We are so tired of violence. So tired of being afraid. The various traumas we have experienced continued to cloud our minds, our hearts, our souls, that we are downtrodden and our soul disquieted. We long for You, O God, and we long for healing and rest and renewal. Remind us that our rest and our hope is in You, and not in the systems and structures of this world. Call us into Your beloved community, where in sharing and working with others, we find our own renewal and rest. Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through our savior Jesus Christ, in whom we pray all things. Amen.

God leads us to the still waters and cool pastures. God restores our soul. God prepares a table before us in the presence of evil in this world, and our cup overflows. God’s mercy and goodness are with us all our lives, and we dwell with God forever. Know that God loves you. In God’s love, may you find restoration and renewal. May you be refreshed for your work here on earth to share God’s love with one another. May you know God’s forgiveness and healing. Go and share the good news of the rest we find in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Holy Spirit, restore our souls. There is so much pain and sorrow in our world, in our lives, that we feel it. Our health is not as it should be. Our minds are troubled, our spirits low. Breathe into us Your life. Remind us to go outside when possible to know the fresh air of Your spirit. Drive us to connect with nature again, for in creation You are making all things new. Your covenant is alive in the trees and the deep roots, in the still pools and in the rushing waters. Holy Spirit, reconnect us to creation, so we may remember our Creator. Reconnect us to the soul of the earth, the very dirt in which God breathed us into life. Renew our hearts to live into the ways of Jesus, so that we might love one another as ourselves and become living hope for one another. Holy Spirit, renew us. Amen.

For Father’s Day, a suggestion to sing “This Is My Father’s World” to remind us of our connection to nature and to God as creator, with the image of a caring father.

Worship Resources for June 12, 2022—Trinity Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2 (Matthew 22:34-40)

For this first Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday celebrates the great mystery of God as Three-In-One: Creator (traditionally the Father), Christ (traditionally the Son), and the Holy Spirit.

Our first selection is from Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31. Wisdom, personified as feminine in the Hebrew Scriptures, calls out to us like a woman at a crossroads crying out to listen to her voice. Verses 22-31 is another account of creation, in which Wisdom is the first creation of God, from before anything else was formed. When the heavens were established, the waters given boundaries, the hills brought forth—when all of creation was made, Wisdom was there, and rejoiced as God inhabited the world with people. Wisdom delighted in the creation of humanity.

Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God’s creation, a song of wisdom, for the beginning of wisdom is the awe of God. God has built a foundation from the voices of children and infants, for their voices bring praise to God and silence enemies. When the psalmist looks at all of creation and the universe, the singer wonders why God made human beings and why God cares about us at all? Yet we were made a little lower than divine beings, and given the responsibility to care for the earth and all of creation.

Paul declares in Romans 5:1-5 that it is our faith that justifies us in knowing Christ as our Savior, not by our works. God’s love has been poured out to us through the Holy Spirit, and despite all our sufferings, all we have been through, we know that hope remains because of God’s love. We endure because we know God’s love is with us.

In John 16:12-15, Jesus prepares the disciples before his death and resurrection for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. Everything would be made known to them through the Spirit, even though they did not understand it all at that time, because everything of Christ belongs to God and everything of God belongs to Christ; they are one.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its summer series, and the first series contains four parts on the Ten Commandments. Beginning with Exodus 19:1-6 and 20:1-2, the people of Israel arrived at Sinai after crossing the Red Sea. God called to Moses from the mountain, declaring that the people were to be God’s priestly nation. God brought them out of Egypt, out of their oppression, and called them to obey God’s voice. God is their God, and they are to have no other gods before them.

The second selection for this series is the same for the next four Sundays: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time.

The Trinity is a mystery, as is the work of the Holy Spirit, Wisdom among us. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding,” Psalm 110:10 teaches us, but fear is better translated here as “awe.” It is that trembling sense of awe at the might and wonder of God. This is the beginning of wisdom. This is the beginning of our understanding of God as three-in-one, Triune. It is a mystery how God created the universe, how God became known to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and how God moves in and within us in the work of the Spirit. It is a mystery that we can come to know God through history and teaching and Scripture, but also through nature, and our own experience that leads us to understanding.

I lean toward Psalm 8 in this selection for a few reasons: 1) the recent events of violence, especially the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, remind me that we must listen and protect the most vulnerable among us, the ones Christ taught us that the kingdom of heaven belongs. 2) In that same psalm, the singer wonders at the works of God and who we are as human beings, and that we have been created a little lower than God to care for the earth. It is a sacred responsibility. And if we listen again to those voices from the mouths of babes, we hear the wisdom of God: care for the earth. We have a responsibility to God and also to the next generation. This is the wisdom that is crying out for us to listen.

Call to Worship
Wisdom calls out to us,
At the crossroads she calls us to listen!
Hear the voice of God:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Care for the earth, care for your neighbor,
And love our God: Creator, Savior, and Spirit.
With all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
May we worship God with our whole being.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Thou Wisdom from on high, we confess we have been foolish. We have not listened to our children. We have not protected them. We have not done everything we can to keep them safe and to help them thrive. We have exploited the most vulnerable of our society and have failed to leave the world better for them. Forgive us, O God, for our foolish and selfish ways, and call us into accountability. Remind us that we must care for the earth now for ourselves and for future generations. We must love one another now including the most vulnerable among us. We must see all children as made in Your image, all of us beloved by You, and we must work to make the world a better place. Help us, O God, to do the hard work to restore what we have broken, and to listen to Your Holy Wisdom. Amen.

God’s love has been poured out for us, and we know God’s love through the Holy Spirit, and the life of Christ. God has known your voice since you first cried out. You are God’s beloved child. You are forgiven and loved and very much part of God’s beloved community. Go and share the good news with others. More than ever, may we all know how much we are loved and may we love one another. Amen.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! We sing praises to You, Great God of Mystery, the God Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come. You gave your name to our ancestors as, “I Am” or “To Be,” and You breathed life into us and all of creation. You are the one in whom we live, move, and have our being, and You are Being. We come to You in this time full of wonder and awe at You, Great Mystery, Holy Spirit, Divine Presence, Source of Life. All our names for You fall short of who You are. May we simply take this time to be in awe of You, the works of creation, and the work of Your spirit in our lives. Amen and Amen.

Worship Resources for June 5, 2022—Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 (25-27)

Narrative Lectionary: Pentecost: Rejoice in the Lord, Acts 2:1-21 and Philippians 4:4-7 (John 14:16-17)

The readings for the Day of Pentecost for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary traditionally begin with Acts 2:1-21, the story of how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. The disciples had gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Moses receiving of the Torah at Sinai, along with the first fruits of the garden. Because the Jewish people who lived all over the Roman Empire had pilgrimaged to Jerusalem, there were Jewish people who spoke all different languages. Yet suddenly they heard the disciples speaking in their language, after the disciples experienced the Spirit like the rush of a violent wind, and its appearance like divided tongues of fire. While some bystanders were confused (and some thought the disciples were simply drunk), Peter quoted from the prophet Joel that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, God among all the people. Following this passage, Peter continues his speech that it was Jesus, crucified and raised, who poured out the promise of the Holy Spirit.

An alternative first reading is Genesis 11:1-9, the last of the “prehistory” stories, before Genesis turns to Abraham and Sarah and the ancestors of our faith. In this story, positioned after the great flood, all the people of the earth were one people, with one language, who migrated to Shinar and decided to build a great tower so they wouldn’t scatter but stay together. This tower was built into the heavens, the place where divine beings were thought to dwell, and God saw it and wasn’t pleased. God spoke to the heavenly beings and determined that humanity was dangerously close to having power and determination, and so God scattered the people so they would be confused and speak different languages, so they called the city Babel. In this story, speaking different languages is confusion and disunity, as contrasted to the story of Pentecost, where speaking and understanding other languages is the work of unity through the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is a song about creation, praising God for the wisdom of all God’s works. God’s spirit is sent forth in creation, and the breath is the life of creation. When God takes away their breath, they die. Breath, Spirit, and wind are all the same word, ruach in Hebrew, and pneuma in Greek. The song praises God for all of God’s work to bring life in creation.

Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:14-17. For all people, Paul claims, the Holy Spirit is a spirit of adoption, adopting Gentiles into the family with Jewish believers, so that all are joint heirs with Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proof that we are children of God.

(An alternative reading for the Epistle, if Genesis is chosen, is Acts 2:1-21).

The Gospel lesson turns to John. During Jesus’s final discourse in John 14, after Thomas told Jesus that he didn’t know the way and Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one gets to the Father except through me,” Philip then demanded, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Though Philip and the others had been with Jesus all along, they began to question him and not understand that he and God were one. They didn’t understand how God and Jesus abided in each other, and that Jesus was returning to God, whom he called Abba, or Father. Those who believed in Jesus would do greater works than the ones they had experienced. Jesus taught that if they loved him, they would keep the commandments, and the Parent God would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of all Jesus taught and would continue to teach them. Though Jesus would be leaving them soon, the Advocate would remain with them forever.

The Narrative Lectionary also begins with Acts 2:1-21 and uses Philippians 4:4-7 as its accompanying verses. This is part of Paul’s appeal to the church in Philippi that had experienced some infighting. He called on the church to rejoice in God, to not allow worry to overcome them and instead to bring their requests to God in a spirit of gratitude. “The Lord is near,” Paul wrote, and the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding would be with them as they discerned together.

John 14:16-17 are supplementary verses. This short selection speaks to Jesus’ promise of the Advocate, who will be with them forever. The world cannot know the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, because the world does not know the Spirit, but the disciples will receive the Spirit because it already abides with them.

This day marks the end of our seasons, from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, Ordinary Time to Lent and to Easter. We now enter the second half of the year until Reign of Christ Sunday in November. This is the season in which we experience and know the Holy Spirit continues to abide in us and be at work in our world. Pentecost is a great celebration, the birthday of the church, and a reminder of who we are and who we can be: a people filled and led by the Holy Spirit to include everyone, to be passionate for God in this world, and to rejoice and celebrate that God always has the final word and that word is one that begins everything new again.

Call to Worship:
The Spirit is among us now!
The Spirit calls us to rejoice together!
The Spirit is moving in our world now!
The Spirit calls us to do justice,
love mercy, and walk humbly with God!
The Spirit is within us, alive in us now!
The Spirit awakens us
to the movement of God in the world!
Come, worship God, and be filled with love,
For God is about to rush the world with the Spirit!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy Spirit, we confess that we have dampened our own spirits. The news of kindness and compassion and goodness often does not make it to our hearts, and instead we only feel and experience the brokenness and pain. You are alive, active, in the world now and in us, and yet we sometimes are stuck in cycles of despair and hopelessness. Lift up our hearts, O God, and call us to lift our voices. Even when we cry out in pain and suffering, may we be lifted up so that we rejoice. May we remember You always have the final word and You always make things new again. Hate and despair, hopelessness and violence and death will never have the last word, for You are about to make all things new again. Holy Spirit, may we trust in You and be filled with Your power. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:4-7)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” May it be so. Amen.

Holy Spirit, rush upon us with all the power of the wind, so we might feel Your presence. Fill our lungs with the breath of fresh air, the new life that You have brought into the world. Remind us that we are alive, as long as we have breath, we can do something that builds hope. As long as we have breath, we have Your Spirit, and You will not let us fail. As long as we have breath, there is an opportunity for something new to happen, far greater than what we have experienced and far beyond what we can imagine, for Your Spirit is in us. Renew our hearts and fill us, and call us forth in hope. Amen.

Lament for children who are no more

Not again, not again, not again! we scream, O God.

And yet our screams, our laments, are unheard.

The cries of parents and grandparents and siblings who have lost a loved one, murdered by gun violence, go unanswered.

How long, O Lord? How long, how long, how long?

For though we wish You would tear open the heavens and come down and save us,

You have given us every tool, every insight, every bit of wisdom and knowledge to know how to prevent this, but we are unwilling.

We have valued money and power over the blood of our children.

You desire mercy and not sacrifice, but we continue to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice

Believing that somehow it will save us?

We made a mistake, O God, those of us who are Christian

We made the cross our symbol and worshiped it instead of You.

We have worshiped violence,

Believing that only violence can stop violence

“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”

Jesus said this before he was taken away and killed.

So we know. We know.

That violence will not save us.

The only choice we have, if we believe in Christ,

Is to give up our love of violence.

To give up our weapons that are made to kill another.

This is the only choice if we

are faithful.

This is the only choice

if we want our children to live.

O God, may we be brave enough

to make the right choice.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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