Worship Resources for December 11, 2022—Third Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Narrative Lectionary: Light to the Nations, Isaiah 42:1-9 (Matthew 12:15-21)

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means “Rejoice.” Often, the third candle of the Advent wreath is a pink candle, or rose candle, as it is also called Rose Sunday. In the early tradition of Advent, the season was forty days, mirroring Lent, and a period of fasting. Gaudete Sunday was a day to break the fasting and celebrate, for Christmas is drawing near.

The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures continue to follow Isaiah in this Advent season. The prophet turns to hope of return from exile in 35:1-10. Before the “voice cries out in the wilderness” in 40:3, the prophet notes the wilderness and desert rejoice and blossom because of the glory of God. The prophet encourages the people to have courage because God is coming to deliver them, to lead them out of exile to home. Isaiah uses images of people with physical disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf, mute, or paralyzed, to symbolize spiritual limitations. In the time of Isaiah, people with disabilities were often excluded from the greater community, unable or unallowed to participate. The prophet uses these images to show that the limitations have been removed from the people. As twenty-first century readers, we need to focus on the liberation from the limitations of societal participation, for that was the image Isaiah was invoking, not a miraculous curing. All will be called to God’s Holy Way. The unclean—those who will not keep God’s ways—will fall away, but all others will follow God’s holy way into liberation.

Psalm 146:5-10 sings of God who made heaven and earth and is mindful of the most vulnerable among us. God is a God of justice: feeding the hungry, supporting those who are disabled, and removing oppression. God watches over the strangers and the widows and orphans, all those who are pushed to the margins of society. Those who do not follow God’s ways will meet their end, but those who are faithful will know God’s faithfulness.

An alternative to the psalm is Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46b-55. Mary, echoing the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, responds to God working in her life and sings of God doing wonderful, mighty things for all the people. God’s justice flips over the tables and fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty. God’s justice brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. For those who are in places of privilege and have all the resources they need, this will not be good news, but for the oppressed and marginalized, God has come to help them. This is in accordance with the promises God made to their ancestors and to the people forever.

James 5:7-10 encourages the believers to be courageous and be patient, for the day of the Lord is near. James warns the believers not to grumble against one another, because God takes notice of everything. Earlier in the letter, James warned against judgment because God is the ultimate judge, and God is drawing near, so James repeats this warning. This passage concludes with James reminding the faithful of the endurance and suffering of the prophets before them.

John wonders if Jesus is the one to come, or if they were supposed to wait for another in Matthew 11:2-11. John, who was in prison at the time, sent word through his own disciples to Jesus questioning if he was the Messiah. Jesus’s response to the messenger was simply to tell John what he witnessed: the disabled are included and have good news, the dead are raised, and the sick are healed. In Jesus’s day, disabled people could not work, they could only beg. Good news was brought to those who had been left out, as they would not be left out of God’s reign. Perhaps John and others were still expecting a Messiah who would bring about a worldly kingdom, wearing the robes of kings or perhaps the powerful voice of a prophet commanding leaders, but Jesus was at work among the poorest, most vulnerable people. John the Baptist may have been the greatest prophet to be born, but the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than he—John could not envision a kingdom not of this world.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on Isaiah in 42:1-9, the first of the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. While later Christians looked at these passages and saw Jesus represented, the people of Isaiah’s day, returning from exile, saw themselves—the people of Israel—as the one who had served God and had suffered. God’s spirit was among them as they returned from the exile, a witness to the nations around them. The people had survived and became a light to the nations, a witness of how God is the Liberator, the one who hears the cries and relieves the suffering. There is no other God, and God is bringing forth something new.

The supplemental passage is Matthew 12:15-21, in which the writer of Matthew’s gospel quotes Isaiah 42, linking the suffering servant to Jesus as he ministered among the people, healing those who were sick and suffering from disease. Quoting from the Septuagint, this translation suggests that “the Gentiles will have hope.” Looking at Isaiah’s time, the understanding would be that the hope was in understanding God as the God of liberation, the one who rescues and redeems the faithful, and that Israel was a light to all nations. For Matthew, the writer is trying to foreshadow Jesus’s own work in grafting the Gentiles into the family tree of Israel.

On this Sunday, we rejoice in God our Savior, a God who has remained faithful to all of us through the promises made to our ancestors in the faith long ago. God continues to work for our liberation from oppression in this world, the world we have made. God continues to pay attention and be most mindful of those our society often marginalizes and leaves out: those experiencing poverty, widows, orphans, disabled folks—and God prepares a way for them. When we see good news for all people, including the “least” among us, then we see the Gospel. If there isn’t good news for the poor, the disabled, all those who are pushed out, those who fear for their lives such as LGBTQ persons—if it’s not good news for them, it isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is one who remembers and lifts up those who have been pushed out. We are still waiting for the day of the Lord, and in the meantime, as James warns us, we need one another. We need to find a way forward together, but especially for those we have often left out.

Call to Worship (from Luke 1:46b-47, 49, 52-52, 55a)
Our soul magnifies the Lord,
And our spirit rejoices in God our Savior.
For the Mighty One has done great things for us,
And holy is God’s name.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.
According to the promise God made to our ancestors,
We worship our God of liberating love!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the People, we rejoice with Mary’s song every year, yet we do not allow her words to break open our hearts. We still prop up the rich and powerful while the hungry beg on our streets. We still push people to the margins, especially the most vulnerable, and we imprison those who are in most need of help. May we hear Mary’s call, O God, and may our hearts break open. May we be challenged by these words and in our desire for peace and harmony recognize that if there are people oppressed among us, there can be no peace and there is no good news. May we live into Mary’s song and work to let the oppressed go free, to bring in those from the margins, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty—even if it means for those of us with privilege to let go. Help us to do this holy work, O God, and work in us this Advent season to live into Your reign here on earth and bring the good news. Amen.

In accordance to the promises God made to our ancestors of faith, may we know that God’s steadfast love never ceases and God’s mercies are renewed every day. May we seek in this season to repent and turn back to God’s ways, and repent to each other of where we have gone wrong. May we work to bring reparation and healing in our relationships and in this world. May we live into God’s love, made known to us in the Word made Flesh that dwelled among us, and know God’s forgiveness and restoration in our own lives. Amen.

Joyful God, we rejoice in You this season! We are glad for the wonder and awe that Advent brings us as we prepare for Christmas. As we are still in a pre-post-Covid world, we’ve experienced much loss and grief in recent years. While we’ve eased up on some restrictions, we still take precautions, and we may be a bit timid in truly embracing joy. God, help us to know that while we may still be cautious, while we may still be careful for the well being of others and ourselves, we can fully rejoice in You, knowing that You are making all things new. We look to the future with hope, and we prepare our hearts to make room for You, for You are our Joy to the World! Amen.

Worship Resources for December 4, 2022—Second Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Esther 4:1-17 (Matthew 5:13-16)

For the second Sunday in Advent, the Hebrew scriptures continues a series in Isaiah with 11:1-10. The prophet Isaiah, having witnessed the corruption of kings that led to the northern kingdom of Israel’s demise and Judah’s own troubles, prophesies a new king who will come and lead as David led. While Isaiah was hoping for the new king Hezekiah in his time, the prophet’s hope is for all future leaders, that they would judge with righteousness and equity the poor and those in need. That a future king would not look to what benefited them but to the wisdom of God, and to seek God’s guidance in how they led. When the leader of the people seeks God, peace comes over the land, for there is no more competition with each other—it is only how they can best live according to God’s ways. The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard live with the goat—these symbols of peace in creation are representative of God’s abundant love. There is enough for all when we look to God’s ways. Other nations will look to Judah, to their king, and be drawn to them because of what God has done for them.

Psalm 72 is a blessing upon the coronation of a new king. The psalmist prays for God’s blessings for the new king, that God would grant them wisdom to rule with justice. The psalmist prays that the new king would remember the poor and those in need, and prays that the king would defend the most vulnerable, and that the king be blessed with long life and his reign with abundance and peace. The psalmist concludes by blessing God, for it is God alone who can accomplish peace and justice.

The Epistle reading continues in Romans with 15:4-13. Paul writes that the scriptures written before were to give us hope in the here and now, by God’s steadfastness and encouragement through the ancestors of our faith. Paul gives instructions to the church in Rome to welcome one another—indeed, throughout the letter Paul has encouraged the Jewish followers to welcome in the new Gentile converts. According to Paul’s explanation, Jesus was Jewish to confirm the promises made through the ancestors of the faith, but Paul also quotes the scriptures where it lifts up the Gentiles as people who also praise God. Finally, Paul quotes Isaiah, linking Jesus as the one who will come from the root of Jesse. It is important for us to remember that while Paul and other early Christians made this connection to Isaiah and Jeremiah, there are other interpretations among Jews about the Messiah, from before and after Jesus’s time.

The Gospel turns to John the Baptizer in Matthew 3:1-12. The writers of all four Gospel accounts link John the Baptist to Second Isaiah, where in 40:3 the prophet declares that a voice cries out from the wilderness. Second Isaiah was writing of the time when the people returned from exile in Babylon, around 520 B.C.E. However, the Gospel writers identify this as John centuries later, who came from the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Some scholars believe John may have been part of the Essenes, a group of Jews who gathered near the Dead Sea and prepared for the Day of the Lord to come. They had similar practices of not eating meat, and the Jewish practice of the mikveh, a ritual cleansing in water immersion, was practiced more rigorously by the Essenes. John came from the wilderness and proclaimed this baptism, and people from all along the Jordan came to him. However, when some of the Sadducees and Pharisees, two other different Jewish groups, came to be baptized, John warned them not to rely on their identity or ancestry, but that they must go through the inner transformation, to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John declared that one was coming after him who was more powerful, one whose axe lay at the foot of the tree and whose winnowing fork was on the threshing floor. The one coming after John would work on them and they might not like it, for anything bad would be cut off, anything chaff would be torn from the wheat and would be burned. In other words, the one coming after John was coming to purify and cleanse. The masks any of us wear for the world, the things we hide behind—our religious identity, our lineage, wealth, power—whatever it is, it will not hold up to the truth of God—it will be torn away. We can’t hide who we are from God. Too often we want to hide our faults and shortcomings. But if we allow God to work in us, God can help us bear good fruit.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Esther, specifically chapter four. Esther’s cousin Mordecai went into public mourning at the gates of the city. Esther tried through her servants to get him to wear proper clothing, but he refused, and she didn’t know why he mourned. Mordecai was making it public that he was both Jewish and mourning for what would happen to the people, while Esther was comfortable in the palace, no one else knowing she was Jewish. When Esther finally was able to get a messenger to Mordecai, he told her about the decree Haman issued to destroy the Jews and told her she must go to the king and tell him what had happened. Esther replied that no one could go to the king without being summoned or risk being put to death. However, Mordecai warned her that she would not be safe, not even in the palace. If she refused to speak, someone else would come to their aid, but perhaps she ought to look at all that had happened to get her to the palace—perhaps she ought to recognize her privilege in this position might be for “such a time as this.” Esther recognized that it was indeed such a moment, and ordered that Mordecai let all the Jews in Susa know what was going on and to fast on her behalf, for she would risk her own life and go to the king to save her people.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 5:13-16, in which Jesus tells the disciples after giving the Beatitudes that they are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. They are meant to give flavor, to shine and not be hid. They are meant to be known so that God might be made known through them.

Advent means “coming into view.” This is the time when masks are falling off and our true selves are revealed. Either we are watching for the signs of Christ’s return in our world and in our lives, or we are still living in the ways of this world. The ways of this world call us to desire more and to consume more, to look for ways to increase our privilege and power. The way of Christ calls us to seek the welfare of others, to live into righteousness and justice. John prepares the way because John reminds us that we have to bear fruit worthy of repentance. That we can’t pretend we are faithful to Christ when we haven’t been faithful each and every day. It’s better for us to be honest with ourselves, that we have fallen short, that we have failed to seek God at times, and that we try to do better, than to put on the world’s mask and pretend that we are good and faithful people. John calls us to tear off the mask. Esther reminds us that even if we have privilege, we must use that privilege to help the most vulnerable among us and if we aren’t willing to risk it, then we’re still living with the mask on. We’re being fake, and we’re seeking the ways of the world and not God. We are called to get real with ourselves, for Christ is coming.

Call to Worship
Watch for it! It’s coming into view—
The ways of this world have led to dead ends,
but Christ leads us to life.
Wait for it! The signs are around us—
When we seek the welfare of the most vulnerable,
we seek the well-being of all.
The time is at hand! Repent!
It is time to recognize where we have gone astray,
Time to turn back to God’s love and justice.
We are almost there!
Let’s be real with one another: we need each other.
May we find a way to journey together in hope.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we put on masks in this world: masks of happiness to cover our depression. Masks of wealth to cover our emptiness. Masks of social status to cover up our feelings of inadequacy. We think some masks are better than others, when underneath it all we are simply bone and flesh, brought together by You. Help us to take off the mask and be our real self. Help us to acknowledge our shortcomings and mistakes. Help us to embrace our depression and illness so we can find ways of healing. Call us to look in the mirror and see our true self: the image of the Beloved One, the image of You. Help us to remove our masks, so we can truly view the world as it is, and work to repair what is broken. Amen.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are tenderly cared for by our Beloved God. May we be tender with each other as we remove the masks of the world. May we help each other repair and heal, restore and make whole. May we love one another with the tender love of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have life. Amen.

O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh. To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God With Us, and lead us away from the ways of the world we have made, and into Your wisdom. May we listen to the prophets and sages of old, and hear the cries for justice in the hear and now. O Come, Desire of Nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. May we rejoice in Your arrival in our hearts and world in a new way. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 27, 2023—First Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

Narrative Lectionary: Faith as a Way of Life, Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3: (3b-6), 17-19 (Matthew 26:36-38)

Happy New Year, Church! The first Sunday of Advent begins a new year in the Revised Common Lectionary, and we are beginning year A.

Isaiah 2:1-5 contains a vision shared with Micah 2:1-4. Both prophets witnessed terrible violence and the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, but they had hope that the southern kingdom of Judah might learn and change their ways. The two prophets shared a hope that the people would turn back to God and gather in Jerusalem at the temple, a hope the people would turn away from violence and war and instead turn to God, and other nations would follow suit, with lessons learned going forth from Jerusalem: peace in God’s name.

Psalm 122 is a prayer for Jerusalem, the holy city, calling the people into worship and into God’s ways of peace. Both the temple for God and the throne of David were established in Jerusalem, and the psalmist calls the people into worship, into a litany of praying for peace for the city and its people. For the sake of God, the psalmist prays that those who gather in worship seek the goodness and well-being of the city.

For Advent, the Epistle readings follow Romans (except for the third Sunday when the reading is from James). In Romans 13:11-14, Paul writes near the end of his letter that this is the time to wake up. This is the time to pay attention to how we live and act in this world. Paul is hoping that Christ’s return is eminent, but even if it is not, this is always the time to live into the light, to live as if everything about us is exposed, and we have nothing to hide. Instead of acting in the way of this world and trying to mask who we are, Paul calls the believers to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, to let Christ be the face the world sees.

Jesus calls the disciples to keep awake in part of his final discourse in Matthew 24:36-44. Jesus shares the story of Noah as a warning, that people didn’t heed the signs of the flood and simply focused on living their own lives. For those who do not pay attention to what is going on and focus on only themselves, they can neither perceive where God is at work nor how evil is at work in the world around us. Jesus then tells of the coming of the Son of Man, where some are taken and some left—not a “rapture” as mythologized among some, but rather a metaphor to be ready, for Christ is at work in our world and lives and will be in a new, unexpected way. Like an owner of a house who would be prepared for anything if he was expecting a thief, so we must, as faithful followers of Jesus, be ready for Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Faith as a Way of Life in Habakkuk. Part of Habakkuk was the reading for the Revised Common Lectionary’s second selection of Hebrew scriptures on October 2nd, and the first selection on October 30th. Habakkuk prophesied right before the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Habakkuk argues with God in 1:1-4, because all the prophet experienced was violence. He couldn’t see any hope from God to deliver him or the people from evil. Justice was not possible because the law couldn’t be upheld. However, in 2:1, the prophet remained faithful to God, keeping their position at the fortress, watching and waiting for God to respond in 2:2-4. God told the prophet to write a vision, so simple that a runner could read it, because there was still a vision for their time. Whether it was a vision of hope, or a vision of doom, is unknown, but God would answer if the people waited for it. For the righteous live by their faith and are justified, unlike the proud who live for themselves. In chapter 3, Habakkuk lifts up a prayer, and the language shifts to an ancient poetic understanding of God strolling along the earth, making it quake and tremble, with the power of destruction at God’s hands. The prophet concludes that even though there are no signs of goodness on the earth, they still rejoice in God, for God is their strength and salvation, in whom they have their whole hope.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 26:36-38, when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane and asks the disciples to stay with him and stay awake while he prays, grieved and agitated.

Keep awake! This is the call of the prophets and of Jesus. Pay attention to what is happening in the world! Too many people want to bury their head in the sand. The world’s problems are too big. There’s too much evil in the world, too many things we can’t fix on our own. Far too often we’ve passed the buck on caring for creation to the next generation. It’s too difficult for us to change our ways so we hope the next generation will. Perhaps the next generation will hold the largest pollutants accountable because we haven’t. Someone else will figure out the debt crisis and healthcare and so many other things. Someone else will get our government to move past the stalemates and help the most vulnerable among us. Wake up! Jesus is calling out to us. Jesus is also calling to those of us who sit comfortably in our faith and believe we will have all the answers in eternity and we don’t need to do anything on this earth, in this life. Wake up! This very night your life might be demanded of you, as Jesus told in a parable in Luke 12:20. Wake up and keep awake, for Christ is at work in our world and in our lives, and we may be too stuck on ourselves to perceive it.

Call to Worship
Wake up! The time for dreaming is over,
It is time to live into our dreams and hopes.
Keep awake! Look for the signs,
Christ is already at work in our lives.
Be alert! Take notice where God is present,
For the Holy Spirit is stirring in our world!
Surprise! The time is now,
This is Advent, the Arrival, the Coming Into View,
For God is here, making all things new!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Wonder, God of Light, we confess that we enter this season caught up in the busy-ness. One holiday ends and we have to prepare for the next. We get caught in the rush of wanting to preserve tradition, create new memories, and do all the things. Sometimes we’re also caught in waves of grief—what we have lost the past two years and who we have lost. Help us to be gentle with ourselves, Loving One. May we be tender with our hearts and allow us space to not do it all perfectly. Remind us to slow down and to experience the wonder and joy of the stories we tell this season, including the story of Your incarnation, the Word made Flesh. May we feel the magic of this time in a new way, to be transformed to love one another more deeply and to truly live into Your peace on earth, no matter how much or how little we find to celebrate. May we be wakened to what You are doing in our world and in our lives, so we might love one another as You loved us, enough to live as one of us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the beginning we were never alone. From the beginning there was always life and light. From the beginning God speaks, and God creates, and God lives. God is always making everything new, including ourselves. You are loved by God. Go and share this love with one another, and the knowledge that God continues to move, mold, and shape us into who we are as God’s children: into new creations in Christ. Amen.

“Stay here, and keep watch with me.” O Lord, You asked Your disciples long ago to remain awake and they could not. We know that we have been caught in the ways of this world and not simply in worldly measures of success, but the desire to make a better future for our children, to make things easier for our loved ones. Sometimes we sacrifice our ideals for a better world for others to focus on the here and now. Sometimes that is all we can do for the time being. Help us, O God, to wake up, and recognize where You are calling us in this world. Help us to wake up and be alert, when the world drags us down. Help us not to daydream for a better world but to build it, to live into it, for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. We pray all things in Christ, who calls us to wake up. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 20th, 2022—Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary:

Reign of Christ Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79; Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Thanksgiving Sunday: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

Narrative Lectionary: Swords into Plowshares, Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; then 2:1-4 (Matthew 5:14)

We have come to an end of the season after Pentecost, and both streams of the Hebrew scripture reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for Reign of Christ Sunday begin with Jeremiah 23:1-6. God has had enough of the shepherds who have not cared for the sheep. The shepherds who were supposed to learn from their ancestor David, a shepherd himself before he became king, have driven the people of Israel from God’s ways, and have allowed them to worship other gods. But God themself will gather the remnant of the flock in exile and bring them back. God will raise up shepherds who will actually care for them, and God will raise up a “righteous branch” of David—not those in name only, but someone who leads as David led—who will execute justice and reign wisely and in righteousness over the people of Israel and Judah.

The first selection pairs Luke 1:68-79, the song of Zechariah, who was finally able to speak once his son John was born. The angel Gabriel wouldn’t allow him to speak because he questioned the angel’s message. Once John’s name was known, Zechariah could speak, and he sang a song praising God for raising up a servant in the line of David, the promise of the ancestors fulfilled. Zechariah also sings a blessing for his own son John, who would be called the prophet of the Most High God, for his son would be the one to prepare the way and bring knowledge of the repentance of sins. Like the dawn breaking open, new understanding, new light would guide the people out of the shadow of death and into God’s ways of peace.

The second selection pairs Psalm 46 with the Jeremiah reading. When everything is falling apart, the psalmist praises God, for God is their refuge and strength and present with them in their troubles. God is right there in the midst of destruction, and God is the only one who stops war and violence, for God is above all on earth. The psalmist cries out to “Be still, and know that I am God!” The God of their ancestors is the same God over all nations, all people, and will not abandon the people.

The Epistle reading is a prayer and statement of faith, purporting to be from Paul to the church in Colossae in Colossians 1:11-20. Paul prays that the believers would be strong in faith and give thanks to God, in whom they now have an inheritance in the light. In the metaphor of light and shadow, they have been rescued from the shadows through Jesus Christ, in whose reign they now belong. Paul goes on to declare that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, “the firstborn of all creation.” Everything on earth and in heaven, visible and invisible, was created through Christ and for Christ, and he is first of everything. Christ is the head of the church, and in whom “God was pleased to dwell,” the one who reconciled all things and made peace through his death on the cross.

On this Reign of Christ Sunday, we read the story of Jesus’s crucifixion in Luke 23:33-43. Only in Luke’s account do others crucified with Jesus speak, and while the soldiers mock him, so does one of the victims of crucifixion at his side. However, another victim of crucifixion rebukes the first, stating that they were condemned justly for their actions, but not Jesus, for he was innocent. That man asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus declared to him that on that day they would be together in paradise. While Jesus was mocked as an earthly king, Jesus’ reign is beyond the border of life and death. Those who know and believe will know that this life and death do not have a hold on them. We know this best when we repent of our wrongdoing and turn back to God and God’s ways, relying on Christ, and believing that Christ will remember us in his reign.

For Thanksgiving Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary begins with part of Moses’s final discourse to the Israelites, before they enter the promised land without him. In Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Moses instructs the people that when they do finally live on the land, they are to take the first fruits as an offering to God, bringing it to the priest. This is an act of remembrance. A long time ago, they had no home. Their ancestor was a wandering Aramean, and their family made it to Egypt, and grew into a nation that was then oppressed. They cried out to God, and God heard them and witnessed what they had suffered and delivered them out of their enslavement into freedom, and into this land that God had promised them. By offering the first fruits, they were remembering all that God had provided for them.

Psalm 100 is a song of praise, a call to worship as the people enter the courts of the temple. They are to enter with thanksgiving and praise, remembering that God made them, and they are the sheep of God’s pasture. God is faithful in love to all generations.

Paul nears the end of his letter to the church in Philippi with an exhortation to rejoice, and with an attitude of gratitude, make their requests known to God. Paul encourages the church to keep their hearts and minds on all that is good and inspires them to goodness and kindness, and to continue to do what they have learned from him. If they change their mindset, they change their actions.

Jesus, after feeding the five thousand men (plus women and children), addresses the crowd that has continued to pursue him in John 6:25-35. Jesus perceives they have come to find him not because they are coming to believe in him, but because they were not satisfied with the bread they received. Jesus instructs the people not to work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which he, as God’s Child, would give them. But the people continued to ask for signs to believe and spoke about the manna that Moses gave the people. Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses, but God, who provided the daily bread. The true bread comes down from heaven and “gives life to the world.” The people then ask Jesus for that bread always, and Jesus declares that he is the bread of life. Whoever is looking for God will be satisfied with Jesus Christ, they will never hunger or thirst for God again.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Isaiah’s vision of swords into plowshares. In these selections from Isaiah 36 and 37, Jerusalem is attacked by Assyria, which conquered Israel to the north twenty years before. King Hezekiah shows public repentance and mourning by tearing his clothes and putting on sackcloth. But the prophet Isaiah tells Hezekiah not to lose heart, that the Assyrian king will withdraw, and the city will be saved. Isaiah, back in chapter two, has a vision of a time when war shall be learned no more, when they shall go back to farming, and there will be peace.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus declares to the disciples and those who have gathered to hear his sermon that they are the light of the world, just as a city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

While Christ declared that his reign was not of this world, we know that we participate in the reign of God here and now in our love and care for one another. The work for justice in this world is kin-dom building work. When we minister to one another out of an attitude of gratitude, we are living into God’s ways. This world that we have made, a world where empire reigns, a world where pursuit of power—politics, wealth, notoriety, even religious power—is a world with its own set of measures for success. These ways are not God’s ways. In the reign of God, whoever wishes to be first must become last of all and servant of all. Whoever thinks they are first are actually last. Whoever wishes to enter the reign of God must do so like a child, and must welcome the ones the reign of God belongs—the children, the ones ignored and marginalized, the most vulnerable in our society. Gratitude is a way of participating here and now in Christ’s reign, as we pray for it to come and for Christ’s will to be done.

Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to God;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Heavenly Parent of us all, we confess that we are bitter and selfish, sometimes spoiled. We have all Your abundance before us, but we have hoarded everything You provided, complained we did not have enough when we had much more than others, and still we demanded more. We have looked to the ways of the world we created and the measures of success we have made, and we never have enough. Forgive us, O Loving One. Remind us that we are all Your children, that You hold us in the palm of Your hand. Remind us that we are siblings of one another, and that we must love each other. In loving one another, we come to know the needs of the community, and when we meet the needs of our neighbors, we find our own needs are met. This is the Beloved Community Your prophets prophesied, the community of faith Your Son began with his disciples, and that we long to live into. Guide us into Your ways, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.

There is no greater love, Jesus said, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Out of humility we lay down our lives for each other. Out of humility we lay down our pride and admit our wrongdoings. Out of humility we work to repair what we have broken and restore what we can mend. Out of God’s great love for us, Jesus laid down his life, and so out of our love for one another, we lay down our pride. We forgive one another, love one another, care for one another, and lift up one another. Go, share the Good News: live out the Gospel. Lay down your ego and your pride and live into God’s love, and it shall go well with you. Amen.

Gracious and Holy One, we give You thanks as we near the end of our liturgical year, our seasons in the church, and prepare to begin again. We do this so we might remember, year after year, what You have done for us, for our ancestors, and what You have promised to do. We do this out of gratitude for all we have, looking forward as we prepare to watch and wait for signs that You are entering our world and our lives in a new way. Expectant One, as we wait for the birth of the Christ-Child, You are midwifing something new in us. May Christ be born anew in us, so we might seek to live more deeply into Your ways and seek to love the world You made, and the people created in Your image as our siblings, as part of the beloved family of God. In gratitude and praise, we come before You. Amen.

Advent Candle Lighting (Year A) 2022

Check the Advent Resources page for more candle-lighting liturgies and other ideas, and a PDF and Docx version of this candle-lighting liturgy may be downloaded there.

Advent Candle Lighting (Year A) 2022

“You Know What Time It Is.”

First Sunday (for the northern hemisphere)
You know what time it is. The night is far gone, the day is near. It is the in-between time. Right now, the nights are still drawing longer, but soon that will cease, and the daylight will begin to increase. In this in-between time, of fall into winter, we know the promise of spring will come even if we cannot sense it. We know what time it is: time to watch and wait for signs of Christ’s presence in our world and in our lives in a new way. What is being revealed to you in the darkness? What is hidden that is waiting for you to know?

Light the first candle

Prayer: Now is the time for us to wake from sleep. Light of the World, we wait for You. Voice in the Darkness, we wait for You. Prepare us to receive You in our world and in our lives in a new way. Amen.

*Alternative First Sunday (for the southern hemisphere)
You know what time it is. The night is far gone, the day is near. It is the in-between time. Right now, the days are almost as long as they can be. But we know the seasons will change and turn and long nights will return. In this in-between time, of spring into summer, we cherish the daylight and are reminded that the Light of the World draws near. We know what time it is: time to watch and wait for signs of Christ’s presence in our world and in our lives in a new way. What is being revealed to you as you watch and wait?

Light the first candle

Prayer: Now is the time for us to wake from sleep. Light of the World, we wait for You. Voice in the Darkness, we wait for You. Prepare us to receive You in our world and in our lives in a new way. Amen.

Second Sunday
You know what time it is. A voice has cried out from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It is time to make things ready, in our lives and in our world, for the Word to be flesh again. It is time to prepare to live as God showed the ancestors of our faith, through the teaching of the prophets and the stories we have passed down until now. Prepare to make all things ready, for Christ to be born in our hearts again, that we might remember who we are, who God intends us to be. Prepare the way of the Lord.

Light the second candle

Prayer: God of our Ancestors, we repent of where we have gone astray. Help us to listen to the voice that cries out from the wildernesses, the margins of our world. Help us to listen to Your voice call us to prepare for justice, Your voice that calls us into the hard work of reparation, Your voice that calls us to pursue the path of peace. Amen.

Third Sunday
You know what time it is. It is not time to sit back and hem and haw. It is not time to question whether to risk or not. It is not time to tell those who have waited so long for justice to continue to be patient. The waiting of Advent is not passive, but active. It is participating in the reign of Christ while waiting for Christ to return in our world and lives in a new way. It is building up the beloved community now while knowing that grief and suffering are still raw and real. It is the time to risk, because if we do not, we are bound to lose. It is the time to act for justice because we know that it will not come unless we demand it. It is the time to seek peace and pursue it, because it will not come without sacrifice. It is the time to live, knowing Christ is with us now even as we wait for Christ to make all things new.

Lighting of the third candle

Prayer: God of Justice and Mercy, we pray for the courage to pursue Your way in this world now even as we pray for Your kin-dom to come, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Fourth Sunday
You know what time it is. It is the time to rise, to not be afraid. It is the time to shine our light and listen for God’s voice in the darkness. It is the time to pursue justice and mercy and love one another. It is the time to listen to the voices of angels among us, to set aside fear and cling to hope. It is the time to know Emmanuel, God is with Us. Not in a time to come, not in a time long ago in the past, but now. This is the time. Wake from sleep, rise up, and rejoice that Christ is the Lord, that God’s reign is right here, if we live into it.

Lighting of the fourth candle

Glory, Glory, Glory! Lord God Almighty, we declare Your reign is here, among us now. We declare that You are Sovereign in our life and no other. We declare that the time is now, and we pledge ourselves anew to You, our Savior, Redeemer, and God Forever, Christ the Lord. Amen and Amen.

Christmas Eve
You know what time it is. The world has been in labor pains until now. God has midwifed us to this point, helping us come to be who we are meant to be. We are God’s beloved children. On this night, we remember the birth of Jesus, and know that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This is the time when all things, all of us, are made a new creation in Christ. See, everything old has passed away. Everything has become new!

Lighting of the Christ candle

Living Christ, be born again in our hearts this night. May we be transformed for You, to not dwell upon the past, or put all our hope in the future, but to live into who we are now, to build up Your beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. May we remember this moment, with Christmas in our hearts all year long, as a promise and pledge to live into Your reign, now and forever. Amen.

*Alternative Sung Prayer: sing the first verse of Joy to the World, or the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem

Worship Resources for November 13, 2022—Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 12; Malachi 4:1-2 and Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Narrative Lectionary: Micah, (1:3-5); 5:2-5a; 6:6-8 (Matthew 9:13)

We are nearing the end of the season after Pentecost, and the Revised Common Lectionary wraps up the first selection series of the prophets, turning to the time after the exile in Isaiah 65:17-25. In this part of Isaiah commonly known as Third Isaiah, the prophet recognizes that the people of his time are returning to their old ways, forgetting what God has done for them. Yet the prophet still has hope that God will restore what has been destroyed, that God will remake what has been taken: God will create new heavens and a new earth. No more will the people be forced away; they will live where they have built, they will grow and thrive. No more shall there be harm or destruction, for God will respond before they even call for help.

Isaiah 12 is a psalm of thanksgiving to God. First Isaiah witnessed the destruction by Assyria of Israel and Samaria to the north and the attempted siege on Jerusalem, but Assyria did not pursue taking Judah. The prophet interprets their survival as God’s favor upon them. Though they were disobedient, God still saved them, and the prophet calls upon the people to sing for joy as to what God has done for them and for Zion.

The second selection for the Hebrew Scriptures turns toward the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, as the liturgical year turns toward Reign of Christ Sunday. The prophet Malachi prophesied that the day would come when God’s purifying fire would burn up all evildoers, so that there would be nothing left that evil could graft on to. Instead, the Sun of Righteousness would rise with healing in its wings for those who turn to God. This beautiful image conveys that God’s fire of judgment is for purifying and healing, not for destruction and dismay.

Psalm 98 is a song of thanksgiving to God for victory, which was an alternate selection for the first Psalm reading last week. God has remained faithful to the people of Israel, showing God’s steadfast love, and all the earth knows God’s victory. The psalmist calls upon the whole earth to make a joyful noise, to praise God. With musical instruments, and the music of the sea and floodwaters—everything is called to praise God, all of God’s creation. God is the one who judges the whole earth and judges the people rightly.

The Epistle readings conclude the series in 2 Thessalonians, with an exhortation for the believers to do what is right in 3:6-13. The writer urges the readers to keep away from those who have gone astray and have either been idle or just busybodies without doing anything to contribute to the community of faith. This was a specific concern with a specific community, and the writers urge them to consider who is working for the community of faith and living out the teachings that were passed to them and encourages the faithful to not stop doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-9 is part of Jesus’s final teachings to the disciples when he is in Jerusalem the last week of his life. While the disciples are admiring the temple, Jesus foretells that no one stone will be left. We must remember that the Gospel accounts were written after the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., and Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come (therefore, the gospel writers are helping the listeners of their day understand why they must endure the troubles of their time). The disciples wonder when the destruction of the temple will take place, but Jesus assures them to not be alarmed. There will be people who will try to lead the believers astray. There will be natural disasters and wars and plagues, and even before that, persecution including trials and imprisonment. Nonetheless, Jesus assures them they will be innocent before God, and will endure for the sake of the gospel.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the prophet Micah, who brings both judgment and hope. In 1:3-5, God is coming to judge the people for false worship, in Samaria and Jerusalem, and judgment against the two country’s capitals, their leaders who had led them astray. Micah had witnessed Assyria taking Israel, destroying Samaria and sending the people into exile. However, in 5:2-5, Micah brings a word of hope, of a new king from David’s hometown, one who will rule the people in the future but whose origin is ancient. This ruler will bring peace for Judah. Yet in 6:6-8, we know that the people have continued to go astray. The prophet rhetorically asks what it is God requires of us. If the people are bringing offerings and sacrifices and yet destruction is still happening, perhaps the solution is not greater offerings and sacrifices, but a need to change themselves. God has shown them what is required: to do justice, practice loving-kindness, and walking in humility with God.

The supplementary verse is Matthew 9:13, where Jesus paraphrases Micah and Amos and other prophets by saying God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and Jesus tells those listening to go learn what that means.

As we near Reign of Christ Sunday we read passages from times of great struggle, for the ancient Israelites, for the disciples of Jesus, and for the early churches. All these point to a need for inner transformation that is outwardly expressed—a love of God that conveys love to one’s neighbor. A practice of mercy to others that demonstrates the mercy God has shown us. A commitment to justice that includes not only us, but the most vulnerable in our society. God’s desire is not a desire to punish for punishment’s sake, but that we learn from the consequences of our actions, and often that is painful. The time of judgment of God is often seen as a destructive, monumental act of widespread change, but just as often the prophets and apostles call the faithful to judge themselves if they are following God’s ways and to transform their own lives. As we approach the end of this liturgical year, where is God calling you to examine your own life and make changes for the new? Where is God’s purifying fire at work, burning up what is useless, but bringing healing and hope in your life? What worries and cares do you have—especially after yet another volatile election season in the U.S.—that you can lift up to Christ and hear the words of hope Jesus has for you, as he gave the disciples walking amidst the temple long ago? May the words of victory in the psalms bring some assurance and comfort to you in this time.

Call to Worship
Behold, the day is coming,
When God will make new heavens and a new earth.
Behold, the day is coming,
When we shall draw water from the well of salvation.
Behold, the day is coming,
When God will answer before we even call God’s name.
Behold, the day is here!
We gather to worship and pray and praise God’s name,
And we live into God’s ways of love, justice, and peace.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Righteousness, we confess that we demand Your judgment upon others but mercy for ourselves. Correct our thinking and our actions, O God, that we might desire mercy for all and live into Your ways of kindness and compassion. Direct us, O God, to judge ourselves and confess our sins, to repent and turn back to You, and work to repair and restore what we have broken. Guide us, O God, into Your ways of love, truth, and justice, so we might be caretakers of the earth, builders of hope, restorers of peace, and repairers of the world. Amen.

We hear the words of assurance from the poets, for the psalmists knew that even in times of despair, they would sing joyfully to our God. We hear the words of assurance from the prophets, that even when the faithful failed, God had plans for restoration. We hear the words of assurance from our ancestors in faith, that God did not forget them, and God continues to lead us all home, as far as we wander away. We hear the words of assurance from Jesus, that in Christ we have life abundantly. We are forgiven, loved, and restored. Listen to the words of old, and speak the words of hope to one another, by blessing and forgiving and restoring one another as Christ has restored you. Amen.

God of the Hopeless, God of the Discontent, God of the Dejected and Poor, there is much in the way of shadow and death in our world, but Your light shines in the shadows and bleakness. Your words are a lamp for our feet, a light for our path. Your love is made known to us through Jesus Christ but also through the love of one another. As much as we may want to give up, You do not give up on us. As much as we make ourselves unlovable, You still love us. Break through the hopelessness and despair, but let it also fuel us for the work of justice. May we not become content, but may we alleviate one another’s pain by engaging in compassion and kindness. May we never give up on love, for love endures all things. You are our God, and we know You hear our prayers, our cries, our desperate sighs, and You bring us to life, again and again. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 6th, 2022—Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (All Saints Day Sunday)

Revised Common Lectionary: Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98; Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Narrative Lectionary: Elisha Heals Naaman, 2 Kings 5:1-15a (Matthew 8:2-3)

If All Saints Day is observed this Sunday, readings and resources can be found in last week’s post.

We are nearing the end of the season after Pentecost, and the pattern of our readings turns toward Reign of Christ Sunday in the liturgical year.

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, which has followed the prophets in this season, turns toward the promises of God to the people upon their return from exile. The prophet Haggai speaks of hope to the exiles returning home in 1:15b-2:9. The people had been away for around seventy years and their city and temple were destroyed and left to rubble. Yet the same God who brought them out of Egypt was bringing them home. Haggai spoke words of hope to the governor and high priest of the people of Israel, that though there were few, if any, who remembered the glory of the temple, the temple would become a place of prosperity. The treasure of other nations would come, and the splendor of the temple will be even greater than before. Haggai echoes what other prophets of his time, such as Second Isaiah, said regarding God’s restoration of the people and their home and temple to be even greater than what was before, and how other nations were drawn to support the people.

Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 1-5 sings praise to God. One generation shall declare what God has done to the next generation, and the psalmist is in awe and meditates on God’s splendor and majesty. Verses 17-21 speaks of God’s faithfulness and righteousness, drawing close to the faithful who call on God’s name, and showing favor to those who honor God. The psalmist concludes with a vow to continue to praise God and calls upon all living things to bless God’s name.

An alternative selection is Psalm 98, another song of praise, probably sung after a battle victory. God has remained faithful to the people of Israel, showing God’s steadfast love, and all the earth knows God’s victory. The psalmist calls upon the whole earth to make a joyful noise, to praise God. With musical instruments, and the music of the sea and floodwaters—everything is called to praise God, all of God’s creation. God is the one who judges the whole earth, and judges the people rightly.

The short passage of Job 19:23-27a contains Job’s plea to God. Job knows that God lives, that God hears his prayer, but he wishes God would answer. He wishes his words were inscribed as a testimony of what he has been through, as evidence. Though Job’s friends have tried to find fault with Job, a reason for Job’s suffering, Job knows the only one who can answer truthfully is God.

Psalm 17:1-9 is the psalmist’s plea for God to answer their prayer. They know they have done nothing wrong and if God were to test their heart, they would be true. The psalmist has refuted the ways of violent people and has stayed true to God’s ways, and they know God will respond. The psalmist beautifully calls upon God to guard them as God’s precious one, to keep them safe from evil.

The Epistle reading continues its short series in 2 Thessalonians, turning toward mentions of Christ’s return and the day of judgment, with 2:1-5, 13-17. The writer (purporting to be Paul) urges the readers to not be worried. Instead, they ought to live as if the day of the Lord was already there. They need to be prepared for deception by leaning on the teachings that have been passed down to them so they can remain steadfast in the gospel they have received. There is a lawless one who isn’t named in this letter, but some political or religious leader of the time who put himself above others and claimed to be from God. It is Christ himself, the writer prays, who will bring comfort and encouragement.

Some Sadducees challenge Jesus in Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees were one of several Jewish groups in the first century. They were part of the priestly group that was in charge of worship at the temple, and disagreed with the Pharisees, who were probably more closely aligned with Jesus’s views on the authority of scripture and on the belief in resurrection, and the Pharisees were not involved in the temple worship. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and use a story of a woman who was married more than once as an example of why there couldn’t possibly be a resurrection, because according to the Levitical tradition, when a man dies, his widow must marry his brother. If that’s the case, then when they all die and are resurrected, who is she married to? Jesus responds by telling the Sadducees they are thinking about the resurrection wrong. Marriage is a human institution, made necessary by our culture and tradition, but not necessary in God’s reign. And when God in scripture refers to their ancestors of the faith in speaking to the prophets, such as Moses, God refers to them in the present tense; so therefore, they must be living. To God, all the ancestors of the faith are alive. The way we view our world and our lives is not how God views us at all.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God healing Naaman through the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-15a (this was part of the Revised Common Lectionary, the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, back on October 9th). Naaman was the commander of the king of Aram’s army, but he suffered from leprosy. Naaman’s wife had a servant, an Israelite girl who was taken captive, and this servant told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) who could heal. The king of Aram wrote a letter to the king of Israel on behalf of Naaman, but the king of Israel freaked out, because he wasn’t God. Elisha, God’s prophet, told the king of Israel to calm down and to let Naaman come to him, because then he would know there was a prophet in Israel. Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, and Elisha’s messenger told Elisha to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be clean. Naaman was angry because it was too simple. It had to be more complicated than that, otherwise he could have just bathed at home. Naaman’s servants reasoned with him: he would rather do something difficult, instead of a simple act for healing? Naaman gives in, bathes in the Jordan seven times, and his skin is restored. Naaman then realizes there is no God but God, the God of Israel.

The supplementary text is Matthew 8:2-3, when a leper came to Jesus and told him that if he chose, he could make him clean. Jesus replied, “I do choose. Be made clean!” and immediately the man was made well, and his flesh restored.

We are often focused on the wrong things. Job’s friends were focused on figuring out what Job must have done to cause all the bad things to happen to him, instead of simply being present with Job while he was suffering. While we might not believe God causes bad things to happen, we often offer up meaningless platitudes when they do, which also do not help. For the people returning from exile, they probably could only see the destruction, and it was hard to imagine hope; yet the same God who brought them out of Egypt had brought them home. Nothing is impossible with God, and God would restore their temple and their home. For the church in Thessalonica, it was easy to get worried about different religious and political figures rising up and different gospels, but Paul reminded them to stay true to what had been passed down to them, to not be worried. Instead, judge yourself and live as if the day of the Lord is already upon us. Live into God’s ways all the time. Jesus countered the Sadducees because they asked the wrong question. It’s not about how our choices today affect us for after this life, for heaven or hell—it’s about how our choices today affect us and others today, and for the next generation among us. Christians have become short-sighted, focused on a ticket to heaven instead of an eternity that begins now. With a world posed to warm 2-3 degrees by the end of the century, the day of judgment is now. In a society where children and teachers are killed by gun violence, the day of judgment is now. We ought to be living today as if our lives are accountable right now, not some time in the future.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 98:1a, 4, 9b)
O sing to the Lord a new song,
For God has done marvelous things.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth,
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
God is coming to judge the earth;
God will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Come, worship our God, who is just and true,
May we judge our own hearts, and live into God’s ways of justice and mercy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we have not lived into Your first commandment to us as human beings, back in the first chapter of Genesis. You called us to fill the earth and to have stewardship of it the way You have made and cared for all creation. You are a just and true God, but we have distorted Your image. We have imagined You as abusive and wrathful and have been abusive and harmful to Your creation and to each other. We have failed to live into Your commandment and have not lived as You intended. Call us into repentance, O God, to turn back to You and to Your ways, to restore Your image instead of our own. May we repent of our harm of the earth, and work quickly to repair and restore, so that the next generation may not live with the sins of ours. Call us into this restorative work, O God, so that we might seek forgiveness and lay a better foundation for those who come after us. Holy, Just, and True, You are the One we seek, Creator of us all. Amen.

God is so wise and loving, gracious and kind, that God always offers us a chance for repentance, an opportunity to repair, a way to restore. God desires for us to remember who we are as God’s beloved, to remember we are made in the image of God, and that the worst things we can do are not the last things done unto us, for Christ lives. You are precious to God. God loves you madly, and desires the best for you. Love one another. Repent of where you have gone wrong, and work to repair and restore. Seek healing and wholeness, and forgive as you have been forgiven. Live into God’s ways and know God is with you, always. Amen.

God of Justice, we often view judgment as harsh, condemning, something against us, instead of understanding that You call us to judge ourselves, to stop and listen for Your word whispering in our hearts. Your judgment is sound and Your decrees in scripture are true. You have called us to turn back to You. Your justice lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. When it is harsh, it is because we have had too much and now are sent away empty. When we are too high on ourselves we are brought down, but when we have been crushed down, You raise us up. You are Just and True, and we trust Your words in our hearts, Your breath in our lives. We trust where You are leading us. Even when it is hard, You lead us forward into Your ways of justice and mercy. Help us to go forward together and to trust in You. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 30th, 2022—Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Reformation Sunday, All Saints Day (November 1st)

Revised Common Lectionary: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Psalm 119:137-144; Isaiah 1:10-18 and Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Readings for All Saints Day: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Narrative Lectionary: Solomon’s Wisdom, 1 Kings 3:4-9 (10-15), 16-28 (Matthew 6:9-10)

All Saints Day may be observed either this Sunday or November 6th, if not on November 1st.

In the first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures for the season after Pentecost, we have followed the rise of the prophets. The first selection for this Sunday is the same as the second selection reading from back on October 2nd, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. Habbkuk prophesied right before the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Habakkuk argues with God in 1:1-4, because all the prophet experienced was violence. He couldn’t see any hope from God to deliver him or the people from evil. Justice was not possible because the law couldn’t be upheld. However, in 2:1, the prophet remained faithful to God, keeping their position at the fortress, watching and waiting for God to respond in 2:2-4. God told the prophet to write a vision, so simple that a runner could read it, because there was still a vision for their time. Whether it was a vision of hope, or a vision of doom, is unknown, but God would answer if the people waited for it. For the righteous live by their faith and are justified, unlike the proud who live for themselves.

Psalm 119:137-144 is part of an acrostic poem, with each stanza beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet (a different portion of the same psalm was part of the Revised Common Lectionary on October 16th). This stanza under the letter Tsade proclaims that God is righteous, and God’s judgments are right and true. Though others have forgotten what God has spoken, the psalmist has not, and they are outraged on God’s behalf. Even though they have faced trouble, they have remained faithful to God, and they trust God commandments and teachings. The psalmist’s desire to live is grounded in their desire to learn and understand God more fully.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures. In Isaiah 1:10-18, God had enough of their sacrifices and offerings. God didn’t want their festivals and feasts. Instead, God wanted the people to stop their evil practices and instead to seek justice and protect the most vulnerable among them. God will forgive and remove their sin if they come before God and turn away from their evildoings.

Psalm 32:1-7 sings of the joy of forgiveness from God. The psalmist confesses that when they tried to hide their sin, they felt the weight of it in their very body. They physically suffered from denying the wrongdoing they had committed. But when they came before God and confessed, God forgave them. The psalmist encourages the faithful to come before God and to offer prayer, for God will not let them be overwhelmed. God is the one who will protect and deliver those who turn back to God and God’s ways.

The Epistle readings turn to a brief series in 2 Thessalonians. The beginning of this letter, in verses 1-4 and 11-12, proclaim to be from Paul and his companions, giving thanks for the growing faith of the church in Thessalonica and their love for one another, in spite of growing persecution. Paul and his companions are always in prayer for this church and that Jesus’s name will be glorified in them.

The Gospel reading of Luke 19:1-10 is the story of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho. It appears from the context that it is possible Zacchaeus had either met Jesus before or heard enough of him that Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, had been transformed by the message of Christ. He so desired to get Jesus’s attention that he climbed a tree to stand out above the crowd. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, for he planned to stay with him. Zacchaeus in turn promised to give away half of his possessions and to pay back anyone he had defrauded fourfold, for tax collectors extorted money on behalf of the Roman government from the civilians. Jesus declared that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus, for the Son of Humanity came to seek and save the lost—and Zacchaeus, too, is a child of Abraham. Jesus spoke aloud that others cannot cut off people from the family of faith, for God is a God of inclusion, not exclusion, when people repent and turn back to God.

The readings for All Saints Day begin with Daniel’s vision in 7:1-3, 15-18. Daniel beholds a vision of earthly kings as beasts who seize and take hold of the earth. This is probably referring to the Greek emperors of his day and the divisions within the empire—but God is the one who will reign forever and ever in the heavenly kingdom.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise to God, who delights in those who are faithful. God has led the people to victory against their enemies because they stayed true to God. God reigns on high, and the faithful are victorious in their praising of God, which is their weapon against their foes.

Ephesians 1:11-23 speaks of the inheritance the faithful have through Christ, especially for the Gentile readers of this letter, that they have been included in God’s plan of redemption. The writer (purporting to be Paul) gives thanks for the faithfulness of these followers of Jesus and prays they may know the fullness of what God has in store for them. Christ, raised from the dead, reigns on high, and has authority and power over everything in heaven. The fullness of Christ is found in the body, the church, of which Christ is the head.

The Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20-31 is the gospel text for All Saints Day. Jesus gives the same blessings as found in Matthew 5, except that the poor in spirit is simply “the poor.” Jesus also adds woes, warnings to those who have sought the world’s pleasures and measures of success, for they will come up empty. Instead, love your enemies, do good, do not take up violence, but do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Solomon’s Wisdom in 1 Kings 3:4-9, in which Solomon makes a sacrifice before God. God asks Solomon what gift he should be given, and Solomon asks for an understanding mind to govern and discernment between good and evil. Solomon acknowledges his shortcomings of experience as a youth. In verses 10-15, God replies to Solomon, pleased with his request, and only asks Solomon to stay faithful and to keep the statutes and commandments God has given the people. In verses 16-28, the famous story of two women who come before Solomon is told—they were both sex workers in the story, probably to show their low status in society and why they came before Solomon as judge instead of men who spoke for them. The women both had a baby close together, but one’s son died and claimed the other’s son as her own. The women argued over whose son was the living one, and Solomon judged that they would cut the baby in half and give each woman half. One woman said she’d rather have the baby given to the other woman than have him killed, and that was how Solomon determined which mother was telling the truth. This story was shared throughout Israel to demonstrate Solomon’s wisdom and judgment.

The supplementary verses from Matthew 6:9-10 come from the beginning of Jesus’s prayer to God the Father in heaven, holy is God’s name, and praying for God’s kingdom to come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Seeking what God desires first over our own desires is the beginning of wisdom.

The readings for October 30th lead to a theme of confession and repentance, of striving to do right, and that living into God’s ways is more important than what others say or think. Zacchaeus may have been despised for being a tax collector—a label he could never be free from as long as he continued his work—but he could change how he lived out his role and change his behavior. Isaiah spoke to the people that God didn’t desire outward displays of religiousness if it wasn’t accompanied by an inward transformation, beginning by ceasing to do evil. The psalmist understood that when they tried to put on an outward display of goodness without an inward acknowledgement of confession, they even felt sick physically. Once they confessed and acknowledged their own wrongdoing, they knew God’s forgiveness. Zacchaeus is a prime example that others may still exclude based on prejudice and assumptions, but Christ is the one who declares that salvation has come to us. There is always time to change inwardly, which is what God desires most.

For All Saints Day, we are reminded that God’s reign is not of this world. This world that we humans have created seeks worldly wealth and notoriety, worldly measures of success, but Christ warns us they will leave us empty. These measures lead to dead ends. Daniel envisioned terrible things for the earth but knew that God reigns forever. So it is with us. Death interrupts our lives, and at times the ways of the world we have made, the way of empire, seems to overpower us, but we know that God’s reign endures forever. Eternal life is new life that begins now, and the ways of this world have no hold on us.

Call to Worship
We bring our prayers and confessions before God,
For God knows every word before we speak.
The truth is bared before us, and we acknowledge and accept it,
For falsehoods and injustice will not prevail in the reign of God.
Though others may judge us while taking the easy way themselves,
We will tell the truth of who we are and live in integrity.
For Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
We come together in this way to worship God as our true selves.

All Saints Day Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1, 14, 17, 24)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
God has become my salvation.
I shall not die, but I shall live,
And recount the deeds of the Lord.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ruler of All, we confess that we are quick to judge and condemn. We are swift to label and expel. We are smug in our thoughts of self-righteousness and perseverance. Forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves. Forgive us for living into the ways of this world and judging others instead of seeking Your commandments, wisdom and insight, to live as You would have us live. For Your reign is not of this world that we have made, with wealth and fame and excess. Your reign endures forever, and You call us to seek Your justice, mercy, and peace. May we shed the ways of this world and turn to You. We ask for Your forgiveness, O God, as we repent. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 119:142)
The psalmist declares that God’s righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and God’s law is the truth. When we confess our sins before God, God knows our hearts, our sincerity, and forgives us. But the granting of forgiveness also calls us into the act of repentance—seeking God’s ways above our own—and to repair what has been broken. God loves you so much, and forgives you, and God knows you will do the work necessary to repair the brokenness in this world. So go forth, and heal, and build up, and love one another. Amen.

Reforming God, You are constantly reshaping us into something new. We are treasure in clay jars, as the apostle Paul wrote, and in our fragility You are constantly reworking us to be sturdier and steadfast. You have made us precious and vulnerable, and love us, and You know we are capable of renewal and restoration. You know we are capable of mending the brokenness in this world into something new. Reshape our hearts, open us to Your healing love, and send us forth into the world to reform, repair, and renew. Amen.

Prayer for All Saints Day
Eternal God, we give You thanks for those who have gone before us, who have shaped our own faith journeys. We know that our grief, though difficult to carry, reminds us of the great love You have for us and that we share with others. Love is always stronger than death, which is why we mourn. While grief may never fully leave us, neither will love, and love is strong enough to carry us forward. Until that day when the division of earth and heaven is no more, we pray for the courage to live into Your ways of love with one another, to carry each other’s burdens, and to live in the wisdom and insight of our ancestors that remains with us, now and always. Amen.

Other prayers for All Saints Day can be found here:

All Saints Day 2021

Archives (November 1, 2020, November 3, 2019, November 4, 2018)

Worship Resources for October 23rd, 2022—Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65; Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 and Psalm 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Narrative Lectionary: David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9 (Matthew 21:33-41)

The first selection in the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets in this season after Pentecost. Liturgically, as Christians move toward Reign of Christ Sunday, the readings of the prophets turn to the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Each prophet envisioned this in their own way. The prophet Joel envisioned a time when the harvest would be plentiful and their vats overflowing, a repayment for all the people had lost, especially for those of the holy city of Jerusalem, destroyed at the beginning of exile. All among them, old and young, would dream and behold visions and the young would prophesy, full of God’s spirit. However, there will also be signs of destruction before the day of judgment. Nonetheless, all those in Jerusalem, all who call upon God’s name, will be saved.

Psalm 65 is a song of praise to God who answers prayer. Those who seek closeness to God are blessed, for God has delivered them. The psalmist praises God, who both dwells in the temple and is active in the entire world, for God established the mountains and bound the seas. God crowns the year with its bounty of harvest, and the meadows and pastures overflow with God’s blessings.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22. Jeremiah attempts to intercede on behalf of the people, but God responds to their faithlessness. Jeremiah prayed for God to not abandon them like a stranger who does not know them. Though the people have been rebellious, Jeremiah pleads for God to intervene. Jeremiah argues that God shouldn’t be surprised at the people’s behavior, because God has been with them. However, God allows the people to live with the consequences of their actions. If they turn away from God, God will not be with them. Jeremiah refuses to give up and pleads again for God to intervene. The people confess they have sinned. They have not been faithful. But there is no other God who can provide for the people, no other God who can bring rain where there is drought. God is their only hope.

Psalm 84:1-7 praises God for the beauty of the temple, where God has chosen to dwell among the people. Even birds dwell in the temple of God and sing praise in their way. For those who choose to be in the temple and to make their home with God, they find God’s blessings, and God is known to the people in Zion.

The Epistle reading concludes its series in 1-2 Timothy with 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. Paul wraps up his letters to Timothy, knowing that he himself will most likely die in prison, and feels assured that he has done all he can for God’s glory and not his own. Paul was given strength, even in prison, to proclaim the gospel and turn the hearts of Gentiles to Jesus. Paul is assured that he was spared death thus far to do God’s work and he is ready to be with God. He sees his own life as an example and inspiration for Timothy and others to continue the Gospel work on earth.

The readings in Luke focus on parables for a second week in a row. Last week was the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, this week it is the parable of the two men who went to pray in Luke 18:9-14. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In this story, Jesus uses the Pharisee as an example of someone who is smug in their own religiosity. It is always a good reminder that Jesus did not see all Pharisees this way, and back in Luke 13:31 some Pharisees warned Jesus to steer clear of Jerusalem because Herod wanted to kill him. But in this parable, Jesus is flipping the common narrative on its head. A tax collector would be despised in society as someone who was working for the Roman government to extort money. One of their own people working for the very empire. The Pharisee would be seen as someone holy, working for God. Instead, it is the Pharisee who fills the temple with empty words attempting to justify himself and the tax collector who shows true repentance before God. It is important to look at verse 9 for the context: Jesus was telling this parable to those among his own followers who thought they were holier than others.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to a lesson on the power of parables, when the prophet Nathan tells a parable to expose David’s sin. In 2 Samuel 11, David didn’t go off to war as kings usually did, and instead he ended up having the wife of one of his soldiers sent to him to sleep with her. Lest we think Bathsheba had any say in the matter, refusing a king usually resulted in death. In the intervening verses David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy but Uriah was such a faithful solider he would not go home to his wife, so David had Uriah’s death staged on the battlefield. However, David didn’t get away with it. God sent the prophet Nathan to David and told a parable of a rich and a poor man, and how when the rich man had a visitor come to visit, instead of killing one of his own lambs for dinner, he took the poor man’s only lamb for himself. David was quite upset about this story, believing it to be real, until Nathan revealed that the rich man was David, and that he had taken Uriah’s wife as his own and had Uriah killed, though David was already married several times over. Note that Bathsheba, like other women of that time period, are seen as the property of the men they are married to, without a say in what happened to them.

Psalm 51:1-9 is partnered with this reading as it has long been attributed to David, a song of confession of sin. The psalmist confesses their sin before God, that it cannot be hidden, for even if no one else knows, God knows, and God will expose our wrongdoings. The psalmist calls upon God to cleanse them of their sin, to receive forgiveness and absolution for what they have done, so they may once again experience joy.

The supplementary text is Matthew 21:33-41, when Jesus told a parable of tenant farmers, who seized the land from the owner, beat his servants and killed others. Then the landowner sent his son, believing the tenants would respect him, but they killed him, too. Jesus asked the listeners what they though the owner of the vineyard would do. The listeners were outraged. They declared the vineyard would be taken from those tenants and given to others who would do what they were contracted to do. In the verses following, Jesus then reveals the parable is about them: the kingdom of God is going to be taken from them because they did not do what they had covenanted to do with God.

Stories have power. They teach us lessons that may be right in front of us, but we cannot see it until we look at it more objectively. When we see ourselves from a different point of view, we can see where we haven’t been faithful to God’s ways. When it feels like the world is against us, that is all we know—we are right and others are wrong and they are severely wronging us. But when we look at things from a different view, a global view—we see that we all at times struggle in our own faithfulness. Though we might face one form of oppression, we may be oppressing others and not recognizing our places of privilege. While most of us are not a David, many of us might be a self-righteous religious person, as in the parable Jesus told with the tax collector. We may know someone whom we think could not possibly be in relationship with God and yet they come before God knowing they want to change while we think we don’t need to change. Parables are specific stories with moral points, but all of Scripture can be seen as stories that teach us, when we put ourselves in the shoes of others, that we may not have the whole truth from our perspective.

Call to Worship
Open our minds, O God, to new understandings;
Open our minds, Wise One, to learn from You.
Open our hearts, O God, to Your love in the world;
Open our hearts, Loving Christ, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Open us from within, O God, to the people in need around us.
Open us up, Holy Spirit, when we want to focus on our own survival.
God of Opening Doors, Your Spirit is moving in us,
Open our minds, open our hearts, open ourselves to Your people,
And may we worship You in the fullness of who we are.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Knows, we come before You confessing that we often hide the truth from ourselves. We hide the truth that we know so little of You and the universe You have made. We judge others to standards we never hold ourselves to. Even in the name of love we have occasionally allowed ourselves to hate others instead of hating the evil that is in this world, that shapes people away from Your intention, and that includes ourselves. Forgive us, O God, for our hate that enters our hearts and causes others harm. Forgive us, O God, for judging others instead of ourselves. Call us into accountability, Loving One, when we do not acknowledge the truth and deceive ourselves. We seek Your forgiveness. Cleanse us from our sin and purify our hearts to be free of hatred and instead full of love, for it is only love that will transform the world. Amen.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” -John 14:27
Know Christ’s peace in your life, and know Christ’s forgiveness. Do not give as the world gives, but love one another, forgive one another, and live into Christ’s ways in this world, of love, justice, and peace. Amen.

God of Transformation, as the seasons change, we give You thanks that things do not stay the same. That we ourselves cannot stay static. You change the world around us and You change our hearts within. May we be open to the ways the Spirit is moving us to change, O God. May we be open to the need to change for others, to make space and room for those who have not had places made for them. May we take notice of what is growing and what is dying, and give thanks for both, O God, for out of death comes new life. Even as we grieve what we have known, You are making all things new. Transform our hearts, O God, to be ready for what You are preparing to make new. Amen.

Worship Resources for October 16th, 2022—Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104; Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Joshua Renews the Covenant, Joshua 24:1-15 (16-26); (Matthew 4:8-10)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets during the season after Pentecost. For the second half of the season the focus has been primarily on Jeremiah. We conclude from the series on Jeremiah this week with the promise of the new covenant in 31:27-34. This passage marks the transition toward the end of this season, turning toward Reign of Christ Sunday (where we will revisit Jeremiah one last time). God spoke through the prophet, to a people taken into exile, that times would be changing, and what had been a time of pulling up and destroying would become a time of planting and rebuilding. Again, God speaks that the time would be changing, and a new covenant will be made by God with the people. Unlike the previous covenant that the people broke—though they were in relationship with God—this one is unbreakable, for it is written on their hearts, and all will know God, who has forgiven their sins and remembers them no more.

This portion of Psalm 119:97-104 is part of a much longer psalm on instruction for worship and relationship with God. Each section begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet as an acrostic poem, and this entire section is under the letter Mem. This portion speaks to the love the psalmist has for God’s law, and how they meditate on God’s instructions day and night. Following God’s commandments has led the psalmist into greater wisdom and understanding. They have stayed true to God and are wary of evil. Sweet are God’s words, sweeter than honey, and there is nothing that will call the psalmist astray as they are rooted in God’s teachings.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is the story of Jacob’s encounter with the angel in 32:22-31. Jacob and his family were on their way to encounter his brother Esau, whom he fled from as a youth. The night before, Jacob and his family crossed the Jabbok River, but Jacob decided to sleep away from them. A stranger wrestled with him until dawn, knocking Jacob’s hip out of socket but Jacob managed to overpower him anyway, and would not let the stranger go until the stranger blessed him. The stranger called him Israel, one who wrestles with God, though the stranger refused to tell Jacob his name. Jacob named the place Peniel, the face of God, for he had wrestled with God face-to-face and prevailed. Throughout the book of Genesis, places and people are given names of importance in their encounters with God.

Psalm 121 is an ancient song of knowing God’s presence and help. Hills and mountains were seen in the ancient world as where the gods dwelled, but the psalmist knows that their help is in God, who made heaven and earth. God is the protector and defender, the one who keeps our lives and knows every movement we make, protecting us from birth until death, forever.

The Epistle readings continue in the series of 1-2 Timothy with 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. Paul encourages Timothy to continue with what he has learned through scripture and what he has been taught. Paul commissions Timothy to preach the word, even when people don’t want to hear it. Some in the early churches were drawn to other preachers who said things the people wanted to hear, instead of the gospel of Christ, which called for a transformation of lives. Paul encourages Timothy to be persistent, to cast off what is false and cling to what is true, and to encourage others to believe in Christ.

Luke 18:1-8 contains a parable in which a widow persisted in her demands for justice from a judge. The judge himself didn’t care—he had no respect for people or for God—but because the woman wouldn’t give up in her pursuit of justice, the judge relented just so she’d stop bothering him. Isn’t God much greater than this unjust judge? Jesus assured the disciples that God would grant justice to those who cried out, to those who were desperate enough. However, Jesus wondered if the people would remain faithful to God when the time of judgment comes.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God’s faithfulness in covenant, and in Joshua 24:1-15, Joshua called the entire people who had come out of the wilderness, all the tribes, to renew the covenant with God. Joshua reminded the people of what God has done for them through their ancestors, into the land that God gave them. Joshua and his family chose to serve the Lord their God, but all must decide whether to serve the gods of the lands and the peoples around them, or the God who was with them since the time of their ancestors. The longer portion of 16-26 contains the people’s response and Joshua’s charge to them. The people committed to serving God, because God was the one who brought them out of their enslavement and out from oppression by all the other nations. However, Joshua warned the people that they had to commit with their whole heart—they couldn’t just say the words at that moment and later turn from God, for they would know God’s judgment. The people again declared that God was the one they would serve, and Joshua commanded them to put away the idols and foreign gods, to focus on the God of Israel, the one God.

The supplemental passage of Matthew 4:8-10 contains the last temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. In Matthew’s account, this last temptation is for Jesus to have all the cities of the world if he bows down and worships the devil. Jesus resists Satan and tells him to go away, because it is written that one is to worship God only, to serve only God.

The ethicist Miguel De La Torre speaks about embracing hopelessness, that hope is a byproduct of white western European Christianity that colonizes people into believing that God will rescue them from the systems of the world, and we don’t have to do anything about it. Hopelessness instead causes desperate people to act and change things. We see this hopelessness in the parable Jesus told about the widow—because that judge was not going to change. Nothing was going to change until the widow got him to change out of her desperate endeavor not to give up. That wasn’t hope—that was desperation. The judge himself doesn’t change. Even the system doesn’t change, but it changes enough for her own self.

In a sense, the exiles in Jeremiah had no hope left, but in the hopelessness of it all they began to rebuild their lives in Babylon. That’s where the true hope springs forth, not a false hope that keeps us complacent. Both Paul and Joshua know that people will not change, whether it was renewing the covenant in the promised land and saying the words they thought Joshua wanted to hear, or Paul speaking to Timothy hundreds of years later about the early church and how people become complacent, only hearing what they want to hear. There’s not much hope in that. The hope is found in the hopelessness, the act of desperation that causes us to commit to change. Paul committing even in prison to not give up the Gospel. Jesus committing to the cross that death will not have the final word. How desperate are we to actually commit to transforming this world? Or do we simply pay lip service? It’s something faithful people have wrestled with for thousands of years, and we continue to wrestle with it now.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 121:1-2)
I lift my eyes up to the hills,
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
Institutions will fall, and people will fail us,
Only God’s love endures forever.
Turn your hearts to God,
Our true hope, strength, and power.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient and Almighty and Awesome God, we come before You, confessing that we don’t set our hearts and minds on You. We set our hearts and minds on the things of this world that we have made: worldly power, wealth, and notoriety. We have FOMO (fear of missing out) so bad that it consumes us as sin. We want what others have. We measure ourselves against what others are doing. We have failed to remember that we are all Your children, each one of us, made in Your image. We are fearfully and wonderfully, awesomely and amazingly made by You, our Creator, and we have treated ourselves like trash. Forgive us, O God, and help us to restore in ourselves our understanding of worth and purpose as Your children, and not by the world’s measures. For it is the things of this world, the stuff we have created and measured ourselves against that is the garbage we don’t need. Help us to chuck it, O God, and instead, remind us that we worship You, the One who made us, who made all the planets and stars and galaxies and this mighty universe and made us from the dust of it all into something incredibly beautiful and wondrous. We are Your children, O God, and may we never forget it, as You call us by name to discipline, disciple, and delight in. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 121:4-8)
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
You are loved, renewed, and restored. Go and share the good news of God’s blessings, for you are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well-pleased. Amen.

Sweet Spirit, breathe into us Your power to discern the right choices and paths for our lives. Breathe into us Your peace and patience in a world that wants us to make decisions fast. Breathe into us a sense of value and purpose as Your children. Breathe into us the possibility of new life now, as part of our eternal life in You. Sweet Spirit, help us to breathe out the vitriol, the snappy judgments, the condescension that permeates our thinking. May we let go of the negativity that does not shape us for the better but drags us down. May we breathe in the sweetness of life that You have for us, Sweet Spirit. Amen.