Worship Resources for February 21st, 2021—First Sunday of Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Narrative Lectionary: Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-42 (Psalm 15)

The first covenant God makes is after the great flood in Genesis 9:8-17. The covenant is not just for humanity, but for all of creation, that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. God has hung up the bow, God’s weapon, and will never again use it against the earth. In a world where people believed in gods who often went to war with the people in their stories and myths, the God Noah knew was unique, in that God made a covenant and promised to never again make war with the earth by flood.

Psalm 25:1-10 is the first part of an acrostic poem, in which each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist turns to God, praying that God will deliver them from their enemies. The psalmist desires to follow God’s ways, to trust in what God has in store for them. They pray for God to not remember the sins of their youth, when they fell into the ways of the world. They know that God is the one who instructs sinners into the path of right-living. For those who keep God’s covenant, they will know God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in their lives.

1 Peter 3:18-22 speaks of Christ’s suffering for all—for both righteous and unrighteous. In the writer of 1 Peter’s view, and how the early church creeds interpret this passage, Christ descended into the place of the dead, “the spirits in prison,” to proclaim the good news. The writer of this letter also interprets the story of Noah as a story of baptism, saving all of humanity before Noah from their sins through the floodwaters, and now baptism saves the believers who are alive.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is sparse on the details. It’s really two verses long. So the pericope for the Revised Common Lectionary includes Jesus’ baptism (again, sparse on the details) and Jesus’ first sermon, that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of heaven has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (1:15). While we often focus on Jesus’ time in the wilderness on the temptations he faced from the devil, thanks to Matthew and Luke’s more detailed account, perhaps we ought to focus on Jesus’ time with the wild beasts, the Spirit, and the angels who waited on him. This helped Jesus become clear about his message, who he was setting out to call as disciples, and that the time was fulfilled. He was ready. The world was ready.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:25-42. Luke’s account of Jesus giving the greatest commandment is different from Matthew and Mark, in that the question asked is not which is the greatest commandment, but “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question of “what is in the law,” and the lawyer responds correctly, with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self in Leviticus 19:18. But then the lawyer wants to know who their neighbor is, and Jesus tells the parable. Amy-Jill Levine’s take in Short Stories of Jesus is a must-read for understanding this parable. The known anecdote would have been, “A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite,” meaning if a priest or a Levite didn’t respond, then it’s up to everyone else to fulfill that role (pg. 103). Jesus’ twist in using a Samaritan—someone that the listeners in his day would have despised—is not putting down the religious leaders for failing to fulfill their role, but rather that sometimes the outsiders, the people we despise, are the ones who show us more clearly how we ought to be living. The question “who is my neighbor?” by the lawyer was really to find a loophole, a way out of not having to love everyone, but if a Samaritan can do it, then we all must.

Now on to Mary and Martha. There’s an excellent take on this in a Facebook post by Amy Courts (I do not know her) that is a must read. There are many different ways to interpret this story, but I like her take on the fact that Mary has taken up the ministry of discipleship in the way the men have, but that Jesus validates both Mary and Martha in their ministry.

I also like to contrast this with the story of Mary and Martha in John 11, in which they live with their brother Lazarus. Whereas Martha may seem distracted in Luke’s gospel, in John’s, Martha is the first to declare that she believes in Jesus and the resurrection and is ready when Jesus comes to visit, and Mary is not.

The psalmist asks the rhetorical question of who can come into God’s presence in Psalm 15. The psalmist responds that those who live into God’s ways faithfully. Those who are honest and true, who do no harm to their neighbors, who cannot be bribed and do not exploit those in need. They will remain faithful to God and nothing will cause them to fall.

This first Sunday of Lent gives several options to think about: the forty days and nights of Noah and his family aboard the ark with wild beasts, and the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and angels. The Narrative Lectionary asks the questions of who is our neighbor, and what is authentic ministry? Lent is a time to reflect on our faith journey with Jesus: who are we, and who is God calling us to be? How do we get from here to there? Repentance and faithfulness, yes, but living out our faith is a call to love our neighbors and meet their needs. There are many ways to be faithful: to seek God in our prayers, to spend time alone with God, to do the work that needs to be done for others to serve God faithfully, and to care for our neighbors in need. Perhaps Mary and Martha teach us that there is no one right way, but multiple ways to live in righteousness. Rather than judging how we live into faithfulness, we ought to honor and lift up each other in our faithful ways.

Call to Worship
The time is fulfilled.
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
The reign of God is at hand.
Follow Jesus, who calls us to gather others.
For the work has begun.
Believe in God’s love for you, for the world,
For God sent his Son for us, that we might know eternal life.
Roll up your sleeves, and be prepared:
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, the earth flooded long ago, and we were given a sign: the rainbow, a reminder that Your covenant is with the whole earth, that You will never again destroy the earth by flood. Your covenant is a reminder to us that the world is still broken, but You strive to make it whole. We have failed and fallen short, but You have remained steadfast. Your love for us has never ceased, though we have wandered and sought after the world’s desires. Call us back to Your covenant. Remind us of how You formed the world and made us in Your image. Remind us that we come from You, and we return to You, and Your promises never end. You may be ancient, but You also make all things new. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 25:7-10)
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore God instructs sinners in the way. God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble the way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and decrees.
Know God’s love and forgiveness are with you, and your sins are remembered no more. Go forth, and live into God’s ways.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! We are in awe as we think of how You created the earth and the heavens, the universe that we know hardly anything about, the galaxies that we have only a glimpse of. You made everything, and You made us. What are we to You, O God? Yet we know You care for us, You love us, and we know You draw near to us. Help us to draw near to You, O God. Help us to seek Your wisdom, insight, and understanding in our lives, and help us to keep the awe and wonder alive in our hearts. If we would only remember how much we do not know, perhaps we would hold more tenderly our relationships, our lives, our world. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory, Lord God Almighty! Amen.

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