Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6 (13-18); 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Narrative Lectionary: Parables in Mark, 4:1-34 (Psalm 126)
The next two Sundays in the Revised Common Lectionary will have a focus on God’s call and faithful response.
The Hebrew Scripture lesson from 1 Samuel 3 contains the call of the prophet Samuel as a young boy. Samuel, dedicated by his mother Hannah to the temple at Shiloh, served under the priest Eli in a time where not many had visions or heard the voice of God. Nonetheless, the boy Samuel, lying in the temple near the ark of the covenant, heard the voice of God in the middle of the night. Twice he woke up Eli thinking Eli had called him, but Eli sent him back to bed. When Samuel did this a third time, Eli recognized it was God that was calling Samuel, and he instructed him how to respond to God. In verses 11-14, God tells Samuel what he is about to do, and it isn’t good news for Eli and especially for his sons who have turned from God’s ways. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had told him, but Eli encouraged him to tell it all, and Eli accepted it. From then on, Samuel spoke on behalf of God and became known as a trustworthy prophet of God.
Psalm 139 is an intimate song of God’s care and love for us as individuals. God knows us deeply, knows our thoughts even before we speak them. God is the one who made each of us, and knows all our habits, all our ways of being. God beheld us before we were formed, and we cannot comprehend or fathom God’s power, glory, and love.
In this season after Epiphany the Epistle readings follow the letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul writes about how our bodies are members of Christ’s body. Paul’s argument here also argues against the idea the spirit is separate from the body—we are a whole being, connected to Christ. We are to care for our bodies in remembering we are connected to Christ. In Corinth, prostitution was connected to worship of the Greek pantheon. Paul’s argument against fornication is also against worship of other gods, that our devotion to Christ calls us into caring for and honoring our bodies and seeking healthy and whole relationships. While we may have the choice to do whatever we want as long as it is legal, it isn’t right or healthy for us to do whatever we want. We must seek Christ’s way.
The Gospel lesson focuses on the call of the first disciples in John 1:43-51. Jesus called Philip of Bethsaida, the same town Andrew and Peter were from. Philip responded by following Jesus. He went and told his friend Nathaniel that they had found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. However, Nathaniel was skeptical that anything good could come from Nazareth. When Nathaniel showed up, Jesus said out loud that this was an Israelite who was up front and true, and told Nathaniel that he saw him sitting under the fig tree before Philip called him. Nathaniel believed and proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God, the king of Israel. Jesus asked if he believed because of what Jesus told him? He would see greater visions than that!
The Narrative Lectionary turns to the first parables of Jesus in Mark 4:1-34. Large crowds gathered around Jesus as he taught by the sea, and he taught using parables. The first was the Parable of the Sower, in which seed fell on different kinds of soil—but the seed that rooted in good soil brought forth a large yield of grain. Jesus explained to his disciples later, alone, about the different types of soil. He then taught his disciples with more parables: about a lamp not being hidden under a bushel basket or under the bed, but on a lampstand; then another parable about the kingdom of God being like seed scattered on the ground, and when the grain is ripe, it is harvested. Lastly, he told a parable of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed, growing into a mighty shrub in which the birds of the air make their homes. The writer of Mark’s gospel taught that Jesus used many parables, but only explained them to his disciples in private. Parables are stories with multiple meanings. When we go below the surface level, what do we learn about the kingdom of God? How do we purposefully plant the kingdom of God here? How do we participate in the harvest of God? How do we shine our light? How do we cultivate our soil?
The supplementary verses are Psalm 126, a song of praise for deliverance. When the people of Israel are restored to their homes, it is like the rivers in spring, restored to their fullness. Those who left weeping with only seeds will return home, carrying the full heads of grain with them, and be full of joy.
As we continue to enter this new year, what might God call us to be doing differently? We remember the ministry of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the call to justice. The prophet Samuel was called to speak words that were hard to hear, even for Eli the priest, but God challenged corruption and abuse in the temple through Samuel. Samuel lived his life in a way that helped others trust him and his words. Jesus called the disciples, preparing them to experience even greater visions of God’s justice—one where the dividing line of heaven and earth is erased. The parables of Jesus challenge us to understand who we are in God’s reign and what are we doing—what kind of soil are we for the seeds of God’s justice to be planted? Where are we called to speak up, and how are we called to live that out? Honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be simply reading his “I Have A Dream” speech. It must also be reading, digesting, and understanding his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It is a call to action that builds up the beloved community, and recalls that all of us are bound up together in this work of justice.
Call to Worship
Our Creator has molded and shaped us,
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Christ is calling our names,
We accept the invitation for the wondrous journey of faith.
The Spirit is whispering in our hearts,
We have been given spiritual gifts to follow Christ.
The roll is being called, not up yonder, but right now in this time of worship:
To do justice, to practice loving-kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
Prayer of Invocation
Ancient and Holy One, we hear You calling our name in our hearts. As we enter this time of worship, may we listen for Your word to us. May we be challenged by the scriptures we read, inspired by the songs we sing, and guided by the words and reflections of our leaders. May we focus our whole being, our heart, our soul, our strength, our mind, on You in this time of worship, and may we be encouraged to follow You. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that we often pay lip service to Your commandments. We read the words of our ancestors, hear their stories, know the lessons, and fail to internalize them. We fail to live into Your word in a way that transforms our lives. We confess that we have short attention spans and are distracted by many things. Call us into accountability. Remind us that the Word became Flesh and lived among us, so we might embody the life of Jesus in our own lives. Challenge us to be faithful in our study and reflection so that our lives bear witness in response to the Word we know as Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ promises us that there is so much more than what we know or can sense now. There is so much more than what is right in front of us. Know this, on these long winter days, in this never-ending election cycle, in the violence and greed of our world—there is so much good, so much love, so much hope and more peace that we can have in Christ. We know we must do the hard work of reparation and restoration, forgiveness and healing, but there is so much more good than the pain we have known. Trust Christ. Trust in the words of our ancestors in scriptures. Trust the songs we sing, not just the words, but the music itself, how it makes you feel. Trust that Christ is always leading us to new life. And share this love and trust with one another. Amen.
God of our ancestors, we remember and give thanks for the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others on this day who lived their lives in faithfulness to You and the call of justice for all. Remind us of the call of the prophets to speak out against corruption and injustice and build a community that is safe and inclusive of all Your children, on earth as it is in heaven. In this election year, remind us of our civic responsibility to elect leaders that we hold accountable for change, that uphold the values of justice, equity, and inclusion of the most vulnerable in our society. May we live into the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not simply with platitudes but with a commitment to action and mutual love and care, to be part of this beloved community together. Amen.
Prayer for MLK Sunday (first written in 2015)
God of Deborah and Samuel,
God of Anna and Simeon,
God of all the prophets, we honor our prophets of old and our prophets of today. We honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who called out for Your justice and righteousness for all people, but especially those who were oppressed because of racism and white supremacy. We remember how he put his own life on the line, dying in the struggle for freedom from oppression for all God’s children. We remember all of the prophets, from Biblical times to today, who cried out for the oppressed. We cry out with the prophets:
*for orphans and widows
for Black Lives
for disabled persons
for asylum seekers and refugees
for religious minorities
for those who are poor
for transgender individuals
for queer teens
for those who experience homelessness
for different racial and ethnic minorities
for those who speak different languages and have different cultures
–for all people who have been marginalized.
In this time, we lift up the names of our own prophets, those who have felt the movement of the Spirit compel them to work for justice. Names such as Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and Oscar Romero. But there are lesser known prophets among us who have worked for justice, and we lift up their names in this time:**
Lord, we give You thanks for the prophets who have raised their voice and put their lives on the line on behalf of Your people. We mourn their loss and pray for all of our prophets. God, stir in us the call to speak out when we see injustice, to act where there is injustice on behalf of all who suffer from oppression. Grant us Your courage and strength to do Your work, for You know each of us, You know our strengths and our challenges, and You call each of us to justice, forgiveness, and love. In the name of Christ, we give honor and thanks for those that have gone before us, and we pray for our prophets today. Amen and Amen.
*this list can be read responsively, or divided up among readers.
**optional, but allow for time for people to lift up the names of prophets in their lives.