Worship Resources for January 21, 2024—Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac, Mark 5:1-20 (Psalm 89:1-4)

Like last week, the Revised Common Lectionary has a focus on God’s call and our response to God.

We begin with the call of Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh, after he ran away the first time. In Jonah 3:1-5, the prophet obeys God and proclaims the message God sent him to deliver: in forty days, Nineveh, a large city, will be overthrown because they have not followed God’s ways. However, all the people of Nineveh, of all backgrounds, fasted and put on sackcloth, showing outwardly how they recognized where they had gone wrong and turned back to God. In verse 10, God recognized that they had changed from their evil ways, and God changed their mind about overthrowing the city. Jonah, in turn, was the most successful prophet in the Bible (but has some things to say about that in chapter 4).

Psalm 62:5-12 is a contemplative psalm. The composer knows that God alone is their hope and salvation. The psalmist calls for all people to put their trust in God and not in wealth, for people of all economic standings come before God and wealth is not to be trusted. All power belongs to God, and God’s way is restoration: leveling out what is unequal and restoring what has been taken. The psalmist reminds us that God “repays” us according to the work we have done for God’s justice in this world.

The Epistle readings in this season after the Epiphany follow the letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Paul believed that the return of Christ was imminent. He saw the kingdom of heaven as one we ought to live into now: for in heaven, as Christ taught, there is no marriage, there are no possessions, and there is no more mourning. Paul believed the world we have known was passing and we ought to live in the reign of God here on earth.

The Gospel lesson of Mark 1:14-20 contains the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. After Jesus’s baptism and John’s arrest, Jesus took up the same sermon message: “The kingdom is near; repent, and believe in the Good News.” As Jesus ministered along the sea of Galilee, he called his first disciples, fisherman, to follow him and fish for people. Two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John, were among the first. James and John even left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the men Zebedee hired to help him with his fishing business, to follow Jesus.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’s encounter with a man who had an unclean spirit in Mark 5:1-20. We must be cautious in how we approach this passage. In the first century, the spiritual world was not seen as separate from the physical world. Mental illness was sometimes attributed to demons. In this passage, it seems both clear that Jesus believed demons were real, and that this man may have also had some form of illness. The man was troubled, and the people had tried to stop him from harming himself (mostly by trying to isolate and restrain him) but could not keep him from bruising. When the demons addressed Jesus, Jesus addressed them, and Jesus listened to their demand to not be cast out of the country but instead into a herd of pigs. The herd of two thousand pigs then drowned themselves. Those that witnessed this event and others in the town who heard about it begged Jesus to leave, so he did, but the man who had the demons cast out begged Jesus to be allowed to go with him. Instead, Jesus called him to tell his friends what God had done for him. The man went to Decapolis (the ten cities) and told everyone what Jesus had done for him, and the people were amazed. While we may not fully understand the context of the spiritual and physical world as understood in the first century, when we look at Jesus’s actions, Jesus listened to the man, listened to the voices that he struggled with, and treated him with compassion and dignity. The man, in turn, listened and became a disciple of Jesus.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 89:1-4 is a song of praise for God’s faithfulness. The psalmist declares that God’s steadfast love is established forever. Because God made a covenant with David, God has declared that David’s throne will last forever, for all generations.

Last week and this week’s readings really compliment each other on a theme of following God’s call. This week, the theme rests on God’s knowledge of us. God called Jonah knowing that Jonah was temperamental. Jonah didn’t want to follow God, and then when he did and the people actually listened to his proclamation, they changed their ways. Jesus knew the disciples and must have known that the life the way they were making a living was not how they wanted to live their lives. James and John even left their father behind in the boat to follow him! Jesus called them exactly as they were—fishers who would now fish for people. In the Narrative Lectionary, Jesus saw the man afflicted by demons as a human being, a person in need of compassion and kindness and respect. Jesus treated him with dignity, and in turn, the man wanted to follow him. Paul saw the call of Jesus so clearly that he believed Christ’s reign was imminent and that we all ought to live as if heaven was on earth here and now. Following Jesus is a full transformation, a way of life. We all ought to be like the people of Nineveh, and fully commit to God’s ways, especially in our outward showing of repentance by living into God’s ways of justice.

Call to Worship (Psalm 89:1-2, 8, 52)
I will sing of Your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
With my mouth I will proclaim Your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that Your steadfast love is established forever;
Your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
O Lord God of hosts, who is as mighty as You, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds You.
Blessed be the Lord forever.
Amen and Amen.

Prayer of Invocation
O Mighty and Ancient One, we gather knowing Your presence is always among us, but in this time and place, we call upon You here and now. Enter our homes and our hearts with thanksgiving as we come to You with praise. We call upon Your name, for You know each one of us. Guide our hearts and minds to remember Your promises and to renew our spirits to live faithfully in Your ways. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Steadfast God, we confess that we are fickle and our hearts waver. We go back and forth between committing wholeheartedly to You and following the trails of desires the world we have made promises to fulfill. We are misled by greed and power. We follow the false assurances of security and satisfaction. We neglect our neighbors whom You called us to love as ourselves. Turn us back, O God. Turn us from our selfishness and from the promises of the world we have made, with its systems and structures of oppression and harm, and turn us back to You: to love one another, to lift up one another, to seek the well-being and wholeness of our neighbors so that we might also experience wholeness and healing in Your beloved community. We ask for forgiveness, and we pray that we might truly repent and turn back to You, the One who Forgives, Heals, and Restores. Amen.

Here these words from the Apostle Paul: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). May you know Christ’s peace, and rest assured in God’s love, forgiveness, and restoration. Live into God’s ways, and you will always know God’s voice, calling you back. Go and share the good news: God is calling your name, for God loves you so much. God wants you to find the right way. God wants you to have abundant life. Live into this good news. Amen.

Holy Divine, we ask for Your aid in turning from the violence of this world. The violence that separates us from one another. The violence that dehumanizes, diminishes, ignores and marginalizes human beings. The violence that silences, squashes, oppresses, and denies the voices of our neighbors, our kin. The violence that afflicts our hearts with jealousy, rage, and hatred. Holy Divine, overpower the violence of the world by transforming our hearts with empathy, kindness, compassion, and most of all, love. Call us into the way and life of Christ. It is not enough for us to follow Christ; remind us that we are called to be transformed by Christ, to be a new creation in this world. In Christ’s name we pray in anticipation, knowing that we are being transformed into the living hope this world needs. Amen.

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