Worship Resources for March 12, 2023—Third Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Narrative Lectionary: Wedding Banquet, Matthew 22:1-14 (Psalm 45:6-7)

As soon as the Israelites were away from the oppression of Pharaoh, they complained in the wilderness. In Exodus 17:1-7, the people can find no water to drink, and they quarrel with Moses. Moses in turn complains to God, wanting to know what to do with the people who want to stone him for their troubles. God instructs Moses to go before the people with some of the elders to the rock at Horeb, where God would stand, and strike the rock with the staff that God gave him in Egypt. Moses obeys God, and water comes out of the rock where God stood, a reminder that God was with them, even though the people questioned it.

Psalm 95 is a song of praise to God the Creator, calling the people into worship and celebration. God has made the whole world as well as us, and as the Great Shepherd we are the sheep of God’s hand. The second half of the psalm shifts to words of warning for those who do not listen to God, and for those who test God, as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Because they quarreled and tested God, they wandered for forty years and did not enter the land promised them. For those who do trust in God, the first half of the psalm reminds the listener of God’s faithfulness and abundance.

The Epistle readings continue in the letter to the Romans, this time in 5:1-11. Because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.

John 4:5-42 contains the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. All sorts of cultural boundaries are crossed in this story: Jesus and the disciples are in a Samaritan village, and Jews did not like Samaritans and vice versa. Jesus was alone and a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well, and Jesus spoke with her—a taboo to speak to a woman alone, especially an unmarried woman and a Samaritan at that! But through the woman’s skepticism and later revelation by Jesus that she’s been married five times and is now living with a man who isn’t her husband, Jesus still chooses to speak to her. Perhaps because as someone who has faced marginalization by the dominant culture as well as by gender and by her marital status, she is able to accept Jesus as the Messiah because he came, even for her. Jesus’s disciples are taken aback by his talking to this Samaritan woman alone, and do not understand his message is to bring spiritual food and water to the world, not just for themselves. The woman meanwhile goes into the village and tells everyone about Jesus, and many come to believe through her word, but others come to believe in their encounter with Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its Lenten series in the parables of Matthew, this time with the Wedding Banquet in 22:1-14. In this parable, it is time for the wedding, but the guests who were invited refused to come. Even when the king holding the banquet sends his servants out again to tell them of the wondrous feast that awaits them, they refuse to go. Some even seize the servants and kill them. The king in his fury sends out his troops and burns the city, destroying everyone. And instead, the king tells the servants to go into the streets and invite everyone they see into the banquet—whether they are good or bad, it doesn’t matter, because the invited guests didn’t come, so the invitation is open to anyone. But there is one guest who is not wearing a wedding robe, and he is bound and thrown into the outer darkness. This guest may represent those who are welcomed in but refuse to change their ways. The parable ends with the saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” In Luke’s account in 14:16-24, a parable of a great feast, the story is less violent—the one who gave the banquet didn’t send out troops to burn down the city and kill others and neither were the servants killed when they delivered their message. The guest without the formal attire is also not included in Luke’s account, which gives Matthew’s account a more serious spin: those who are invited and welcomed into God’s reign and who act like they belong, but refuse to change their lives, are warned of the wrath that is to come.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 45:6-7, from a royal wedding psalm, praising God for the endurance of God’s reign, and how God rules with justice and equity. The king is anointed by God, chosen to rule with the same justice and righteousness of God.

In the season of Lent, while we are practicing our faith to draw closer to God, to repent and turn back to God’s ways, we are also reminded that we cannot do it alone. We need one another, and we need the invitation without judgment. It is easy to practice our piety and measure ourselves against others in faithfulness and righteousness. The woman at the well reminds us that it isn’t about what we have done, but what we will do with the knowledge of God’s love, and the most vulnerable among us are the ones who need to know God’s love, grace, and justice by our actions. The parable of the Wedding Banquet emphasizes the actions that are needed: the invitation and welcome of others who in our society would often be left out. The Samaritan woman went from the well to go tell everyone to make sure they knew the good news of the Messiah. So we, too, must go and live into the good news by our actions of invitation, welcome, hospitality, and kindness.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7a, 3)
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
O come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For the LORD is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture,
And the sheep of God’s hand.
O come, let us worship our God,
For the LORD is a great God, who reigns over all.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Gracious and Kind God, we confess that we do not extend the same hospitality You have shown us. We avert our eyes from those in need on the streets. We drive by the neighborhoods that are run down without considering our impact. We may take notice of the food deserts and redlining in our cities but feel powerless to do anything. God, call us away from our comfortable ignorance and into the work of radical hospitality, in which we remember our interconnectedness and cannot deny our interdependence. Guide us into Your ways of living out of gratitude and sharing our resources with others. Lead us to listen to those most impacted and marginalized so that we do not center ourselves but truly help transform lives for the better, for those that need the most. In the name of the one who shows us the way, the truth, and the life, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Romans 5:1-2)
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
May we know God’s peace in our hearts and extend God’s peace to one another, in word and deed. May we know the love of God that surpasses all understanding and share that love to those most in need around us. May we understand the call of Christ to forgive as we are forgiven, to rebuild and restore what has been broken, and to live into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

God of Transformation, as we near the edge of winter into spring in the north, and summer into fall in the south of the world, we know that You make all things new. The world is about to become bright and beautiful, but we cannot see it yet. In our own lives we may be facing struggles and challenges that dim our worldview. Remind us, O Loving One, that even if we cannot envision the bright boldness of life in the world, we can trust in the promises You have made us. We know that Your love is beyond measure, Your greatness far beyond what we can imagine. And You will transform this time for us: if it is of bleakness, You will bring light. It is of shadow, You will bring hope. If it is of mourning, You will bring dancing. Even if we cannot comprehend joy in this time, we know it will return, for You are a God worthy of praise and glory, and You have made us in Your image, awesome and wonderful. We pray in Your name, now and always. Amen.

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