Worship Resources for May 16th, 2021—Ascension Sunday, Seventh Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Narrative Lectionary: One in Christ, Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 (Luke 1:68-79)

Acts 1:1-11 contains the first of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension (the first is the gospel lesson, Luke 24:44-53). In this version in Acts, the author of Luke begins with a similar introduction to the Gospel in his name, speaking of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, in which Jesus “presented many convincing proofs” and stayed with the disciples for 40 days. Jesus speaks to the disciples before his ascension that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit soon. The disciples, however, ask the question about the kingdom being restored to Israel. It seems they are still focused on worldly concerns. Jesus tells them it is not for them to know, but they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Two angels ask them why they are still looking up toward heaven, for Jesus will return in the same way they saw him go. In other words, Jesus has told them what is to happen soon, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and they are to go to the ends of the earth—not stuck, staring up at nothing.

Psalm 47 is a song calling the congregation to praise God. God chose the people to be God’s heritage. God is the one who reigns over all the nations of the earth, and the people praise God as their king.

Psalm 93 is similar to psalm 47, belonging to a group of psalms that are songs of praise for God who is the people’s king, the ruler over all the earth’s nations. In this psalm, God also rules over creation, and God is greater than the roaring floodwaters. Creation praises God, who is everlasting and reigns from ancient times. The psalmist concludes by proclaiming God’s law as trustworthy and true.

In the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, the writer (purporting to be Paul) prays for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” for those coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord. The writer declares that Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and all power and authority and dominion falls under his feet. Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, and the fullness of Christ is known through the church.

In Luke’s first account of the ascension of Jesus, Jesus explains the scriptures from the Torah, prophets, and writings, so that the disciples understand who he is as the Messiah, that he was to suffer and die and on the third day rise. The disciples are witnesses of what Jesus has done, and Jesus tells them to wait until they have “been clothed with power from on high” (received the Holy Spirit). In this account, as he was blessing them, he withdrew to heaven and the disciples returned to the temple in Jerusalem to praise God.

For the seventh Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary readings also begin in Acts 1, just a few verses later, when Peter speaks in front of the gathered believers. At this time, there are only one hundred twenty left. Peter declares that they need someone to replace Judas. Two names were brought forward, and they cast lots. Matthias was chosen to be added to the disciples to be among the twelve (and Matthias is not mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures).

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm, reminding the listener/reader that those who meditate on God’s instructions and find delight into living into God’s ways are blessed and happy, trees who are nourished by streams of water. Those who are foolish and wicked are like chaff blown about in the wind and will not stand in the congregation of the faithful. God watches over those who live into God’s ways; the foolish will fall away.

The Revised Common Lectionary concludes its epistle series of 1 John with 5:9-13. Those who believe in the Son have testimony in their hearts: God’s love. God’s testimony is greater than human testimony. The testimony is this: God has given us eternal life that is found in Jesus. Whoever has Jesus has life, and whoever does not have the Son of God in their life does not have this life. The writer states this so that those who have Jesus in their life will know that they have eternal life.

Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17:6-19. He prays for God’s protection to be with them as he is returning to God. Jesus prays that they would be one, as he is one with God. Jesus has sent them out into the world with God’s word, and the world has hated them, but they do not belong to the world, they belong to God. However, Jesus prays that they might be sanctified in truth and protected, for he knows his own betrayal, arrest, and death are coming.

The Narrative Lectionary continues in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he turns his attention to the members of the church, who are Gentiles but have been led astray believing they were not fully included. Paul’s argument is that faith is what makes a believer part of God’s family. Faith is what makes a believer a descendant of Abraham, not blood. In vs. 23-29, Paul declares that all who believe belong to Christ, and therefore are heirs of the promise given through God’s covenant to Abraham. There is no division or distinction between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male or female—any division created on earth dissolves in the new creation in Christ.

The secondary passage is from Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:68-79. Zechariah, who was unable to speak until his son John was born, now sings this song praising God who has raised up a mighty savior, one who fulfills the covenant promised to Abraham. To his own son, Zechariah sings that he will be the prophet of the Most High, the one who goes before the Messiah to prepare the way. Salvation comes to the people through the forgiveness of their sins, and they will be guided into the way of peace.

The ascension of Jesus is a funny story to tell, because it’s based on an outdated understanding of heaven above the earth—and yet, that’s exactly the point the angels make when they ask the “men of Galilee” why they are standing around looking up? They’re supposed to do Christ’s work on earth. Christ has told them what to do: not to spend time worrying about worldly things such as when the kingdom will be restored, but living into God’s beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Later, the disciples will learn that this new beloved community is made up of all of God’s people, Jew and Gentile and everyone. Paul will go from, in his own words, being a Pharisee to one of the strongest voices for Gentile inclusion in the early church, that it is faith that makes us God’s people, heirs of the promise of Abraham. Belief in Jesus is what is required, and Jesus requires us to go and share the good news, God’s love for the world, with all; for Christ is at work in us now.

Call to Worship
We worship God, who created the heavens and earth,
God’s reign endures forever.
We follow Jesus, who made God’s love known to us,
Through his life, death, and resurrection
We listen for the Holy Spirit, who breathes in us,
And grants us wisdom and insight.
Come, worship our God together,
Celebrate all the ways God is made known to you, now.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that at times we are stuck. We are unable to move forward, and only can look back on what once was. We wonder where You are leading us, as it seems we are alone. Help us to become unstuck. Help us to move by faith, to trust that You are with us, guiding us along the way. Call to us so we will follow Your ways. Encourage us to live into hope instead of frozen in fear. Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, help us in this journey of life and faith, now and always. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Know that the peace of God is with you. You are loved by God. Sink into that knowledge, and allow God’s wisdom and insight to fill your mind so that you might live into faith. Go in peace. Amen.

Prayer
God of Resurrection, we are grateful that the new life You have promised through Jesus Christ is made known to us now. We rejoice that we are a resurrection people, and that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from Your love. At times we have become complacent with the worldly life of our own making, but You are the creator of heavens and earth. We rejoice, because You are the one who made us and makes us new! Help us to leave behind the ways of this world and live into Your ways of restoration: love, justice, mercy, and peace. Amen and Amen.

Worship Resources for May 9th, 2021—Sixth Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Narrative Lectionary: Living by Faith, Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 (Luke 18:9-14)

Following Peter’s bold declaration that God shows no partiality in the preceding pages, after meeting Cornelius the Centurion, the Jewish followers of Jesus were amazed at the Holy Spirit working through Gentile believers in Acts 10:44-48. The Holy Spirit showed Peter and others that there ought to be no prevention of baptizing anyone with the Holy Spirit, and Peter orders them to be baptized. Baptism becomes the symbol of conversion of faith, not circumcision, in the account of the early church in Acts.

Psalm 98 is a song of praise after battle. The people have survived and are victorious, and the psalmist invokes images of the Exodus. All of creation sings praises to God, and the psalmist calls upon the people to make music to God with their instruments and voices, and creation to clap with the floods and for the hills to sing. God is the one who judges the earth, and the people with equity.

The writer of 1 John reminds the reader/listener that they are children of God and that they are called to love one another. The love of God is to live out the commandments of God, for God is love, and faith conquers the world. The writer alludes to a sort of trinity of birth: water, blood, and Spirit. The waters of birth and baptism, the blood of birth and sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of who Jesus is, the Son of God.

In Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples in John 15:9-17, Jesus leaves them with his commandment: that they love one another. Our joy is complete because God’s joy is in us when we love one another. If we love one another, we are Christ’s friends. We are no longer called servants because we willfully fulfill the commandments. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another, and that love is exemplified in Jesus. Jesus chose the disciples, and chooses us, and appoints us to bear fruit in this world by loving one another.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:13-17 and 2:11-21. Paul shared his experience of the Son of God being revealed to him when he was trying to destroy the church. In his own words, he was “far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” Paul understood this revelation of Jesus as a call by God to proclaim Chris to the Gentiles. Skipping ahead to 2:11, Paul wrote about the hypocrisy he experienced. He himself was a Jew and was appalled that Cephas (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles but stopped after members from the Jerusalem church sent by James came to visit, keeping up a tradition of separating themselves from Gentiles who were considered unclean under the law. This is not the true Gospel that Paul knew through Jesus Christ. In Paul’s view, if the law was enough for salvation, Christ died for nothing, for justification comes through faith in Christ.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed out loud, using his prayer as a time to boast of everything he had done and compared himself to others, that he was better than even the tax collector. The tax collector, however, beat his chest and simply prayed for God to have mercy on him. Jesus declared the tax collector, in his humility, went home justified more than the Pharisee in his boasting.

Any religious tradition can turn into an insider’s club. While in Christian scriptures we read of Jesus and Paul calling out those who adhered to the law in ways that were restrictive of others, Christians have done the same thing. We have been concerned about church membership instead of inviting others into the life of Christ. We have created hurdles to becoming a member of the beloved community instead of recognizing that everyone is a child of God. When the Ethiopian Eunuch declares, “Look, there is water! What is to prevent me from becoming baptized?” those of us inside church life might ask, “What are we doing to prevent others from joining into the life Christ has promised?” When those with Peter were amazed that Gentile believers had the Holy Spirit, Peter ordered the Gentile believers to be baptized. If the Spirit is present, who are we to try to stop God?

Call to Worship (from John 15:9-12)
As God our Parent has loved us, so Christ has loved you;
Abide in Christ’s love.
If you keep Christ’s commandments,
We will abide in Christ’s love.
Christ said these things to us so that God’s joy may be in you,
And that our joy may be complete.
This is Christ’s commandment:
That we love one another as Christ has loved us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Breaks Open, we confess that we have closed in, boarded up, and cut ourselves off from others. We have made churches into boxes that only allow certain people in, all while stating that we welcome everyone. We’ve placed requirements on people who need help, that they prove it to us first, that they show us their need, their vulnerability, while we hold the power. Forgive us, O God, for we might not recognize Jesus if he came to us. Forgive us, O God, for not being open to the power of the Spirit that blows through windows and doors. Forgive us, O God, for hardening our hearts. Open unto us Your love and forgiveness. Break open our hardened hearts to receive one another graciously. Break us open, O God, to Your ways, made known to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Our God is the God of dawn, the God of breaking open, the God of the empty tomb. Our God continues to do a new thing that springs forth—can you not perceive it? You are made new. You are loved. You are forgiven. Go and share the good news, that God is making all things new.

Prayer
Parent God, You are the one Jesus called Abba. You are the one who has nurtured and cared for us as a good parent. You call us as midwifes to aid what You are bringing forth. Mother, Father, Parent, Abba: Your love knows no bounds, and we are all Your children. We thank You and praise You, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us to grow in Your love, to live out Your commandment through the Son to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to continue to hold holy Your image in all of us, which is love. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 2nd, 2021—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Council at Jerusalem, Acts 15:1-18 (Luke 2:29-32)

The reading from Acts beginning the Revised Common Lectionary is the same as last week’s selection from the Narrative Lectionary about the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip was told by an angel to go south of Jerusalem, and on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, who was a eunuch. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home, reading from the prophet Isaiah. There were non-Jews who believed there was one God, and who read and studied the scriptures. Non-Jews were allowed to worship in the outer court of the temple, but not all were able to convert. A eunuch would have been prevented by tradition. Instead, Philip explained the passage of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:7-8 and interpreted it through the lens of Jesus. When they found water near the road, the eunuch asked Philip what was preventing him from being baptized, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch was one of the first converts, and church tradition holds he was the first missionary to Africa.

(As I shared last week: we must know that Jewish tradition has long interpreted the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah as referring to the people of Israel and their suffering in exile. Early Christians, who were Jewish, resonated with those passages because of what they had witnessed Jesus experience in his death on the cross. We can hold both interpretations as Christians, in our struggle to understand Jesus’ suffering, as the people of Israel were challenged to find meaning in their suffering, as long as we do not erase the experience of Israel.)

The end portion of Psalm 22, a prayer for help, turns to praise in verses 25-31. God has remained faithful despite the hardships the psalmist has faced, and the psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, vowing to declare God’s goodness before the congregation. God is the one who has dominion over all the nations, over the earth. Even the dead are part of God’s congregation of praise, and those living shall live for God, even the generations yet to come.

The writer of 1 John declares that God is love in 1 John 4:7-21. If you know love, you know God, and if you do not love, you do not know God. God’s love was revealed through God’s Son, and he has called us to love one another. No one has seen God, but we know God through the love we have for one another—that is how God is made known to us. We love because God first loved us. “Fear has to do with punishment” the writer declares, but love casts away fear. There is no fear in love. Note that this is not the same use of “fear” as often in used in the term “fear of God,” for that word fear in the Hebrew scriptures might be better translated as “trembling awe.” Instead, perfect love from God as known through Jesus is not about a fear of hell or punishment, but instead mirroring the image of God’s love in us. If we do not love our neighbors, we do not love God, for this is God’s commandment through Christ. If we cannot love those we have seen (or known by other senses), we cannot love God whom we have never seen.

Jesus uses the example of being a vine and we are the vine branches in John 15:1-8. God is the vine-grower, and through Christ we are called to bear fruit. We cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in the true vine, which is Jesus. Branches that do not bear fruit are useless. We must live out our faith, otherwise, we are useless branches.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Council in Jerusalem as told by Luke in Acts 15:1-18; however, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a different account of the event. Luke’s account in Acts gives a more favorable view to Peter of what happened in the controversy surrounding whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas came bringing good news of conversions of Gentiles, but some of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem believed that the Gentiles must fulfill the law of Moses. Peter describes this action as placing a yoke upon the Gentiles backs that neither they nor their ancestors were able to fulfill (vs. 10), and that it is Christ who saves, not the actions of people. James agrees with Peter in that the fulfillment of scripture is to include the Gentiles as they are, remembering Simeon, who gave a blessing for Jesus in Luke 2:32. This contrasts with Paul’s version of events in Galatians 2, that Peter used to eat with the Gentile believers, but once James and others came from the church in Jerusalem, he stopped, and would not eat with Gentiles. Paul calls out Peter’s actions in Galatians.

The blessing of Simeon in Luke 2:29-32 foretells that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” James reminded the Christians gathered at the Jerusalem Council of this blessing during their question of how to welcome in the Gentile converts.

Love calls us away from drawing borders and building walls, to erasing lines and building bridges. Loving one another calls us to see the burdens we have placed on others that excludes them: the burdens of racism, sexism, ableism, the burdens of homophobia and transphobia. Perfect love casts out fear, and the love we know of God calls us to grow beyond what we have known ourselves. When we grow, we bear fruit. When we include others, we extend the love of God beyond what we have experienced. For God is love, and we cannot love God unless we grow and expand our love for one another.

Call to Worship (from 1 John 4:7-8, 11-12)
Beloved, let us love one another,
Because love is from God;
Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
We also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another,
God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.
Come, worship God, who is love,
And follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, we confess that we have not loved as we ought. We have used love as if it was to be hoarded rather than shared freely. We have set limits on something that not ought to have borders. We have guarded how we love others instead of sharing Your grace. Forgive us for not loving as You have first loved us—without condition. Forgive us for determining who is and who is not worthy of love, when You are Love. Forgive us for not following the example of our Savior, who became last of all and servant of all, who laid down his life for us all in the name of love. Call us into Your way, that by caring for the most vulnerable, we care for all. By loving those who are different than us, we love ourselves best. By sharing in this love, we reflect Your image in us. In the name of Jesus Christ, who came to us in the name of love, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The steadfast love of God endures forever. There is no limit to God’s grace. You are God’s beloved. You are forgiven and restored. Love one another deeply as God has loved you, and you will know the peace of Christ in your hearts. Amen.

Prayer
Author of Life, You have written love into the beginning of our stories. You have written love into the blood that flows in our veins, into our very DNA, for we are made in Your image and You are love. We have strayed from the story You intended for us, so help us find our way back. Open our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to seek Your wisdom and to grow beyond what we know. Open our lives to recognize that Your Beloved Community is beyond the people of our family unit, beyond our friends and neighbors and churches, but the whole world. Help us to live into ways that sustain and nourish this planet and all Your children, and remind us that You are the Author of our lives, in whom we find our beginning and ending. Amen.

Relief and Grief: A Prayer

God of our ancestors,

We cry out in lament.

There is no justice when life is lost, for it cannot be replaced.

There is no accountability when one police officer is taken away to prison while another shoots and kills a young Black girl.

There is no equality when time and again it is Black bodies who suffer en masse.

There is no sacrifice.

There is a brief moment of relief, the release that our senses did not deceive us and what we heard and saw and felt was real and Black voices were believed.

For once.

Not for always.

Until there are no more murders of Black bodies by police officers, there is no justice.

Only grief.

God of our ancestors, hear our prayer.

Call us into repentance.

May we seek not to repair a broken system but to dismantle and build something new

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
Amen and Amen.

And God of our Ancestors, an addendum:

For those of us who are white, O God Almighty, call us into accountability. Open us to our privilege.

Convict us when we easily join in protesting one day and take a day off the next because it’s too much for us, when it doesn’t cost us anything, and costs our Black neighbors everything.

Hold us responsible for our complicity in systems of sin.

Guide us into the work of justice and help us to listen to our Black and Indigenous neighbors, whose labor we have exploited and land and voices we have stolen.

Move us into the work of reparation.

For You, our Savior, came to us from an oppressed people, dying on the instrument of the empire’s criminal justice system, and overcame sin, death, and hell through Your resurrection. If we do not understand the power of the system, the power of sin and death, the power of hell on earth, we will never understand what our neighbors go through.

Convict us, O God, and send us into this holy work, even when it is painful for us to understand and accept our role in this. Even when we want to deny we are racist, convict us, O God.

For only through repentance and reparation will we know Your kingdom. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 25th, 2021—Fourth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Narrative Lectionary: Ethiopian Eunuch Baptized, Acts 8:26-39 (Luke 24:44-47)

The selection in Acts is a continuation of the same story from the previous week. Peter and John, after healing a man who used to beg at the temple gate, and after speaking to the people at Solomon’s Portico on the east side of the temple after that miracle, were arrested and held until the next day. They came before the high priest and his family and questioned them about the healing miracle. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke to all assembled, recognizing that he and John were arrested because they did something good. He answered their question about the power behind the miracle: the man who used to beg stood before them was healed by the name of Jesus Christ, the one crucified and now raised from the dead. Peter concluded with quoting Psalm 118:22, which Jesus quoted when he was questioned in the temple, and Peter declared salvation is found in no other name.

The shepherd’s psalm of Psalm 23 has long been attributed to David and understood as a song of comfort in the face of death. God is the shepherd who leads the faithful, the sheep, to safety and security, restoring those who are downtrodden. Even in the face of death (the valley of the shadow), the shepherd comforts the sheep, their rod and staff are there for protection and assurance. Switching metaphors, the psalmist understands God as the one who justifies those who have been wronged, preparing a banquet table and anointing the faithful before their enemies. The psalm concludes with a blessing of goodness and mercy for all the life of the faithful, and that they will live with God forever.

This section of 1 John 3:16-24 echoes John 15:12-13, that one who loves lays down their life for their friends. There is no greater love than this, for Christ laid down his life for us. Love must be lived out, to meet the needs of others. Lived-out love is greater than words. Our hearts will let us know when we’ve let down one another, but God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. God will forgive us and restore us to the work of loving one another. For the commandment that the faithful must obey is to believe in Jesus Christ, and to love one another.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd in John 10:11-18, the one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand runs away when the wolf comes, but the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep and knows them. The Good Shepherd knows there are sheep not of this fold but will bring them together (alluding to Gentiles). In John’s account, no one has the power to take Jesus’ life—only Jesus has the power to give it up, and Jesus does so by laying down his life for all, so that life may be taken up again.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Philip was told by an angel to go south of Jerusalem, and on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, who was a eunuch. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home, reading from the prophet Isaiah. There were non-Jews who believed there was one God, and who read and studied the scriptures. Non-Jews were allowed to worship in the outer court of the temple, but not all were able to convert. A eunuch would have been prevented by tradition. Instead, Philip explained the passage of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:7-8 and interpreted it through the lens of Jesus. When they found water near the road, the eunuch asked Philip what was preventing him from being baptized, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch was one of the first converts, and church tradition holds he was the first missionary to Africa.

Luke 24:44-47 contains Luke’s account of Jesus explaining that the proclamation of what he has done must be shared with all nations. Jesus, in this passage, also interpreted the scriptures, especially the prophets, to the disciples, specifically the passages about suffering.

For the Narrative Lectionary, we must know that Jewish tradition has long interpreted the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah as referring to the people of Israel and their suffering in exile. Early Christians, who were Jewish, resonated with those passages because of what they had witnessed Jesus experience in his death on the cross. We can hold both interpretations as Christians, in our struggle to understand Jesus’ suffering, as the people of Israel were challenged to find meaning in their suffering, as long as we do not erase the experience of Israel.

The teaching of Christ to lay down one’s life for another is the greatest act of love: to set aside our own desires to meet the needs of others. 1 John 3 teaches us we cannot be faithful to Christ if we do not meet the needs of others who are suffering. The love from Christ is meant to be an example in how we love one another. Our faith is lived out, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). Jesus’ love for us not only saves us in his laying down his life and dying for us, but in that it transforms us to do the same for others. If it doesn’t transform us, then it is meaningless.

Call to Worship
The call of Christ is this:
Love one another.
The law and the prophets teach this:
Love one another.
The world calls us to fulfill our desires,
But Christ commands us to love one another.
We do this best not in word or speech,
But in truth and action.
Beloved, let us love one another,
For Christ first loved us.
Come, worship God, who is Love.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we fail to love one another, because we love the things of this world more. We love having possessions, because they make us feel valued. The more possessions we have, the more we feel safe and secure. We worry that we will not have enough, while others go hungry and homeless. Forgive us for being possessed by our possessions. Forgive us for turning to wealth instead of love. Call us back into Your commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we live this out, we know there will be enough for everyone, for You have provided an abundant Earth for us all. Call us into mutual love, understanding, and care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
When our hearts condemn us for failing to love one another, we remember that God is greater than our hearts. God knows us, and loves us still, and forgives us for our shortcomings. You are forgiven. Extend that same grace and forgiveness to others. You are loved, so share this love with one another. You have no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
God of Love, we mistake many things in this world for love. We still worship idols, believing that having more is a symbol of blessing and love. We envy the wealthy, believing they have all happiness. We look to those who are famous, believing if they take notice of us, it is love. Call us into the truth of love: the heartbreaking work to make sure one another’s needs are met. For if we all lay down our lives for one another, not a one will be forgotten and left out. If we all love one another, all needs can be cared for. If we all love one another, we know Your love is present with us. Fill us with Your love and call us into this work of mutual care and understanding. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 18th, 2021—Third Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Narrative Lectionary: Stephen’s Witness, Acts 6:1-7:2a, 44-60 (Luke 24:33-34a, 46)

For the Revised Common Lectionary in the season of Easter, passages from Acts replace the Hebrew Scriptures lesson. In Acts 3, soon after Pentecost, Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of the afternoon prayer and encountered a man, who couldn’t walk from birth, being carried in. He would beg from the temple gates every day, because in that time, if you were disabled, the only way you could survive was to beg. However, Peter called out to the man and told him to look at him and John, then told him in the name of Jesus to stand up and walk. The man leaped up, praising God, and all the people recognized him and were amazed. In vs. 12, Peter addressed the people, declaring they didn’t heal the man, but it was Jesus. He continues sharing that Jesus was the servant of the God of their ancestors, the very one rejected by the people and crucified by Pilate, while a true criminal was released. Peter assures the crowd that they can repent and turn to God so their sins may be wiped away, for God fulfilled what had been foretold through the prophets about the Messiah, according to Peter.

The psalmist cries out for God to answer their prayer in Psalm 4. The psalmist addresses the ones who have spoken against them, who have gossiped and lied. God is with the faithful, the psalmist sings, and God hears the psalmist’s prayers. They instruct their enemies to turn to God’s ways instead. The psalmist knows that the faithless are still seeking, but as a faithful one, the psalmist rests assured in God’s presence and safety.

The writer of 1 John speaks of the love God has for all of us who are faithful, all of us called children of God in 3:1-7. We are God’s children now, but are to become something new, something yet to be revealed. We live into this hope, so we live into God’s ways. Everyone who lives into God’s ways is righteous, for that is right-living. Sin, however, deceives us, leading us astray; but in Christ there is no sin, for Christ removes our sin. Instead, we are called to flee from sin, and live into God’s ways.

The resurrection account continues in Luke in 24:36b-48. Jesus appeared before the disciples, and they were frightened. Jesus shows them his hands and feet (similar to John 20:19-31). The disciples, while full of joy, continue to struggle with their doubts and disbelief, but Jesus asks them for something to eat, and has some broiled fish (similar to John 21). Repeating the discourse with the two travelers on the road to Emmaus in 24:13-35, Jesus goes through the scriptures with the disciples, to understand that the Messiah was to suffer and die, and on the third day rise again. The disciples are witnesses of his death and resurrection, and the proclamation of repentance of forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. They are called to go forth from Jerusalem to proclaim what they have seen and heard.

The Narrative Lectionary moves away from the resurrection accounts to the early church, and its first martyr after Jesus: the apostle Stephen, who began his ministry serving the Greek widows among them, after a controversy in which only the Hebrew widows were being cared for. However, when Stephen’s reputation grew, some members of a synagogue in Jerusalem made up of immigrants from outside of Jerusalem accused Stephen of speaking against Moses and God, so Stephen was arrested on the false charge that he said Jesus would destroy the temple. Stephen explained himself, testifying that the temple was built by Solomon through God’s instruction. However, Stephen also said that God does not dwell in houses made by human hands, quoting the prophet Isaiah, and accused those charging him of not keeping God’s ways. The council became angry, but when Stephen shared the vision he beheld of Jesus standing with God, that was too far. Stephen was stoned to death, but before he died, he called for God to not hold the sin against the people.

In Luke 23:33-34a, Jesus calls upon God to forgive the people who are crucifying him, for they know not what they are doing, and in verse 46, Jesus prays to God, giving up his spirit. Stephen echoes these same acts in his martyrdom.

Both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary respond to the question of how do we witness to the resurrection of Christ in our lives? How do we experience the risen Christ? Peter declares the risen Christ in every good act he accomplishes, even if it gets him into trouble. Stephen, participating in the ministry he was appointed to, boldly declares who his savior is, even if what he says defies what others teach to the point of his own death. Jesus, in Luke’s account, appears to the disciples, and though he asks them why they still have doubts in their hearts, he understands that they still harbor some unbelief and questions, even in the midst of their joy. Instead, Jesus leads them through the scriptures, to connect his own death and resurrection with the greater narrative of God’s story. This is how we live out our witness: declaring that new life is available, here and now, as Peter did to the man begging at the temple gate. We live out the new life, here and now, by serving the most vulnerable among us like Stephen did. We live into the new life, here and now, despite our doubts and questions, by assurance through the scriptures of who Jesus is and the faith that our sins are forgiven.

Call to Worship
The Good News is proclaimed to the world!
We are witnesses of these things.
Hope is Alive, in the acts of kindness we share with one another;
We are witnesses of these things.
Joy is palpable, in the celebration of the Risen Christ!
We are witnesses of these things.
Your sins are forgiven, and you have new life, now and always—
We are witnesses of these things.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we lose faith. We become comfortable with the things wrong in this world. We become content with systemic sin when it benefits us. We accept that there are things we cannot change without striving for justice. Forgive us. Call us back into right-living: to remember the commandments, to work for justice in loving-kindness, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Remind us that Your way of life is not simply a ticket to heaven but a transformation of our very selves. Forgive us of our sins, and love us into Your way. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Repentance and forgiveness of sins have been proclaimed in the name of Jesus throughout the world. Hear the good news! Your sins are forgiven. Yes, you too! You are very much loved by God, and God desires for you to live into the way exampled by Christ, to become last of all, servant of all, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Repent, and turn back to God, and know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

Prayer
God of Holy Wisdom, guide us in this season of Easter to proclaim Your Good News in all we do, as well as what we say. Lead us in the ways of Your loving-kindness. Remind us to ponder the scriptures and reflect on Your teaching. Open our hearts to receive what You have to share with us. Show us how to live into Your ways of justice and mercy. May Your wisdom be apparent in our lives, living into the Gospel as a way of life, rather than simply what we preach. Spirit of Wisdom, remain in us, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 11th, 2021—Second Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Emmaus Road, Luke 24:13-35 (Psalm 30)

During the season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary uses selections from the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Hebrew Scripture reading. The early church, in the days after Pentecost, came together through the Holy Spirit and shared all that they had. Reflecting Acts 2:42-47, the early believers brought everything they had to hold in common, not claiming private ownership of anything. No one went hungry or in need, because everyone cared for each other. This sense of communal responsibility, however, was short lived. In the following chapter, two early leaders held back some of their property and lied about it, and Paul wrote to the church in Corinth because of the abuses at the Lord’s table, where some feasted and some went hungry. However, this was the ideal, and the hope, and how the Holy Spirit moved the people to live and care together.

Psalm 133 is a brief psalm, perhaps shared at a wedding: a blessing when family comes together and lives in harmony. It is like an anointing from God, the way the priest Aaron was anointed with oil, or the way God refreshes the hillsides with dew. When family joins together and lives in unity, it is a blessing ordained by God.

The letter of 1 John begins with the writer’s intentions: to testify to the life revealed in Jesus Christ. From the same community as the author of John’s gospel account, the writer uses the same imagery as John’s gospel in identifying Jesus and God with light. The writer addresses their audience by beginning with confession: we cannot be in community with one another when we participate in sin. If we say we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves. Instead, if we come before Christ and confess our sins, we will receive forgiveness. For Jesus came as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and we have an advocate in Christ and in God the Father.

John’s account of the resurrection continues in 20:19-31. On the evening of the same day that the tomb was found empty, the disciples had gathered together in fear of some of the religious leaders (we must be careful to read and interpret John’s account, knowing that the disciples, Jesus, and the writer of John were all Jewish as well). Jesus appeared before them, the first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection besides Mary—except Thomas wasn’t with them. It’s important to follow Thomas’ story. Back in chapter 11, he is ready to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. However, by chapter 14, Thomas is unsure of what Jesus is saying. When Jesus tells them they know the way, Thomas argues they do not know the way. Jesus then tells them that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Thomas started off as a strong, faithful disciple, but grew uncertain and questioned what Jesus said. And it’s only after a second appearance that Thomas believes. Jesus then declares that those who have not seen but have come to believe are blessed—an indication to the reader/listener who has not seen the risen Christ that it is more blessed to believe without seeing.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of the resurrection, which also continues in Luke 24:13-35. Two travelers leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus encounter a stranger, who seems to not know what has happened in Jerusalem. After the two explain to the stranger why they are dismayed after Jesus was killed, the traveler explains to them how foolish they are for not believing and understanding the scripture. Near the end of the day, when they reach Emmaus, the two urge the stranger to stay with him, and as they prepare to eat, the stranger takes bread and breaks it—and then they recognize Jesus, but he vanishes from their sight. They travel all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples. The other disciples share that Jesus has appeared to Simon Peter. The two travelers tell the others what happened, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Psalm 30 is a song of praise for God who has saved the psalmist from impending death. Though death and mourning seemed a certainty, God’s faithfulness led to joy and redemption. God turned the psalmist’s mourning into dancing and answered the prayer of the faithful servant.

In these Sundays after Easter, we have to move from the amazing glory and awe of the resurrection into how we experience the risen Christ in our own daily lives. In the breaking of the bread. In the unexpected guest. In finding joy again after a period of mourning. In our enduring faith, even when things are hard, that the risen Christ is among us, and calls us to continue to tell the story.

Call to Worship
In our uncertainty,
Christ goes before us.
In our doubts,
Christ remains with us.
In our fear,
Christ surrounds us.
In our hope,
Christ is within us.
In this time of worship
We strive to follow Jesus, who leads us into life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Faithful One, we confess our questions, our struggles, and our doubts. We know that You do not condemn us for this, but sometimes we feel bad. We wish our faith was stronger. We wish we had more certainty, or needed less of it. However, You love us unconditionally, and You have encouraged us to ask questions and to seek deeper meanings. Remind us that You continue to be with us in our journey of faith, through our doubts and uncertainty. You are the one who leads us in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Through Jesus Christ we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Lamentations 3:22-23)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” God’s steadfast love never ends. God loves you, right now, and will always love you. There is no place you can hide, no place you can get lost, where God will not be with you. You are loved, forgiven, and restored. Live into God’s ways, knowing that you can’t shake God from you, so learn to live with God. Amen.

Prayer
Everlasting God, we struggle with time. There is never enough, it is always fleeting, and moments we dread still last too long. Help us to understand Your time is not chronos, chronological time, but Kairos time, a time out of time. Help us to live into Kairos moments, where we stop looking at our phones and our watches and instead live into that space, breathing deep Your spirit, being thankful for those present and for what we have. Call us into Your pace of life, and help us to find Your rhythm, where we let go of busy-ness and instead live into Your sabbath gift. In the name of Christ, who called us to live differently, to become last of all, servant of all, to love one another and to live as Your children, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 4th, 2021—Easter Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Resurrection, Luke 24:1-12 (Psalm 118:17, 21-24)

Throughout the Easter season, the Hebrew scripture selection is often replaced with a reading from Acts in the Revised Common Lectionary. We begin with Peter’s confession to the Roman centurion Cornelius, as Peter understands that Jesus came for all people, Jewish and Gentile. Peter tells Cornelius how Jesus, anointed with the Holy Spirit, healed and freed the oppressed, and how Peter and others were witnesses to all he dead, including his death. God raised Jesus on the third day, and he appeared to those who were called by God as witnesses and commanded those witnesses to preach and tell others that Jesus is the one ordained by God to judge the living and the dead. All who believe have forgiveness of sins through the name of Christ.

The alternative passage is from Isaiah 25:6-9, the prophet’s vision of the great heavenly banquet table where all people will gather for a feast with rich foods and well-aged wines. On that day, death will be swallowed up forever, and there will be no more grief and sorrow, for God is their salvation.

As with Palm Sunday, the psalm reading is from 118, overlapping a bit with last week’s reading with verses 1-2 and 14-24. This different selection covers how God is the people’s salvation, and the psalmist’s declaration that they shall not die but live. Though Israel has suffered punishment, they have survived. The gates of the temple, the gates of righteousness are opened, and the people who were rejected by the world are the foundation of God’s covenant. God is the people’s salvation, and they will rejoice.

The Epistle selection is either the reading from Acts 10:34-43 (see above) or 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth that has suffered deep division within itself and calling for reconciliation. This was a church divided by economic standing, by a hierarchal understanding in spiritual gifts, and by which human leader of the church they followed. Paul’s argument is that they are one body in Christ. In chapter 15, Paul declares what ought to unify them: that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples, to his brother James and the apostles, and to many others, and then to Paul, who persecuted the church. However, even Paul was called to proclaim the good news by the grace of God. It does not matter who you are, God called believers to proclaim the good news in Jesus Christ, not in any human authority.

In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found it empty. She told Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, and they both ran to the tomb. Peter saw the empty tomb and the linen wrappings, but the other disciple saw after him and believed. However, they both returned to their homes, leaving Mary behind. Mary, in her grief, sees two angels in the tomb but is concerned that Jesus’ body has been taken away. She then mistakes someone for being the gardener, but when he calls her name, she immediately recognizes Jesus, calling him Teacher. Mary followed Jesus’ instructions, and told the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mark’s account of the resurrection, according to scholars, is the earliest, and it’s also the shortest. Because it is so brief, and ends with no sighting of Jesus, there are later additional endings in most of our Bibles. In Mark’s account, the sun had already risen but it was early, and Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to the tomb, wondering who might be up to roll the stone back from the tomb so they could anoint Jesus’ body. However, when they arrived, they found the stone was already rolled back. They enter the tomb and discover a man dressed in white, who tells them “don’t be alarmed.” Jesus isn’t there, he has been raised. The two women are told to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, but they flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone. The rest of the story is left to us, to know that at some point, their fear left them, and they did go tell others.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Luke’s account of the resurrection, which takes place at “early dawn.” The women who followed Jesus from Galilee, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others went to the tomb, and found the stone rolled away, but the body missing. They saw two men in dazzling clothes, who asked them why they looked for the living among the dead. Then, they remembered Jesus’ words, and went and told the remaining disciples. The men didn’t believe them. Verse 12, which some ancient authorities do not contain, gives Peter the benefit of the doubt that he at least looked inside the tomb, and went home amazed at what happened.

The Narrative Lectionary’s scope for Psalm 118 is narrower than the Revised Common Lectionary, focusing on verse 17, “I shall not die, but I shall live.” The psalmist is thankful that God has become their salvation, and praises God for making the rejected people the cornerstone, the foundation, of God’s promises for all people. The psalmist calls the people to praise God and be thankful and rejoice, for this is the day God has made.

Focusing on John’s account, we are reminded that grief has a purpose: we are supposed to miss our loved ones when they are gone. There is nothing wrong with us for grieving—it is what we are supposed to do. The resurrection, in all three accounts referenced here, doesn’t immediately bring joy, relief, and wonder. It begins with grief, then invokes fear—but the kind of terror that comes when things are not what we expect. That moment before we recognize that it’s a surprise party and the lights have been turned on. Something incredible, amazing, and unexpected has happened. Before we can comprehend it, we are afraid. We are perplexed. Then we remember, and then we rejoice. It’s the moment in John’s account, when Mary recognizes Jesus’ voice. It’s not immediate joy; it’s first the recognition the surprise has happened. Then it turns to joy, confidence in her witness of the Lord’s resurrection. But for a brief moment, the world was caught, our hearts skipping a beat, before we adjusted to the new reality of what has happened: Christ is Risen!

Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1-2, 23-24)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good!
God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Let the people say,
God’s steadfast love endures forever!
This is God’s doing;
It is marvelous in our sight!
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
For Christ is Risen;
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Life, we are in awe of what You are doing in all of creation and in us. Break open our hearts of stone to perceive Your goodness and mercy. Break open our minds when we have closed ourselves off to the needs of this world. Break open our whole lives, to live into Your created intention for us: to love You and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Break us open, O God, as dawn breaks across the land. In the name of the risen Christ, who broke open the tomb, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Christ is Risen; Christ is Risen Indeed! If Christ can break forth from the tomb, there is nothing that can hold you back. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are set free to love one another in this world. Share the good news of the resurrection, of new life in Christ, now and forevermore. Amen and Amen!

Prayer
God of the Banquet Table, we graciously thank You for the invitation, and we humbly remember that we all have a place at Your table. Help us to make room for those we have forgotten. Help us to move down to let those we have left out have their rightful place. Help us to serve one another. For we know Your vision of life is an eternal one: a full life where all are welcome, and will hunger and thirst no more. Help us to live into Your vision, and to make sure everyone knows they are invited and welcome to Your table. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 28th, 2021—Palm and Passion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Palm Sunday
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

Revised Common Lectionary: Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)

Narrative Lectionary: Triumphal Entry, Luke 19:29-44 (Psalm 118:19-23)

We begin Holy Week with Psalm 118, a song of praise to God, calling the people to worship God in the temple. The psalmist speaks of how God has chosen the people rejected by the world, the chief cornerstone. The psalmist calls upon the congregation to process toward the altar, giving thanks to God with praise and offerings.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem in 11:1-11 portrays Jesus as having entered Jerusalem for the first time. He arrives at Bethpage and Bethany, outside of Jerusalem, for the city is crowded for Passover. Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him to find a colt, and they find one exactly as he said they would, to borrow for a short time. The disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, and Jesus rode on it into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the road like a red carpet rolled out, and cut leafy branches to wave, and shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They called out blessings to the one who came in the name of their Lord, referring to Psalm 118, and the kingdom in the name of their ancestor David. Jesus went to the temple, looked around at everything—for he had not seen it before—and then returned with the disciples to Bethany to stay for the night.

John’s account of Jesus’ entry is much shorter. In John’s account, the people call him the King of Israel, and John links both Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9:9 as prophesying Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey with proclamations from the crowds. But his disciples did not understand everything until after the resurrection.

The Passion readings with the Suffering Servant passage found in Isaiah 50:4-9a. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah personifies Israel as a people who have suffered in exile. Because the people have remained faithful to God, God has taken notice of them, and they will not be put to shame or be disgraced for what has happened to them. God knows their innocence, and God will vindicate the people.

The psalmist has suffered in Psalm 31:9-16. Unlike the Suffering Servant, the one suffering in this psalm has experienced shame and disgrace by their neighbors, who scheme and plot to take the psalmist’s life. Yet the psalmist trusts in God’s deliverance, and they call upon God to save them, for God’s steadfast love endures.

Paul shares the ancient confession of the church—quite possibly a hymn—in Philippians 2:5-11. Paul urged the church in Philippi to be humble like Christ in their dealings with one another, both inside and outside the church. Christ did not take advantage of being the Son of God, but became one of us, humble and obedient as a faithful servant of God, to the point of death on the cross. God raised Jesus so that everyone, at the name of Jesus, would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.

The longer Passion narrative in Mark, from 14:1-15:47, begins two days before the Passover, with the plot to betray Jesus, and the preparation of Jesus for his death. Both threads are found throughout the Passion narrative: some religious leaders plot to kill Jesus; Jesus is anointed as in preparation for burial. Judas betrays Jesus; two days later, the other disciples prepare for the Passover meal and Jesus tells them that one will betray him. Judas asks, “Surely not I, Lord?” and Jesus replies, “Take, this is my body.” In the garden, Peter assures Jesus he will not abandon him; Jesus says before the rooster crows twice Peter will deny him three times. Judas and the others come to arrest Jesus; Jesus reminds them that he was among them day after day, and they did nothing. Jesus is brought to trial and accused of blasphemy; Jesus tells the religious leaders that they will see him seated at the right hand of power. Jesus defends himself in the court; in the courtyard, Peter denies he knew him. Jesus is brought before Pilate but refuses to answer him to stop his execution. Barabbas is released, Jesus is brought to execution. The soldiers mock him, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Jesus accepts the thorn of crowns in silence. The soldiers crucify Jesus; Jesus refuses the wine to ease his pain. They mock and taunt him; Jesus cries out to God. The threads weave their way through the narrative until Jesus is placed in the tomb.

The shorter narrative is only 15:1-39, or through 47, focusing solely on the events of Good Friday after the trial, when Jesus is brought before Pilate. Even though in the Gospel accounts Pilate is portrayed more favorably, he still hands Jesus over to be crucified. Jesus is tortured and killed by the Roman Empire as a criminal. Even though Pilate seems to believe Jesus is innocent, he relents to the crowds and has Jesus crucified. Jesus dies at the hands of the empire, of soldiers who mock him and beat him and deride him. The crowds may have called for his death, but it is the instruments of the empire who cause all the physical harm and kill him. The systems and structures of this world designed to keep the peace, the Pax Romana, killed Jesus.

The Narrative Lectionary follows the Gospel According to Luke, and Jesus’ entry in Luke 19:29-44. Though similar to Mark’s account, there are a few differences. In Luke’s account, besides declaring, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” echoing Psalm 118, Luke also includes, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” an echo back to the Nativity and the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds in 2:14. In Luke’s account, there are Pharisees who warn Jesus to tell his disciples to stop. In Luke 13:31, some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. It seems they are worried of what will happen to Jesus, especially with Pilate in town for the festival. But Jesus famously declares that if the disciples were silent, the stones would shout out.

The Narrative Lectionary also uses Psalm 118:19-23, the psalmist’s call to enter the gates of the temple of God with thanksgiving and praise, and that the ones rejected by the world will become the cornerstone, the foundation of God’s people.

What do you say about Palm Sunday that you haven’t said before? Last year, we thought we would be leaving our isolation, our shut-down, our quarantine within weeks, but it did not happen. This year, we know that the end is coming as vaccinations are on the rise, but for many, we will still be waiting at Easter. As we prepare, perhaps we can take a closer look at what we are preparing for. Were the disciples and the crowds preparing for a parade, or a revolution? Were they preparing for a worldly kingdom, or the reign of God? As others prepared to betray and kill Jesus, Jesus readied for his death in preparation for the resurrection. Perhaps Pilate and the soldiers prepared for things to return to normal once the crowds were gone. Perhaps some of the religious leaders and even Jesus’ own disciples thought things would go back to the way they used to be, while Jesus was preparing for something new. But first, everything old had to pass away. As we prepare for a season post-Covid, are we preparing to just go back to how we used to be, or has God helped us to become something new, something that may take a little longer in this season?

Call to Worship
Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna!
Blessed is the coming kingdom!
Hosanna!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Hosanna!
Save us, O Christ.
Hosanna!
Come and worship Christ, who leads us into life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we have looked forward to the wrong things. We have failed to perceive what You are doing in our world and in our lives. Instead, we have only prepared for what benefits us, what satisfies us, and are often disappointed when things do not go our way. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Call us into Your ways of deep listening with love, compassion, and mercy. Help us to slow down instead of rushing forward, to be considerate of others’ needs above our wants. As we shout “Hosanna!” may we truly understand what it means to ask you to Save Us, and to understand what it is to belong to Your Beloved Community, on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” God is doing something new, right now, in our world and in our lives. Can you not perceive it? God has made a highway in the desert, rivers in the wilderness, and God is making a way forward for us. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are God’s beloved child. Listen in your heart for what God is speaking to you. Rest, and prepare, for God is leading us on, and we are all on the journey together. Get ready, join your hearts with one another, and go with the grace and peace of Christ. Amen.

Prayer
God Who Envisioned The Universe, our perception is narrow, often focused on our needs, and even then, sometimes on our desires over our needs. You created for us a world to provide everything we could ever need, and yet, we find ourselves wanting more. We sometimes only take notice of what we are missing out on, instead of all that we have. Guide us into Your ways of abundant living. Help us to not take for granted all You have done for us. Remind us of the blessing that Your creation provides and call us to expand our perception to truly understand our part in the world, in the Beloved Community and coming reign, so that all might know love, and live into Your abundance. Creator God, we pray to You for all things. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 21st, 2021—Fifth Sunday of Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Narrative Lectionary: Zacchaeus, Luke 18:31-19:10 (Psalm 84:1-4, 10-12)

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of a future hope to the people who were about to face the destruction of their city and temple and the exile into Babylon. The people’s leaders and priests have failed them, and the covenant has been broken, but God will make a new covenant that is unbreakable. The law will be written in their hearts—they will be God’s people, and God will be their God. All will know God, and God will forgive and forget their sins.

Psalm 51 is a song of confession to God, for the psalmist knows they have sinned. Attributed to David, admitting his sin after the prophet Nathan confronted him, the psalmist prays not only for forgiveness but to be purified before God, restored in relationship with God in a way that they might sin no more. They seek a new heart from God, and a new spirit that is right with God and may rejoice again, for while they acknowledge their sin, the guilt remains. The psalmist desires full restoration with God.

The psalmist seeks God and desires to stay in God’s commandments in Psalm 119:9-16. They treasure God’s word in their heart. They live their life into God’s ways, by living out the ordinances, statutes, and precepts, reciting them on their lips and finding joy in living out God’s word. This section concludes with a vow not to forget God’s teachings.

Jesus is now the high priest according to Hebrews 5:5-10. Jesus has fulfilled the role of the high priest in the temple, the perfect priest who saves all who are faithful by his sacrifice, submitting to God and suffering by human hands. He is the eternal priest and source of salvation. The writer of Hebrews declares Jesus in the line of Melchizedek, a priest who met Abraham and blessed him, and therefore his descendants as well.

When some Greeks come to see Jesus in John 12:20-33, he knew the time had come to prepare for his death. He told those who wished to follow him that they must follow and serve him. Those who loved their life would lose it. Those who would hate their life in this world would keep it for eternal life. For a grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die in order to bear fruit. Jesus was troubled by what was to happen, but knew it must happen. Jesus knew that after his death, when he was lifted up, all kinds of people, including Greeks and other Gentiles, would be drawn to him, and seemed to recognize that the hour was at hand when Greeks were drawing close to the disciples and wanted to see him. Those around him did not understand, and thought he was speaking to an angel as he spoke about his time to be glorified.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Zacchaeus in Luke 18:31-19:10. However, there are three stories in this selection. In 18:31-34, Jesus once again speaks about what will happen to him, as written by the prophets, according to Luke. The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles (which is an important counter to the antisemitic narrative that many Christians have inherited) and will be humiliated and tortured and killed. However, the disciples did not understand what he said, not even when he spoke about rising from the dead.

In 18:35-42, Jesus and his disciples encounter a crowd on their way to Jericho. A blind man follows the crowd and shouts out to Jesus, calling him, “Son of David.” The crowd tries to silence the blind man, but he shouts out even more, and Jesus orders the man to be brought before him. The man asks Jesus to let him see, and Jesus tells him his faith has saved him and he is able to see. All the people, when they saw what happened, praised God.

In 19:1-10, Jesus entered Jericho, and a tax collector named Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus. Jesus sees him above the crowd, tells him to come down, and declares he will stay at Zacchaeus’ house. The people grumbled that Jesus was going to stay at the house of one who was a sinner (for tax collectors associated with Romans and worked for the Roman government). But Zacchaeus heard what others said and told Jesus that he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone in his work, he would pay them back four times as much. Jesus declared that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house, because Zacchaeus, too, was a son of Abraham, even if others had forgotten it.

Psalm 84:1-4, 10-12 sings of the beauty of God’s house, the temple built for God where even birds find a home. One day in the courts of God is better than any number of days elsewhere, for where God is, there is protection, assurance, beauty, and belonging. The psalmist sings of how their soul longs to be in the courts of God, and for all who trust in God, they find joy and blessing.

As we near the end of the season of Lent, Jesus prepares for his death, and for what will be revealed to the world in his death and resurrection. Jesus came to bring a change—a change in the way of our thinking, a change in our understanding of our relationship with God. A new covenant. We must be wary of interpretations that lead to supersession—the idea that Jesus replaces the previous covenants of God with Israel. Instead, we might look to what ways we have become complacent, where we have not served Jesus. Whom have we left out, like the blind man or the tax collector? Where have we assumed that we had the correct answer and didn’t need to repent or change of our own ways? Now is the time: turn back to God’s ways. Become aware of the sins that we commit in our daily lives, of not questioning who is harmed by our purchases, of not seeing who is exploited for the labor that we readily accept. Who do we, unintentionally or intentionally, leave out because of our biases and prejudices? Repent, and follow Jesus.

Call to Worship
Turn from your desires in this world,
Turn your hearts upon Jesus.
Turn your thoughts from envy and pride,
Turn your minds upon Jesus.
Turn from your actions of self-preservation,
Turn to living as Jesus did, becoming last of all and servant of all.
Turn! Turn! Turn from the things that are temporary and fleeting;
Turn your lives to the ways of Jesus.
In this time of worship,
May we be challenged, may we be convicted,
and may we turn to Jesus and his love for us. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving One, we confess that we get caught up in the day-to-day struggles of life, and forget there is so much more. We are tired, exhausted even, and sometimes just want to focus on ourselves. Forgive us for our privilege that at times offers us an escape to ignore the plight of others. Forgive us for failing to recognize the interconnected world we are in. Forgive us for the times we exaggerate our own struggles at the cost of meeting the needs of others. Forgive us for laying burdens upon ourselves that make it difficult to live into Your ways. Call us into Your way of love. Help us to let go of the burdens we have taken on unnecessarily. Help us to reach out to ask for help when we need it, and to offer help when we can. Remind us that You called us to be a people of covenant, with You, but also with one another, and that we need each other. Hold us to the promise to carry one another’s burdens. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
There is nothing that you can do that will separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Repent is the art of turning back to God, a daily life-long practice, to restore God’s created intention in our lives and in our hearts. Know this now: You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Seek to change your lives to align with God’s intention, and know the grace and peace of Christ Jesus in your life. Amen.

Prayer
God of the Ever-Changing Seasons, as we prepare for the season that is coming, we give thanks for the winter (summer) that has passed. The Spirit is moving in the wind, and we see the signs everywhere that You are doing something new in our hearts and in our lives. Call us into the next season, even if we are afraid. Guide our movement, so that we might not drag behind, stubborn to change, but embracing the newness You invite us to. For even if the next season is hard, O God, we know You will move us through it, and we will emerge again, with more wisdom and insight. For we are not alone. You sojourn with us and bind us together. Help us to prepare for the season to come, and bid farewell to the season that is past. Amen.