Worship Resources for March 3, 2024—Third Sunday in Lent

A note on Rev-o-lution:
After seventeen years of blogging, first on an old Blogger site and then for the past thirteen years at this domain, providing worship resources on the Revised Common Lectionary (and for the past ten years on the Narrative Lectionary), it is time to hang up my blogging hat.
I will continue to post new resources through Pentecost (May 19, 2024) and keep the website up through at least November 2024, perhaps longer, for access to the archives.
It has become more difficult to say something new week after week, and also, I’m now writing novels, and it has taken more of my time than I can give.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. I’ll be sharing those sites in the coming weeks.


Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Narrative Lectionary: Parable of the Tenants, Mark 12:1-12 (13-17) (Psalm 86:8-13)

We continue during the season of Lent to turn to the covenants between God and the people in the selection from the Hebrew Scriptures. Exodus 20:1-17 focuses on the covenant at Sinai and the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. The commandments teach that there is only one God, and the people are to worship no other gods. They are not to make idols, nor misuse God’s name. God will show steadfast love “to the thousandth generation” for those who remain faithful, for God is the one who brought them out of their oppression in Egypt. Verses 8-9 teach that keeping the Sabbath is a way to honor God, and they are to remember it each week, for they were not allowed to rest when they were in Egypt. Verses 12-17 are about how to live in this new community: honor one’s family, especially one’s parents, and remain faithful in relationships. Don’t lie, kill, steal—don’t want what others have. This is the covenant: God will be their God, and to be God’s people, they need to remember who they are, how to live with one another, and who they worship.

Psalm 19 praises God for both God’s work in creation and in the law. Creation is orderly, and even the sun rises like a bridegroom ready for their wedding day. The sun was often associated with ancient deities and the psalmist links God to the sun, who lights and brings warmth, but also brings the law. As creation is orderly, so is God’s law. God’s teachings are more valuable than any worldly pleasure, they are their own reward. But the psalmist knows they may stumble, they may have erred unknowingly, and they ask God to keep them safe from going astray. The psalmist concludes with the famous meditation of seeking God’s acceptance for their words and meditations.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 reveals that the power of God is revealed through the cross, according to Paul. The cross was the instrument of torture and death in the Roman Empire, but for those who believed in Jesus, it was also the symbol of eternal life, that the cross—that death itself—was not the end. The wisdom of God is not the world’s wisdom. Paul declares that the “Jews demand signs”—in other words, their Jewish neighbors, in Paul’s view, wanted proof that Jesus had resurrected, and “Greeks desire wisdom”—the Greek philosophers wanted to understand from a human point of view. Paul proclaims Christ crucified—which worldly wisdom cannot understand, but both Jewish and Greek believers could attain by faith in Christ. This might seem foolish to the world, but wiser than human wisdom to God.

John’s account of the Gospel differs greatly from the Synoptic gospels in that Jesus travels to Jerusalem early on in his ministry for the first time at Passover, enters the temple, and drives out the moneychangers with a whip of cords. In John 2:13-22, it appears that when Jesus calls the temple, “my Father’s house,” the other religious leaders present want a sign from Jesus. He tells them to destroy the temple and in three days he will raise it—a reference to his own death and resurrection, but those present refuse to believe the temple can be destroyed. This is the temple that Herod had begun restoring, but was destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70 C.E. It is important for us to remember that while John’s account purports to tell what happened in Jesus’ day, John was most likely written around 90 C.E., well after the events of the destruction of the temple. John’s account is trying to show how wrong the people were about Jesus, to prove his account of Jesus is the right one. It’s interesting to note how many times in John’s account the Jewish people demand signs, when it seems that the gospel account itself is all about proving who Jesus was, as if over-responding to that demand for a sign. It’s important to look at these passages with a critical eye, in light of how John’s account has been used to fuel antisemitism, and at the same time, recall the reforms Jesus brought to practice and religious life (and in all four accounts of the Gospels, Jesus did enter the temple and drive out the moneychangers).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Parable of the Tenants in Mark 12:1-12. In this parable, told after Jesus had entered Jerusalem and driven out the moneychangers, Jesus echoes back to the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. In Isaiah, God uses the metaphor of planting a vineyard, but the grapes have grown wild, so God has taken down the protective hedge and fence and destroyed the winepress. In this parable in Mark, Jesus tells of a vineyard leased to tenants, and when the landowner sends back servants to check on the vineyard, the tenants beat one servant, insult another, and kill a third. They keep mistreating the servants so the landowner decides to send his son, thinking they will respect him. But the tenants kill him to try to gain the inheritance of the vineyard. Jesus then asks the question, “What will the owner do?” The owner’s intention was to send his son to change the behavior of the tenants, not to die. Nonetheless, because the tenants did not change their ways, Jesus declares that the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Jesus then quotes from Psalm 118, of the stone that the builders have rejected becoming the chief cornerstone. The religious leaders know that Jesus has spoken this parable as a warning against him, but they do not do anything because they are afraid of the crowds.

In verses 13-17, Jesus is further questioned by some Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes. The Herodians were those who supported Herod and his position in government and his family. They would have supported taxpaying to the Roman government because Herod served under the rule of Caesar. However, Jesus refuses to be trapped in the question put forth to him, stating “Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The supplementary verses of Psalm 86:8-13 is the portion of the psalm that gives praise and thanksgiving for God who has helped the psalmist and the people. There is no God like God, and all nations turn to God. The psalmist calls upon God to continue to teach them God’s ways so they may draw close to God and give thanks for God’s steadfast love and deliverance.

How do we live into God’s ways today, in 2024? The death of Christendom is all around us (we’ve been talking about it for over 30 years now). The institutions we have built up will not survive—they may not even survive us. But the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Our ancestors have passed down the wisdom of the faith. Jesus teaches us that what will remain with us are his words, his teachings, and everything else will pass away. How do we draw closer to God, and to one another in faithful community, while understanding that the things we make of this world will come to an end—good or bad, whether we like them or not? The temple that was central to our ancestors was destroyed a generation after Jesus’s death. The churches that Paul visited and helped to begin no longer exist. Neither Jesus nor Paul imagined the institutionalized Western church that many of us have known as the only way to be church, but it is not the only way to live faithfully. If we think of the world as the vineyard we have been entrusted to care for, how good of a job are we doing? How well are we caring for those who serve one another, those who speak out for justice, those who cry out for mercy? How do we live into this faith, understanding that the systems and structures we as human beings made are no longer adequate?

I believe there is hope. We are being made into something new, individually and collectively. We are being called back into a way of life that centers God’s ways and not our own. A way that lives into the commandments we have been taught and passed down, less focused on boards and bylaws and structures and more focused on the love we express and the kindness we practice and the justice we do. What that looks like yet we do not know, but what we know is this: the stone that the world rejects becomes the chief cornerstone. What the world’s systems that fuel the gain of wealth and power by the elite would reject: rest, respite, care for the earth and one another, kindness, compassion, slowing down from the busy nature of our world—this is the chief cornerstone.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 86:8-11a, 12)
There is none like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any words like Yours.
All nations You have made shall come and bow down before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
For You are great and do wondrous things,
You alone are God.
Teach me Your ways, O Lord,
That I may walk in Your truth.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
And I will glorify Your name forever.

Prayer of Invocation
God of the Covenant, we give You praise and honor and glory, for You have always remained true. Your steadfast love endures forever. We gather our hearts and minds in worship, knowing that You are faithful and just. Guide us away from distracting thoughts, worries and cares, and instead, help us to focus on You so we can know Your great love in our lives, Your mercy and forgiveness and compassion, and be filled with hope to live out Your gospel into the world. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty and Everlasting God, we confess that we have failed to live into Your covenants. We have declined to follow Your commandments. We have forgotten Your teachings, Your ordinances and statutes. We have disobeyed the simplest of teachings to love our neighbors as ourselves. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Remind us that when we love one another, we are loved. When we care for one another, You care for us. When we meet the needs of others, especially the most vulnerable among us, You make sure there is enough for everyone. Guide us back into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 85:9-11)
“Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear God, and God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness look down from the sky.”

God gives what is good and leads us in the way of righteousness. When we live by God’s ways, we know God’s blessings in the love of one another. Extend hospitality and grace and forgiveness when possible, participate in the reparative and restorative work of justice, and it shall go well with you. Share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ in how you live your life. Amen.

Creative Spirit, help us to think outside of the box the world has put us in. Erase the lines that we have drawn. Draw the circle wider. Color outside the lines. Pull back the veil that has us divided. Remove the wall that creates binary thinking. Open our hearts, our minds, our souls, to the inescapable love You have for us, and may we be full of that love for one another. Help us always to be open to more and to shut out less, for hate and fear keep us small, but love is always expanding us. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 25, 2024—Second Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Narrative Lectionary: Bartimaeus Healed, Mark 10:32-52 (Psalm 34:11-14)

During Lent, the selection from the Hebrew scriptures focuses on the covenants of God. This week’s reading tells of the covenant of God with Abram and Sarai, who are given new names: Abraham and Sarah. God promises they will be ancestors of a multitude of nations, with kings as their descendants. God’s covenant is not only with the two of them, but with all generations descending from them, who will be known as God’s people. God promises that they will have a son, securing their own immediate future and needs for passing on inheritance, but that generations and kings will be descended from Sarah.

The portion of Psalm 22:23-31 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God who has responded. God answered the psalmist’s cry, and the psalmist calls the congregation to praise God. God remembers the poor and all those on the margins at the ends of the earth. All the families of the nations will praise God, for God is the one who is sovereign over all nations. Future generations, even those yet to be born, will be told about what God has done for them.

Romans 4:13-25 contains Paul’s argument that it is not the law that brings faith. Abraham was the ancestor of all nations, and it was his faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, not the acts of the law. The law does not bring faith, Paul argues, so for Jewish Christians it is faith in Jesus that saves, not adherence to the law. This same faith is available for Gentiles without living under the law, for those who believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, for Christ was raised for the justification of all.

The first selection for the Gospel reading is Mark 8:31-38, part of the Narrative Lectionary reading two weeks ago on February 11th. This is the pivotal moment in the Gospel of Mark (from here through the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9). Before this, in Mark’s account, Jesus did not speak about his suffering and death and resurrection—this is the first time he did so, and he did so very openly. And Peter was horrified by it, so much that he pulled Jesus aside to rebuke him. However, Jesus rebuked Peter and called him Satan, a stumbling block fixed on human things and not on the divine. Jesus further instructed the crowd how to be his disciples: to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This is the moment when Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, and began to teach what it really meant to follow him, but the disciples did not fully understand.

The second selection for the Gospel lesson is the Transfiguration, Mark 9:2-9, which was the Gospel reading on February 11th. Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. The mountain in this passage is similar to crossing the Jordan in the 2 Kings passage: they have passed into a space where both the spiritual and physical world are present. Suddenly, Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white as he is transfigured before them, and they see Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, who previously had the right answers before he rebuked Jesus, also gets this one wrong: he wants to make dwellings for the three of them, tents to signify that all three were divine (the Common English Bible uses the word “shrines” here to get the point across of what Peter was trying to do). At this moment, a cloud overshadows them, and tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The only other time we hear that voice is at Jesus’s baptism. Then suddenly, only Jesus is left with them. In verse 9, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Peter, and perhaps the other disciples, truly did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever they had imagined, it wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about suffering and death. It wasn’t about giving up everything to follow him. And for a brief moment on the mountain, perhaps they thought they could still have their own vision of what a Messiah, or Messiahs, could be.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of Bartimaeus healed by Jesus in Mark 10:32-52, but there is a lot that happens before they find Bartimaeus on their way out of Jericho. In 32-34, Jesus again told of his upcoming suffering and death. The first time Jesus spoke of his suffering and death Peter tried to talk him out of it. This time, James and John ignored the suffering and death and focused only on the coming kingdom, not understanding that they also would suffer. The other disciples were upset about James and John’s request, and Jesus reminded them that they didn’t know what they were asking for. Jesus then taught the disciples that they were not like the Gentiles around them who lorded their power over others, but that whoever wished to become great must become a servant, as Jesus came to serve all.

When the disciples and Jesus passed through Jericho, they encountered Bartimaeus on their way out. He was a blind beggar and began shouting at Jesus, calling him the Son of David and to have mercy on him. Even though others ordered him to keep his mouth shut, he kept calling out to Jesus, and Jesus then called out to him. Jesus asked him what he wanted, and the man said he wanted to see again. Jesus told him to go, for his faith had made him well, and the man regained his sight. In this story, Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted—he didn’t presume—and he answered Bartimaeus’s call with a call of his own. When we call out to God, God hears us, and calls to us to follow.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 34:11-14, in which the psalmist gives instructions similar to the Proverbs. Learn how to be in awe of God. Don’t speak evil, don’t tell lies or falsehoods. Leave behind evil and pursue peace.

What does it mean to trust in God’s ways? Abraham and Sarah had to wait a long time, and even though God promised them they would be the ancestors of a multitude, they still had to wait for one baby boy to be born, long after they hoped for him. Peter wanted to trust Jesus but thought in that moment, when Jesus spoke of his death for the first time, that Jesus must be wrong. Peter had the audacity to try to call out Jesus on it, but Jesus instead called him Satan, the one who had set his mind on human ways and not on God’s ways. Paul spoke to the church in Rome that God’s ways were about faith, trust in God, pursuing God, and that the law was not necessary for that. The psalmist reminds us that trust in God is a pursuit of God’s ways of peace and justice, of giving thanks for all God has done for us and resting in the assurance of what God will do. We are called to deny ourselves—our own selfish desires, safety and security, wealth and power, the assurance of this world—and take up our cross. Put to death what holds us back, what makes us try to trust the world’s ways that will continue to fail us—and instead, put our trust in God and the assurance that God will continue to be with us, and will continue to fulfill the promises of old.

Call to Worship
We are in it for the long haul,
Our God is an everlasting God.
From the beginning to the end, Alpha and Omega,
We know that God is with us, now and always.
When life is difficult, we know God’s presence through the love of one another,
Trust in God and lean into the love of your neighbors.
Focus your hearts and minds in this time of worship,
For in all things and all times, we shall praise the Lord our God!

Prayer of Invocation
Gracious and loving God, You are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We have joined our hearts in this time of worship, for we remember all You have done for us and all You will continue to do. In this time and space, quiet our minds, slow our hearts, and remind us that You are with us, now and always. We give this time and space to be reminded of Your love and grace given to us, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Timeless One, we are so focused on the short-term that we forget You have carried our ancestors and You carry us. We are focused on the next election, the next paycheck, the next shoe to drop. We are afraid of the unknown and yet You have not abandoned us. You call us back to You, time and again. May we hear Your call in our hearts to turn away from the fleeting satisfaction of worldly wealth and gain. May we be moved by Your call to work for justice and peace beyond today but also for future generations. May we be driven by You to care for Your earth that You entrusted to us. Call us to listen and feel where You are nudging us to move and act in ways that build up Your reign on earth, a reign that is eternal. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
You are beloved by God, and that love is eternal. There is nothing you can do, no place you can go, where God’s love cannot find you. You are God’s child. Go and share the good news with others, in word and deed. Amen.

Creator of the Stars, You made us out of stardust. You are the one who knits us whole when we unravel. You are the one who carefully shapes us back together when we fall apart. You are the One who makes all things new, and You are continuing to remake us into vessels of Your love. There is so much heaviness among us: climate change, politics, education, war, genocide, fear, and so much pain. Remind us that we do Your work when we love one another, when we care for the most vulnerable in our society. Keep us to Your ways of reparation and restoration, and no matter how difficult it gets, keep encouraging us to do better. For You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 18, 2024—First Sunday of Lent

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

Narrative Lectionary: First Last and Last First, Mark 10:17-31 (Psalm 19:7-10)

During Lent, the selections from the Hebrew scriptures focus on stories of God’s covenant. For the first Sunday of Lent, the story is of the covenant between God and Noah and all of creation—all flesh—that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. The sign of this covenant to Noah and all future generations is the rainbow—God’s weapon. God has hung up their bow and will no longer make war on creation. This covenant to the people showed how God was different than the other gods, and how God will remember on their part that they are not a God who makes war on the people or the creatures of the earth.

Psalm 25:1-10 is a song of trust in God. The psalmist desires to draw closer to God’s ways, and prays for deliverance from their enemies. While they long for a response from God to their situation, they also pray that God would not hold against them their previous sins. Instead, the psalmist focuses on the goodness of God, and how those who keep God’s faithfulness will know God’s steadfast love.

The author of 1 Peter 3 writes in verses 18-22 how Christ’s suffering for sins unites all believers to God. Christ descended into the place of the dead, “the spirits in prison,” to proclaim the good news. The writer of this letter also interprets the story of Noah as a story of baptism, saving all of humanity before Noah from their sins through the floodwaters, and now baptism saves the believers who are alive.

Mark’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness is scant on the details, so the Gospel lesson also includes Jesus’s baptism before he went into the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, in 1:9-15. Again, all three of these stories are expanded in Matthew and Luke. Mark simply lets us know that before Jesus began his ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist; he was affirmed by God the Father/Parent as the Son; he was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and he was tempted by Satan. Jesus had all of these experiences happen to him, and then, Jesus went and proclaimed the Gospel, that the kingdom of God had come near. The action shifts, and Jesus knows he must go out on his own, as baptized, affirmed, and driven by the Spirit. How our past experiences shape us into sharing the Gospel may be one angle in which to present this story.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the rich man who came to Jesus in Mark 10:17-31. The rich man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. He’s kept all the commandments, but he questions whether he’s done enough. Jesus is filled with compassion—the text in Mark reads that he loved the man—but tells him that he lacks one thing: he must go sell what he owns, give the money to the poor, and then he can follow Jesus because he will have treasure in heaven. But the man is shocked, and leaves grieving, because he has many possessions. Jesus then laments to his disciples that it is hard to enter the kingdom of God, and very difficult for those who are rich. Peter begins to tell Jesus, “look, we’ve left everything behind to follow you,” as if to justify their actions. Jesus acknowledges that those who do leave everything behind to follow Jesus will receive everything of the reign of God—but warns that those who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 19:7-10 speaks of following the law of God, and that the ordinances of God are worth more than fine gold and sweet honey. God’s ways are perfect, true, right, and simple to follow: a clear vision for life.

As we enter into Lent, what is it we hope to gain in observing this season? A deeper understanding of Jesus’s journey to the cross? Perhaps it is remembering the promises of God to our ancestors, and how God is not like the gods of this world. God chooses not to act in violence. God chooses peace. God recognizes that their actions affect not only humanity but all the creatures of the earth. Or perhaps it’s a focus on repentance and renewal, turning back to God’s ways. Lent comes from the Latin “to lengthen,” and as daylight grows, what is being revealed? When we look at what Jesus experienced before and while in the wilderness, where do we find affirmation and assurance to keep going during the hard parts of life, the temptations and struggles we face?

Call to Worship
God has given us the sign of the rainbow,
A covenant between God and all of creation.
God has given us the commandments,
The teachings of old to guide us to God.
God has sent his son Jesus to us,
The Word made Flesh to live among us.
God has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
May we turn our hearts and minds to worship and follow Christ.

Prayer of Invocation
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, in this time, may we pause and listen for Your word right here and now. You hold all of eternity, yet our time is brief. We give over this time now, so that in all our time, we may draw closer to You, Ancient of Days, Holder of Tomorrow. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Wilderness, we come to You searching for help in our wilderness times. Guide us to find our way when we are lost. Help us to know Your presence when we feel alone. Keep us to Your promises when we face despair. Hold us to Your love when we face temptation. Lead us on this journey of faith into a deeper relationship with You, and to know ourselves more fully in the way You know each of us. Lead us, God of the Wilderness, to the wellspring of life found in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God does not leave us alone when we are in the wilderness. God provides angels along the journey, and we can be angels to each other. Show love and compassion to others and receive that kindness and mercy in your own life. When you forgive others for the things you still struggle with, you will find that forgiveness is extended to you. Be gentle with yourselves, but firm in your resolve to repent and turn back to God’s ways, and know God’s grace, peace, and love in your life. Amen.

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

Worship Resources for February 11, 2024—Transfiguration Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Mark 8:27-9:8 (Psalm 27:1-4)

On Transfiguration Sunday, we begin with the story of Elijah taken up by God, and the passing of the mantle to Elisha in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elisha knew that Elijah was to be taken up to heaven, yet refused to leave him, until they crossed the Jordan together. Elijah used his mantle, rolling it up and striking the river, just like Moses parted the Red Sea. When Elisha and Elijah crossed the Jordan together, it is as if they entered a space not of this world. Elisha asked Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit—asking that he become the spiritual heir of Elijah. Then the two were separated by a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind. In a similar manner with the Gospel lesson, there are some physical places where the division between heaven and earth is thin, and in this space across the Jordan, Elisha was able to behold this vision of Elijah taken up. Following this passage, Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah, and struck the Jordan River to return to the other side.

The beginning portion of Psalm 50 is a reminder that God is not silent; God sees all, and calls the heavens and earth together in judgment. God calls specifically for the faithful to gather and renew the covenant by sacrifice. Fire is often referenced to God’s judgment—a purifying fire that removes blemishes, and this portion of the psalm reminds the listeners that God judges the faithful by the ways they keep the covenant. God desires purification: restoration to how things ought to be.

The Epistle readings conclude the letters to the Corinthians with 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth and was aware of the controversy surrounding him and the way he shared the Gospel. Paul refuses to water down the message of Christ, but boldly proclaims the Gospel, even as others turn to “the god of this world”—those who refuse to change their lives for Christ and instead focus on worldly gains. Paul declares that they do not proclaim themselves, but proclaim Jesus as Lord, and that they are called to share the Gospel of Jesus, and no other.

The Transfiguration marks a pivotal point in the Gospel of Mark and is the lesson for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. The Narrative Lectionary gives some further context: before Mark 8:27, Jesus’s ministry was preaching, teaching, healing, and proclaiming the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. In 8:27, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and following Peter’s bold declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus’s message turned toward the cross. He first tells of his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus said this openly to all who could hear, but Peter took him aside and rebuked him. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter, by calling him Satan, a stumbling block fixed on human things and not on the divine. Jesus further instructed the crowd how to be his disciples: to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It became clear in this moment what it really meant to follow Jesus, and it was also clear the disciples did not fully understand.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. The mountain in this passage is similar to crossing the Jordan in the 2 Kings passage: they have passed into a space where both the spiritual and physical world are present. Suddenly, Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white as he is transfigured before them, and they see Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, who previously had the right answers before he rebuked Jesus, also gets this one wrong: he wants to make dwellings for the three of them, tents to signify that all three were divine (the Common English Bible uses the word “shrines” here to get the point across of what Peter was trying to do). At this moment, a cloud overshadows them, and tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The only other time we hear that voice is at Jesus’s baptism. Then suddenly, only Jesus is left with them. In verse 9, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they have seen until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Peter, and perhaps the other disciples, truly did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever they had imagined, it wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about suffering and death. It wasn’t about giving up everything to follow him. And for a brief moment on the mountain, perhaps they thought they could still have their own vision of what a Messiah, or Messiahs, could be.

The supplementary passage to the Narrative Lectionary is Psalm 27:1-4. These first four verses sing of the psalmist’s trust in God: even when their enemies attack, or the armies surround them to bring war, they will be confident in God’s presence. They only ask that they live with God all their days, to know God’s love and blessing.

I have always found Transfiguration Sunday a difficult one to preach because we’re not quite sure what happened up there on the mountain. The description of the Transfiguration is vague. But with the context of the previous verses, we understand that this is the pivotal moment in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus has set his life and ministry toward Jerusalem, toward his own death on the cross. There are some who cannot grasp this, who just want “the good stuff,” that the Good News that is for them, the miracles and teachings that make them feel good. But the Gospel is good news for everyone, and to achieve that, even God will give up God’s power for the sake of humanity. We are all called to deny ourselves and take up our cross. We are all called to let go of the power and privilege of this world for the sake of one another. Jesus said in John 14:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus calls us all to lay down our power and privilege for one another. To show this, Jesus went up the mountain, and while Peter wanted to stay up there and worship Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah, God told them to listen to the Son. And the Son told them they had to go back down the mountain. We can’t stay back where things are safe. We can’t stay in our old way of thinking that only gives us “the good stuff.” We have to understand the suffering in the world. We have to be in solidarity with those who suffer. Only then, when we lay down our privilege and power, might we all be transformed and live into the kin-dom on earth.

Call to Worship
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to us.
God is calling us to listen to the Gospel news.
The voices of this world promise us worldly things,
But only God promises us eternity.
Stop for a moment. Pause. Take a deep breath.
(Pause for a few seconds)
Listen to what God is speaking in your heart.
May we be open to the word of God in our songs and stories,
in scripture and sermon.
Stop and listen! The voice of God is calling to you:
For we are God’s beloved children.

Prayer of Invocation
God Who Speaks, we hear the stories in Scripture, the words of the prophets, the tales of our ancestors, the songs of the psalmists and the proverbs of the poets. Help us to listen to the words You have given us, and to listen to the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us, Jesus Christ our Lord. When we hear God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” may we stop and listen. May we humble ourselves instead of thinking we know it all and we’ve heard it all before. Speak to us so we might listen in a new way, to know Your love in new ways and to share that love with the world. Invite us into this time and space that is Yours, so we might draw closer to You. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come to this time, O God, confessing that often what we believe is the Gospel is not Your Gospel. We water down the Gospel so that it makes us feel good, instead of living into the hard truth that we must turn back to Your ways and be in solidarity with those who suffer. We do not want to deny ourselves our power and privilege, and we do not want to take up our cross to follow You. We want things the easy way, O God, and we remake the kin-dom into our own dream, of a next life where everything is perfect, instead of doing the hard work of living into the kin-dom now, which calls us to be in solidarity with those on the margins, those who are oppressed, those who have suffered. Call us away from our own visions of escape and into the hard work of living right here, right now, and proclaiming the Good News in our lived lives. In the name of Jesus, who is in solidarity with us to the point of dying as one of us on the cross, we pray. Amen.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When the world is too much for us, even as we try to live into the kin-dom, we remember that Jesus is the one who died for us and took upon this burden. Find rest in him and know that you are loved exactly as you are. None of us can do everything, and none of us will succeed in always living the Gospel, but when we try with our heart, when we do what we can to love one another, we know God’s love is with us. Give over your burdens to God, and trust in Christ. You are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well pleased.

God of Transformation, we stand on the precipice of the metaphorical mountain, preparing to enter Lent, preparing to enter Your story of journeying in the wilderness and journeying toward the cross. We come to this moment recognizing our own need to transform our point of view: to look away from the fake gospel of this world that tells us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that tells us if we work hard we will be blessed, and instead, turn to the Gospel of Truth: that to live is to die to the ways of this world. Help us to put aside the worldly measures of success and instead seek You and Your ways. We cannot go back to the simple understanding of being a good person to get into heaven, for that is a false gospel. Instead, we must work to dismantle systems and structures of sin in this world. To put ourselves in the shoes of those who have never had the opportunity to know a world without suffering and pain. To listen with kindness and compassion to the stories of injustice and wrongdoing, and work to restore what has been taken, repair what is broken, and pursue justice, in order to live into Your kin-dom. For only then might we understand that faith is more than a simple confession in Your sovereignty over us, but a lifelong commitment to solidarity with You, Jesus the Christ, who lived and died and lives again, and in whose name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 4, 2024—Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Narrative Lectionary: Death of John the Baptist, Mark 6:1-29 (Psalm 122)

Isaiah 40 is considered the beginning of Second Isaiah, a prophet who witnessed the events at the end of the Babylonian exile. King Cyrus of Persia, having come into power, allowed the exiles to return home. This was a chance to start again with God as God’s people. In this passage, the prophet reminds the people that they know this already. They’ve heard this from the beginning of time. God is over all creation, over all the earth, and the rulers of this world have no power over God—they are temporary and will pass. Some of those hearing these words may have been alive when they were taken into exile and remember what they have lost; they will recognize God’s faithfulness. There is no one like God. God questions the people as to why they say that God has ignored them. God’s response is that God has been there since the beginning, renewing and reviving the people. For those who are young in their understanding of God will struggle, but those who know how to wait (those who have lived through the exile to the return, or those who held on to the promise) will find their strength renewed. God is with them, and God will help them to soar like eagles.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c is a song of praise to God who has gathered in the outcasts, those scattered, and brough them home to Jerusalem. God is over all creation, including the stars, and yet God cares enough for the people to lift up the downtrodden, and cast down the wicked. God is the one who provides for all and doesn’t look to strength and might for favor. God does consider those who live in God’s ways, are in awe of God, and have hope in God’s everlasting love.

The Epistle readings continue in the series of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul was entrusted to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. There is no reward for this, but by preaching the Gospel with no charge, he can be true to the Gospel and not to the rewards of wealth. Paul has become all things to all people—seeing cultural differences as a gift, not a dividing tool, to sharing the Gospel.

In Mark 1:29-39, Jesus continues the beginning of his ministry with his first four disciples. In last week’s reading, he taught for the first time (that we have recorded) in a synagogue and cast out a demon from a man. In today’s reading, he left the synagogue and went to Simon and Andrew’s house, and cared for Simon’s mother-in-law who had a fever. Once the fever left her, she got up and began serving Jesus. Everyone from the city came to Jesus at Simon and Andrew’s home, bringing those who were sick or possessed with demons. Jesus ministered among them, but early in the morning went off by himself to pray in the darkness. Already, Jesus needed to take some time for spiritual renewal. The disciples went and “hunted” for him, and when they found him told him that everyone was looking for him. However, Jesus told them it was time to go on from that place to the neighboring towns in Galilee, for that was what he came to do. Jesus was not mean to stay in one place.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the death of John the Baptist and Jesus’ rejection in his hometown in Mark 6:1-29. In contrast to the RCL reading where Jesus is beginning his ministry, at this time, when he returns to his hometown synagogue, he is met with rejection by his neighbors. They all know him, know his family, know where he came from, so who does he think he is? Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. So, Jesus refocused his ministry. He went out into the countryside to teach, sending out the twelve two by two to minister to those in need. Jesus told them to not take anything with them but to simply rely on the hospitality of others. When King Herod heard of Jesus, as his reputation grew, he wondered if it was John the Baptist come back to life, for he had John beheaded. Herod had arrested John, for John denounced Herod publicly for marrying his brother’s wife. Herod actually liked John, and knew he was a holy man, but had to have John arrested because he said such things in public. Nonetheless, in a rash oath to his daughter, Herod offered her anything she wanted, and she asked for John’s head on a platter. After Herod had John killed, John’s disciples buried his body in a tomb.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 122 contain a short prayer of peace for Jerusalem, a song for those pilgrimaging to the holy city. The psalmist declares that Jerusalem is where the thrones of judgment are set, the thrones for the house of David. The psalmist concludes by praying for peace and security and wishing peace upon all.

Living faithfully to God has its consequences. We know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. We’ve been taught this in the scriptures, we’re taught this in our songs and prayers. Yet, when we look at the world and see the horrors of war and violence, repeated generation after generation, and we know that poverty and homelessness are social concerns we could end if we had the political power to do so, we may wonder why God doesn’t intervene. Or we may question how God can exist when such terrible things happen. In the stories of our ancestors, we remember God’s faithfulness, and that the exiles did not lose their identity as God’s people even when they were away seventy years. Jesus knows if he stayed in the same place, he could go on and on healing and teaching, but nothing would change. Through time alone with God and prayer, Jesus knew he must go on, and continue the work in other villages. Eventually, Jesus would call other disciples, and have helpers in his ministry. But it came with a cost. In his own hometown, he was not received. John the Baptist lost his life speaking out for what he thought was right. There is a cost to living faithfully in God’s ways, but the promise of God to our ancestors, and the promise of Christ to us, is that we are not alone, and God will see us through.

Call to Worship (Psalm 147:1, 3-5, 7, 20c)
Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God;
For God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
God heals the brokenhearted,
And binds up their wounds.
God determines the number of the stars;
God gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
God’s understanding is beyond measure.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Invocation
God who names the stars, You have also named us as Your beloved children. May we hear You calling our name in this time of worship. May we be open to the movement of Your spirit. May we discern Your wisdom and deepen our understanding of Your wondrous love. Lead us and guide us as we worship You. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Steadfast Love and Mercy, we confess that at times we give up. It’s all too much. It’s too hard. There’s too much suffering and pain and loss. Too much grief. Too many balls to keep in the air, too many responsibilities, too many bills. Sometimes the world just feels so heavy. We confess that we need to know Your love more deeply, O God, and we call upon You to remind us of Your love. Help us to turn to one another in our time of need. Remind us that You have called forth not only ministers but teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, coaches, and others, for seeking our physical and mental well-being is as important as our spiritual care. You have called us to love You with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. May we remember most of all that we are not alone. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Know that the most difficult thing you go through is not the last thing you will go through. Know that even in the most difficult times God’s love is with you. It is imprinted in your heart. You are precious to God, and God will renew your strength. Go and encourage others, and you will find yourself encouraged. Amen.

God of the Dark, You are the giver of dreams and visions, the One who sits with us in the quiet, who accompanies us in the loneliness. As Your Son ventured out into the darkness to pray, may we also find times to seek You without the distractions of the world. May we remember how expansive Your love is, like the endless stars at night. May we listen for Your word in our heart, and may You grant us a dream and vision for our own lives, to seek You, to love You and Your ways, and to share Your love with the world. May we know that periods of loneliness are temporary, for we are called into community to journey together. Sit with us in the dark as necessary and guide us back to our beloved community. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 28, 2024—Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Jairus’s Daughter Healed, Mark 5:21-43 (Psalm 131)

In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses prepared the people before they entered the promised land, knowing he would not go with them. The people requested God to raise up a new prophet after Moses, because they believed if they heard the voice of God themselves, they would die. God promised to raise up a prophet from among them, someone who would speak on behalf of God and God’s ways. God would hold accountable those who did not listen to God’s words through the prophet, and God would also hold accountable any prophet who spoke words God did not say or spoke on behalf of other gods.

Psalm 111 is a Hebrew alphabet acrostic poem, like many of the psalms, and is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God. The psalmist speaks in the first person but on behalf of the congregation, telling all the wonderful deeds of God who has been faithful to the covenant with the people. God’s ways are established for eternity, for the covenant was established forever. The psalm concludes with a reminder that the fear, or awe, of God is the beginning of wisdom. Those who are in awe of God have a foundation, a good understanding for how to live.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth about how to live with others and cultural differences in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. The church in Corinth was predominantly Greek, but some of its members were newer to the faith than others. While Paul knows that the church leaders know there are no other gods but God and no idols are real, some of those who have recently begun to follow Christ might be appalled at those eating meat, for meat was obtained at the local temple sacrifice to the Greek pantheon. For Paul this wasn’t an issue—those gods didn’t exist, it’s just meat, buy it and eat it. But he knew for new converts this might be a struggle because of how that sacrificed meat was determined as sacred by the Greeks, and suggests that if this was a stumbling block, don’t eat meat around those who view it as offered out of sacrifice. Even if we have the knowledge that there are no idols or gods, we ought not to hold it over others, but rather to live out of compassion and kindness. How we live ought to be a reflection of the same love we have from Christ, who died on behalf of all of us.

In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus taught for the first time at a synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus astounded the people there because he taught differently than the scribes—he taught with authority. When a man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue and challenged Jesus, Jesus rebuked the spirit, and it left the man. The people who witnessed this were amazed at this new teaching with authority, authority that even the spirits obeyed him. This is a hard passage for us today to interpret and understand. In the first century, the understanding of the spiritual world and the physical world was such that everything had both a physical and spiritual component. Jesus addressed the evil spirit and rebuked it. Perhaps the authority Jesus demonstrated was knowing that this person needed help in that moment—not something to be pushed off, addressed at another time. Consistently through scripture, when someone comes to Jesus with an immediate need, he immediately (especially in Mark’s gospel account as Mark loves that word immediately) addressed the person and the need.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the healing of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:21-43, which also contains within it a story of a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years. Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, came to Jesus and begged him to help his daughter who was near death. Jesus went right away with his disciples, but on the way to the little girl, a woman reached out and touched the hem of his cloak. Jesus stopped to ask who touched him, and his disciples tried to urge him along because they were in a crowd, anyone could have touched him, but Jesus knew someone had reached out to him in faith and had been healed. The woman who had bled for twelve years crossed several social boundaries (being a woman, being unclean) and touched him out of faith. In turn, Jesus called her “Daughter” and told her that her faith had made her well. Jesus continued on to Jairus’s house, where he was told the girl had died, but he told them the girl was not dead but sleeping, and he called to the girl, “Little girl, get up.” Jesus addressed both the woman in need of healing and this girl with tenderness and care and addressed their immediate needs.

Psalm 131 is a short prayer, focusing on trusting in God like a young child trusts their mother, who fed them before and will feed them in new ways. The psalmist concludes this prayer calling upon the people to put their trust in God now and always.

Wisdom might be the theme for this day in both lectionaries, being in awe of God. Putting one’s trust and hope in God the way Jairus and the woman who was bleeding put their trust in Jesus, and like the psalmist of Psalm 131, quieting their soul and knowing their hope comes from God. The beginning of wisdom in the passage from Deuteronomy starts with trusting the voice of our ancestors through the prophets in our scriptures. For Paul, the beginning of wisdom is knowing when not to flaunt knowledge but to rely instead on love and compassion and kindness. The wisdom we see in Jesus in Mark 1:21-28 is that Jesus did not ignore the needs of the person who came into the synagogue, who probably made others uncomfortable, even embarrassed. Jesus addressed the spiritual issue before them as one with authority and did not push aside or ignore the person’s needs. The beginning of wisdom is being in awe of God, that knee-trembling notion that God is far beyond what we can comprehend or imagine, yet it teaches us again and again to love one another, practice kindness and compassion, hospitality and humility, to remember what we have been taught from our ancestors, and to live into Christ’s ways.

Call to Worship (Psalm 111:1-4, 9-10)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
In the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.
God has gained renown by God’s wonderful deeds;
The LORD is gracious and merciful.
God sent redemption to the people; God has commanded the covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
All those who practice it have a good understanding.
God’s praise endures forever.

Prayer of Invocation
Almighty and Amazing God, we come before You in awe and wonder that You have made another day. You have made the heavens and the earth and the vast universe that surrounds us, and You made each of us in Your image. We can’t begin to imagine everything that You have done for us and all that You do in the universe. Nonetheless, we set aside this time and space to give You praise, to bring our prayers before You, and to share together in thanksgiving and love in this time of worship. Guide our hearts and minds to follow You in all Your ways. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Mercy and Love, we come before You confessing that we have failed to show mercy, failed to extend kindness and compassion, and have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have ignored those in need like the priest and the Levite instead of becoming the good Samaritan for others. We have been embarrassed by the actions and words of those who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses and have failed to offer care and concern. We have been afraid of losing our own precious time and resources and have passed by those who call out to us for help. Forgive us for our failures. Remind us of how You have shown us love and mercy in every moment of our lives and call us back into Your ways. Challenge us to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Remind us that every failure is an opportunity to do better next time. Guide us so that we might live better into Your ways of doing justice, practicing loving-kindness, and walking humbly with You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from John 3:16-17)
God love us so much God sent the only Son to us, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. God doesn’t use our mistakes and shortcomings to condemn us, but that we might learn and do better. God doesn’t hold them against us like a scorecard of wrongdoings, but rather picks us up like a child, dusts off our knees, gives us a hug and reminds us to go back out and learn so we can do the right thing. God does not condemn you. God wants you to be saved, and to help save others from the harm of injustice, the harm of ignorance, the harm of hate. God needs you. So know this: you are forgiven. You are loved. Learn and do better. Now go, play, help, repair, and heal the world. Amen.

Compassionate One, this month always seems like the longest of the year, moving away from the joy of Christmas and the hopes of the new year, having long left the starlight the magi followed, to find a different way. We look back and see that You have been with us, and You are continuing to lead us on. For the resolutions and goals and intentions that have already fallen away, help us to leave them behind, and instead, remember that each day is a new beginning with You. Each day is one full rotation of the Earth and one million six hundred thousand miles from where we were yesterday. We are always moving, O God, and You are moving with us, and leading us forward. As we prepare to say goodbye to January and hello to February, these marks on the calendar, the days, months, and years that we created, we give You thanks for what has passed, and pray for what is to come. Lead us on, Sojourning God, for Your time is not our time. You are what has been, what is, and what is to come, the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty Ancient of Days, and Spirit of New Life. Amen.

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.

Worship Resources for January 14, 2023—Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday

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 women
for children
for Black Lives
for disabled persons
for asylum seekers and refugees
for Jews
for Muslims
for Sikhs
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.

Worship Resources for January 7, 2024—Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Epiphany (Observed)

In some Protestant churches, Epiphany will be observed on the Sunday closest to January 6.

Revised Common Lectionary

Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Baptism of the Lord: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Heals and Teaches, Mark 2:1-22 (Psalm 103:6-14)

For Epiphany we begin with the glorious proclamation of Third Isaiah in 60:1-6: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” The light of God’s glory has risen upon the people, returning from exile. But in verse three, God promised the people that nations would be drawn to their light, because of what God had done for them. The people become a light for the nations, a witness for God in the world. They would be blessed by other nations, who would share with them their wealth—including gold and frankincense, brought in on the backs of camels!

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 is a song of blessing for a new king. The psalmist asks for God to grant the new king wisdom and justice, and to judge with righteousness. The psalmist blesses the new king with long life as he listens to the poor and those in need, lifting them up. While the psalmist also calls upon other nations to bring tribute and to serve him, the psalmist also calls for the new king to deliver the most vulnerable of his kingdom from oppression and violence, to be on the side of the poor and needy.

While most scholars are uncertain if Paul wrote Ephesians, in 3:1-12, the writer, purporting to be Paul in prison, writes of how the mystery of God has been revealed now: Gentiles are also fellow heirs of God through Jesus Christ. Gentiles and Jews are members of the same body, and the church is what can bring them together on earth. Paul is the servant of God, called to deliver this message, even though he is “the least of all saints,” now in prison. God is using him to share the message: that through the church the wisdom of God may be made known to all people, even rulers, even powers in the heavens. Believers have access to God and confidence in faith because of Jesus Christ, who came for all people.

Matthew 2:1-12 contains the story of the visit of the magi. While sometimes this passage is included at Christmas with Luke’s story of the Nativity, and the magi are often included with shepherds and angels in our nativity creche’s, they are quite different stories. The magi, also known as astrologers, probably from Persia though it is uncertain where they came from, arrived in Jerusalem expecting to find a king there since that was where the royal palace was located. Instead, they found Herod, a puppet king for Rome. The scribes found a passage in Micah 5:2 about a new king coming from Bethlehem, the city of David, to shepherd Israel. Micah was writing about Hezekiah, the new king of Judah in his time, who would prevent the Assyrian Empire from taking control of Judah. But here, the scribes have interpreted Micah to be about a Davidic king for their time. Herod sends the magi to go to Bethlehem, with the orders to return to Jerusalem and tell him where the new king is, so he can go visit him. The magi do go and find the child in Bethlehem with Mary his mother (Joseph is not mentioned in this visit of the Magi!). They pay him homage, offering him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod (as an angel warns Joseph in a dream right after this story about Herod’s intentions), and return home another way. Note that in verse 2, in most translations the magi ask, “Where has been born the king of the Jews?” Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: A Multi Gospel Single-Year Lectionary, Year W in her translation on page 35 uses the term Judeans instead of Jews. This is a better translation because Herod was in charge of the Roman province of Judea, and it would make sense to be frightened of a new king of your province, rather than a new king of a people who are scattered throughout the Roman empire.

For Baptism of the Lord, we turn to the first five verses of the Bible, the beginning of the creation of the heavens and earth. The NRSVUE reads in verse two, “the earth was complete chaos.” Out of this chaos, over the face of the deep, a wind from God sweeps over the waters, and God speaks. There is light, there is a separation of light from darkness, and creation of day and night, evening and morning, the first day. God made order out of chaos, balance out of light and dark, and goodness all around.

Psalm 29 is a call to worship, calling the heavenly beings and all of creation to worship God and to be amazed by God’s holiness and splendor. The psalmist uses the forces of creation—water, wind, fire and earth—to show God’s power and might and how God reigns over creation. When we are in the awesome power of our God, we tremble in awe, calling out, “Glory!” Nonetheless, God reigns forever, and grants peace to God’s people.

In Acts 19:1-7, Paul encounters some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. These disciples did not know about the Holy Spirit, and it is unclear if they knew the one John prophesied about, Jesus, had come. Paul explains that they were baptized into the repentance of forgiveness of sins, but they were not baptized in the name of Jesus. The disciples of John, which numbered twelve, were then baptized, and Paul laid his hands upon them. They received the Holy Spirit and were able to instantly use the gifts of the Spirit.

Mark 1:4-11 contains the story of Jesus’s baptism. Mark’s Gospel account is generally short on details, but the details we have on John are interesting. He appeared in the wilderness and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Mark doesn’t have the stories Luke contains, that John’s parents were both from priestly families and his father was a priest—perhaps it was thought he would also be a priest serving in the temple. Instead, we first find him here in Mark’s account in the wilderness. John was clothed with camel’s hair, wore a leather belt around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. Many scholars believe John may have been with the Essenes at the edge of the Dead Sea, a group that believed the Day of the Lord would be upon them at any time. They ate a mostly vegetarian diet, and used the Jewish practice of the mikveh, the ritual bath, on a regular basis (as a symbol of being washed clean). The mikveh was a pool that had continuous flow of water (not stagnant like a tub). It seems John may have taken this use into the practice of baptism in the river Jordan, which was a muddy river, where people washed their clothes and dishes. John proclaimed there was one coming after him, whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee came to him to be baptized, and the Spirit appeared like a dove above him as he was baptized, stating this was God’s son, the Beloved, with whom God was well pleased. Jesus chose to get into the dirty water of people’s lives to be baptized, to, as Matthew’s account states, “fulfill all righteousness” (3:15).

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Mark 2:1-22. Jesus returned home to Galilee, and while he was in Capernaum it was reported that “he was at home.” There was no room for anyone else to enter the house, so four friends of a man who was paralyzed climbed up on top of the roof, removed part of it and dug through the thatch. They lowered their friend down on the mat that he lay upon. Jesus saw their faith (that is, the friends’ faith) and said to the man paralyzed, “Your sins are forgiven.” Some of the scribes questioned him and said this was blasphemous, because only God could forgive sins. Jesus could tell they were talking about him and questioning his motives, so he questioned them, “which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven, or stand up, take your mat, and walk?” To show the scribes he did have the authority to forgive sins, he then told the paralyzed man to stand up, take his mat, and to walk. Everyone was amazed, having never seen anything like this. But it does us well to remember it was the faith of the friends that amazed Jesus. To the man paralyzed, he simply told him his sins were forgiven. It was only after, when Jesus perceived the hearts of the scribes and others grumbling, that he told the man to stand up and walk.

Following this, Jesus went out to teach by the sea, and as he walked along, he called to Levi the tax collector and told him to follow him. Jesus later sat and had dinner at Levi’s house, and some of the religious authorities grumbled that Jesus and his disciples were eating with tax collectors and sinners. The religious authorities questioned Jesus’s disciples, but Jesus replied to the authorities that he came not for the righteous but for sinners, the way those who are sick need a physician, not those who are well.

In a third scene in this passage, people questioned why Jesus’s disciples did not fast, like John’s disciples did, along with the Pharisees. Jesus explained that no one fasts at a wedding while the bridegroom is present. Using the image of himself as the bridegroom, Jesus explained there will come a time when he will be taken away and then they will fast. In verses 21-22, Jesus used the image of a new patch and new wineskins. You can’t put a new patch on old clothes because the new patch isn’t worn like the old and will pull away. New wine poured into old wineskins will burst the wineskins—new must be put into new. Jesus taught that he would do things in a new way, as he did not fit the people’s expectations.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 103:6-14 speak of how God works on behalf of the oppressed for justice. God made God’s ways known to Moses and the people, and God has love for the people as a father has love and compassion for his children. God is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, for God’s way is compassion.

On this first Sunday in the new year, there are rich stories, of both the visit of the Magi or the baptism of Jesus that remind us to view this new year with freshness. Perhaps our hopes have been tempered from recent years—the pandemic, past politics, the upcoming election in the U.S., the ongoing war in Gaza, the continued military coup in Myanmar in which thousands of refugees are fleeing every day. How do we look to the new year as anything but more of the same, or worse?

We remember that in an atmosphere of fear, scholars from another land came looking for a newborn to pay him homage. We remember that in the muck and mud of this world, John calls us into the waters to be baptized. To start new right here, right now. To claim that in this year, I will not succumb to violence. I will not be overtaken by hate and fear. I will stay true to God’s ways of overwhelming compassion and empathy. I will be led into this new year by another way. I will repent of the ways of this world and listen for the voice of God calling my name, telling me I am God’s beloved child, and I will know that God is well pleased with me. May it be so.

Call to Worship (Psalm 29:1-4, 11, Common English Bible)
You, divine beings! Give to the Lord—
Give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due God’s name!
Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor!
The Lord’s voice is over the waters; the glorious God thunders;
The Lord is over the mighty waters.
The Lord’s voice is strong;
The Lord’s voice is majestic.
Let the Lord give strength to God’s people!
Let the Lord bless God’s people with peace!

Prayer of Invocation
God of New Beginnings, we gather in Your name on the first Sunday of the new year. Help us to not be jaded by the ways of the world, but to trust in Your love that You continue to make all things new, including our hearts and our hopes. Restore in us the joy of Your salvation and place a new and right spirit within us all. May we enter this time of worship focused on You, knowing that You will never leave us or forsake us, and that we are part of each other as the body of Christ, gathered in fellowship and in praise of You. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that our ways are not Your ways. Our human desire for justice is often confused with retribution. We want punishment, for others to hurt how we have hurt, to experience the losses we have felt. This is not Your way, taught by Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for us. Jesus taught us to actively resist evil and to pray for those who persecute us. In our practice of justice, in our call for righteousness, remind us to be wary of words that cause harm instead of building up. Guard us from actions that will undermine the work of justice. For those of us with privilege, call us into accountability of knowing when to be silent and lift up other voices rather than our own. Help us often to pause and reflect before we act, so that we might minimize harm and be true to Your ways of love, justice and mercy. Amen.

You are God’s child, the Beloved Ones. You are here, you have already made an effort to be part of something outside of yourselves. Now, take what you are learning about God’s extravagant love and shape your life around it. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Be kind to others, lift up the voices of the marginalized, make space for those who have been left out. Build up one another in the Spirit. Seek forgiveness where you have gone astray, repent, and turn back to God’s ways. For with you, God is well pleased. Amen.

Creator of the Stars, when we look up at the heavens, we know how small we really are, how incredibly insignificant to the rest of the entire universe. We are one tiny speck of dust in a grand universe, precious and fragile. Yet You hold us carefully in Your hands. In our fragility, we sometimes lash out at You and others. Remind us how incredibly significant each and every one of us is to You, O God, and to each other. We are precious and awesome and fearfully and wonderfully made by You, our Wondrous Creator. Call us to love one another, to remember how much we are loved, and to build upon the foundation of love that You are creating Your kin-dom upon. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 31st, 2023—First Sunday after Christmas Day, Holy Name of Jesus, New Year’s Eve

Revised Common Lectionary:

First Sunday after Christmas Day: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Holy Name of Jesus: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46

Narrative Lectionary: Beginning of Good News, Mark 1:1-20 (Psalm 91:9-12)

There are three possible choices for most Protestant churches this Sunday following the Revised Common Lectionary:

For the First Sunday after Christmas Day, the lessons begin with Isaiah 61:10-62:3. The good news of God’s salvation for the people has come in the return from exile. Like a bridegroom, God has dressed the people in the clothing of a bride, very festive and celebratory, a public declaration of God’s love for the people. As the chapter turns, the voice of the narrator turns back to the prophet, who will not keep quiet about what God has done for the people. Other nations shall see the glory of God through the city of Jerusalem, as her walls are restored like a crown, a symbol that the nation once taken into exile in defeat has returned in glory.

Psalm 148 is a song of praise from all of creation to God. The psalmist calls all the heavenly beings, the celestial objects, everything God created above the earth to praise God. Then the psalmist turns to the earth: sea monsters and creatures from the birth of creation, all the meteorological elements, the earth itself, all animals and plants and birds of the air. Next, the psalmist calls upon the people: all rulers, kings and princes, young and old, women and men and all people, to praise God. God is above all, creator of all, and is the advocate for the people. The psalmist concludes by praising the faithful, the people of Israel closest to God.

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia after a great controversy arose where Gentile believers were treated as not fully part of the fellowship with Jewish followers of Jesus. Paul reminds them in 4:4-7 that Jesus came as “under the law” and through Jesus they are children of God in Christ, not through their background. So they are heirs of God as children of God because of the adoption of Christ, as are all who believe in Jesus.

Luke 2:22-40 contains the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple. Mary and Joseph follow through on their commitment as Jewish parents in the purification rites after birth, presenting their firstborn to the Lord, and offering a sacrifice on his behalf. But while they are there, they encounter Simeon, a man who was faithful to God’s ways and had a revelation from the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. He took Jesus in his arms and praised God, including a word of blessing for the Gentiles as well as the people of Israel. Simeon blessed both Joseph and Mary but warned that the child would face opposition and be a sign of the rising and falling of many, and specifically warned Mary that she would experience great pain in her soul. Along with Simeon, Anna also met Joseph and Mary at the temple. She was eighty-four, a prophet and a widow, and praised God and spoke about the child. After the visit to the temple, Mary and Joseph and Jesus returned to Galilee and raised Jesus there.

For Holy Name of Jesus, the readings begin with Numbers 6:22-27, the blessing of God through Moses to Aaron and the priests, and then to the people of Israel. This blessing was given before Moses entered the tent of dwelling, calling upon God to give the people peace.

Psalm 8 is a prayer praising God in awe and wonder of all God made. What are human beings in the vast universe, the expanse that God has created? Yet God made human beings a little lower than divine, and put the earth in our sacred trust, to care for every creature on earth. How amazing and wonderful is our God, the psalmist proclaims!

Galatians 4:4-7 is part of Paul’s argument to the leaders of the church in Galatia, who made the Greek Christians second-class citizens. Paul reminds them that Christ was born “under the law” as the other Jewish followers of Jesus were. Paul’s view is that all are made children of God, regardless of if they were born a Jew or a Greek because of Christ, not because they follow the law, and therefore the Greek believers should not be subjected to anything other than faith in Christ.

An alternative Epistle reading is Philippians 2:5-11, the ancient confession of the church that Paul shares to the Philippians: though Christ was in the form of God, he was born a human being. He did not abuse his power, but instead emptied himself, serving God through his humbleness in the fullness of humanity, dying on the cross. God raised him and exalted him, and gave him the name above every name, so that all may know and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The Gospel lesson of Luke 2:15-21 contains the witness of the shepherds, proclaiming what they had heard and seen of the angels, and glorifying God in witness of the birth of the Savior. Mary treasured all their words, pondering them in her heart. After eight days, she and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, and he was given the name Jesus, as the angel Gabriel had told Mary to name him.

For New Year’s Eve/Day, the first reading is the ancient poem of seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, in which the Teacher (the narrator of Ecclesiastes) reminds us that there is a season for everything and a purpose under heaven. Verses 2-8 display an antithetical structure, in which each verse has two lines, and each line has a statement with its antithesis. Seven pairs show a perfectly balanced poem (seven being the number of days of the week, a holy number in scripture). We cannot control what happens in life, but verses 9-13 help us live into the balance of 2-8. There is nothing better than to find enjoyment in what we do and how we live now, because we cannot control anything else. Love God and love your neighbor and do your best. Better to make an intention for a good life than resolutions that will not last. (An expanded version of these thoughts are in Judson Bible Lessons Journeys for Winter 2022-2023 from Judson Press).

The Psalm reading for New Year’s Day is the same as for Holy Name of Jesus, Psalm 8, a prayer praising God in awe and wonder of all God made. What are human beings in the vast universe, the expanse that God has created? Yet God made human beings a little lower than divine, and put the earth in our sacred trust, to care for every creature on earth. How amazing and wonderful is our God, the psalmist proclaims!

The Epistle reading of Revelation 21:1-6a contains the vision John of Patmos beheld of a new heaven and a new earth, reminiscent of Isaiah 65. The new city of Jerusalem came down from heaven, arriving like a bride ready for her wedding, because God would now live with the people, and there would be no more separation between earth and heaven, between death and life—there would be only life, and all things made new. God is the Beginning and the End, encompassing everything.

The vision of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is of a king separating the sheep from the goats. Jesus tells the disciples that when the Son of Humanity arrives in glory with the angels, those who fed the hungry and thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned will inherit the reign of God. They will be unaware that when they did these things, they did them to the Son, but the Reigning One will know; for when they cared for the most vulnerable, they cared for the Son. However, those who didn’t do those things, who didn’t see Christ in the faces of the people among them, they will face eternal punishment. If we are waiting for a God to come and save us, or even if we believe we are already saved and we’re just waiting for the end time, we are missing God right in front of us, and God needs us, now—in loving our neighbor as ourselves.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the beginning of the Good News in Mark 1:1-20. Part of this passage was included in the Advent readings this year in the Revised Common Lectionary. Mark begins the gospel account with a quote from Isaiah and that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. John declared that one more powerful than him was coming after him, who would baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus came to John to be baptized, and the Spirit descended upon him, declaring that Jesus was the Beloved Son. Jesus was immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, where he was tempted by Satan, and the angels waited on him. Following his time in the wilderness, Jesus declared that the time was fulfilled, the reign of God had drawn near, and he called upon the people to repent and believe in the Good News. Four fisherman left their boats and followed Jesus when he called them, the first disciples.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 91:9-12 is the scripture the devil quotes in both Luke and Matthew while Jesus is in the wilderness (Mark’s account does not contain the three temptations). The devil tries to tempt Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the tower to test God. But Jesus knows that God is already with him, and quotes back “do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

There are so many choices for this Sunday, and many may choose not to preach a sermon today. Families are traveling, New Year’s plans are made, and some pastors will be on vacation. Some churches will do a storybook Sunday, or Lessons and Carols (The Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols Sample Service on my Christmas Resources page has each Advent candle lit on the wreath throughout the service that might be easy to adapt for this Sunday).

The Gospel lesson from the First Sunday after Christmas is a story we do not often read, of Jesus’s dedication in the temple. In a time where antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise, it is important to remember as Christians that we are all branches with the same roots. Even with that metaphor, we must be careful not to proclaim a supersessionist Gospel, but rather an acknowledgement that Jesus was fully Jewish. His parents had him circumcised (Luke 2:21) and later brought him to the temple for the sacrifice after Mary’s purification. Simeon’s proclamation that Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles as well as a light for glory for the people of Israel is a reminder that for the early followers of Jesus who were Jewish, many thought the Gentiles would come and join with them. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (and Luke’s later writing in Acts) shows otherwise—that through Jesus all become adopted heirs of God, not through the following of the law. However, Jesus himself followed the law of Moses, as did his parents at his birth. This passage can be a reminder to us to honor our roots as well as our differences in understanding who we are as God’s peoples.

Perhaps a reading of Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace, the poem she wrote for the 2005 White House Christmas Tree Lighting, might be appropriate (it is also available as a book to purchase). I would caution reading this to a multi-faith community because it still is a Christian-centric poem, but it does invite others into a spirit of peace. So in a church, this would be an appropriate setting to read.

As we prepare for 2024, may this Sunday bring light-heartedness and hope for the year about to turn.

Call to Worship (Psalm 148:1-5)
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all the angels;
Praise God, all the heavenly host!
Praise God, sun and moon;
Praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For God commanded and they were created.

Prayer of Invocation
Almighty One, we enter this time of worship, prepared for the calendar to turn the page, the year to turn to twenty twenty-four, and we give thanks for all You have done for us, for the year You have brought us through. Before the next year begins, may we put aside the busy-ness of the world to focus on You, to join our hearts in worship, in prayer and praise and thanksgiving, for You are the God of all seasons, of all times, the Alpha and Omega, who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, we confess that we have broken our resolutions, forgotten our promises, failed to fulfill our vows. We look back on our last year and perceive the disappointments, our regrets and failings. But we also confess that You are our Creator, and You make all things new. We confess our sins and know that You offer us forgiveness, when we truly repent and turn back to You and Your ways. On the eve of this new year, may we look to the good You have done for us, the goodness we have experienced in one another, the love shared, the hopes fulfilled and still to come, and the joy of life that You have given us. May we let go of the regrets and mistakes and guilt, and reclaim the promise in You of new life, abundant life, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It’s not just January 1, but each and every day that is a new day, a new blessing from God. Each and every day is the possibility to start again. Each and every day is a reminder of God’s extravagant love for you. Know this: God loves you so much God sent the Son for you. For all of us, but especially for you, because God loves you as God’s own. You are God’s beloved, and when you turn back to God’s ways, God is well pleased with you. Go and share the good news, that each and every day is a new day of hope, of love, of peace. Amen.

God of Hope, we enter this space between the years with trepidation. We have had our hopes dashed before. We have had our world stop, the rug pulled out from under us in years past. We know the trap of thinking that the next year is full of all good things. And yet we still hope for it. We still hope for peace. We still hope for reconciliation and reparation and restoration. Remind us, Loving One, that we have to become the agents of hope in this world. We must be living hope to others, or we are speaking empty words. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must look to the most vulnerable in society to make sure their needs are met. We must participate in the work of justice to pursue peace. We pray, O God, that You will challenge us, inspire us, and guide us into this New Year to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. Amen.