Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah of the Exile, Isaiah 40:1-11 (Mark 1:1-4)
The Revised Common Lectionary begins with the same passage as the Narrative Lectionary: the calling of the voice out of the wilderness to the people who were in exile. In Isaiah 40:1-11, the people hear words of comfort from God through the prophet. The people have been in exile for over seventy years, and now, with the rise of the Persian empire, the people will be encouraged to return home from Babylon. The people have suffered more than enough—they’ve suffered too much. What God will do in bringing the people out of exile is restoring everything to how God intended—the high brough low, the low brought high, all the rough places smoothed out. God is leveling the playing field and starting over for the people of Israel. Though they will not remain faithful, God’s word is always faithful—forever. The prophet calls upon the people who remained in Jerusalem to shout to the world that God is bringing the people home. God is like a shepherd leading the people, carrying the most vulnerable—the next generation.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 is a song of God’s faithfulness even though the people have gone astray. In verses 1-2, the psalmist speaks of how God has forgiven the people and restored them. In 8-13, the psalmist concludes that for those who are faithful, for those who remain in awe, God will bring all good things together. Poetically, the psalmist imagines steadfast love and faithfulness embracing, righteousness and peace greeting each other in a kiss. Faithfulness springs up from the ground while righteousness reaches down from the sky. God draws forth everything together in goodness and leads the people in the way of peace and righteousness.
2 Peter 3:8-15a may be the latest book in the New Testament, coming as late as the middle of the second century (and not written by Peter). Knowing this, we hear the assurance that Christ will return, though God’s time is not our time. Speaking of the day of the Lord as told by the prophets, the writer envisions the day using the image of the thief in the night (Jesus used that as well in Mark 13), the heavens set on fire and dissolved and the elements of earth melted (the erasing of the line between heaven and earth), and the vision of a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21). The writer urges the believers to wait patiently and remember what Paul wrote to them (meaning the receivers of this letter would be familiar with the letters of Paul at this point). This passage reminds us that scripture brings us assurance, that our waiting is not in vain. For the prophets of old who waited for the Messiah, for shepherds who would not lead the people astray, for a return from exile, to the leaders of the early church struggling to survive decades after the ascension of Jesus and the destruction of the temple—waiting for God is an active practice of faith, and we can learn from them.
Mark 1:1-8 is the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Considered the oldest Gospel account we have, Mark begins the gospel with the quote from Isaiah 40 of the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” and immediately associates the verse with John. The Good News begins with John the Baptizer in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (The Narrative Lectionary’s supplemental verses end here). The Gospel does not start in the city of Bethlehem, the city of David; nor does it start in Jerusalem, the city of kings and the temple, or even in a quaint village in Nazareth. The Gospel starts in the middle of nowhere. And the people from the countryside and from Jerusalem began to go to John and met him at the Jordan. And this wild man who wears camel’s hair and eats locusts with honey tells them that one is coming after him who is more powerful (so John maybe thought he was powerful, just not as powerful as the Messiah?) What a way to begin a story! The one who is coming after John will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of the Good News—it’s out of nowhere, it’s for everyone, and it includes the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is it—the Good News often appears right out of nowhere, right in a time no one expects. Though the prophets often hinted there would be a return from exile, for decades they lived under the rule of Babylon. When Cyrus came to power in Persia, unexpectedly the people were urged to return home by royal decree. Under the rule of Rome, though the people had some freedom of worship compared to others—out of nowhere a strange man appears proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many scholars believe that John came from the Essenes, a small group of Jews who lived on the shore of the Dead Sea and believed the day of the Lord was coming at any moment, and some of their practices are similar to the descriptions of John the baptizer. But in any case, neither of these moments were necessarily predictable. The Good News appears suddenly, out of nowhere, and the people begin to gather when they recognize it. In Acts 1, when the angels speak to the disciples who are still watching Jesus ascend, they say, “Why are you still looking up?” The Good News continues to not follow predictions but shows up, out of nowhere (and a good reminder that prophecy is not prediction!) The Epistles remind us to be ready, to actively watch, to live faithfully, for the Gospel will break forth in a new way and surprise us.
Call to Worship (Psalm 85:8-11)
Let us hear what God the LORD will speak,
For God will speak peace to the people, to God’s faithful,
to those who turn to God in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who are in awe God,
That God’s glory may dwell with us.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
Righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
And righteousness will look down from the sky.
God is bringing all things together and making all things new,
God is at work in our world for peace.
Prayer of Invocation
Creator God, we give thanks to You for making all things new. In this time of worship, may our hearts and minds be open to receiving You in a new way; to new insights in scripture, to new ways of understanding Your presence among us, to new experiences of You in our lives. May we be open to receiving one another in mutual love and care, lifting up one another, and sharing Your peace with one another. We join our hearts together in prayer and in praise of You, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of peace and justice, we confess that we have failed to live into either. We have mistaken peace for comfortableness, and justice for retribution. We have tuned out the stories that cause us discomfort and have twisted justice to be a power play for those with privilege. Forgive us for not noticing those on the margins. Forgive us for deliberately ignoring the most vulnerable among us. Forgive us for not pursuing Your justice of reparation and restoration. Call us into accountability with one another and lead us through our uncomfortableness so we might truly live into Your ways that lead to peace. In the name of Christ, who was ridiculed and scorned, mocked and misunderstood—in his name we pray and ask forgiveness. Amen.
Mark 11:28-30 “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.”
Know that when you give over your burdens to God, you will find you are not alone. We carry each other’s burdens. We share each other’s joys. Not one of us are perfect, all of us are in need of grace and forgiveness. Extend grace and forgiveness to one another, and to yourself, and strive to do better, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Amen.
We know that the daylight will shift, that the weather will change, but in this moment, O God, help us to settle deep into this season. To understand the harshness and bleakness of this time, but that it will pass. We remember that Good News appears out of nowhere. It is a voice of one—one person. It is a voice that cries out in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. It is a voice that sees the futility of life, that people are like grass that withers and fades away, and yet still has hope. Still calls for comfort. Still calls for peace. We hear Your voice, O God, in the bleak midwinter. We hear Your voice, O God, in the terrible cries of war and violence and bloodshed. We hear Your voice, O God, calling us to turn back to You. We hear Your voice, O God, calling us to the water. We are settled in deep, O God, into the bleakness, and yet we know Your voice is calling us, and will move us and shake us and stir us to do something, for You will make all things new. The world is about to turn. Amen.