Worship Resources for August 29th, 2021—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Lord’s Supper, 1 Samuel 21:1-9; Mark 14:12-25 or Series on Revelation, 13:1-18 (John 12:30-32)

The first selection in the Hebrew scriptures shifts midway through this season, from following the rise of the kings of Israel with Saul, David and Solomon, into Wisdom literature, in which Solomon is seen as an author and figure of Wisdom. In Song of Solomon 2:8-13, this love song marks upon the beauty of springtime, the newness of life, and that the time is ripe for new love. Often viewed as a metaphor of God’s love for humanity, Wisdom literature reminds us that love, even the love shared between people, comes from God, is blessed by God, and should be celebrated.

Psalm 45 is a song of blessing for a king’s wedding. The first two verses address the king, showering upon praise and compliments, and verses 6-9 speak of God’s anointing and blessing of the king. God’s reign is everlasting, and God blesses the king of Israel, for he practices justice and righteousness and despises evil. The psalmist continues to compliment the king for his appearance and majesty on his wedding day.

As part of Moses’ final words to the people while they prepare to enter the land promised them, in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Moses reminds the people to remember all that they were taught of the law, ordinances, and statutes of God. No other nation has a relationship with their god the way Israel has with God. The people are instructed to continue teaching their children and to future generations—to not forget what they have learned.

Psalm 15 is a short psalm, answering the question of who may enter the temple of God. The psalm lists out those who live in God’s ways, who do what is right, who do not take advantage of others but are honorable and trustworthy. All who live in righteousness may enter the temple because they will never falter.

The Epistle lesson begins a series in James. 1:17-27 speaks of pure religion—living into God’s ways and not the ways of the world. The writer instructs those receiving these words to be quick to listen but slow to speak. Part of Wisdom literature in the Christian scriptures, the author of James invites us to live into God’s ways, to shed anger and to turn instead to humility. We are called to live out the word, not just hear it, but to do it. To think we are religious and harm others with our words—that shows our religion is worthless, because it didn’t bring transformation. True religion cares for those who are marginalized and invites us into the life desires for us, where we listen before speaking, where we are humble before God and one another.

The Gospel lesson returns to Mark. In chapter 7, some of the religious leaders notice that some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating. This wasn’t for hygienic purposes, but a ritual washing to make sure nothing they touched became unclean before they ate it. Jesus saw this as hypocritical, that they were concerned about the ritual washing of hands rather than the things some religious leaders said and did that could cause harm to others. Jesus taught the crowds that it isn’t what goes in, what food that was touched that causes a person to become unclean, but rather how they live and what they say. Our actions and words reflect God’s word in our life, because what we say and do can cause harm to other people. Our rituals and traditions may help shape our lives, but the truth of God in our lives is lived out.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from September 3rd, 2017, in the archives, for the series on Sacraments. Because the Narrative Lectionary has added a fifth week for this series this year, the resources for this week’s lesson on Revelation is new.

In 1 Samuel 21:1-9. David comes to the temple in secret, but the only bread for him and his men to eat is the Bread of Presence, reserved for the priests. David declares that he and his men have kept themselves holy (a way of saying they haven’t slept with women, which was a requirement to enter the temple) and the priest Ahimelech gives David the bread, and at the same time gives David the sword of Goliath to carry out the king’s mission.

Mark 14:12-25 contains Mark’s account of the Last Supper, during the Passover Meal when Jesus takes bread and breaks it, and the cup and pours it out, and says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus also uses this opportunity to declare that one of them, one of his own, will betray him. This must have disturbed the disciples, who thought they were coming to celebrate the Passover, not hear about Jesus’ body broken and blood shed, or his betrayal at the hands of one of them. They may have been shocked, horrified at what was happening, and perhaps some beginning to finally understand that the path to eternal life had to go through death.

Revelation 13:1-18 (which should begin with 12:18) speaks of the beast from the sea and the beast from the land in John of Patmos’ vision. The author draws from the book of Daniel in this vision to call out the empire—in Daniel’s day, the Greeks, and in John’s day, the Romans. In the Roman empire, Caesar was seen as a god on earth, and the people worshiped and lived in fear. The second beast is like the chaos monsters of myth and folklore in the ancient near East, also representing the empire. John equates these beasts with the rule of Satan on earth, the fear and oppression the people face. Those who worship Caesar and those who trust in the empire are really worshipers of evil and have given in to the power that is against what God stands for: love, justice, mercy, and righteousness.

In John 12:30-32, Jesus speaks of this world and the ruler of this world—the devil, the ways of evil—and the time had come for this world’s ruler to be thrown out and that Jesus, upon his resurrection and ascension, would draw the faithful of God to him.

As we begin this shift in the season after Pentecost, we delve into Wisdom literature in the Bible. Wisdom literature is rooted in the awe (sometimes translated as fear) of God—the knowledge that God is far beyond our understanding, whose very presence causes our hearts both to tremble and not be afraid. God has taught us through the commandments and ordinances our way of life, but it must become the way we live—not a set of rules, not a way to divide who is good or who is bad, but a way that our lives are rooted in. A way that seeks justice, practices compassion, listens more than speaks. A way that is true, where our words, actions, and values come together. The ways of the world tempt us to seek our own desires and power. Sometimes, even in our pursuit of Godliness we fall into a trap of exclusivism, a way of retaining power and privilege under the guise of religion. Wisdom teaches us that our lives must be lived out in inclusive love, especially for the marginalized and oppressed, and that we ourselves must not be tempted into the ways of empire—either externally, by worldly measures of success, or internally, by claiming exclusive rights to God’s love and ways. We must be radically inclusive and live humbly with our God.

Call to Worship
God is active in our world and in our lives,
We gather in awe of our God.
Christ calls us into the way of love and justice,
We gather to follow Jesus our Savior.
The Spirit moves us in compassion and kindness,
We gather as one people of God.
Come, join your hearts in worship,
And ponder the awesomeness of God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Awesome God, we come before You confessing our sins. We confess that we have accepted the way of empire. We have accepted the silencing of marginal voices in our society as a given. We have not questioned the oppression of those who are different from us, and when we do question, we have not always sought their liberation. We have ignored the cries of those who are most in need. Almighty One, we know You hear their cries, and we hear Your voice calling us into accountability. You remind us of our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves. Help us to turn to You and away from empire, away from the ways of this world. Remind us that we live for Your heavenly reign, on earth as it is in heaven, and that what we do now matters far beyond us. Guide us into Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Those who turn from the world and turn back to God are forgiven. Those who strive to do better are forgiven. Those who seek to repair and heal in our broken world are forgiven. All of us, when we profess our faith in Christ, know the forgiveness of our God, because we feel the pull to engage in restoring what has been broken. Live into forgiveness with accountability. Love one another as Christ has loved you and go forth sharing the good news of our God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer
Loving God, teach us to love not as the world loves. The world views love as a transaction, a give and take. Teach us to love in a way that heals. Teach us to love in a way that restores. Teach us to love in a way that repairs the brokenness of our world. Teach us to love in a way that does not seek repayment, but rather, teach us to love wholeheartedly, to see one another as truly made in Your image, as brothers, sisters, siblings of one another, connected to all of creation. In the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for us out of Your wondrous love, we pray. Amen.

A Prayer for Afghanistan

O God, we weep for Afghanistan.

We recognize the bravery of those who died to help others be free.
We recognize the bravery of those who died, desperate to save themselves in these days.
We recognize that bravery has not saved us, and we grieve the lives lost these twenty years. We honor their memory and sacrifice not by losing ourselves in despair, but by remembering that the only way forward is to learn.
To love and not to hate.
To remember that our anger is grief.
To understand in our powerlessness right now, we have the capacity to love and give.
To show kindness and compassion.

O God, we see the images from the streets, and we weep.
We see the images from the crowded planes, and we weep.
We see the images of those who were so desperate to escape, and we weep.

For what can we do, besides mourn and pray, but to love, and in our love, grieve?

May we never turn to hate:
May we never hate another for their religion.
May we never hate another for their differences in appearance.
May we never hate another for the land they come from.
May we never hate another.

May we be filled with Your love and compassion, for soldiers and civilians, who have given everything and lost so much. May we care for the families in mourning.

And may we learn. May we learn and change our ways, and work to change the world from violence to restoration.

In the name of Christ, we pray.
Amen.

Worship Resources for August 22nd, 2021—Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Narrative Lectionary: Sacraments—Lord’s Supper, Psalm 65 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, or Revelation: 6:1-8, 7:9-17 (John 14:1-4)

After King David’s death, King Solomon established worship in the temple in 1 Kings 8. Solomon remembered the covenant that God made with his father David and prayed for its renewal. He prayed for God’s presence to be in the temple, that when the people of Israel prayed toward the temple, God would hear their prayers. Solomon prayed that the temple itself would be a witness to others outside of Israel because they heard of God’s deeds and would be drawn from distant lands. This dedication for the temple not only establishes temple worship, but the role of prayer in Israelite worship life.

Psalm 84 is a song of praise for God’s temple. Mirroring heaven on earth, even the sparrows, the psalmist sings, will find a home there (and probably literally, birds made their nests in the open temple spaces). People who travel to the temple would find themselves in awe. The psalmist sings that there is no other place they’d rather be, for God blesses and does good works for those who are faithful.

In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, Joshua had led the people of Israel since Moses’ death, and Joshua called upon the people to make their choice to renew their commitment to God in 24:1-2a, 14-18. Joshua gave them the choice to serve the gods of other peoples, as their ancestors had once done, but Joshua and his family chose to serve the Lord their God, who delivered them from Egypt. The people renewed their commitment to God, for God had protected them and brought them to the land promised to their ancestors.

The second selection of the psalm concludes its three-week series with Psalm 34 with verses 15-22. God’s face is turned toward those who are faithful and who live in ways of righteousness and God’s face is turned from those who are wicked. God hears the cries of the faithful in their despair and dejection, and will deliver them, protect them, and care for them. God will hold accountable those who afflict the righteous and will save the faithful.

The Epistle series in Ephesians concludes with 6:10-20 (which was the Narrative Lectionary reading on August 1st). This metaphorical list of armor is all defensive, save for the Sword of the Spirit (the word of God). The rest of it is for proclaiming peace, abiding in God’s salvation and righteousness. This metaphor reminds the reader that the struggle is not against blood and flesh but the rulers and authorities and powers of the present time of evil. The author roots nonviolent protest as spiritual work, against the spiritual forces of evil: oppression, greed, marginalization—all the forces of empire. The author concludes with a call to prayer and a request for prayer while they are in prison, so they may speak boldly in faith.

The Gospel selection concludes its series in John on the Bread of Life in John 6:56-69. The first three verses overlap with last week’s selection. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life, and that to eat his flesh, to drink his blood, is to absorb all of Jesus into one’s life and find eternal life. Jesus’ disciples are worried that this message is too harsh (maybe too graphic) and that it’s hard to accept. Jesus teaches them that it is the Spirit that gives life, not worldly bread and drink, not the consumption of this world. Life is found in following Jesus, and the disciples, though questioning, know this. They know that Jesus is the Holy One sent by God, and that to know God, they have to absorb Jesus into their daily life.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from August 27th, 2017 in the archives:

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on the Sacraments and on Revelation. For the Lord’s Supper, the focus is Psalm 65. This call to worship God reminds the people that God is the one who performs awesome deeds of deliverance, and is all of our hope. God is the one who provides for all the earth, who forgives our transgressions, and God draws us near. Happy are those who are chosen by God to be with God.

Paul is displeased with the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. He has heard about the divisions within the church, but he is most disgusted by the divisions shown at the table for the Lord’s Supper, because they don’t really come together for this holy meal but to eat their own supper, to gorge on what they have had, to become drunk and enjoy themselves while others go hungry. This is not what the table is about. Instead, continuing from verse 23, Paul reminds the church that this is a meal of remembrance. This meal is to be taken reverently, and all need to examine themselves before coming to the table.

In the series on Revelation, from 6:1-8 and 7:9-17, the first four seals are opened, releasing the four horses associated with the apocalypse, bringing violence, hunger, famine, and pestilence upon the earth. But after the seals are opened, there is a great multitude that appear in John’s vision, no one can count them. They are of every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb and praising God. These are the ones who have come through the great ordeal, who have survived, and they come to praise God, and God will wipe away every tear from their eye. They will suffer no more. Throughout scripture, there is always a remnant that survives. There is always hope.

John 14:1-4 is part of Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples, in which he promises that he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them. Jesus promises the disciples that they know the way to the place where Jesus is going. Have faith, do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus tells the disciples, for there is room for all in the kingdom of God.

Taking on the metaphorical armor of God, being fed on spiritual food, the flesh and blood of Christ, is to absorb the way of Christ into our daily life. Solomon’s dedication of the temple proclaimed to the people that God was among them. The writer of Ephesians, the Gospel of John, teach us that the way to draw close to God is to live into God’s ways, to saturate God into our daily life, to take on this identity, inside and outside, as a follower of Jesus. God draws near to us, but Christ calls us to go fully into the life God intends for us, in righteousness, justice, and peace.

Call to Worship
Whether we gather our hearts at home or afar,
We are the church, the body of Christ.
Whether we are at home or in a building together,
We are in the house of God, for God is with us.
Whether we sing in the choir or pray under the trees,
We are at worship, for God is everywhere.
Come, join in worship, wherever you are,
For we are God’s people.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we come before You to confess our divisions, the walls we have built, the lines we have drawn. We confess that we have determined with our human understanding who is just and who is not, who is loved and who is not, who is right and who is wrong. We have been exclusive in our love instead of inclusive in Your Gospel. Forgive us. Remind us that all of us are created in Your image. All of us are worthy of love. All of us have sinned, and all of us can participate in the work of reparation, restoration, and forgiveness. Call us as Your children, O God. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Brother, our Redeemer, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
No matter what boundaries and borders we have made, God transcends them all. God’s love knows no measure, no limit. There is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Know that you are forgiven, and called into the work of healing and hope, mercy and justice. Live into God’s ways, and know that Christ is with you. Amen.

Prayer
Deep calls to deep, O God, and You have given us hearts and minds to be open to Your love and to ponder the great mysteries. Guide us in our search for understanding. Keep us to Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Hold us to Your commandments to love You and to love our neighbors. Throughout our lives, may we continue to draw closer to You, to know more of Your ways, and to also be in awe at the vastness of the universe You made that we will never fully understand. Lead us, Eternal One, through life and death and into the great mystery of eternity. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 15th, 2021—Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Baptism, Psalm 84 and Romans 6:1-11, or Series on Revelation, 5:1-13 (John 1:29-31)

This is one of those occasions with the whole of the Revised Common Lectionary—both selections from the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost—follow the same them: seeking Wisdom.

Solomon, who became king after his father David’s long reign and death, asks God for wisdom in 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14. The writer makes it clear that Solomon was not perfect—he still held to some of the local worship practices of offering incense at “high places”—other altars—but Solomon turned to God, to draw close to God. Instead of wealth or power, he asked God for the ability to discern what was right. God was pleased with Solomon’s request, and granted him power and wealth because God knew Solomon would do what was right. As the saying from Spiderman goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Solomon looked first to the weighty responsibility of being king before looking to all the benefits. He understood what his father David had lost, the violence that had torn his family apart, and sought to live and rule differently.

Psalm 111 is a song of praise to God for all of God’s wonderful works. God is always remembering the covenant made with the people, and God provides for the people’s daily needs. God is just and merciful. God’s work is righteous, and God lives out the covenant with the people. This psalm concludes with a saying found throughout wisdom literature in the Bible: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear, in this sense, is the awe-inspired trembling of knowing God. Those who are in awe of God will not go astray from God’s ways.

The second selection from the Hebrew scriptures is of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 9:1-6. The number seven was considered a lucky, fortunate, complete number, and Wisdom’s house is built on seven pillars—a strong foundation. Personified as a woman, God’s Wisdom has set the table for the wise to seek her, a table that will nourish. She calls out to the people to abandon the foolish ways of living in this world, and to truly live in the way of understanding, to know God.

Continuing in Psalm 34 from last week, the second psalm selection this week focuses on verses 9-14. This portion leans heavily into seeking Wisdom, the fear/awe of God, and that those who do will lack nothing. Living into God’s ways—turning away from evil, and pursuing peace—this is the way of life, the way of Wisdom.

The Epistle reading continues in Ephesians with 5:15-20. The writer calls upon the people to make “the most of the time.” Live into God’s ways, instead of the ways of the world that are full of fleeing pleasures. Seek to be filled with the Spirit, and turn to God in praise and joy, rather than the “spirits” of this world. Turn your life into a way of thanksgiving to God, for this is making the most of our days.

The Gospel lesson on Jesus as the Bread of Life continues in John 6, repeating verse 51 from last week’s selection, and continuing through verse 58, on the theme of Jesus as the Bread of Life. The religious leaders and crowds who have gathered do not understand what Jesus is saying, taking him literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In the line of Wisdom literature, to eat and drink of Christ is to rely on Christ for one’s daily life, to understand that one’s daily needs are met when living into God’s ways. The way of Christ will lead to eternal life, new life that begins now and that death has no hold over.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from August 20th, 2017 in the archives:

The Narrative Lectionary continues with two selections for the last month of the summer: Sacraments and Revelation. Psalm 84 declares how wonderful the home of God is, and how the psalmist longs to dwell there. Even one day would be better than a thousand elsewhere. Happy are those who find their home with God.

When we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into Christ’s death, as Paul declares in Romans 6:1-11. And so, we are also raised with Christ. Our old self is crucified with Christ, put to death, so that sin and death no longer have a hold on us. Jesus died to sin once for all, and now he lives for God, as do we.

In John’s Revelation, during his heavenly vision in 5:1-13 there is a scroll with seven seals. Only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals, the Lamb that was slaughtered. The Lamb has received power and wealth and wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing, and every creature sings blessings to the Lamb, even the creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

John the Baptist declares in John 1:29-31, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He declares this as Jesus is coming, and some of John’s disciples turn and follow Jesus. John proclaimed who Jesus was to the world, that he might be revealed to all.

The Wisdom of God is found in right living. In the fear, or awe, of God, we know how wondrous and awe-inspiring God is, to the point that we tremble with the love God has for us. Because of this, the faithful turn their whole lives to God, a life that begins now and that death cannot stop because love is greater than death. We seek God with our whole being, and we know that the pleasures of this world are fleeting. The gains of this world mean nothing and come with the cost of systemic sin. In seeking the Wisdom of God, we actively resist sin in this world. We actively oppose all forms of oppression and work to dismantle it, when we put our hearts and minds into following Jesus, into seeking Wisdom.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 111:1-3)
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord,
With our whole hearts,
In the company of the congregation.
Great are the works of our God,
Studied by all who delight in God’s ways.
God’s work is full of honor and majesty,
God’s righteousness endures forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Eternal and Wise, Holy One, we confess before You that we have failed to live into Your Wisdom. We have failed to be in awe of You; instead, we have taken Your works for granted. We have sought the ways of this world that lead to our immediate, short-term satisfaction and worldly gain. We have neglected those in need around us. Instead of seeking our daily bread, we have sought our daily pleasures, confusing wants for needs, the short-term gain instead of the eternal reward in You. Forgive us. Call us away from the streets of foolishness to Your house of Wisdom, built upon the pillars of justice, righteousness, and mercy. Guide us to Your steps upon the firm foundation of trust in You. In the name of Christ, in the name of Wisdom, our Wise Eternal Creator, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
May Wisdom lead us back to God. May we turn with trembling hearts, quiet minds, and open hands. May we know the love and grace of Jesus Christ and be filled with overflowing compassion. May we know the forgiveness, love, and assurance that Christ has given us, and share it with the world. In wisdom, may we live all our days, trusting in God’s word, and the assurance that new life has already begun. We are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
Hear our prayer, O Wisdom from on high. Draw us into Your Spirit. Pull us away from the gains of the world, the foolishness that deflects and deters us. Call us into Your ways of knowledge. May we study Your scriptures. May we listen for Your voice at work in creation still. May we perceive how You are making all things new. May we tremble in awe and wonder at the works of Your hands, and how You are still creating, even in our hearts. You are making a new thing that is springing forth. Help us to be open to the newness You breath in us. Holy Wisdom, lead us in the way of insight. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 8th, 2021—Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Baptism, Psalm 46 & Acts 2:37-42, or Series on Revelation, 4:1-11, John 17:1-5

In 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33, David’s son Absalom is captured by Joab’s men. Joab had been a loyal servant of David and served as commander of his army. Absalom had been on the run after killing his half-brother Amnon, who raped their sister Tamar. Though at one point he reconciled with David, he later rebelled against David’s rule. David did not want him to be killed and hoped that it could be resolved peacefully. When a messenger approached, David thought it was good news, but wept when he heard his son Absalom was dead.

Psalm 130 (which was also the first choice in the Revised Common Lectionary back on June 27th) is a prayer for help from God. The psalmist cries out for God to listen to their prayer, to offer them mercy. They know that in God there is forgiveness, and they wait with hope. They know God will answer their prayers and call upon the congregation to wait because God is faithful to the people.

The prophet Elijah is ready to give up in 1 Kings 19:4-8. He was persecuted by Jezebel, wife of Ahab, for Elijah killed the prophets of Baal. He was ready to give up and die. However, God made him get up and eat. Elijah did, then he lay back down again. God woke him up a second time, telling him to eat and drink, because he had a journey ahead and he needed nourishment to make it. Elijah did so and had the strength to go on to Mount Horeb.

The second Psalm selection for the next three weeks comes from Psalm 34. In vs. 1-8, the psalmist begins by praising God and calling the congregation into glorifying God together. The psalmist speaks of how God has answered their prayers when they were suffering, and God has delivered those in need. The psalmist then calls upon the listener to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to know God’s goodness in all our senses, but especially in the food and drink that nourishes us.

The Epistle reading continues in Ephesians with 4:25-5:2. The author reminds the reader/listener that they are part of the community, the body of Christ together. They are called to speak the truth to each other, but not to allow anger to last. Believers must put aside their selfish, harmful ways, and instead, work together and build up one another. The author teaches that the faithful are to imitate Christ and live in love with one another, because Christ gave himself up for us.

The Gospel lesson continues the series in John on the Bread of Life with 6:35, 41-51. The passage repeats the verse from last week’s selection where Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life, and those who came to him would never hunger again. In 41-51, the author of John uses the term “the Jews” to refer to the people and religious leaders who complained against Jesus, but we must remember that Jesus, his disciples, and his followers were also Jewish. A certain group of religious leaders and others were opposed to Jesus, especially those who thought they knew him. They didn’t understand how he could claim to come from heaven when they knew Mary and Joseph. Jesus called on them not to complain, but instead to understand that if they had listened to the teachings of God, they ought to be drawn near to Jesus. The ancient Israelites had manna in the wilderness, but Jesus was the living bread from heaven. God provided for the people to survive in the wilderness; Jesus provides for the people eternal life.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, beginning on August 13th, 2017 in the archives, for this summer:

The series on Baptism begins with Psalm 46. The psalmist sings of our hope in God’s faithfulness, who is with us in the roughest of seas. There is a river, the psalmist declares, whose steams make glad the city of God, and God is in the midst of the city. The city and river refer to Jerusalem as well as the hope of a new Jerusalem, in which the water of life flows through.

Following Peter’s proclamation on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2:37-42, the people who hear Peter’s testimony, now recognizing through Peter Jesus as the Christ, ask Peter what they ought to do, and Peter declares they ought to be baptized. The scripture tells us that about 3000 were saved, and following this, the newly baptized began to live in community, serve one another, break bread together, and have the goodwill of all the people.

The series on Revelation begins with 4:1-11. John of Patmos, after specific mentions of the seven churches of Asia, goes deeper into his vision of the heavenly throne room, into the lavish descriptions of the thrones and the elders who sit upon them, as well as the creatures from Ezekiel’s vision. All come before God to praise God, who is greater than all this beauty and awesomeness and wonder.

In John 17:1-5, Jesus prays for God to glorify the Son. Through the gift of eternal life, we may know God. Jesus glorified God by finishing the work Christ began. Jesus asks God to glorify him with the glory that he had in the presence of God before the world began.

Do we not perceive what God has provided in front of us, or are we still demanding signs? Those who knew Jesus’ family didn’t believe he could come from God, even though he was teaching as one of the prophets, instruction on how God provides for all our needs. The way of life God has taught us is a way of loving one another, remembering that we are connected, that we are part of the beloved community together. King David had to live with the consequences of his actions, mirrored in the actions of his sons that sowed discord and rebellion. When we live out of selfish desires, we sow division because we have put ourselves first. Sometimes, it’s easier to poke at the divisions rather than embrace unity with diversity. How we live out our faith is how we glorify God in our worship.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 38:1, 3-5)
We will bless the Lord at all times;
God’s praise shall continually be on our lips.
O magnify the Lord with me,
Let us exalt God’s name together.
When we seek God, God will answer us,
And deliver us from all our fears.
Look to God with radiance,
May we never be ashamed of worshiping God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Lord of Life, we confess that we have sought to save ourselves first. We claim to follow Your ways, to follow Jesus who laid down his life for us, but at the first sign of conflict, we become defensive, we look to shore up our possessions, and we hold on to our pride. Forgive us for not understanding sacrifice. Forgive us for not becoming last of all and servant of all. Call us into accountability for our own actions of self-preservation, instead of living into Your ways of love, mercy, and justice. In the name of Jesus, who gave over his life for us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We have all fallen short, and we’ve all been selfish at times. God knows this, because God knows you and loves you despite your faults and shortcomings. God made us all a bit imperfect, and that’s okay. We learn, we grow, we fail, we forgive. Continue to grow with God, to learn to do better, strive to do good, and know that you are not alone on this journey of faith. Forgive one another, and it shall go well with you. Amen.

Prayer
Ancient of Days, You formed us from the stardust of the universe, shaping us into Your image, and breathing Your spirit into us. May we remember that we are from the stars and from the earth. May we recall Your great love for us that molds and shapes us into who we are. May we know how precious we are to You, and to one another. May we view one another as You view us: a treasured child, a holy gift, unique, loved, and needed in this world. May we shine as Your stars while staying rooted to what You have created us to be. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 1st, 2021—Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 6:10-20 (Matthew 10:28-31)

The fallout from David’s assault of Bathsheba continues in 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a. Bathsheba, after a period of mourning for her husband, was brought into David’s house, but God knew what David had done. The prophet Nathan told David a parable, which David believed was a real story, of a rich man who exploited a poor man and stole one of the poor man’s sheep to feed his own guest. David was outraged and wanted the rich man dead, and reparations made to the poor man. Nathan then revealed that the rich man in the story was David, for he had exploited Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. Because of this, Nathan prophesied that violence would never leave David’s house and that his own wives would be taken from him. What David had tried to cover up, God revealed to everyone. David had to admit his sin to God through Nathan.

Psalm 51:1-12 is a song long attributed to David after Nathan’s revealing of David’s sin. The psalmist seeks mercy from God and requests to be cleansed from their sin. They confess their sin before God and seek to be purified and restored. The psalmist sings of how God desires truth from our inner heart, and requests that God create a new heart, to be restored to God’s presence.

Right after the people escaped their oppression in Egypt through the Red Sea, they began complaining on the other side to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15. They were hungry, and remembered how good the food was back in their captivity and how they had enough bread. God promised to rain down bread, just enough for each day, for them to collect, along with quails in the evening. In the morning, a flaky bread lay on the ground just under the morning dew. The Israelites wondered what it was, but Moses told them it was the bread, the manna, God provided.

Psalm 78 recounts the stories of the ancestors of the people, and vs. 23-29 recount the story of God providing food for the people in the wilderness. God provided the “mortals” with the “bread of angels.” God provided an abundance for the people, including the quail in their camp. They were “well-fed” for God gave into their cravings.

The Epistle lesson continues its series in Ephesians with 4:1-16, which was the Narrative Lectionary reading for last week. The author, purporting to be Paul writing from prison, begins the second half of the letter with an ancient creed of unity in Christ: “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” The writer shifts from the unity of all to the diversity within the body, through the gift of God’s grace—we all have different gifts for ministry. The author calls for the believers to grow into maturity and to come into the unity of faith, “seeking the truth in love” within the body of Christ.

The Gospel series continues on John’s passages on the Bread of Life. Picking up from last week’s passage, in John 6:24-35, the crowds went looking for Jesus after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus had gone across the lake with the disciples after walking on the water to meet them, but then the crowds followed them on boats to Capernaum. Jesus knew they pursued him because they wanted more bread, more physical, tangible ways of satisfying their needs. Jesus instead called the crowds to work for spiritual food, what nourishes for eternal life. The crowds wanted to know what they must do to perform the work of God, but Jesus said the work was to believe in the one God sent to them. The crowds then asked for a sign, and one of them remembered the sign of the manna in the wilderness from Moses. Jesus corrected him—the manna was from God, not Moses—for God’s bread gives life. The crowds ask for Jesus to give them that bread always (reminiscent of when the Samaritan woman asked for the water of life in John 4:15). Jesus responded that he was the bread of life, and whoever came to him would never be hungry, and whoever believed in him would never be thirsty.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Ephesians with 6:10-20, the Armor of God (this will be the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle reading on August 22nd). This metaphorical list of armor is all defensive, save for the Sword of the Spirit (the word of God). The rest of it is for proclaiming peace, abiding in God’s salvation and righteousness. This metaphor reminds the reader that the struggle is not against blood and flesh but the rulers and authorities and powers of the present time of evil. The author roots nonviolent protest as spiritual work, against the spiritual forces of evil: oppression, greed, marginalization—all the forces of empire. The author concludes with a call to prayer and a request for prayer while they are in prison, so they may speak boldly in faith.

Jesus tells the disciples to not be afraid in Matthew 10:28-31. Jesus reminds the disciples that the authorities in this world have the power only to kill the body and to not be afraid of losing one’s life, but to fear the evil that can destroy both body and soul. But all are valuable to God, and all the hairs on our heads are accounted for.

What is it that we are pursuing in life? Are we satisfied with what we have, or are we pursuing more simply to gain more? What is the cost—not financially, but spiritually, emotionally, physically? Even when we believe we are trying to meet our daily needs, are we so caught up in the “rat race” that we miss what God desires for us? Are we all scavenging for bread instead of sharing the bread that we have with all in need, so that all people’s needs are met? A common understanding of the Feeding of the 5000 is that while Jesus may have given them only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, those there began to share the food that they had brought only for themselves, and recognized that when everyone shared, there was enough. The miracle was Jesus knew that simply starting with five loaves and two fish, people would want to add to that feast. When the crowds, in John’s account, follow Jesus because they want more bread, they missed the point. The bread is already with them if they have Jesus, for they know there is enough, and need to live it out with one another. This is the bread of life, for whoever comes to Jesus and lives in Christ’s ways will never be hungry.

Call to Worship (from John 6:35)
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
Whoever comes to Christ will never be thirsty.
“Lord, give us this bread, always.”
May we come to God with hungry hearts;
May we come to Jesus with thirsty souls.
May we find fulfillment in the body of Christ;
May we worship God, knowing the fullness of God’s love for us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All, we come to You with broken hearts. We confess to You that we have sinned. We have broken faith with one another and with You. Our hearts have been led astray by the promises of the world. We have failed to live into Your intention for our lives. We have failed to view Your image in one another. We have taken what we wanted and taken it for granted and have harmed others in the process. Forgive us. Refine us and purify us, so that our hearts might heal, and fill with Your love for one another. Remove the stains of the world that blister and fester, that lie to us about our needs and confuse them with our desires. Restore us fully to You, O God, and help us to seek forgiveness, reparation, and restoration wherever possible. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Jesus said, as quoted in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Blessed are you when you seek the right ways of God; blessed are you when you pursue justice. You are forgiven, loved and restored on this journey of faith. Go with full hearts, wise minds, and the spirit of God in you, to love and forgive and bring healing to our broken world. Amen.

Prayer
Beloved Spirit, refresh in us Your image. Remind us that we are made to create, to do Your work in this world, to share beauty and awe. The ways of this world desire for us to produce, which is not the same as creativity, for creativity is breathed from You, Loving Spirit. Creativity inspires others and always reminds us of Your love in this world. Production leads us to wealth and worldly gain. Turn us away from the wheels of the world’s production and into the gentle movement of Your creativity, in how we live, how we move, and how we exist. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 25th, 2021—Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians 4:1-16 (John 15:1-4)

David turns from God’s ways in 2 Samuel 11:1-15. Instead of being off to war as other kings were at that time of year, David was home, where a king was not supposed to be. He spied Bathsheba bathing on the roof, and desired her, and sent for her. No matter who she was, a woman would have had little authority to say no in those days, and even today, the power differential is one all too familiar, a story played out in the #MeToo movement. Bathsheba was coerced. This is a story of sexual assault, though it is often told as a story of adultery, and Bathsheba is not often seen as the victim she really was. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover up his sin by getting Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to go home and sleep with his wife, but Uriah the Hittite—not an Israelite—was so faithful to David and Israel he remained with his soldiers, until David had to orchestrate his death in battle. While next week’s lesson will cover the ramifications of David’s actions, this marks a turning point in the David story. From here on out, much of the violence that threatens David’s family comes from this point of betrayal and assault. David’s own sons learn that no one can refuse a king, and power and greed take over following the ways of God.

Psalm 14 calls out the unfaithful who are corrupt and have gone astray. The psalmist sings of how foolish they are, for if they eat, they know God provided the food—yet they deny God and God’s goodness. God is with the righteous and is the refuge of those who struggle and suffer. The psalmist prays that deliverance would come from the holy city, instead of corruption, for God’s people will rejoice when they are rescued from evil.

Elisha feeds one hundred people from twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In this much older story that is less well-known to Christians (the more famous story is Jesus feeding the 5000), Elisha feeds a large group on very little, relying on the bountiful abundance of God. Even though Elisha’s servant questioned how to feed the people, Elisha knew there would be plenty left over.

Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God, and vs. 10-18 specifically praise God for God’s mighty deeds of power. The faithful speak the truth of God’s wonderful acts, and God’s reign will endure forever, proof of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God lifts up those who are struggling and provides for those in need. God is just and kind, and near to all those who are faithful to God’s truth.

The Epistle lesson continues its series in Ephesians with 3:14-21. The author prays that God will strengthen the believers through the power of God’s Spirit, and that they will know Christ dwells in their hearts through faith. In this section that concludes the first half of Ephesians, a sort of benediction is rendered, that the believers would know the fullness of God’s love and receive the blessing of God’s glory and power.

The Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel selection begins a five-week series in John on the Bread of Life. In John 6:1-21, we read John’s account of Jesus feeding the 5000. In this version of the story, Jesus asked the disciples where they were to buy bread for the crowds as a means of testing them. In this account, it is a young boy who has the five loaves of bread and two fish—one of the youngest who was willing to share. The people saw the miracle of the feeding of everyone, with twelve baskets left over, as a sign that Jesus was the prophet “who was to come into the world,” and the crowds wanted to take him by force to make him king. Because of this, Jesus withdrew to the mountain. His disciples went down to the sea, and in the evening, Jesus walked out on the water in the midst of stormy seas to meet them in the boat, and to go ashore to the place they were headed.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ephesians, departing from the Revised Common Lectionary’s series by moving to 4:1-16 (which will be the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle reading next week). The author, purporting to be Paul writing from prison, begins the second half of the letter with an ancient creed of unity in Christ: “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” The writer shifts from the unity of all to the diversity within the body, through the gift of God’s grace—we all have different gifts for ministry. The author calls for the believers to grow into maturity and to come into the unity of faith, “seeking the truth in love” within the body of Christ.

Jesus speaks of being the true vine in John 15:1-4. God is the vinegrower, and every branch that grows in Christ is made to bear fruit. Those that do not are pruned so they can grow more fruit. Only branches that abide in the vine can grow, so Jesus calls the disciples to abide in him.

God’s desires for us are not always the same as our own desires. We get caught up in the ways of the world, seeking worldly wealth, security, and notoriety. David had a glimpse of power and wanted more, believed he could have more without consequence—and assaulted a woman and murdered her husband because of it. The crowds saw Jesus having real, worldly power, and wanted to make him king over them—but Jesus desired to meet the needs of the people and show them that God was the one who provided for them. The writer of Ephesians emphasizes that diversity of gifts is wonderful, but we are also bound together as one body, Christ’s body. For the fruit of our lives—our righteousness, justice, kindness, compassion, joy, gentleness—all of these are witnesses to our unity in Christ, that we are rooted in God and not the ways of this world.

Call to Worship (Psalm 145:13b-14, 17-19)
The Lord is trustworthy and true,
Faithful in all of God’s ways.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
And brings us up when we are brought low.
The Lord is just in all ways,
Faithful in all things.
The Lord is close to everyone who calls upon God;
God hears our cries and will save us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy Spirit, Breather of Life, we confess that we have sought a different kind of life than the one You set out for us. We have desired to have the things we have made from this world. We have created possessions from the exploited resources of the earth. We have manufactured wealth off the labor of the oppressed and marginalized. We have pursued worldly means of satisfaction and security that separate us from the needs of others, believing in the myth of self-reliance and personal salvation. Forgive us. Call us into accountability with the greater community. Remind us of our responsibility to care for the one planet You made for us. Guide us into Your ways of repentance, reparation, and restoration to those we have wronged and exploited, even unknowingly. Lead us in Your ways of justice and righteousness, so we may truly know You, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We are made in God’s image, and that image is good. We are co-creators with God, and everything we create—art, music, poetry, beauty, and love—is good and necessary for the world. Make new things. Give space for new life to flourish. Bless and bless, and know God’s blessings. Love deeply, and know God’s love is with you. Be forgiven, seek restoration, and bless the world with your creativity. Amen.

Prayer
Bread of Life, Source of All, nourish us, for we have grown weak. The world has pressed down on us, the blight of oppression has suppressed us. Nourish our souls, Holy One. Feed us with Your words, Your wisdom, Your grace and Your peace. Quench our thirst for justice and righteousness. Restore us to Your strength, so we can pursue Your ways in this world. Guide us to use our resources to care and nourish others, because in You, there is always enough. You are a God of abundant love and grace. Feed us, guide us, and lead us on. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 18th, 2021—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 2:11-22 (Matthew 28:16-20)

David desired to build a temple for God, but God said, “not so fast” in 1 Samuel 7:1-14a. When David mentioned his concern to the prophet Nathan that he lived in a palace of cedar, but the ark of the covenant was in a tent, Nathan at first told David his idea sounded good and that God was with him. However, God spoke to the prophet that night, declaring that God never asked for a physical house like people. Instead, God, who appointed David as king, took David from among the sheep and commanded him to shepherd the people. God made a house out of David and his family. Because God had been with David and the people, God declared to Nathan that the people are God’s people—their home is in God. However, God will also provide a place for them to live. Once David passed on, his descendant would build a house for God. Nonetheless, the message from God is clear: God doesn’t desire a home; God desires for us to find our home as God’s people.

The psalmist sings on behalf of God in Psalm 89:20-37 that David is the one chosen and blessed by God, the servant of the Lord. God’s covenant with David will endure and God’s steadfast love will endure forever, as will David’s throne. Though David’s descendants may go astray, God will remain faithful and will not break the covenant with David and the people. David’s reign is established by God.

The prophet Jeremiah delivered God’s warning to the leaders, political and religious, who led the people astray, who were corrupt shepherds in Jeremiah 23:1-6. Though Jeremiah himself was preparing for exile, he shared a vision of hope for the future. God would raise up new shepherds and gather the people together. God would also, in the time to come, raise up from David’s legacy one who would reign as king and lead the people wisely, who would lead Judah and Israel to live in safety.

The Shepherd’s Psalm 23 is an ancient song of comfort attributed to David. The psalmist sings of God as their shepherd who leads them to places of rest and refuge, who restores their spirits and leads them through the vale of the shadow of death. God is with them like a shepherd, and they will not be afraid of any evil. God will be with them before their enemies, and they will dwell with God, knowing God’s blessings forever.

The Epistle selection continues its series in Ephesians with 2:11-22 (the same as the Narrative Lectionary series selection). Through Christ Jesus, Gentiles and Jewish people have been brought together as one. Though the law of the Jewish people was to remind them that they were a separate, holy people for God, in the writer of Ephesian’s view, the law has now been abolished to bring together the people, uniting them in peace. All people, regardless of background, have access to God. The spirit of unity in Christ brings all people together, Jewish and Gentile. The foundation of their faith is from the prophets and apostles, but Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and all believers form the holy temple of God.

The Gospel lesson bookends the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. In Mark 6:30-34, following the death of John the Baptist, and after Jesus had sent his own disciples out into the villages after his rejection in his hometown, Jesus called the disciples to come together and rest for a while. While they ministered to all those coming and going, Jesus had compassion on the people, who were like sheep without a shepherd. Following his feeding of the crowds from the seven loaves and two fish, and following his approaching the boat on the lake by walking on water, in vs. 53-56, they came to Gennesaret. This is where Jesus had previously cast out the demon Legion into a herd of pigs, and the people had begged him to leave. Now, they welcome Jesus, and they recognize him—most likely because the man who had the demon cast out of him continued to tell the story of Jesus. In that region they brought those who were sick to Jesus, believing that even if they touched the hem of his clothes, they would be made well.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Ephesians, with the same selection as the Revised Common Lectionary of Ephesians 2:11-22 (see above).

The secondary selection for the Narrative Lectionary is the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus commanded the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them to obey everything he commanded, and that he promised to be with them for all time. The disciples were commanded to go teach as they were taught, among all nations of people, Jewish and Gentile.

The image of the shepherd is one of God’s favorite metaphors in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. God will never lose sight of us, never forget us, and will go after those who are lost, those who are considered least. In the Hebrew scriptures, the prophets looked to the hope of a new king who would lead in God’s ways, who would not lead the people astray the way the false prophets, priests, and kings had, becoming corrupt for power and money. The good shepherd would lead like David did, knowing God and seeking God’s will over their own. In Christian scriptures, Jesus, especially in John’s account of the Gospel, takes on the mantle of the good shepherd. In Mark’s account, Jesus recognizes that the people have lost hope—they are like sheep without a shepherd. They need hope again that they will find their way, that they will follow God’s ways. Jesus brings that hope to their lives in tangible ways by healing those who are sick, feeding those who are hungry. Jesus leads the people in a new way—not as a king, or a prophet prophesying against those who’ve gone wrong, but as someone who cares for their basic needs, someone who loves them deeply as a good shepherd loves their sheep.

Call to Worship

God is our Good Shepherd.

              God leads us to places of restoration.

God leads us in the paths of righteousness,

              And guards us in the valley of the shadow.

We fear no evil, because God is with us.

              God comforts us, and leads us to safety.

Goodness and mercy are with us now and always,

              For we worship and follow the Good Shepherd.

 

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession

God of All Nations, forgive us of the sin of nationalism. We may love our country, we may be proud and patriotic, but when we begin to believe that our country is better than others, that our ways are better than others, we deceive ourselves. For we are citizens of Your reign forever, and all nations, governments, and borders are of our making and are only temporary. When we unite our flag with the cross of Christ, we have been led astray and down a dangerous path, for the Cross is the path of sacrifice and living as last of all and servant of all. Remind us that You are the God of all peoples, of all tribes, nations, and languages, as declared in Revelation—this is what Your reign God looks like. There is no one flag that is under You, for all nations are under You, as all nations are human creations. You made the heavens and earth and made us in Your image. Remind us that all of us are Your beloved children and forgive us of our sins of nationalism that lead us astray from Your beloved community, Your kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Blessing/Assurance

You are God’s beloved child, made in God’s image. Your heart belongs to God, and there is nothing you can do to change that. Seek forgiveness, and know God forgives you. Show mercy, and know that God’s mercy and grace are with you. Practice compassion and loving-kindness, and your heart will be aligned to God’s heart. Go and live in God’s ways of love and compassion, for God is with you, now and always. Amen.

 

Prayer

Loving Shepherd, guide us into Your ways. Help us to never leave anyone behind, to remember the last, the lost, the least are Your beloved, and we have a mutual responsibility to care and love one another. Keep close to us in the shadows and save us from the wolves that seek to devour us with the world’s concerns for wealth, power, and notoriety. We know You have prepared a place for us, with cool waters and green pastures, a way of life where evil cannot harm us, especially when we remember that we dwell with You forever. Guide us into Your way of life, Loving Shepherd. Amen.

 

Worship Resources for July 11th, 2021—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ephesians, 1:1-14 (John 14:25-27)

We continue the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures with the story of the kings. The ark of God, which had been in the custody of the Philistines, was returned via a cart to Israel. David celebrated the triumphal return of the ark, representing God’s presence with the people, and provided sacrifices and offerings along the parade route. David was so overcome with passion for God that he stripped down to almost nothing, dancing before God and rejoicing at what God had done for him and the people. However, Michal, David’s first wife and the daughter of Saul and sister of Jonathan, saw David dancing and despised him. In the verses following this passage, she accused David of lewd dancing that exposed himself even to the female servants of the people, an act too disgraceful for a king. Though the selection ends at verse 19 with the celebration concluding in gifts of food for all the people, it is important to note the story behind the scenes. When David fled Saul’s wrath, Michal helped him escape in 1 Samuel 19:12-18. Saul married Michal off to another man (1 Samuel 25:54), and David did not return for her until after Saul’s death (2 Samuel 3:14), to present a united kingdom after his conflict with Saul. In the time between she was sent away and David sought her retrieval, he had married other women. There is more history behind the conflict between Michal and David than what is presented in this short selection.

Psalm 24 is a song of worship. God is the creator of all the earth. Who is worthy to come before God in the temple on God’s holy hill in Jerusalem? Those who are innocent, pure at heart, who have not been deceitful. They are the ones who may come before God and receive blessings. The psalmist calls upon the temple to be open for the presence of God, calling the people into worship of their glorious King, God of the heavenly host.

The prophet Amos beheld a vision of God building a wall, using a plumb line to measure how the wall stood up to God’s standards. However, Jeroboam, the king of Israel, did not follow God’s ways, and God declared that all religious shrines and holy places would be destroyed because the people did not live into God’s standards. They did not measure up. Amos also declared that God would rise against Jeroboam’s rule. However, the priest Amaziah told Amos to flee and go to Judah instead of prophesying against the king of Israel, whom Amaziah had told what Amos prophesied. However, Amos was no career prophet that could be pushed over. He was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees, but God called him to speak on God’s behalf. Nonetheless, Amaziah and others did not want to hear the words from God, and God declared Amaziah and his family would end up like the others in Israel—taken into exile under the Assyrian empire.

The second half of psalm 85 is an assurance that God hears the prayers of the people, and God is faithful to those who trust God. The lines of this part of the psalm show how all good things come together for God: steadfast love and faithfulness meet. Righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, righteousness meets faithfulness from the sky. God will be faithful in goodness, and righteousness is the path before God.

The Epistle readings begin a series on Ephesians (as does the Narrative Lectionary this year) with Ephesians 1:3-14. Except for the mention of Ephesus in verse 1 (which is not included in other earlier manuscripts), this letter is fairly generic, and perhaps was a letter sent to one church, and then forwarded on to other churches with specifics omitted. This opening section writes of the blessings of God, and that all believers are God’s children by adoption through Jesus Christ. God chose us to be holy. We have redemption through Christ’s blood and forgiveness of sins through Christ’s grace. God’s plan for the fullness of time was for all people to be brought together in Christ—this is our destiny as believers. Through Christ, believers have obtained an inheritance, marked with the promise of the Holy Spirit for restoration with God.

The fate of John the Baptizer is told in Mark 6:14-29. When Jesus’ ministry became well-known after sending his disciples out into the villages, the stories reached King Herod’s ears. While some wondered who Jesus was, he believed he was John raised from the dead. John had spoken out against Herod marrying his brother Philip’s wife, so Herod had him thrown into prison, but he liked what John had to say. However, his wife did not. When his daughter Herodias danced before him and his court, she pleased him so much he promised to give her anything she wished (reminiscent of the rash vow Jephthah made in Judges 11:29-40, when Jephthah promised to sacrifice to God the first thing that came outside of his house in exchange for winning a battle). Herodias, after conferring with her mother, asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter. Herod did as she wished and had him executed, but he grieved his death, and after John’s head was presented on a platter, John’s own disciples came and buried him.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its series on Ephesians (see the Epistle reading above for the reflection).

The secondary text for the Narrative Lectionary is John 14:25-27. Jesus tells the disciples that while he is teaching them now, the Holy Spirit will come and be with them, reminding them of everything Jesus taught. Jesus assures the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, for Jesus leaves them with peace.

Living into God’s ways sometimes makes us look foolish to the ways of the world. David had no misgivings about dancing before God, even if it appeared scandalous. He was full of passionate zeal for what God had done for him and his people. The prophet Amos was a nobody compared to the priests of the land, but he was not afraid to speak God’s words to the king’s priest and tell them that they let the people down and they would be taken into exile, even if his own life was threatened. John the Baptizer spoke boldly to the point of being thrown into prison and became a victim of the actions of those in power, but still proclaimed a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. The early church, as revealed in the letter to the Ephesians, shows us that God’s intention for all times was that we would know ourselves as God’s children through Christ Jesus. In a time when the early believers faced marginalization among their own cultural communities and under the Roman Empire, it might be seen as foolish to live into a faith that included everyone, regardless of cultural and ethnic background, but based on belief. Jesus calls us to live into a way that seems foolish to the world—giving up our possessions, becoming last of all and servant of all, including those who are on the margins—but this is the beloved community, the reign of God on earth, in whom we have an abundance and inheritance.

Call to Worship
Blessed be our God,
Who created us in God’s image.
Blessed be our God,
Who called us to follow Jesus Christ.
Blessed be our God,
Who sent the Holy Spirit to be with us.
Blessed be our God,
In whom we live, move, and have our being.
Blessed be our God as we gather in worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we have succumbed to the ways of the world. We fret about what we don’t have. We worry there isn’t enough. We are consumed by the doubts of the world that we are not good enough, that we don’t have enough wealth and security by the world’s standards. Forgive us, Almighty God, for You called us to be Your children. In You we have an abundant inheritance. In You we know that we are called to be a community that provides and cares for each other. In You, the standards we ought to live up to are kindness, compassion, justice and mercy. Help us to cast off the cares of the world and live deeply into Your ways as Your children. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
There is abundant love to be found in God through Jesus Christ. Seek Christ in all you do, and know how much God loves you. There is abundant forgiveness in Christ’s name for all our sins, all the ways we have missed the mark. There is abundant grace for us all. Live into God’s ways, and know that you are loved and forgiven. Practice kindness and show compassion, seek justice and mercy, and you will know God now and for all time. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, help us to live into Your ways of holiness. Help us to cultivate a practice of holiness in our life, setting aside time for You. Guide us into ways of living that are sustainable, that care for the earth and all of creation, and do not waste resources for others. Lead us into Your ways of deep compassion for ourselves and for one another. Help us to find the holy in our everyday lives—in the dandelion that grows between the cracks of cement, in the simple acts of kindness that someone has shown us, in the pauses between the busy. Remind us to breathe, for this simple act is the first act of human life, when You breathed Your spirit, Your breath, into the first human being. May we cultivate holiness in our daily life, and be holy for You. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 4th, 2021—Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48; Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 2:1-10; Mark 6:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Jeremiah, Messiah and New Covenant: 33:14-18; 31:31-34

David was finally acknowledged as king over all Israel in 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. Though he was anointed by Samuel in Bethlehem when he was a boy and Saul still ruled, his public inauguration was in Hebron after Saul’s death, where David reigned for a short time before he reigned in Jerusalem and built his stronghold there. God was with David as he became a strong king, for David looked to God.

Psalm 48 is a song of praise for Jerusalem, the city God chose to be holy. Kings tremble in the sight of the city where the temple of God was built, and God is the one who reigns over the people. The city itself is a witness of God’s power and reign, and this song was sung by pilgrims coming from faraway places to worship at the temple.

The prophet Ezekiel heard the call of God in Ezekiel 2:1-5. God’s spirit entered Ezekiel and sent him to speak to the people of Israel, knowing the people would reject the words of God as their ancestors had done. Still, God chose Ezekiel to go, whether they listened or not, so that it could be said God had sent a prophet among them, that God was still speaking to them even if they refused to listen.

Psalm 123 is a plea for God to have mercy on the people, who have faced rejection and ridicule. Another pilgrimage song, this psalm calls for the people who have lifted up their gaze to God to be recognized by God, for they have experienced much shame and contempt from those around them.

The Epistle reading concludes the series in 2 Corinthians with 12:2-10. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he has a “friend” (himself) who had a heavenly vision. He doesn’t want to boast about it, so he tells this tale of a friend who had this vision that convicted him of what God wanted him to do. Paul never mentions what the “thorn” is that he had to deal with, but some sort of spiritual struggle (and perhaps also physical) that Paul lived with. While Paul didn’t want to boast about his personal experience of a vision of heaven, he does share quite openly that he struggled in faith, and through those struggles, he found strength in Christ.

Jesus returned to his hometown in Mark 6:1-13, but because of the people’s unbelief, he could only heal a few sick people, and perform no deed of power there. The people all knew him, his family, and it seems they could not believe in him. They didn’t see a Messiah or Son of God—they saw the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy, the brother to his brothers. So instead, Jesus decides to send the disciples out in pairs, to go out to the surrounding villages, to accept the hospitality shown them. Wherever they were welcomed, they were able to cast out demons and heal people. For those places that didn’t accept them, they were to shake the dust off their sandals and move on.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Jeremiah with 33:14-18, and 31:31-34. In 33:14-18, Jeremiah speaks of a time after the exile, when God will fulfill the promises made to the people, that a new king will arise from David’s line, someone who will live out God’s way of justice. The priests will once again make sacrifices for the people to God, restoring the intermediary actions of the priesthood. This section, according to many scholars, is probably a much later addition to the prophet’s writing, a promise of a messiah and hope for the future. In 31:31-34, Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant God will make with the people, one that can never be broken because God is making it and writing it in the people’s hearts. They will know God is their God, they will be God’s people, and their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. Though Jeremiah would go into exile, over the centuries, scholars, rabbis, and believers would read these words and find hope for their time, for their people.

Throughout the history of God’s people, the faithful have at times faced scorn and ridicule. They have struggled to maintain faith while hope slips away. Even Jesus, coming to his hometown, was unable to help his own neighbors because they could not believe God would use one of their own people. Ezekiel was warned by God that the people wouldn’t listen to him, but to go and speak on God’s behalf anyway. Paul struggled and suffered and at times was afraid of what others would think, and yet he still preached, still wrote, still worked to share the Gospel at all times and in all ways. But there is hope. Jeremiah spoke words of comfort and hope in the midst of the siege of Jerusalem. Jesus had to change course and send out his unknown disciples into unknown places to share the good news, because in the known places, they didn’t want to listen to him. In this pre-post-Covid time, we might have to shift how we are doing ministry, how we are worshiping, how we live out the good news of God’s love, because the world has changed. But the message remains faithful: God’s steadfast love endures forever. Sin is forgiven, and remembered no more.

Call to Worship
Praise God from the highest mountains!
Praise God from the depths of the sea!
Praise God with loud instruments!
Praise God with the voice of our hearts!
Praise God in all things, at all times, in all ways,
For our God reigns over the whole earth.
Come, worship God, all nations, tribes, and peoples:
For God is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we struggle with so much, and at times believe its our own fault for our shortcomings, instead of understanding that this past year has held burdens much too heavy. Help us to ease our burdens by not blaming ourselves when we feel our faith is slipping. Remind us instead that we are not alone. Encourage us to seek help for mental health, to speak to those with experience and training when we are in need. Guide us in wisdom to care for ourselves, for our minds and hearts. You are the one who loves us so much that You sent Your Son for us, that we might have new life now. Help us to understand there is nothing we can do that will separate us from that love. There are no faults or shortcomings of our own that will break us from You. Instead, surround us with mutual care and concern, that we might lift up one another, and together, seek healing and wholeness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Romans 8:38-39)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Go with this good news: You are loved. You are forgiven. You are restored. You are called to share in the Gospel with the world. Amen.

Prayer
Ruler of all nations, remind us that the lines on a map are of our own making and not Yours. Remind us that the borders You made are ocean shores and riverbeds, living and moving, reminders of the boundaries of fragile ecosystems. You are the Maker of the earth, and have called us to be caretakers of the whole planet, not just our own country, county, neighborhood or dwelling. You have made us to care for one another and all of creation. Call us to remember that we have only one planet, and that we are one people in You. Bind us together, O God, to be Your body, and to care for the planet You so lovingly made for us. In the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for us; may we lay down our lives for one another, and care for this earth together. Amen.