Worship Resources for February 28th, 2021—Second Sunday of Lent

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

Narrative Lectionary: Lament over Jerusalem, Luke 13:1-9, 31-35 (Psalm 122)

The second Sunday of Lent begins with the second of God’s covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures: the covenant with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. God gave Abram and Sarai new names, promising they would become the ancestors of a multitude of nations. This was an everlasting covenant, that God would be their God, and that they would have a son, and kings would be born from their descendants.

This portion of Psalm 22 praises God for God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn, in verses 23-31. The psalmist praises God for God’s deliverance when the psalmist was in need and calls upon the people of Israel to join in praise. All the families of all nations shall worship God and future generations told of God’s greatness.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the fulfilment of God’s promises to the people descended from Abraham came not from following the law but from faith, in Romans 4:13-25. Abraham’s faith in God fulfilled the promises made to him in his old age, that he and Sarah would have a son. That is what saved him, not his works of the law. The believer’s faith in Jesus’ resurrection is what saves believers, not the works of the law, according to Paul, and Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfills all righteousness.

Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to his death, but Jesus rebuked Peter in Mark 8:31-38. Right after Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to tell the disciples that he must undergo suffering and death. This marked a shift in Jesus’ ministry, turning toward Jerusalem and death—a different direction that the disciples understood the Messiah to be going before this. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, but Jesus turned and rebuked him back with the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter and the others had set their mind not on divine things but human things. Jesus then addressed the disciples along with the crowd that had gathered, declaring those who were faithful must deny themselves and take up their cross. Those who wanted to save their life would lose it. Those who would lose their life for Jesus’s sake, for the sake of the gospel, would fine it. This passage marked a pivotal point for the Gospel of Mark, from the teaching and healing ministry, into who Jesus knew the Messiah would be, not what others thought the Messiah should be.

Mark 9:2-9, the Transfiguration, was also our lectionary passage two weeks ago. While Peter, James, and John are on the mountain with Jesus, Jesus was transfigured. His clothes appeared dazzling white—an unnatural brightness—and Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus, talking with him. Peter didn’t really know what to say because he was afraid, but he said what he thought he was supposed to: he was glad to be there, and suggested making tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses: shrines to each of them. But a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” (A similar voice declared Jesus as the Son, the Beloved, at his baptism). When the three disciples looked around, there was only Jesus, and Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Humanity had risen from the dead.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke, and in 13:1-9 Jesus was told about some Galileans killed by Pilate while they offered sacrifices. Jesus questioned those who thought perhaps the Galileans deserved what happened to them because of something they did. Jesus asked them also about another incident, where the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. The accident that happened wasn’t punishment for sin. However, unless people repent and turn back to God’s ways, everyone comes to the same end: death. Jesus then told parable of a fig tree (in Matthew and Mark, Jesus curses a fig tree). In this parable, a gardener begged a vineyard owner who wanted to cut down a fig tree that hadn’t produced any fruit to give this tree one more chance, one more year, to see if it would bear fruit, before cutting it down. The parable served as a warning—one does not know when their time would come. Repent before it is too late.

In 13:31-35, some Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him, but Jesus told them to tell Herod he would continue to do his ministry, because Herod’s threat wouldn’t stop him. Jerusalem itself was where many of the prophets were killed, and Jesus lamented the death and destruction that happened there. Jesus longed to gather the people like a hen gathers her chicks, but Jesus knew what would happen: he would be killed, and a generation later, the temple destroyed by Rome.

Psalm 122 is a prayer for peace for Jerusalem, a pilgrimage song for when the tribes came to worship at the temple. The throne of David is in Jerusalem, and justice is served from there. The psalmist prays for peace for the city, for its inhabitants, and for the pilgrims coming there.

In this season of Lent, we remember in the Hebrew scriptures the covenant of God that endures forever—not because of anything we do, but because God established the covenant, and our faith that God will fulfill God’s promises sustains us. In faithfulness, Jesus turned toward Jerusalem, toward death, not afraid of Herod or of the religious leaders. The disciples didn’t understand, because their mind was set on human things. We often think the goal is to prolong our lives as much as possible. Jesus argues that to save our life, we must be willing to lose it. To deny ourselves and take up the cross. To become last of all and servant of all. It’s about living for God, living for others, that we find our lives, not in trying to save ourselves. Jesus came for the sake of the world, showing us an eternal life that begins now, not simply after we die. But it’s a hard transition to eternity thinking, as Peter and the others learned.

Call to Worship
The promises of God are like bulbs deep in the soil,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are like crocuses peeking out of the snow,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are like fresh turned earth,
God is making all things new.
The promises of God are all around us, though we cannot perceive it yet—
God is making all things new.
Come, worship our God, for we know the seasons will change,
And our God will make all things new.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient of Days, we are a stubborn people. We become set in our ways. We only know the past, so we look back with nostalgia like the Israelites in the wilderness, who remembered only the good things about their past and forgot all the hardship and toil they went through. We, too, often only remember the good things and push aside the difficult memories. Call us into accountability. Help us to remember the sins of our past so that we might learn to live into a future with hope. Call us to repent, to turn back to Your ways, to seek to repair the damage we have caused, to dismantle systems of sin at work in our world and our lives, so that we can build a future that You have called us to with more mercy and grace. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The peace that surpasses all understanding is with us, now. Christ Jesus has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Your sins are forgiven. Rejoice, and reclaim the life that God has in store for you. Seek forgiveness where you have gone wrong, and work to repair and restore. Turn your hearts to the newness of God’s promises, and live into God’s ways. Amen.

Holy Light, shine bright in our lives when the shadows threaten. Shine bright in our lives when despair creeps in. Shine bright in our world when the systems of sin threaten to overpower us. Shine bright in our world when evil seems to prevail. Shine bright in us, so we may be beacons of hope for others. Shine bright in us so that nations will be drawn to Your light, as Isaiah spoke long ago. Shine bright in us, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 21st, 2021—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: Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-42 (Psalm 15)

The first covenant God makes is after the great flood in Genesis 9:8-17. The covenant is not just for humanity, but for all of creation, that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. God has hung up the bow, God’s weapon, and will never again use it against the earth. In a world where people believed in gods who often went to war with the people in their stories and myths, the God Noah knew was unique, in that God made a covenant and promised to never again make war with the earth by flood.

Psalm 25:1-10 is the first part of an acrostic poem, in which each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist turns to God, praying that God will deliver them from their enemies. The psalmist desires to follow God’s ways, to trust in what God has in store for them. They pray for God to not remember the sins of their youth, when they fell into the ways of the world. They know that God is the one who instructs sinners into the path of right-living. For those who keep God’s covenant, they will know God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in their lives.

1 Peter 3:18-22 speaks of Christ’s suffering for all—for both righteous and unrighteous. In the writer of 1 Peter’s view, and how the early church creeds interpret this passage, 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’ temptation in the desert is sparse on the details. It’s really two verses long. So the pericope for the Revised Common Lectionary includes Jesus’ baptism (again, sparse on the details) and Jesus’ first sermon, that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of heaven has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (1:15). While we often focus on Jesus’ time in the wilderness on the temptations he faced from the devil, thanks to Matthew and Luke’s more detailed account, perhaps we ought to focus on Jesus’ time with the wild beasts, the Spirit, and the angels who waited on him. This helped Jesus become clear about his message, who he was setting out to call as disciples, and that the time was fulfilled. He was ready. The world was ready.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:25-42. Luke’s account of Jesus giving the greatest commandment is different from Matthew and Mark, in that the question asked is not which is the greatest commandment, but “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question of “what is in the law,” and the lawyer responds correctly, with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self in Leviticus 19:18. But then the lawyer wants to know who their neighbor is, and Jesus tells the parable. Amy-Jill Levine’s take in Short Stories of Jesus is a must-read for understanding this parable. The known anecdote would have been, “A priest, a Levite, and an Israelite,” meaning if a priest or a Levite didn’t respond, then it’s up to everyone else to fulfill that role (pg. 103). Jesus’ twist in using a Samaritan—someone that the listeners in his day would have despised—is not putting down the religious leaders for failing to fulfill their role, but rather that sometimes the outsiders, the people we despise, are the ones who show us more clearly how we ought to be living. The question “who is my neighbor?” by the lawyer was really to find a loophole, a way out of not having to love everyone, but if a Samaritan can do it, then we all must.

Now on to Mary and Martha. There’s an excellent take on this in a Facebook post by Amy Courts (I do not know her) that is a must read. There are many different ways to interpret this story, but I like her take on the fact that Mary has taken up the ministry of discipleship in the way the men have, but that Jesus validates both Mary and Martha in their ministry.

I also like to contrast this with the story of Mary and Martha in John 11, in which they live with their brother Lazarus. Whereas Martha may seem distracted in Luke’s gospel, in John’s, Martha is the first to declare that she believes in Jesus and the resurrection and is ready when Jesus comes to visit, and Mary is not.

The psalmist asks the rhetorical question of who can come into God’s presence in Psalm 15. The psalmist responds that those who live into God’s ways faithfully. Those who are honest and true, who do no harm to their neighbors, who cannot be bribed and do not exploit those in need. They will remain faithful to God and nothing will cause them to fall.

This first Sunday of Lent gives several options to think about: the forty days and nights of Noah and his family aboard the ark with wild beasts, and the forty days Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and angels. The Narrative Lectionary asks the questions of who is our neighbor, and what is authentic ministry? Lent is a time to reflect on our faith journey with Jesus: who are we, and who is God calling us to be? How do we get from here to there? Repentance and faithfulness, yes, but living out our faith is a call to love our neighbors and meet their needs. There are many ways to be faithful: to seek God in our prayers, to spend time alone with God, to do the work that needs to be done for others to serve God faithfully, and to care for our neighbors in need. Perhaps Mary and Martha teach us that there is no one right way, but multiple ways to live in righteousness. Rather than judging how we live into faithfulness, we ought to honor and lift up each other in our faithful ways.

Call to Worship
The time is fulfilled.
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
The reign of God is at hand.
Follow Jesus, who calls us to gather others.
For the work has begun.
Believe in God’s love for you, for the world,
For God sent his Son for us, that we might know eternal life.
Roll up your sleeves, and be prepared:
The kingdom of heaven has drawn near.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
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.

Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 25:7-10)
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore God instructs sinners in the way. God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble the way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and decrees.
Know God’s love and forgiveness are with you, and your sins are remembered no more. Go forth, and live into God’s ways.

Prayer
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! We are in awe as we think of how You created the earth and the heavens, the universe that we know hardly anything about, the galaxies that we have only a glimpse of. You made everything, and You made us. What are we to You, O God? Yet we know You care for us, You love us, and we know You draw near to us. Help us to draw near to You, O God. Help us to seek Your wisdom, insight, and understanding in our lives, and help us to keep the awe and wonder alive in our hearts. If we would only remember how much we do not know, perhaps we would hold more tenderly our relationships, our lives, our world. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory, Lord God Almighty! Amen.

Worship Resources for February 17th, 2021—Ash Wednesday

Revised Common Lectionary: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Turns to Jerusalem, Luke 9:51-62 (Psalm 5:7-8)

The prophet Joel warned of the day of the Lord, the day of judgment in 2:1-2, 12-17. This is the time, the prophet called out, for the people to change their hearts, to take on fasting and mourning as outward shows of remorse and repentance. If they turned back to God, perhaps God would not bring about destruction, and God would hear the cries of the people and the sincerity of their heart. Joel called even the priests to participate in the mourning and fasting, to gather the people in a solemn assembly and seek God’s mercy. The prophet called the people to appeal to God, for surely God would want to be known to the world, and how could that be if God wiped out the people who worshiped and knew God?

God declared to the prophet Isaiah what a true showing of humility and penitence was in 58:1-12. Those who declared themselves humble did so to show off, and those who fasted so others could see were not truly repenting before God. Rather than a showy display of sackcloth and ashes, God desired a loosening of the bonds of injustice and letting the oppressed go free. To turn God’s anger, the prophet suggested feeding the hungry, bringing the homeless indoors, and satisfying the needs of those who were suffering. God will restore what has been broken, and those who are faithful to God in this way will be called “repairers of the breach” (58:12).

Psalm 51 is attributed to David, written when he recognized his own sin of adultery and murder. Whether it was written by David or not, the psalmist has recognized that what they have done has separated themselves from God and they long to make this right. They come before God understanding they have been a lifelong sinner, and desire for God to purify them, to have a new heart and spirit before God. The psalmist pleads with God to not turn them away because of their sins, but instead to deliver them from their wrongdoing and be restored in relationship with God. The psalmist recognizes that no ritual act will make this right; they must turn from their sinful ways and turn their heart to God.

Paul urged the church in Corinth to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. Paul used his ministry as an example—he and his companions suffered, but no one could complain they were not living into Christ’s ways because of it. Paul urged the church in Corinth to do the same. He and his companions told the truth, shared the Gospel, cared for one another. Some thought them to be false witnesses of the Gospel, but there was nothing that Paul and his companions did that could be disputed or used against them.

Jesus warned against making one’s faith practices for show in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, because then it wasn’t about drawing closer to God but looking better in front of others. Instead, Jesus taught a practice of humility, of not drawing attention to one’s self, but instead to give in secret, to practice fasting and private prayer that gave attention to God.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the shift in Jesus’ ministry to turn to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-62. When Jesus’ disciples encountered a Samaritan village that refused to welcome them because Jesus was going on to Jerusalem, James and John suggested raining down fire on the village. However, Jesus rebuked them. The Samaritans, who did not view Jerusalem’s temple as the only temple to worship God, did not agree with Jesus’ desire to go there. James and John, called “Sons of Thunder” in Mark’s account (Mark 3:17), were known for their temper. Instead of calling down fire from heaven, they moved on to another village. Others wanted to follow Jesus, but they were all concerned about worldly things. When Jesus told them that to follow him, they had to leave everything behind, many could not.

In Psalm 5:7-8, the psalmist sings of entering God’s temple to honor God, as opposed to those who follow the ways of violence and are dishonest. The psalmist prays for God to lead them in the way of righteousness, to make their pathway clear.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays. Sundays are seen as mini-Easters, a time of breaking the fast and celebrating the resurrection. During the season of Lent, Christians are reminded to draw closer to God. Traditional practices of fasting and prayer and giving to those in need can help us draw closer to God, as long as that is their intention. If we practice them so others take notice, we’ve drawn attention away from God to ourselves. However, there are many ways to fast and pray. The prophet Isaiah, like Amos, noted that God prefers our actions that bring justice for the poor and help those in need to traditional practices of sacrifice and piety. In contrast, the prophet Joel reminds us that collective fasting and mourning as a people can show God our communal need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are many ways to observe Lent. With the practice of marking our foreheads with ashes, we are reminded of our own death, as Jesus began his journey toward Jerusalem and his death, and that death does not have the final word. We are marked with ashes as a symbol of repentance, turning back to God who made us from the dust of the universe, and makes us new again.

A simple service for Ash Wednesday

Call to Worship (from Psalm 51:10-12, 6)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Prayer of Invocation
Holy One: we are always in Your presence. In this moment, may we be aware of You as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We were created in Your image, born as You were, and we know that death awaits us. In this brief span of time, may we turn back to You in a spirit of repentance and renewal. May we remember that we are Your beloved children, and we belong to You, in life and death. Holy One, make Your presence known to us, now and always, as we worship You. Amen.

Hymn: Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we come to You on this Ash Wednesday, remembering that You made us from the stardust of the universe, and to dust we return. In this brief moment of time, our lives are a gift from You, but we have squandered that gift. We have turned to the ways of the world, seeking wealth and notoriety, worldly comforts and desires. We have turned from Your commandments, Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. We have turned to selfishness and greed.

We now enter a time of silent confession of our sins:
(silence)

We repent, O God. We repent of our worldliness. We repent of the systems and structures humanity has created that exploit others to create wealth for a very few. We repent of the worldly measures of success that pit us against each other. We repent of white supremacy that has manifested in our lives as privilege for those with lighter skin and oppression for those with darker skin. We repent of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the ways we despise, hate, and reject our siblings in You. We repent of genocide and colonization. We repent of the mechanisms of wealth that create poverty, hunger, and homelessness. We repent of our fears that stigmatize those with mental illness. We repent of ableism. We repent of our sin, our complicity in the systems around us. We repent to our very bones, made of the stardust You created the universe with. Wash our hearts, O God. Make us clean. Turn us back to You. Transform our hearts to love with the love You have for us, O God. In the name of Jesus, who bore the cross for us and calls us to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him, we pray all things. Amen.

Scripture: (one of the readings above)

Reflection (homily):

Silent prayer

Imposing of the ashes:
These ashes remind us that all things come to an end, and all things begin again. Stars are born, and then they die. The dust from exploding stars becomes the building blocks of planetary bodies, written into our DNA, our very bones. We are born and we breathe, and then we die, ceasing to breathe. But we will become a new creation. These ashes remind you that You are God’s beloved child, made from the dust of the earth, the dust of the universe, and you will return to God’s care at the end of your days. These ashes are a symbol of your turning back to God’s ways, and renewed trust in the Creator of the Universe.

Impose the ashes with these words (they can also be imposed by one’s self during Covid restrictions):
(Name), You (I) have come from the stardust of the universe, and to the stardust you will return. Repent, and believe in the good news.

Silent reflection

Blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24):
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.

Closing Hymn: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

Benediction

Lent Bags

For this Covid time, I created Lent bags of activities for the children in my church (most of the children in my church are 7 years and younger). Much of what I used were leftovers from previous craft purchases. The cross boxes were purchased at some point before my time here. The cutout people and the butterflies were leftover from another craft. I purchased the candles from Dollar Tree, the rocks from Michaels along with the paint pens, and the sidewalk chalk. I put the butterfly craft with the pipe cleaners in Easter paper bags that I had lying around, and purchased the purple bags from Dollar Tree.

Lent Activity Instructions

Rev. Meriah Tigner, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Tipton, Indiana, adapted the idea for younger children and for youth:

Lent-Activity-Instructions Lent-activity-youth

Feel free to use and adapt!

Worship Resources for February 14th, 2021—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, Luke 9:28-45 (Psalm 36:5-10)

The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven, but not without Elisha tagging along for the journey beforehand in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elijah keeps trying to tell Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha refuses to. First, they go to Bethel, where the prophets there tell Elisha that Elijah is going to be taken up to heaven. Elisha basically says, “Yes, I know. Shut up.” The same thing happens when Elijah goes to Jericho—he tries to get Elisha to stay behind, Elisha refuses, the prophets in Jericho tell Elisha what is going to happen, and Elisha tells them he knows and to shut up. Then they go on to the Jordan River, and Elijah tells Elisha that God is sending him on, but Elisha says he will go with him. Elijah strikes the Jordan with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part, and they cross over. Then Elijah asks Elisha what it is he wants Elijah to do for him before he leaves, and Elisha requests a double-portion of his spirit. Elijah tells him that he is asking for a difficult thing, but he’ll see when he is taken up whether Elisha’s request is granted or not. And then Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind. A chariot of fire pulled by horses separates Elisha from Elijah, and he can no longer see Elijah. He tears his clothes, a symbol of rending and mourning, as Elijah was taken, and now Elisha will carry on Elijah’s mantle.

Psalm 50:1-6 describes God in the heavenly realm, calling out to the earth. Before God’s presence is a devouring fire, similar to what is seen in the chariot of fire in 2 Kings and also common in ancient descriptions of the heavens and heavenly beings. God calls the forces of heaven and earth to witness as God judges the people, based on the covenant made with them.

Paul writes of those who are unable to experience the light of the gospel of Christ because of their unbelief in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. The same God who declared “Let there be light” in the beginning has shone in their hearts the love of Christ Jesus, the glory of God. However, the gospel is veiled for the unbelievers. The god of this world, the ways of this world, makes it difficult for unbelievers to see, experience, and know the gospel of Jesus.

Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus up a mountain in Mark 9:2-9. While they are on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes appear dazzling white—an unnatural brightness—and Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, talking with him. Peter doesn’t really know what to say because he’s afraid, but he says what he thinks he is supposed to. He’s glad to be there, and suggests making tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses: shrines to each of them. But a cloud overshadows them, and a voice declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” (A similar voice declared Jesus as the Son, the Beloved, at his baptism). When the three disciples looked around, there was only Jesus, and Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Humanity had risen from the dead.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. Luke gives many more details than Mark, adding that Moses and Elijah also appeared in bright clothes. Luke also records that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about what would happen in Jerusalem and his “departure.” Peter, James, and John apparently were about to fall asleep but managed to stay awake (contrasting how the same three fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane later on). Peter, as in Mark’s account, declares its good to be there and suggests making three dwellings. The voice from the cloud tells them to listen to the Son, the Chosen One. In Luke’s account, they are simply speechless after all this, and don’t tell anyone what happened. The Narrative Lectionary continues with what happened the next day: a large crowd met Jesus, Peter, James, and John. A man brought his son forward to Jesus, a boy possessed by a spirit that made him shake and foam at the mouth. The other disciples were unable to cast the spirit out. Jesus, sounding frustrated, said, “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I put up with you?” Jesus rebuked the spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father. While everyone was amazed at what happened, Jesus pulled the disciples aside and warned them that he was about to be betrayed into human hands, but they didn’t understand, and were afraid to ask him about it.

The psalmist praises God in Psalm 35:6-10, for God saves human beings and all creatures. God’s righteousness is like mighty mountains, and God’s steadfast love stretches to the heavens. People find refuge in God, who is the fountain of life, the source of all light, in which we see everything. God satisfies the hungry and thirsty, and grants salvation to those who are faithful.

The Transfiguration is an event that is hard to describe—even the gospel writers are limited by human language and most of us are reading a translation, giving another layer of separation from the writer’s intention to convey that experience of the disciples on the mountain with Jesus. All we know is that somehow, the disciples understood and experienced Jesus in a way that they hadn’t before—in a way that was more divine than human. Peter misunderstood the intention for them to simply witness, and wanted to do something about it, but God’s voice boomed down, saying, “listen to the Son.” What do we do with what we cannot comprehend? Do we keep busy trying to find answers? Do we trust in God and do the work of God in this world? Or, as hard as it can be at times, can we be silent, listen, and wait for God to reveal to us what has been hidden from our understanding?

Call to Worship (from 1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
But then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
Then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
And the greatest of these is love.
Come, let us worship God,
Who is Love, and will reveal all to those who are faithful.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we fear what we do not understand. We are afraid of what comes to an end, because we cannot perceive a new beginning. We are afraid of death. We are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes we ignore our fears, and sometimes we are immobilized by them. Guide us, Holy One, into the way of faith. Help us to move forward despite our fears, knowing You are with us. Grant us a curiosity to ask helpful questions and to sit with the answers we receive, or to patiently wait when there are none. May Your Wisdom help us to comprehend Your presence, even when we do not know what lies ahead. Holy One, may we know, first and foremost, that we are not alone, and that You will never leave us or forsake us, for You made us in Your image, and You delight in us, and You love us. In the name of Christ, whom You sent for us, and who guides us on, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 139:1-14)
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

Prayer
God of Steadfast Love and Mercy, help us to pull back the veil to notice how You are at work in our lives and in the world around us. Help us to find Your secret notes for us in the turning leaves and new buds and shoots. Guide us to find Your hidden messages in the snowprints of Your creatures and the dripping icicles. Lead us to the knowledge of Your love in the care and compassion of our neighbors and friends, and help us to share Your love messages with others in our own acts of mercy and forgiveness. You are at work, in us and through us and around us; help us to reveal Your works to the world. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 7th, 2021—Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Raising the Widow’s Son, Luke 7:1-17 (Psalm 119:105-107)

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to a people returning to their homeland from exile in Isaiah 40:21-31. The prophet reminded the people that God was the one who created, who set up the foundations of the earth. God sits enthroned on high, and human rulers are nothing. The things humanity builds and plant fade and fall away, but God is eternal. The youth, the ones returning (for their grandparents were the ones who were taken into exile) may tire and wear out, but those who wait for God will renew their strength. They will be strong, like having the wings of eagles, and will not tire out or faint.

The psalmist calls the congregation to praise God in Psalm 147:1-11, 20c. The psalmist sings of how God gathers the outcasts of Israel, how God holds together the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. God cares for and provides for creation. God doesn’t take joy in worldly victories but rather delights in those who draw close to God, who are in awe of God and find their hope in God.

Paul writes of how he has “become all things to all people,” in order that they might know Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. This explains why Paul doesn’t always send the same teaching to each church, but rather, he addresses the context of each community and their different cultural values. Paul tried to identify with the poor and oppressed in the communities he visited, so he could share with them the Gospel, the Good News.

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-39. Jesus, James, and John went to the home of Simon and Andrew after they left the synagogue where Jesus preached (the lectionary reading last week). The town began to bring their sick to Jesus, and he healed them, and cast out demons. But by morning, Jesus left the disciples to go to a deserted place to pray. By the time Simon, Andrew, James, and John found him, everyone was looking for him. Jesus told them it was time to move on, to go to the neighboring towns in Galilee to continue his ministry.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry, and in chapter 7, he entered Capernaum and was met by Jewish elders who asked Jesus to come and heal a centurion’s servant (Capernaum happens to also be where the Revised Common Lectionary lesson in Mark 1:29-39 takes place). They told Jesus how this centurion loved the people and built the synagogue for them. Jesus went with the elders, but before he reached the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to bother. He believed in authority and understood how it worked, and that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. Jesus was impressed—he had not met anyone which such faith, even among his own people. When the centurion’s friends returned, the servant had been healed. Jesus left Capernaum and went to Nain, where he found mourners for a man who had died. Among them was the man’s mother, who was a widow. For a woman to lose both her husband and son was to lose her security in those days—titles and inheritance passed down from father to son, and women had to live with their closest male relative. But Jesus had compassion for her, and told her not to cry, then told the dead man to get up—and the man sat up and began to speak. Everyone began to speak about the great prophet among them, and the word spread about Jesus throughout the area.

Psalm 119:105-107 speaks of God’s word as a light unto our path. The psalmist kept faithfully to God’s ways, even though they suffered. They prayed for God to make them live again according to God’s promise.

In both lectionaries, Jesus’ ministry includes healing and authoritative teaching. People come to Jesus and bring their loved ones to him out of hope, and because Jesus has compassion for the people. Jesus often healed by touching people—taking them by the hand, calling them to get up. This act of compassion from Christ is compassion with authority: Jesus sees us as we are and knows us. Jesus sees, touches, guides those who are ill, or even dead, to rise. This compassion of Christ is physical, it is here and now and tangible, and not something that is promised after we die. The authority of God over life and death is ours, now, through Christ Jesus, when we show compassion to one another. That is true healing.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 147:1, 3, 7)
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.
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Merciful God, we confess that we have hardened our hearts. We stare ahead instead of taking notice and acknowledging the person asking for help on the side of the road. We turn away when we hear a voice of someone calling out in their agony because we are afraid. We make empty promises to do better for others, for the environment, for organizations that help those in need when we have more money, more time, more resources. However, we often fail to follow through. Forgive us. Soften our hearts so to break open to compassion for those in need. Soften our heads so that we can discover Your abundance and how to use our resources now. You have shown us kindness and compassion time and again; help us to live into Your ways of mercy and justice for others. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is no limit to God’s great mercy. God showers you with kindness and compassion. Revel in it. Feel it wash over you. Soak it in. And knowing the abundance of God’s love that is within you, share it with others. Go and share the love of God, the compassion of God, and the peace of God with the world. Amen.

Prayer
Architect of the Universe, who made the particles that formed the atoms and molecules that became bodies of gas and light and rock—the one who made the very earth we live upon—we give You thanks and praise. Your works are beyond what we can comprehend, and You are still at work, creating new stars and galaxies, things we will never see or know. Yet You have made Yourself known to us, and You have broken open our lives to understanding Your love at work in us. Our words fail us, for we are in awe of You, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of All Things, and the One who makes everything new. We praise You, and lift our prayers to You, El Shaddai, Almighty One. Amen.

It’s Hard to Love January (a poem)

It’s Hard to Love January

It’s hard to love January.
The glamor of Christmas is far gone,
The lights put away and the tree out by the street.
New Year’s resolutions are already forgotten by the final week,
The weather is miserable in the northern hemisphere, with no joy in sight.
The party is over. All that’s left is the mess.

But this is when we pick up ourselves,
Pick up our lives, and dust off our knees.
This is when we put those boxes away of expectations that have failed us.
As January gives way to February, we accept that this is the new year.
We accept that this is how it will be, and we lift up our chin,
And move on.

Winter’s breath is cold, its icy grip on our lungs and heart
Can chill even the brightest spirits.
But when we look January in the eye, and say,
“I have no fear of you,”
January may give the tiniest glimpse,
The hint of a smile
In a cloudy day that doesn’t quite bear the same gloom as the others.

For even January knows there is a thirty-first.
There is an end.
February is so fleeting,
In many places they even take a week off from school
To go sledding or skiing or stay in from the cold.
March will soon be here, and though March can be ugly, the days grow longer.

It’s January that is the harshest of all,
But January knows its days are numbered,
The end always comes,
And we move on.

This year, January, I salute you.
You kept us on our toes.
We almost lost our country, more than once, it seems.
But here we are, the final days,
And your fingers are relaxing your grip on us,
For you know
You have to let us go.

Worship Resources for January 31st, 2021—Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Healing on the Sabbath, Luke 6:1-16 (Psalm 92)

Moses, as part of his final discourse to the people in Deuteronomy, spoke to the people about their future in 18:15-20. God would raise up a prophetic line that would intermediate between God and the people. Because of the tradition that if one beheld the face of God or heard the voice of God they would die, God chose prophets to speak to them instead. More importantly, God would choose someone from among them, not an outsider, to speak to them. They would speak for no other god, or they would die—and God would hold the prophets accountable for what they said on God’s behalf.

The psalmist sings praise to God in the midst of the congregation in Psalm 111. God is the one who keeps the covenant with the people, even providing food for those in awe of God. The psalmist praises God for God’s works and power, shown to the people and studied by the faithful. Those who are in awe of God have the beginning of wisdom. God has redeemed the people through the covenant, and God’s precepts and ordinances are established forever for the faithful.

Paul speaks to a specific concern in the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. In the city of Corinth and many other Greek cities, meat to eat was obtained at the temples to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon after they were sacrificed. For the new Greek converts in the church in Corinth, they took the call to not serve idols very seriously and abandoned eating meat. For Paul and other Jewish followers of Jesus, who did not believe in any other gods existing besides God, it was of no concern, but Paul urged them not to become stumbling blocks for the new Greek believers. If it came down to it, Paul would never eat meat again rather than causing an issue for a new believer to fall away.

Jesus speaks in a synagogue in Capernaum in Mark 1:21-28, and astounds the members of the synagogue as he teaches with authority. A man with an unclean spirit challenges Jesus, and Jesus rebukes the spirit, which leaves the man alone. The people who witness this are astonished at Jesus’ authority even over unclean spirits, and declare it a “new teaching—with authority.” The word gets out throughout Galilee of what Jesus is able to do.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Jesus in Luke’s account, healing on the Sabbath in Luke 6:1-16 right before he appoints the twelve disciples to be apostles. Jesus and his disciples pluck grain and eat the grain heads on the Sabbath, and some of the religious leaders question why he is doing this on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by reminding them that David ate the bread of presence in the Temple, reserved only for priests, and ate it along with his companions when they were hungry. On another Sabbath, Jesus also taught in a synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand. Jesus questions the religious leaders as whether it is lawful to do good on the sabbath or not. Jesus’ questions are about what the Sabbath is for—is it to keep law and order, or is it to do God’s will? It does us well to remember that not all Jewish leaders understood the Sabbath in this way, and that Jesus’ questioning was in line with how rabbis in Jesus’ day learned from each other, by questioning and discussing with each other the teachings of scripture.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist gives thanks to God and sings for joy for what God has done for themselves as well as for all the people, as they worship God and ponder God’s works. God has delivered the psalmist from their enemies. The faithful are like planted trees, an image from Psalm 1, that God helps to grow strong and flourish and produce fruit, even in old age. This psalm has a notation that it is a psalm for the Sabbath day.

“The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom.” This is a phrase repeated throughout Wisdom literature, especially in Psalms and Proverbs. All too often, human beings like to reign in God, to claim to know how God works through our own human understanding. Jesus’ questions about the Sabbath, or calling out unclean spirits, spoke to the people of a new understanding of how God was at work—a “new authority.” However, God often spoke to the people throughout the Bible in new ways—raising up prophets, inspiring the sages of old who taught about the awe, or fear, of God. God is beyond our understanding, and our attempts to place limits on what God can do or act often fail—and sometimes, others are excluded, marginalized, and oppressed by our attempts to limit our understanding of God. Paul warned against this in the church in Corinth. Nonetheless, God manages to show us God’s works despite human beings attempts, and human beings go in waves of understanding God is doing something new.

Call to Worship
God is awe-inspiring, more wondrous than the depths of space,
God is the Creator of the Universe, beyond our understanding.
God is Almighty, powerful and amazing,
And God is also in the stillness, the Spirit moving in the breeze.
God is far beyond our comprehension,
Yet God knows each of us, and God is made known to us.
We worship God, though we do not fully understand now,
We know that God is still being revealed to us, through us, and in us.
God is here, among us now, wherever we are gathered.
Listen to the movement of the Spirit, and follow Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we have placed limits on You. We’ve tried to fit you into a box of theology, a box of polity and rules, a box of limited human understanding. You’ve broken the world, even the universe, open to us again and again, but still we try to be gatekeepers. O forgive us, our human, faulty selves, for not listening to You, for not comprehending, for not simply sitting in Wisdom’s understanding and contemplating Your teaching. Forgive our selfish impulses to try to reign You in and put harmful limitations on others. Call us into Your deeper ways of understanding, and may we truly love one another and love You, for this is what You have commanded. In the name of Wisdom, in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Spirit among us, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love is with us, always, for God is love. That love has no boundaries or borders, no limits. God’s love is within you, now. You are forgiven, because you are beloved of God, so much so that Jesus came and showed us the way, the truth, and the life. Go into the world with the grace of God, and share God’s love. Amen.

Prayer
God Who Speaks, speak in our hearts the way You spoke over the depths of creation. Speak to us tenderly the way You spoke to the first human beings. Speak to us as You spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend. Speak in our hearts, speak in our bodies to remind us that we are made in Your image and made to be good. Speak to us in the stillness and silence the way You spoke to Elijah long ago. Speak to us as You speak to the poets and prophets of all the ages. Speak to us through art and dance and music. Speak to us in the waves on the water and the gentle breeze. Speak to us, O God, so we may remember Your voice, in all the ways You speak to us. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 24th, 2021—Third Sunday after Epiphany

Worship Resources for January 24th, 2021—Third Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Narrative Lectionary: Fish for People, Luke 5:1-11 (Psalm 90:14-17)

Jonah was the most successful prophet in the Bible. Though for the first two chapters of Jonah he tried to do the opposite of what God had told him (literally fleeing in the opposite direction), he went to Nineveh and proclaimed that the city would be overthrown by God. Everyone in Nineveh believed what Jonah said, and they put on sackcloth and fasted. God changed their mind about what would happen to Nineveh, because the people changed their ways, and God did not bring about their destruction.

The psalmist sings of how God alone is the one they wait for, the one they know is their rock and holds their salvation in Psalm 62:5-12. They call upon the people to put their trust in God, and not the ways of the world. Greed, robbery, and extortion will lead people astray; however, power is found in God, and God knows our works.

Paul warned that “the present form of this world is passing away” in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. This brief passage warned the things believers took for granted—marriage, possessions, wealth, even grief and joy—all of this was changing soon in Paul’s view. The things that made meaning for people in his day would no longer have meaning.

Jesus began his ministry and called his first disciples after John was arrested in Mark 1:14-20. Jesus declared that the time was fulfilled, and the reign of God was at hand. He took on the message of John the Baptist: repent, and believe in the good news. Jesus then came upon some fisherman along the sea of Galilee—first Simon and Andrew, then James and John. He called them to follow him, for he would make them fish for people. James and John left their father Zebedee behind in the boat with the hired men, and followed Jesus. What Jesus said, or how he presented himself, we do not know, but it was enough that these fisherman left everything they knew, everything that gave their life meaning before, to follow him.

The Narrative Lectionary also follows the call of the first disciples, following Luke’s account in 5:1-11. In Luke’s account, Jesus has already begun preaching, even teaching in his hometown synagogue. Here, the crowds have followed Jesus to Lake Gennesaret to hear the word of God, and Jesus gets into the boat belonging to Simon. He teaches the crowds from the boat. After he finishes speaking, he tells Simon where to put his nets in the water. There is a miraculous catch of fish, in which Simon needs help to pull the nets in. Simon recognizes that Jesus must be from God, for he falls to Jesus’ knees and calls him Lord, telling Jesus to go away for he feels he is not worthy. However, Jesus tells him, and James and John, that from now on they will catch people.

Psalm 90:14-17 is part of a prayer to God for blessing upon the people who have served God faithfully, that God’s work would be made known among them. The psalmist specifically asks God to bless the work of the faithful, that God’s power would be made known through them and their children, that God’s favor would be upon them.

In the United States, we are living through a tumultuous time. This will be the first Sunday after the inauguration of a new president while the former president faces an impeachment trial (at least, at the time I am writing this). Who knows what is in store for us, and what is coming ahead in our Covid world? 2020 taught us that we can’t predict what is to come. But perhaps what we can do is listen for when Jesus is calling us. Listen to God, and we can’t go wrong, even if it is inconvenient, like it was for Jonah, or even if we are afraid we aren’t good enough or prepared enough, like Simon in Luke’s account. Or maybe we’re called, like James and John, to leave a relationship behind in the boat. Can you imagine what it felt like when they left their father behind in the boat? Or what was going through Zebedee’s mind as his sons just walked away from everything they knew? What might we be called to leave behind that is painful, but necessary in order to follow Jesus?

Call to Worship
“The time is fulfilled;
Repent, and believe in the Good News.
The reign of God has drawn near;
Repent, and believe in the Good News.”
Jesus is calling out to us;
“Repent, and believe in the Good News.
“Come, follow me, and gather people,
Repent, and believe in the Good News.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Savior Christ, we confess that though we have heard You call our name, we have been reluctant to follow You. We are stubborn to live into Your ways of justice that call us to dismantle structures that empower us over others. We hesitate to turn away from systems that benefit us. We squirm when called to repentance, unwilling to abandon the worldly systemic sin that create wealth and power for some, and requires others to go without. Forgive us. Call us into repentance, and call us by name, so we may turn our hearts to You. Savior Christ, help us to live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Jesus calls us by name, calls us from the ways of the world and to use our gifts for the kin-dom of God. You have gifts that are precious to the work of Christ in this world. God needs you. You are blessed and beloved of God. Turn back to God, repent, and know God’s forgiveness, grace, and love. Show your love for one another and use your God-given gifts for Christ’s work in this world. Amen.

Prayer
Holy One, hold us gently in this time of turmoil and uncertainty. Remind us of the everyday blessings of sunshine and rain, wind and clouds. Your presence is as sure as the ground beneath us. Help us to be rooted in You and to reach toward the sun, to stretch beyond what is in front of us to know Your warmth and grace are within us. May Your spirit move in us, reminding us that we are not alone, and we were created to be with one another. Grant us assurance in this season. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 17th, 2020—Second Sunday after Epiphany, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday (U.S.)

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: Sermon at Nazareth, Luke 4:14-30 (Psalm 146)

The boy Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, a long-wanted child promised to Hannah by God after she prayed that she would conceive, and she dedicated him to the Lord. Samuel was raised in the temple at Shiloh and ministered under the priest Eli. Samuel was sleeping in the room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and he heard a voice call his name. He went to Eli three times, and on the third time, Eli recognized that it was God calling the boy’s name, and he told Samuel to respond to God that he was listening. When God called Samuel’s name a fourth time, Samuel listened. God told Samuel what he was going to do, that it would make the ears of those who heard it “tingle.” God’s judgment would come down on the house of Eli because his sons did not follow God’s ways. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli, but Eli told him not to be afraid, because if it came from God, he should not hide it. So Samuel told Eli what God had spoken to him about Eli’s sons, and Eli understood. Samuel listened to God and told others what God told him, and thus became a prophet for God.

Psalm 139 is an intimate prayer to God. The psalmist writes poetically of how deeply God knows them, how wonderful God is, and how God is far too wondrous for the psalmist to grasp. It is God who knitted the psalmist in their mother’s womb, God who knows their inmost thoughts. God is the one who knows our beginnings and endings. God is beyond our understanding, and the psalmist cannot begin to comprehend the thoughts of God.

The Epistle reading follows 1 Corinthians for the next few weeks. In 6:12-20, Paul writes of the body as a temple for the Holy Spirit, and how we care for ourselves and care for our relationships with others is also how we care for God within us. Paul specifically writes of the social context of the city of Corinth, where temple prostitution was common among Greeks. In contrast, for Christians, the temple is our body. We honor God by caring for those we are in sexual relationships with as well as ourselves. Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about two becoming one flesh. In Paul’s view, those who engage in relations with the temple prostitutes are not caring for their temple for the Holy Spirit: their body. They are worshiping other gods in their sexual relationships.

John is the only gospel that mentions the disciple Nathanael, and in 1:43-51, he follows Jesus, but only after some persuasion. At first Philip answers the call to follow Jesus, and then Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that he’s found the Messiah, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. But Nathanael asks the famous question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” A small backwater Galilean town was not where one would normally go looking for a Messiah. But Philip persuades him, and when Nathanael approaches Jesus, Jesus knows there’s no fooling him. Jesus tells Nathanael he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, and Nathanael believes, proclaiming “Rabbi, you are the son of God!” Jesus asks him if he believes because Jesus told him, and that he will see greater things than these. Jesus then alludes to the image of heaven that their ancestor Jacob beheld, of angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account. Jesus preaches in his hometown synagogue in 4:14-30, reading from the scroll of Isaiah, chapter 61. When Jesus declares the Good News has been proclaimed and fulfilled in their hearing, those in the synagogue spoke well of him. They were proud that this was Joseph’s son, someone they knew. But then Jesus changes the tune. He knows they would want him to perform the same miracles he performed elsewhere to prove to them who he was. He declared that no prophet would be accepted in their hometown. Elijah was sent not to the widows of Israel, but the widow in Zarephath. There were many lepers in Israel, but Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian. And when Jesus’ neighbors heard this, these examples that Jesus used to show how God turned to outsiders, they turned from praise to rage. They drove him out of town, and wanted to throw him off a cliff—but somehow, Jesus managed to pass through them, and went on his way.

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to God, reminding the people that they can’t trust worldly leaders, but they can trust God who made the heaven and earth and keeps faith forever. God is the one who delivers justice for the oppressed, gives food the hungry, sets the prisoners free. Mirroring Isaiah 61 and what Jesus preached in his home synagogue, the psalm sings of God’s good news to those in need, and praises God for God’s reign, which endures forever.

In the United States, this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. We do well to remember not only Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, but also his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and countless other letters and sermons. Like Jesus in Luke 4, often white Christians want to hear what Dr. King had to say when it is easy. When it is hard, white Christians tend to dismiss or ignore his teachings. Like the prophets before him, Dr. King called out for justice—which is good news for the poor, marginalized and oppressed, but not so good for those in power. Prophets have honor except in their hometown—or when they speak truth to power.

Call to Worship
God hears the cries of the oppressed;
Speak to us, O God, so we may listen.
God notices the plight of the hungry and homeless;
Call to us, O God, to take notice.
God knows the struggles of the imprisoned;
Open our hearts, O God, to Your mercy and justice.
God speaks to us, calling us by name,
And we are listening, O God; ready to do Your will.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that privilege allows us to not recognize the plight of those around us. We confess that the assumptions we have from our experiences shade how we view the struggles of others. We judge based on what we know, instead of learning from others views and understandings. Forgive us when we unintentionally cause harm by our assumptions and fail to recognize the ways others are oppressed by our actions, words, and most importantly, by our silent indifference. Call us into repentance and accountability. Help us to listen to the prophets of old as well as the prophets among us today. Guide us into thoughtful action to change our ways and dismantle the systems of oppression that we live in. In Jesus’ name, who lived and died for us, and lives again, breaking the chains of sin and death, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Hagar, long ago, named God the God Who Sees. God sees us and knows our struggles. God takes notice of us, as God took notice of the Hebrews under Pharaoh’s rule, and God hears our cries of oppression. God knows where the sin of the world weighs us down. When we turn back to God, God forgives our sins. When we work to dismantle the systems of oppression in the world, we work to undo the power of sin. It is an act of repentance. It is hard work, but it is Godly work. Let God work in your hearts, and may God work in us as we work for justice, restoration, and healing in this world. Go with this good news: God loves you, God sees you, God knows you. God is working in you, and forgives you, and calls you into God’s ways. Amen.

Prayer
God of the Prophets, stir in us Your prophetic voice, manifesting Yourself in the gifts You have given us. Help us to be prophetic teachers, leaders, caretakers, artists and creatives. Call us to be prophetic parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, coaches and aides. Guide us to be prophetic in our workplaces when we witness injustice. May we be prophetic in whatever work we are in, and may our work empower us to do Your work. Help us to live prophetically to proclaim Your Good News for the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, as Isaiah and Jesus spoke long ago. Stir in us, O God, so that we might live out Your call to love, justice, mercy, and peace. Amen.

(From January 20th, 2013 archives)
Prayer
God of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God of Deborah and Anna, God of all our prophets: on this day, we honor the legacy of Dr. King, who prophetically witnessed to Your radical inclusive love. Help us to carry forth Your call to justice beyond this Sunday and into our daily lives. Help us to have the courage of Dr. King to stand with the oppressed, to lift up the poor, to live into God’s ways of peace demonstrated by Jesus the Christ. Give us the strength to build a better future for all our children. May we be challenged by this call, by the example of Dr. King, to live into Christ’s ways of love, justice, and peace. Amen.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Prayer/Litany (originally written in 2012 and updated in 2019; can be used as a single prayer or responsive litany):
Prayer:
God of Deborah and Samuel,
God of Anna and Simeon,
God of Isaiah and Jeremiah,
God of Huldah and 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.