Worship Resources for July 30, 2023—Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 29:15-28 and Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; 1 Kings 3:5-12 and Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36 (John 8:56-58)

Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:15-28. Following the story of our ancestors of the faith, Jacob has returned to his mother Rebekah’s brother Laban (Jacob was fleeing his own brother, Esau, after deceiving their father to obtain Esau’s birthright). Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, but Laban deceived Jacob so that Jacob would marry Leah, the eldest, first. Jacob had to work another seven years beyond the seven he had first worked to obtain the right to marry Rachel, and both Leah and Rachel had handmaidens (Zilpah and Bilhah), who would also become mothers of Jacob’s children later on.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise, thanking God for what God has done through the ancestors of the faith. Vs. 1-4 call the people into worship, and vs. 5-11 praise God for the covenant made through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, an everlasting covenant through Israel, the name for Jacob and for all his descendants. God will never forget the covenant throughout the generations. The psalmist concludes the song with praise.

An alternative psalm is Psalm 128, a blessing for the faithful family. Those who are faithful to God’s ways will find God’s goodness and bounty in the land and will have faithful partners and children. They will know God’s blessings for their whole life.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is 1 Kings 3:5-12. Solomon has a dream in which God asks him what it is he wants. God promises to grant Solomon whatever his request is. Solomon seeks wisdom, and God is delighted that what Solomon desires is to live into God’s ways, to be wise in discernment with his authority, power, and privilege, and God promises Solomon that he will be granted wisdom like no one else.

Psalm 119 is a long acrostic poem with each stanza starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In vs. 129-136, the psalmist praises God for the law and commandments, all of God’s teaching. The psalmist seeks to live into God’s ways and prays for God to draw close. The singer seeks freedom from human oppression, so they may keep to God’s teachings. This section concludes with the psalmist mourning how God’s ways are not kept by all.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans, with 8:26-39 (this was part of the Narrative Lectionary reading on Pentecost). The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors, whether they were believers in Jesus, or not. There were struggles, even suffering, during that time, but the Spirit is the one who brings aid and comfort and intercedes when things seem impossible. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together, no matter their background, no matter what struggles or suffering they have been through. There is nothing they have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus continues to teach in parables in the selections from Matthew 13:31-33, and 44-52. These are a series of very short parables of what the kingdom of heaven is like. The first two—the mustard seed sown deliberately in a field, becoming a home for birds, and the yeast mixed in with large amounts of flour—both of these show how God’s reign is subversive and unstoppable. The treasure hidden in a field and the great pearl show that the reign of God is worth sacrificing everything else for. The last parable in vs. 47-50 is a bit longer and parallels the last parable Jesus tells in Matthew, in 25:31-46, separating out the good and bad fish. Vs. 51-42 contain one final parable in this section, after Jesus questions the disciples whether they have understood his teachings. In this parable, Jesus looks at the scribes who study the law: if they have trained for the kingdom of heaven, they are like a master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. Both old and new are valued, but the wise ones know how to treasure both.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry. In Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36, Wisdom is personified as a woman. In vs. 1-11, Wisdom is out on the streets at the crossroads, calling people to turn from the ways of the world and to turn to the wisdom of God, to seek Wisdom’s instruction and understanding instead of worldly wealth, power, and desires. In vs. 22-36, Wisdom reveals they have been present since the beginning of the world. Some associate the Holy Spirit with this personification, while others see this as Jesus, but Wisdom is the one who was with the Creator when all things were made, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the creation of human beings. Wisdom calls human beings her children and instructs them to listen to her teaching and keep to her ways. Those who find her find life.

The supplementary verses are John 8:56-58, in which Jesus declares he has existed since long before Abraham. Paired with Proverbs 8, this suggests that Wisdom is also in Jesus.

Living into God’s ways requires risk. It was a risk for Jacob, who was deceived in marrying Leah the same way he had deceived his own brother out of his birthright, but he stayed true so he could marry Rachel. Solomon could have asked for more power or glory, but he sought wisdom. The parables, full of wisdom, teach us that we must be willing to risk the power, wealth, and desire of this world we have made for the reign of God, which is not of this world. Wisdom teaches us that when we stay close to the instructions of God, living into the commandments, ordinances, and statutes, we draw closer to God. In staying true to God’s ways, we do risk losing the possessions, wealth, and power of this world, but we find God will see us through. Blessings from God do not mean possessions or wealth, but it means we will find enough with the help of others. When we love our neighbors and care for their needs, we find our own needs will be met in mutual care. This doesn’t mean it is easy, but it does mean that when we seek God’s ways, we will find meaning and purpose, love, and the knowledge that we are God’s children, and God will never abandon us. There is nothing that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-4)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, O God, that we do not look for Your kin-dom to be at hand. We are still waiting. We confess that at times we are wanting a kin-dom that doesn’t look much different than the world we are in, except in that vision we have all the power and possessions we desire. We confess that we are making the kin-dom of God in our own image, and it is still very much like an worldly kingdom. Forgive us for not abandoning the ways of this world so we might hunt for Your reign like a treasure hidden in a field. Forgive us for not letting go of the possessions and greed and privilege that holds us back from seeking You like a great pearl. Forgive us for not planting the seeds of Your kin-dom. Forgive us for our foolish ways. Call us into Your ways of love, restoration, and reconciliation, in the name of Christ, who laid down his life and all the world’s foolishness for Your eternal love, and who offers us this eternal life. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39)
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.

Nothing can separate you from God’s love. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are restored. Go share the Good News. Amen.

Come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and night, to us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in Her ways to go. Wisdom-Spirit, descend upon us so that we might live into Your ways. Drive us far from the foolishness of this world and lead us into the life You have ordained for us, through the commandments and teachings, from the prophets and sages and ancestors, to the ways that Your creation continues to show us Your magnificence, and through the love of Jesus Christ. May we listen and learn and love. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 23, 2023—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Proverbs 1:1-7, 3:1-8 (Matthew 13:34-35)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, following the stories of our ancestors of the faith, Jacob has a dream in Bethel in Genesis 28:10-19a. Jacob beholds a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it, and God introduces themselves as the God of their parents and grandparents. God repeats the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, that God will be his God, and that his descendants will be far more numerous than can be counted. Jacob is awed by this dream and consecrates the stone he laid upon as an altar, a reminder that he experienced God’s presence when he did not know it or expected it.

Psalm 139 is an intimate prayer to God, recognizing God as the creator who knows us most fully. God knows everything about the psalmist, and the psalmist knows there is no place where God’s presence is not known—not even in death. Darkness in this passage may be associated with death or shadows—the unknowable—but it is known to God. This selection concludes with vs. 23-24, where the psalmist asks God to test them, knowing they have remained true to God who knows them well, and in whom there can be no deceit.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 44:6-8. In this brief passage from Second Isaiah, God declares through the prophet to the people that there is no other God. God is complete, who knows our beginnings and endings, speaking from the past of what is to come. There is no other god like God, whose presence is continually with them, and who brings the people comfort instead of fear.

Psalm 86 is a prayer for help, and vs. 11-17 the psalmist asks God for guidance, so they may be faithful to God’s ways. They begin with gratitude for God’s steadfast love and deliverance and ask for God’s graciousness and mercy in the face of their enemies. The psalmist asks God for a sign of favor, but they know God is the one who brings them help and comfort.

In Romans 8:12-25 (part of which was the Narrative Lectionary portion on Pentecost, May 28), Paul writes of the life of the Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul makes it clear that neither Jew or Greek or anyone of any background can be kept out of God’s reign, because if the Holy Spirit is present, they are a child of God. The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors. This part of the passage concludes with a message of hope, that it isn’t about what can be seen, but that God is birthing something new in creation that cannot be seen yet. The faithful wait with patience.

The Gospel lesson continues with Jesus teaching in parables in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Moving from last week and the Parable of the Sower, this week we read the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat. Like last week’s lesson, this is one of the few parables in which an explanation is included. Usually, Jesus did not explain the parables. In this parable, someone sowed seeds in their field, but someone else that night deliberately sowed weeds among the wheat, so that when the wheat grew, weeds grew up with the wheat. However, the weeds could not be pulled without uprooting the wheat, so the weed removal would have to wait until harvest time. In the explanation, Jesus teaches that just as weeds are gathered up to be burned in fire, this will be the end of the age. However, fire in the Bible is often purifying. Jesus explains that what will be collected are the causes of sin and all evildoers. But just like the image of the threshing floor and the harvester separating the wheat from the chaff with a winnowing fork that John the Baptist uses in Matthew 3:12, we might see human beings as containing both wheat and weed, not one person as wheat and another person as weed. Instead, God is the one working on us to remove sin from our lives and to uproot the systems of sin in our world.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a new series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry. In Proverbs 1:1-7, the prologue to the book shares how the proverbs attributed to Solomon are for learning about wisdom and gaining instruction, how riddles and words have deeper meanings. In 3:1-8, the writer shares instruction about learning and trusting in God’s ways will bring healing and wholeness to the believer’s life. Wisdom literature often uses poetry, song, and prose to convey a deeper understanding of God’s commandments and way of life.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 13:34-35, how Jesus told the crowd everything in parables, and a very short parable about the reign of God being like a woman mixing in yeast with a large amount of flour to leaven it.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” wrote the psalmist in 111:10a. Fear in Hebrew is often better translated as awe, a trembling kind of awe-inspiring knowledge of God. God revealed God’s self to Jacob through a magnificent dream, and Jacob suddenly realized that God was with him in the place he had slept, though he hadn’t known it before. It caused him to build an altar for worship. The psalmist in 139 recognized that God the Creator knew the psalmist so intimately there was nowhere they could hide, nothing they could do that would not be known by God. They were in complete awe of their fearful and wonderful Creator. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s faithfulness to the people, that there was no one else like God. Wisdom reminds us that God does not desire us to be pitted against each other in an us vs. them, but rather that we all fall short and have sin in our lives. The systems of sin in this world are sometimes difficult to escape, but we know that the fulfillment of the reign of God is to uproot all evil and remove it. Wisdom comes through our study and contemplation of Scripture, applying it to our lives, and remembering how small we are in the vast universe, and how awesome and wonderful our Creator is.

Call to Worship (Psalm 86:11-13, 15-16)
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth;
Give me an undivided heart to revere Your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
Give strength to us all, Your servants.
In this time of worship,
May we come before You with our whole heart open to Your will.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Only Wise God our Savior, we pray that You will help us turn from the sin of this world and help us uproot the systems of evil that oppress and destroy. In Your wisdom may we discern what is right and what is true: justice for the oppressed, inclusion for the marginalized, and mercy for the most vulnerable. May we be challenged to use any privilege and power we may have for those whose voices are silenced. Hold us accountable when we skate by with the status quo, when we feel it is too much to risk while others risk everything simply to be alive. Remind us that to truly know You is to know the most vulnerable among us and to be in solidarity in restorative work. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down all privilege, all power, to be as the most vulnerable among us, to die as one of us, and who rose for us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 139:7-12)
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.
There is no place we can hide from God, but there is also no place where God cannot find us. No matter what we’ve done, no matter how distant we may feel from God, God is right there, ready for us with open arms. Know God’s loving embrace and know that You are God’s beloved child. There is nothing you can do that God will not forgive if you turn back to God. Know God’s restorative healing, and strive to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, who loves you madly. Amen.

God of Wisdom and Insight, help us to slow down from the busy world around us. Remind us to turn off the notifications, silence all the alerts, and simply listen for You. Listen to the wind in the leaves, the rustle of grass, the call of birds in the morning and evening. Listen for the distant sounds of water, the noises of critters underneath, the soft pants of the deer and the creatures in the forest. May we remember that in the busy-ness of the world around us that humanity made with high speed internet and freeways and deadlines, there is another world, the one You made, full of life. May we catch hold of that sense of awe and remember that we are fully embodied, living creatures You shaped and breathed life into. We are wondrous, full of light and love that comes from You. May we remember each day, each moment, what a gift we are to You and to one another. We praise You, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 16, 2023—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Narrative Lectionary: 2 Peter 3:1-10, 17-18 (Matthew 24:42-44)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of the faith, now to the third generation. Rebekah and Isaac struggled to conceive—a familiar story in scripture—but after prayer, Rebekah became pregnant with twins. Even in her pregnancy, Rebekah senses that the two boys will be at odds with each other. Esau was born first, all hairy and red, and Jacob was born second, gripping Esau’s heel—another image that foreshadows the struggle of the younger brother against the elder. When they had grown, Jacob managed to convince Esau to give up his birthright for a bowl of soup because he was so hungry. This foreshadows Esau being tricked out of Isaac’s blessing by Jacob.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm with each stanza corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This stanza speaks of the psalmist’s faithfulness to God. The author turns to God’s words in scripture and tradition even while suffering. They offer up praise to God and remain steadfast to God’s ways. Even though their enemies are trying to trap them, they stay true to God, for God’s ways are the joy of their heart.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 55:10-13. In this closing section of Second Isaiah, the prophet shares a blessing of how God brings new life through rain and snow. God’s word will plant like seeds and grow into bread that nourishes. All of creation—the mountains, hills, and trees—will praise God before the people who are returning home from exile. Instead of weeds and thorns, lofty trees will grow—a sign forever of God’s faithfulness.

Psalm 65 is a song of praise. Verses 1-8 praise God for answered prayer and forgiveness. God, through awesome deeds, has brought salvation to the people, and all of creation and all nations are in awe of God. In verses 9-13, God is the one who provides for the earth, making sure there is enough water, blessing the earth with its bounty. All the pastures, meadows and valleys overflow and praise God through their being.

The Epistle readings continue the series in Romans with 8:1-11 (verses 6-11 were part of the lectionary reading on March 26th, the fifth Sunday of Lent). Paul writes of life in the spirit, and how sin has no hold on those who live by the spirit. Because Jesus came as one of us and died as one of us, the power of sin died with him. We now live in the spirit and belong to God because the spirit dwells in us. Jesus was raised from the dead, meaning that the law of sin has no hold, because death has no hold on those who believe.

Jesus begins to teach in parables in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In 1-9, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower to crowds that had gathered at the shore, so many that he went into the boat to teach them. In the familiar parable, a sower scattered seeds, and the seeds fell on different kinds of soil. The ones that fell on good soil brought forth multitudes of grain. Skipping over where Jesus spoke to the disciples about why he taught in parables, verses 18-23 explain the parable and that the different kinds of soil represent the ways one receives the word of the reign of God. Jesus explains very few parables, and some scholars believe this explanation was added later. A question we might ask today is what does it take to be rooted in good soil? Could this parable also speak to creation care?

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series in 2 Peter with 3:1-10, 17-18. Most scholars believe 2 Peter to be the latest of all letters in the New Testament, as late as the mid-second century C.E. The author, purporting to be Peter, writes of how there will be skeptics in the last days. By this time, the generation that witnessed Christ is long gone and the first generation of believers have also passed. Some believers have fallen away. The writer states that God’s time is not our time, and that the day of the Lord is still to come. God’s desire, however, is not for death and destruction, but for repentance and salvation. The closing of this letter is a warning, as well as encouragement, to continue to grow in Christ.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 24:42-44 contain Jesus’s instruction to the disciples to keep awake, for they do not know when the day of the Lord is returning. Jesus used the image of a thief in the night, and image was also used by the author of 2 Peter, as a warning to be ready because Christ will return at an unexpected time.

What sort of foundation are we growing upon? How do we make sure what we are rooted in feeds and nourishes us? The Wisdom literature of the Bible, including the Psalms, reminds us to consistently turn to scripture and God’s teachings. Paul calls us to turn from the ways of this world that lead to dead ends and instead live by the Spirit and let nothing of this world have a hold on us. Jesus’s parable might remind us that good soil is produced with nurture and care, but also rest during a fallow time. The words of Isaiah and Jesus may remind us that being in creation is also a source of our nourishment, for God made all living things, and all living things praise God. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that waiting for God is not passive but active. How do we make sure we are planted in a good place? We make sure to get our spiritual nourishment, every day, and keep active in the world around us, where the Spirit is also at work.

Call to Worship (Psalm 119: 171-175)
My lips will pour forth praise,
Because You teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of Your promise,
For all Your commandments are right.
Let Your hand be ready to help me,
For I have chosen Your ways.
I long for your salvation, O Lord,
And Your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise You,
And let Your ordinances help me.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we have neglected to care for the earth You formed, for the life You have grown, for the creatures we share this planet. We have taken advantage of Your commandment to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion, to the point that we have misused, abused, and used up the resources You entrusted us with. Instead of being good stewards of Your gifts, we have exploited the earth for selfish gain. Call us into accountability, O God, for the water that is poisoned and the people who have become sick. Hold us responsible, O God, for the forests we have destroyed and the carbon we have produced. Demand from us, O God, the work of restoration and repair in creation care. May we do these things while we seek Your forgiveness and the forgiveness of creation around us for our part we have played. May we seek to repair and restore first and foremost among our most vulnerable siblings who suffer, as coastlines rise, as leaded water pollutes, as erosion erases entire communities—may we work for environmental justice and restoration for those in need, and for all. In the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we pray all things. Amen.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). May we know the blessing of God’s good earth under our feet. May we hear the praise of the trees that rise above us. May we sing the song of the rivers and oceans. May we remember that we are made in the image of our Creator to love and care for this earth and all of creation. May we seek forgiveness through the work of restoration and justice. May we share this work together. Amen.

God of our Ancestors, we are reminded that almost from birth we are a people who struggle. We struggle to be in right relationship with one another, with You, and with creation. We want what others have. We seek to get our own way. We strive for possessions and power, even at times treating other people as pawns in a power play. Forgive us, O God, for forgetting who we are in You. Remind us that first and foremost, You created us along with all of creation as a joy and treasure. You crafted us in Your image, to be good stewards of the earth. You gave us everything we need on one planet, and shared everything about You through the commandments and prophets and sages of old, and in the love we have known through Jesus Christ. May we remember that we do have it all; we have enough. Call us to live in ways that bless others and love our neighbors as ourselves. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 9, 2023—Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 and Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Narrative Lectionary: Series on 2 Peter, 1:16-2:2, 15-19 (Mark 13:5-7)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures follows the ancestors of the faith through Genesis and Exodus, and this Sunday’s passage focuses on the story of Rebekah and Isaac. Abraham’s servant was sent back to the city of Nahor (named for Abraham’s brother) to find a wife. After finding Rebekah, Abraham’s servant spoke to her father and brother, and shared the story of Sarah and Abraham and his charge to find a wife for Isaac. The servant had prayed, and God had answered his prayer with Rebekah offering him a drink of water and water for his camels. Rebekah gave her consent to go with the servant and become Isaac’s wife, and her family blessed her, and Isaac welcomed Rebekah as his wife.

Psalm 45 is a song for a royal wedding, and verses 10-17 address the bride-to-be. The royal bride is to accept her husband as her king, the people of the kingdom as her own. The psalmist celebrates her arrival to the royal palace and wedding celebration and concludes the psalm with a blessing for the king.

An alternative to Psalm 45 is The Song of the Beloved in Song of Solomon 2:8-13. The woman in the song is wooed by the many to come away and enjoy the springtime, for everything is in bloom, everything is alive again. A metaphor for renewed life, love, and fertility, the song amplifies the joy of new love blossoming.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Zechariah 9:9-12. The prophet calls upon the people to rejoice as they have returned from exile and imagines God as a warrior who will lead the people. However, this warrior enters the city not on a white horse, but on a donkey. The triumphant entry is one of humility, and God is one who brings peace and destroys the weapons of war.

Psalm 145:8-14 is a song praising God for God’s goodness and mercy. In verses 8-14, the psalmist praises God for God’s compassion and steadfast love. All of creation praises God, and the faithful bless God and make known God’s reign to all people, for God’s reign is everlasting. God is faithful and gracious and raises up those who are humble.

The Epistle readings continue in Romans with 7:15-25a. Paul writes about struggling to live rightly before God. The law was designed to help followers follow God’s ways, but Paul recognizes that even if we desire strongly to do the right thing, we will still sin, for sin dwells in us. Wanting to do good isn’t enough. It is only Christ who can “rescue me from this body of death” (vs. 24). Because Jesus fully lived as one of us and died as one of us, we to, as we believe in Christ, can be free from sin in a way that the law cannot free us, in Paul’s view.

Jesus continues his discourse about John the Baptist to the crowds in 11:16-19 and concludes with a message of care and concern for those following him in 25-30. In vs. 16-19, Jesus speaks about the negative reactions of some toward him and John. Neither John nor Jesus did what the people expected of them. John called for repentance and the people rejected him as having a demon. Jesus, who didn’t fast, but ate and drank among the people, was called a glutton and a drunk and a friend of sinners. Jesus reminds the people that wisdom is known through her deeds. Wisdom, personified in Hebrew Scripture as female, is often linked to the Holy Spirit but also to Jesus in the New Testament. There is no way to counter the good work Jesus was doing. Healing, teaching, casting out demons, bringing good news and hope—these deeds show God’s goodness is in Jesus, and in those who follow him. In vs. 25-30, Jesus concludes this section by giving thanks in prayer. The leaders of Jesus’ day tried to discredit Jesus, but the followers of Jesus witnessed and experienced his good works, and God was revealed to them through his actions. Jesus then called upon the people to take up his way. In humility of letting go of the world’s concerns for wealth and power and notoriety, the followers of Jesus would find rest.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 2 Peter with 1:16-2:2, 15-19. The writer, purporting to be Peter, describes the Transfiguration as a moment of confirmation of God’s will through Jesus Christ. No human being can ever fully understand or convey the meaning of scripture through their own interpretation. Peter warns against false teachers, who will bring in destructive views and even deny Christ. Invoking the image of Balaam, God will correct those who insist on their own way. Though they promise freedom for others, they are actually imprisoned to whatever has a hold on them—sin. They entice others to follow their ways and to believe there are no consequences for their actions.

In the supplemental verses of Mark 13:5-7, Jesus warns against those who will claim to come in his name and will try to lead the people astray. Jesus declares that believers should not be alarmed with the news of destruction, for this must take place, and this is not the end.

Whom do we follow? How do we remain faithful? These questions arise from the passages this Sunday. Though all the men were making decisions in Rebekah’s life, ultimately, she was asked if she would go with Abraham’s servant, and she chose to do so and chose to put on the veil and become Isaac’s wife (though her choices were limited, and she would’ve been married off to someone). We have a choice to follow violence and destruction, or kindness and humility. We have a choice to try to do things our own way or to give our lives over to Christ, to give up the ways of this world that burden us and put on Jesus’s way of love, compassion, kindness and justice. We do not have to do things the way the world expects, but we will often face ridicule and rejection for choosing Christ. We must be wary of those who would try to lead us in their way, especially when their way has no accountability or responsibility. We must follow Jesus, resist evil, and do good.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 145:8-12)
The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all, and God’s compassion is over all that God has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
And all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
To make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
God’s reign is everlasting,
And we worship God in faithfulness and gratitude.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, we come before You with burdens too great to bear. Burdens of pain and sadness and loss. Burdens of worry and fear and regret. Burdens of anger and hate and rejection. So many burdens placed on us through the brokenness of this world. Holy One, bring healing into our lives. Grant us gentleness and compassion. Give us justice and hope. Lead us into steadfast love and faithfulness. Guide us into Your ways that open us to receive care and healing, through the merciful love of Jesus Christ, who lived for us, who died for us, and lives again, and in whose name we pray. Amen.

There is a peace that surpasses all understanding. We may only receive a glimpse of it now, but we can know it in our lives. We can encourage it to grow by loving and caring for one another. We can find peace, even if only for a moment, but we can share it. Live into Christ’s love and compassion and share that love and compassion with one another, forgiving one another, building up one another, and working to repair what has been lost or broken. This is how we seek peace. This is how we pursue it. This is how we find it, in Christ’s love and in love for one another. Amen.

In this season of ordinary time in the church, O God, help us to know Your extraordinary love. Help us to discover the everyday miracles around us. May we see life and goodness and hope in the midst of the mundane, and especially in difficult, trying times. Guide us in practices that deepen our trust and faith in You, through reading Your scriptures, caring for others’ needs, participating in the work of justice, and in prayer and meditation. Help us to find ways to connect more fully with You and with one another. May ordinary time be a time of renewed trust and faith in You, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for July 2, 2023—Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 22:1-14 and Psalm 13; Jeremiah 28:5-9 and Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Narrative Lectionary: 2 Peter 1:1-11 (Matthew 13:44-46)

Our first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus. In Genesis 22, Abraham is instructed by God to offer up Isaac, his only child, the son promised by God, as a sacrifice. Though Abraham had another son Ishmael through Hagar, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Though God had promises for Hagar and Ishmael, God’s covenant would be with Abraham’s descendants—yet Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham did not hold back Isaac. But just before he was about to kill him, the angel of the Lord called out for Abraham to stop and provided a ram instead. While some interpretations of this story suggest that God tested Abraham and this is a story about faithfulness to God, other scholars believe this is a story showing that God was different than the other gods of Abraham’s time—this God did not desire child sacrifice. It is a disturbing story in our scriptures, one that we must wrestle with in understanding historical and cultural context, in light of the abuse of children in religious institutions over the years.

Psalm 13 is a song of trusting in God. The psalmist is facing their enemies and feels defeated, but they trust in God’s steadfast love and mercy. They will continue to praise God because they know God is faithful.

In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, Jeremiah 28:5-9, Hananiah the prophet had been preaching peace to the priests and people of Jerusalem. They did not want to believe that destruction was imminent. Jeremiah agreeed this would be a great message, only the prophets of the past warned of war and destruction and no one listened to them, but their words were true. If Hananiah is not proclaiming what God has spoken, it will not come to pass.

Psalm 81:1-4, 15-18 is a song praising God for the covenant and God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Those who know how to worship God are blessed, for God is their protector and strength.

The Epistle reading continues it series in Romans 6:12-23. Sin no longer has a hold on us because we are under grace, but we still should not sin. Instead, we should live as people obedient to Christ instead of the ways of this world. We are now obedient to the teachings in our heart, for we have been set free from the ways of this world. Paul uses the image of slavery, and that sin has a hold on people the way the system of slavery did, but sin and death have no hold on the faithful for they have been freed. The ways of this world—sin—leads to death, but the way of Christ leads to eternal life.

Jesus was completing a set of instructions to the disciples before he sent them out. Matthew 10:40-42 contains a brief conclusion on hospitality, in that whoever shows a disciple hospitality has shown Christ hospitality. When we welcome one another, we welcome Christ, and therefore God, into our lives. When we show hospitality to the most vulnerable in our society, we are welcoming Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a brief series on 2 Peter, beginning with verses 1-11. Both 1 and 2 Peter are considered pseudepigraphal and not written by the apostle, and 2 Peter may have been written as late as 150 C.E. 2 Peter is written to encourage the followers of Jesus, now at least a full century if not more after his death and resurrection. The beginning of this letter tells of how Jesus, through his divine power, has given the believers everything they need to know to live a godly life. The writer speaks of escaping this world’s power for the power of God, for the world wants to corrupt, but God desires for us to live. The believer does best to witness to a faithful life by living into goodness, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. The author states that their lives will confirm their call and election into the reign of God.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 13:44-46 contain two parables: the parable of the treasure in the field and the great pearl. In other words, the life that God offers through Jesus is worth giving up everything else in the world, for the reign of God is a greater treasure than these.

How do we live faithfully today? We live into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. We love one another, practice hospitality to one another as if it is Jesus the guest we are welcoming into our homes and lives. We witness through our lives by practicing goodness and godliness, self-control and love, as well as endurance in this world that will try to get us down. God helped Abraham break the terrible cycle of child sacrifice that was common in his lifetime. Jeremiah stayed true to what God had spoken to him despite it not being a very popular message—for the prophets and leaders of his time wanted to hold on to the wealth and power they had instead of listening to God. Paul writes of breaking free from the system of sin in this world through Jesus Christ, who sets us free. We are called to live differently. The world today sets us in competition with each other, to consume more and have more. We worry about not having what others have, or holding on to our possessions and wealth so tightly that we forget Jesus called us to welcome one another and give at least the basic needs to the most vulnerable in our society. We are called to live differently, and our lives witness that the reign of Christ is real, important, and eternal.

Call to Worship
We proclaim God’s faithfulness in our lives,
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
God has been faithful to our ancestors, and God is faithful to us,
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
God has made a new covenant with us through Jesus Christ,
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Live into the joy of God’s love in your life and worship God,
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess to You, O Holy One, that our ways are not Your ways. We have sought the world’s wealth and possessions. We have sought to build capital and establish security for ourselves and our families. We have not worked to help the most vulnerable. We have allowed water to become polluted, food to become scarce, housing for the poor to be eliminated. We have neglected the most in need among us and therefore we have neglected You, Jesus our Savior. You came to us as vulnerable as any of us, but we have ignored You in neglecting the vulnerable among us. Forgive us and call us into accountability. Call us back to the work You have given us to do, to welcome one another, practice kindness and compassion, and to do justice by caring for those who are considered the least among us. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, and we hope to participate in it, but we know we cannot if we ignore You in this world, among Your children in need. In Your name we pray. Amen.

You are God’s beloved child, made in God’s image. When we return to God, we know God’s love and God’s ways. We set out to do right, and at times need our direction corrected, but God’s love will never fail. Know God’s love and seek forgiveness, restoration, and healing in this world. Do your part to build and plant and grow the seeds of righteousness, faithfulness, and love, and know God’s mercy in your life. Go with this good news of God’s love and forgiveness.

Sun of Righteousness, You rise over us with healing in Your wings. We praise You and call upon You to help us live into the life You desire for us—a life where we show mutual love and care, build up one another, and tend to one another’s needs. The world is burning around us with neglect and hardship and strife, but You offer us a different way to live and to care for the earth and one another. May we listen to Your voice calling us into that Way, that Truth, and that Life that is abundant, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 25, 2023—Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 21:8-21 and Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Jeremiah 20:7-13 and Psalm 69:7-10 (11-15), 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, 61:1-11 (Luke 4:16-21)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus. While we primarily think of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah as growing from a family with one child into a nation, through enslavement to freedom, we are reminded that the family tree is large. The story of Hagar is also one of our ancestral stories, a story of enslavement and trafficking and abandonment. However, though Hagar and her son were cast out by Sarah and Abraham so they would not inherit, God promised Hagar an inheritance through her son, that he would become a great nation. Though Abraham gave very little to Hagar and Ishmael, God provided for them in the wilderness. Though God spoke to Abraham, God also spoke to Hagar, and God’s presence was made known to Ishmael.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 is a prayer for help. The psalmist, perhaps facing enemies, calls upon God to save their life and to answer their prayer, for there is no other God like God. God is good, forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. All nations shall bow before God. The psalmist concludes by seeking strength from God and asking for a sign so that others will know God’s presence is with the psalmist. God is the one who helps and brings comfort.

Ever wondered how hard it was to be a prophet? In Jeremiah 20:7-13, the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, Jeremiah complains that God has enticed him to speak up and look what he gets for it? Nothing but trouble. Jeremiah feels he must declare violence and destruction to the people, but he hates doing it. If he tries not to speak on behalf of God, the fire inside of him burns and he can’t keep it in. Everyone else is waiting for him to screw up so they can pounce on him, even his close friends. Nonetheless, Jeremiah knows that God is with him and those persecuting him will not prevail. God is the one who will deliver him. Content Warning: the English translations of this passage are tamer than the Hebrew, which uses the language of rape to describe Jeremiah being compelled to prophecy by God and that same language of his friends working against him.

Psalm 69 is a prayer for deliverance from persecution. In verses 7-10, the psalmist reminds God that it is for God’s sake they have been shamed, that their family has disowned them, for the psalmist is being blamed for what God has called them to do and insulted for being humble. In verses 11-15, the psalmist continues to share that they are ridiculed and gossiped about, but they pray to God because they trust that God will deliver them from their enemies. They call upon God to not let them die. In verses 16-18, the psalmist turns to God, calling upon God to answer them in according to God’s mercy, and calls upon God to draw near to them and set them free from their enemies.

The Epistle reading continues in Romans with 6:1b-11. Paul uses rhetoric here to say that even though it is faith that saves instead of the law, believers are not to continue in sin. Through Christ, we have died to sin and have been raised to life. Knowing that we are united in a resurrection like Christ’s, we are called to live as alive in Christ. Sin has no power over us, but if we know Jesus Christ, we live in the newness of life. Sin holds us back; Christ sets us free.

The Gospel lesson focuses on Matthew 10:24-39. Continuing from last week’s lesson, Jesus is giving the disciples further instructions before they head out in ministry. Jesus reminds the disciples that they are not above the teacher, but a disciple ought to be like the teacher. Nonetheless, Jesus also warns them that the insults thrown at him (such as calling him Beelzebul) will be even greater toward them. Jesus then instructs them to not be afraid and to share everything he has taught them, and that they are precious to God. If they are faithful to Christ, Christ will be with them, but whoever denies Christ, Christ will deny them before God. Jesus further warns the disciples that his teachings will bring division, not peace. Just as Jesus’s own family at first tried to stop him, so will some of the disciple’s families and friends. Those who follow Jesus must be willing to let go of everything, even families, if they hold them back from following Christ. Those who are willing to give up everything for Christ’s sake will find everything of purpose and meaning is in Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series in Isaiah with 61:1-11, part of Third Isaiah. The prophet shares good news of God to those who were oppressed and in captivity, those who have returned from exile. The city of Jerusalem and the temple shall be rebuilt, and the people shall be a holy priesthood for God, a witness to the world of God’s faithfulness and they shall receive a double portion of goodness because of what they have suffered. God loves justice and will make sure that all of God’s people are known and blessed in the world. The prophet concludes this chapter with assurance that God will renew the people as a nation, just like spring renews the earth, faithfully.

The supplemental verses are from Luke 4:16-21, in which Jesus, in his first sermon, reads from this very portion of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, probably the synagogue he grew up in, and declares that this portion of Isaiah 61:1-2 has been fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus came to bring good news, though later in that same chapter, he would declare that the good news may be for those outside of Israel.

Living faithfully is not easy. Believers do not have life any easier than anyone else. At times, being faithful can be more difficult. Jeremiah and other prophets were called to speak against injustice and corruption and many prophets faced humiliation, disgrace, and even death. Paul writes that we are called as faithful people to live differently, and Jesus warns that believers will face humiliation, persecution, and even loss of family and friends. But we are reminded that God draws close to us and is with us, just as God was close to Hagar and Ishmael. God was with the faithful when they returned from exile. And Christ promises to be with us, until the end of the age, when we live as disciples and make disciples, following the instructions of our great Teacher.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 86:4-8)
Gladden the soul of your servant,
For to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
Abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
Listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
For you will answer me.
There is none like you, O Lord,
Nor are there any works like yours.
Let us gather our hearts and minds for worship,
For there is no God but God, who hears our prayers, our songs, and our sighs.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that our ways are not Your ways. We look for the easy choice, the easy decision, the easy way out, whether individually or collectively. We do not want to sit in the struggle. We do not want to listen to those who disagree with us. We do not want conflict and we have somehow bought into the idea that if we are with believers we ought to get along. We blame others when things don’t work out. We scapegoat and snark and gossip. We forget that we are flawed and human, each one of us, and that our desire for the easy way sometimes is the stumbling block for healthy decisions and growing from our differences. Forgive us, O God. Remind us that sometimes we need to be silent and listen. Sometimes we are called to speak only to remind others to listen to the voices that have been silenced. And sometimes, You do call us to cry out against injustice. Call those of us with privilege to share space and at times give up space so that all may be heard, and all may know Your love. In the name of Jesus, who has led us on the difficult, rough path that leads from death to life, we pray. Amen.

God is gracious and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love and mercy. You are precious to God, and God loves you so, so much. Know this, in your heart of hearts, that nothing can ever take away that love of God from you. Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness. Seek healing and help bring healing. Participate in the work of justice and restoration, for this is what we are called to do. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

God of all seasons, we give thanks for the light of day and the darkness of night as we pass by the solstice. We give thanks for the ebb and flow of creation, for the beautiful summer of the north and winter of the south. Call us to the work of climate justice and hold us accountable, for You made us to be good stewards of the earth and we have failed. We have misused and abused creation for our own comfort and profit. Call us into accountability and help us, individually and collectively, to do our part to restore the earth and reduce our waste. Guide us to be Your children, caretakers of this beautiful planet, the only one You have given us. In the name of Christ, who came so that all might have life, may we live more simply for others. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 18, 2023—Third Sunday after Pentecost, Father’s Day

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7) and Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Exodus 19:2-8a and Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 40:1-11 (Mark 1:1-4) or Isaiah 55:1-13 (John 4:13-14)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus, from a family to a nation, through enslavement to freedom. In Genesis 18, three visitors are passing by when Abraham encourages them to stop and have some respite, with he and Sarah offering food and hospitality. One of the men promises to return, and that Sarah will give birth to a son. However, Sarah, listening behind the tent entrance, laughed. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be ancestors of a multitude, but now it was well past the time that they believed they could have children. God questioned Abraham as to why Sarah laughed, because there is nothing too wonderful for God, but Sarah denied that she did. However, in due season, she conceived and give birth, and Abraham named the son Laughter (Isaac) because God brought laughter into Sarah and Abraham’s life. The joke was on her—God is always true with God’s promises, even when it seems impossible.

The psalmist’s prayers were answered by God, and they sing God’s praise in Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19. The singer pledges to call upon God as long as they live because they know God’s faithfulness. Even in death, the faithful are precious to God. The psalmist pledges to live out their vows and to serve God as their mother did before them, recalling the ancestors who served faithfully, and a pledge to live out their faith in God in the temple and presence of the people of Israel.

The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures is Exodus 19:2-8a, when the Israelites reached Mount Sinai. As the people camped in the wilderness, Moses went up the mountain for the first time, and God told Moses what to say to the people: if they obeyed God and kept God’s covenant, they would be God’s treasured people. Even though all peoples of the earth belong to God, they would serve as a holy, priestly nation, a people for whom God would be made known through to the rest of the world. When Moses returned to the people, they replied that they would do everything God had told them.

Psalm 100 is a call to worship for the people as they prepared to enter the temple. The psalmist calls upon the people to worship with gladness and to remember that they were made by God and belong to God. God is the shepherd, and the people are the sheep of God’s pasture.

The Epistle selection continues its series in Romans with 5:1-8, which was also the Epistle reading on the third Sunday of Lent back on March 12th. Because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.

Jesus saw the needs of the people and had compassion on them, sending the disciples to minister among them in Matthew 9:35-10:8. Jesus appointed the twelve disciples, and in Matthew’s account, one might take note that there are fishermen, tax collectors, and a Cananaean (or Zealot, a member of a revolutionary group). What an eclectic group! Yet Jesus sent them out to minister among the Jewish villages, and to avoid the Gentiles and Samaritans, making clear that Jesus’s ministry at this point was to his own people. The message they were to share was simple: the kingdom of heaven had come near, and they were to minister as if the kingdom was at hand. Casting out demons and cleansing lepers restored people to society, curing the sick and raising the dead restored people to life. They were to go without being paid and to not receive payment.
In the optional additional reading of verses 9-20, Jesus gave further instruction to not take anything with them and to simply accept the hospitality offered them. If hospitality was not given, they were to move along. Those villages would receive the same as they gave—judged by their refusal to show hospitality, the way Sodom and Gomorrah were judged (and how the prophet Ezekiel also interpreted the destruction of those cities as a result of inhospitality in Ezekiel 16:46-50). Jesus sent the disciples to serve God like sheep among wolves, innocent servants in places where they might easily be taken advantage of or handed over to authorities. Jesus urged them to be wise in their innocence, and not to be afraid.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in Isaiah with two choices, both part of Second Isaiah. In 40:1-11, the beginning of the section attributed to Second Isaiah, God sends a message of comfort to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the people in exile. God is bringing the people home from Babylon, and Jerusalem is the beacon of good news of God’s restoration to all the people of Judah. Even though the people were not faithful, God is always true, and God will accompany the people like a shepherd accompanying their flock, carrying the lambs close to God’s heart and gently leading the mother sheep.

The supplementary verses of Mark 1:1-4 begins the gospel of Mark with John the Baptist arriving out of the wilderness. The Gospel writers all link John the Baptist with Isaiah 40 and the voice calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.

The second choice is from the end of Second Isaiah, 55:1-13. God calls everyone who thirsts to join with God, because the spiritual food God offers is better than anything humans could work for in a human kingdom. God’s reign is the one to live for. God made a covenant with David that is everlasting, and other nations will see the people of Israel as a witness of God’s goodness and faithfulness because of what God has done for them. Nonetheless, human beings cannot comprehend all that God has done and will do, for God is the one who provides for the whole earth, and all of nature will rejoice and praise God for what God continues to do for the people.

The supplementary verses of John 4:13-14 are from the passage of the Samaritan woman at the well, where Jesus speaks about how everyone who drinks of the well water will be thirsty again, but the water Jesus offers is a wellspring of eternal life.

The themes of God’s faithfulness run through the Genesis reading of the promise of Isaac, to God’s message through Moses on Mount Sinai, to God calling the people through the wilderness and reminding the people of the covenant in Isaiah. God’s faithfulness endures forever. We experience God’s faithfulness through God’s presence, through our worship, as the psalmist called the people to worship long ago, through God speaking through the prophets such as Moses, and through Jesus and his disciples sent out to minister among the people. God is near to us and desires for us to be in relationship. We understand God’s covenantal presence through community in the Hebrew scriptures and through the life, death, love, and ministry of Christ. Today, we experience that covenantal presence in faith community, in relationship with one another, in ministering among our neighbors, and in relationship with Christ. Jesus never taught is that we were only to be in relationship with him; rather, we are called to be in relationship with both God and our neighbor. As a shepherd accompanies the sheep, we know God is closest to the most vulnerable among us, but God always gathers us together—all of us—to be in community. And in the example of the disciples, we know we are called to share the Good News, perhaps in a similar manner: go forth to help change as many lives as possible and use as few words as necessary (to paraphrase the quote often attributed to St. Francis).

Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the LORD is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to God;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Shepherding God, we confess that far too often we want to do things our own way. We want to love the neighbors we already know. We want to minister among those who won’t ask much of us. We want to work for justice when it benefits ourselves. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and our selfishness. Remind us of Your call to all, but especially the most vulnerable. Gentle Shepherd, You led the people out of exile, carrying the lambs close to Your heart. Remind us to seek those with the greatest needs to serve in Your ways of love and justice, and to allow ourselves to be led by You. May we listen to those most affected by injustice and follow their lead and not our own desires and opinions. In the name of Christ, our Good Shepherd, we pray. Amen.

Psalm 116:1-2: I love the LORD, because God has heard my voice and my supplications. Because God inclined their ear to me, therefore I will call on God as long as I live.
God hears our prayers, our cries, our sobs, our sighs too deep for words. God knows all that you desire, and all that you need, and God provides for us through the blessings of creation, the bounty of the earth, and the love of one another. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Love as Christ loved, as he laid down his life for you. Serve as Christ served. Repair and restore, for God’s faithfulness endures forever. Be a part of the good work of God in this world, and it shall go well with you. Amen.

God of our ancestors, we recall the stories of Sarah and Abraham, how they hoped and prayed and yet You still surprised them in the long run. You are still surprising us with Your goodness and mercy. Sometimes it is difficult for us to be surprised because we are caught up in the day-to-day busyness of the world, or the day-to-day difficult news. Sometimes despair keeps us from taking notice. Nonetheless, You are surprising us in new discoveries of science. You surprise us in a gentle breeze on a hot day. You surprise us in the hatching of eggs and the soft rain on the grass. You surprise us when the news is not as dire as we thought, when the lost are found, the vulnerable are rescued, the houseless are given a home, and someone receives good news for their illness. We know that we are not always the recipients of the good news, but there is good news in the world, and You are at work in it all. Sometimes You call us to be the good news for others. Sometimes we are the ones who answer a call for a neighbor in need, provide a meal for someone who is hungry, and help someone find their way who is lost. Remind us that we might be the answer to a prayer, that we might be the surprise needed in the world. For long ago, You surprised Sarah and Abraham by stopping by, a group of three strangers walking down the road, and Abraham surprised You by inviting You in, and Sarah made You a cake. In turn, You surprised them with the best news, even though they still had to wait. God of our ancestors, teach us how to surprise You and to surprise one another with Your good news. Amen.

Prayer for Father’s Day
Abba God, we come to You on this day knowing that it may be a difficult day, for those who are missing their fathers and for those who have difficult relationships, for those who are estranged and for those who never knew their fathers. We thank You for those fathers who demonstrate Your love, and for stepdads, uncles, coaches, grandpas, teachers and neighbors. We thank You that we know Your love like a father to Jesus Christ, who called You “Abba.” Abba God, may we know Your love surpasses our human understanding and that You are beyond gender, but You love us, Your children, far beyond what we can comprehend or imagine. Abba God, may we draw closer to You, to abide in You as Jesus abides in us, and it is in Your Son’s name that we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 11, 2023—Second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-9 and Psalm 33:1-12; Hosea 5:15-6:6 and Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 9:1-7 (John 8:12)

In the season after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary contains two choices for the Hebrew Scriptures and Psalms—one selection that is semicontinuous, and a second selection that pairs with the Gospel reading. The semicontinuous readings for year B follow the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus, from a family to a nation, through enslavement to freedom.

We begin with Genesis 12:1-9, the call of Abram and Sarai. The two had traveled from Ur to Haran with Abram’s father Terah and family, but now God spoke to Abram and Sarai and called them with a promise that they would be the ancestors of a great nation. Abram, Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot set out to Canaan, and along the way, Abram built altars to sacrifice to God, first at the oak of Moreh in Shechem, then in the hill country east of Bethel. They journeyed via states through Canaan to the Negev, the desert land south of Canaan, and they knew the same God who called them was with them on their journey.

Psalm 33:1-12 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness and sings of God’s love for those who are faithful. God’s steadfast love is made known to the world through God’s acts of creation. God’s voice is known because with it, God creates. For the nations that choose God, they are blessed and content. For those who choose their own way, God frustrates their plans. Those who know God are in awe of God, for God’s works in creation and God’s righteousness and justice.

The prophet Hosea doesn’t mince words in 5:15-6:6. Hosea, writing as the northern kingdom of Israel was about to be invaded by Assyria, lived out the metaphor of Israel’s unfaithfulness in his own marriage. The people of Israel have turned to other nations, other gods, and have forsaken God’s ways. God has stopped intervening and instead waits for the people to turn back. God knows the people will only turn to God when everything has become bad enough for them to remember God is there. However, God is tired of their empty rituals and their assumption that they can turn back to God as a last resort. God desires their love and faithfulness in relationship, not their sacrifices and performative repentance.

Psalm 50:7-15 contains a rebuke for those who are religiously pious for appearance’s sake. The people are continually offering sacrifices but also repeatedly turning away from God. God instead desires true worship. God knows all the creatures of the earth and air, for God made them, so why sacrifice them? God suggests a sacrifice of thanksgiving—instead of depending on God to response with mercy, offer God thanksgiving for all God has already done, for God will deliver the people.

The Epistle readings begin a series in Romans this season after Pentecost, overlapping some with the readings from Lent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome to introduce himself and his theology of understanding that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles were now one people. For the Gentile believers, Paul wanted them to accept their Jewish neighbors, including those who didn’t follow Jesus, because Jewish believers in Jesus were still tied culturally to their Jewish neighbors. For Jewish Christians, Paul wanted them to accept their Gentile neighbors even though they had different social customs and opinions. In 4:13-25, Paul argues that it is not the law that brings faith. Abraham was the ancestor of all nations, and it was his faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, not the acts of the law. The law does not bring faith, Paul argues, so for Jewish Christians it is faith in Jesus that saves. This save faith is available for Gentiles without living under the law, for those who believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, for Christ was raised for the justification of all.

Jesus is among “unclean people” in Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26. Jesus called a tax collector to follow him, and the tax collector invited Jesus to his home to eat with him and some other tax collectors and “sinners.” Jesus was questioned by some of the religious authorities as to why he was eating with them. We need to understand that ritual purity was not something usually bothered with on a daily basis, it only came into play if one was to enter the temple or participate in religious practice. Nonetheless, the Pharisees were generally more interested in maintaining religious purity even outside the temple, and because Jesus had much in common with them, when they disagreed, they disagreed pretty strongly. Tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire and were seen as participating in their own people’s oppression. Sinners might be anyone who was either ritually impure or those who might also be seen as helping the oppressors. Jesus responds that he came not for the righteous—not for those who are already living rightly under God—but for sinners. Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but those who are sick, do. Those who must survive by working for their oppressors are the ones who need God’s love and mercy.

Skipping ahead to verse 18, after Jesus had dinner with the tax collectors and sinners, a leader of the synagogue came to him, for the man’s daughter had died but he believed that if Jesus laid his hand on her, she would live. While on the way to see the little girl, Jesus was touched by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. When he arrived at the girl’s home, the funeral has already begun but Jesus explained she was not dead, only sleeping. He took her by the hand, and she got up. Jesus, being touched by the woman bleeding and by touching the dead girl, should have been considered unclean himself, but the woman with the hemorrhage was healed and the dead girl brought back to life. By faith they were healed, and laws around ritual purity were circumvented. Again, Jesus’s actions seem to only offend certain religious leaders of the Pharisees, not the entire community, probably because Jesus interacted more with the Pharisees than other groups.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in Isaiah, with 9:1-7. This passage, often quoted by Christians in Advent, is the prophecy associated with the newborn king, one who would not be corrupt and would lead the people as David once did. Hezekiah, born in Judah, was the hoped-for king who would bring about a reign of peace after the northern kingdom of Israel (especially the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali) had been taken into exile by Assyria. The first prophet called Isaiah had witnessed the destruction himself. Assyria had attacked Jerusalem, but had not prevailed, and the prophet found hope in the next king. Using the imagery of darkness and light, Isaiah believes the destructive past is over and a new day has begun. Six hundred years later, Christians found resonance in this passage, in the hope of Jesus as the Messiah.

The supplementary verse of John 8:12 reminds us that Jesus has come as a light into the world. By following him, we will know eternal life, a flame never extinguished.

The theme of faithfulness appears through all these scriptures: God’s enduring faithfulness through all generations, and our own faithfulness to God, though our faithfulness is sometimes circumspect. God made a promise to our ancestors Abram and Sarai and they believed in that promise (most of the time), enough to travel far away from their family with hope for their future generations. The prophet Hosea was skeptical of the people of Israel’s faithfulness because all he saw were people responding out of desperation for the situation they had made, instead of responding to God’s faithfulness first in gratitude. Paul wrote of Abraham’s faithfulness to God without the need of the law. Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel account experiences the faithfulness of both a powerless woman and a leader in the synagogue—a reminder that not all the religious leaders opposed Jesus. In the Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah shares God’s faithfulness through the birth of Hezekiah, the promise of a new king.

God’s promises lead to life, and life eternal. The ways of the world that we have made—worldly power, greed, notoriety, even worldly acceptance—they lead us away from God. Hosea warned that those who only turn to faith in false pretenses, as sort of a back-up option when things get really bad as a last desperate attempt—will find that it may be too late. God may not intervene in worldly situations. Nonetheless, God promises that we will not be alone. God promises there will always be a new start. We may have to live through the consequences of our own actions, but God’s promises to our ancestors endure in us—God will always do a new thing. Christ is a flame that cannot be extinguished. The Spirit will continue to work good in the world and in us. God’s faithfulness endures forever.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 33:1, 3a, 4-5, 21)
All you who are righteous,
Shout joyfully to the Lord!
It is right for those who do right to praise God.
Sing to God a new song!
Because the Lord’s word is right,
Every act of God is done in good faith.
God loves righteousness and justice,
God’s faithful love fills the whole earth.
Our heart rejoices in God,
Because we trust God’s holy name.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we are a fickle people. We demand that You save us. We cry out to You in our distress. Yet the moment we have comfort, the moment the storm we have faced is gone, we go back to our old, selfish ways. Like Your people, having been delivered from Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, we complain the moment things aren’t as we want them to be. Turn our hearts toward gratitude, O Faithful One. Remind us of how You have led us thus far and will continue to guide us through this life. Keep our hearts to Your steadfast love, not out of fear, but out of hope and gratitude. Guide us in Your ways of loving our neighbor as ourselves and in our love for one another may we have gratitude for all we have. You are a God of abundant love; may we be reminded of Your abundance in our lives, especially in this moments when life is difficult, when it feels we do not have enough. May the love of our neighbors overwhelm us and remind us of Your great love for us, and may we be called to share that love, building up Your Beloved Community on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down everything for us that we might have life, we pray. Amen.

The Faithful One is with us, now and always. There is no place we can hide, no place we can fade away, where God will not know us. God is beside us in the valleys of shadow and in the pastures of rest and safety. In gratitude, may we accept God’s forgiveness and grant others the same. In hope, may we love one another and know that we are loved. In mercy, may we repair and restore what has been broken so that others might help to repair and restore us when we are ready to fall apart. Beloveds, let us love one another. Amen.

Spirit of Life, help us to slow down and pause in awe and wonder at all You have done for us. The blades of grass under our feet. The dandelions that continue to grow back and bring forth seed. The green leaves above us, the blue sky that at times seems endless. May we breathe deep of Your love and grace and peace in our lives. May we stop for a moment and remember that You are the Creator of everything, down to the particles that make up the atoms that make us, all the way to the distant galaxies we can barely glimpse from a telescope. In Your magnificence, You somehow decided to make us in Your image and make us so that we might know just a fraction of who You are, our Wondrous Maker. If we can pause for a moment to be in awe of You, perhaps in that pause we can be filled with Your love for all the earth, all the creatures You have made, and all our siblings in humanity. In that pause, may we put down our weapons. May we turn our anger to the pursuit of love and justice. May we remember that all of us are here for only a blink of time, and may we hold on to that blink that is holy and precious by our willingness to give up the things of the world we have made, in order to cling to You and Your love. In the name of Christ, who laid it all down, everything of the world made by human beings, to show us Your love, Your truth, and Your life, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 4, 2023—Trinity Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 6:1-8 (Luke 5:8-10)

On Trinity Sunday, we begin with the first story of Creation in Genesis, where God refers to themselves in the plural, creating everything, including all of humanity. There is a sense of equality and equilibrium in God’s intentions for creation, and that humanity’s dominion over the earth is mirrored in God’s dominion over everything, for in the image of God, God created humanity. Even with the creation of sabbath, there is a balance of work and rest. Light and dark, sky and water, dry earth and plants, sun and moon/stars, creatures of the water and creatures of the sky, then creatures of the land and human beings. The work of creation also happens when resting and finding joy in it. While the primary focus of God in this text is of God the Creator, there is also the wind from God that swept over the waters, often thought of as the Holy Spirit. And perhaps in creating humanity in the image of God, as Christians, we can imagine Christ present already (John 1:1-5; see also Proverbs 8:22-31 for Wisdom’s presence at the beginning of creation).

Psalm 8 is a song of praise to God, a song full of wisdom in asking the ancient question, “who are we compared to almighty God?” The psalmist looked up at the stars and asked the same question we often do—in the vastness of the universe, what are human beings? Yet God has made us a little lower than divine. God has given us dominion over the earth the way God has dominion over us. If we are to “fear God”—which is better understood as trembling awe—then we will do our very best in caring for creation the way God cares for us. God is Sovereign over all the earth.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 are the final verses of this letter, in which Paul encourages the church in Corinth to listen to what he has said, especially on the financial appeal for the church in Jerusalem, and to live in peace. His final benediction also includes one of the few instances of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit listed together in a blessing, fitting for this Trinity Sunday.

The Gospel lesson is known as the Great Commission, the final message from Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew. Even as the disciples experienced the risen Christ, some doubted, yet Jesus called all of them to go into the world and make disciples. Disciple means student. They, and we, are to go into the world to teach everything that Jesus taught us. Far too often that message has been simplified into a message of being saved from sin and hell for eternal life, rather than how we are to live in this world—as last of all, servant of all, working as peacemakers, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and so on. Jesus taught them to baptize in the name of God the Father/Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to remember that he is always with us, until the end of time.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a new series in Isaiah. In Isaiah 6:1-8, in the year King Uzziah died, the prophet experiences a vision of God in the heavenly throne room. In this vision Isaiah beholds the seraphs praising God and the throne room filled with smoke from the altar, and Isaiah knows as a mortal he is unworthy to witness such a vision. But in the metaphor of unclean lips, a seraph takes a live coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips to purify them. Isaiah is told that his sin is blotted out, and when God asks, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” Isaiah boldly answers, “Here am I, send me!”

In the supplemental verses of Luke 5:8-10, as Jesus calls the first disciples, in this account there is a miraculous catch of fish, and Simon Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful man. However, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” God uses those who feel they are unworthy and impure to do holy work.

On Trinity Sunday we remember that as Christians we have spoken of the relationship of God with the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ as triune. However, our Orthodox siblings might remind us that the Trinity is a mystery—this is not something we can truly comprehend. Just like the psalmist gazing up at the stars, who are we in comparison to the awe-inspiring Creator of us all? We who have but a glimpse of the vastness of the universe, how dare we think we could understand all of God? Yet God has made us a little lower than divine, with great responsibility over the earth. God made us, along with everything, because God desires us to live. In that life, God desires for us to have rest and joy. What the world has become is far from what God intended it to be, but Jesus has called us to teach others about God’s intentions for us. This is the Great Commission for us: never to make clones of ourselves, but always to make disciples, teaching by our own lives, the way Jesus lived and taught. This is the way.

Call to Worship
Architect of the universe, Creator of heaven and earth,
We join together in awe and wonder to praise Your name.
Spirit of Life, breathing life into all and moving us to justice,
We worship as one body with many gifts of use to the world.
Jesus Christ, the True Son, who lived and died and lives again for us,
We follow Your way, Your truth, and Your life as disciples.
Holy God, Blessed Three-In-One,
Though we do not fully understand, we trust in You,
And worship, follow, and join with You on this journey of faith.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy God, we confess that we continue to try to put You in a box when You constantly show us Your love cannot be contained. We confess that we try to put borders on Your love that knows no bounds. We confess in our self-righteousness we have condemned others to the point of harm. We have been unjust, unkind, unloving, completely antithetical to the ways You taught us through our ancestors, the prophets, and Your own Son. Call us into accountability. Help us to learn our painful truth of systemic sin, even within our churches, and guide us into ways of reparation and restoration. Help us to let go of what we cannot control or change but to work on what we can, to better ourselves and the world around us. Call us to love all our neighbors as ourselves as we strive to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 2 Corinthians 13:11b, 13)
“Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” May this blessing of Paul remind us to live into God’s love and peace, and love and peace will be known to us through the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the community of the Spirit. We are one body, though many members. We need one another. We must do the hard work of repairing, restoring, and forgiveness, so that we can truly be disciples of Jesus Christ in this world. This is how we witness: by love. So in love, may we go forth and share the good news of Jesus. Amen.

Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity. O Holy One we sing Your praise, and on this Trinity Sunday we sing and pray in the metaphor we know best to describe You. Yet we know our words our inadequate to capture the fullness of Your being, of Your majestic work in creation. Your thoughts are beyond our comprehension. The words of Scripture are still not enough to tell Your whole story, but they do tell us enough: we are to love. We are to love one another, love this earth that You made and care for it as we care for ourselves, and we are to love You. Guide us into ways of care instead of harm. Teach us how to live out Your loving-kindness with one another and ourselves. Keep us to Your ways as taught by Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 28, 2023–Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

(If the reading from Numbers is chosen as the first selection, then the Acts reading is chosen instead of the Epistle reading)

Narrative Lectionary: Nothing Can Separate Us, Acts 2:1-4 and Romans 8:14-39 (Matt 28:16-20)

We have arrived at the penultimate moment of the Christian year. While the liturgical year begins with Advent, bringing us to the Incarnation at Christmas and the revealing of Christ to the world in Epiphany, then the season of Lent brings us through the wilderness of faith through Holy Week and the life and death of Jesus, and resurrection at Easter. But just when we think things couldn’t get any better than Jesus rising from the dead, giving us the promise of new life now and the hope of eternal life, and Jesus ascends to be one with God, Jesus’s promise is revealed—God is always with us! The Holy Spirit is present and active in our lives and in our world, gathering us as the church and working through us to bring about Christ’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.

On the day of Pentecost, when the Jewish people had gathered in Jerusalem fifty days after Passover, they gathered to celebrate the festival of the first fruits of the garden and the Torah being given to Moses at Sinai, the festival of Shavuot. The disciples were all together when they felt the rush of wind so powerful it shook the room they were in, and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared above them. Suddenly, the disciples could speak all the languages of the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean. Some of the crowds were perplexed, others said they were drunk, but Peter boldly declared that this was what God spoke through the prophet Joel, that the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on everyone. This was a sign of God’s faithfulness and God’s power upon the people, and there would be even more signs to come as prophesied of the day of the Lord.

The alternate for the Acts reading is Numbers 11:24-30. Moses had hit his limit of the people’s complaining, and in turn complained to God about it. God told Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, to help share in the leadership with Moses so he would not be burdened. God portioned out some of the same spirit on Moses onto the seventy leaders. However, two others who were in the camp also began to prophesy, for the spirit had rested upon them as well. Though Joshua, Moses’s assistant, told Moses to stop them, Moses questioned Joshua’s motives. Moses wished that all people had the Spirit!

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is from a great psalm praising God for all of creation. In this portion, the writer speaks of God’s wisdom, often associated with the Holy Spirit, and how in wisdom God made all creatures and how God provides for everything in due season. When God’s Spirit is sent forth, life is renewed, especially plant life as it grows and provides oxygen for us to breathe. The word for spirit in Hebrew, ruach, also means wind and breath. Every living thing that has breath has the Holy Spirit. The psalmist praises God for all of God’s works in creation, for they are so awe-inspiring they cause the singer to tremble. The author blesses God and prays that their meditation will be acceptable and pleasing to God, the audience of this psalm.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 about the gifts of the Spirit. There are a variety of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit of God. They are all different—prophecy, healing, teaching, discernment, speaking in different tongues, interpretation of different tongues, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, etc.—all different gifts from the same Spirit. Just as the body has many members, so also the diversity of members and their gifts make up the one body of Christ, into which all believers are baptized. One body, one Spirit.

(If the Numbers passage is chosen, then Acts 2:1-21 is used in lieu of the Epistle reading).

The first choice for the Gospel reading today is John’s account of the arrival of the Holy Spirit in John 20:19-23. On the same night Jesus rose from the dead, when the disciples had gathered in a room and shut and locked all the doors for fear of some of the religious leaders, Jesus appeared before them, said, “Peace be with you,” breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In a similar way of the elders of Israel receiving the same Spirit that was on Moses, so too did Jesus’s disciples receive the Spirit and the power and authority to forgive sins.

The second choice is John 7:37-39. At the end of Succoth, the Festival of Booths, Jesus spoke to the crowds and called for those who were thirsty to come to him, for those who believe would have an overflowing faith. The writer of John notes that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, which had not yet come because Jesus had yet to be glorified at that time.

The Narrative Lectionary pairs Acts 2:1-4 with Romans 8:14-39. In Acts 2:1-4, the writer of Luke-Acts describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In Romans 8:14-39, Paul writes of life in the Holy Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul makes it clear that neither Jew or Greek or anyone of any background can be kept out of God’s reign, because if the Holy Spirit is present, they are a child of God. The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors, whether they were believers in Jesus, or not. There were struggles, even suffering, during that time, but the Spirit is the one who brings aid and comfort and intercedes when things seem impossible. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together, no matter their background, no matter what struggles or suffering they have been through. There is nothing they have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 28:16-20 contain what is known as the Great Commission. After his resurrection, Jesus gathered the disciples—even those who still doubted—and told them that the authority he had been given by God was now on them. The disciples were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach them all Jesus had taught them. And they were to remember that Jesus was always with them, for all time.

It is hard to find something new to say on Pentecost, but the truth is the Holy Spirit is always making things new. One might focus on how the word for spirit is also the word for breath and wind (in Greek it is the same for the word, pneuma) and that creation care is intrinsically part of our theology of the Spirit. God renews the face of the ground in Psalm 104, the earth in which all our living plants are rooted and give us oxygen to breathe. The wind brings us clean air—or smoke from forest fires. If the Spirit is rooted in Christian community from the beginning, then our own rootedness in the Holy Spirit must also be to care for the earth. The call of the Great Commission is to create disciples for Jesus. To be baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit is to remember that all water is sacred. All water is Living Water, for all water is connected to the Spirit (a wind from God sweeps over the waters of the deep in Genesis 1). The Spirit is poured out, like water, into us and all living things. May we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to do good in this world, to care for the earth that God has entrusted to us and remember that all people are children of God. Water is life.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 104:24, 30-31, 33, 35b)
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom God has made them all; the earth is full of God’s creatures.
When You send forth Your spirit, they are created;
God renews the face of the ground.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May we rejoice in God’s works.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess our sins to You. We have not cared for Your precious earth the way we care for some of our prized possessions. We have polluted the air and poisoned the water. For a people who are baptized in water as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, we have treated You and Your gifts as if they were trash. Forgive us, O God, and hold us accountable. Help us to find ways to reduce and eliminate pollution, especially for communities that do not have clean water to drink. May we work to clean the air and reduce our carbon footprint in this world. For how can we know Your Spirit when we do not treat Your breath, Your wind, as if it were precious? How can we know Your Spirit when we waste water, the very lifeblood that flows in You as a wellspring of eternal life? Forgive us, O God, and instill in us Your wisdom and understanding to care for the earth as Your precious gift to us. For You have shown us through Scripture that the dividing line of heaven and earth will one day be no more, and that You will make Your home with us. You have shown us through the Spirit that we are all Your children. Help us to care for this home You have given us and for the basic needs of clean air and water for all Your children. Amen.

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.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love. May that love of God fill us and renew us and restore us. May that love of God call us to love our neighbors, our siblings, as ourselves, and to care for their needs. May that love of God remind us that we are intertwined with all creation and that we are called to care for the earth as if it is our only home. May that love of God encourage us to live in new, sustainable ways, to be at one with God, others, and nature, for God is one, and made us all dependent on one another. May we depend on each other to do this work Christ has called us to do. Amen.

Prayer (can be sung to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”)
O Holy Spirit of our God,
descend to us we pray.
Lead us from sin to enter in
relationship today.
We hear the Spirit’s calling
Our baptism like birth—
To clean our air in grateful care;
One love, one faith, one earth.

O Holy Spirit, come upon us, breathe in us and stir in us. Remind us of the gifts You have given us for Your good work here on earth, to love one another, and to meet our neighbor’s needs as You have called us to do. We know when we love one another, we are loved. When we care for one another, our needs are met. Your Spirit intercedes and binds us together. May we be open to the movement of Your Spirit in our world, in our communities, and in our lives, for You make all things new. Call us into the faithful work of Your Spirit’s love. Amen.

Some tips for celebrating Pentecost:

-Invite everyone to wear red.
-Have pinwheels or make pinwheels to celebrate
-Use red streamers and balloons
-Make red and orange folded paper cranes
-Learn about the watershed you live in: https://water.usgs.gov/wsc/map_index.html