Worship Resources for September 10, 2023—Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 12:1-14 and Psalm 149; Ezekiel 33:7-11 and Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Narrative Lectionary: Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:4b-25 (Mark 1:16-20 or Mark 10:6-8)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we are following the stories of our ancestors of the faith. Exodus 12:1-14 contains the establishment of Passover. Moses and Aaron instruct the people, as God has shown them, that this is a new beginning: God is about to lead the people out of oppression and into liberation. The Passover commemorates the last plague, and how the angel of God passed over the people of Israel to pass judgment on their oppressors. The Passover is a day of remembrance to be passed down throughout the generations of how God delivered the people.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise for the congregation. The psalmist calls the people of Israel to give praise to their maker, for God delights in the people’s worship and praise. Probably sung as a song of victory after battle, the psalmist invokes the image of enemy kings and rulers as trapped by the praises of God, bound and in chains, with swords drawn by the faithful. The psalmist concludes with an image of battle glory for the faithful of God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ezekiel 33:7-11. The prophet has been called to speak on behalf of God as a sentinel, a watchman, to warn the people to turn from evil ways. If the prophet does not warn the people, God’s judgment is on the prophet’s hands, but if the prophet does warn them and they don’t listen, at least the prophet will have saved his life while others will perish. But the truth is God does not enjoy the punishment of those who do evil—it is rather the consequences of their own actions. God would rather that those who do evil would turn back to God’s ways and live.

Psalm 119:33-40 is part of an alphabetic acrostic poem. This section is a prayer to God to help the psalmist turn back to God’s ways. They desire to learn from God and gain understanding of the commandments and decrees. They long to turn their heart and mind to God’s ways, and away from the fleeting pleasures of the world. They call upon God to confirm God’s promises, and to find life in living into righteousness.

The Epistle lessons continue in Romans 13:8-14. In this section, Paul turns to the Christian life and how to live as part of the greater community—for the Roman church, that meant among the rest of the Jewish community for gentile believers. They are to follow the commandments, especially loving their neighbor as themselves. Paul writes that the fulfilment of Christ’s promises is coming but has not yet arrived. They are called to live as children of God and not to go back to their old ways and pagan practices. Instead, they are to live in community with one another and remain faithful to Christ.

Matthew 18:15-20 contains Jesus’s instructions to the disciples about how to deal with wrongdoing in the church, and how to start with the person who has offended you before going to others. This passage is followed by Peter’s question about forgiveness, and it is important to remember that these are bound together. When Jesus says that the one who refuses to listen to the church should be treated like a gentile and tax collector, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are to be kicked out. It means they are to be treated as those who do not understand. Boundaries are important, and forgiveness is an ongoing process. Sometimes people must be asked to leave, or victims may be harmed. Sometimes forgiveness is not possible. Instead, we must hold these passages in tension, knowing at times forgiveness is not the same as restoration to the community, and at times we have to live with the people we are in conflict with.

The Narrative Lectionary begins its Year 2 cycle with the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:4b-25, the second account of creation is told. A human being, adam in Hebrew, was formed from the dust of the earth, adamah. The Lord God (the term used in most English translations to designate that this is from the Yahwist tradition, originating in Judah rather than in the northern kingdom of Israel), took the human being and placed them in the garden planted in Eden, with all trees good for food and beautiful to look at, along with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A continuous flow of water through the four river branches kept the plants watered. The Lord God instructed the human they could eat of every tree, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God made all the creatures to be a helper for the human being, but none of them were suitable to be a partner so the Creator made a partner from the human being’s side, a man and a woman, who were naked and not ashamed. While this story is often used as a precursor to the institution of marriage, the story shows us that we are created not to be alone, to have a partner, and to help care for the Creator’s work.

The supplementary verses contain two options. Mark 1:16-20 contains an account of Jesus calling Simon and Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats to follow him and fish for people. James and John even left their father Zebedee who was mending nets with other hired men to follow Jesus. In Mark 10:6-8, Jesus uses the end of Genesis 2 as his argument against divorce. Genesis 2 shows that God’s intention is for marriage to be a partnership, two becoming one. Nonetheless, we must always be cautious in preaching from these passages, knowing that divorce is a reality for many people. Divorce often causes harm, but sometimes it is necessary in a harmful marriage. What we can preach is that God’s intention is for us to not go through that harm. God’s intention for us is to be in partnership with one another, but we are human beings with faults and flaws.

God’s intentions for the people about to go into exile in Jeremiah 29:11 is often a verse shared out of context: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” However, in the broader context of all of scripture, we can say that this is God’s intention for us: plans for welfare and not for harm, a future with hope. Nonetheless, our own actions can derail us. In scripture, the consequences of the people’s actions are often coined in terms of God’s wrath and judgment—but it is always the consequences of bad decisions. When the people began worshiping other gods and following the ways of other nations, they made poor political choices and neglected the most vulnerable. They were overrun by invaders and taken into exile. If they had turned back to God’s ways, they would have turned away from other nations’ ways. God’s intentions for us are collective: they are for the good of humanity. We are responsible for our own actions, but we also suffer the consequences of our leader’s actions. One reason God cares so much for the poor, widow and orphan is that they were among the most vulnerable of society and suffered the consequences of the actions of those who should have protected them. The same goes today, in that our most vulnerable—our elderly, disabled, houseless, refugee, suffering from mental illness, LGBTQ+ youth neighbors—are the ones who suffer the consequences of our leaders’ actions with laws, policies, and funding (or lack thereof. Ezekiel was warned by God of what would happen if the people turned from God’s ways, but also encouraged that if they turned back to God, they would find life. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that they needed to be neighbors of each other and to love one another, to live as if Christ’s promises were already fulfilled. Jesus taught the disciples that we have to live with people who wrong us, and that there are no easy answers, but we must try to work for restoration. For this is God’s intention for us: a future with hope. Restoration and reconciliation. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Call to Worship (Psalm 139:33-37)
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,
And I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
And observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
Give me life in your ways.
In this time of worship,
Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Merciful God, we confess that we often desire justice that is retributive and not restorative. We want those who have wronged us to suffer, while we desire mercy for ourselves. We confess that at times we shirk our responsibilities for other’s suffering in this world, and at other times we do not hold those in power accountable for injustice. Forgive us and call us into Your ways. Teach us how to begin the work of reparation and restoration. When we seek forgiveness, remind us to forgive others who wrong us in the same way. Teach us how to do better and guide us in living into Your righteousness. Call us to seek justice for the most vulnerable among us. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God hears our own cries when we have been wronged. God knows our inmost hearts and knows our hurts. God knows the hairs on our heads and restores us when we have been downtrodden. God grants us forgiveness when we seek it and when we work to repair what we have wronged. Know that when you seek forgiveness, it will be granted, if you work for restoration. Know that when you have been wronged, God knows your wounds, and will aid you in healing. You are not alone in your suffering. You are not alone in your pain. You are not alone when you have wronged another, unintentionally or intentionally, and forgiveness is possible in the work of reparation and restoration. Roll up your sleeves. Be prepared to do the hard work, whether you need forgiveness or are seeking it. But know this: God loves you, and nothing anyone has done or will do, and nothing you have done or will do, can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer
God of our Ancestors, we give thanks for the stories we have in Scripture, stories passed down to us through word and song, through geography and archaeology, in myth and legend. We thank You for the stories shared to us by our elders. Guide us in how we shape these stories to the next generation, so they might not repeat the mistakes our ancestors made, or the ones we have participated in, but that they may learn and grow. May we not water-down the lessons but be truthful in the harm some stories have caused and in the misuse of others. May we embrace our ancestors as part of who we are, and yet not all of who we are becoming. We are made in Your image, O God, an image that is ever-changing and renewing, day by day, and we are ready to pass on what we have learned for a new generation to live into Your ways, better than we did. Amen.

Worship Resources for September 3, 2023—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b; Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, Acts 2:1-18 and Matthew 28:17-20, or Series on Sabbath, Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11 and Luke 15:11-32

In the second half of the season after Pentecost, the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures follows the people of Israel, from oppression into liberation. In Exodus 3:1-15, God is revealed to Moses through Moses’s encounter of the burning bush at Mount Horeb, a place so holy God instructs Moses to remove his shoes. God is revealed to be the same God of their ancestors, who led Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all their descendants long ago and will now lead them out of Egypt and into freedom. However, Moses is skeptical, first of his own ability, and then wondering if the people will know who God is. God replies to Moses’s question about God’s name with, “I AM.” God’s name is a verb. God’s name is Being. God also instructs Moses to tell the people that this is the God of their ancestors from even before they entered Egypt. God has not forgotten the people, even if they may have forgotten.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise to God, giving thanks and remembering what God has done through the people’s ancestors. In verse 6, the psalmist specifically refers to the people as descendants of Abraham, children of Jacob. In verses 23-26, the psalmist turns to the story of the people of Israel living and thriving in Egypt, and when they became a hated people, God sent Moses and Aaron to help them. The psalmist concludes with a word of praise to God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to the prophet Jeremiah 15:15-21. The prophet did what God commanded, said what he was told. The words of God that were a delight to Jeremiah did not bring joy once Jeremiah spoke them, for the people in authority did not heed them. Therefore, the prophet laments, bringing a complaint to God. God’s response, however, is if Jeremiah turns back to God and continues to speak for God, God will continue to be with him, and will deliver him from evil.

Psalm 26 is a plea to God for justice and deliverance. In verses 1-8, the psalmist knows they are innocent and have stayed true to God’s ways. They have not fallen astray and will not even keep company with those who do evil, let alone hypocrites. They remain faithful to God and sing God’s praise, and they love being in the presence of God.

Romans 12:9-21 contain Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome on how to live in community. Continuing the Epistle series, Paul has instructed the Roman Christians who are both Jewish and Gentile how to live among the greater community that doesn’t follow Jesus: caring for each other, but also extending hospitality to strangers, living in peace as much as possible, sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows. They are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good—for their very lives also witness to Christ.

The Gospel lesson continues in Matthew 16:21-28. In last week’s reading of 16:13-20, Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus praised Peter and declared that the church would be built upon that foundation of faith. But in the next breath, we find that when Jesus began to speak about how he would be betrayed, how he would suffer and die, and on the third day rise, we find that this isn’t what Peter signed up for. Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Imagine having the guts to do that! But we make God into the image of what we want, not who God really is, all the time. Peter had an idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and until this point, Peter’s imagination and Jesus lined up. But at this moment, when Jesus reveals what will happen, Peter believes he can change the outcome. The faith Peter thought he had was in himself, giving the right answer, instead of faith in Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter with the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” and went on to teach that whoever wants to become a follower of Jesus must deny themselves—and deny any image of God that we might make—take up our cross (whatever we need to put to death that is holding us back) and follow him. Jesus says this to his disciples—who have already been following him! But if Peter didn’t get it, Jesus knew the others might have a different idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be. If we make the image of the Messiah into what we want, then we have lost our way. But if we are willing to set aside what it is we want, what it is we desire God to do, and instead seek God’s will, then we might find our lives.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes both of its late summer series, on Creeds and Sabbath.

The series on Creeds is completed with the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-18, and Jesus’ final words and Great Commission in Matthew 28:17-20. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and Peter boldly proclaimed to all that had gathered for the festival that the Holy Spirit, as prophesied through the prophet Joel, was at work. God was doing something new out of something very old. With Jesus’ Great Commission, the disciples are sent out into the world to make disciples, to baptize, and to do the work of the Holy Spirit. They are reminded that Christ is always with them.

The series on Sabbath finishes with the concept of the sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11—a year of sabbath after six years. God calls upon the people to forgive debts, to give willingly to their neighbor in need, and to free the Hebrew neighbors enslaved to them in the seventh year. The Gospel passage is the parable of the Forgiving Father or Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, and though the younger son had squandered everything, the father forgave him. The other son was indignant, but the father tells him they had to welcome home the son that was lost, who was dead, and is now alive and found.

Follow God is never easy. Jeremiah struggled, because what he said on behalf of God was at odds with what the political and religious leaders wanted. Peter thought he knew who Jesus was as the Messiah, but it was clear he did not understand when Jesus said he would give up his own life, and Peter still didn’t understand when Jesus said that whoever wished to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross. Moses was skeptical about following God because he didn’t think anyone would believe him. Paul suggested in Romans that one way we follow God is how we live among others who are different than us, who do not believe in Jesus, by sharing God’s love through our actions. We remember it took until the day of Pentecost for Peter to finally understand—and even then, he still stumbled (see Galatians in Paul’s argument against him). He still didn’t get it until he had a vision from God and an encounter with the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. We’re never going to fully get it. We’re always going to stumble in trying to make God in our own image. We are always going to struggle with speaking and living into Christ’s ways. But we try, and try, and try again. Even Jeremiah got called by God to turn back to God’s ways. No one is perfect. We keep trying, anyway. God still shows up despite our imperfections and reminds us that we are not alone.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5a, 45b)
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 name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God who Guides Us, we confess that like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, we are often running after the wind and trying to hold on to something that isn’t really there. We look to the world’s pleasures and power, rather than the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We seek our own gain over the cries of the marginalized and oppressed. We ignore the systems and structures of the world that cause harm to others when they benefit us. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Forgive us for going astray. Forgive us for not listening to the words You have passed down to us, the spirit of those words that causes us to set aside our own selfishness and live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, may we listen, may we deny the temptations of the world, and may we take up our cross to follow You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Lamentations 3:22-23)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Great is God’s faithfulness, who renews us day by day, offers us forgiveness moment by moment, and calls our name with every breath. May we turn back to God’s ways and know God’s forgiveness and restoration for our lives, and may we seek to repair and restore the world to God’s intention, with justice, mercy, and love. Amen.

Prayer
Ancient of Days, may the stories of our ancestors continue to remind us we do not have to be perfect. May our ancestors inspire us to stick to Your ways, and to turn back when we notice we have gone astray. May our ancestors also inspire us to learn from their mistakes, so we may not repeat them. We know You are doing a new thing, O God, something we cannot fathom, but in turning to the Scriptures we are reminded to be awake and ready, to trust when we feel the Spirit moving, and be prepared to step out in faith. May we not forget those who have walked before us, but may we trust You in moving forward on a new path. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 27, 2023—Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124; Isaiah 51:1-6 and Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, John 1:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, or Series on Sabbath, Genesis 2:1-3 and John 15:9-15

We have passed the halfway point in this season after Pentecost, and the first selection in the Hebrew scriptures shifts from following the ancestors of our faith as a family from Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, to Joseph and his brothers and children as they settled in Egypt. For the second half of this season, we will follow their descendants who became the Israelites, a great people. Exodus 1:8 begins with a great reminder of what happens when we do not tell our stories and keep history alive: a new king came into power in Egypt who did not know Israel. The king’s lack of knowledge turned to fear. To manage their fear, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites. But the Israelites were of a greater number, so the oppressors turned to genocide—killing the boy children born to Israelite mothers. Nonetheless, even at the point of genocide there were those who resisted—the midwives. Chapter two turns to the particular story of a Levite woman who gave birth to a boy and hid him until she could no longer do so. With his sister watching over him, his mother hid him among the reeds until he happened to be discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who took him into her household. The boy’s sister even helped Pharoah’s daughter find a nurse—the boy’s mother—so that they could remain together. Pharoah’s daughter named him Moses. The story of the midwives to Moses’s mother, to his sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show that resistance to empire does not always come through violence, but through the building of relationships necessary to survival. Exodus 2:1-10 has all the elements of a mythological figure—or superhero—birth story. The one who was supposed to die lived. Raised in the household of his people’s greatest enemy. He survived when others his age were slaughtered. He would someday rise up for his people.

Psalm 124 is a song of victory, remembering the people’s escape from their enemies. The people remember what God has done for them, and that without God they would have died in the waters. The psalmist praises God who did not allow their enemies to overtake them, and ends with a reminder that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the source of their help.

The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 51:1-6. In verses 1-3, the prophet calls the people to look back to their beginnings. Look back to their own beginning as a people, the culture and faith that shaped them. Look to the ancestors, and their story of faith. Look back, and see where God has been faithful, and God will be faithful again to the people coming out of exile. In verses 4-6, the prophet turns to God’s voice, calling the people to listen to God’s teaching and justice. God’s deliverance is near for all people. In a glimpse of the future, the prophet declares that the division of heaven and earth will pass, along with the people, but God’s salvation will endure forever.

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving and praise to God for God’s deliverance. Attributed to David, the psalmist thanks God for answering their prayer. The psalmist calls all the rulers of the earth to praise God. In an echo of Psalm 23, the psalmist knows that even among their enemies, God is present with the singer and will deliver them, for God’s steadfast love endures forever. God will fulfill the psalmist’s intended purpose, however God sees fit.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans this season with 12:1-8. Paul changes gears in this part of the letter, having successfully argued that Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ, that oneness in Christ means believers live life anew. The believer’s very life is a living sacrifice, a witness to God’s work in the world. Though each person is different with different gifts and abilities, all gifts, all members are necessary as the body of Christ.

Jesus questions the disciples about who they think he is in Matthew 16:13-20. He first asks the disciples who people say the Son of Man is, and they respond with the various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Peter responded with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is delighted that Peter understands this and what has been revealed by God to him, and that the church will be built on that foundation—that Jesus is the Christ. However, Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. It seemed important in Matthew and Mark’s account that believers discern this for themselves.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series: one on Creeds, and the other on Sabbath.

The beginning of the gospel according to John begins with the poetic prologue that the Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word is the Light of the World. John came to testify to the light, though he himself was not the light. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through him, but the world did not know him. The Word became Flesh and lived among us. No one has seen God, but we have been made known of God through the Son. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 speaks of the message of the cross as foolishness to the world, for the world did not know God through wisdom. Instead, the world came to know God through Christ crucified, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In both passages, Christ is the one who has revealed the hiddenness of God’s wisdom to the world.

The second series for the Narrative Lectionary on Sabbath begins with Genesis 2:1-3, and the account of the last day of creation, the seventh day, which God rested. God blessed the day and hallowed it. This account in Genesis from the priestly tradition reminds us that the purpose of this story of creation is to teach us about the sabbath and why it is holy. In John 15:9-15, Jesus reminds the disciples to keep his commandments, and to abide in Christ’s love. These commandments are given so that Christ’s joy may be complete. The commandment Jesus gives is to love one another, for no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

We must continue to tell the stories passed down to us, the good and the bad. That means we must also listen to the stories others have passed down. To erase history, to erase the stories erases the truth. The story of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt reminds us of what happens when we do not know our history. When we don’t know the stories of enslavement, reconstruction, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs—when we do not remember the lessons of Europe in the 1930’s and the rise of fascism and Nazis—when we don’t tell the stories of indigenous boarding schools often run by churches—we perpetuate racism and genocide and oppression. We have to remember our stories. We move forward only after looking back. The people coming out of exile saw their future entwined with other nations. Paul knew that differences could divide—or they could be celebrated and become part of the body together. God’s desire for us is wholeness, without division—to the point that heaven comes down to earth in Revelation 21. But we cannot move forward without understanding and learning from our past.

Call to Worship (from John 1:14, 16-18)
The Word became flesh and lived among us,
We have seen God’s glory, full of grace and truth.
From God’s fullness we have all received grace upon grace,
Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but we have experienced the Son,
For Christ is God’s heart, made known to us.
As we enter this time together, focus your heart on Christ,
Be prepared to live into God’s love within and beyond this time and space of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our ancestors, we confess we have distorted history. We have told the stories of those in power, not necessarily the stories of all the people. We have ignored the most vulnerable, erasing the survivors from the narrative. Remind us through the scriptures the importance of listening to the voices on the margins. Call us to listen to the stories that challenge what we think we know, and to be mindful of those whose narratives are silenced: those in poverty, disabled, elderly, refugees, indigenous, those whose ancestors were brought by slavery and trafficked. May we be open to learning from the past so we can help shape a future You desire, one in which the boundaries that keep people out are erased, one in which we truly can be Your body on earth, with many members, with all our gifts of diversity. In the name of Jesus Christ, who binds us together, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God knows us, all of us—the stories of our ancestors that have helped shape us, the hairs on our head, our inmost thoughts and concerns and wounds. God loves you so, so much—for you are made in God’s image, scars and all. You are beautiful and precious to God. Share this love with one another, for in Christ we know we belong to each other, we are neighbors in the beloved community of God and God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

Prayer
Maker of the Earth, we give thanks that the seasons continue to change. In the southern hemisphere, winter is preparing to thaw into spring. In the north, we look to fall and cooler temperatures. We pray for an end to the wildfires and scorching heat, we pray for the safety of students heading back to school, we pray for teachers and principals, nurses and librarians—that all may know Your grace and care. As the seasons turn, may we be open to our own minds changing. May we be open to our connection to the earth, the beauty of creation and the bounty of springtime and harvest. May we be open to new insights and ideas and learning. May we be open to new people who express Your image in new ways, remembering that all of us reflect Your divinity. Great Creator, guide us through this seasonal transition, open to where You may lead us next. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 20, 2023—Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 45:1-15 and Psalm 133; Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 and Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, Genesis 1:1-5 and Matthew 6:30-34 or Series on Sabbath, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Matthew 11:28-30

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost, we have followed the stories of our ancestors. For the first half of the season, we followed four generations of one family. In this final selection, the family has come to Egypt, where Joseph, once sold into slavery by his brothers, has now become a leader under Pharaoh. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and tells them not to be angry with themselves or distressed because God has used this opportunity to help save Joseph’s family and preserve a remnant—a foreshadowing of the remnant of Israel in Judah that returned from exile hundreds of years later. Even though his brothers had once sought to do him harm, Joseph interprets his current position in Egypt as a result of what God has done. Joseph plans with his brothers to provide for the whole family in Egypt, where they will remain.

Psalm 133 is a brief blessing, perhaps for a family at a wedding, as family come together and lives in unity. It is an anointing like oil or dew—a rich blessing that comes from God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. In the return from exile, Third Isaiah speaks of those from outside Israel who will join together with the outcasts of God’s people. Unlike other leaders after the exile, Isaiah speaks of God’s extravagant welcome to all people, even those who are not Israelites but are seeking God. The temple will be called a house of prayer for all people who seek God with their heart, and their offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable.

Psalm 67 is a call to worship for all people of the earth, all nations, to praise God. The psalm begins with a prayer of invocation, then moves into the call for nations to rejoice and sing their praise, for God is the one who reigns with equity and guidance. The psalmist reminds the people of what God has provided from the earth, and concludes with a call for God’s continual blessing, and for all people to have reverence for God.

The Epistle reading continues the series in Romans with 11:1-2a, 29-32. This selection chooses the beginning and ending of the chapter to summarize Paul’s argument that God has not rejected Israel. Paul himself is Jewish, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God’s call to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and all his descendants, lasts forever. The receivers of this letter, whether Jewish or Gentile, have received God’s mercy, for all people were disobedient to God, but God was merciful, and God’s grace extends to everyone.

The Gospel lesson is Matthew 15, with the option of verses 10-20 before going on to 21-28. In 10-20, Jesus responded to the question of some Pharisees and scribes as to why his disciples didn’t follow the tradition of the elders in ritual hand washing. Jesus explained that what defiles a person are evil intentions such as gossip, slander, false witness, and other evil that comes from within. Even though some of the leaders took offense to what Jesus said, Jesus told the disciples that what was not planted by God will be uprooted. What defiles a person is not what God has created in the world, but evil intentions within people that are not from God.
In verses 21-28, a Canaanite woman began shouting to Jesus for help for her daughter. Jesus’s first response was to ignore her. Then his disciples wanted him to send her away, so Jesus’s second response was to turn to her, and tell her he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel. However, the woman persisted and asked for help a second time. Jesus’s third response was then to insult her, telling her it wasn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Her third reply was to tell Jesus that even the dogs eat crumbs from the table. Jesus finally recognized her faith and said her request would be answered as she wished, and her daughter was healed.

The Narrative Lectionary follows two threads, one on Creeds, and the other on Sabbath, for the next three weeks.

The selection on the Creeds begins with Genesis 1:1-5, the first day of Creation, and the separating out of light from the darkness, and the light being called good, and the making of day and night. Matthew 6:30-34 contains Jesus’ statements on not worrying about daily needs, but instead striving for the reign of God and knowing that those things will come when we care about the needs of all. Jesus concludes that section with not worrying about tomorrow, for today’s troubles are enough for today. Both selections speak to God being the one who has made the day, who has created what is good. One might say God is in control of the day, but a better way is to say, “this is the day that our God has made.”

The selection on Sabbath begins with Deuteronomy 5:12-15. God made the sabbath for all people, and the seventh day is to be a day of rest. The people are to remember that they were once enslaved in Egypt, and God has brought them out of their oppression and into rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaks through the Wisdom tradition, calling upon those who are carrying heavy burdens to come to him, for in Christ we shall have rest. Learn from the yoke Christ carries and find rest for your souls. Professor and pastor Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones writes in his book Addicted to Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down, “Contrary to popular behavior, God does not need our exhaustion. There is nothing holy about running ourselves into the ground. There is nothing spiritual about being all things to all people as soon as possible.” Perhaps this is the lesson we most need to learn, that God desires rest, not busyness; refresh, not burnout.

God plays the long game. God’s desire, from Genesis to Revelation, is restoration and reconciliation. Joseph’s life is a metaphor for Israel, enslaved in Egypt, and later taken into exile. Joseph was finally exalted and lifted into a position where he was able to help save the known world in the midst of famine. The prophet Isaiah shows us that through Israel’s return from exile God was made known to all nations. Paul demonstrates that God has not rejected Israel but is reconciling all people to God. While the systems and structures of the world oppress and marginalize, God is constantly at work to break through those systems and remind us that God’s love is for all. God’s love for Israel was never meant to be for one people, but to be shown through one people to the world. The Canaanite woman who came to Jesus knew that Jesus had come for all people and challenged him and his disciples. But this work is not easy. The work for justice is long, and the walls of oppression are high. But God is playing the long game. It’s not all up to us. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and we lift up those coming after us. Little by little, we work to break down the walls of systemic evil, knowing that God is in it for the long haul.

Call to Worship
Gather together, all people, to worship our God!
Come into God’s presence with thanksgiving.
Rise up, all people, to do the work of justice,
Open our hearts to listen to God’s call together.
Experience the teaching of our ancestors through our traditions and scriptures,
Apply them to your life and teach them to the next generation.
Take notice of where Jesus is nudging you,
And be filled with the Spirit in this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we are grateful for Your faithfulness and regret when we have gone astray and not remembered the lessons of the past. We confess that we have repeated similar mistakes of exclusion, oppression, and marginalization that previous generations did. We believe we have come so far, ignorant of how we participate in systems and structures of oppression, even passively. Forgive us and call us into accountability. Remind us of the lessons of our ancestors, both their mistakes as well as their faithfulness, so we might learn, grow, and be examples for those who come after us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. It cannot be diminished, it can only grow. So love freely! Forgive lavishly. Care fervently for others. Participate in God’s reign on earth, and see how the seeds of the kingdom grow, like a mustard seed planted in a field, when we live into God’s ways. Know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

Prayer
God of Sabbath, help us to slow down from the busy world around us and find our rest in You. Guide us to set boundaries on our time and attention, so we may focus on You, the close ones we love, and ourselves. May we see Your gift of Sabbath as a habit to be cultivated, and the more we practice, the more it will grow. Help us to unplug and unwind. Remind us that even though there is always kin-dom work to do, justice to participate in, kindness to share, that You are in it for the long haul, and so we must be as well. Help us to not become burned out, but to burn our brightest after periods of rest. We thank You for the commandment of Sabbath—help us to hold on to it dearly. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 13, 2023—Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 and Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7 (Mark 8:35-37)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed our ancestors of the faith, from Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham, down to the fourth generation with Jacob’s sons and the story of Joseph. Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin when he was older, and so Joseph was considered the favored one and his older brothers hated him. The lectionary skips over the verses containing Joseph’s dreams, which made the brothers despise him even more because Joseph dreamed of his family bowing before him. When Jacob sent Joseph off to find his brothers one day, the brothers plotted to kill him, but the eldest, Reuben, persuaded the brothers to simply toss Joseph in a pit, with a plan to rescue him later. However, once he was thrown in the pit, Judah got the idea to sell him to the Ishmaelites, who were traveling to Egypt. Thus, Joseph was trafficked into Egypt by his own brothers.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise for all God has done through the ancestors of God’s people. Verses 1-6 call the people into worship and praise, remembering what God has done for them, especially as children of Abraham and Jacob. In verses 16-22, the psalmist recalls the Joseph story as one where Joseph was sent ahead of his brothers to Egypt in order to save everyone from famine. Joseph, who had been imprisoned, was raised up by Pharaoh and put in charge of everything to save the people. The psalmist concludes with a word of praise.

In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet Elijah had been on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. In the previous verses, he was so weary he wanted to die, but an angel from God made him get up and eat twice so that he had the strength to continue on his journey. In 1 Kings 19:9-18, Elijah complained to God that there was no one left in Israel faithful to God, that they had all turned away from God. Elijah seemed to have forgotten that in the previous chapter Obadiah, Ahab’s servant in charge of the palace, remained faithful to God, to the point of hiding 100 prophets loyal to God in two caves with bread and water. So Elijah was not the only one—but he certainly felt like it. Elijah felt that no one was left, so God told Elijah that God would draw near to him. However, God was not present in the ways that ancient deities were often made known. God was not present in the wind, earthquake, or fire—but only in the silence. Not in the forces of destruction, not in the assurance of answers, but in the quietness. That’s when Elijah wrapped his face (because in the ancient world the belief was if you saw the face of God, you would not live) and stood at the entrance to the cave. There, Elijah spoke with God, and even though he repeated again his belief he was the only one left, God showed him he was not. There were others in Israel who had not bowed to the other gods. While Elijah’s work was not yet finished, God showed him there would be new kings and even a new prophet. The distress, discomfort and depression he felt would not last forever. Elijah would receive help, and relief.

Psalm 85 is a song of God’s faithfulness even though the people have gone astray. In verses 8-13, the psalmist concludes that for those who are faithful, for those who remain in awe, God will bring all good things together. Poetically, the psalmist imagines steadfast love and faithfulness embracing, righteousness and peace greeting each other in a kiss. Faithfulness springs up from the ground while righteousness reaches down from the sky. God draws forth everything together in goodness and leads the people in the way of peace and righteousness.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans with 10:5-15. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, explains that it is by faith that people live out their belief, not by the law. Faith leads us to confession. We cannot confess what we do not believe. It is through belief that we live into God’s ways. This faith is available to all people of all backgrounds. However, no one can believe if they haven’t had the faith shared with them, so believers must share the good news, for they are sent by God to do so.

In Matthew 14:22-23, after feeding the crowds, the disciples had traveled across the lake in a boat, but Jesus had remained behind to dismiss the crowds and to have some time to pray alone on the mountain. The boat had drifted away in the evening due to the winds and the waves, so that morning, Jesus rejoined them by walking across the lake. The disciples were afraid, but Jesus encouraged them and told them it was him. Peter challenged Jesus, saying if it was him, Jesus should call for him to come out of the boat. Jesus called for Peter, and Peter took a few steps, but then he noticed the wind, became afraid, and started to sink. Jesus reached for Peter, but questioned him as to why he doubted. The rest of the disciples worshiped Jesus, proclaiming he was the son of God.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry with the Song of Solomon. In 2:10-13, part of the love song of the couple, the singer speaks of springtime, how the old is gone and the new is here. Everything is in bloom, everything is ripe, and it is the time to be with your beloved. In 8:6-7, the power of romantic love is powerful, stronger than death, worth more than any treasure in the world. The supplementary verses of Mark 8:35-37 include Jesus’ wisdom that his love and the gospel are of such value that we ought to be willing to lose our lives for it, because there we will find life. In these three short passages, the conclusion of this series is that wisdom is not necessarily knowledge, but rather the understanding of our love and passion for God and for one another that leads us to life.

How do we find hope when all seems hopeless? Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, trafficked into Egypt as a slave. Elijah faced persecution and could not find hope for even the next day—he was ready to die. Yet in looking back on those stories we see God’s faithfulness. However, it was not in the powerful actions of an interceding deity, but rather in the silence, in the wilderness, the mouth of the cave or at the bottom of the pit or in the jail cell. For the disciples, in the stillness of the water after the wind, they saw Jesus doing the impossible, walking on the water. For Paul, it is in our belief, not the evidence or proof, that we find Jesus. For Wisdom literature, it is in the fierce love we have for one another and for God that we find meaning. I wonder if, in the story of walking on water, instead of seeing the disciple’s fear and doubts and struggles, we see Jesus who perhaps thought for a moment one of the disciples was finally understanding, only to sink in doubt before him. Perhaps Jesus also felt lonely in those moments but did not give up on his friends. Sometimes our hope lies not in the actions of others because people will let us down—as Joseph learned when he was thrown into the pit by his brothers, as Elijah was persecuted, and as Jesus had to hold out his hand to Peter who was afraid and doubting. Perhaps our hope is simply in the love we have for God and one another. Love eventually brought Joseph’s brothers back, once they knew he was alive. Love eventually brought Elisha to take on Elijah’s mantle. Love brought the disciples back after the resurrection. Love might be the only thing that we can hold on to at times to keep going.

Call to Worship (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 4-8a)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Join in the worship of Christ our Lord,
Who leads us in the way of love.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, Parent of us all, we confess that we do not turn to love first. We often turn to anger or judgment. We turn to our feelings of disappointment, betrayal, and hurt. We forget easily that the one who has harmed or angered us is one of Your children. Love does not mean we aren’t angry, or that we aren’t hurt, but we begin with understanding the same love that created us is in all Your children. Remind us to begin with love, O God, and nothing else, so that others may also turn to love first in their interactions with us. In the name of Jesus Christ who is Love Incarnate, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 13:13)
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. Know how much God loves you, beloved child. Know that love surpasses all. There is no place you can hide from God’s love, and you can never be forgotten. Know that God’s love is always with you. Share that love and good news with the world. Amen.

Prayer
God of our Ancestors, remind us of their stories when we are discouraged. Remind us of the trials they faced when we are hurt by other’s actions, both intentionally and unintentionally. Remind us of how their faith was renewed and restored when we are full of doubt and despair. Encourage us in the stories of their faithfulness. Remind us that when we desire concrete and clear responses, You offer us silence, but it is not meant to discourage. It is a silence that acknowledges the gravity of our pain and loneliness, a silence that reminds us that sometimes even You know words will not bring comfort. May we sit in that silence with You, and with one another, and remember we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and may we look to them for inspiration and encouragement. Amen.

Worship Resources for August 6, 2023—Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 55:1-5 and Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, 3:1-17 (Luke 13:1-3)

In our first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, in this season after Pentecost we have been following the stories of our ancestors of the faith, from a family to a great nation. In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob becomes known as Israel when he wrestles with a stranger overnight. Jacob, his wives and their handmaidens, his children and all the household have left Laban, but on their way, he learns that his brother Esau is waiting to meet him. The story of Jacob is told in layers: (A) Jacob had tricked and deceived Esau out of his birthright and blessing and ran away to Laban. (B) On his way to Laban, he had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. (A) Laban had tricked and deceived Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel. (C) Laban was reckoned with Jacob upon his eventual departure and they made an agreement with each other. (B) While on his way to Esau, Jacob encountered a stranger at night with whom he wrestled until daybreak, and Jacob overpowered this messenger from God, though the messenger had knocked Jacob’s hip out of joint. The angel blesses Jacob and tells him that his name will be Israel. (C) Following this passage, Jacob and Esau will meet and Esau will forgive Jacob. Though this passage focuses solely on the encounter with the angel and the name given to Jacob, it’s important to see the story layers of deception, encounters with God, and reckoning/forgiveness. It is the encounters with God that transform and change our lives, but also the lives of others.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15 is a prayer for help. The psalmist calls upon God to see that the psalmist has remained true to God with integrity and honesty. The psalmist has avoided violent ways and leaned on God’s teachings. They know God will answer their prayer and provide safety from their enemies. The psalmist concludes that they will be justified before God and will behold the face of God in fulfillment.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 55:1-5. In this section from Second Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet, calling upon the people to look to what will spiritually satisfy, not just material goods that are temporary. Anyone who is thirsty or hungry for God is welcome. God will make an everlasting covenant with the people. Other nations will witness how God is at work in Israel and be drawn to God through them.

Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem, with every two lines beginning with the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In vs. 8-9, the psalmist lifts up God’s compassionate and merciful nature, how God is patient and abounding in steadfast love. In vs. 14-21, the psalmist sings of how God provides for all who are in need, how God supports the humble and meek, and cares for those who love God. God is near to those who call on God sincerely. The psalmist concludes by declaring they will praise God and calls upon all living creatures to praise God’s name forever.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans with 9:1-5. In this part of the letter to the church in Rome, Paul expresses his own sadness as a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ that other Jews do not believe in him. Paul wishes that if he is the stumbling block for other Jews to believe in Jesus, it might be better if he was cut off from Christ. As a people raised with the covenants, the temple worship and their culture, Paul believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of all these, though other Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah.

The Gospel lesson moves away from the parables to one of the great miracles of the Gospels. In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus came ashore to great crowds of people whom he had compassion for, because they followed him from the towns. When evening came, the disciples told Jesus he should tell the people to go back to the villages and buy food for themselves, but Jesus told the disciples the people didn’t have to go away—they could give the people something to eat. The disciples only had five loaves and two fish, but Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down, and Jesus blessed the fish and bread. Everyone had enough to eat, along with twelve baskets full of leftovers (a doggy bag for each disciple!) Five thousand men, plus women and children—all ate and were filled.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, turning to the book of Ecclesiastes, a book of sayings, poems and prose about trying to find meaning in life. In 1:1-11, the author, known as the Teacher, describes everything as vanity, chasing after something that isn’t really there, like mist or vapor. The Common English Bible translates it as “pointless.” The author rants about how people work hard and get nothing. People live and die but the earth is still here. Streams only flow one way, to the sea. Everything that has happened will happen again, there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, the same struggles we have now are the struggles of our ancestors, and we still have not learned our lessons. In 3:1-8, the famous poem that describes a time and season for everything reminds us that life keeps going and things keep changing and cannot stay good or bad forever. In 9-11, the author muses why people work hard for this life when we know eternity in our hearts? Because we cannot comprehend eternity, let alone our own lifetimes. In 12-17, the writer knows that the best thing human beings can do is to find joy in their work and life now, because nothing will last forever. Injustice and evil are part of this world and life, but God will judge in the end.

In the supplementary verses of Luke 13:1-3, some people tell Jesus about how Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were making their sacrifices, and Pilate had mixed in their blood with the sacrifice. Jesus warns against the kind of thinking that would believe the Galileans deserved what happened to them. Jesus warns against thinking that these Galileans must have done something wrong, sinned worse than others. Instead, Jesus warns that unless we all repent, we all will die. Being perceived as good does not save us from death. What saves us from death is repentance, turning back to God, and believing in Christ, that we have eternal life.

Our lives must demonstrate our faith. Jesus had compassion for the crowds and cared for their needs. He didn’t feed them to convert them—he fed them because they were hungry. The disciples would have sent the crowds away to fend for themselves, but Jesus shows the disciples must care about the needs of others. Our lives are fleeting, as the author of Ecclesiastes writes. We are still facing the same problems of poverty, injustice, war, famine, melancholy and struggle in daily life. Nonetheless, when we look at our ancestors of the faith, we see that their encounters with God, their relationship with God, changed them, and through them, the lives of those they met. Jacob was changed by God, and eventually Laban and Esau were also changed. When we turn to God, when we seek God through prayer, study of scripture, remembering our ancestors, praise and worship, serving God—we know our lives are changed. When we seek to meet the needs of others, we find that both our lives and their lives are transformed. This is the work of God. Judging others, looking to our own desires first—we cut ourselves off from compassion and mercy. When we love one another, are empathetic and seek to meet the needs of others, we find our own needs are met, for God’s love must be shared in order to grow.

Call to Worship
Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!
All who are hungry, come and eat!
Our worth is not in our possessions,
It is in the love from God that we share with one another.
Life is too short to keep tally of wrongs and rights,
Instead, may we outdo one another in our love of neighbor.
Everyone who is in need of compassion, of forgiveness, come!
Everyone who desires God’s love will find it!
Join together on this journey of faith,
For you are not alone.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Provides, loosen our hold on possessions and power of this world. Loosen our grip on the myth of scarcity. Remind us that when we love one another, there is more than enough love to go around. When we care for one another’s needs, our own needs will be met. Help us to look to the most vulnerable among us, as the early disciples did long ago when they cared for widows and orphans and the poor among them. May our sharing together increase our joy and fellowship. May we remember it is You who gave us this beautiful earth. You who give us the breath of life. You who lived as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again. You are amazing and awe-inspiring. Give us the strength to name our real needs and ask for help when we need it, so that we may also be receivers as well as givers of Your love and care. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray and live by his example. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Draw closer to God, and know God is drawing close to you. Love one another, and feel your heart increase with the love God has for you. Meet the needs of others, and open your minds to all that you have from God. Forgive those who have wronged you in the ways you also wrong others, and you will be forgiven, and cease to sin in that way. Participate in God’s reign now, and you will find the reign of God has drawn very near to you. Go and live into God’s good news to the world, beginning in your daily life. Amen.

Prayer
God of Great Compassion, Your love for us is overwhelming. When we stand at the shore and look out at as far as we can see, Your love is greater still. When we stand and gaze up at the night sky, at the stars of the Milky Way, even through a telescope we cannot know all that You have made. You are too wondrous, too amazing for us to comprehend. Yet we have known You through the stories passed down to us, the words of prophets and singers and sages, our ancestors of the faith, the church elders who have taught us. We know You in the whisper of wind, the sap rising in the trees, the wings of butterflies and eagles. We know You in the smell of a newborn baby’s head, their cries and laughter. We know You in the last breaths of our loved ones returning to You, in the earth and air and water we have come from. You are amazing, compassionate, merciful, and so beyond what we can ever know, and yet we have a glimpse of You in our lives. We are grateful for the simple threads we can follow, the hint of trails that lead to deeper understanding, every clue You have left for us imprinted in the universe and in our heart. We thank You and praise You, Great and Merciful God, full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Amen, and Amen.

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.

Prayer
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.

Prayer
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.

Blessing/Assurance
“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.

Prayer
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.

Blessing/Assurance
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.

Prayer
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.