Worship Resources for April 23, 2023—Third Sunday of Easter, Earth Day Weekend

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Narrative Lectionary: Peter’s Vision, Acts 10:1-17, 34-48 (Matthew 9:36-37)

The first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary concludes Peter’s declaration on the Day of Pentecost with Acts 2:14a, 36-41. In this portion, Peter states that God made Jesus Lord and Messiah, whose crucifixion all of Jerusalem witnessed and knew about. Those gathered asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Using the term “brothers” indicates that they honored and recognized Peter and the disciples and were convinced by their message. Peter called upon them to repent and be baptized so they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter assured them the promise was for everyone who believed, and on that day about three thousand persons were added to the followers of Jesus.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 is a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The psalmist was near death, but God saved them, and they love God because God has heard their pleas. The psalmist asks what they can give back to God for all God has done for them? They can fulfill their promises and keep all their vows, call upon God’s name and serve God faithfully, as their own mother served God. They know God is the one who brings liberation. The psalmist will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, upholding their promises to God before the congregation in the temple.

The Epistle reading continues the series in this Easter season in 1 Peter. In 1:17-23, the author writes of the believers with the metaphor of exile, one the Jewish followers of Jesus certainly knew from their own scriptures and history, but one in which all the followers of Jesus could understand. They were not part of Judaism anymore and were certainly not part of the empirical religion. They were waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s reign to come, and the author uses another metaphor of ransom, that through the blood of Jesus’s sacrifice they now belong to God. They are no longer part of the old pagan ways of their parents and ancestors but are part of the beloved family of Christ. Through Jesus, they have come to trust God who gave his only Son for them, and in obedience to God’s love, they also love one another, for they need each other as ones set apart, ones living in a sort of exile from the world around them.

Luke 24:13-35 contains the story of Jesus’s resurrection appearance to two of Jesus’s followers on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus were perplexed because some of the women who traveled with the followers of Jesus found the tomb empty, and claimed to have received a message from angels that Christ had risen. They come across another traveler on the road to Emmaus away from Jerusalem and tell this traveler all they experienced. This traveler, in turn, explained the Scriptures to them, and how they explained the Messiah and that these things must take place. Cleopas and the other urge the traveler to stay with them, and it was as they sat down to the table and the stranger took bread, broke it and blessed it before them that they finally recognized it was Jesus. He vanished from their sight. Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem quickly, to share their experience of the risen Christ, who had also appeared to Simon Peter at this point, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Peter’s vision of inclusion in Acts 10:1-17, 34-48. Verses 34-43 were part of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on Easter Sunday. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion stationed in Caesarea who was a God-fearer, what Gentiles were called who had come to believe in one God, the same God that their Jewish neighbors believed in, but had not converted to Judaism. An angel told Cornelius to go to Simon Peter, who was staying with Simon the tanner. While Cornelius was on his way, Peter had a vision himself, of a large tablecloth descending from heaven with all sorts of food, those considered clean and unclean by the dietary restrictions of Judaism. A voice told him to eat, but Peter refused, because he had never eaten anything ritually impure. However, the voice told him to never call unclean what God had made clean. This happened three times before the tablecloth returned to heaven. Peter wondered what the vision meant, and then Cornelius came to see him. Cornelius explained his own encounter with an angel, and Peter recognized that God had shown him a new truth: there was no one considered impure by God. There was no one who could not be included in Christ’s reign who loved Jesus Christ. This was the message: Christ had died for all people. Christ rose from the dead and commanded the disciples to preach to all people. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all those gathered, Jews and Gentiles. Peter then had Cornelius and all with him baptized.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:36-37, when crowds had gathered near Jesus, and he had compassion for them. He saw them like sheep without a shepherd and called his disciples to pray for more servants of God to serve the people.

In this Easter season we are preparing for Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit. While we look around our world for signs of resurrection, of new life, we cannot help but see signs of the Holy Spirit at work. Every time the disciples, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, went to proclaim the Gospel, they found people who were outcasts longing to belong. They were unsure how to welcome them, but the Holy Spirit did the work. They saw the risen Christ when they showed hospitality and broke bread together. They experienced the Holy Spirit in the transformation of lives, in the baptisms of those who repented and gave their life over to Christ. They experienced the Holy Spirit at work in the inclusion of Gentile believers who believed in the same God and shared in the same gifts of the Holy Spirit, even though they were not Jewish. In everything good, in everything life-transforming, in everything compassionate and kind, in everything merciful—they found God was the one at work. So may we experience the Risen Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our world, in the here and now.

Call to Worship (from Philippians 4:8-9)
Whatever is true, whatever is holy,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is worthy of praise,
Keep your hearts and minds on these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received,
And the God of peace will be with us.
May we come to this time of worship,
Focusing our hearts and minds on God
So we may live into the world practicing God’s love, grace, and mercy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Author of Salvation, we confess that You keep drawing the circle wider, but we keep trying to cut corners. You remind us throughout Scripture to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the meek—all the most vulnerable among us—but we have given far too much concern to the wealthy and powerful among us. We have showed favoritism to those who have things we want, instead of favoritism to those whom You always take notice of and whom You have commanded us to care for. Forgive us for rewriting Your commandments to fit our own desires. Forgive us for cutting out people You have called us to welcome. Call us into a greater hospitality. Call us into a greater humility. Guide us into Your way of love for one another, in which we become last of all and servant of all—not to be walked all over, but to know that when we meet the needs of others around us, our own needs are met. In the name of Christ, who came to us humble as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again, we pray all things. Amen.

God’s love knows no limits, no boundaries. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and so we ought to not limit our love for one another. Love and forgive others for the same things that you continue to do. Strive to live into God’s ways of compassion and kindness, even to those who do not deserve it, and remember how much God loves you. Go and share the good news, knowing you are forgiven, redeemed, and restored. Amen.

A Prayer for Earth Day weekend
Creator of the Earth, we thank You and praise You for all Your wondrous works in the universe, and for this special planet we call Earth. We know from the scriptures that everything You made is good: all light and darkness, all water and earth, everything that lives in the sea and all birds and insects that fly in the air. Every creature on this planet You have breathed life into and given purpose. Even us, O God, You made in Your image to care for the earth and all creation as You care for us. We thank You and praise You for this sacred responsibility. Forgive us, O God, for all the times we have taken Your earth for granted. Forgive us for misusing Your resources for our own material, temporary gain. Forgive us for not heeding Your very first commandment to us, which was to be fruitful, to care for the earth in our fruitfulness, to have dominion over the earth the way You have dominion over us. Call us into accountability, to repair what we have broken and destroyed, to turn back to Your first commandment and to love this beautiful planet You made for us, the only one that is our home. We trust in You, our Maker and Shaper of Who We Are and of All Things to Come, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 16, 2023—Second Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 (Psalm 40:9-10)

The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary for the season of Easter comes from Acts. In this portion of Acts 2:14a, 22-32, on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly declared that the work of the Holy Spirit was among the disciples. In this selection, Peter explained the purpose of Jesus’s death—though crucified by human hands, Peter believed this was part of God’s plan to free Jesus and all of humanity from death. Peter quoted from the Psalms, presuming the author to be David, and interpreted the life and words of David as foreshadowing and prophesying about Jesus, of whom Peter, the disciples, and everyone present on that day of Pentecost were witnesses.

Psalm 16 is a prayer for help and assurance that God is the one true God. The psalmist asks God for deliverance because they have remained faithful to God, choosing no other gods. The psalmist refuses to participate in the worship of other gods, but blesses, rejoices, and give thanks to God who has provided for them. God has not abandoned them to death, but instead, God has instructed them in the way of life, and there are always blessings for those who remain faithful to God.

The Epistle readings for this season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In 1:3-9, the writer speaks of the new hope given to us through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the time of the writing of 1 Peter, Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension had occurred a few generations before, and believers were weary in waiting for Christ’s return. The writer assured the believers that in faithfulness, God would reveal all. The faithful were struggling and suffering in that time and needed assurance. In their genuineness of faith and trust in Jesus, the author wrote that they would come to know unspeakable joy. They may rejoice in their salvation because Jesus was raised from the dead.

John 20:19-31 continues the story of Easter Sunday, with the appearance of Jesus to the disciples the same evening Mary found him in the garden. However, Thomas was not with them. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” to the disciples as he showed them his hands and his side, and he breathed on them, sharing with them the Holy Spirit. Since Thomas was not with them, when they told Thomas what happened, he said he wouldn’t believe unless he also saw Jesus’s hands and side. The next week, Thomas was with them, and even though the doors were shut (just like the last week) Jesus appeared to them, and showed Thomas his hands and side, and told him not to doubt but believe. When Thomas finally declared that this was Jesus who has appeared to him, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” When one follows the story of Thomas through John’s Gospel account, one sees a follower who goes from great zeal “Let us also go that we may die with him” (11:16), to “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5) to scattering with the other disciples after Jesus’s betrayal, to missing out on the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Thomas thought he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus’s movement was about. When he realized he didn’t know, doubt entered in. But the faith of his friends brought him back to the room where it happened. Also, paired with the Narrative Lectionary reading below, in Matthew’s account we know there were other disciples who also doubted, they just were not all named (Matthew 28:17).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. When the remaining disciples went ahead to Galilee, where Jesus had told the women he would meet them, they worshiped when they saw him, but some doubted. Even in seeing him, there are others who doubted (Thomas was not the only one). Jesus declares he has received all authority in heaven and earth and now gives that authority to the disciples, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them everything Jesus has commanded, and to remember that Christ is always with them.

The supplemental verses of Psalm 40:9-10 share the author’s profession that they have shared the news of their deliverance in front of the congregation. They have not held anything back. They have been a witness of God’s salvation and faithfulness to all.

This is a good Sunday to talk about doubt as part of the faith journey. Even after Jesus’s death and resurrection, some of the disciples doubted. Even as he stood before them and they worshiped him, some of them held doubts. This is part of our faith journey. It is the showing up and continuing to follow the commandments that makes us faithful. The father of a child possessed by demons brought his child to Jesus’s disciples, but they were unable to cast out the demon. Jesus told the man that all things were possible for the one who has faith, and the father declared, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-25). Doubt is part of the struggle of the faith journey. And there are times when we may even want to walk away from it all, as Thomas did. The good news is that we are not alone. What makes us faithful sometimes isn’t our own faith but the faith of those around us, the ones we can rely on. The other disciples didn’t give up on Thomas. The disciples who doubted in Matthew 28:17 still worshiped. They still received the Great Commission. As far as we know, they stuck around and continued the ministry, even in their time of doubt, because the faith of others urged them on. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, sometimes our prayer is, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Help me through the times of doubt and struggle. Help me when I want to walk away from it all. And when I can’t even pray, may others pray for me.

Call to Worship (from 1 Peter 1:3, 8a; Mark 9:24)
Blessed be our God and our Lord Jesus Christ!
I believe; help my unbelief.
We have been given a new birth into a living hope.
I believe; help my unbelief.
A living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I believe; help my unbelief.
Although you have not seen Christ, you love Christ.
I believe; help my unbelief.
In this time of worship, may we hold on to the faith of others,
May we pray for each other, and follow Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that at times we have shared empty phrases and platitudes to assure ourselves when others have struggled and suffered. We have tried to force a faithful response instead of sitting with the questions and doubt. Forgive us for putting our feelings above another’s struggles. We also confess at times others have done this to us, and we acknowledge the pain and hurt we have felt. We confess boldly that doubt is not the opposite of faith, and that there is no shame in holding doubts and sharing our struggles. We ask instead, O God, for the wisdom to help one another on the journey of faith. We ask for the strength to sit in silence. We ask for the courage to listen without judgment. We ask, O God, for Your love to prevail, for it is love that sees us through our struggles of faith. It is the love of others that assures us and presses us forward. May we love one another as fully as You have loved us, and may we love ourselves in our times of struggle. We remember Your prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and Your cry on Calvary, and know that You, too, know what it is to struggle in faith. We confess boldly that we are not alone, and that You know us and love us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are you on the journey of faith and doubt. Blessed are you when you love one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. Blessed are you when you allow others to pray for you, comfort you, and assure you. Blessed are you when you forgive one another and do not hold doubts and misgivings against one another. Blessed are you when you share the Good News to the world. Go and share the Gospel of Love. Amen.

God of Resurrection, help us to acknowledge the signs of new life all around us. Help us to find hope and joy and gratitude. These are signs that encourage us on the journey of faith. Open our vision to take notice of all the good things You are doing in the world and in our lives. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of Your grace and peace. For Your love is written not only in the words of Scripture, but in the sap rising in the trees, the green blades of grass, the turning of seasons, the calm after the storm, the lofty clouds and blue skies and the rain. We give thanks to You, Risen One, in all the signs of life. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 9, 2023—Easter Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Easter, Matthew 28:1-10 (Psalm 118:19-24)

For the season of Easter, often a reading from Acts is used instead of the Hebrew scriptures. The first selection from Acts 10:34-43 contains Peter’s bold revelation from both a vision he beheld from God in vs. 9-16 and in his encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in 17-33. In the vision, God gave Peter food to eat that was both from clean and unclean animals, with the lesson that whatever God declared holy, others must not call profane. In Peter’s conversation with Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter understood that Cornelius’s own encounter with the Holy Spirit was valid and true. There was no need for Cornelius to become Jewish, he knew God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God shows no partiality between Jewish and Gentile, for Jesus is Lord of all. Peter and the other disciples were witnesses of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and called to testify in his name. Peter confirmed that everyone who believes in Jesus may be forgiven of their sins through Christ’s name.

An alternative to the Acts reading is Jeremiah 31:1-6. In the midst of war, in the knowledge that the people of Judah will be taken into exile, God still brings a word of hope to the prophet Jeremiah. Just as God brought the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God will restore the people with joy. God’s faithfulness will continue, as God’s faithful love of Israel endures forever. Even in the north, taken long ago into exile, there will be vineyards planted and wine poured, because God restores all, and even the people gone long ago will return to worship God in Zion.

Portions of Psalm 118 are read for both Palm Sunday and on Easter, with some overlap. The portion for Easter includes the declaration that God is the psalmist’s strength, might, and salvation. Death will not have a hold on the people, for they will live with God as their God. Though the people of Israel have suffered, God did not allow them to die out, but instead, they have returned to worship as the psalmist calls them into the temple. The people rejected are now the foundation of the knowledge of God around the world, for God has chosen the people of Israel to demonstrate God’s glory and salvation to all.

Colossians 3:1-4 speaks of the life of the Christian with the resurrected Christ. Believers always have a heavenly worldview. Christ has been revealed to the world, and therefore our lives are testimony to Christ’s resurrection. We have already been raised from death as we walk this earth, for death has no hold on us.

(An alternative to the Colossians reading is Acts 10:34-43, if the Jeremiah passage is chosen for the first reading).

In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene was by herself when she came to the tomb and discovered the stone had been rolled back. Mary went to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, who then raced to the empty tomb. Though Peter went in first, the beloved disciple went in after, and he saw and believed. Nevertheless, both he and Peter went home because they did not understand the scripture. Only Mary remained, weeping. She looked into the tomb and saw two angels. They asked her why she was weeping, because Mary thought someone had taken Jesus’s body. When she turned around, she thought she saw the gardener, who asked her the same question. She asked if he had taken the body to tell her where he had put it, so she could take care of the body. She kept asking questions. But then the gardener said her name, and she immediately recognized her teacher. Jesus warned her not to hold on to him, but instead to go and tell the disciples that he had risen and would be ascending to God (the Father). Mary then announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and what he had spoken to her. Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles because she remained faithful and kept asking where Jesus was, when the other disciples went home, and even the beloved disciple who believed. A good teacher has students who ask good questions. And nevertheless, Mary persisted.

Both an alternative Gospel reading for the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the reading for the Narrative Lectionary, Matthew’s account of the resurrection contains both Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” Only in Matthew’s account is the stone still in place—it is rolled back by an angel after an earthquake, and the angel sits on the stone. Also, only in Matthew’s account are guards posted at the tomb, but the guards are shaken out of fear. The angel tells the women that they are looking for Jesus, but he isn’t there—he has been raised. Instead, they are to go to Galilee where Jesus will be waiting for them. The women leave to tell the disciples, out of great joy and fear, when they encounter the resurrected Christ. In John’s account, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, but in Matthew, both women take hold of Jesus’s feet and worship him. Jesus tells them both not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee, for that is where they will see him.

The supplementary reading for the Narrative Lectionary is a shorter portion of Psalm 118, covered under the Revised Common Lectionary above.

It is hard to know what to say differently this year for Easter than any other year. Death does not have the last word. Love wins. Life endures forever. I’m personally drawn to Mary’s persistence in John’s account of the resurrection, out of grief, out of faithfulness—the way she continues to seek Jesus and will not give up until she has found him. Despite the despair in our world—gun violence, continued Covid-19 illnesses and death, legislation against healthcare for transgender children—the pursuit of Jesus inspires me. The pursuit of life. The pursuit of justice. Despite the hopelessness, a refusal to give up. Mary is not hopeful—she’s looking for a dead body, not a risen Savior. But she refuses to give up until she finds Jesus. And in that pursuit, she finds the unexpected.

Call to Worship
In emptiness of night,
We wait for dawn to break open.
In our grief and suffering,
We weep and look for something to hold on to.
In the finality of the tomb,
We wait for the dead to rise.
In the face of death,
We declare the Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Stormclouds and Sunshine, Springtime and Autumn, we know You are present with us in all seasons of faith. At times we sing Hallelujah with joy and declare that Christ is Risen! At times we sit quietly with our pain and loss and hold on to the small kernel of hope that we are not alone. You are with us in all seasons of our lives. On this Easter day, may we not be ashamed of our doubts or our struggles, nor may we lord over our faith on others who are skeptical. Instead, may we all come to You, reminded of Mary Magdalene who wouldn’t give up until she found you, persisting in our questions. You are our Rabbi, our Teacher, and no matter where we are on the path of faith, You are calling our name, revealing Yourself to us. May we listen and follow. Amen.

From Mary Magdalene proclaiming to the other disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, to each of us saying to one another Christ is Risen, we know that our faith is passed on, shared, and only grows over time. May you live with the assurance that in your times of struggle, others have faith enough to pray for you, help you, and care for you. May you have the grace to accept the help you need. May you pray for others in their times of struggle and be there to lift them up. May we help one another on this journey of faith, knowing that we are not alone, as we question, doubt, praise and proclaim that Christ is Risen. Go and share the good news. Amen.

God of Death and Life, Adversity and Hope, we give thanks for the celebration of Easter, of the hope of resurrection, the promise of new life found in Jesus Christ our Lord. May we remember that eternal life begins here and now and is not about life after death but a life that is transformed and transverses earth and heaven. If we seek You, may we search with all our heart so that we may find You. We pray that You would strengthen our hearts and strengthen our faith, for we know that there will be grief and pain in our lives ahead, but there is also great joy and comfort with You, and with one another. Grant us the courage to live into faith, each and every day, that You have risen and give us the hope of new life, now and forever. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 2nd, 2023—Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary
Palm Sunday: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54

Narrative Lectionary: Triumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-17 (Psalm 118:25-29)

We have drawn near the end of the season of Lent with the beginning of Holy Week. The Revised Common Lectionary offers two choices, either the Liturgy of the Palms, or the Liturgy of the Passion.

For Palm Sunday, the lectionary begins with the processional call to worship of Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. This portion of the psalm was probably used by the worship leader as they entered the temple. Rejected by the world, exiled into Babylon, the people chosen by God, to reveal who God is to the world, have returned home and have restored the temple. The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. The psalmist leads the people into worship through the temple gates, up to the altar, giving thanks and praise to God for this day of celebration, and calling upon God to continually save the people.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in Matthew 21:1-11. The writer of Matthew’s gospel, while Jewish, was not as familiar with Hebrew poetry and misinterpreted Zechariah 9:9 in his understanding of the humble leader riding on a donkey. Therefore, Matthew wrote of Jesus riding on a donkey and its colt, rather than understanding the second line of “on a colt, the foal of a donkey” as an emphasis of the first line, “humble and riding on a donkey.” The crowds cried out “Hosanna, save us!” as Jesus entered the city, and the crowds quoted Psalm 118, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Perhaps this misunderstanding of Zechariah helps us understand why the crowds and the disciples misunderstood Jesus, and their expectations of God’s anointed one.

For Passion Sunday, the lectionary begins with one of the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah in 50:4-9a. The prophet Isaiah personified Israel as a suffering servant, which Christians later looked back upon and found connections with in terms of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Israel knows that God is with them despite what they have suffered, through the exile and return, for God is the one who knows they are innocent and will vindicate them. The prophet, speaking as the suffering servant, knows God’s faithfulness and assurance of deliverance.

Psalm 31:9-16 is the middle portion of the psalm, and the author is in distress, both physically and mentally. No one around them will help them, but they reach out to God, for they trust in God’s faithfulness. Despite how everyone else has turned away from them, they rest assured of God’s commitment. They pray for God’s deliverance from their enemies and their suffering.

Philippians 2:5-11, part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, is an ancient church confession. Christ was fully divine, yet also fully human. He emptied himself of all divine power and followed God’s will, even to die on the cross. Because of his fulfillment of God’s will, Christ was exalted so that everyone would know and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to give glory and honor to God.

The longer selection of the Gospel lesson in Matthew begins at 26:14 and concludes at 27:66. 26:14-26:75 are all the events that took place the night before Christ’s death: Judas went to the chief priests, Jesus and the disciples observed a meal together as part of Passover (though not a seder meal as celebrated today, see this article for more information), and then Jesus went out to pray with a few of the disciples, where he was betrayed by Judas. Jesus was arrested, accused by the high priest, and Peter, keeping watch in the courtyard, denied he ever knew Jesus. Chapter 27 begins on the morning of Jesus’s death, when he was handed over to Pilate. Unique to Matthew’s account, Judas, seeing that Jesus was condemned to Pilate (for Judas only gave Jesus over to the priests, who could not sentence Jesus to death), repented, and gave back the silver, but the chief priests and elders didn’t care that Judas confessed that Jesus was innocent. Judas then hung himself. Both the writer of Matthew and of Luke-Acts link the death of Judas to a place called the “Field of Blood,” referenced by both Zechariah and Jeremiah, but Judas’ death is accidental in Acts 1.

27:11 (where the shorter selection for the Passion begins) picks up with Jesus before Pilate, and in verse 15, Pilate went before the crowds, ready to release a prisoner as custom during the Passover to help keep the Jewish population satisfied under the control of Rome. In Matthew’s account, the other prisoner, Barabbas, is also known as Jesus Barabbas. Pilate gave the crowds a choice: Jesus the insurrectionist, or Jesus called the anointed one of God? Also unique to Matthew’s account, Pilate’s wife had a dream and warned Pilate to leave Jesus the Christ alone, but the crowds, urged on by the religious leaders, called for Jesus Barabbas to be released and Jesus Christ to be crucified.

Again, unique to Matthew was the response of the crowd to take upon the guilt of Jesus’ death, something later Christians used to condemn all Jewish people. These passages must be read carefully and understood that all the Gospel writers were Jewish, along with Paul and all the New Testament writers—as well as Jesus himself—but the belief that this passage condemns all Jewish people is at least as old as the second century. Instead, the writer of Matthew may be interpreting this as accepting Jesus’s sacrifice for all people, including the crowds that condemned him, even when they did not know what they were doing.

The narrative shifts to Jesus’s crucifixion in 27:33, with Simon of Cyrene compelled to carry Jesus’s cross. Like Luke, in Matthew’s account Jesus was crucified with two others, probably political prisoners, and Jesus was mocked upon the cross. Vs. 45-56 contain Jesus’s death. There was an earthquake, and the curtain of the temple torn after Jesus’s last breath. The centurion and other guards who witnessed his death declared he was truly God’s son. The women who followed Jesus watched from a distance (and the shorter selection of the Gospel lesson ends here).

Vs. 57-61 contain the story of Jesus’s burial by Joseph, a rich man who was a disciple of Jesus from Arimathea. He had Jesus’s body placed in his own tomb, carved out of the rock, and a stone rolled in front of the tomb, where Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat. Vs. 62-66 take place on Saturday, in which the chief priests and other religious leaders went to Pilate and told him to place guards around the tomb because they were afraid that people would say he rose from the dead, since that’s what Jesus told them. These verses, paired with 28:11-15, are meant to counter any stories that Jesus’s own disciples took his body and lied that he rose from the dead. While the writer set out to prove that Jesus rose from the dead within this narrative, these verses have also been used, like 27:25, to cast blame on Jewish people for Jesus’s death and to say that Jewish people lied about Jesus. Again, we must remember that Jesus and all the disciples were Jewish, and the only people who actually put Jesus to death were Pilate and the Roman soldiers and authorities, not the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people. The Gospel accounts were written at least forty years after Jesus’s death, when there was significant division between the followers of Jesus and others in the Jewish community—a division that wasn’t the case when Jesus and his disciples lived.

The Narrative Lectionary is the same as the Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday lesson of Matthew 21 with the addition of verses 12-17, in which Jesus visited the temple. The first thing he did was to throw out the sellers and overturn the tables of the moneychangers. While he was there, people came to Jesus to be healed, and the religious leaders were angry that children praised Jesus and called him the Son of David. In response, Jesus quoted Psalm 8:3, that out of the mouths of children and infants would come praise for God. While the writer of Matthew quoted Hebrew scripture to prove Jesus was the Messiah, the author also used scripture to show that the people’s idea of the Messiah would be different. Jesus did not arrive as a warrior on a white horse, but humble, on a donkey and its colt. The people shouted Hosanna and praise for one entering a temple, who then went not to worship and be anointed, but to overturn the systems he saw as corrupt. He did not go to the religious leaders for wisdom or praise, but instead turned to those in need of healing and received praise from children, and the author of Matthew backs all of that up with scripture.

The supplemental scripture is also a portion of the Revised Common Lectionary for Palm Sunday, Psalm 118:25-29. These four verses emphasize the calling out to God by the psalmist to save the people, and blessing the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The psalmist brings the worship to the altar, and gives thanks to God, whose steadfast love endures forever.

From Palms to Passion, from triumphal entry to death on the cross, from hope to loss—the fullness of Holy Week is hard to express in one worship service, let alone a week of services. What we learn from the Gospel writers and all the stories, from the people coming out of exile, to the women at the tomb, is that God continues to do the unexpected. Even in the most difficult times, like the women who followed Jesus, sometimes all we can do is wait upon God. Wait and keep an active watch, for God will not keep silent.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1-2, 24, 26)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let all the people say,
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
May we bless one another, and our God, in this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of all peoples, across all times, we come before You confessing that at times we hear what we want to hear. We listen for stories and scriptures and songs that affirm our view of the world and that we are on the right side. We confess that at times we have misheard and distorted the words passed down to us, believing we have the truth and others do not. We recognize that throughout history those with power and privilege have twisted accounts to shape their worldview, scapegoating and demonizing others. Forgive us, O God, for our pride, our selfishness, and our greed. Forgive us for the times we have demonized and scapegoated groups of people. Forgive us, most of all, for the ways we have minimized Jesus’s own identity as a Middle Easter Jewish man under the oppression of the Roman Empire, and the ways we have forgotten our own places of power and privilege. Call us into accountability to tell the truth of our shared history as Christians, and as followers of one who died for us all. We confess and pray, God of all the nations. Amen.

The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. All of the times you have felt rejected, discarded, minimalized, and left out—you are God’s cornerstone. You are God’s beloved and are wondrous in God’s view. Know your worth, that you are loved beyond measure. Christ is the cornerstone of Your life. Build your foundation upon Christ’s love for you, a love so strong that death could not stop it—and know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

God of all seasons, we come to You at the beginning of this Holy Week, a reminder of the fullness of Christ’s life and death. We know that while we shout “Hosanna!” and wave our palms to remember Your Son entering Jerusalem, we also remember the authorities closing in, that Jesus’s friends betrayed him and denied him, and in at the end of the week, he was killed among the other political criminals. We know that this week will get worse. When we know that things are going to get worse, it gets so much harder to hold on to hope. We feel the shadows closing in and despair crawling closer. The hope we hold on to this day is not for next Sunday, not the hope of resurrection and restoration, but right now, the hope that Jesus knows our most desperate moments. Jesus knows the very shadows we have faced. Jesus knows our loneliness, our despair, our hopelessness. Jesus knows the emptiness of the tomb. In that we find our hope and our life, for there is nothing we have been through that Christ, the Word Incarnate, has not also lived through. The hope found in this week is that even at our loneliest point, Jesus knows, and we are never truly alone. We thank You, Loving God of all seasons, for not letting us be alone, and for being with us in every moment, even the most difficult ones. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 26, 2023—Fifth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Narrative Lectionary: Last Judgment, Matthew 25: 31-46 (Psalm 98:7-9)

The prophet Ezekiel had been taken into exile during the first wave of the Babylonian invasion of Judah, though he continued to prophesy through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. He beheld strange visions of what God had done and would do. Like his contemporary Jeremiah, he saw through the corruption of the priests and prophets who only told the Judahite kings what they wanted to hear, and they failed to listen to God’s warnings. In 37:1-14, the prophet beheld a vision of a battlefield, a valley of dry bones. In dialogue with Ezekiel, God asked the prophet rhetorical questions about whether the dead could live and commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. The bones rose from the earth, with sinews, muscles, and skin, but they were just lifeless bodies. Then God called upon Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath. The Hebrew word for breath is the same as wind and Spirit. The four winds came upon the bones and the bodies came to life with breath. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the people, that God would open up the graves, that God would bring to life what was dead, and that God would put Spirit into their own bodies so they would live on their own land. A prophecy of hope for the exiles, that God would be with them in spirit and they would find new life.

Psalm 130 is a prayer of hope and forgiveness. The psalmist prays on behalf of the people, knowing that if God held their sins against them, no one could come before God. However, God is the one in whom there is hope and forgiveness. God will deliver them, just like a watchman waits all night for dawn, they know that God will bring deliverance and redemption. They are forgiven, for God is all powerful, and God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Paul uses the image of flesh and spirit in Romans 8:6-11 as a metaphor of the ways of the world humanity has created and God’s ways. For those who live by the Spirit, they know God’s ways and are not tempted by what the world offers. Those who have the Spirit are alive in Christ, and death has no hold on them. Christ is the one who brings us true life and will raise us from the dead, giving life to our mortal bodies.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-45. There is much to unpack in this story and various points of interest In John’s account. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and while they sent word that Lazarus was ill, Jesus delayed in going to them. When Jesus finally decided to travel to Judea to visit, the disciples tried to talk him out of it because they knew some of the community leaders wanted to kill him. Nonetheless, Jesus insisted on going, though he knew that Lazarus was dead, for he was going to awaken him. Thomas, in his first appearance in this Gospel, was ready to go with Jesus even to the death. Martha was the first to greet Jesus as he arrived, stating that if he had been there, her brother would not have died. Yet she claimed her faith, knowing God would give Jesus whatever he asked. Jesus declared to her, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and Martha proclaimed her belief in him as the Messiah. Martha then went back and called Mary to see Jesus. Mary said the same thing Martha did, that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. However, instead of boldly claiming her faith as Martha demonstrated, Mary knelt and wept. Jesus’s response to her was different. He also wept. For even bold declarations of faith did not keep Jesus from grieving himself. When other neighbors began to question why Jesus could not keep Lazarus from dying, Jesus rose, went to the tomb, and ordered them to roll away the stone. Martha warned him about the smell, since her brother had been dead for four days, but nonetheless, Jesus prayed, and called Lazarus out of the tomb. The dead man walked out, and many who witnessed the event came to believe.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. Sometimes thought of as a parable, it’s different from the previous parables in that Jesus doesn’t begin with, “the kingdom of heaven will be like …” Instead, Jesus begins with “when the Son of Man comes in his glory.” Already we know this is not like the other stories Jesus has told. This one, while using some metaphor, is more clearly about Jesus’ vision of what the final judgment will be like. Some Bibles title this “the Judgment of the Gentiles” because the word used for nations is translated as Gentiles elsewhere. Perhaps this is a statement of what the Jewish followers of Jesus are to do in sharing the Gospel among the Gentiles—it is important to teach about right living, right behavior in how they love their neighbor. All the Gentiles (nations) will be gathered before the Son of Man as he separates people like sheep from goats. Those who give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, hospitality and welcome to the stranger, those who clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison—those are the ones who have lived faithfully, as if God was among them. Those who did not do these things are those who never lived as if God was with them, and are sent into eternal punishment, while the righteous are given eternal life.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 98:7-9 are about God coming to judge the world and all its peoples. All of creation celebrates the arrival of God, who rules in righteousness and judges with equity.

As we approach the end of Lent, we are nearing the end of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem in the scriptures. In the Narrative Lectionary we look at Jesus’s final teachings in Matthew, a reminder that we are judged by how we live. Do we believe Christ is among us, now? Then we must live like it. In the Revised Common Lectionary, we are reminded that God is a living God, God is the God of life. But this doesn’t mean we aren’t spared death. We aren’t spared grief. We aren’t spared loss. No, that is the cost of loving one another. God loved us so much, but the cost was Christ’s death. We love our friends and family so much, but the cost is that we will grieve their loss when the time comes. This is the price of love. But the promise of love is that death cannot separate us. The promise of Christ’s love is that love will live on through eternity. Somehow love will carry us through, whether we are bold in our faith like Martha or fallen on our knees like Mary. Whether we are brave like Thomas now or doubtful like Thomas later on in John’s account. Love will still carry us through.

Call to Worship
Christ is the Resurrection and the Life,
Even though we die, we believe, and we have life.
Death will not have the final word,
For Christ has shown us the way of life eternal.
For truly as we have cared for the least among us,
We have cared for and loved Christ himself.
We enter this time of worship together,
Living in the way, the truth, and the life of Christ Jesus.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Son of Humanity, You wept when Mary wept for the death of her brother. You grieved when Your friend Lazarus died. You cared for Simon’s mother-in-law when she was sick. You know our hearts and our bodies all so well because You lived our lives. Call us to have compassion on ourselves and to seek the care we need—therapists, physicians, teachers, coaches, social workers, and pastors. Restore our hearts and minds and bodies so that we might care for one another’s needs. Help us to be gentle with our souls, Loving One, as we share in the work of caring for each other and meeting the needs of those around us. Guide us, Holy Spirit, to care for ourselves and for one another, for all the least among us, as You care for us. Amen.

“For with the Lord there is steadfast love,” the psalmist declares, and we know God’s love through Jesus Christ—through his life, death, and resurrection. But we know God’s love more intimately through the love of one another. When we love and care for others, we are loved for and cared for. When we give, we receive. When we mourn, we are comforted. When we feel despair, others pray for us. Know this: you are never alone. There is nothing you can do that can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus, and the whole congregation is here for you. When we love and care for each other, Christ’s love grows in us. So grow with Christ, grow in love, and serve one another. Amen.

God of All Seasons, as spring arrives in the north and autumn in the south of the world, we remember our ancestors marked the Equinox as a turning point in the year. If we have struggled, this is a time of change and renewal. This is a time when colors burst forth in autumn leaves to the south and in budding flowers to the north. This is a time when we are reminded that all things change, and You bring about both the challenge and promise of change in our lives, through repentance, reformation, and redemption. Your Holy Spirit is moving among us now. Help us to grow in new ways, to experience the new life You have promised us in this moment. You are making all things new. Help us to embrace hope and the challenge to change our hearts and lives for You, Spirit of Life, Spirit of Seasons. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 19, 2023—Fourth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Narrative Lectionary: Parable of the Bridesmaids (Parable of the Talents) Matthew 25:1-13 (14-30); (Psalm 43:3-4)

The call and anointing of King David happen while Samuel was still grieving Saul in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. Saul, chosen by God, turned from God’s ways. As a prophet, Samuel anointed Saul, and perhaps took it as a personal failure that Saul didn’t work out. Nonetheless, God sent Samuel to Jesse in Bethlehem to offer a sacrifice, and God promised to show Samuel who to anoint. Although Samuel assumed it would be one of the eldest, tallest, or strongest, none of Jesse’s first sons were chosen by God. Jesse had not brought the last, youngest, smallest son who was out with the sheep. Instead, God chose the one who was known probably for being too cute. Too small, too young, probably picked on by his brothers for his looks. And God told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”

A song long associated with David, Psalm 23 sings of the assurance of God’s presence even in the most difficult times. God is the one who provides, protects, and shelters us, and whose presence is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. God is the one who honors us, even in the presence of our adversaries, and the psalmist concludes with a blessing of knowing God’s steadfast love and mercy all of our days, and dwelling in God’s presence forever.

The Epistle reading shifts from Romans for one week in Lent to Ephesians 5:8-14. The writer uses the images of light and darkness to show that everything in light is exposed, and we ought to live with nothing hidden in us. We ought not to hide any part of who we are—for if we do, it is because of shame—and instead we should live as people without shame. Live with the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of light, and know that everything will become visible. The writer concludes this section with “Sleeper, awake!” In other words, be alert and ready for Christ, coming at an unexpected time, and live with nothing to hide before God.

The account of the blind man receiving his sight in John 9:1-41 must be approached with caution. There was a societal view that disability was the result of sin, which is the question the disciples have when they find a man who is blind from birth. Jesus’s reply is that no one has sinned. However, Jesus uses this moment to show that God’s work might be revealed in this man. The work that is revealed is one of deconstructing cultural and theological beliefs that are harmful, for the man born blind could only beg; he was not able to or allowed to work until he was freed from the marginalization of society. Far too often we have focused on a miraculous healing and that the man could then see, instead of the liberation that Jesus proclaimed from society’s sin of marginalization and oppression. Jesus then used sight and blindness as spiritual metaphors for those opposed to the kind of radical liberation he brings. Again, approaching with caution the antisemitic ways John’s gospel has been interpreted, this was a general societal belief that forced disabled people to beg, instead of inclusion of all people in the community. Some of the leaders opposed Jesus because he was claiming to be the Son of God, something blasphemous to their religion and culture, and therefore they questioned his authority.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Parable of the Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. One thing to note is that while five bridesmaids packed extra oil and five “foolish” ones did not, all of them fell asleep. Jesus knows that we all have moments where we are not paying attention, where we fall short, where we fail to live into God’s intentions for us. We might do better to look at this parable from the context of the whole, rather than the separation of the foolish and the wise. How do we ground ourselves in community, tradition, scripture, and prayer? Who do we know to turn to when we need guidance and help in our struggles? Whom can we count on? And can we be that person for the other? The five “wise” bridesmaids refused to help others, and therefore marginalized the five that they thought of as foolish. Perhaps this parable is less about preparing ourselves as preparing to help each other and to build a community so that all may enter the reign of God.

The Narrative Lectionary also gives the possibility of the Parable of the Talents in verses 14-30. This is another parable that, on the surface, seems very harsh and cruel. One possible interpretation is that the one who refused to risk anything has the most to lose. Another might be that this master is harsh and cruel, and that does not change with the ending of the parable, but the last one refused to participate in the systems and structures of oppression in this world, and it cost him his life. Given Jesus’s own death on the cross, this is a possible way to look at a parable that has no satisfactory answer.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 43:3-4. The psalmist asks God to send light and truth, so that the psalmist may praise God with celebration and joy. In reading the parables, we ask for light and truth to help us understand the mysteries and myriad of possible interpretations, as we do with all scripture.

How we fight systemic sin: oppression, marginalization, and power/privilege over others underlies how we interpret Scripture. If we believe we are all on equal footing, then it makes sense to think of the bridesmaids as foolish or wise, the servants with the talents as worthy or not. It’s the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” idea that if everyone works hard they will get what they want and need. John 9:1-41 upends that thinking, as does Jesus’ own life and death on the cross. If it isn’t good news for the most vulnerable—disabled, poor, low-wage earners, anyone on the margins of society—then it isn’t good news at all. This ought to be the lens for interpreting parables as well as all the Gospels. When we look to David, the youngest, smallest, cutest boy picked on by seven older brothers (most likely)—we see why God chose him. We see in both the Epistle reading and the parable of the bridesmaids that all of us have the tendency to fall asleep. Even those among us in the struggle for justice against the powers of oppression have times when we fail to observe how empire has entered our own way of life. The point is, when we wake up, who do we go to? Who do we turn to? Who do we help on the way? Who do we view as part of God’s beloved community and how will we make sure they are included? How will we practice mercy, grace, and forgiveness? How will we love our neighbor as ourselves?

Call to Worship (Psalm 43:2a, 3-5)
God, You are the One in whom we take refuge,
O send out Your light and Your truth.
Let them lead us;
Let them bring us to Your holy dwelling.
Then we will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy;
And we will praise you, O God, our God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again sing praise,
Our help and our God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Awakening God, we confess at times we have fallen asleep. The weight of the world is too much. There is too much pain, injustice, sorrow, oppression—it all is weary and it seems no matter what we do, it doesn’t make a difference. Nothing seems to change. Yet we know from our ancestors in the faith that You have made promises to us that still hold true: promises of love, hope, mercy, grace, and peace. Promises that we have experienced through the love and care of others. Beloved God, may we not give up on You, though the world has failed us, though even the church has failed us. For You are our Creator and Sustainer, Redeemer of us all. You are the one who reminds us that there is nothing in all of creation that will separate us from Your love. You are the one who rose after the deepest night. Wake us up, O God, to what You have intended for us, and let us not hold on to daydreams of the past or nightmares of helplessness. Wake us up, O God, to live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, in Christ’s name. Amen.

We sing the words, “There is a balm in Gilead,” to respond to the rhetorical question of the prophet Jeremiah. There is healing for our sin-sick souls. There is hope still to be found. There is love. There is always love. Know that you are God’s beloved child, and there is no place you can hide, no place where you will be lost. There is nothing you can do that will take you from God’s love. Trust in this truth: God loves you and the promise of that love is written inside you, from your first breath until the end of time. Go and share that love with one another, a love that builds up and holds fast against the struggles of the world. You will endure. You will make it through. Love one another. Amen.

Holy Spirit, fall afresh on us. Fill us, renew us, mold us and shape us into who You need us to be. Help us to let go of the ways this world confines us, so that we might be free in You to love, care, and lift up one another. Holy Spirit, inspire us when the well is dry. Care for us when we cannot rise again. Empower us to rise up, and to keep rising when we fall down again. As we are reminded from scripture, from the beginning to the end, You breathed life into us and formed us into a community of faith. We are not on this journey alone. Refresh us, Loving Spirit, and remind us that You are with us, now and always, and we have one another. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 12, 2023—Third Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Narrative Lectionary: Wedding Banquet, Matthew 22:1-14 (Psalm 45:6-7)

As soon as the Israelites were away from the oppression of Pharaoh, they complained in the wilderness. In Exodus 17:1-7, the people can find no water to drink, and they quarrel with Moses. Moses in turn complains to God, wanting to know what to do with the people who want to stone him for their troubles. God instructs Moses to go before the people with some of the elders to the rock at Horeb, where God would stand, and strike the rock with the staff that God gave him in Egypt. Moses obeys God, and water comes out of the rock where God stood, a reminder that God was with them, even though the people questioned it.

Psalm 95 is a song of praise to God the Creator, calling the people into worship and celebration. God has made the whole world as well as us, and as the Great Shepherd we are the sheep of God’s hand. The second half of the psalm shifts to words of warning for those who do not listen to God, and for those who test God, as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Because they quarreled and tested God, they wandered for forty years and did not enter the land promised them. For those who do trust in God, the first half of the psalm reminds the listener of God’s faithfulness and abundance.

The Epistle readings continue in the letter to the Romans, this time in 5:1-11. Because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.

John 4:5-42 contains the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. All sorts of cultural boundaries are crossed in this story: Jesus and the disciples are in a Samaritan village, and Jews did not like Samaritans and vice versa. Jesus was alone and a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well, and Jesus spoke with her—a taboo to speak to a woman alone, especially an unmarried woman and a Samaritan at that! But through the woman’s skepticism and later revelation by Jesus that she’s been married five times and is now living with a man who isn’t her husband, Jesus still chooses to speak to her. Perhaps because as someone who has faced marginalization by the dominant culture as well as by gender and by her marital status, she is able to accept Jesus as the Messiah because he came, even for her. Jesus’s disciples are taken aback by his talking to this Samaritan woman alone, and do not understand his message is to bring spiritual food and water to the world, not just for themselves. The woman meanwhile goes into the village and tells everyone about Jesus, and many come to believe through her word, but others come to believe in their encounter with Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its Lenten series in the parables of Matthew, this time with the Wedding Banquet in 22:1-14. In this parable, it is time for the wedding, but the guests who were invited refused to come. Even when the king holding the banquet sends his servants out again to tell them of the wondrous feast that awaits them, they refuse to go. Some even seize the servants and kill them. The king in his fury sends out his troops and burns the city, destroying everyone. And instead, the king tells the servants to go into the streets and invite everyone they see into the banquet—whether they are good or bad, it doesn’t matter, because the invited guests didn’t come, so the invitation is open to anyone. But there is one guest who is not wearing a wedding robe, and he is bound and thrown into the outer darkness. This guest may represent those who are welcomed in but refuse to change their ways. The parable ends with the saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” In Luke’s account in 14:16-24, a parable of a great feast, the story is less violent—the one who gave the banquet didn’t send out troops to burn down the city and kill others and neither were the servants killed when they delivered their message. The guest without the formal attire is also not included in Luke’s account, which gives Matthew’s account a more serious spin: those who are invited and welcomed into God’s reign and who act like they belong, but refuse to change their lives, are warned of the wrath that is to come.

The supplementary verses are Psalm 45:6-7, from a royal wedding psalm, praising God for the endurance of God’s reign, and how God rules with justice and equity. The king is anointed by God, chosen to rule with the same justice and righteousness of God.

In the season of Lent, while we are practicing our faith to draw closer to God, to repent and turn back to God’s ways, we are also reminded that we cannot do it alone. We need one another, and we need the invitation without judgment. It is easy to practice our piety and measure ourselves against others in faithfulness and righteousness. The woman at the well reminds us that it isn’t about what we have done, but what we will do with the knowledge of God’s love, and the most vulnerable among us are the ones who need to know God’s love, grace, and justice by our actions. The parable of the Wedding Banquet emphasizes the actions that are needed: the invitation and welcome of others who in our society would often be left out. The Samaritan woman went from the well to go tell everyone to make sure they knew the good news of the Messiah. So we, too, must go and live into the good news by our actions of invitation, welcome, hospitality, and kindness.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7a, 3)
O come, let us sing to the LORD;
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
O come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For the LORD is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture,
And the sheep of God’s hand.
O come, let us worship our God,
For the LORD is a great God, who reigns over all.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Gracious and Kind God, we confess that we do not extend the same hospitality You have shown us. We avert our eyes from those in need on the streets. We drive by the neighborhoods that are run down without considering our impact. We may take notice of the food deserts and redlining in our cities but feel powerless to do anything. God, call us away from our comfortable ignorance and into the work of radical hospitality, in which we remember our interconnectedness and cannot deny our interdependence. Guide us into Your ways of living out of gratitude and sharing our resources with others. Lead us to listen to those most impacted and marginalized so that we do not center ourselves but truly help transform lives for the better, for those that need the most. In the name of the one who shows us the way, the truth, and the life, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Romans 5:1-2)
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
May we know God’s peace in our hearts and extend God’s peace to one another, in word and deed. May we know the love of God that surpasses all understanding and share that love to those most in need around us. May we understand the call of Christ to forgive as we are forgiven, to rebuild and restore what has been broken, and to live into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

God of Transformation, as we near the edge of winter into spring in the north, and summer into fall in the south of the world, we know that You make all things new. The world is about to become bright and beautiful, but we cannot see it yet. In our own lives we may be facing struggles and challenges that dim our worldview. Remind us, O Loving One, that even if we cannot envision the bright boldness of life in the world, we can trust in the promises You have made us. We know that Your love is beyond measure, Your greatness far beyond what we can imagine. And You will transform this time for us: if it is of bleakness, You will bring light. It is of shadow, You will bring hope. If it is of mourning, You will bring dancing. Even if we cannot comprehend joy in this time, we know it will return, for You are a God worthy of praise and glory, and You have made us in Your image, awesome and wonderful. We pray in Your name, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for March 5, 2023—Second Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

Narrative Lectionary: Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16 (Psalm 16:5-8)

We begin this second Sunday of Lent with the call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-4a. God spoke to our ancestor and told him to go away from his family and homeland to a new place that God would show him (and Sarai). God would bless Abram and Sarai and from them would come a great nation. God would make them and their descendants a blessing to others, making their name great and known, for through them all people of the earth would be blessed. Abram listened to God, and Abram and Sarai, along with Abram’s nephew Lot, followed God’s instructions and left their home.

The psalmist sings of assurance of God’s help in Psalm 121. The hills, the mountains, the high places that were known to be where heaven and earth met in the ancient world—they are not the source of the psalmist’s hope, but the Creator who made heaven and earth. The psalmist sings a blessing: God is the one who keeps the people and protects them from evil. God guards their entrances and their exits, and is with each person at their rising and their lying down, always.

The Epistle reading continues in Romans but backs up a chapter from last week to 4:1-5, 13-17. Paired with the Genesis reading, Paul interprets Abraham’s trust and obedience in God as righteousness. It is not the works that Abraham did but his faith that made him righteous before God. This applies to all people, regardless of those who follow the law or not, as part of Paul’s introduction of his theology of inclusion of Gentiles with the Jewish followers of Jesus in Rome. This section concludes with Paul’s use of the blessing of Abraham into a great nation (“father of many nations”) as an indication of God’s promise of resurrection, a promise of calling things into existence that do not yet exist. A promise that what seems impossible is possible with God.

There are two choices for the Gospel reading this Sunday:

John 3:1-17 contains the famous visit of Nicodemus to Jesus, a Pharisee who knew that Jesus was sent by God but had questions (and seems to indicate there may be other Pharisees who believe and question). Jesus told Nicodemus that no one could see the kingdom of God without being born from above. Nicodemus took this literally and asked how someone could crawl back into their mother’s womb to be born anew. Jesus explained that one must be born of the Spirit. Nicodemus still does not understand, and Jesus explains that if he cannot understand earthly things, he cannot understand heavenly things. Jesus then uses the story of the people in the wilderness in Numbers 21:4-9 who had been quarreling among themselves and God sent poisonous snakes among them. However, when Moses prayed on behalf of the people, God told him to make a serpent and place it on a pole, and that everyone who was bitten would look up at it and would live. To Jesus, this story illustrated that when we look above the quarrels and everyday squabbles of the world and look up at God’s ways, we are living into the Spirit, and that the Son of Man will also be lifted up to save people from sin and death. Perhaps the poisonous snakes were the lies and bitterness and jealousy of the people metaphorically biting each other, lost in their sinful ways. Jesus then teaches that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes would not die but have everlasting life. In the use of the previous metaphor, Jesus’s death and resurrection saves us from ourselves, our own sin, the way the serpent on Moses’s pole saved the people of Israel from their own sinful ways. Verse 17, often omitted, includes that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The second option for the Gospel is Matthew 17:1-9, the same scripture for Transfiguration Sunday. Echoing Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:12-18, Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, in that his appearance changed. And like on Mount Sinai, God’s glory appears through a cloud, coming upon them while Peter is still speaking, trying to make sense of what happened when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. In most English translations, the word used for dwelling is translated as tents, suggesting giving Moses, Elijah, and Jesus equal authority. The Common English Bible uses the word shines, which suggests perhaps worship or elevated significance. In any case, Peter has missed the point, and the point is to listen to God’s beloved Son. The disciples are full of awe, trembling, but Jesus tells them to get up and not be afraid. In verse 9, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about what they saw or experienced until he was raised from the dead. The Transfiguration is a mystery—what exactly happened, we cannot know. But what we can understand is that God is the God of the living, that the same God who spoke through Moses and Elijah spoke through Jesus, and that God is still speaking to us, calling us to listen to the Beloved One.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on the Parables of Jesus with the Laborers in the Vineyard. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable in which a landowner hires laborers throughout the day to work in his vineyard, but at the end of the day pays them all a full day’s wage. The ones who only worked the end of the day were paid the same as those hired at the beginning of the day, and the ones from the beginning of the day grumbled about it being unfair. But the landowner replies that they are doing no harm by being generous, because it was what was agreed to. The punch line is “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Perhaps it was a reminder to those who had been with Jesus for a while that things would not always be fair. Perhaps it was a message to Jewish neighbors listening to him about Gentiles who would be joining. Parables have layers and interpretations, left open for the listener. In any case, it is a reminder that some have it easy, some do not, but God loves us all the same and that wealth and possessions are not blessings from God, but mercy and grace are. This story counters the “prosperity gospel” in that it is actually those who are without and have not received mercy who will know God’s grace first.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 16:5-8 proclaims that the psalmist has received blessings and goodness from God because they have chosen God. Because they have kept close to God, they rejoice, and rest assured of God’s presence

Both the Narrative and Revised Common Lectionaries remind us that God so loved the world God sent us Jesus, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Not to bind us, but to liberate us. To be born anew is to recognize that the dividing line of earth and heaven doesn’t have to exist. We can participate in the reign of God here and now. When we work to dismantle systemic sin, becoming aware of evil in this world instead of participating in it for worldly measures of success, we are participating in a Spirit-led life. When we are born of the Spirit, we know that the flesh, the world we have made of systems and structures of sin, has no true hold on us, not even death. The systems of the world would pit workers and people against each other; the grace of God reminds us there is enough for everyone, inviting us in to share with others and participate in God’s beloved community together, rejoicing for the last as well as the first.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 121)
I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
God will not let your foot be moved; God who keeps you will not slumber.
God who keeps us all will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; God will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
From this time on and forevermore.

As we enter this time of worship,
May we know the God who loves us all is with our rising and our lying down,
Our prayers and praise and petitions,
Our sighs too deep for words,
Our tears and heartache and joy.
Know that God is with you, now and always,
May we bless one another and worship God together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we do not like to be vulnerable. We do not want to appear as weak. We do not want anyone to see our faults and failures. Yet You are the one who made us, and You know every fault, every crack, and You call us beloved, made in Your image. Help us to show grace and mercy to ourselves, O God. May we be tender-hearted in our care of our bodies, minds, and souls, and grant mercy and grace to one another. Deliver us from the ways of this world that cause us to compare and compete, and instead, open us to receive one another and our own selves, with humility, courage, and peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, who cried with the mourners, who feared his own death, who lamented in loneliness, and yet rose again, we pray. Amen.

Know the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are with you, now and always. Know that there is nothing you can do that will separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus. There is no place you can go where God will not find you. You are God’s beloved child. Know that You are forgiven when you forgive one another. Work to mend what needs to be mended, and give over to God what cannot be, and know Christ’s peace is with you, now and always. Amen.

God of the Wild Geese, we pray that You would gather us together, and help us to know the way to go. Like the geese know when to fly, may we know when it is time to move on, and when it is time to sit down. May we know when it is time to rise up and make noise, and when it is time to be still in our heart. May we know our need to gather together, and may we support one another. In this time of Lent, as we wait for the lengthening of the days, as we await the changing of the season, may we know You in the stillness of waiting for the earth to be born anew, as we live into Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. May the God of Wild Geese remind us that we are not alone on this journey of faith. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 26, 2023—First Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Forgiveness, Matthew 18:15-35 (Psalm 32:1-2)

On this first Sunday in Lent, we read the story of God’s allowance to eat any fruit in the garden of creation, except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2:15-17. The first human being was given that command, but in 3:1-7, the serpent tempts the woman and man to eat of the fruit, so that their eyes are opened to the knowledge of good and evil. This creation story centers on the knowledge that God has given us everything, yet when we desire what we do not have, we can be led into sin.

Psalm 32 is a psalm of confession sin before God. The psalmist acknowledges that in trying to hide what was wrong, their entire body suffered and they felt the weight of what they’d done upon them in the form of God’s hand. However, when they turned to God and confessed, God forgave “the guilt of their sin.” The guilt of sin often weighs on us more than the wrongdoing itself, that can only be released when confessed. The psalmist encourages those who are faithful to pray and to follow God’s instructions and counsel. Those who put their trust in God will know God’s faithfulness and steadfast love.

The Epistle readings in Lent are in Romans for weeks 1-3 and week 5. Paul juxtaposes Adam with Christ in 5:12-19, with Adam’s sin bringing death into the world and Christ’s death bringing life back into the world. Adam’s actions condemned all and lead to death, but Christ’s actions justify all and lead to life. Paul concludes this section with juxtaposing sin with grace. Sin had dominion through death, but grace has dominion through Christ’s death, giving us eternal life.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness occurs in 4:1-11. Unlike Mark, Matthew lists three temptations that Jesus faced, which are the same in Luke but the last two are reversed. In all three temptations, Jesus quotes scripture back at the devil to refute, rebuke, and refuse. The first temptation takes place when Jesus is hungry after fasting and praying, the purpose of which was to draw closer to God by emptying himself. The temptation to abuse the power within him is refuted when he quotes the Torah, holding on to the reason of his fast. The Son of God draws closer to God by becoming as human as possible, hungry and in need. The second temptation also involves abusing his power as the Son of God, to prove himself to others by testing God. The devil quotes Psalm 91 atop the pinnacle of the temple, but Jesus rebukes the devil by quoting again from the Torah to not put God to the test. We draw closer to God when we rebuke the powers of the world we have made, the power of empire and oppression. Finally, the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will bow down and worship him. At this point, Jesus tells the devil to go away and again quotes from the same portion of Deuteronomy, refusing to worship the devil, and to worship and serve only God. Once the devil left Jesus, angels came and waited on him. Jesus drew closer to heaven in his refusal to serve or desire the empires and powers of this world, and so we, too, draw closer to the reign of God when we refuse to serve powers of oppression and domination.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-35. In 15-20, Jesus instructs the disciples on how to settle disputes within the church. The account of Matthew was probably written at least forty to fifty years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, long after the establishment of the early church, so it makes sense that some instruction was embedded in the gospel to help guide the listeners/readers of Matthew’s community in resolving disputes and reconciling to one another. Verses 21-22 contain Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness, also contained in Luke. Not meant to be taken literally, Jesus’s reply to Peter about needing to forgive more than seven times is that forgiveness is a process, it takes time and work. Verses 23-35 is a difficult parable illustrating that we must forgive people for the things we continue to do. It’s important to note that in the Lord’s prayer, when we pray for forgiveness of our sins (or trespasses or debts), we are asking for forgiveness as we forgive those who have sinned against us. We are asking God to forgive the things we do because we will forgive others who do the same things, for the servant forgiven of his debt would not forgive others indebted to him. This is not about forgiving an abuser, a murderer, an oppressor—we must hold them accountable, and we do not forgive others for things we would never do. But the things we still do to one another—this is what Jesus teaches us we must also forgive—if we want to be forgiven.

Psalm 32 is the psalm today for the Revised Common Lectionary, and verses 1-2 are the supplemental verses for the Narrative Lectionary. The psalmist in these first two verses blesses those who have turned to God and know God’s forgiveness. Blessed are those who are honest and true before God, those who do not try to deceive God and others about their sins.

Lent is the season of forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In this season, historically Christians have fasted and prayed, remembering to turn back to God and remember their own mortality. As Christ died for us, we attempt to die to ourselves, to our own desires, and resolve to focus on God and God’s ways. Resisting the ways of this world that human beings have created—the desire for power over others and wealth and possessions—is part of the practice of Lent, of what we fast from and pray for (Isaiah 58:1-12). The need to deny ourselves is not about self-depravation or a need to sacrifice our own health or worth. Rather, it is looking to Jesus who became closer to God when he became more like us, reminded of his own mortality and refusing to squander it by jumping off a tower. Instead, he sought to serve others and continues to teach us that denying ourselves is not so we diminish, but to lift up one another. In the Narrative lectionary, forgiveness is not something we do so we can become door mats, but rather we recognize our own sin in the sin of others, and work to change our lives while forgiving others who are struggling the same.

Call to Worship (from Micah 6:6-8)
God has shown you, mortal beings, what is good,
And what does the Lord require of you?
God requires us to take notice of injustice and to act in just ways.
What does God desire of you?
God desires that our hearts break open for one another,
to practice loving-kindness.
What does God hope for you?
God hopes that we will recognize our own humanity,
Releasing our privilege and power over others,
To live in humility with God and one another.
This is how we change the world:
We begin by changing our own hearts and lives,
Before God and one another.
We enter this time of worship,
Preparing to live into the Way, the Truth, and the Life,
Of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Wilderness, we confess that we do not always resist temptation. It is easy to fall into the ways of this world we have made. The world’s problems are too big, and we desire to make things comfortable and easy for ourselves and those close to us. We ignore those in need around us, we allow injustice, and we deceive ourselves into thinking we can’t do anything about the concerns of poverty and oppression around us. Call us into accountability, O God, to do the hard work of taking notice of the reality among us. To listen to the stories of those who have been oppressed even when it is hard for us to hear. To change our ways of life so that others may live. Lead us into right paths, O God, out of the wilderness of security and into the way promised for us, for Your name’s sake. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (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.

God is always near you, even if you cannot feel it. The Holy Spirit is within you, even if you do not notice it. Christ is always beside you, even if you cannot comprehend it. You are made in the image of God, beloved. You are precious. You are forgiven of your sins. Go and love one another. Tell others they are made in the image of God, and show them how much God loves them, and you will know God’s love.

Holy Spirit, one who is with us in the wilderness, guide our path. Some of us are lost and confused, others have gone astray. All of us, at one point, feel distant from You. Remind us that we need to be fed by spiritual food, the bread of life, the living water of salvation. Remind us that there is no need to test others or God, and that if we wait, we will know Your presence. Keep us to the promise that if we live for You, the powers of the world humanity has made will not have a hold on us. We can belong and participate in the kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven, and the power and dominance and oppression of empire will not endure. Holy Spirit, guide us forward. Amen.

Worship Resources for February 19th, 2023—Transfiguration Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Matthew 16:24-17:8 (Psalm 41:7-10)

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday in this season after the Epiphany, preparing us for Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 22nd).

We begin with Exodus 24:12-18, when Moses went up the mountain to receive tablets from God with the instructions and commandments God had given Moses for the people. God’s glory appeared like a cloud on the mountain, and it remained for six days, before God called up Moses to enter the cloud on the seventh day. In a sense, this was a new creation, the creating of God’s people through the covenant at Mt. Sinai. And Moses remained up on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2 is a song questioning the authority of earthly kings when God is the one who reigns. God has appointed an earthly king (the king of Israel in vs. 7). The psalmist warns the earthly kings and rulers to turn to wisdom and serve God, because God has called the king of Israel to serve them, and other kings must follow.

An alternative reading is Psalm 99, which is also a royal psalm, calling the people to worship God as their king. God is committed to justice and equity and has established justice in Israel. Moses and Aaron were priests who served God, along with the prophet Samuel. As God spoke with them and they followed God’s ways, so the people ought to serve and worship God. The psalmist recalls how God spoke through the pillar of cloud at Sinai and how these ancestral leaders remained faithful to God. The psalmist concludes by calling the people to worship God at the holy mountain (Sinai for the people in the wilderness, Zion for the people in Jerusalem, where the temple was erected), for God is holy.

The Epistle reading is 2 Peter 1:16-21. The writer purports to be Peter who witnessed the transfiguration on the mountain. The writer uses this moment to justify their letter and beliefs, for a church well after the time of Jesus’s death and resurrection that was beginning to question whether Christ would return. The writer states they are not embellishing anything, they are merely sharing what they experienced and saw and learned. This comes from God, not from any human authority.

Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus occurs in 17:1-9. Echoing Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai, Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, in that his appearance changed. And like on Mount Sinai, God’s glory appears through a cloud, coming upon them while Peter is still speaking, trying to make sense of what happened when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. In most English translations, the word used for dwelling is translated as tents, suggesting giving Moses, Elijah, and Jesus equal authority. The Common English Bible uses the word shines, which suggests perhaps worship or elevated significance. In any case, Peter has missed the point, and the point is to listen to God’s beloved Son. The disciples are full of awe, trembling, but Jesus tells them to get up and not be afraid. In verse 9, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about what they saw or experienced until he was raised from the dead. The Transfiguration is a mystery—what exactly happened, we cannot know. But what we can understand is that God is the God of the living, that the same God who spoke through Moses and Elijah spoke through Jesus, and that God is still speaking to us, calling us to listen to the Beloved One.

The Narrative Lectionary also follows the Transfiguration in Matthew, but begins in 16:24, with Jesus’s instructions on denying themselves and taking up their cross in order to follow him. Those who want to save their lives here in this world (the world we have made, of systems of wealth and power) will lose their lives, and those who lose their lives in this world will find life with Christ. The world we have made values life with worldly measures of success, security, wealth and power; finding life with Christ means denying those things have value and instead values relationship, mercy, compassion, justice and love. Why gain everything of the world we have made and have nothing at the end of it? There will come a reckoning where people will be paid back for what they have done, according to the writer of Matthew. A vision of what is to come occurs in 17:1-8, the Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah, who gave up their worldly life, having eternity with God.

The supplementary verses of Psalm 41:7-10 are the cries of a psalmist in anguish as people plot against them. They have been betrayed even by their closest friends. But they pray to God for mercy, to be raised up so they can pay back what others have done to them.

The Transfiguration is perhaps one of my least favorite stories personally because it is so mysterious. We don’t really know what happened on the mountain, or why Peter said what he said. We have lost much to history and cultural understandings that we no longer hold. However, in the ancient world, mountaintops were places where it was understood that heaven and earth met. The veil between this life and eternal life was thin. While we no longer physically understand heaven to be above us, we do understand that there are times in our lives when we feel closer to God and to those who have gone before us. What do we learn from them and those experiences? What does it teach us when we impose worldly values on our beliefs of heaven? Do we think we can take worldly wealth and power with us? Jesus, time and again, spoke of becoming last of all and servant of all. Denying ourselves to take up our cross to follow him. Denying the power and sway of the world we have made—our systems of economic injustice, inequality, oppression and marginalization—and instead, living for others in the reign of God. Serving one another, caring for one another, laying down our lives for one another—Christ has shown us the way in this life, now, for how to live in eternity.

Call to Worship (paraphrase of Psalm 99)
The Lord is Creator of all! May we tremble in awe.
May we praise God’s great and awesome name.
Our Mighty God is a lover of justice,
May we strive for equity and righteousness.
When our ancestors cried out to God, God answered them,
And God responds to our prayers and pleas.
Worship the Wondrous and Mighty One,
Holy is our God!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Mystery of Mysteries, we confess that we think we know far too much than we actually do. We think we know right from wrong, good from bad. We think we know who is beloved by You and who is not. We think we have the authority to judge. We have messed up badly. Wondrous God, call us back into Your ways of love and mercy and turn us away from snap judgments and overconfident perceptions. Remind us that of all You have made in this universe, we are but a grain of sand. Yet You have loved us, molded and shaped us. Call us back into a place of awe and wonder, a place where we question and listen more than we demand and answer. May we become slow to judge, quick to forgive, develop a posture of compassionate listening, and silence the voices that make us think we know better. In the name of our Wise God, our Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

The Beloved One loves us all, and has shown us the way, the truth, and the life. Love one another. Serve one another. Be moved by empathy and compassion and love, and not by measures of success in this world such as wealth and fame and worldly power. Listen, seek, serve, and love, and it shall go well with you. You are God’s beloved, and God calls you to follow the Beloved One, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom you are forgiven, loved and restored. Amen.

God of Mystery, God of Transfiguration, help us to view the world differently. Help us to experience places where heaven and earth meet, where the veil is thin, where we view life through Your lens. Help us to find the holy wherever we are, to experience mystery and wonder. May we experience awe that causes us to tremble in Your presence. May we hear Your voice call to us, and may we feel You gently help us up when we are down. May we experience the holy all around us, knowing You are ever-present and faithful. Your steadfast love endures forever, in us, around us, and beyond us. Amen.