Worship Resources for January 28, 2024—Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Jairus’s Daughter Healed, Mark 5:21-43 (Psalm 131)

In Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses prepared the people before they entered the promised land, knowing he would not go with them. The people requested God to raise up a new prophet after Moses, because they believed if they heard the voice of God themselves, they would die. God promised to raise up a prophet from among them, someone who would speak on behalf of God and God’s ways. God would hold accountable those who did not listen to God’s words through the prophet, and God would also hold accountable any prophet who spoke words God did not say or spoke on behalf of other gods.

Psalm 111 is a Hebrew alphabet acrostic poem, like many of the psalms, and is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God. The psalmist speaks in the first person but on behalf of the congregation, telling all the wonderful deeds of God who has been faithful to the covenant with the people. God’s ways are established for eternity, for the covenant was established forever. The psalm concludes with a reminder that the fear, or awe, of God is the beginning of wisdom. Those who are in awe of God have a foundation, a good understanding for how to live.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth about how to live with others and cultural differences in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. The church in Corinth was predominantly Greek, but some of its members were newer to the faith than others. While Paul knows that the church leaders know there are no other gods but God and no idols are real, some of those who have recently begun to follow Christ might be appalled at those eating meat, for meat was obtained at the local temple sacrifice to the Greek pantheon. For Paul this wasn’t an issue—those gods didn’t exist, it’s just meat, buy it and eat it. But he knew for new converts this might be a struggle because of how that sacrificed meat was determined as sacred by the Greeks, and suggests that if this was a stumbling block, don’t eat meat around those who view it as offered out of sacrifice. Even if we have the knowledge that there are no idols or gods, we ought not to hold it over others, but rather to live out of compassion and kindness. How we live ought to be a reflection of the same love we have from Christ, who died on behalf of all of us.

In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus taught for the first time at a synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus astounded the people there because he taught differently than the scribes—he taught with authority. When a man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue and challenged Jesus, Jesus rebuked the spirit, and it left the man. The people who witnessed this were amazed at this new teaching with authority, authority that even the spirits obeyed him. This is a hard passage for us today to interpret and understand. In the first century, the understanding of the spiritual world and the physical world was such that everything had both a physical and spiritual component. Jesus addressed the evil spirit and rebuked it. Perhaps the authority Jesus demonstrated was knowing that this person needed help in that moment—not something to be pushed off, addressed at another time. Consistently through scripture, when someone comes to Jesus with an immediate need, he immediately (especially in Mark’s gospel account as Mark loves that word immediately) addressed the person and the need.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the healing of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:21-43, which also contains within it a story of a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years. Jairus, the leader of a synagogue, came to Jesus and begged him to help his daughter who was near death. Jesus went right away with his disciples, but on the way to the little girl, a woman reached out and touched the hem of his cloak. Jesus stopped to ask who touched him, and his disciples tried to urge him along because they were in a crowd, anyone could have touched him, but Jesus knew someone had reached out to him in faith and had been healed. The woman who had bled for twelve years crossed several social boundaries (being a woman, being unclean) and touched him out of faith. In turn, Jesus called her “Daughter” and told her that her faith had made her well. Jesus continued on to Jairus’s house, where he was told the girl had died, but he told them the girl was not dead but sleeping, and he called to the girl, “Little girl, get up.” Jesus addressed both the woman in need of healing and this girl with tenderness and care and addressed their immediate needs.

Psalm 131 is a short prayer, focusing on trusting in God like a young child trusts their mother, who fed them before and will feed them in new ways. The psalmist concludes this prayer calling upon the people to put their trust in God now and always.

Wisdom might be the theme for this day in both lectionaries, being in awe of God. Putting one’s trust and hope in God the way Jairus and the woman who was bleeding put their trust in Jesus, and like the psalmist of Psalm 131, quieting their soul and knowing their hope comes from God. The beginning of wisdom in the passage from Deuteronomy starts with trusting the voice of our ancestors through the prophets in our scriptures. For Paul, the beginning of wisdom is knowing when not to flaunt knowledge but to rely instead on love and compassion and kindness. The wisdom we see in Jesus in Mark 1:21-28 is that Jesus did not ignore the needs of the person who came into the synagogue, who probably made others uncomfortable, even embarrassed. Jesus addressed the spiritual issue before them as one with authority and did not push aside or ignore the person’s needs. The beginning of wisdom is being in awe of God, that knee-trembling notion that God is far beyond what we can comprehend or imagine, yet it teaches us again and again to love one another, practice kindness and compassion, hospitality and humility, to remember what we have been taught from our ancestors, and to live into Christ’s ways.

Call to Worship (Psalm 111:1-4, 9-10)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
In the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.
God has gained renown by God’s wonderful deeds;
The LORD is gracious and merciful.
God sent redemption to the people; God has commanded the covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
All those who practice it have a good understanding.
God’s praise endures forever.

Prayer of Invocation
Almighty and Amazing God, we come before You in awe and wonder that You have made another day. You have made the heavens and the earth and the vast universe that surrounds us, and You made each of us in Your image. We can’t begin to imagine everything that You have done for us and all that You do in the universe. Nonetheless, we set aside this time and space to give You praise, to bring our prayers before You, and to share together in thanksgiving and love in this time of worship. Guide our hearts and minds to follow You in all Your ways. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Mercy and Love, we come before You confessing that we have failed to show mercy, failed to extend kindness and compassion, and have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have ignored those in need like the priest and the Levite instead of becoming the good Samaritan for others. We have been embarrassed by the actions and words of those who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses and have failed to offer care and concern. We have been afraid of losing our own precious time and resources and have passed by those who call out to us for help. Forgive us for our failures. Remind us of how You have shown us love and mercy in every moment of our lives and call us back into Your ways. Challenge us to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Remind us that every failure is an opportunity to do better next time. Guide us so that we might live better into Your ways of doing justice, practicing loving-kindness, and walking humbly with You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from John 3:16-17)
God love us so much God sent the only Son to us, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. God doesn’t use our mistakes and shortcomings to condemn us, but that we might learn and do better. God doesn’t hold them against us like a scorecard of wrongdoings, but rather picks us up like a child, dusts off our knees, gives us a hug and reminds us to go back out and learn so we can do the right thing. God does not condemn you. God wants you to be saved, and to help save others from the harm of injustice, the harm of ignorance, the harm of hate. God needs you. So know this: you are forgiven. You are loved. Learn and do better. Now go, play, help, repair, and heal the world. Amen.

Compassionate One, this month always seems like the longest of the year, moving away from the joy of Christmas and the hopes of the new year, having long left the starlight the magi followed, to find a different way. We look back and see that You have been with us, and You are continuing to lead us on. For the resolutions and goals and intentions that have already fallen away, help us to leave them behind, and instead, remember that each day is a new beginning with You. Each day is one full rotation of the Earth and one million six hundred thousand miles from where we were yesterday. We are always moving, O God, and You are moving with us, and leading us forward. As we prepare to say goodbye to January and hello to February, these marks on the calendar, the days, months, and years that we created, we give You thanks for what has passed, and pray for what is to come. Lead us on, Sojourning God, for Your time is not our time. You are what has been, what is, and what is to come, the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty Ancient of Days, and Spirit of New Life. Amen.

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