Worship Resources for January 29th, 2022—Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Treasure in Heaven, Matthew 6:7-21 (25-34) (Psalm 20:7)

The prophet Micah spoke to a people who had gone astray from God’s ways. The prophet lays out the lawsuit before the mountains, before creation in 6:1-5. God brought the people out of Egypt, out of oppression, led by God’s faithful leaders: the siblings Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. God brought the people through the wilderness and rescued them from the king of Moab, delivering the people into the land promised them. The people are called upon to remember what God has done for them. In verses 6-8, there is a response to the charges—though there are all manners of ways that the people could give offerings and sacrifices, when would it end? When would the people have done enough? God has shown the people what is good: what God requires is justice, compassionate love, and humility in relationship with God.

Psalm 15 asks the question of who may enter God’s holy presence. Used as part of the liturgy before entering the temple, the psalmist’s question causes those who would enter to pause and reflect on their own behavior. Are they faithful to God’s ways, to all God has taught and commanded? If so, these are the ones who do right, who are truthful and pure in heart. They will not stumble in their journey with God.

The Epistle reading continues in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, repeating verse 18 from last week on the theme of wisdom verses foolishness. Paul argues in 1:18-31 that proclaiming Christ crucified is a stumbling block for those who demanded signs, because God is not supposed to die. For those who relied on philosophical insight, the cross is foolish, because once you’re dead, there is no coming back. Christ dying on the cross is not the sign of a strong god or a wise god; it appears foolish and weak. But to those who know Christ, this is the sign: Christ laid down his life for us and lives again. This is not the wisdom or power of the world, but God’s wisdom and power of resurrection. Christ became one of us and died as one of us so that no one may boast, for no one else can do this. Most of the followers of Jesus, especially in Corinth, had no power, few were educated or had any status in society. Yet they were the faithful ones, because they believed. Instead of rationalizing and looking for signs, they simply believed. This is foolishness to the world, but it is the saving power of Christ.

The Gospel lesson contains Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (this was a portion of last week’s Narrative Lectionary reading). After the crowds began to follow him in his ministry in Galilee, they gathered and followed him from several other places, including Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan. They gathered with Jesus on top of a mountain, where he sat down (like rabbis did in those days) and taught them. Jesus shared blessings in verses 3-11 to those who usually did not receive good news: the poor in spirit (Luke just uses poor), those who are grieving, those who are powerless, those who strive for righteousness and justice, those who are kind and compassionate, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. Jesus concludes this section with a blessing for those who experience gossip and slander and persecution against them because they follow Jesus. Their reward, as for all those who has listed, will be great in God’s reign, and their experience is the same as the prophets who came before them.

The Narrative Lectionary continues Jesus’s teachings beyond the Beatitudes in 6:17-21. Jesus teaches the disciples to not pray as they have seen others (sometimes Jesus compares the Pharisees or lawyers of other groups; this time he chose to compare the Gentiles). Instead of flashy, showy prayers, one ought to pray simply to God for God’s reign to come on earth, for their daily needs to be met, for forgiveness, and strength to avoid temptation. Jesus further instructs the disciples on fasting, that they not be hypocritical, because fasting is supposed to be an inward practice, not an outward call for pity. Jesus concludes this section with a teaching about storing up treasure in heaven—not worldly possessions on earth but aligning one’s life with what God desires for us.

An alternative, or additional reading for the Narrative Lectionary continues in verses 25-34. Jesus teaches the disciples not to worry about the day-to-day needs. God provides for the earth, God will surely provide for us if we strive for God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. When we work to fulfill the needs of others, our own needs are met. When we care for the earth, the earth provides for us. If we worry about taking care of ourselves first before others, we will never be satisfied.

The supplementary verse is Psalm 20:7, about taking pride in God and not in the powers and wealth of the world.

How do we live our lives in faithfulness to Christ? Are we living for worldly measures of success, of power, wealth, and notoriety? Someone posted recently on Facebook the concept that we have to give up being the hero. For white Americans, many of us were raised with the idea we could do and be anything, and if we don’t do it all or have it all, we aren’t as good as we could be. The privilege we are born into, even if we are unaware of it, or even if we experience hardships such as economic inequality—our privilege still often leads us to believe we have to have it all or that we have failed. We have to be the hero who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, or we have failed. Jesus teaches the exact opposite—blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the powerless and the merciful and the ones who strive for justice even if they never receive it on earth, for theirs is the reign of God. Jesus taught us to become last of all and servant of all. Paul teaches that the world sees the cross as foolishness, and the ways of success in this world are foolish to God. Turn to Christ, who is our Savior, and give up your own need to be the hero of your story. Lay down your desires and perceived need to have it all. Instead, care for the needs of others, care for the earth, and God will care for all of us.

Call to Worship
Blessed are the ones who fall short,
For God is the one who lifts us up.
Blessed are the ones who are distressed,
For God is with us, waiting patiently.
Blessed are the ones who dragged themselves out of bed,
For God is with us in our lying down and our rising up.
Blessed are the tired, the broken-hearted, the distraught,
For God knows us to our bones, knows our very needs.
Blessed are you who have joined in worship,
For God is with you, right now.
Wherever you are, online or in-person,
Blessed are you, because You are God’s beloved child.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come to this time of confession, O God, knowing that our hearts are fractured. Each of us has experienced brokenness: broken hearts, broken relationships, broken dreams, broken cars, broke wallets, broken toys, broken bones. It may be a small piece, a brokenness we carry but move on with. It may be such a break that our lives have never been the same. You are the Great Physician. You do not erase our breaks and wounds, but bring healing, which can be painful in the process. We are healed by You when we mend one another. Remind us to reach out to one another, through texts and calls and old-fashioned technology such as greeting cards and notes, for this is mending. Guide us in prayer for one another, for this is healing work. Keep us in the practice of making casseroles and filling coffee pots and the deep art of listening to one another. This is all part of Your healing work in our lives, for You guide us in Your mending. May we mend one another, and know Your love is repairing and restoring us as You intended us to be. Amen.

Assurance/Blessing (adapted from the hymn “He Giveth More Grace” by Annie Johnson Flint)
God’s love has no limits, God’s grace has no measure,
God’s power has no boundary; there is no end.
For out of God’s infinite riches in Jesus
We are given, and given, and given again.
There is no limit to God’s love and forgiveness for you. Turn back to God and live into God’s ways, and believe that you are God’s beloved child through Jesus Christ. Go forth and live into God’s grace into this world, and share that grace, love, healing, and forgiveness with one another. Amen.

Creator of the Universe, it is unimaginable how much You love us. On this one planet out of thousands, perhaps millions of bodies You created in the universe, You love us. You created us in Your image, and then came to us as one of us, living as one of us, and dying as one of us. We cannot comprehend this, O God. Of all the mysteries of the universe, the galaxies and star clusters and elements we have not imagined yet, You love us, to the point of knowing the hairs on our heads. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remind us in every breath, in every taste, with every sound and sight and smallest speck of dust, we are wonderful to You, and You are amazing and wonderful to us. You are God, and we know You. A God of many names, with one Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray and have new life. Amen.

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