Worship Resources for January 31st, 2021—Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

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

Narrative Lectionary: Healing on the Sabbath, Luke 6:1-16 (Psalm 92)

Moses, as part of his final discourse to the people in Deuteronomy, spoke to the people about their future in 18:15-20. God would raise up a prophetic line that would intermediate between God and the people. Because of the tradition that if one beheld the face of God or heard the voice of God they would die, God chose prophets to speak to them instead. More importantly, God would choose someone from among them, not an outsider, to speak to them. They would speak for no other god, or they would die—and God would hold the prophets accountable for what they said on God’s behalf.

The psalmist sings praise to God in the midst of the congregation in Psalm 111. God is the one who keeps the covenant with the people, even providing food for those in awe of God. The psalmist praises God for God’s works and power, shown to the people and studied by the faithful. Those who are in awe of God have the beginning of wisdom. God has redeemed the people through the covenant, and God’s precepts and ordinances are established forever for the faithful.

Paul speaks to a specific concern in the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. In the city of Corinth and many other Greek cities, meat to eat was obtained at the temples to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon after they were sacrificed. For the new Greek converts in the church in Corinth, they took the call to not serve idols very seriously and abandoned eating meat. For Paul and other Jewish followers of Jesus, who did not believe in any other gods existing besides God, it was of no concern, but Paul urged them not to become stumbling blocks for the new Greek believers. If it came down to it, Paul would never eat meat again rather than causing an issue for a new believer to fall away.

Jesus speaks in a synagogue in Capernaum in Mark 1:21-28, and astounds the members of the synagogue as he teaches with authority. A man with an unclean spirit challenges Jesus, and Jesus rebukes the spirit, which leaves the man alone. The people who witness this are astonished at Jesus’ authority even over unclean spirits, and declare it a “new teaching—with authority.” The word gets out throughout Galilee of what Jesus is able to do.

The Narrative Lectionary follows Jesus in Luke’s account, healing on the Sabbath in Luke 6:1-16 right before he appoints the twelve disciples to be apostles. Jesus and his disciples pluck grain and eat the grain heads on the Sabbath, and some of the religious leaders question why he is doing this on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by reminding them that David ate the bread of presence in the Temple, reserved only for priests, and ate it along with his companions when they were hungry. On another Sabbath, Jesus also taught in a synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand. Jesus questions the religious leaders as whether it is lawful to do good on the sabbath or not. Jesus’ questions are about what the Sabbath is for—is it to keep law and order, or is it to do God’s will? It does us well to remember that not all Jewish leaders understood the Sabbath in this way, and that Jesus’ questioning was in line with how rabbis in Jesus’ day learned from each other, by questioning and discussing with each other the teachings of scripture.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist gives thanks to God and sings for joy for what God has done for themselves as well as for all the people, as they worship God and ponder God’s works. God has delivered the psalmist from their enemies. The faithful are like planted trees, an image from Psalm 1, that God helps to grow strong and flourish and produce fruit, even in old age. This psalm has a notation that it is a psalm for the Sabbath day.

“The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom.” This is a phrase repeated throughout Wisdom literature, especially in Psalms and Proverbs. All too often, human beings like to reign in God, to claim to know how God works through our own human understanding. Jesus’ questions about the Sabbath, or calling out unclean spirits, spoke to the people of a new understanding of how God was at work—a “new authority.” However, God often spoke to the people throughout the Bible in new ways—raising up prophets, inspiring the sages of old who taught about the awe, or fear, of God. God is beyond our understanding, and our attempts to place limits on what God can do or act often fail—and sometimes, others are excluded, marginalized, and oppressed by our attempts to limit our understanding of God. Paul warned against this in the church in Corinth. Nonetheless, God manages to show us God’s works despite human beings attempts, and human beings go in waves of understanding God is doing something new.

Call to Worship
God is awe-inspiring, more wondrous than the depths of space,
God is the Creator of the Universe, beyond our understanding.
God is Almighty, powerful and amazing,
And God is also in the stillness, the Spirit moving in the breeze.
God is far beyond our comprehension,
Yet God knows each of us, and God is made known to us.
We worship God, though we do not fully understand now,
We know that God is still being revealed to us, through us, and in us.
God is here, among us now, wherever we are gathered.
Listen to the movement of the Spirit, and follow Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we have placed limits on You. We’ve tried to fit you into a box of theology, a box of polity and rules, a box of limited human understanding. You’ve broken the world, even the universe, open to us again and again, but still we try to be gatekeepers. O forgive us, our human, faulty selves, for not listening to You, for not comprehending, for not simply sitting in Wisdom’s understanding and contemplating Your teaching. Forgive our selfish impulses to try to reign You in and put harmful limitations on others. Call us into Your deeper ways of understanding, and may we truly love one another and love You, for this is what You have commanded. In the name of Wisdom, in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Spirit among us, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love is with us, always, for God is love. That love has no boundaries or borders, no limits. God’s love is within you, now. You are forgiven, because you are beloved of God, so much so that Jesus came and showed us the way, the truth, and the life. Go into the world with the grace of God, and share God’s love. Amen.

God Who Speaks, speak in our hearts the way You spoke over the depths of creation. Speak to us tenderly the way You spoke to the first human beings. Speak to us as You spoke to Moses, as one speaks to a friend. Speak in our hearts, speak in our bodies to remind us that we are made in Your image and made to be good. Speak to us in the stillness and silence the way You spoke to Elijah long ago. Speak to us as You speak to the poets and prophets of all the ages. Speak to us through art and dance and music. Speak to us in the waves on the water and the gentle breeze. Speak to us, O God, so we may remember Your voice, in all the ways You speak to us. Amen.

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