6th Sunday after Epiphany

February 12, 2023

Lectionary Texts

In Deuteronomy 30.15-20 God sets before us a choice: God’s ways, which lead to life, and the world’s ways, which lead to death. God implores us to choose life.

Psalm 119.1-8
celebrates the life and power of living in faithfulness to God. (Each verse of this psalm speaks of God’s Word or law using a different metaphor: God’s ways, testimonies, precepts, commands, statutes…)

1 Corinthians 3.1-9 The apostle Paul is troubled to hear of divisions in the church in Corinth. He reminds them that it is God who creates and grows the church, not any individual. We are all God’s servants, God’s tools—we are God’s farm!

In Matthew 5.21-37 Jesus examines the laws of God not as legal requirements, but as guides to love. He addresses laws concerning murder (which he sees in terms of respect and reconciliation) adultery and divorce (in terms of what causes us to sin) and swearing oaths (about being true to our word).
       NOTE: From year to year the Epiphany season expands or contracts to make room for Lent and Easter, which follow the lunar calendar. This year the seventh and eighth Sundays after Epiphany are omitted. In the lectionary those weeks include some of Jesus’ central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, teachings crucial to Christian faith and practice. Since the lectionary omits them this year I encourage you to consider skipping the assigned reading this week (Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce) and substitute next week’s reading: Matthew 5. 38-48,regarding love of enemy. It’s really the beating heart of Jesus’ faith. If you do choose this route, you might also want to substitute next weeks Hebrew Bible reading as well: Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18, in which God sets out laws that protect the rights and well-being of the poor, and provide for integrity, compassion and justice in the community: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Preaching Thoughts

Jesus says, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” He is not denying, refuting or doing away with religious laws: he’s escalating them. He’s getting at the real heart of the law, which is not merely avoiding doing terrible things, but actually loving your neighbor—even those who hurt you. So when he talks about murder it’s not just about not killing, it’s about not diminishing another’s life in any way. The prohibition against adultery is not merely a matter of avoiding extra-martial sex, it’s about being faithful in every way.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to actually love people. Not use them, not try to get around them to some higher purpose, but to love them fully and deeply, with no other desire or agenda—not even to be right. Jesus asks us to care about the person, regardless of how they bear or project their pain, regardless of how they treat us. In an argument, Jesus invites us to stop trying to win, and instead just try to love them. Even if it’s really important that they get what we’re saying, Jesus says love them first, love them totally no matter what—then add in trying to get your point across, in a way that deepens your love for them.

The heart of all this is that our primary energy is love, and love supersedes all our other motivations, energies, loyalties and desires, including the desire to win out over our enemies. Jesus’ command to love always and only is the toughest of all, especially in situations of conflict, because we want to dilute our love with wanting to win or teach a lesson or get even, or divert our love entirely to protect ourselves and abandon the well-being of others. To love even our enemies requires the deepest continual self-examination, repentance and discipline.

Jesus asks us to love unconditionally. But, golly, we want to reserve at least a few conditions, don’t we? Jesus doesn’t give us room for that. So of course we fail. We fail miserably. We don’t always love our neighbor as ourselves; we don’t often love our enemies. Jesus’ escalation of the law seems overwhelming. “Be perfect, as God is perfect.” It’s too much! When we truly confront the serious requirement of the law, we feel like giving up. “Sorry, Jesus. I just can’t do that. Go find somebody else, somebody better then me to follow you. Sorry.”

When we really get honest and admit that sometimes I feel like that, that’s when Jesus comes. He comes and sits down next to me and says, “Hey. I love you.” “But I’m a miserable failure! I’m no good.” “I know. In fact, you’re worse than you think. But I love you.” And I begin to see how I expect Jesus to put conditions on his love, that since I’m a lousy disciple he must love me less. But he doesn’t buy that. He loves me unconditionally. And when I let that love flood into me, and fill me, it overflows. Then I see clearly: Of course I don’t have enough love. I don’t have any love at all. It’s all God’s love, flowing through me. It’s not mine. All I have to do is get myself out of the way and let God’s love flow through. Turns out I’m not the salt of the earth. I’m the saltshaker.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God of all Creation, your beauty surrounds us.
All: We thank you.
Jesus, compassion of God, you reach out to the wounded and the abused.
We join you.
Holy Spirit, you give us love, wisdom and courage.
We open ourselves to your grace.
Shape us by your power as vessels of your mercy.


2.
Leader: God of love, we are not alone.
All: We are one with all Creation, and we thank you.
You come to us in our neighbors, with love and blessing.
We are one in Christ, and we praise you.
You live in us, and your love binds us together.
In your Spirit we are one, and we serve you with gladness;
we worship you with joy. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: God of Creation, we come in awe.
All: In wonder, we praise you.
Christ, our brother, our savior, we come in gratitude.
In joy, we thank you.
Holy Spirit, spirit of life, we come in humility.
In faith, we give ourselves to you.
Receive us, change our hearts, and give us in love to the world.
God of love, we are yours.
Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Beauty, you surround us.
All: Alleluia!
Love, you come to us.
Alleluia!
Wonder, you stir in us.
Alleluia!
God of light, we worship you. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of grace and mercy, you call us to love. Our hearts swirl with many feelings; our hands tremble with many fears and desires. Receive all our emotions, calm our wandering minds, and settle us in your love. Shape us with the gentle hands of your grace as vessels of your mercy, in the name and spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
God of truth, we hear it said there are things we should do and ought to do. But we long to know what you want us to do. We long to listen to your voice alone, and hear your Word, to know your desire for us. Speak to us. Teach us your will, and lead us in the path of your love. Give us Jesus, to show us your ways, and we will follow. Amen.

3.
God of truth, we have heard your law, and we seek to be faithful. Our obedience falters; our understanding is weak. Speak to us and write your law on our hearts, that we might truly be faithful not in duty, but in love and joy. Amen.

4.
God of life, your love is the sun in our darkness. May the light of your love dawn upon us, flood our hearts, and make us holy. Show us your Way, and lead us in your path, and we will shine with your love, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

5.
Gentle and almighty God, the world is in turmoil and you call us to peace. The world is in conflict and you call us to love. The world is in pain, and you call us to healing. In the dark and chaos speak your Word of light. Our hearts are open. Fill us with your life. We pray in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, we open ourselves in honesty to God.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see what is in us that is loving,
and what is not loving.

God, we recall when we have been in harmony with you,
or with life, and we give thanks.
[silent prayer…]
We recall when we have been out of harmony, and we seek your grace.
[silent prayer…]
God of mercy, in Christ you have shown us your grace.
Forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
Silent prayer … the word of grace

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

As the roots of trees
gather water and food
so may our prayers sink deep into you,
O God of grace,
and fill us with your love.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
       In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, whose judgment is mercy, who created the light in all people, who looks upon us all with love.
       We follow Jesus, the Appointed One, who honored the sacred in all, even his enemies; who fed and healed, who taught the way of love, who sought to free the holy in each of us. He entered into the suffering of the world, and revealed God’s heart most clearly in his passion for our wholeness. For his resistance to injustice he was crucified; but he was raised from the dead.
       We live by the Holy Spirit, the love of God in us, empowering us with courage to love the world, to love through our anger and sorrow, to love at all costs, to do justice, and to work for the healing of the world in the name of Christ.

2.
Spirit of love, rise up pure in us like a spring of water.
Fire of love, burn in us brightly, a beacon of mercy.
Furnace of love, burn away all other energies but the energy of love.
Courage of love, help us face our enemies with compassion.
Gratefulness of love, help us be faithful in all relationships.
God of love, breathe in us with every breath.

3.
       God, our Heavenly Lover, we give ourselves to you—you who create all things, who love all things, who redeem all things.
       Christ, Compassion of God, Lover of our souls, we follow you. In love you healed and set people free, you fed the poor and raised up the downtrodden, and you taught us the way of love and nonviolence. Christ, you who died in love, whom God raised in love, you live among us still, and your love is the song in our hearts and the air we breathe. Your love is the judgment of the world, the measure of all things, and the salvation of our souls.
       Holy Spirit of love, you fill us and empower us to love all people in the name of Christ, to love our enemies and pray for those who oppose us, to join you in transforming the world by the power of love. As your Church, the Body of Christ, we devote ourselves to the Way of Compassion, the way of Christ; trusting in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, and the mystery of eternal life, for the sake of the healing of this world that you love so much. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of love we thank you,
for in love you create us and claim us as your Beloved.
In love you confront all that oppresses us and all people,
and in love you set us free.

Though we reject your love for us, and for others,
still you are faithful.
So, with all Creation, we sing your praise:

             [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
       Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
       heaven and earth are full of your glory.
       Hosanna in the highest.
       Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
       Hosanna in the highest.

              [or alternate]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who loved beyond all boundaries,
who included the rejected and blessed the broken,
who invited all to his table of grace.

For his generosity of love he was opposed;
he was scorned and crucified.
But you raised him from the dead,
and still he invites us to the table he shares
with all your Beloved of every tribe and tradition.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)*

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in love, in holy self-giving,
in union with Christ’s self-giving,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:


            [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
       Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                   —or—
       Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
       Christ will come again in glory.
            [—or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
fearless in love, inclusive in generosity,
and courageous in the face of opposition,
for the sake of the wholeness of the human family,
in the name and the company of Jesus.

              [Spoken or sung]
       Amen
.


____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. ) You have promised us grace, and you have been true to your word, showering us with your blessing. You have been faithful to us, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. Send us now into the world, fed by your grace, trusting in your goodness, and radiant with your mercy, for the sake of the mending of the world, in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World       (Original song)
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using two or three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
Your Word, O God, is a light to our path; may we be steadfast and upright.
May we be faithful and reconciled, and true to our word.

When you belong to God you are light, no longer held in the dark night.
Live what is loving and true, my friends, as children of light.

When you belong to God you are light, no longer held in the dark night.
Live what is loving and true, my friends, as children of light.

Let your light shine in us, O God, to love even enemies humbly
Help us be perfectly loving, O God, as your love is perfect.


Eternal Life    (Original song)

This is how we will know eternal life:
we will love one another.
I lay down my life, all that is mine alone,
that we may be raised together.

We are not bound by any earthy thing
when our lives we surrender to God
whose love is eternal life,
and so we will love one another.


Fulfill Your Love In Me     (Original song)

Refrain:
Fulfill your love in me, O Loving Spirit,
fulfill your love in me, O Heart of Love.

Speak the name Beloved in my deepest soul.
Hold me in your heart, your gentle loving. (Refrain)

Heal me with your mercy and your tenderness.
Bring to life the grace in me to love you. (Refrain)

Give me grace to love my neighbor as myself,
freely, with the love with which you love me. (Refrain)


Love Only (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, may your deep love shine bright in my heart,
may it be always your love I impart.
In ease or conflict, your love be my stay,
as your Beloved, your love to convey.

When people scare me so I feel alone,
help me see they, too, have wounds of their own.
Help me surrender my sword and my shield,
love and love only by your grace to yield.

God, by your Spirit, fill me with your grace, to
love and to heal in each moment and place.
Love and love only, through conflict or strife,
sets us all free and gives healing and life.


O Christ, My Way   (Tune: The Water Is Wide/ Gift of Love)

O Christ, my truth, my life, my way,
I give my heart to you this day.
I give myself, yes all of me,
that where you are I too may be.

O Christ, my way, the path I take
is love alone, for your love’s sake.
O be my heart, my strength and nerve,
that I may love and bless and serve.

O Christ, my truth, in you I see
the God who dwells in you and me.
But God remains yet far above
until I live in humble love.

O Christ, my life, I give my heart,
for when in you I take my part
and share your love, your work and strife,
I share in full your risen life.


Open my heart (Tune: Open My Eyes)

Open my eyes that I may see everyone ‘round me lovingly,
shedding my labels, habits and fear, see with a heart that’s true and clear.
Patiently, God, may I behold each blessed life as it unfolds.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my ears and let me hear unspoken stories, unshed tears.
Help me to hear with love shining through stories that no one’s listened to.
Tenderly, God, help me to hold what is within each person’s soul.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my heart and grant me love, mercy for those I’m heedless of.
Help me to know each person I face as one you bless with gentle grace
Lovingly, God, please make me more mindful of those whom we ignore.
Open my heart, illumine me, spirit divine.


Steadfast Love       (Tune: This Is My father’s World)

O God of faithful love, in every time and land,
the human race with tender grace you hold in gentle hands.
So may we love as well, with gracious tenderness:
the love you give we too will live, and thus our faith confess.

To those who cause us hurt, when anger calls our name,
we show the face of loving grace, for you treat us the same.
O God, you know our flaws, yet you forgive and heal;
and may we so, to friend and foe, your steadfast love reveal.

Optional concluding blessing verse for the end of the service:
Now go in peace, my friends, with God’s deep love in you,
God’s gentleness, God’s will to bless in all you say and do.
Go forth in Christ to serve, go forth, beloved friends,
still bound in prayer and loving care until we meet again.

4th Sunday after Epiphany

January 29, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Micah 6. 1-8. God has delivered us from slavery. What, then, shall we give God in return? Obedience to religious rules? No: what God wants is for us to do justice, to be kind, and to walk humbly with God.

Psalm 15 commends people who live justly and gently.

1 Corinthians 1. 18-31. The world values power and accomplishment; therefore the cross seems to be a sign of powerlessness and failure. Yet the cross is the sign of our salvation, because it reveals God’s grace that overcomes our sin and failure. God uses what is weak in the world to overcome what is strong. Our wisdom is foolish when we try to use it to figure out God and God’s grace.

Matthew 5. 1-12. The Beatitudes, delivered on a mountain like Moses’ commandments, are the core of Jesus’ teaching: trust in God’s grace to bring blessing and life out of what appears to the world’s eyes to be weakness, barrenness and failure. In this trust, we live lives that are radically gentle, compassionate and courageous, serving for the sake of peace and healing.

Preaching Thoughts

Both Micah and Jesus give us clear, concise images of the life to which God calls us. They involve both the inner and outer life: inwardly our trusting companionship with God bears fruit outwardly in love and justice. Both Micah and Jesus attend to a three-dimensional faith: to live in life-giving relationship with God, with other persons, and with society as a whole. Both of these passages are worth repeating in worship regularly. I encourage you to incorporate them just about as much as the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed.

Note that in the Beatitudes what makes for the blessings is not the circumstance, but God. The poor in spirit are blessed not because they’re poor in spirit, but because theirs is the Realm of God. It’s not that it’s better to be in mourning than to be happy, but that God comforts those who mourn. Our society seems no less convinced than Jesus’ culture that what happens to us is somehow God’s judgment: sickness is God’s punishment; riches are God’s rewards. Our way of thinking is profoundly structured by cause-and-effect, and rewards-and-punishment dynamics. If you work hard, then you will get ahead. If you displease God, then you will suffer. (How often has someone encountered difficulty and said, “What have I done to deserve this?”) So of course if you haven’t gotten ahead, or if you’re suffering, it must be your fault. God must be mad at you.

Notice how this way of thinking is shaped not by spiritual wisdom but by fear. We’re afraid of suffering, afraid of loss, afraid of being vulnerable or in need or not in power. Our emphasis on “how to get ahead,” and all the ways to manage that endeavor, are built on the assumption that we need to get ahead—because life without getting ahead is unbearable. But the wisdom of Jesus contradicts all this. It departs from what seems like common sense because it contradicts the basic assumption that getting ahead is necessary. Jesus says, No, getting ahead isn’t what matters. What matters is intimacy with God. Being happy, and avoiding pain, isn’t what matters. Having a shining reputation isn’t what matters. What matters is receiving and giving the grace of God. It’s as if Jesus lives in a whole different universe. Well, yes, he does. He calls it the Realm (“Kingdom”) of God. The beatitudes are the “law of the land” in the Empire of Grace.

The spirituality of the beatitudes is one of radical trust in grace. In what society generally views as unwelcome circumstances, God is present, offering abundant, life-giving grace. Out of emptiness God brings abundance, out of mourning, joy. It’s the spirituality of resurrection. This profound trust is the opposite of, and the antidote to, our sin, our inability to trust God. Jesus names those places we’re afraid to God and says, “God is there.” In poverty, in brokenness, in vulnerability, need, and persecution, God is present, offering blessing. Built on this trust, we can dare to be nonviolent (“meek”), we can dare to be peacemakers and endure persecution.

“Poor in spirit” may mean spiritually impoverished. It may mean having a spirit that does not cling to possessions, material or otherwise.It might mean solidarity with the economically poor. Maybe it means empty (free of preconceptions, judgments, attachments and demands), all of which means being receptive. It may mean not having it all figured out. It certainly. means being utterly dependent on God. Here is the profound irony of grace: Blessed are they who have no relationship with God, for God has a deep, rich relationship with them. The heart of the beatitudes is that our blessedness is not dependent on us, but on God—who is perfectly, totally, universally good, generous, merciful and loving.

Mourning may be for the death of a loved one, but Jesus engaged in a wider, deeper grief for the suffering of the world. He wept over Jerusalem. He invites us to let ourselves be heartbroken for the world, trusting God’s comfort.

“Meek” doesn’t mean timid. It means gentle and nonviolent. By the way this saying repeats Psalm 37.11.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness may mean to seek to be a faithful person. It also means to hunger and thirst for justice—not for one’s self but for the poor and oppressed.

The merciful aren’t merciful so that they receive mercy. They already know they’ll receive it, which gives them to courage to me merciful. Nor do they it because they’ve first practiced it. There’s no exchange. Mercy is a given. The challenge is to trust that. In a violent world it takes the greatest courage to be gentle; in a world were everyone’s trying to get ahead it takes courage to be merciful. Jesus assures us: the mercy is there. Trust it, and be merciful.

It’s not helpful to think of being pure in heart as being spiritually faultless. It means not so much to be perfect, but to have a heart of love, undiluted by fear or selfishness. To be completely present in the present moment, lovingly attentive. It is to see with “a whole eye”—to see the unity of all things (and the sacredness of all things), rather than with vision that is split and divided by dualistic judgments. (See what Jesus says later in the sermon on the Mount: “If your eye is whole, your whole body will be full of light” [Mt. 6.22] He doesn’t just mean healthy eyesight [though “whole” is usually translated as “healthy”]—he means complete, of a whole, and seeing the whole, the unity, the Holy Oneness.) Purity of heart means seeing things through the eye of love. When we see things that way—surprise!—we see God.

Peacemakers aren’t at all the same as “peacekeepers” in today’s militaristic world. To be a peacemaker doesn’t mean to enforce quiet or quell conflict. It means to repair relationships. It’s the hard work of confronting injustice, addressing wounds, seeking forgiveness and healing, and fostering reparation. It’s the long work of justice. Sometimes making peace begins in bringing conflict to the surface. When Jesus healed the bent over woman he brought peace to her life, but raised a ruckus in the synagogue. Peacemaking isn’t always quiet; it’s gentle but not submissive.

Most of the folks we preach to aren’t being persecuted by being fired, tortured, forced to flee, or executed. (Some in this world are.) We experience persecution more in the form of cultural hostility and belittlement. But it’s still hard to accept. Jesus reminds us that God’s good news is so contrary and even threatening to the world’s values that the world is always likely to resist it and those who bear it. Sometimes you know you’re doing good work by whose enemy list you’re on.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: When we hunger and thirst for God,
All: God satisfies us.
When we are weak or brokenhearted,
God comforts and heals us.
When we seek to be peacemakers and do justice, and despair of our smallness,
God empowers us.
God we thank you; we praise you; we worship you. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: Beauty is all around us, offered without cost.
All: What a gift! God, we praise you.
Love and healing are given to us, without regard or exception.
What a miracle! Jesus, we thank you.
Power is placed in us—not our own, but the power of grace.
What a wonder! Holy Spirit, we give ourselves to you in humility and service.
Speak your Word, that we may do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you.


3.
Leader: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
All: We come to be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
We long to see God.
Blessed are you. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
O God of mystery, we open our hearts to your presence and your grace.
Bless us and all your creatures, that in our worship we glorify you
and become your light for the world. Amen.


4.
Leader: Beloved, this nis the good news:
The God of love brings light out of darkness, life out of death.
All: God fills us in our hunger and comforts us in our grief.
To us who are poor in spirit God gives grace abundantly.
God of love, we come to worship you, to receive your grace,
to learn to trust, and to become your peacemakers
in the name and Spirit of Christ. Alleluia!


5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
We do not come to you with a wealth of spiritual power
We are poor in spirit, yet you bless us.
We come to you hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
We long for your love; and you fill us with your grace.
Have mercy on us, God, and hear our prayers.
Alleluia! Grant your peace to us and to all the world. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Who shall dwell in your tent, O God? Those who are compassionate and truthful, who do not judge or despise, those who keep their promises even at great cost. Speak your Word to us, God, that we may be among them in love and faith. Amen.

2.
Eternal God, Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke your Word. So we gather close, and listen, that we might hear, and receive the gift of life, and be changed. Speak to us, for we are listening. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we come to you poor in spirit. Fill us with the riches of your Word. We come to you hungry for justice. Give us hope and joy. We come to you powerless in this violent world. May we inherit the world of your grace. We come to you desiring to be your peacemakers. Bless us that we might receive your Spirit, and serve you in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God,
as seeds dead and buried come to life in the spring,
may our hearts come to life in your grace.
May the gentle rain of your comfort heal us in our grief.
May the warm sunrise of your gentleness fill us and flower in us.
May the river of your mercy flow through us.
Like a hawk riding the winds,
may your hunger for justice lift us and guide us.
May your grace enable us to see with the eyes of love alone.
May your peace give us courage to make peace in this broken world.
May your blessing give us courage to bear witness and to bless.
We pray in the name and the company of Christ,
who is always with us, and among us, and within us.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, we confess we are broken, and for that we mourn.
We are in need of grace.
We are brokenhearted, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
We have not always been merciful, but we ask your mercy.
We are not whole by ourselves, but only in you.
Receive us with grace, heal our wounds
and forgive the sin that rises out of them.

.. Silent prayer … Word of grace

2.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Loving God, we confess
that we have lived by our efforts instead of your grace,
in anxiety rather than trust;
and we confess those ways that, in our anxiety, we have acted hurtfully.
Through the gift of your Son Jesus Christ,
who lived and died that we may know your love,
redeem us from the hurts we have caused,
relieve us of our illusions,
forgive our sin,
and restore our deep trust in your grace alone. Amen.

.. Silent prayer … Word of grace

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

1.
God of love,
we are poor in spirit;
your grace alone is our prayer.
We do not know how to pray as we ought.
Pray in us,
that we may be merciful and pure in heart.

2.
God of infinite grace,
in our self-assurance give us the gift of poverty of spirit,
to be utterly dependent on you and your grace.
In our mourning hold us in your heart.
In our desire for power, help us be gentle.
In our hunger for justice, give us hope.
In our conflicts and judgments, help us be merciful.
In this world of greed, give us pure hearts, to see with love alone.
In this world of conflict, may we bring reconciliation.
In this polarized world give us humble courage
to stand for truth, to bear witness to your love,
to work for the healing of the world,
in the name and the company of Jesus. Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Leader: Eternal God, by your blessing you created this world.
All: All things live by your blessing.
All things are filled with your blessing.
In their very being, all things praise you!
Crucified and risen Christ, in God’s grace
you gave yourself in love, even suffering death.
And in grace God raised you to life.
In you God brought life out of death,
and brought us out of slavery to our sin and fear.
We thank you, and we honor you!
Holy Spirit, by your grace you make all people beautiful, powerful, and holy.
Alleluia! We give ourselves to your grace.
We offer ourselves to die and rise.
God of blessing, transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


2.
       We believe in God, creator of all things, ruler of all that is and all that is to come; whose reign is one of grace, mystery and loveliness; and who is transforming the world into a realm of justice and mercy.
       We follow Jesus, who trusted God, who taught and healed, who died and rose, revealing God’s abundant grace. He reigns in love over all Creation, and sends disciples to embody God’s grace and to participate in the Reign of God in all that we do.
       We rely upon the unfailing grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the community of the church as the Body of Christ, the unity of all believers, the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection and the alluring blessing of eternal life.
       Therefore, by the grace of God, we devote ourselves to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God, in the name and the Spirit of Christ, for the glory of God and the transformation of the world. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, though we are poor in spirit we are rich in your grace.
Sharpen our hunger for justice, and give us trust.
Instill in us your perfect mercy.
Make us pure in heart, ready to see you every moment.
Send us into the world as your humble, gentle peacemakers,
prepared to mourn with those who struggle,
to endure persecution for the sake of the Good News,
and to rejoice at the coming of your Realm of Grace. Amen.

4.
Leader: People of God, what does the Holy One ask of you?
All: To do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.
The good news is the Jesus has shown us the way of life:
To do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.
God, by your grace we pray for your Spirit to guide and empower us—
to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.

Poetry

  

Blessed are they

Blessed are they
who are not burdened by the past,
who do not posses a future,
who do not carry around with them
the riches of this world,
or the riches of a world they wish for,
impoverished of all they want,
and even of wanting,
but who simply receive
the present moment
as it is
as a gift.

They live not in a small world
of their own making,
but in the realm of heaven,
a world granted purely by God.

              The Beatitudes

These benedictions rise from certainty
born of bewilderment,
the confidence that life prevail
above its final falling— that life endures
not only death but even life,
its hunger and its mourning—
and arises from the giving of one’s life.
This blessing falls from lips
who’ve drunk of passion
and survived, and arises
from a heart that trusts the dark.
All wombs are dark and fragile things,
and breathing—falling, rising—sings
of life unknown by stones
and other unmoved things.
For stones in all their strength
can only sit or roll or fall;
but, daring to be tender,
life alone can rise and grow.
Blessing falls, like snow and rain,
like sunlight’s bright surprises;
but life itself starts dark and low;
and always life arises.


Eucharistic Prayer


Leader: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Realm of God.
All: We are poor beggars, O God. Feed us with your grace.

Blessed are the broken hearted, for God holds them close.
In this broken bread, hold us and comfort us.

Blessed are the gentle, for you give them all of Life.
Nourish us with Christ’s tender love, that we, too may be gentle.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for deeper love.
Satisfy us with your love; and deepen our hunger and thirst for you.

Blessed are they who are merciful, knowing you shower them with mercy.
We give thanks for your mercy, that we too may live lives of mercy.

Blessed are those who are pure in love, for they shall see God.
In this meal fill us with the love of Christ for all the world.

Blessed are those who bring reconciliation, for they are God’s beloved children.
In this meal we are one, all of us saints and sinners,
at peace with you and with one another.

Blessed are those whom the world scorns, for God is present with them.
Sharing this meal, we are one with the outcast of this world, as Jesus was an outcast.

—The Blessing and Covenant—

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be the Body of Christ for the world.
Strengthen us with courage to bear witness to love and to work for justice,
to devote our lives to nonviolence and the mending of the world,
despite the world’s resistance, to be your saints in the name of Christ.

Amen.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Strengthen our hearts to trust your grace, to be your peacemakers, to do justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly with you, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) We entrust ourselves to your grace, surrender to your desire for us, and go forth as your light, for the sake of the healing of all Creation. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world to stand with those who suffer, to bless those who are mourning, to work for peace and justice, to endure hatred for the sake of your will, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World      (Original song) – [weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using two or three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
Jesus, the light of your love shines warm in the dark of our suffering and struggles.
Fill us, we pray, with the light of your grace, that we may shine for others.

God, by your grace make us pure in heart, to see by the light of your love alone.
May we be peacemakers, light for the world, and shine with your mercy.


Blessed          (Original song)
[Music for this song also includes Eucharistic Responses]

Dear God, receive me anew, mourning and poor in my soul,
hungry for what makes me whole.
Bless me by making me simple like you.
       Refrain: Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
       for God and God alone shall fill their lives.

Mercy please grant me anew. Make my heart pure by your grace,
humble, that I may see your face.
Bless me by making me gentle like you. Refrain

Courage please give me anew, peace in the world to make,
and to suffer for your Gospel’s sake.
Bless me by making me faithful to you. Refrain


Do Justice      (Original Song)
Do Justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Love, help us humbly live your justice, your love, your mercy.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 22, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 9.1-4 celebrates the light of God’s liberating grace, which overwhelms the darkness of war, injustice and oppression.

Psalm 27 says, If God is my light, then I have nothing to fear. I seek to live close to God (“in the house of the Lord”), to pay attention to God’s presence (“to seek God’s face”) and to live according to God’s leading (“Teach me your way”).

In 1 Corinthians 1. 10-18 Paul responds to news of divisions in the church in Corinth with a plea for unity. Our unity does not come from anyone’s leadership, but from our life in Christ.

In Matthew 4.12-23 Jesus proclaims God’s power and presence in the world (“The realm of heaven has come near”). He calls disciples to follow him in proclaiming the good news and healing people. Jesus then goes about living out the good news he proclaims.

Preaching Thoughts

The great theme of the Epiphany season is the church’s calling to bear the light of Christ into the world. It is not our beliefs about that light, but the light itself in us, that unites us.

In the Isaiah reading the Epiphany theme of light shines forth. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Justice, liberation and the end of warfare is like dawn after a dark night. The Psalm reflects that light: “God is my light and my salvation.”

Matthew locates Jesus in Galilee, quoting the Isaiah passage, thereby placing Jesus in the prophetic tradition, and the work of justice and liberation. By establishing the prophetic context Matthew suggests that Jesus’ healings aren’t just individual favors: Jesus is healing the cosmos. The call to follow is a call to more than personal devotion: it’s a call to participate in that work.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not Simon, Andrew, James and John knew Jesus before he called them. What matters is that they left everything. What might we have to leave behind to really faithfully follow Jesus? What nets still entangle us, what loyalties keep us rooted to the spot?

What exactly does Jesus mean by “fishing for people?” Keep the question open. (Don’t get stuck on the literal image of “catching” people like helpless, unsuspecting fish.) It doesn’t necessarily mean capturing converts, which is a little manipulative, demeaning and oppressive. It can mean gathering people into the net of God’s grace. It can mean seeking the treasure that is other people. It can be about deepening relationships with others instead of seeking our own profit. It can mean being “bait” that attracts people to God.

Call to Worship

1. [ Isaiah 9.2-4]
Leader: The people who walked in darkness
        have seen a great light;
All: those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
        on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
        you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
        as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
        and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
        you have broken as on the day of Midian.
All the weapons of war and the wounds of war
        are done away with, burned as fuel for the fire.
Alleluia!


2.
Leader: Creator God, you are light in our darkness;
you are the morning rising in our night.
All: Your dawning touches our heart.
We turn to you.
We awaken.
Christ, light of the world, you call to us.
Your voice stirs in our hearts.
Our hopes catch fire.
We want to follow you.
Holy Spirit, you are the rising sun in us that brings us to new life.
Alleluia! May we shine with your light.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: Those who walked in darkness have seen a great light,
All: for you have sent us Christ, who has broken oppression,
and overcome the forces of war.
You are our light and our salvation. Whom shall we fear?
May we dwell in your heart all our days,
and behold your beauty.
Teach us your ways, O God, and lead us in a path of love and wisdom.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
We give thanks that your Realm of grace is at hand.
Have mercy on us, and receive our prayers.
You alone rule all Creation, and we look to you for our salvation.
Grant your peace in this world, and bless those who seek you.
Christ gathers us in the net of his love, and makes us fishers of people.
Alleluia! Grant that we may follow Christ
and be transformed by the power of your Spirit. Alleluia!


Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of truth, you speak your Word, and we barely hear it beneath the rumble and clatter of our world. Tune the ears of our heart to your voice. Clear our minds to listen. Let us hear Jesus calling us, and answer, and follow, by the powerful grace of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

2.
Loving God, Jesus called the disciples and they followed. In scripture and reflection, in prayer, in song and in silence, help us to hear your voice, to lay aside all that entangles us, and to follow you. May we follow now in our worship and all our days, by the grace of your Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, you cast your net into the deep waters of our hearts. Draw us up, gather us into the net of your making, so that we will come to you and follow. Even now, silver fish deep in our hearts are rising toward the light. Help us to hear your voice. Help us to answer. Help us to follow you. Amen.

4.
God of love, Christ proclaimed that the realm of heaven has drawn near, and called us to repent. We give thanks for the realm of your grace, and turn from our self-centered lives in order to hear your good news. Bless us, that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear what you are saying to us today. Amen.

5.
God of love, our eyes are on the nets of our work.
Open them to receive your call.
Our hands are on the worn, familiar wood of the boats of our lives.
Open them to reach for you.
We are casting our nets into the riches of this world.
May we cast the nets of our hearts into the deep sea of your grace.
May all of our work, and all of our lives,
become one with your work of the healing of the world,
in the name and Spirit of Christ.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Gentle God,
into the darkness of our hearts,
shine your light,
that we may see,
and that all that is not of life and blessing may be made new.
As the dawn transforms the night,
forgive our sin,
and make us new in the power of your grace. Amen.
(Silent prayer… the word of grace )

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Loving Christ, unexpected,
you come into our lives
and ask us to follow.
We leave our nets,
let go of all that entangles,
surrender all our other loyalties,
and we come with you.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
         We believe in God, creator of all, who has fashioned each in God’s image, with God’s gifts, God’s love, God’s glory.
         We are called to follow Jesus, God’s love made flesh, who fed and healed, who taught and forgave, who called forth a community of freedom and justice. For his challenge to systems of injustice he was crucified; but he was raised from the dead, and still goes before us in life.
         We live by the power and the grace of the Holy Spirit, God’s loving presence leading, guiding, empowering us. We are called and gifted by the Spirit to join Jesus in lives of compassion, forgiveness, beauty, joy and justice. We commit ourselves to trust in God, to follow Jesus, and to listen to the Holy Spirit in all our lives, and to help one another to do so, as the Body of Christ. These things we profess with our words and our lives, with the help of the Spirit, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
       We give our hearts to you, God, Creator of all things, ruler of all things to come, our light and our life.
       We follow Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh, who taught and healed, who loved and blessed, who called disciples and proclaimed the Realm of your grace. He was crucified and buried, but you raised him to new life. He lives among us, and calls us still to follow as his apprentices in the ministry of the healing of the world.
      We live by the Holy Spirit, as the Body of Christ, your Church. We trust in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, the presence of eternal life, and the communion of all people as one. We commit ourselves to follow Jesus in prayer, in faith, in love and in service, by the grace of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

3.
We believe in God, maker of all things. We follow Christ, who healed and taught and proclaimed the good news of your love. He was crucified, yet you raised him from death and he lives with us now, teaching us love. We believe in the power of love to change lives, to lead people to you, and to hold us together in a net of grace. We believe that we are called to serve Christ as fishers of people, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We believe in the power of forgiveness, the communion of saints, the reality of resurrection and the infinite promise of life. Amen.

Poetry

                     No fear

          The Lord is my light and my salvation;
                    whom shall I fear?
          The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
                    of whom shall I be afraid?
                              
     — Psalm 27.1

Inside you, God,
there is nothing to fear.
No power can overwhelm,
no enemy threaten.

Be light in me,
pure and powerful light
that cannot be injured,
that simply shines
without fear.

May I be light,
strong and unafraid,
trusting and true.
Amen.


Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presider(s) only.]

Leader:God is with you.
All: And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you, God, for this beautiful and amazing world.
Shoals of blessing shimmer just beyond what we see.
When our lives seem bleak or pointless,
you bring to the surface such abundant grace we are astonished.
Our minds can scarcely comprehend it. Our nets are near breaking.
So we fall to our knees, humbled and in awe.
But you lift us up and call us to lives of praise and service.
Therefore with gratitude and wonder we sing your praise:


            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who climbs into the boat of our lives and teaches us,
who directs us into deeper waters,
who multiplies blessing.
He calls us to join him in ministry to the world,
and promises to be with us always.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:


             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]


Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

fishers of people, who behold the bounty of your grace,
and who cast the net of your love far and wide in this world
for the sake of all your Beloved.


      [Spoken or sung]
Amen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Jesus goes before us and beckons us to follow. By your Spirit help us follow: help us live lives of love and courage, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world as your disciples to join in your work of teaching and healing, and proclaiming the good news of your grace, for the sake of the transformation of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. By the power of your Spirit at work in us, may we be fishers of people, drawing them in to your heart, gathering them in the great network of love that is your church, blessing them with your grace. Send us in the power of your Spirit, and in the name and company of Christ. Amen

Prayer after Communion

God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have caught us up in the net of your grace, and you have called us to follow Christ. Give us faith and courage to follow. Guide us by your Spirit. Fill us with your love. Make us lovers of people, in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World         (Original song) – [weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using two or three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
The people in darkness have seen a great light. On them your glory has risen.
For you have broken oppression’s power. Your people rejoice!

You are my light, God, so who shall I fear? You shelter me, safe in your mercy.
Jesus, your call illumines my way, and so I will follow.


Calling Me(Original song)

Dear God, Creator eternally, you call everything to be.
How are you calling me, even now?
Who do you call me to be? Where is your image in me, calling me?

Jesus, lord of the fishermen, calling your children,
you call to me once again, even now.
What will you lead me to do? How can I witness to you, calling me, calling me?

Spirit, power of love in me, how do you set me free,
what gifts are you giving me, even now?
I am a vessel for you. Humbly I listen to you, calling me, calling me.


Drawing Me           (Original song)

Holy One, Mystery, how will you keep drawing me
nearer to the heart within the heart?
Nearer still, falling in, closer to the heart within,
draw me God. I fall into your love.
Lover, you are calling, you are drawing,
I am falling into you in love.

Deep in me there’s a voice, there’s a hunger, there’s a choice,
seeking something vital that is you.
By your grace drawing me, may I fall eternally
nearer to my center deep in you.
Lover, you are calling, you are drawing,
I am falling into you in love.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 15, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 49.1-7 is the second of Isaiah’s “servant songs” (we heard the first last week). As God’s servant you may feel you have “labored in vain,” but, doing God’s will, you are sustained. God says, “It is not enough to serve your own people; I will give you as a light to the whole world.” You will even gain the respect of rulers.

Psalm 40.1-11 turns from concern with one’s self to God, to the whole community. First we give thanks for God’s help in trouble, and praise those who trust God. Then we affirm that what God wants is not “sacrifices and sin offerings” but “an open ear” to listen for God’s desire, and the commitment to do God’s will. Finally we move to telling “the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation.”

In 1 Corinthians 1. 1-9 Paul greets the church in Corinth as those “called to be saints,” assuring them that they do not lack any spiritual gift so that they can serve faithfully.

In John 1. 29-42 John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” saying that he saw the Spirit descend and remain on him. Some of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus, including Andrew, who recruits his brother Peter.

Preaching Thoughts

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
(See worship resources specifically for for MLK Jr. Day here.)

Isaiah
It’s tempting to want to have power and authority, to be admired and listened to. But Isaiah suggests that God’s servant will not necessarily be glorified—but God will. When devote ourselves to serving God, and allow God’s Spirit to work through us, good stuff happens… though we might never see the results. We might think we’ve labored in vain. Bu the assurance is that in the big picture, our little labors make a difference.

1 Corinthians
We often speak of our dreams our hopes and aspirations in life; but we don’t often speak of being called: not that we desire to do something or be someone, but that God calls us and gives us the gifts to carry out God’s purposes in our lives. Our calling is not necessarily what we want to do but what the Spirit, live and free in us, wants to do. (Though sometimes what you feel drawn to is exactly what the Spirit is in you to do!) The key is not having any special skill or ability, but discerning how God is acting in and through our lives.

Lamb of God
You can preach a few dozen sermons on various aspects of the rich image of Jesus as the lamb of God who take away the sin of the world. Note that Jesus doesn’t take away our (plural) sins—our acts of selfishness—but he takes away our sin—the state of being separated from God (or at least thinking we are). Jesus connects us with God even as we continue to think we’re separate and act as if we’re the center of (or the only thing in) the world.

Some folks interpret this image with that misleading substitutionary idea, that Jesus suffered punishment so we wouldn’t have to, by being a sacrificial lamb—a scapegoat. It’s true that Jesus is a scapegoat: society loads its sins on him and expects him to carry them away, off into the desert. This is how we treat all the victims of injustice: they suffer so we don’t have to. But Jesus’ ministry makes it clear that that doesn’t actually take away our sin: it makes it worse. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Our slaughter of God’s lambs only deepens our alienation from God. But the good news is that even in our sin, even as we torture God by causing God’s beloved children to suffer, Jesus does away with our separation from God: in his being he embodies the unity of the human and divine, and in his ministry he makes clear that we are forgiven and have no reason to distance ourselves from God. In that manner he takes away the sin of the world.

And maybe it’s in that same vein that Jesus sends us out like lambs in the midst of wolves (Lk. 10.13).

Invitations
Don’t overlook the wonderful exchange between Jesus and the two disciples.
—He asks “What are you looking for?” That’s a question Jesus keeps asking us. Ponder that. Of course we’re seeking God—but how, in what form? When we think we’ve found something, how will we know its actually God, and not something easier and cheaper we were looking for instead? If we find happiness, is that God? Or success? Or is it more likely to be healing, or justice? Can we learn to seek simply being one with God, without other trappings?
—They answer “Where are you staying?” It might be curiosity about his lodgings, but maybe it’s more like “What do you stand for? What principles do you stand on? Where are you at?” Or maybe the question we most often have: “Where should we look for you?”
—He answers “Come and see.” Isn’t that Jesus’ invitation to us all the time? Not “Here, let me tell you what to think,” but “Come closer. Pay attention. Notice what you see.”


“Takes away the sin”
What might it meant to say that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” in the face of racism? Certainly not that we’re done with racism. And certainly not that God doesn’t judge racism. God judges and condemns racism, militarism, materialism, violence and oppression in every form. It doesn’t mean that we are not guilty, culpable and responsible to effect restitution. So what does it mean?

I think it meas that Jesus removes the distance between us and God that our racism creates. When white folks separate ourselves from people of color, even unthinkingly, when we participate in white supremacy, even accidentally, we betray our oneness with all people and with God. We alienate ourselves from God. But even in our sin God holds us close. Jesus reveals this to us, and invites us to live out of God’s grace instead of our fears and habits. In that way he sets us free. He takes away the sin of the world. Guilt is no longer the issue. The issue is how we establish and maintain just relationships.

Call to Worship

1. (John 1.35-39)
Leader: John was standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus went by he said,
“Look, here is the lamb of God!”
All: The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following him he said,
“What are you looking for?”
Calling him teacher, they said,
“Rabbi, where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.”
They came and saw where he was staying,

and they remained with him that day.
Jesus, we come to be near you, to see, and to stay with you.

2. ( based on Psalm 29)
Leader: God, you have rescued us from the pit of our despairing.
All: You have put a new song in our mouths.
You have given us Christ, who delights to do your will.
We are glad to tell the good news of your salvation.
You do not desire burnt offerings and sacrifices.
But you have given us open ears.
May we hear, and in our hearing praise you. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: Lamb of God, Forgiving One, you carry our sin.
All: Lamb of God, you give yourself for us, and set us free.
Lamb of God, faithful servant, you call us.
Lamb of God, Gentle One, you show us the way.
In your spirit, we follow.
Bless us, and use us for your will. Amen.


4.
Leader: Creator God, eternal Spirit of Love, we praise you!
All: Your grace is our salvation, and we thank you!
Risen Christ, Lamb of God, you have shown us the Way of Life.
Gentle One, give us your Spirit to follow on the Way of Love.
Holy Spirit, as you descended upon Christ, come to us, and remain with us.
Grant us the compassion to trust your love,
to love others as ourselves, and to live only in love.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation, God of our Salvation!
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Jesus asked John’s followers,
“What are you looking for?”
All: We are looking for you, God.
They asked him, “Where are you staying?”
Where shall we look for you?
He answered , “Come and see.”
We come to you, God. We draw near to look and listen,
to behold you among us. We come to worship.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mercy, you have sent us Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. We want to see him, to hear his word, to receive your grace through him. Speak your Word to us, and give us life. Amen.

2.
God of love, you have given us as light to the nations. Speak to us now and fill us with the light of your Word. Show us Jesus, so we might see, and follow. Amen.

3.
God of love, you sent us your lamb to show us the way of mercy and justice. Open our hearts that we may hear your call, receive your grace, and follow the Lamb. Amen.

4.
Gracious God: Jesus, the Lamb of God, walks through our midst. He asks what we are looking for. We are looking for him, and for his grace. He invites us to come and see. Help us to draw near, and to look and listen; help us to follow. Amen.

5.
Lamb of God, Anointed One,
you take away the sin of the world,
and we worship you.
Lamb of God, Gentle One,
you walk beside us
through green pastures
and the valley of the shadow of death,
and we follow you.
Lamb of God, Tender One,
you suffer for us, and we thank you.
Lamb of God, Willing One,
you live in us, and we bear your loveliness
onto this hurting world.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Gather us in your loving arms;
have mercy on us and forgive us,
and transform us according to your grace,
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
by the grace of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace]

2.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
we turn to you.
Our sin is more than we can bear;
but you have forgiven us completely.
We sin more than we know,
and you forgive us more than we can imagine.
In your mercy, help us accept you grace,
become more free, and live as new people.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace]

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
1.
Lamb of God,
as the Spirit descended upon you,
so may it descend upon us and remain,
that we may be your gentle lambs.

2.
God of love,
Jesus says “Come and see.”
We come, to be near you.
We come, to behold you.
We come, to discern.
Open our eyes.

3.
Christ, Lamb of God, walk with us through green pastures.
Rest with us beside still waters.
Lamb of God, accompany us in paths of righteousness.
Even through the valley of the shadow of death,
lead us Lamb of God, to eternal life.
Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

      We believe in God, the Creator of all that is, whose only desire is life and blessing, and whose grace alone is our salvation.
      We follow Christ, the Lamb of God, the Forgiving One, who revealed God by healing, loving, and blessing. By the Spirit of God that descended upon him Jesus showed us a world ruled by God’s grace alone. He forgave his enemies and taught us to do the same, gentle as a lamb. For his love he was crucified. But on the third day God raised him to new life. He lives among us still, granting to us his spirit of peace and love.
      We live by the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in all people, which makes us one; and God’s power in us to live with compassion and courage. We are Christ’s Body, the one Church. We trust in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection and the mystery of eternal life. We devote ourselves as followers of the Lamb of God to lives of gentleness, forgiveness and compassion, that we ourselves may be lambs of God for the healing of the world. Amen.

Poetry

                Lamb of God

It has been said you actually can
get the lion and lamb to lie down together.
It just takes a lot of lambs.

This is true. Jesus is the lamb
who lies down with us, the lions,
and we consume him.

God-with-us enters
our ravenous selfishness
and fills even our sin with God.

Jesus enters the jaws of death
and holds them open for us
to walk through safely.

Even in our sin and death
God is with us, so there is
no separation between us.

Be mindful of the lamb,
gently present, vulnerable,
always with us in love.

Behold the lamb of God,
who takes away
the sin of the world.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Gracious One, we give you thanks,
for you create us in love, claim us with faithfulness,
and continually set us free.
You guide and shelter us and feed us as your tender lambs.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.
In grateful joy we sing your praise, with all Creation.
     —Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
the Lamb of God, in whom your Spirit lived.
He taught and healed, fed the hungry, and stood for justice.
He was crucified, and you raised him from the dead.
By his grace he takes away the sin of the world,
saving us from our fear and distrust of you.
Lamb of God, he renews for us your Covenant
to be with us in love forever.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation—

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
gentle as lambs among wolves,
through our courage and love
to participate in your work of the healing of the world,
in the name of Christ.

Amen

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Send us in the power of your Spirit as your lambs, to do justice, to practice mercy, to walk humbly and confidently with you in the ways of peace, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
2.
Gracious God, in gratitude for all you have given us, and in faithful stewardship of what you have placed in our hands to share with the world, we give our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Help us to follow Christ in setting this world free from fear, in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

3.
God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Lamb of God, you who take away the sin of the world, grant that in gratitude we may follow you, for the sake of the mending of the world. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song) – [Epiphany “Theme song”]
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using one to three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
“You are my servant in whom I delight, a light unto the nations.”
Shine for the ones who dwell in the dark, with comfort and justice.

Jesus, Beloved, the Lamb of God, the light of your love shining brightly,
you take away the sin of the world, and we will follow.


Behold the Lamb of God (Original song)

Behold the lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.
Come, let us follow.
Come, let us follow the lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world.

Baptism of Jesus

January 8, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 42.1-9 describes God’s gentle servant, who brings healing and justice—nonviolently.

Psalm 29 celebrates God’s strength and the power of God’s voice, which is “enthroned over the flood” like the Spirit brooding over the waters at Creation.

In Acts 10.34-43 Peter summarizes Jesus’ life and ministry: anointed by the Spirit, he went about doing good and healing; he was put to death but rose again, and sends us to bring grace to other people.

Matthew 3. 13-17 tells of Jesus’ baptism.

Preaching Thoughts

Baptism
(I’ve offered thoughts on Baptism in more detail here.)
Today is a great day to offer a Baptismal Renewal. Like being married, we are only baptized once, and don’t need to “remarry,” but we need to renew our vows all the time. It’s a great way to start the new year. Here’s a Service of Baptismal Renewal. And here are some general thoughts about the meaning of baptism. And here’s a brief summary of some salient points.
• Baptism is A symbol of death and rebirth. God births us (“born of water and the Spirit, Jn. 3.5) and re-creates us as God’s Beloved, sets us free, and empowers us to live by God’s Spirit. As with the waters of chaos at Creation, God’s water breaks and God gives us new birth as people of the Spirit (1 Pet. 1.3-5). We are born again (always) as beloved children of God.
• God joyfully claims us as God’s Own: “You are my child, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3.17). God doesn’t just tolerate us: God is actually delighted with us!
• God washes us clean of our past, our shame and our fear. God promises healing and blessing. The bath” of baptism isn’t just the washing away of the guilt for the bad stuff we do; it’s also washing away our fear that we’re not good enough. “With you I am well pleased!”
• The Spirit flows through us, makes us alive, and nourishes us like water in our bodies or a plant.
• God invites us to join Jesus in washing people’s feet.
• God shares our tears.
• The trick to being re-born is that first we have to die. We drown in Christ, losing our individual, self-made, self-enclosed “self,” and we are raised to new life as part of Christ’s body (Rom. 6.4; Col. 2.12).
• We surrender our ego’s insistence on being an individual and “die” into unity with the Holy One. We are all part of one life, one heart, one body.
• God goes with us through the Red sea, setting us free from what oppresses us and charging us to help God set others free.
• God invites us to entrust ourselves to God: to let ourselves float in the River of God, trusting that God bears us, letting God take us where God will.
• God anoints us as people who love not by the world’s expectations but by the Spirit.
• Like the water in a river (and its power), the Holy Spirit is the power in us to love boldly, to offer mercy and to do justice.
• We baptize infants because it’s not a symbol of our faith, but God’s “prevenient” action. Baptism is God’s “I do.” Confirmation is our response.

The ritual act of Baptism itself doesn’t make any of this happen like some magic trick; it’s already happening. The sacrament symbolizes all this in a way we can experience it and let it shape our living

Isaiah 42
The song in Isaiah 42. 1-9 is one of the “Servant Songs” praising God’s servant, who suffers in order to do God’s will. God says the servant is “my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (a phrase quoted at Jesus’ baptism). This servant will be nonviolent (“a bruised reed he will not break”) and will establish justice and liberate the oppressed and imprisoned. The allusion to this passage at Jesus’ baptism places his ministry in the prophetic context: not saving individual souls but calling the nation to righteousness and justice. It does the same for baptism. We are not baptized into a club. We are baptized into a workforce, the Body of Christ, sent to do the work of healing and justice.

Gospel
The voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism alludes to two Old testament scriptures: “This is my son” sounds like Psalm 2, which people considered to be about the Messiah. The phrase “with whom I am well pleased” sounds like Isaiah’s song about a suffering servant. The combination of the two allusions suggests that Jesus is the anointed one of God—though not a conquering warrior, but a suffering reconciler.

A frequently asked question: If John performed a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sin, why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t sin, did he? Three responses.
       A. The idea that Jesus was sinless is related to the image of him as a sacrificial lamb, without blemish. In real life, I bet he did sin. He was a human being. Sin is way too pernicious for even Jesus to avoid. It’s human nature. It’s the function of the ego. We don’t need Jesus to be perfect to believe God lived fully in him, and that he sets us free from our sin. In fact I think Jesus has more authority in our struggle against sin precisely because he did sin, and had to learn to be free even from his own sin.
       B. To repent is to turn to God. We have to do this every moment of the day. Whenever our love, desire, gratitude or attention is focused on anything other than God, it’s sin. Even Jesus had to repent, to continually return to God. His authority as a savior is not in his never having needed forgiveness, but in his always letting go and turning to God, always asking for forgiveness, and always trusting it.
      C. John’s baptism was for forgiveness of sin; but baptism in Christ is a different thing. In receiving baptism Jesus changed it from merely repenting to being re-created, born of God and filled with the Spirit. So sometimes the apostles encountered people who knew of John’s baptism, but not baptism “in the Holy Spirit”—as in Acts 18.25 and 19.1-7. Jesus’s baptism wasn’t primarily about repentance: it was about being open to being born again in the Spirit. That’s the baptism we celebrate. In Jesus’ baptism, baptism itself was reborn: re-created as something new, something which we could share with him.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: In the beginning when God began to create,
the world was formless and void,
and the Spirit of God brooded over the waters.
All: The voice of the Holy One is over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
The light was the life of all beings.
The Spirit like a dove descends upon us.
O God, we worship you. We serve you. We trust you.

2.
Leader: God of love, your grace flows about us like a mighty river.
All: It is gentle, and it is strong.
We are immersed in your presence.
You give us life, and we thank you.
We come to plunge into you, O God.
In the water of your womb, birth us once again to a new and holy life.
Alleluia!


3.
Leader: In the beginning, O God,all is darkness, formless and empty.
All: “Light!” you say, and there is light, and the light is the life of all people.
In the desert, water flows, and you invite us.
Christ, river of life, we come to you.
Spirit, dove of peace, pure energy of love, you sing out in us:
We are your beloved in whom you are well pleased.
We plunge into your grace, and we are made new.
We rise, newborn and gleaming. In praise and thanksgiving we worship you.
Alleluia!


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All:: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, to share our life and our struggles,
our suffering and our death.
Alleluia! Baptized into Christ, we are one with his resurrection.
We worship you, O God, with praise and thanksgiving,.
one with Christ in the Holy Spirit. Alleluia!


5.
Christ was baptized in the Jordan, immersed in our lives.
And we are baptized into Christ.
You spoke to him, claimed him as your beloved,
and poured out your Holy Spirit upon him.
Alleluia! Speak to us and claim us in his name.Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

6. (Psalm 29:1-4)
Leader: Ascribe to the Holy One, O heavenly beings,
All: Ascribe to God glory and strength.
Ascribe to God the glory of God’s name,
Worship God in holy splendor.
The voice of God is upon the water.
The God of glory thunders, the Supreme upon many waters.
The voice of God is powerful.
The voice of God is full of majesty.
Let us praise the name of the Holy One!
Alleluia! Let us worship in awe!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, as John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, baptize us in your Word. Immerse us in your presence, fill us with your Spirit, wash us with your grace, nourish us with your joy, and empower us to do your will, for the sake of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
God of life we turn to you for life. God of love, we come to drink of your love. God of light, we open our hearts, that we may shine with your light. Bathe us in your Word; immerse us in your grace. Amen.

3.
God of love, as Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan, immerse us in your love. As Jesus heard you speak, so may we hear your Word, your promise, your ever-present, deeply loving voice. Baptize us in your Spirit, O God, and birth us anew in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, John the Baptist called people to a baptism of repentance, and Jesus came to be baptized. Jesus comes with us now, to hear your Word, to be baptized in your light, and to be drawn into service in the power of your Spirit. Give us life, God: give us your Word. Amen.

5.
Gracious God, as Jesus waded out into the Jordan and was baptized, we wade into your Word; we immerse ourselves in your presence, we bathe ourselves in your voice. May the heavens open to us as we listen and receive. May your Spirit descend upon us. May we hear your voice, and be transformed in order to do your will, in the name of Christ. Amen.

6.
Loving God, at the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with your Holy Spirit. Enable us, and all who are baptized into Christ, to be faithful to our calling as your children and stewards of your Holy Spirit. Open our hearts now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear your voice renewing your Covenant with us today. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Down, deep
into the water of your grace
we sink.
Hold us, bathe us,
birth us.
We are yours.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

Leader: Eternal God, in the beginning your Spirit brooded over the waters.
All: You breathed into us the spirit of life.
The Red Sea was the water of our womb,
where we came to life by your grace.
We have come out into the world as your children,
your beloved in whom you delight.
Jesus invites us into the waters of his baptism,
into his tears, his suffering, his death.
And with him we are raised to new life,
born again of water and the Word.
God anoints us with the Spirit, to be a light to the nations,
to establish justice, to open the eyes of the blind, to set free the prisoners.
Alleluia! We are baptized into Christ,
and transformed by your grace. Alleluia!

Poetry

 
           Baptized into you

Eternal God,

Baptized into you,
I am immersed in you.

You are poured into me:
I am your body; you are my blood.

Baptized into Christ Jesus,
I am Christ myself.

My is life poured into the same cup
as you: one cup, one body.

With Christ, then, let me be poured out
in love for the world;

emptied infinitely, infinitely filled,
a vessel of your infinite Spirit.

Glory to you, O God,
Mother, Son and Holy Spirit.


Baptismal blessing

May the grace of a flowing spring well up in you,
a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
The renewal of a flowing stream be yours;
the gift of God’s blessing like warm rain fall upon you.
May God’s love, hidden as the darkness of the deepest sea,
full of wonder and mystery, give you peace.
May the river of your life carry you always in grace.
May the love of God flow through you,
making all the world green and beautiful.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Lead us always into the depths of your love, into the flowing stream of your Spirit, into the clear waters of discernment, and into the world to serve, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, you have claimed us as your beloved children., promised us your faithful presence, and anointed us with your Spirit that we may do your will in this world. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world as your faithful servants, that in our living we may show forth your grace and proclaim your love, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song) – [weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using one to three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
“You are my servant in whom I delight, a light unto the nations.”
Shine for the ones who dwell in the dark, with comfort and justice.

God said, “Let light shine out of the dark,” and shines with that glory in Jesus.
And when we turn our faces to Christ, God shines in our own heart.


See all songs with Baptism tag, especially these:


God, We Rise to Serve You       [Tune: Sing We Now of Christmas]

God, we rise to serve you, baptized in your love
as your Holy Spirit hovers like a dove.
We, your Beloved, whom you bless with grace,
offer you our gifts with love and joy and peace.

God, your Spirit in us, dove with wings unfurled,
gives us pow’r to bring forth justice to the world.
Baptized in Christ, we serve with mercy’s grace,
bringing to the world your love and joy and peace.


When Jesus Was Baptized (Tune:Cradle Song)

When Jesus was baptized, John said to repent,
and follow the Righteous One whom God had sent.
So wash us, dear God, and create us anew,
born fresh from your grace, living wholly in you.

When Jesus was baptized in waters that flow,
he sank in the Source of what makes all things grow.
So, held in Creation, renewed and made one,
we swim in the grace of your life-giving Son.

When Jesus was baptized in light, like a dove
your Spirit came down and you filled him with love.
So give us your Spirit: let all that we do
be you living in us, as we live in you.

When Jesus was baptized you spoke from above,
saying “This is my servant, my child, whom I love.”
So help us to hear you speak love when you call,
and as your Beloved, share freely with all.


You Are My Delight (Tune: Londonderry Air, “Oh, Danny Boy”)

We come with you, dear Jesus, through the desert hills,
down to the river, flowing gently by,
where through the rocks and valleys, deepening, it spills,
and flows into the sea, the earth, the sky.
As we sink down and rise up from the water
a dove descends, a voice speaks, clear and bright:
“Know you are my beloved son, my daughter,
my spirit is in you and you are my delight.

We go our way, and in our daily living
we follow you, and scatter rays of love
in deeds of caring, healing grace and giving,
for still we hear that voice and see the dove:
“No river can undo you, for with you I go.
I give my heart to you, and give you light.
For you are mine, I hold you and I love you so.
All water says, ‘Remember you are my delight.’”


          Offering Songs (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

Blessed by your Spirit, God, and immersed in deepest grace,
baptized in love, in love we live.
No floods can sweep away what you have given us,
and so our finest gifts we give.

—or—

Baptized in love, O God, and immersed in deepest grace,
in your Spirit we are one.
Yours are the gifts we give; yours are the lives we live,
bright shining as the morning sun.


             (Tune: OLD HUNDREDTH,
            or GIFT OF LOVE (“The Water Is Wide”),
            or Tallis’ Canon

To You, O God, our praise we give,
For baptized into Christ, we live.
Thus may your Holy Spirit be
Our life and breath eternally! Amen.


               (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

Baptized, anointed, filled with your Spirit,
we are appointed bearers of light:
for liberation, servants of justice,
bringing the nations joy and delight.

Gladly we praise you, God our Creator,
joyfully raise our hearts up in prayer.
Humbly we give you thanks, Holy Spirit,
help us to live your Word everywhere.

—or—
Great holy giver of life and wonder,
deep like a river your blessings flow.
Gladly we give you praise and thanksgiving:
gifts we will give wherever we go.


                (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, we are raised to new life with your Son,
filled with your Spirit and baptized as one.
Branches of one vine, your fruits we will bear,
going to all the world, your great love to share.

Epiphany – January 1 or 6, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 60.1-6 proclaims that light has come upon God’s people in the midst of the world’s darkness. This light enables us to see the abundance of God’s grace—so much so that other nations will also be drawn to this light. This passage also uses images that Matthew may have had in mind in the visit of the magi.

Psalm 72 is a prayer for the enthronement of a new king, asking that the king reign with justice (that is, with concern for all people, especially the poor), put an end to oppression and violence, and have dominion far and wide; and that the realm be blessed with abundance and peace.

Ephesians 3. 1-12 says that God’s self-revelation in Christ is not only for Israel but for the whole world: “the Gentiles have become members of the same body.”

In Matthew 12. 1-12 Magi from the east seek the newborn king. Though they are from another nation and practice a different religion, they see Jesus as having influence and even sovereignty over their own lives.

Preaching Thoughts

The 8th day. Merry Christmas. If you observe Epiphany on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, that’s the 8th day of Christmas. (Epiphany is January 6.) It’s a good time to remind folks that Christmas is not the 27 days from Nov. 28 – Dec. 24, but the twelve days from Dec 25 – Jan. 5. Twelve days. Let the liturgical rhythm help us get out of the commercialized, consumerist, materialism of our culture, and really observe the Christmas season as the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. So it’s still appropriate to sing Christmas songs this week!

Revealing. “Epiphany” means “revealing.” On this day God (in Jesus) was revealed to the people of the world, symbolized in the magi. The word “magi” that Matthew uses suggests Zoroastrian astrologers: not quite philosophers, and certainly not kings. Nothing scriptural suggests there were three, just because there were three gifts. (The gifts are an allusion to Isaiah 60.6: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of God.” Matthew, foreshadowing the cross, adds myrrh.) Nor should we insist the magi were men, though we might assume so. (So there could have been dozens of them, or maybe just a couple of old women.) But that’s not what Matthew is likely to have had in mind, since this is a purely symbolic story: what matters is that they represent people from outside the Jewish faith.

Light and justice. The theme of this season is that Jesus is the light of the world. The season begins with the light of a star and ends on transfiguration Sunday with Jesus shining with divine light on a mountain top. Along the way we hear a lot about light. Watch for it each week. (The song Light for the World, below, highlights those references.) The light of Christ’s love illumines our path and guides our way. We look at life in the light of God’s love, and that changes how we see the world. And the light of that love shines in us, so that our own lives become lights for others: streetlamps that offer guidance and safety, lighthouses that warn of danger, a new dawn that signals hope and beauty. Even when the scriptures aren’t literally talking about light, they describe how God’s love changes the world like light changes the darkness.

We also hear a lot this year about justice. God calls us to live in harmony with God’s spirit of compassion, which brings justice in the world like light in the darkness. Today’s world of political turmoil can feel pretty dark: things are worrisome, uncertain, unseen, and hard to discern. The world is full of shadowy figures who with selfish motives seem to avoid the light of truth, but haunt the poorly lit places. God’s mercy and justice shine light into such a world.

A King. Part of Matthew’s reason for this story is that it creates a reason for Herod’s slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem—setting up Matthew’s narrative invention of the flight to Egypt, to both parallel the life of Moses, and also with more foreshadowing to portray Jesus as a “wanted” person. But the crucial aspect of the story is the revelation of Jesus as a “king,” even to people outside our faith. We don’t have kings these days (though we do kind of miss Queen Elizabeth, don’t we?). But Jesus as “king” means someone who rules in our hearts. Someone whose word is law, whose laws are the way things work in their domain. Jesus as “king” suggests that love isn;t an option: it’s a requirement.

Of course such a mysterious tale as the traveling magi invites rich pondering on many themes:
• Faith as searching, sojourn and pilgrimage.
• Magi might represent the alien, the foreigner, the “infidel” who practices religions strange to us. How should we relate to those who practice other religions?
• Now there’s no star now, no baby. How might Christ be revealed now to others, especially those outside the Church?
• The magi were attentive to signs in the stars, and wiling to travel to a foreign land to honor a foreign king. Are we willing to be open to God revealed in unexpected, foreign or even “improper” places?
• The magi followed that star faithfully. Imagine being focused on a guiding light, without wavering or being diverted.
• What are the guiding stars in our lives?
• We can expect to encounter our Herods who oppose us or want to co-opt our faith; we will have to be ready to resist, to refuse to cooperate with the Powers.
• The magi returned home by another road. What new roads might we need to take?

Call to Worship

1.
Reader: People of faith, look! In our darkness a light shines: the star is love.
All: Alleluia! In gratitude we follow the star of love.
The star moves ahead of us, and leads us faithfully.
Alleluia! In wonder we follow the star of love.
The star hides itself in each of us: in everyone we meet, in all God’s people.
Alleluia! In devotion we follow the star of love. Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Rise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
All: Darkness covers the earth, but you have risen upon us.
We see and are radiant. Our hearts thrill and rejoice.
By the grace of your mercy may your dawn rise upon us.
Give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and guide our feet in the way of peace. Amen.


3.
Leader: God of Mystery, your light has led us to you.
All: Alleluia! All through our days your Word has shone; your star has lit the way.
You have accompanied us, guided us, and guarded us.
Alleluia! We have come through miles and years to this place, this moment.
We have come to praise you, to honor you, to worship you.
Alleluia! We thank you for your grace. We wonder at your presence.
And we are still learning to seek your presence and to follow your light.
We are still asking, “Where is the child?”
Help us to search, and help us to find.
God, we praise you for the One who shepherds your people.
Alleluia! We worship you with thanksgiving and praise.
Open the eyes of our hearts to see, and to wonder. Alleluia!


4.
Leader: God, you led the magi by a star to find the Christ child.
All: Lead us by your Word, and draw us closer to you.
The magi gave the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Help us by your Spirit to honor Christ by giving our gifts.
Like the magi, we are seeking you. Help us always to seek, and to find.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Light of the world, you shine upon us, and we thank you.
Light of Christ, you lead us, and we gladly follow.
Alleluia! Shine upon us in our worship,
that we may bear your light into the world. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Holy Mystery, your light shines in the darkness. The bright star of your loving presence hovers over us, shines within us, and leads us steadfastly. We pause now to watch and listen, to take our reckoning by your star, that we may continue to follow faithfully, to seek you in this world, and to give you our gifts. Speak your Word, for we are listening. Amen.

2.
God of Mystery, God of Revealing: as the magi searched diligently for the Christ child, may we also continually seek your presence. As the light of the star led the magi, we pray that the light of love will lead us always. May the light of your Word shine upon us now and lead us nearer to you. Amen.

3.
Loving God, the magi sought the Christ child over miles and years. We, too, seek your Christ. By the light of your Word, lead us to life. Speak to us and we will listen. Lead us and we will follow. Amen.

4.
God of truth, your star led the magi to the Christ child. Your Word is a lamp for our feet. Lead us by your light. Shine your Word upon us. Help us to seek, to see, and to follow. Amen.

5.
Eternal God, you led the magi by a star to the Christ child. Lead us by the light of your Word into the presence of Christ. Bring us near, bless us with your light, and enable us to open the treasure chests of our hearts and offer you our gifts. Guide us by your holy light, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

6.
Light of stars, glimmer of grace, shine for us.
Spreading light of the morning dawn, give us hope and beauty.
Light of Christ, gleaming in one another’s eyes,
speak to us of your glory.
Light of love, flaming in our hearts,
lead us toward you in wonder. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God of Love,
we confess we do not always follow your star of love;
we turn aside; we weary of the journey.
We confess we sometimes cooperate with Herod;
we sometimes fail to give our gifts.
Forgive us; renew your Spirit in us.
Be our star and guide us.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
      We trust in God, Creator of all that is, whose light guides us and whose grace extends to all people of the world.
      We follow Jesus, the Christ of God, Light of the world, who is the ruler of our hearts, before whom we bow in adoration and reverence, to whom we offer the gifts of our hands and hearts. Jesus loved people and healed them, and taught the way of true wisdom. Though many would make him king, he was not a ruler of a nation but the Prince of Peace. Earthly kings were threatened by him, and crucified him, but he was raised from the dead, sovereign even over life itself.
     We live by the Holy Spirit, whose light is a star that guides us, whose grace gives us gifts to offer the world, whose companionship makes us one with peoples of all nations, tribes and traditions. In the power of that Spirit we devote ourselves to love and justice, for the sake of Christ, the sovereign of our hearts.

2.
Leader: The grace of the Beloved, Jesus Christ, be with you.
All: And also with you.
Pastor: The splendor of Christ shines upon us.
People: The light of Christ guides us.
A star of grace and hope shines on our horizon.
We will follow.
The light of love will lead us to the Christ child.
We will honor him and offer our gifts.
The powers of this world will try to use love for greedy purposes.
We will learn to go by another road,
to live by another way, the way of mercy and justice.
Lead us, O Christ, by the light of your love. Amen.


Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of Light, Star of Love,
we fix the eyes of our hearts on you.
Lead us; guide us
to where shall see Christ,
and kneel.

Eucharistic Prayer

[Advent Eucharistic Responses includes some musical responses (Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen) that are appropriate for Epiphany.]

After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.

——— #1 ———

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you and praise you, Divine Mystery,
Creator of all that is and all that shall be.
Stars of your making sparkle above us,
and to those who are wise and attentive they reveal your presence.

With starlight and pillars of fire you have led us out of darkness and into light;
through prophets and poets you have led us in wonder and love.
And you have given us gifts, that we may live fully and richly in grace.
As magi knelt before the Christ child and offered their gifts
we kneel in humble gratitude and offer you gifts,
in one voice with all creation singing your praise.


             [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate]

        [Alternate version : this and and following responses sung to the tune of “We Three Kings”]
        
Holy, Holy, Holy One, God whose love is bright as the sun,
        all Creation sings your praise! Hosanna we sing as one!
        O, Blessed is the one who comes in your name, O Holy One.
        Praise! Hosanna in the highest! Peace on earth, to everyone.

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He bore your love to all people, including those of foreign lands and religions.

He offered us gifts from the treasure chest of his faith:
he forgave and taught; he fed the hungry and healed the broken;
he proclaimed a new Realm of grace and justice.
The rulers of Empire sought him and killed him,
but you raised him from the dead.

This is the wisdom that leads us, the star that lights our way.

[The Blessing and Covenant …]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim mystery at the heart of our faith:


        Memorial Acclamation
                
[Sung version:]
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory, leading us all to life.
        O, God of mercy, God of light, God whose love in us burns bright,
        lead us, guide us, walk beside us, fill us with your gentle light.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.

Open up your treasure chest in us,
that we may be a royal priesthood of your love.
Guide us by the light of your love to do justice, to practice mercy,
to kneel humbly before you in every child of yours.
And you, children, will be called prophets of the Most High,
for you will go before God to prepare God’s ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins.”
By your tender mercy may your dawn from on high break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Great Amen
[Sung version:]
        Amen! Your will be done. Amen, O Holy One.
        Make us now the living Body of Christ, our Love, your Son.
        O, praise be yours, and glory be all throughout eternity!
        Alleluia! Alleluia! Thanks and praise we sing to thee.


——— #2 ———

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of light, you blessed the darkness with Creation.
You fashioned us in the light of your love.
In the night of our bondage
you broke the power of oppression and set us free,
leading your children by a pillar of light.

You call us always to follow your light,
even the faintest star of love and justice and mercy.
Therefore with those who come from afar to honor you,
and with all Creation, we sing your praise.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ, light of the world.
He loved and healed, and showed to many your light shining in them.
He showed us the light of love
and taught us to forsake all that glitters and follow that light alone.
By oppression he was crucified,
but by grace you have raised him from the dead,
still coming among us to renew your covenant to be with us in love.


[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
your Word made flesh in our daily lives,
light for the world, in the name of Christ. .

                [Spoken or sung]
        Amen

———— #3 ———


God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Blessed are you, O God, Creator of all things,
and ruler of all that is to come.
In the beginning was your Word, which is the light of life,
through which you have made all things.
Though we turn from your light, still you shine upon us and within us,
and lead us to seek your presence, guided by the light of wonder.
Therefore, in company with those who bring you gold,
we honor you with our obedience and our praise:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
Child of Mary, Light of the World and Prince of Peace.
He has brought us the light of hope and healing,
and embodied your Covenant to be with us in love and blessing.
[… The Blessing and Covenant…]

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it:
for you have raised your Crucified Christ from death.
Therefore in company with those who bring you myrrh
we offer you our life unto death,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith.


             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on is, that we may be the Body of Christ for the world.
In company with those who bring you frankincense
we offer you our prayers, our worship and our service.
Unite us with you, with one another, and with Christ, in service to others.
Grant that by these gifts at work in us we may be light for the world
in the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

               
[Spoken or sung]
       Amen.
____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after Communion / Dedication / Sending

[Adapt as needed]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for ( the mystery that/ this mystery in which) you have given yourself to us. Send us now into the world, attentive to the star of your love, following it with faithfulness, seeking its glory in all we meet, and shining with its light through our humble giving of the gifts you give us, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for ( the mystery that/ this mystery in which) you have given yourself to us. You have fed us with the light of your love, even in the shadow of Empire. Send us into the world to serve you faithfully. Lead us by your light; give us courage to follow and not turn back. Give us wisdom to know when to go by another road. Guide us with the light of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have revealed yourself to us in Christ, in the Word, in this meal, and in your Spirit within and among us. Send us into the world to search for your presence, to follow your light, and to be a light for others in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that/ this mystery in which) you have given yourself to us. By the light of your grace you draw us closer to your heart. Send us into the world to seek your presence, to give our gifts, and to lead others toward you by the light of our love and faith, in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

5.
Gracious and ever-present God, we thank you for (the mystery that/ this mystery in which) you have given yourself to us. Bless us that by your gifts at work in us we may shine with the brightness of your appearing. Send us into the world to bear your light, to guide those who seek you and to illumine the path of those who struggle. Christ, Light of the World, be with us! Holy Spirit, star of our hearts, shine brightly! Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song) – [A weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using one to three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
Magi who followed the light of your star offered their gifts to your glory.
May we shine brightly wherever we are. Our love will tell your story.

May we be guided by love alone, the star shining bright in our darkness.
For when we follow the leading of love, we’re nearer to you, God.


Guiding Star (Tune: Of the Father’s Love Begotten)

Christ we search for you with longing, but we need not travel far.
In the darkness shines a mystery; in the night a radiant star.
For your love appears before us, gleaming right where we are,
evermore and evermore.

So we bring our gifts to honor you, and we come on bended knee,
offering our hearts and living, that to you the glory be.
May your light adorn and guide us, now and in eternity,
evermore and evermore.

Christ, you are the star that guides us; your love is the way we know.
Keep us faithful in our seeking: may we take the path you show.
May the light of your love shine in us, here and everywhere we go,
evermore and evermore. Amen.


        Two song songs of Invitation to Communion (Found in Advent Table Songs)

Lovely Jesus (Tune: Rocking)
Lovely Jesus, light divine, light divine,
light of the world and light of mine.
I will follow, follow, follow you.
Lead me in what love will dare to do.
Here I bring my gifts to you.
Use them as your love will do.

Gentle Jesus, friend and guide, friend and guide,
now you call us to your side.
Here you give yourself as living food,
and we feast in joy and gratitude.
Gentle Jesus, make us one;
may your will in love be done.


Your Light (Tune: What Child Is This)

O God, your light now fills our sight;
your song now fills our hearing.
Our gifts we bring, and your praise we sing,
as we feast at Christ’s appearing.
Christ, Christ, Emmanuel,
your love we share, your grace we tell.
Christ, Light of the World, we come!
O fill us, Love, with your brightness!


       Three Blessing Songs (All are in Advent Blessing Songs)

Light of Christ (Tune: Away in a Manger)

My friends, may the star over Bethlehem’s skies
now give you God’s peace, make you gentle and wise,
and lead you, as though by a light from above:
the light of dear Christ in you, shining with love.


The Star (Tune: What Child Is This)

O God, may all your Church make flesh
the Word that you are giving;
the love of Christ and the Spirit’s power
make holy all of our living.
Love, love shall be the light
by which we live: so bless our sight.
Love, love shall be the star
by which you guide our living.


Walk Beside You (Tune: We Three Kings)

Go in peace, and take from this place
our dear love and God’s deep grace.
Serving, healing, Christ revealing, be God’s human face.
Oh, God of wonder, God of light,
shining with a love so bright,
bless you, guide, you, walk beside you,
fill you with God’s gentle light.





5th Sunday after Epiphany

February 5, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 58.1-9— God criticizes religiosity that does not lead us to love our neighbor and care for the poor. “You serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress your workers. But real religious observance is to do justice and set people free.” In this your light will shine.

Psalm 112.— The righteous are those who give to the poor and delight in God’s will. They will be fearless in the face of adversity. They will be light in the darkness for those who hope.

1 Corinthians 2.1-5— The power of our ministry is not in our eloquence or wisdom, but the truth of Christ’s love, and the wisdom of God that transcends our own.

Matthew 5.13-20 —Jesus says we are light for the world, and calls us to live with righteousness: not legalistic conformity, but living by the light of God’s desire.

Preaching Thoughts

Isaiah puts a new spin on the epiphany theme of light. We’ve heard that God’s light shines on us: now Isaiah says that our own light is “under a bushel,” to use Jesus’ image—the bushel of our injustice and selfishness. Our light can’t shine when we’re concerned with our own self-centered well-being. When we remove that covering—when we practice justice, mercy, generosity and love—our light is revealed like the dawn of a new day: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”

Neither Jesus nor the prophets would say your religion is between you and God. To love God is to love your neighbor, to serve them, to work for justice. “Righteousness” doesn’t mean being right., morally or otherwise. It means in right relationships. Faith is communal. As Paul says “We do not live to ourselves.” We are salt and light for the world. Too many folks think the essence of Christianity is “believing in Jesus” but Jesus would scoff at that. He wasn’t into “belief” as doctrine. The essence of Christianity—the saltiness of the salt—is loving your neighbor. For Jesus, to believe isn’t about what you think but how you trust. It’s not about believing “that” something is true, but believing in it: giving your heart to it. Believing in God means trusting God’s grace—which moves us to love our neighbors.

To be “light for the world” might simply mean to shine with God’s glory. Maybe it’s to illumine the path, so that by the light of the way we live others can find their way. To be a lighthouse pointing the way to justice and warning of the shoals of injustice. Maybe it means to live out the truth, in world world darkened by lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories. Maybe it means to live with love that brightens the world of the people around us.

We don’t value salt for its own sake, but for what it can do for our food. Especially in Jesus’ time it preserved food and made it palatable. For its usefulness, salt was worth money. We are “salt for the earth” only if we do what we are called to do. To be salt might mean to bring out the best in others. It might mean to be faithful to the gospel of God’s love for everyone. Maybe it means to be faithful to ourselves, to who God creates us to be—and to become.

Call to Worship

1.
Reader: In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was God, and flowed from God.
All: And the Word is love.
Everything was made through the Word,
and what came into being through the Word is life.
And the life is the light of all people.
We worship in the light of God
Fill us with your light, O Love, that we may shine for the world. Alleluia!

2. [ Psalm 112]
Leader: Praise God! Happy are those who delight in doing God’s will
All: They are like light in the darkness.
They give generously and lend; they do justice.
They are not cowed by news of evil:
their hearts are firm, secure in God.

Their spirits are steady; they will not back away,
while the wicked fill themselves with worry and anger.
Praise God, who sustains the weak and the needy!

3. (1 Cor. 2.9-10)
Leader: No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what the Holy One has prepared for those who love God.
All: But these things you have revealed to us through the Spirit;
for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
Reveal your light to us, O God, so that we may be your light.
Let your grace shine in us, that we may be light in the darkness
for all those who struggle or wander.

Illumine our way, that we may faithfully follow Christ.
Be our light, that we may be light for others, in the name of Christ. Amen.


4.
Leader: Creator God, Light of heaven, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, light of the world, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, light of God within us, we shine with your loveliness.
Our lives are your praise. Our Being is your glory.
God, you have created us to shine with your love.
We confess that we have hidden your light;
but you forgive us, restore your radiance in us,
and give us as light to the world. We thank you.

May your light redeem us, and gleam in us with beauty.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit of Light, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God, speak your word to us, a lamp unto our feet, so we may know your ways.
Shine your light upon us, so we can see your path.
Shine your light within us so we can know your presence.
Shine your light out through us,
so we can help you bring your love into this world. Amen.

2.
Eternal God, your light created the universe.
Your light shines in us.
Speak the light of your Word to us and re-create us,
that we may be light for the world,
in the spirit of Christ, our Light. Amen.

3.
God of life, in this sometimes dark world we seek you, our light, our sun, our dawn. We open the eye of our hearts to the morning sun. Rise upon us, speak your Word to us, and awaken us to your new day, with the voice of Christ, and the warmth of your Spirit. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, Jesus expressed great faith in us, calling us salt for the earth and light for the world. Kindle your light in us through the reading of scripture and the proclamation of your Word, in prayer and in song, in bread and in silence. Light the lamps of our hearts that we may radiate with your love, in the name and the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Holy God, your light exposes our sin, but bathes us in grace.
In the light of your love we see ourselves truly.
We hold in your light all in us that is hurting and hurtful,
release our judgment of ourselves and one another,
and ask your healing and forgiveness.
[Silent prayer … the word of grace]

Readings

1. 1 Corinthians 2.1-12, a paraphrase
      When I came to you, siblings in God, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. All I know for sure is Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and trepidation. My argument didn’t rest on philosophical wisdom, but it arose from the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
       When those who are spiritually mature speak of wisdom it is not what the world thinks is wisdom, and certainly not the powerful people—they don’t know a thing about life. But we speak of God’s wisdom—confusing and obscured to them—which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Sovereign of glory. But, as it is written,
               “No eye has seen, nor ear heard—
               no, it hasn’t even dawned on us,
               what the Holy One has prepared for those who love God.”
     But God has revealed these things to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit knows everything, even the depths of God.

2. Psalm 112, a paraphrase
Holy One, our hearts sing your praise
with light that will shine forever.
Knowing you, we know deep joy.
The way you show us is the way of delight.
We draw close to you,
and blessing overtakes us.
Your grace is the greatest treasure in our house.
It will remain even when the house is gone.
Because your spirit is in us
we are gracious and merciful, desiring harmony.
We rise like candles in the dark
light for all who are searching.
We are fearlessly generous;
we are resolute in building justice.
We cannot be undone.
This light will shine forever.
Anxious rumors don’t budge us;
you are our solid bedrock.
In you we are steady. Fear can’t shake us.
In the end, we will look on what tried to destroy us,
and we will smile.

We share abundantly. We give to the poor.
It’s your generosity, not ours, shining in us forever.
The selfish and fearful only get more fearful; they rot in it.
But this light will shine forever.

Poetry

The Light Does Not Insist

Even on the darkest winter days
light reaches in,
gently entering my dimmest rooms:
neither hesitant nor brash,
simply offering itself
with no mind to all that is opaque,
all that distorts,
transfiguring the room.
and the air in the room.

I, too,
reach in toward that gentle light,
not anxious or forceful,
that calmly glows
and changes everything.

           —Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of Love, Light of Life,
may your sun shine on us,
shine on all living things,
shine on the world.
May your light pierce the darkness in us,
and transform it;
your light radiate from within us
out into the world,
giving it beauty and grace and healing.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Holy One, may the light of your love shine in us:
      that we may loosen the bonds of injustice,.
May the dawn of your justice rise in us:
      that we may undo the thongs of the yoke..
May the candle of your courage burn in us,
      that we may let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke
May the sun of your compassion shine in us,
      that we may share our bread with the hungry.
God of grace, by your spirit at work in us
      our light shall break forth like the dawn,
     and our healing shall spring up quickly.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

In the beginning you said, “Let there be light.”
Through your Word all things were created, and in them was the light of life.
In the light of the rainbow you made covenant with all Creation.
In the pillar of fire you led us and all people out of slavery to freedom.

With the light of your Word you have guided us though law and prophets,
and in the fullness of time you sent Jesus, the light of the world.
Therefore with all who have been set free, all who shine with your light,
we sing your praise.


    [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

       [or alternate]

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He healed and fed people, he taught and forgave.
He saw your light in all people, and called us to shine with your grace.
He gathered a community of love and mercy, founded in your realm of justice.
For his resistance to oppression he was crucified,
but you raised him from the dead;
and he continues to renew your Covenant to be with us in love forever.


[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
     —or—
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.

     [—or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
redeemed by your grace, shining with your light,
for the sake of the wholeness of the world.


            [Spoken or sung]
    Amen.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have filled us with your light. Send us into the world to shine with your love and mercy, to do justice, to embody your Word, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have filled us with your loving presence. May your light shine in us that we may do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you for the sake of the world, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

3
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have fed us with your light; you have salted us with your grace. Send us into the world that in all our living we may be light. Send us to do justice for your sake, that we may be light for the world and seasoning for the earth, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song)
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season. The refrain is the same throughout: the soloist’s verses reflect the day’s readings. Relevant lyrics for this week:]

Congregation:
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Soloist:
Those who do justice are happy indeed: they are a light in the darkness.
Those who are generous shall not be moved, remembered forever.

“This is the fast that I choose,” says our God, “to loosen the bonds of injustice.
For then your light shall break forth like the dawn, rising in the darkness.”

You are the light, the light of the world. Give thanks for the light shining in you.
Let your light shine so that others may see, and glorify God.

Advent 1-November 27, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Isaiah 2.1-5, in a time of violence and despair, the prophet envisions a radical transformation of the nation and the world into a community of peace, and invites us to walk in God’s light.

Psalm 122 imagines people streaming to Jerusalem. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem—holy city of three major religions, and site of much conflict—is to pray for all people, trusting in God’s peace.

Romans 13.11-14
urges us to awaken from sleep, for our salvation is like the morning that is about to dawn. Like Isaiah, Paul invites us to live in God’s light.

In Matthew 24.36-44 Jesus tells us to be awake and alert all the time, for we do not know when God will appear in our lives.

Preaching Thoughts

       The lectionary text for the first Sunday of advent always feels wrong. Our people are getting ready for Christmas. We want the cute little baby, not the end of the world. Nevertheless we realize the world is pretty screwed up, and in need of a major overhaul. It turns out the radical transformation scripture is talking about is just what we need, and just what Christmas will be all about. But first comes the hard work of acknowledging the mess we’ve made, turning our hearts toward God’s promise of a different world, and then… waiting.

Isaiah
       The image of “swords into plowshares” may be God’s promise—but we’re the ones who have to do the actual blacksmithing. What are the swords you need to convert? Probably not actual weapons, though those are included, too. It may include ways of being in conflict, or a desire to conquer or hurt others to get your own way. Maybe your anger is the sword you need to hammer into a new shape. Even anger can be a helpful resource, but not when used as a weapon.

Romans
       Wake up. It’s the most consistent spiritual message in every tradition. The dual action of our ego’s anxieties and society’s is a powerful medicine that lulls our hearts to sleep, closes down our spiritual senses, dulls our awareness. The “works of darkness” aren’t just evil things we plot in secret. They’re all the ways we keep ourselves unaware, the blinders we wear, the ways to dull our sensitivity to the world’s pain and beauty. To wake up is to be fully present to this life, awake to what God is doing, aware of the world around us, with our passions and our creativity heightened. To be awake is to notice keenly, to feel deeply, to interact authentically. The spirit of Advent requires us to be awake to the promises of God, to see them at work in this world even when it doesn’t look like it. With “the eyes of our hearts enlightened,” as Ephesians says.

Matthew
       What a blow, as we’re counting the days till Christmas, for Jesus to say “No one knows the day or hour!” We prefer events that are in our control, subject to our planning. But God’s New Reality will break in on us when we don’t expect it, like a thief in the night. (In fact it probably won’t come on Christmas Eve.) So we have to be ready. We have to be awake. Advent is a time to sharpen our spiritual senses. It’s a different kind of awareness than our ego’s obsession with opportunities to provide for ourselves (“On sale Now!”) and protect ourselves (“They’re taking our jobs!”). The kind of spiritual wakefulness Jesus has in mind is paying attention for signs of God’s coming, being attuned to how grace moves in this world, listening for that “still, small voice” that whispers the Word of belovedness beneath the rush and roar of the world. It’s a quiet, patient way of perceiving, like a doctor listening to a heartbeat, like letting our eyes get used to the dark.

Call to Worship

[See also Lighting the Advent Candle]

Leader: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Eager for the coming of Christ,
let us enter into the mystery of God’s dawning presence among us.
Loving God, we open our hearts to you,
and await your gracious coming.
In the winter darkness we long for your light.
We confess our need for your grace,
for the sin of our lives and the brokenness of this world.
Come, O Lord! May your peace dawn on our world.
Come, O Savior! May your grace be born in our hearts.
Bless the darkness, that we may wait with hope.
Bless the silence, that we may listen for your coming.
Grant us stillness, that with patience and courage
we may prepare room in our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ.
Come, O Savior, Come!


Lighting the Advent Candle

[In addition, here is a series of four Advent wreath prayers suitable for Year A.]

1. (Isaiah 5.2-5)
Leader: In days to come peoples shall come and say:
All: Come, let us go up to the mountain of God;
that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.

For God shall judge between many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

2.
Reader: Read Romans 13.11-12
Leader: Light of God, holy dawn, rising in our midst, awaken us to your promise.
All: By your gentle light may we see your hope for the world.
Light of Christ, rising in our hearts, awaken us to your coming.
By your growing light, may we see your presence hidden in all things.
Spirit’s light, rising in our world, awaken us to the gift of hope
By your transforming light, may we se all things with hearts full of hope,
longing for your coming. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.


3.
Reader: Read Romans 13. 11-14
Leader: This candle represents our longing.
All: We long for deeper faith. We long forGod to come close.
We long to live more fully in harmony with God’s delight.
Awaken your hearts. Let your longing be God’s song in you.
Let your longing be a sign of God’s longing in you.
God of life, what new birth arises by your grace within us?
What new life unfolds by your mercy among us?
We come to listen, and to see.
We open our hearts to the coming of Christ in us and among us in new ways.
Awaken us, God, that by your Spirit we may be ready
for the coming of Christ.


4.
Leader: Lord of light, we kindle this flame as a sign of hope.
All: Even in the darkness, the dawn is upon us,
and our deepest longings lead to you.

Dear Child, prophet of the most high, grant us healing and forgiveness.
By your tender mercy, may your dawn from on high break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of light, in the darkness of this world your dawn is rising. Your love is at work. Waken our spirits. Keep us ready to see you. Open the ears of our hearts, ready to hear you. Speak, for in the dark, we are watching. We are listening. Amen.

2.
Gentle God, the darkness draws in around us. In our hearts, in our communities, in the nation and the world there is mistrust and fear and despair; there is hurt and injustice. Yet you promise your light. You promise you are coming. Ready our hearts, God, for your coming. Help us to see signs of hope. Help us to see the coming of Christ. Amen.

3.
God, we long for more than what is visible in this life. We yearn for the presence of Christ. Come, then, in Word and Sacrament, in prayer and song, in silence and in companionship: come, and be Christ among us. Awaken us to your promise. Alert us to your presence. Revive us with your Word. In the name of Christ, and the grace of your Spirit, we are listening. Amen.

4.
God of Creation, we long for your Word. We yearn for your presence. Come to us in this darkness, speak to us, and bring us your light. Light of Christ, shine on our path; chase away all darkness, and lead us to the heart of God. Amen.

5.
Gracious God, you came to us in Jesus, your Son. As we await his coming again, make ready our hearts to receive your Word made flesh as it appears among us. Bless us, that we may prepare ourselves for your coming in peace. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God of life,
we confess we are asleep;
oblivious to our sin,
ignorant of your grace.
Awaken us; open our eyes,
to see our sin and brokenness,
to see your forgiveness and healing,
through the gift of Christ Jesus,
to shine with your grace

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Leader: Awaken our hearts, God, to your promise.
Help us to walk in your light.
All: Loving God, you birth new life within us.
With open hearts, we await your coming.

Poetry

Manger

In rough-edged wind,
edge of town,
end of day,
light all used up,
a shed waits, still,
dust settling,
shadows
bedding down for the night,
doors resting on their hinges.
You want to say it’s empty,
but it’s full—
full of silence, of longing,
of waiting,
full of God’s hopes,
full of space for a birthing.

The passion that makes worlds
is still dreaming.
This stable is made of that,
the manger carved, through eons,
of your deepest ache,
this empty space,
this womb,
created by your soul, unerring,
leaning with God toward that realm.

Enlarge its longing in you.
Breathe in.
Let the cupped hands of the manger
hold your heart open
with God’s deepest desires.
The angel song that sounds like sorrow
but feels like joy,
the harmony of longing and confidence,
swells in the waiting silence,
wondering.

Warm wind
blows in through the window.

Reading

O Hands of God
[May be read responsively.]

O Holy Presence, whose love brings all things into being,
        —come, and draw open by your light the ancient blossoms.

O Beloved, radiant with glory in all Creation,
        —come, and awaken us; teach us to see.

O Hands of God, who has opened doors that none could shut,
who has healed and blessed, and none could defy,
        —come, and hold us in your grace.

O King of Gentleness, who knows our sorrow
and yet embraces us with joy,
        —come, and guide our hands in the way of healing.

O Open Eye, who sees us in all truth, and loves us,
        —come, and reveal in us your beauty.

O Light of Justice, whose heart breaks for those who sit in darkness,
        —come, and show us the way of courage and compassion.

O Companion, who makes us all one in your love,
        —come, and kindle in our hearts the spirit of the Beloved.

Eucharistic Prayer

———Sung prayers———
Here are four Eucharistic prayers set to familiar Christmas tunes: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Rocking, Rocking,” and “What Child Is This.”

“Longing Night,” an original song (see below), includes music for sung Eucharistic responses.

———Spoken prayers———

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

—— #1 ———


God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of Light, we thank you,
for in the beginning you brought light out of darkness.
In Egypt you condemned the forces of oppression
and brought us out of slavery to freedom.
In the wilderness you fashioned your People.
In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus
you shined light in our lives, light that renews the world.

We rejoice on the light of hope; and therefore with your people
and with all Creation we sing your praise:

Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who loved the neglected and healed the broken,
who gathered the outcast and gave hope to the despairing.
Christ is the flesh of your presence and the light of your coming.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

Memorial Acclamation—Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
filled with the light of your presence,
living in hope of your coming.
—Amen—

————— #2 —————

God is with you.
And also with you.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of God.
Let us be wakeful, for the Chosen One
is coming at an unexpected moment.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Holy Mystery, Radiant Darkness,
in the depth of the night, and the failing of our light,
we behold your glory, and we thank you.
In the cold of this season, we sense your warmth
as you wrap yourself around us, and we praise you.
In this darkness you are coming, as you always have,
as in the beginning you drew light out of darkness,
as you brought Israel out of slavery,
and deliver your beloved from all oppression:
still you come to us and deliver us.
Still you provide for us: light in the darkness,
food in the wasteland, love amidst injustice and violence.
Even now you are coming in new ways,
as you renew all of Creation.
We behold your mystery unfold among us,
and we come to your table in awe and gratitude,
and with all Creation we sing your praise.

Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Beloved, whose birth we await,
and whose love we remember.
In love he healed us and fed us and set us free.
He came to heal us of our injustice,
yet by that very injustice he was taken into death.
But in your grace you have raised him from the dead.
And so we await the one who is always present, always coming,
who renews with us in this meal
your covenant always to be with us in love.

—The Blessing and Covenant

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation—

In this meal the night is far gone; day is near.
Therefore our out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
In our love may we be living signs of your coming,
one in your Spirit, and awake in hope,
trusting that even now you are coming anew,
transforming the world according to your delight.
—Amen—


————— #3 ——————


God is with you.
And also with you.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of God.
Let us be wakeful, for the Chosen One
is coming at an unexpected moment.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Blessed are you, O God, creator of the dark and of the light.
This world is yours, and all that is in it.
You who create us in your image, who call us as your Beloved,
who rescue us from evil and turn us from injustice:
you are present even in the darkness;
even now, you are coming.

Awaken our souls to your coming, Beloved!
Waiting for your appearance,
with all Creation we sing your praise.

     (Sanctus)

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who has come among us bearing your love.
He taught us your ways and walked in your paths.
He opened our eyes and awakened our hearts.

In his love, and in his death and resurrection
you have revealed your covenant to be with us in love.
The night is far gone and the day is near;
in this meal we both hope and remember.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     (Memorial Acclamation)

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

laying aide the works of the shadows
and wearing the armor of light,
beating our swords into plowshares,
walking in the light of your love.

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
and ready for your coming,
and we watch for you, now and in the days to come.
All praise be yours. Alleluia!
     
(Amen.)

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Beholding your presence, we trust your promise. Send us into the world, awake to your grace, shining with your light in the darkness, as signs of your coming, alive with hope, in the name of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Blessed with a taste of the glory of your coming, may we prepare in peace, and wait with the confidence of the angels. Send us now for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and Spirit of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(All songs with “Advent” tags, of course, but especially these. Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Child of Promise (Original song)

Child of promise, oh, child of hope, prophets spoke of you:
visions treasured but unfulfilled. Shall our dreams come true?
Help us wait for you.

Child of woman, oh, child of God, birthing us anew,
make a room, oh, make a womb, in our hearts for you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of patience, oh, child of pain, suffering ills we do,
heal, forgive and help us be gentle child, like you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of wonder, oh, child of joy, you make all things new.
Re-create us, come again like the morning dew.
Help us wait for you.


Come, O Savior (Original Song)
[May be sung in one piece… or one verse at a time in various points of the service…or used throughout the season of Advent, using one verse each week. As usual, the lyrics of each verse correspond to themes of the week’s lectionary readings.]

Spirit of peace, be born in us.
Help us to walk in your light.
Help us be ready, help us be wakeful.
Give us deep gentleness, and a spirit of peace.
Refrain: Come O Savior, Come, we pray.
Come, O Savior, Come.
Come, O Savior, Come. Amen.

Spirit of wisdom, be born in us.
Grant us the fruit of repentance,
that we no longer will judge with our eyes.
Give us deep vision, God, and a spirit of hope.
Refrain

Spirit of joy, be born in us,
grateful for gifts of your healing:
bodies made whole and a whole new Creation.
Give us deep patience, God, and a spirit of joy.
Refrain

Spirit of holiness, come to us.
Grant us the courage to serve you,
trusting your mystery growing within us.
Give us deep willingness, and a spirit of love.
Refrain


WEEKLY ADVENT THEME RESPONSES

[These songs are designed to be used throughout Advent, using one verse per week. Each is a dialogue between a soloist (or ensemble) and congregation. Each week’s (solo) verse reflects the week’s Lectionary readings, especially in Year A. The congregation’s response remains the same throughout the season. Below are the current week’s lyrics.]

Come, Holy Dawn (Original Song)

Congregation:
Come, morning star, light our way in our darkest night.
Come, light of God, grant us peace, gently shining bright.
Come, holy dawn, sun of love, fill us with your light.

Solo:
Waken now, my people! Morning soon will rise.
Love is working quietly. Open up your eyes.


Come, O Jesus (Original song)

Soloist, introduction:
Rise, O people, awake!
The light of Christ is dawning!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Come, O Jesus, come!

Congregation, chorus:
Dawn on us from above. Raise us up in your love.
Awaken our hope with the day, and lead us in your way.
Come, O Jesus, come! Come, O Jesus, come!

Soloist, verse:

Salvation is near, the day is at hand. Rise and put off the night.
Walk in the light of our God with hope. Awake, and greet the light! (Chorus)


Longing Night (Original song)

Introduction- Cantor:
      Alleluia. Alleluia. Make ready your hearts for the Coming One. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Response- Congregation
     In our deepest longing night, dawn upon us, God of light.
VersesCantor:
     Now is the time to wake from your sleep. The night is far gone; the day is near. Response
    Watch for the unexpected hour. Come, let us walk in the light of God.
Response

Sunday After Christmas – January 1, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Note: Epiphany does not appear in this year’s Sunday readings. Because it’s the starting point of the season, you might consider using Epiphany readings this Sunday.

Isaiah 63.7-9 proclaims the stunning news that God did not just send a messenger for our salvation, but came in person, saying, “Surely they are my people.” One way to translate verse 9 is, “In all their distresses God was distressed. The angel of God’s presence saved them.”

Psalm 148: All people and all Creation praise God who has “raised up a horn”—that is, who has acted decisively for us.

Hebrews 2. 10-18: Jesus is “the pioneer of our faith,” the one who goes first, whom we follow. Through “sufferings,” that is, through human experience, he has been “perfected:” not that he never makes mistakes, but that he is in harmony with God, even though he must suffer for it. Jesus is glad to claim us as his siblings. Because he shares our life and sufferings, he can authentically free us from our enslavement to our attachments and our fear of death.

In Matthew 2. 13-23 Herod reacts to the birth of a potential king by slaughtering all of Bethlehem’s baby boys, but Jesus and his parents escape to Egypt.

Preaching Thoughts

The story of the flight to Egypt parallels that of Moses, of course, who comes from Egypt, who escapes an angry king’s attempt to kill all the male babies, and who grows up to set the people free. Jesus’ life parallels the whole nation of Israel’s. (The image of Rachel weeping for her children is from Jeremiah 31:15, in a lament about the people taken into exile.) Preachers often want to skip this story, especially the reason for the flight—the slaughter of the innocents— for fear of “scaring the children” (it’s actually the adults who’ll be troubled). But the story of the flight to Egypt without the persecution makes it sound like a holiday, not story of people fleeing for their lives. It’s the story of refugees the world over.

But the truth is that this is the Christmas story (and the world we live in): God dwells with us amid violence, evil and injustice. The struggle between good and evil isn’t some cosmic battle out among the stars: it’s right here in ordinary human hate, discrimination, greed and violence. It’s the rich and powerful oppressing the poor and vulnerable. And God is always among the victims, not the violent; the refugees, not the settled ones; the vulnerable, not the powerful. And yet God, the poor, despised, homeless alien, is the Source of All Power.

Seeing God in this “powerless” way opens our eyes to God’s grace for us even in difficult situations. (Where is my “Egypt?” How does God accompany me?) It re-aligns our sense of “good.” (“Good” doesn’t mean successful; “different” doesn’t mean evil.) It opens our eyes to issues of justice. (Where is the Holy Family now? Who are the refugees?) It calls us to examine our own complicity with injustice. (How have I participated in endangering the Christ child? Have we welcomed or refused the holy refugees?) It calls us to act on behalf of the vulnerable. (How could we contribute to the well-being of people society endangers, rejects or ignores?)

In light of this, what does it mean to follow Jesus. As Hebrews says, Jesus is the “pioneer of our faith.” He isn’t a hero we’re supposed to idolize; he’s a leader we’re supposed to follow. And that means following him in bearing love into the suffering of the world.

Herod’s violence affected the holy family from the outside; but God’s grace sustained, empowered and guided them from within. Even amid the awfulness of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, something new emerged in the life of the child Jesus. New Year’s Day is a good day to acknowledge the violence of our world, and the allegiance it asks of us; to confess our complicity in it; to renounce the forces of domination, oppression and injustice; and to resolve, by God’s spirit, to live by values contrary to the world’s values: lives of love, mercy and justice.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Praise the Holy One, sun, moon and shining stars!
All: Praise God, earth and sea and all its monsters, fire and snow, hail and frost!
Mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and birds, praise!
Rulers and peoples, men and women, young and old, praise!

For God has raised up a ruler for all people,
a gift for God’s faithful, for those who are dear to God. Praise the Holy One!


2.
Reader: [Isaiah 63.7-9]
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Holy One,
        the praiseworthy acts of God,
because of all that God has done for us,
        and the great favor to the house of Israel that God has shown them
        according to God’s mercy,
        according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
For God said, “Surely they are my people,
        children who will not deal falsely”;
        and God became their savior in all their distress.
It was no mere messenger or angel
        but God’s presence that saved them.
In love and in pity God redeemed them;
        God lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Leader: Let me tell you the wonderful things God has done!
All: Yes! The mercy God has shown us! The overflowing, steadfast love!
God said, “These are my people, and they will be true to me.”
And God became our savior in all our distress.
God, it was not merely a messenger or an angel,
but your presence that saved us.
In your tender love you redeemed us.
You have lifted us up and carried us since the beginning. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: I bring you good news of great joy,
for unto you is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.
All: Alleluia! Christ, holy child, bearer of the light of heaven among us,
we greet you with glad and humble hearts.
Jesus, the pioneer of our faith, who saves us and makes us holy,
is not ashamed to call us siblings.
Alleluia! Jesus, our brother and our teacher,
we praise you and we open our hearts to you.
Christ shares our flesh and blood, and shares our suffering,
so that we might be set free from our fear of death.
Alleluia! Christ our savior, free us from our fears and attachments,
and save us from sin and death.
Living among us, transform us by your Spirit
and fill us with your glory. Alleluia!


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
God, you spoke to us through the prophets, and led us in your way.
You spoke to Joseph in his dreams, and guided him through danger.
You led the magi by a star, and guided them to Christ.
Alleluia! Speak to us, God, and guide us.
Be present with us, Christ, and save us.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
People: Holy One, and we worship you.
For the birth of your son, we thank you.
No one has seen you,
but Christ has made you known.
Alleluia! You have dwelt among us,
and from you we have received grace upon grace.
Bless us that we may shine with your light.
Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, you have come among us in the flesh, sharing the dangers and fragility of the flesh. Among those who fear and hate you have come as a child, defenseless and tender. Speak to us now, and give us courage, that in a world of hardness we may be children of peace. Amen.

2.
God of tender love, you came into this harsh world as a helpless child. Your Word was made flesh by a poor peasant. We thank you for the gift of your Son, the gift of your presence among us. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts to behold your presence and to hear your Word in faith and joy. Amen.

3.
God of glory, your Christ is born among us! We come to the manger to kneel in awe, to give our gifts, to keep watch in silent praise. We belong to your mystery. We belong to this little child. We belong to your grace. Speak to us, and fill us with your Spirit. Amen.

4.
God, we are not saved by a messenger, but by your very presence in Christ, your Word made flesh. Bless us now that we may be mindful of your presence and open our hearts to your Word, so that we, too, may make your Word flesh in our lives. We pray in the Spirit of Christ, who is with us. Amen.

5.
Gracious and Eternal God, angels appeared to Joseph in dreams, and guided him in protecting the Christ child. Come to us now in our worship and speak to us, and guide us. Fill us with your Spirit that we may hear and obey, and so serve and glorify you. Open our hearts now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God, of grace,
we who are attached to our lives as they are
confess that we need to be made new.
Forgive our sin, heal our hearts, and re-create us.
As the new year dawns,
let the old self we fearfully cling to pass away;
raise us in your love,
and grant that we may continually be made new
by your grace.
(Silent prayer…)


Response / Creed / Affirmation:

1.
I recommend the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan tradition: “I am no longer my own but thine…”

2.
Leader: Today God gives us a new year,
a new day in this world of beauty and wonder.
Yet Herod still reigns with evil and violence,
with the domination, oppression, injustice and enmity
by which Empire works.
All: We acknowledge that we live in a world
of cruelty and injustice, a world that needs to be healed.
Herod did not slaughter those children on his own;
he enlisted an army, the army of the Empire.
We confess that acts of injustice are carried out in our name,
that we are complicit in injustice and oppression.
God of love, we ask your forgiveness, and trust your grace.
By the grace of God, we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
We renounce the powers of evil and injustice
and the violent ways of this world.
In this new year we can be made new people,
set free from the world’s ways of domination and cruelty.
Baptized into Christ, renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we are freed from old ways that we have followed.
We resolve to live new lives, lives of mercy, love and justice,
in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
God, by your grace, may all the world be made new!


Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

The day is new;
the year is new;
let your grace unfold in us,
that we, too, may be made new.

Eucharistic Prayer

[Following the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you, God, that you make all things, and make all things new.
You create us in your image; you claim us as your children,
and you guide us by your grace.
You judge for forces of oppression and set free all your beloved children;
and you call us to bee free.
From every yoke of slavery you liberate us;
you lead us out of narrow confines into broad and spacious places.
Even in the terror of oppression under Herod
you brought forth something new in Jesus.
And you guide us, as you did Joseph and Mary, toward peace.
By your Spirit in us you heal us, transform us
and enable us to become new people, born anew of your Spirit.
And so, with all your saints, we sing your praise.

     —Sanctus

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who transformed our old faith and made it new.
He fed the hungry and healed the broken,
who took old, wounded lives and made them new.
Amid the strife of violence and injustice
he gathered with his beloved and celebrated in a new way/
your Covenant to be with us in love forever.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
set free and made new by your grace,
re-dedicated to your love in this world,
looking forward to a whole new Creation,
by your grace, in the name of Christ.

Amen

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for / your grace / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You dwell among us in the poor and the vulnerable, and you call us as well to this holy self-giving. Send us into the world as your light, to care for all your holy children, in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Your Word is made flesh in our midst in Jesus, in the bread and wine, and in our lives. Send us into the world to embody your love and to live in peace and compassion with our brother Jesus, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, Joseph served you in faith, and through his obedience great gifts came into this world. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. IN this new year, make us new, and send us into the world to listen for your Word and to follow in faith, to serve you by serving others, in the name of Christ. Amen.


Suggested Songs

As on Christmas Day, I recommend singing all those less commonly sung Christmas songs you haven’t sung yet.

[Click on the title to view on the music page.]


Peace, Peace, Peace (Tune: Still, Still, Still)
[Music includes optional parts for two flutes.]

Peace, peace, peace. God grant you peace, my friends.
The Christ child comes, so sweet and tender.
Greet him with your trust and wonder.
Peace, peace, peace, God be with you, my friends.

Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.
Here at the manger humbly kneeling;
gladly going, serving, healing.
Love, love, love, love light your way, my friends.