Get reading for Worship!


Did you know that most of the time we follow a pattern of scripture readings in our worship services? It’s called “following the lectionary” and it is based upon a three-year cycle of Bible readings. Many churches follow this pattern — Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc. Sometimes, we set aside the lectionary readings in order to do a sermon series based upon other Scripture readings that we would not otherwise hear in worship.

We invite you to spend some time each week “reading ahead” and pondering the readings that you will hear in upcoming worship services. If you take this challenge, think about how it will change how you hear the word in worship after you have spent reading it during the week. It’s a great way to get ready for worship by reading for worship! 

Sunday, February 11, (Transfiguration of Our Lord/Last Sunday after Epiphany)

Introduction

The Sundays after Epiphany began with Jesus’ baptism and end with three disciples’ vision of his transfiguration. In Mark’s story of Jesus’ baptism, apparently only Jesus sees the Spirit descending and hears the words from heaven. But now Jesus’ three closest friends hear the same words naming him God’s Beloved. As believers, Paul writes, we are enabled to see the God-light in Jesus’ face, because the same God who created light in the first place has shone in our hearts to give us that vision. The light of God’s glory in Jesus has enlightened us through baptism and shines in us also for others to see.

Readings and Psalms

        • 2 Kings 2:1-12
          Elijah taken up to heaven and succeeded by Elisha
        • Psalm 50:1-6
          Out of Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth in glory. (Ps. 50:2)
        • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
          God’s light seen clearly in the face of Christ
        • Mark 9:2-9
          Revelation of Christ as God’s beloved Son

Overview

Transfiguration: Amazing Then and Now

Imagine what would happen if someone from the days of Jesus were suddenly transported to our present. How would someone accustomed to walking everywhere respond to driving in a car at top speed, let alone flying in a jet? How would someone who spends their life depending on—at best—oil lamps for light respond to electric lights? It is fun to muse at how people might respond, as we reflect on how sophisticated we are.

Now imagine if the scene were reversed. How would someone accustomed to understanding much in the world around them respond to an event as otherworldly as the transfiguration? We understand volcanoes and the northern lights. We can explain lightning and thunder. We know about germs and disease transmission. So what would we do when confronted with something so amazing, awesome, and unexplainable?

The transfiguration is one of those ancient events that still puzzle us. What really happened to Jesus that day? Since we cannot go back to that time, we are left to speculate. We take stabs in the dark and make educated guesses, but at the end of the day we are left with a holy mystery to ponder.

Whatever happened that day, there is a timeless spiritual reality behind the physical details Mark gives us. God sometimes uses extreme and amazing methods to transform us when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. God’s spirit transfigured Jesus then. That same Spirit is still transforming people today. We don’t have to explain first-century miracles to trust that God’s transforming Spirit is timeless and at work within each of us today. We do not have to understand everything to see the beauty of God at work in the world, continually transfiguring us into the people we were created to be.

Sunday, February 18, (1st Sunday of Lent)

Introduction

On Ash Wednesday the church began its journey toward baptismal immersion in the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, the Sundays in Lent lead us to focus on five covenants God makes in the Hebrew Scriptures and to use them as lenses through which to view baptism. First Peter connects the way God saved Noah’s family in the flood with the way God saves us through the water of baptism. The baptismal covenant is made with us individually, but the new life we are given in baptism is for the sake of the whole world.

Readings and Psalms

Overview

The Power of Water

Water is an integral part of the created order. Water sustains and fosters life; too little or too much water can end it. A glance at the news headlines points out the destructive power of water’s presence or absence: In the United States alone, 2011 saw severe droughts afflict several parts of the country. On the opposite end of the spectrum, floods ravaged the Plains states in the spring and summer, displacing from their homes many people who live near rivers and streams. For those dwelling on or near the Eastern Seaboard, hurricane season is a tense time every year. Yet we need water as much or more than we need food, shelter, or the other “staples” of human life. Since ancient times we have established our communities near sources of water. We cannot survive long without it.

The tension between the saving and destructive powers of water fills today’s lectionary readings. The waters of the flood overwhelmed the world in the days of Noah, yet 1 Peter reminds us that God delivered Noah and his family from death. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus only after his baptism by John, yet the Spirit immediately drives Jesus into the desert—a place defined by its lack of water. Through water and the word, in baptism our old, sinful self is put to death, and we are reborn as children of God. But the current that flows through these paradoxes is this: in death and life, in flood and drought, God remains faithful. As the psalmist reminds us, God’s mercy and steadfast love “are from everlasting.”

Sunday, February 25, (2nd Sunday of Lent)

Introduction

The second covenant in this year’s Lenten readings is the one made with Abraham and Sarah: God’s promise to make them the ancestors of many, with whom God will remain in everlasting covenant. Paul says this promise comes to all who share Abraham’s faith in the God who brings life into being where there was no life. We receive this baptismal promise of resurrection life in faith. Sarah and Abraham receive new names as a sign of the covenant, and we too get new identities in baptism, as we put on Christ.

Readings and Psalms

Overview

Promises, Promises

The story of God’s relationship with God’s people is a story of promises fulfilled. We hear about God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham in today’s Genesis reading and about its fulfillment in the New Testament texts. As Paul reminds us in Romans, we are the multitude of nations that were promised to Abraham; we are his descendants in faith. “Kings of peoples” (Gen. 17:16) descended from Sarah’s offspring; Jesus Christ, the King of kings, is Lord of all through his death and resurrection.

From generation to generation, God is steadfast. No matter how many ages pass or how often we turn away, God remains faithful. This is the great hope of our faith—no matter how often we stray or how great our sin, God persists in loving us. Jesus Christ binds us to God through our baptism into his death. In worship—especially through confession, affirmation of baptism, and communion—we continually remember the lengths to which God goes to keep covenant with us. The promise of salvation extends even into the future, as the psalmist reminds us: Our children and our children’s children will proclaim God’s salvation to generations yet unborn.


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