Sermon Seeds: Listening, Speaking, Acting

Second Sunday after Pentecost Year B
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proper 4


Lectionary citations:
1 Samuel 3:1–10, (11–20)
Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
2 Corinthians 4:5–12
Mark 2:23—3:6

Worship resources for the Second Sunday after Pentecost Year B, Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 4) are at Worship Ways

Sermon Seeds

Focus Scriptures:
1 Samuel 3:1–10, (11–20) and Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
Sample sermon on Psalm 139

Focus Theme:
Listening, Speaking, Acting

by Kathryn Matthews

Our reading from the Book of First Samuel is one of many “call narratives” in the Bible, stories about individuals who received a call from God: just last week, we heard the dramatic story of Isaiah (6:1-8) in the temple, having both a visual and auditory experience of God’s call. “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” Isaiah responded with those familiar words, “Here I am. Send me!”

There are many “call stories” that are less dramatic than Isaiah’s but no less life-changing for those who receive them. There are those who resist the call (think of Job), those who have their lives completely changed (think of the Apostles), those who become “famous” and foundational as ancestors in faith (think of Moses and the Burning Bush) and others, like Samuel, whose story may not be as familiar to us as Moses’ story is, but they nevertheless experience a profound sense of God’s presence and guidance, God’s call, in taking them where they may never have imagined they would go.

A little boy hears God’s voice

In this week’s text, the hearer is a little boy, Samuel, who is called to become a “trustworthy prophet of the Lord.” John Rollefson draws a parallel between this story of Samuel and the story of Jesus as a lost little boy in the temple. He notes the similar phrasing between Luke’s telling of that story (Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor,” 2:52) and the note on Samuel, as he was serving in the temple: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (1 Samuel 2:26). According to Rollefson, then, “A good call story is worth retelling” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3), and this week we hear Samuel’s.

The lectionary at times seems to give us mere snapshots of biblical history, so we might miss how fraught this moment is for the people of Israel–although the text notes, ominously, that “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The priest, Eli, was old and tired and needed his rest. We don’t get a sense that there is strong, energetic and visionary leadership at the helm of things. David McCreery calls this a “pivotal time in biblical history, as it marked the transition from the old tribal confederacy–in which Israel understood itself as a theocracy led by charismatic judges–to a monarchy led by Saul, David, and Solomon respectively” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).

An important moment

So this is a turning point, an in-between time but one marked as always by God’s presence: we note how important it is, in such a time, to be open and listening to God’s call, however it is experienced. Samuel is not the wise elder with a lifetime of listening for God’s voice; he was taken as a small child to the sanctuary at Shiloh and dedicated to God’s service, and he had a lot to learn from the aged priest.

We may remember Eli from the story of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. She was the beloved (favorite) wife of Elkanah who had trouble conceiving a child; when she was praying at Shiloh, pouring out her distress silently (but moving her lips), Eli noticed her rather judgmentally at first, but then with a measure of kindness (1 Samuel 1:12-17). Hannah promised God that, if given a son, she would offer him back to God’s service (1:11), and that she did. (Then she sang her beautiful Song of Hannah, which is echoed in Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55.)

Listening for whose call?

And that is why we find little Samuel asleep there in the tabernacle at Shiloh, near the Holy of Holies, and listening for his mentor’s call. We can certainly understand why the young boy would not presume to listen for the voice of God; not only was it “rare in those days,” but Samuel was just a little boy, and why in the world would God call on him, rather than the more learned, more experienced ones who surrounded him? Of course, we’ve “heard this story before,” when the unexpected, smallest, least powerful and important people are called forth and given authority and power and responsibility.

I’ve heard this story so many times, and I suppose we hear it differently depending on where we are in our life experience and our life situation. Most stories in the Bible are about men, even young ones, and the stories we hear about women (most of them, unlike Hannah, are unnamed) are usually told in relation to those stories of men. Thus, we don’t hear how Sarah felt when Abraham “heard the call of God” to kill her only child, the one she miraculously bore at an advanced age. We also might wonder how Hannah could bear to leave her little boy in the care of strangers, and we wonder if we could do the same.

A patient mentor

Another way to hear the story is to consider how irritable I might feel (at my age) if I were repeatedly awakened by one of my grandsons, for example, who thought I was calling him. Eli comes across as remarkably patient with Samuel, and “the third time is the charm,” as the saying goes. He is finally awake enough to discern the possibility that God is speaking to Samuel over there in the temple, and I have to wonder, too, how he resists going back with Samuel to listen with him. If the voice of God was so rare in those days, I wonder how the elderly priest had the humility and willpower to resist listening, too.

James O. Duke writes of the “tenderness” in this story: “Eli, roused from sleep and at first quite at a loss about the situation, is no mean and nasty faith-based institutional ward keeper from a Dickens novel. He is kindly and, although slow on the uptake, offers the boy sound counsel. Also tender in its persistence and tone is God’s call to Samuel, by name. This is not thunder, fire, whirlwind, or ‘wizard of Oz’ or ‘raiders of the lost ark’ pyrotechnics” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).

Indeed, compared to burning bushes and angels around the throne of God, this encounter with the Holy is remarkably quiet and personal, though still powerfully compelling (and, we find out later, not such good news for Eli and his family).

Samuel’s response, and the rest is history

Samuel’s response not just on that late night but throughout his life ahead embodies a wholehearted acceptance of, and response to, God’s call to listen, to speak, and to act (that’s why we have two books of the Bible bearing his name). Rollefson notes that he is the last judge and both prophet and priest, “a triple-threat, well qualified to kick-start, even if reluctantly, Israel’s monarchy and midwife the story of God’s covenanted people into its next political incarnation under kings Saul and David” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).

We may not make choices or receive a call that plays such a pivotal role in the history of God’s people, but our hearing of, and reflection on, this ancient story (so unlike our own, perhaps) inspires us to consider how God calls each of us, in our own day. We are, each of us, precious in God’s sight, and we are, each of us, called to play a role in the marvelous drama of God at work in the world.

Hearing God’s mysterious call

The reading from Psalm 139 goes well with this story and relates to our own call from God. Perhaps we’re not called in the same way, by a mysterious voice in the deepest night, but there’s a powerful connection between our call from God and who we are in the depths of our being, not only our gifts and talents but also our most profound inner life and reality.

More than one writer calls Psalm 139 a creation psalm, but not one about the vast mysteries of the heavens and earth or even the marvelous workings of nature around us. This creation is God’s own ongoing work in bringing us to fullness of life, unwrapping the mystery of us and loving us all the while. While much of the Bible is about “the people,” this one is about a person, each one unique and of immeasurable worth.

What is the value of a life?

The nightly news brings us constant reminders of the devaluing of human life, with death tolls from war, starvation, and other horrors reported, numerically rather than by name, let alone by the intimate and sacred story of each person’s life. Might war itself finally end if we heard the names of all its victims, one by one given its moment of honor and remembrance? Allen McSween urges preachers “to reflect on the sanctity of life, not as a political slogan or a wedge issue, but as an expression of the worth God gives to the work of God’s hands” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1). So this psalm is about creation, our own identity within it, and how near God is to it all.

Wrestling with questions of identity and the meaning of life, McSween turns to a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in prison, as he waited to be executed by the Nazis. “He ends the poem,” McSween writes, “by asking, ‘Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O [God], I am thine.'”

While we immerse ourselves in identity politics and divide our communities by labels, setting one group against another, we are reassured by this psalm that we belong to God and that we are intimately and steadfastly loved, with a tender and everlasting love by the One who fashioned us, each in the quiet darkness of our mother’s womb. McSween hears this same assurance repeated by Paul in his soaringly beautiful words about the mystery of who we are: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12) (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1).

Are you who God created you to be?

We are “not mass-produced but custom-made,” James Limburg writes in his commentary on the Psalms (Westminster Bible Companion). He tells the story about “young Rabbi Zusya, who was quite discouraged about his failures and weaknesses. Said an older rabbi to him, ‘When you get to heaven, God is not going to say to you, “Why weren’t you Moses?” No, God will say, “Why weren’t you Zusya?” So why don’t you stop trying to be Moses, and start being the Zusya God created you to be?'”

And this profound sense of our identity and our belonging to God, of God’s ongoing creation of us, of our being called and then called again, each one of us with our unique gifts and life story, connects with God’s call to us. Deborah Krause describes God’s call as “an invitation to a lifelong relationship with God that in the midst of life’s challenges and adversity is charged with the assurance of God’s presence and is connected to a deep awareness of God’s sovereign purposes of justice and peace for all creation” (New Proclamation Year B 2006).

A challenge with the reassurance

Isn’t this good news? And don’t we need to hear it? Don’t we need to know that God is with us, no matter what and no matter where? Nevertheless, Walter Brueggemann still finds a challenge within this reassuring text. Yes, the psalm expresses confidence in God, a “faith that is solid, tight, and deeply assured….serious, insistent, and buoyant.” No matter what, God is with us, even, as the psalmist says, in deepest darkness, not just any darkness, Brueggemann says, but “that pre-electricity context darkness ominous, dangerous, filled with threats and spirits, like children know, like our failed city streets.” The most frightening places we can imagine still are filled with the presence of God, abiding with us.

The psalmist, Brueggemann says, “is Job before the trouble.” But then his commentary takes a different twist, as he suggests the possibility of a “religious temptation” prompted by certitude when we think that we know God and God’s thoughts and intentions (getting it backwards, it seems). When we read the entire psalm, we most often leave out the verses that make us so, well, uncomfortable: the ones asking God to “kill the wicked,” the ones about hating them “with perfect hatred” (vv. 19-22).

The confidence to judge?

Brueggemann explores our tendencies to fall prey to a certitude that we call faith, about God’s intentions, especially if it works out well for us: “Anybody who equates his or her own program with the reality of God can be brutally shrill toward opponents and wondrously innocent about self.” His insights go right to the heart of so many controversies in the church, in society, and between nations, as too many of us, even when trying to be faithful, “hold so passionately to faith as to judge all others in the name of God” (The Covenanted Self).

Brueggemann recognizes the beauty of the psalm, too: “not a lesson in biology,” he writes, but “a dazzling affirmation about the mystery of life that is hidden in God’s powerful will” as it speaks of the “inscrutability of the human person” (The Covenanted Self). It’s about our call from God, yes, but it’s also a loving God’s reassurance that, no matter what anyone says and no matter what befalls us, in every moment of our lives, we are precious in God’s sight.

The weekly prayer from the Revised Common Lectionary is particularly beautiful this week, and serves as a good way to let the story of Samuel encourage us to be open to God’s call in our own lives: “Holy God, you search us out and know us better than we know ourselves. As Samuel looked to Eli for help to discern your voice, and as the disciples looked to Jesus for your wisdom on the sabbath, so raise up in our day faithful servants who will speak your word to us with clarity and grace, with justice and true compassion. We pray through Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.” May we listen, then, and speak in our turn, and act as God would lead us to act. Amen!


The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

Sample sermon on Psalm 139:

Psalm 139 is my favorite psalm. I’m often reminded of it by a parent’s love, or a grandparent’s love, when someone has watched a child grow and has loved that child every moment of his or her life. There’s a children’s story, The Runaway Bunny, that makes me think of Psalm 139. No matter what the little rabbit would do, no matter where it would go, its mother would still love it.

Perhaps that would make a good children’s moment or church school lesson. It can be a challenge to preach on a psalm, but I found this particular one a wonderful text for reflection. In the hope that it might be helpful to those preparing to preach, I offer an adapted text of a sermon I once preached on Psalm 139:

I’ve been reading the most fascinating book on the mind. Or the brain. Or both. The things they’re discovering about the brain contradict much of what science held as dogma for a long time (yes, religious folks aren’t the only ones who have dogmas); it’s amazing, truly amazing. The way we work, the way God made us: we are such a mystery, and yet…and yet, God knows us in our innermost being: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away….I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

One reason I love Psalm 139: it reminds me of my firstborn son, John. Since before John was born, we’ve called him “Beau,” which is French for handsome, which is what he is. When I watch this fine young man, who teaches fourth grade in an inner-city school and is such an excellent daddy to his own children, I close my eyes and still see the little guy in his train engineer’s cap and overalls, playing workerman, methodically stacking and re-stacking his boxes of diapers, or turning his little slide over on its side, jumping up on top and flying it as his helicopter.

I see an earnest little boy on his first day of school in blue slacks, white shirt and a tiny little tie. I see a twelve-year-old with incredibly dirty arms and legs, ripping off his shin guards and talking a mile a minute about the soccer game he just finished. And I see a teenager, no longer a boy and not quite yet a man, with legs too long for the couch and an appetite to match. Beau is now forty-three years old, but to me he is still all of these ages, because I have known him since before he was born, when I felt his movements and the beat of his heart next to mine.

When I was growing up, I thought we all got some kind of training for parenthood; after all, it looked like a pretty hard job. I asked my neighbor, a young mother of three, where she learned how to be a mother. She patted her oldest child on the head and said, “This is the one I learned on.” Beau is the one I learned on. But he’s taught me some things, too.

When he was in second grade, preparing for First Communion and earnestly attentive to his religion lessons, he was sitting next to me in church one morning when I was feeling perturbed about exclusive language and probably one hierarchical issue or another. I wasn’t connecting too well with God.

But then I heard this soft little voice in the pew, next to me, singing these words along with the rest of the congregation: “Yahweh, I know you are near, standing always at my side….” This hymn, written by Daniel Schutte, was a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 139, and I let the words, not my scattered thoughts, carry me back to where I needed to be, and a little child led me there.

Unlike the rest of the Bible, the psalms are addressed directly to God. The other books are history, stories, law, proverbial sayings, letters and other forms of writing. But the psalms are Israel’s prayer book, and even today, thousands of years later, they still express our deepest feelings, fear and joy and anger and confusion, better than anything we can come up with.

Isn’t it amazing to think about the psalmist: I picture him or her sitting on a rock on a hillside, although he or she was probably in a more liturgical setting, writing these words that call to mind the pictures, provided by modern technological wonders, of an unborn child, sucking her thumb and swimming about in her mother’s womb: “It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And what kind of prayer arises naturally in our throats when we see such a wonder? A prayer of praise, not of ourselves, as if we are responsible for our own beauty or even for the beauty of our children. From our hearts comes a prayer of praise and worship and adoration of the God who has formed not only the vast expanses of heaven and earth and all the unfathomable mysteries they contain, but also the tiny, delicate fingers and toes of a newborn baby.

Now, what I know to be true is that it is easy for us, as parents, grandparents and loving friends, to see the beauty and wonder of God’s handiwork when we look at a newborn baby or a child, or when we raise our eyes to the heavens and gaze at the stars, or when we walk in a garden and see the exquisite loveliness of flowers and stones side by side. What seems to be more difficult is for us to look at ourselves, all grown up and somewhat the worse for wear, and pray that same prayer with quite the same enthusiasm.

As we live out our lives, knowing failures and shortcomings as well as accomplishments and success, we seem to know especially well our faults and limitations. Of course we try to hide them. But they are ever present in our own minds. Peter Gomes, the Preacher to Harvard University, wrote a book about the Bible called The Good Book. In one chapter, entitled “The Bible and the Good Life,” he describes the “imposter syndrome” that afflicts us all. We spend our days, he says, in image building, trying to hide our weaknesses from one another, whether in the boardroom, on the athletic field or on the battlefield. We dress a certain way, use body language and speech in a certain way, and even pile up credentials and experience to prove that we are “good enough.”

Here’s what Peter Gomes says about that: “Well, there is good news, and that is why they call it the gospel. The news is not that we are worse than we think, it is that we are better than we think, and better than we deserve to be. Why? Because at the very bottom of the whole enterprise is the indisputable fact that we are created, made, formed, invented, patented in the image of goodness itself…., and it is that image that provides security and serenity in the world. People may take everything away from you, they may deprive you of everything you have and value, but they cannot take away from you the fact that you are a child of God and bear the impression of God in your very soul. You cannot be destroyed, and that cannot be denied.”

What the psalm tells us then is that God is with us at the core of our very being, deeper than anything the scientists, bless their hearts, can ever measure or understand. The psalm reassures us that no matter what, God knows us, each and every one of us. We are precious in God’s sight.

I recall a meeting of the Education committee at a church I served years ago, where I listened to the members talk about the children and youth in the church school. At the beginning of a new school year, they were discussing who would be in which grade levels, and I heard them, in a sense, mark the growth of each young person as he or she moved up from one level to the next in their religious education.

As they named each child or teenager, you could tell that the teachers knew them and cared about them, and saw them progressing in their life of faith. We even had a rather serious and challenging discussion about whether this child or that one would mind bringing in a stuffed animal for a certain project, but we decided that even the high schoolers wouldn’t mind doing so, since our college students had managed to sneak their teddy bears into their suitcases when they went off to school. (Yes, even Beau still has his teddy bear.) The words of the psalm speak of a tender, attentive God who loves us even more and even better than we love one another.

I also heard the psalm in the background as I visited church members who were ill: I could hear the words, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” as I listened to them express their thanks for all of the prayers that helped them get through their difficult time. I saw healing and growing strength, tender care provided by loved ones, and the effect of a supportive community of faith on those who needed them. I saw people being held fast by the right hand of God.

Recognizing in our own goodness and beauty the handiwork of God draws us to praise God and to accept God’s sovereignty in our lives. The Broadway musical, “Titanic,” provides an illustration of human beings admiring themselves too much and believing that they could in fact control their world, if not the universe. Early in the play, as the ship departs from England, when everything is going well and everyone is terribly impressed by human cleverness and technology, the ship’s officer gets to take over the command of the huge ocean liner briefly from the captain.

The song he sings sounds like a hymn, but he is singing to himself, as he realizes that he’s controlling this extraordinarily massive moving object. He thinks about the thousands of people whose lives he has responsiblity for. It makes him feel quite proud and impressed with himself. But at the end of the play, that same officer watches from a lifeboat as the mighty ship sinks with hundreds of people aboard, and he sings the same song, only this time it really is a hymn, a hymn to the God who holds all of these, living and dead, close to God’s heart. Who, then, is sovereign in our lives, and how often do acknowledge that we are not the ones in charge?

For further reflection:

Hafiz, 14th century poet
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing Light of your own Being.”
“No one could ever paint a too wonderful picture of my heart or God.”

Nanette Sawyer, 21st century (in The Hyphenateds)
“Imagination opens up possibility, but sometimes we do not dare to imagine something as beautiful as God.”

Albert Einstein, 20th century
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

Lao Tzu, 5th century B.C.E.
“From wonder into wonder existence opens.”

Thomas Carlyle, 19th century
“Wonder is the basis of worship.”

Eric Samuel Timm, Static Jedi: The Art of Hearing God Through the Noise, 21st century
“Little decisions over time make a big impact on our lives.”

William Stringfellow, Count It All Joy, 20th century
“Listening, in other words, is a primitive act of love, in which a person gives self to another’s word, making self accessible and vulnerable to that word.”

Alfred Brendel, 20th century
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”

Chaim Potok, The Chosen, 20th century
“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it.”

Vernon Howard, 20th century
“Inner guidance is heard like soft music in the night by those who have learned to listen.”

Lectionary texts

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.” As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

O God, you have searched me
   and known me.

You know when I sit down
   and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts
   from far away.

You search out my path
   and my lying down,
and are acquainted
   with all my ways.

Even before a word
   is on my tongue,
O God, you know it

You hem me in,
   behind and before,
and lay your hand
   upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful
   for me;
it is so high
   that I cannot attain it.

For it was you
   who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together
   in my mother’s womb.

I praise you,
   for I am fearfully
and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;
   that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden
   from you,
when I was being made
   in secret,
intricately woven in the depths
   of the earth.

Your eyes beheld
   my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days
that were formed for me,
   before they existed.

How weighty to me
   are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum
   of them!

I try to count them–
   they are more than the sand;
I come to the end–
   I am still with you.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work–you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Psalm 81:1-10

Sing aloud to God
   our strength;
shout for joy
   to the God of Jacob.

Raise a song,
   sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre
   with the harp.

Blow the trumpet
   at the new moon,
at the full moon,
   on our festal day.

For it is a statute
   for Israel,
an ordinance of the God
   of Jacob.

God made it a decree
   in Joseph,
when he went out
   over the land of Egypt.
I hear a voice
   I had not known:

“I relieved your shoulder
   of the burden;
your hands were freed
   from the basket.

“In distress you called,
   and I rescued you;
I answered you
   in the secret place
of thunder; I tested you
   at the waters of Meribah.

“Hear, O my people,
   while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would
   but listen to me!

“There shall be no strange god
   among you;
you shall not bow down
   to a foreign god.

“I am the Sovereign your God,
   who brought you up
out of the land
   of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide
   and I will fill it.”

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Mark 2:23-3:6

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.  
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday”–not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”

So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the “received” tradition!