Here is the worship service for January 31, 2021, the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.
The worship bulletin can be found here. It has all the words of the liturgy, the page and hymn numbers that correspond with the ELW, and the sermon in full (which is also found below the video).
For the fullest at-home worship experience, you can have a few elements around your space. You can have a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and then a lit candle for the whole service which can be extinguished at the end of the service with the candles in the church. These are all optional of course, but designed to make your home worship all the better!
We hope your time of worship is full of joy and blessing!
Holy God, burn within our yearning hearts and minds the understanding of your truth found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So any of you see how the stock market went nuts this past week? I should say that I’m not really into trading or anything nor do I have much experience or knowledge in the field, mostly because I don’t have that kind of money to play with like that. However, I did learn a lot this past week.
In case you didn’t hear, a whole bunch of Reddit users (Reddit being an online messaging board) targeted a few short listed stock and bought them up like no one’s business, making the prices of these stock skyrocket and costing a lot of short list investors a bunch of money. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry as you’re not alone. I’ve been reading about this whole thing almost non-stop all week, and I still don’t really understand how it all works or what even the big deal is. All I know is that some regular middle class people got really rich really quick, and some really rich people are not as rich anymore.
Of course, Wall Street wasn’t liking this. I read many Tweets and articles siding with the market about how these folk from Reddit were being malicious, unscrupulous, and just ruining things for the real investors, i.e. those rich people I mentioned earlier. It got so bad that some of the apps and platforms they were using to buy and sell these stock completely blocked the trading of those particular stock and they even shut down the subreddit message board where they hatched this plan so they couldn’t even communicate with each other anymore.
Now, I know you all might have different opinions on this whole situation. And I figure that those different opinions would largely depend on whether you made money or lost money or had no stake in it whatsoever. But what I want to highlight from this strange situation is the discomfort that Wall Street went through once it realised that it wasn’t completely in control, that there are weaknesses in their well laid out systems and procedures to get the rich richer, and what is good for them might not be good for everyone. That is tough news to swallow. So much so that out of their discomfort, they actually lashed back in finger pointing, name calling, and shutting down those who they felt were attacking them and did whatever they could to regain control again.
And such is the reaction to the message of a prophet. I’m not saying that Reddit is prophetic or anything like that. I mean, it isn’t a bad source for news and really funny memes, but I don’t think I’ve ever had my life changed by anything I’ve read there. But what I mean is that the message they tried to send to the big wigs of Wall Street is very similar to that of a prophet, as a prophet’s message is usually an uncomfortable one. It is usually a message of some kind of judgement, some kind of reckoning, some kind of change that needs to take place. And people don’t like those kinds of messages, so the prophet isn’t exactly the most favourite person in the neighbourhood.
Because really, who likes to be told what’s up? Who likes to be reprimanded, corrected, and disciplined? Who likes to have their faults and shortcomings brought to light? I don’t, that’s for sure. Like I said, it’s uncomfortable. It’s unpleasant. And probably most of the time, it’s unwanted. So the prophet must really believe in their message that they give, because the wrong message according to today’s first reading, will result in death. Not exactly a promising career prospect.
But it needs to be done. The prophet’s message must be told. Like it or not, we need to be called out on our sin and faults. We need to be reminded of how we have fallen short of the glory that God has set out for us. We need to be told time and again that we too, can be filled with evil and the demons that haunt us.
And whether or not you believe in literal demons and evil spirits having the ability to reside in us and take control like we see in today’s gospel lesson, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we can have evil… just evil… residing in us and causing us to do things we don’t want or know that we shouldn’t. Things like trying to take money away from the rich, or trying to block the poor from getting money in the same way the rich do, or perhaps what could be most relatable is the sheer denial that any of this could even apply to us.
Because, don’t we all know someone else who this applies to? We all know someone who needs to be called out for something. We all know someone who should be brought down a notch. We all know someone who can be so full of unspeakable evil that we sometimes wonder how we could even be part of the same race as them. Maybe it’s our neighbour or co-worker or classmate. Maybe it’s someone we knew from years ago, some celebrity that just irks us, or maybe that person we read or hear about on the news. It could be any number of people, but… it can’t be us, can it?
I mean we’re the assembly that Jesus is talking to in this story, right? We’re the ones who are in awe of and respect Jesus’ wisdom and authority and we soak it all up and apply it to our lives without question, right? We’re the good guys, aren’t we?
Isn’t it possible that we’re the ones that need to hear this message of hope and change? Isn’t it possible that maybe we’re the ones who can have evil in us? Isn’t it possible that we’re the ones who need to hear the prophet speak, to call us out on our wrongs and shortcomings, to remind us that we, too, are sinners in need of a Saviour?
Isn’t it possible that we’re the ones with the demons that need to be silenced?
Again, whether you believe in literal demons or not, we cannot deny that we have the capacity for evil. Perhaps not the kind of evil that could get us arrested or thrown in jail, but the kind of evil that can be so subtle that we just write it off as normal or justify it by saying it’s someone else’s fault. The kind of evil that is so easy to just sweep under the rug. The kind of evil that needs to be silenced by the authority of a prophet.
And hallelujah, the ultimate prophet does just that.
In our denial, in our subtle evils and even in our not so subtle evils, Jesus enters into our lives with authority, calls out those hidden demons that plague us, and silences them with the love and grace of God. Still, I know this sounds uncomfortable. It sounds unpleasant. It sounds like something that we wouldn’t really want because of all those things we talked about before. But we need to remember that the work of a prophet isn’t to make us feel uncomfortable but it’s to inform and reform. The job of the prophet isn’t to be unpleasant, but it’s to rouse up change for the better. The message of the prophet isn’t just that we’re evil and we need to get our act together, but it is that God loves us in spite of our shortcomings and saves us from ourselves and puts us in a place in which we can act, serve, and love in turn as God first loves.
This doesn’t make it easy. But it makes it worth it. It isn’t easy because facing our demons and evils and the skeletons we hide can hurt so much that we want to scream inside. But it’s worth it because God’s love moves us to change, inspires us to be better, and calls us to live in love and community in God’s kingdom, praising God’s holy name forever.
See this is the situation that we’re in now. This is the reality for us as God’s people living in 2021 in the midst of pandemic, reeling from political ups and downs, and wondering when the next Robin Hood might call us out on our privilege. This is the message of the prophet, one that is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and maybe at first unwanted, but one that is necessary, gracious, and deep down in a way that we might not see just yet, loving.
In this season after the Epiphany, this time of learning and growth both for us as individuals and as a church, let us reflect and recognise the subtle evils that reside in us, that we might be changed by the loving authority of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.