Hot or cold -- which is it? Perhaps in our day we might ask: Spiritual or Religious? As we enter Advent, David Ackerman's alternative lectionary choices take us into Daniel where we find Daniel interpreting dreams. We hear the word of God to the church of Laodicea, which is apparently lukewarm in its enthusiasm for the gospel. And then there's Jesus' parable of the fig tree. It's easy to see why these texts don't usually find their way into the lectionary readings. But they do raise good prepatory questions fitting for a season like Advent.
“Are We Hot or Cold?”
Call to Worship: Psalm 38:15-22 NRSV
One: But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
Many: For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.”
One: For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Many: Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
One: Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Many: Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.
Gathering Prayer: A new year has dawned, and for this season of expectation, we are thankful. Help us to look for signs of your coming among us.
Confession: In this new season, we turn to you knowing that we need you desperately. We have not looked to you as our source of faith, hope, love, and joy. We have been impatient and have not had the kind of spiritual discipline that you want us to have. So we look to you now and ask your forgiveness. Show yourself to us, God, and deliver us from all evil.
Assurance: This is the beginning of a new day, and God has let go of the wrongs we committed in our past. We are set free now to look ahead and trust that God will come to save us. With thankful hearts, we rejoice in this good news!
Daniel 2:24,31-49 – “Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream”
Revelation 3:14-22 – “The Church at Laodicea”
Mark 11:12-14, 20-25 – “The Fig Tree”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
· Worship leaders will want to set the stage for today’s reading from Daniel 2. In this story, King Nebuchadnezzar is threatening his advisors with death because they can’t tell him the meaning of a troubling dream. How did the gift of dream interpretation help Daniel and his friends in their exile in Babylon?
· Do you remember your dreams? Do you think God ever talks to us in them? Is it hard to make sense out of them?
· If you have time, look at all the messages to the churches that are given in John’s vision in Revelation 2-3. Does the message given to the church at Laodicea apply to any of our churches today? How can we avoid being “lukewarm” in our faith?
· What do you think is Mark’s point in telling the story of the fig tree in chapter 11? (Hint: think about what he’s describing in other parts of this chapter.) What do you make of Mark 11:24, where Jesus says, “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”?
· Proponents of the “prosperity gospel” emphasize verses like Mark 11:24 as a key to worldly success. Do you think this is Jesus’ intention? Does prayer magically give us our desires?
· The Revised Common Lectionary often uses what are called “apocalyptic” (or “revelatory”) readings during this season. In what ways do these readings reveal something about who God is? How do they prepare us for the coming of God into the world?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: You have given us a new life this day, God, and we are truly grateful. Help us to live our lives to the fullest and embrace your presence among us.