Living as Disciples Worship Series: WEEK 4
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost – August 4, 2019
Planning for this Series:
The liturgical color is green.
End the series well, and preview your upcoming series well today.
Schools may be resuming within the next few weeks. Some start as early as the first or second week of August. See our Back to School resources for ideas and suggestions.
Old Testament Stream: Prophetic Ministry—Calling and Working for Justice, Righteousness, and Peace
Series 2: When God Speaks Judgment
Week 4: Judgment for Restoration
Last week, we entered into the pathos of Hosea and persons today who have faced the obliteration of the place and people they called home.
This week, we enter into the pathos of God as God brings the word of judgment.
God speaks as a father of his child, a child who has determined to ignore the ways the father sought to lead. Many of us know what it’s like to see a child walk away from paths that lead to life and abide in paths that seem to lead to stagnation or destruction. We know the disappointment, the frustration, the concern for the wayward child’s welfare that never goes away.
In verses 3-4, the imagery becomes even more intimate. God had been for these people a father who lovingly and patiently taught his child how to walk, took the infant into arms, and stooped down to feed the child. In Israel, as in many near-Eastern cultures, the father would have used rope or bands of cloth for the child to hold as he led the child forward. These are the “bands of love” referred to in verse 4.
This text is not all cute and cuddly. The point of the poignant opening images is to highlight the heartbreak of God in the continual waywardness of God's child, Israel. Destruction and exile are the inevitable consequences of the people's actions (11:5-6). God does not bring this destruction in wrath, any more than a caring parent wrathfully brings the destruction that comes into the lives of wayward children (11:9).
We hear God’s longing that the destruction the people had created for themselves and were walking into, even at that moment, would eventually lead them back home (11:10-11).
That never happened.
There was no homecoming.
There was only destruction, both in Israel and among the peoples taken away, from whom we never hear another word again. The typical Assyrian pattern of genocide against the peoples it conquered was, from all appearances, both applied and successful against the Israelis.
Assyria had left behind only the poorest of the poor and resettled the land with a variety of people from other nations they had captured, making it impossible for those left in this former kingdom to organize themselves into a viable political entity in its own right. Likewise, the religious practices of those who survived became more and more connected with the practices of the mix of the new surrounding cultures. “Samaritanism” became unrecognizable to and was considered as apostate by “Judaism” (the religion preserved in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and restored when the Judean exile ended).
IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM
In this series finale, we move from entering into the pathos of the people over their impending destruction to the pathos of God looking at the same scene.
Here we reach an even deeper place in theology. Last week, it was what is it like to face losing one’s homeland or people. This week, it is what is like for God to lose God’s own people, after centuries of striving with them to avoid that end. And then, ever deeper—what is it like for God to hope for a restoration and then see it not take place?
Hosea gives us clues from our human relationships—a father and his children—that begin to help us enter God’s pathos. Here are some questions that may help you and your planning team begin to unpack these images in ways that reflect how your own congregation may experience them.
1. How do parents in your worshiping community teach their children to walk? Do you have young children and parents in your midst? Consider videotaping them as they help their children walk and showing the videos as this text is being read.
2. Who in your congregation or community is living with the pain of watching children wander into destruction? What do their faces look like? And what of the wandering children? Consider commissioning artworks that illustrate this pain.
3. What are the stories and images of a failed homecoming in your congregation and community? Do you have soldiers or prisoners or others who have returned from a difficult sojourn, only not to be welcomed or treated with hostility and suspicion?
4. How might you highlight God's internal struggle and the juxtapositions in this reading? Might you have two readers-- one reading the “positive” side; the other, the “negative” side? Or might you turn the reading of this text at least partly into an “antiphonal” reading, one side reading the positive; the other, the negative?
5. Explore together what it means that God’s stated hopes, desires, and intentions to bring restoration (verses 9-11) were not fulfilled. Trust your team and the Holy Spirit to help you all discern whether and if so how to address this historical “elephant in the room.”
This may seem an odd way to end a series, on such a serious and difficult note, and one that seems to lack any real resolution.
There was a kind of historical resolution—even if it came over seven centuries later. It was the ministry of Jesus, most of which took place and was based precisely in the most desolated region of the former kingdom of Israel, the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali, an area Isaiah refers to as “the land of deep darkness.” This region had been battle-torn long before the destruction brought by the Assyrians. It was where Israel and its enemies often chose to pitch their battles, in part to avoid ruining the territory of Ephraim, where the Northern Kingdom’s capital, Samaria, was located. It was there that Jesus announced, “The kingdom of God has drawn near.” And it was to towns and villages in that region that Jesus sent his disciples in pairs to announce and display this good news.
This brings the series back to us, and to our particular ministries as a congregation, as a connectional church, and as individuals who are part of this congregation. And so to the last two questions.
6. How are we using our voices and ministries to speak into the places of devastation—and to the devastators—in our context and in our world?
Consider the answers to this part of the response to the Word today.
7. How might we and how will some of us commit to do that more and better than we now do?
Provide at least three, and no more than five, concrete next steps people can commit to, plus a blank space for people to put in other options and include these either on a paper form people can either place in the offering or as a text or Tweet to an established hashtag (perhaps #mynextstep) during the offering.
For the Great Thanksgiving this week, return to the standard “after Pentecost” form.
And send folks forth fed and readied by the God whose longing for restoration to be part of God’s continuing restoration of all people and things.
Epistle Stream: Mission in the World, but not of It
Our Life in Christ
Week 4: Out with the Old, On with the New!
This week’s reading from Colossians builds on last week’s focus on the all-sufficiency of Christ to save us, with a focus on just how decisive a break our baptism into Christ, and so being now in Christ, represents.
For those who are in Christ, it is to be “Out with the old, on with the new!”
The old: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, the desire for more and more (which Paul equates with idolatry!), anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying.
All of these, says Paul, are “earthly,” and they must be more than simply reduced in their frequency as patterns or behaviors in our lives now. Paul’s language is unflinching: “Put them to death!” (verse 5), “get rid of them” (verse 8) and “strip them off like clothes you never mean to wear again” (verse 9).
The new: seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, clothe yourself with the new self, a new self constantly being renewed in the knowledge of God and part of a new community where “earthly” divisions-- Gentile/Jew, circumcised/uncircumcised, European tribalists or “Eastern” militaristic “hordes”/civilized natives, slave/free—are no more, because Christ is all in all and for all.
Strongly consider reading verses 13-17. It is there Paul provides the list of “positive practices” to “put on” to correspond with the negative practices to be stripped off and put to death. Those practices include: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, love, the peace of Christ, thanksgiving, letting the word dwell in you richly, teaching one another and watching over one another in love, all in the name of Christ.
Both actions are necessary—out with the old, and on with the new, the stripping and the re-clothing. Adding kindness on top of malice only makes our kindness cruel. Adding forbearance on top of slanderous or abusive speech only makes us more hypocritical. Adding thanksgiving on top of wrath only comes across as self-congratulatory vengeance. First, we must strip off and put to death the old self with its practices (verse 9).
That is why the first baptismal vows may seem so negative. Renounce spiritual forces of wickedness, reject evil powers of this world, repent of sin, resist evil, injustice and oppression in every way they present themselves. These are not simply one-time actions to which we say yes in a one-time ritual. They are pledges to a whole life empowered by Christ and committed to continue all of these actions for the rest of our days.
The earliest Christian baptismal vows we still have speak of all of this in shorthand as, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his pomps?”
In baptism, which first puts us into Christ, this stripping off is begun.
And in baptism, the new clothing of Christ we are now given to wear begins to become fitted to our bodies, as our bodies become fitted to the new community, the body of Christ, the church. We are re-clothed and learning to live with God and with all people in our right minds, building one another up in new habits of compassion, kindness, humility, and the rest.
This is what it means to accept the freedom and power Christ gives us, not simply to strip off the “old self with its practices,” but to put on the new self in union with the church Christ has opened to all peoples from everywhere, and so serve as Christ’s representatives in the world.
That such intense and intentional activity is required to eliminate the markers of the former self, being “of the world,” the way of life outside the Christian community, may be challenging to some ways of thinking and living in Christian congregations today.
Some may tend to equate such an energetic approach to ridding oneself of sinful practices with an "unhealthy obsession" with sin that may have the effect of giving such practices even more power in our lives. If Christian living is defined only by what it opposes or stops doing, such a criticism may be valid. But that is not what Paul is describing here. He is rather noting that these "earthly practices" — both personal and private (the first list, verse 5) and relational (the second list, verse 8) — are deeply endemic in the people of Colossae, including Christians, because they were in fact normal, daily practices in the way of life of that culture. It was in the air, the water, and everything they'd learned from infancy on up. To move beyond them, one has to reject them actively. Nothing in the culture would support such rejection, and everything would support the opposite. Christians would have to do it themselves in the power of risen Christ. No lesser power could make this possible!
While there might have been a time in our culture in the U.S. when we could at least pretend that cultural practices around us did not resemble those described as endemic to Colossae, it would certainly be difficult to make such a claim now, except perhaps in some well-isolated pockets. Paul was not calling Christians in Colossae into isolation, but he was calling them, as Christ calls us all, to a very different way of life and ministry—in the world, but not of it.
He was calling us to what our life in Christ must be if we are to live it to the fullest as God longs for us.
If you offered a reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant last week, use the text again this week as a way to reinforce how the ritual of baptism and the vows we make are deeply connected with what it means to practice baptismal living: Baptismal Covenant IV, the newer form created for General Conference in 2008 (Spanish).
IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM
Today is the end of this series. Next week marks the beginning of a new one.
As always, it’s important to end this series well and use this day to help generate excitement and interest in the one that will follow.
Today’s text gives you great opportunities to end strongly, with renewed commitments and paths for people to take their discipleship and ministries to the next level.
Building off of this entire book and series, we know that as we live into the flow of hearing and doing God’s will and bearing fruit, we come to know Christ more and more. As we know him more and more, we come to know the power of Christ in us the hope of glory, even in the face of suffering. And we are enabled to live and grow in Christ boldly, knowing that he is all-sufficient for our full salvation from the powers of sin and death.
And knowing this, we are enabled to keep letting go of former patterns of life that keep us caught in the sway of sin and death and put on new patterns of life that free us up to live more and more abundantly in this age and in the age to come.
Today focuses us on what to throw out, and what to put on, so both of these realities become realities in us more and more.
Consider starting the reading of this week’s text (including verses 13-17) or the sermon with a video such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6-ZkPvn3kg. NOTE: You cannot legally display this video in worship without getting permission from its copyright holder, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. Specifically, you will want to contact the marketing department.
If you use that video, you may want to make it clear you’re not doing an ad for Goodwill—but that its portrayal of getting rid of old clothes and making room for new ones gets right to the heart of the message today and the good news about what Christ makes possible in us that culminates this series and Paul’s letter.
To help you get ready for this service, and particularly the sermon, you and your team may find the following discussion questions helpful.
- Share with one another positive, real-life examples of what “out with the old” (active rejection of sinful practices and systems) looks like in the lives of people you know. These may be people who are actively engaged in overcoming addictions or resisting the increasingly endemic consumerism and pornography of the wider culture. These may also be people who no longer use abusive speech and work to help others speak more respectfully.
- Next, share some examples your team knows of people who are “putting on Christ” by taking up the specific practices listed in verses 13-17.
- Who might you point to in your congregation or community who is clearly clothed in Christ? Who has lived into that clothing so that they are being remade into the image of Christ wherever they go, whatever they do? Ask one or more of them to share a brief testimony—live or on video—of how they have learned “out with the old, on with the new.”
If you can, interweave these real-life examples and testimonies into your sermon today.
And since today’s text hooks into the baptismal themes raised last week, strongly consider letting one of the responses to the word today—and maybe the first-- be a reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant.
Move from reaffirmation into the Prayers of the People, particularly giving thanks in those prayers for people who are being enabled to say “out with the old, on with the new,” and interceding with those who are struggling to do so in one or more areas in their lives.
If you’ve reaffirmed the baptismal covenant, you only need include a call to the peace in the Invitation to the Table (you’ve already reaffirmed your rejection of sin!), followed by the Peace, Offering, and Great Thanksgiving. Then send folks forth to live out their life in Christ with all boldness, filled with the power of the Spirit.
And be sure to invite them to invite others to join them for your new series launch next week.
Gospel Stream: Learning from the Master
Loving God and Neighbor
Week 4: “The Loves Never Stops Here”
Our calling is to become perfect channels of love for God and neighbor. We do this as we listen deeply to God and neighbor. Prayer is one of the chief ways we listen to God and so love God, but also a primary means through which God expresses God’s love to us.
That’s been our journey so far in this series.
Today, the journey concludes with this final point about loving God and neighbor.
This love is love that never stops with ourselves. It always keeps reaching out, finding others to share it with.
Loving God and others as ourselves is how we become and remain rich toward God.
That is why greed (pleonexia in Greek, “the desire or hunger for more”) is so destructive to our souls and communities.
The opposite of the love we’re called and empowered for isn’t hate.
Jesus warns about the destructive power of greed in today’s gospel reading, just as Paul calls for us to “put greed to death” in Colossians.
Greed is so dangerous because it’s so embedded in our basic cultural expectations.
We often don’t even realize we’re engaging in it, or that we’re doing anything wrong.
Try reading the parable yourself without the word greed attached to it anywhere. Just hear the story itself:
"A rich farmer had terrific crops — so big he needed larger granaries to store them all. So he decided then and there what to do. He'd build bigger granaries so he would not have to worry about this anymore, and then he'd be able to retire."
What's wrong with that?
Everything, Jesus says.
Isn't that just reasonable — the way things should work in life?
"You idiot!," God addresses the man in the story. This is very strong language, and intentionally insulting!
And no. God is not critiquing this man for poor estate planning.
The point is clear enough. Life centered on attaining more, on making oneself rich and living off the excess, is death. True life, he says, consists of being “rich toward God.”
"Look," Jesus says, "and be on guard against every form of greed" (Luke 12:15). That’s how Jesus begins this story.
Not "be careful," or "watch out," but "be on guard."
"Being on guard" is the active watchfulness of a shepherd protecting the sheep, or a soldier on the wall of a city watching for any possible invaders. Be on the lookout for this while it’s still far off. Don’t let it come near. If it does, fight it away. There is no form of the ongoing desire for more that isn't addictive and deadly. As the Lay's potato chip commercials used to say, "You can't eat just one!"
But more than being on guard as a “defensive” posture, be "rich toward God"— εις θεον πλουτων—as an active posture. The phrase here is participial, implying ongoing activity as well. "Thus it is for the one gathering treasure for oneself and not being rich toward God." These aren't attitudes but actions. It's about what we do in our lives, about the very flow of the activities of our days. Are we storing things up for ourselves, gathering and getting, being consumers, primarily? Or are we using whatever we have gathered in, sharing the love, to promote God's kingdom in the life of the world?
Richness toward God is measured in the outflow, not the ingathering.
The love we’ve been given is never to stop with us.
Jesus presents being rich toward God as the attainable expectation for every disciple of his. This is about concrete learning (and unlearning) of specific patterns of behavior.
And the good news is, by God’s grace and the kingdom’s power, we can do this! We can find ourselves freed and help free others from the power of “the desire for more,” and we can become instead channels of abundant blessing to others, rich toward God.
We can be persons and a people about whom it can be truly said, “The love never stops here!”
IN YOUR PLANNING TEAM
It’s series end, today. We’ve been on this journey of love for three weeks. And here at the end, we get a warning wrapping a great truth about loving God and neighbor. Greed halts our love and leaves us spiritually bankrupt. We can become and remain rich toward God by keeping love flowing ever onward and outward.
Jesus is clear we need to be engaged in both activities—guarding against greed, and being rich toward God. If we fail at the first, we’ll never get to the second. If we don’t pursue the second actively, we’ll fall prey and fail at the first.
Here are some discussion questions to help you and your planning team.
- Share stories in your team of people you know who are good at “being on guard against every form of the desire for more.” Ask especially what they are doing to be “on guard” and what you and your worshiping community might learn from them.
- Share stories about people you know who model being rich toward God, as Jesus describes it. How are people who clearly live "being rich toward God" learning and continuing to do this themselves? What can you and your worshiping community learn from such people?
- Think together about how to design worship today so the flow moves from acknowledging our “desire for more” toward encouraging and celebrating both getting free from that desire and “being rich toward God.” Pay particular attention to acts of confession of sin and the language of the Sending. And set up a follow-up process during the coming week—either through in-person contacts or online groups—to continue to help people break what may be an almost automatic “greed addiction” and start building a life of richness toward God.