Planning - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Moses seeks assurance that God is with him and the people as he continues to lead them. God responds with the promise of ever-abiding presence. Moses wants more than words: he asks to see God's glory. God responds by allowing Moses to see the "after-glow" of the Divine Glory as God proclaims the Divine Name from a safe distance.
Psalm 99 (UMH 819).
Transpose Tone 3 to D Major (p. 737) with the refrain.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.
Paul greets the Christians in Thessalonica, expressing gratitude for their example of joyful faith in the face of persecution.
In the temple, a group of Pharisees try to trap Jesus, but he traps them in their own hypocrisy and divided allegiances.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Laity Sunday is an invitation for the whole church to remember that all the baptized, lay and clergy together, are the people of God. Our English word "laity" comes from the Greek word "laos" meaning, "people." That same word lies at the root of another "worship word" -- liturgy, which means "work of the people" (laos plus the Greek work, ergon -- work). Worship every Sunday is to be "the work of the people" -- a people of many gifts and differing roles.
Two shifts in the lectionary readings begin today. Today the epistle has shifted from Philippians to I Thessalonians for the rest of Ordinary Time (All Saints and Christ the King excepted). Today is also the final reading in Exodus. We pick up in Deuteronomy (the death of Moses) and then have brief excerpts from Joshua and Judges in the following weeks.
Since these shifts are only slightly out of sync, and since the readings in I Thessalonians are short, it would be possible to begin fresh in either set of readings beginning next Sunday, either following the narrative outline of Deuteronomy-Judges or picking up with this week's reading from I Thessalonians beginning next week. Of course, if you have been following the life and ministry of Jesus in Matthew as your focus, no shift is necessary.
Today is the third week of Discipleship Ministries' new "Season of Saints." Each week, we're asking you to consider highlighting a historical Christian saint, a saint who is part of our United Methodist heritage, a saint you know personally in your congregation or community, and a saint in another United Methodist congregation or ministry. You can remember them in prayers, create special bulletin inserts, or tweet links about them during the week between Sundays. Exactly how you keep this season is yours to create and have fun with.
We're also asking you to help other United Methodists learn and share stories of the saints you know through the UMC Worship Blog. Resources for the Season of Saints are included in these weekly worship planning helps for October and All Saints Day/Sunday and on the UMC Worship Blog.
For October 16: Christian Saint: Luke, Physician and Evangelist (date of death unknown)
United Methodist Saint: Lizzie Hoffman founder of Women's Missionary Association of the United Brethren in Christ Church; date of death unknown)
Each week during this season, additional resources and links will also be provided in a special "Season of Saints" section immediately preceding "Embodying the Word."
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
Accompanied and Prepared
The narrative of this part of Exodus begins a major shift away from Sinai and toward the promised land (32:34-33:6). God gives the command to leave the Sinai settlement twice (33:34, 34:1), and the people's response to this command to "get going" is more negative than hopeful (34:4). They obeyed Moses' command to get rid of the rest of their ornaments. They also regularly bowed whenever Moses would enter or leave the tabernacle (34:7-10). So there did seem to be some cohesion among the people about Moses as leader.
But doing these things at Sinai, where they had been encamped for a while, was one thing. Would they continue to maintain this kind of respect and cohesion when they left camp and started facing the challenges of travel and occupation of a promised land long occupied by others?
One thing was clear. There was now no going back to Egypt. The choices on the table were whether to stay encamped at Sinai where they had established some measure of order or actually to press on.
That brings us to the reading for today. Moses needed to know, for his own sake and for the sake these people, that God would surely be with them on this next leg of their journey. God had provided cloud, pillar, manna and quail as tangible signs of God's presence from Egypt to Sinai. Would God continue to provide such signs for the more challenging journey through deserts and into hostile territory?
Where do people in your congregation find themselves in God's call and promise for your lives? Who is still fleeing Egypt or longing to return? Who is camping out, getting ready, and also hearing a steady and insistent call to get going? Who may have already set off on the next leg?
How are people where you are seeking the assurance of God's presence and signs of God's glory to accompany you as a congregation or them as individuals? What are they asking for? What signs is God providing in response?
God speaks and self-reveals directly to Moses, as in today's reading, assuring Moses the time has come for him to lead the people onward.
What happens after this is telling. Moses does not start moving the people immediately. Instead, he starts preparing them, giving them nearly a year to get ready. During this time, with God's direction, Moses focuses on building the religious and military infrastructure they will need to make the move successfully.
The call to get going was a call to get prepared.
The remainder of Exodus and the early chapters of Numbers provide the details of this preparation. Moses led them to renew their covenant with God (Exodus 34) and commit to the practices of Sabbath (Exodus 35). He directs a large-scale project to construct a tabernacle, a moveable they can take with them on the journey, along with all its implements. With Aaron, he also oversees the training of all the people who will be responsible for leading worship in the new tabernacle (Exodus 36-40). With their religious life equipped and ready, he then organizes all the people into military-style companies for the march ahead (Numbers 1-10). Organized for worship and mobility, they celebrate the Passover one last time before setting out on the journey (Numbers 9).
How does your congregation invest seriously in shared religious practice and organizational preparedness for your march into mission where you are? How much do you invest in the "things" and "space" for worship? Do you go for the best, or do you "make do"? How much and how well do you invest in making sure your congregation and groups in or related to it have the tools and organizational strength they need to be effective in mission? Do you seek and learn from what may be the best tools available for your context, or do you just hope you can muddle through?
On this Laity Sunday, how seriously do your laity say your congregation prepares them? If the answer is, "Not very," what might you begin doing, starting today, to change that?
Find examples of times where your congregation or others in the community have invested well in "worship for the journey" and in equipping people to be on mission wwith Christ in the world, and lift these up.
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I Thessalonians: "Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow"
A Consistently Fruitful Congregation
I Thessalonians is a letter from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to the Christians at Thessalonica who have experienced intense suffering and are struggling with two primary issues: sexuality and eschatology.
This letter has an unusually long introductory section, comprising the entirety of the first three chapters. Perhaps its writers felt a need to re-establish their relationship with the congregation after what may have been a long absence before they offered their advice on the concerns at hand. Whatever the reasons for the very long introduction, the function of it is to recall and celebrate the strengths of this congregation and its connections in ministry.
In our reading today, those strengths in ministry are:
- Their faithfulness and steadfastness in Christ (verse 3)
- An awareness that God has called them and the Spirit has empowered them from the beginning (verses 4-5)
- Living out with joy the way of Jesus they had learned from Paul and others (vs. 6-7)
- Their willingness to share their conversion stories and their confidence in Jesus who "rescues us from the wrath to come" (verses 8-10).
Where do you see signs of these or similar strengths in the life and ministry of the congregation and Christians in the community with whom you serve? What are the signs of steadfastness and faithfulness in Christ? Where have you (and others there) seen and experienced the Holy Spirit at work, confirming that God's kingdom really is active in your midst and that Jesus Christ is its king? How are people living out basic Christian practices even in difficult times? Who is actively taking the gospel from the places where you gather for worship into the surrounding areas? How are people turning from whatever had been religion for them to acknowledge and serve under the Lordship of Jesus Christ because of this witness?
Remember, the goal of these questions is to remember the stories of when these things were happening or are happening. Those are the stories that will inspire those who may not yet be doing some of these things to see how God has indeed chosen and moved among these people, and how they too can be part of all that God would do with them where they are.
As you and your worship planning team recall or listen for these stories, ask around to see if there are any portrayals in print, photographs, or voice or video recordings that may illustrate them. If so, find ways to use them to help people see how these things have happened or are happening in their midst. This is not about aching for a time gone by (nostalgia). It is about doing what Paul describes in verse 2: "giving thanks to God for all of you constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love."
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Jesus, Unshakable, and Wily as a Fox!
Today's reading from Matthew illustrates a prayer from the psalms: "May the traps they set for me spring on them!" (Psalm 57:7).
The Pharisees were sure they had Jesus in a trap he could not escape. He was in the temple, continuing to teach his Galilean followers and admirers. They asked, "Do we pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" If he said "Yes," surely that would alienate his adoring crowds, come of whom considered him to be the Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule. If he said "No," he could be arrested for treason. If he "waffled," he would seem to be undercutting his own authority. There seemed to be no "good" answer.
That is, unless you were as wily as Jesus. He asked them a question. "Why are you putting me on trial? Show me a denarius, hypocrites!"
This was in the temple. No Roman coinage was supposed to be in the temple, ever. All of that was to have been exchanged in the "court of the Gentiles." The Pharisees strongly endorsed this policy, quite publicly. But still they got him a denarius, right there, in the temple.
That very action already discredited them in the eyes of their onlookers. Yes, they really were hypocrites.
But Jesus goes further. "Whose image and whose title is there?"
Did you catch that? The NRSV domesticates the Greek here, translating it "whose head." But the Greek reads, "Whose image." "Thou shalt have NO graven images before thee." They have a forbidden coin, and on it is an image.
They answer. "Caesar's." Caesar, who demands to be worshiped as a god.
Jesus has already won. They fell into their own trap. They can say nothing. They can only withdraw. As they do they hear Jesus say, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's. Give back to God what is God's." These words are salt in wounded egos. You can almost hear the laughter, jeers and cheers from the crowd.
What are the questions that people use to try to "trap Jesus" today?
How are folks seeing Jesus springing these traps on those who set them? How does he still show up the hypocrisy of those who try to domesticate him, or claim he is anything other than Lord of Lord and King of Kings, or that his teaching may be subordinated to other "pressing interests"?
Be sure to discuss what it means to take Jesus' closing statement seriously.
"Give back Caesar's things to Caesar, and God's things to God."
If God is indeed God of all, it must mean, "Give everything back. All of it!" This isn't the 33 percent temple tax and whatever the Romans could collect. It's every last penny.
Who in your midst is giving everything back? Who can give a testimony this morning about what this way of life is like? What images, sounds, and smells accompany and inspire this kind of life? If you're giving everything back, how will that affect the way you pray today? What you sing ("I Surrender All," UMH 354)? How you pray around the Lord's table? What you put in the offering plate? And what you'll do differently starting the moment you leave worship today?
Luke, Physician and Evangelist
Overall Story: We know little about Luke personally, except for a few references to him outside of Luke-Acts by Paul (Colossians 4:14, Philemon v. 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11) and those parts of Acts where the narrative shifts to first person plural, presumably indicating that Luke was "along for the ride." What we can say with some confidence is that he was a physician by trade, a missionary, a composer or collector of hymns and a Greek-style historian in his approach to writing Luke-Acts.
Story for Laity Sunday: Luke was a layperson. While he worked closely with Paul in a number of his missionary journeys, he is never described as a preacher or a leader of congregations. His roles appear to have been those of companion, helper, healer and historian. The Order of Saint Luke, an ecumenical religious order of lay and clergy centered in the United Methodist Church, has produced a book about the spirituality of Luke called Food for Pilgrims. You may find it a useful resource as you think about how to share Luke stories in worship or throughout the week by other means.
Hymn: Luke is the author or collector of several hymns, present in his gospel, Christians have been singing since the earliest times. These include the Song of Zechariah (UMH 208 and 209), The Song of Mary (UMH 198-200), Song of Simeon (UMH 225-226, Worship & Song 3182)
Story: Lizzie Hoffman, a single laywoman, was instrumental in founding what would become the Women's Missionary Association of the United Brethren in Christ Church beginning in 1872. The story of how she was involved in this work can be found here, pages 5-10. While she did not sense that she could be a missionary herself, she felt a profound calling to organize women to support the work of missionaries through the church. This call led her to call a meeting of women and ministers in her conference (Miami Conference in Ohio) in May 1872 to organize, elect officers, adopt a constitution, and expand their work into other conferences. While serving as Corresponding Secretary (essentially, organizer!) for the work through summer 1873, she helped to create and connect 25 societies across the United Brethren Church with a total membership of 500. Though she no longer continued in this role after August 1873, her call and her initial organization of the work were invaluable to its expansion to become a fully-fledged mission auxiliary, formally recognized and organized on a churchwide basis by the 1875 General Conference of the United Brethren in Christ.
Hymns: "Christ for the World We Sing" and "O Zion Haste" (UMH 569, 573) have their origins in the missionary movements of the late nineteenth century, of which the Women's Missionary Association was a part.
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Embodying the Word: Reflections Between Distributing and Praying Together
The sharing from the Lord's Table has begun. Some have received. Others are waiting to receive. It will be a few moments before all are ready to offer the post-Communion prayer of thanksgiving together. What can folks do to focus their hearts and minds in the meantime?
One practice has been to offer simple hymns and choruses for all to join in singing during the distribution. Not all sing, and some find singing distracting, especially if the songs selected bear little connection to the texts read or considered during worship that day.
During these weeks of October, we'll provide in this space another optionbrief, meditative poems/prayers, based on the readings for the day, for reading or for singing by soloist, choir, ensemble or congregation.
1. "Leave this place," your Spirit beckons.
"Go! My angel shows the way.
This is not your promised homeland,
But a station on the way."
"Where you go, no clouds or pillars,
All adornments put aside;
No processions, no choirs singing--
Only mercy, free and wide."
2. From this table, you would send us,
Signs of grace, your love's frontier;
From this gath'ring you would break us,
Pour us for this world in fear.
Here we comfort, love each other;
Here we know our sins' release.
Will you join us on our journeys?
Will you bring us there your peace?
3. "I have poured my life out for you.
By my grace you are reclaimed.
Spirit-waters have re-birthed you,
Word of Life for you proclaimed.
Bread and wine now in your bodies
Blood and flesh of my own child.
He's my glory, now within you,
Servant gentle, prophet wild.
4. We will go where you now send us.
We will follow, you will lead.
We will find you in our journeys
Giving witness, answering need.
In our hearts, Lord, now abiding,
Make each enemy our friend;
In all places we will thank you,
Love and serve you without end.
Faithful your love in us,
steadfast your way,
Mighty your power to save;
Your matchless holiness
shines through our lives:
Jesus in us, God in our flesh,
Risen from death, coming again,
You are our joy, joy beyond pain,
We live to declare your reign.
Matthew (See suggestion above in Atmospherics: "I Surrender All," UMH 354)
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- BOW 451 (Psalm)
- BOW 459 (Exodus)
- BOW 462 (Exodus)
- 104, United Methodist Hymnal, "Praising God of Many Names" (Exodus)
Acts of response to the Word:
- BOW 432, Laity Sunday Litany
- BOW 480, Prayer of Confession (Exodus)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 518, Prayer for Others (1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 524, Prayer for Strength (Exodus, Psalm)
- BOW 525, Prayer for Wisdom (Matthew)
- BOW 539, Prayer for Disciples in the Marketplace (Matthew)
- BOW 544, Prayer for Leaders (Exodus, Matthew)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
The Great Thanksgiving:
- BOW 70-71, "The Great Thanksgiving for the Season After Pentecost"
- Great Thanksgiving for Laity Sunday
- Dismissal: BOW 559
- Musical Benediction for Pentecost: BOW 218