Planning --Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Sibling rivalry moves from murderous intent to economic gain as Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22,45b
See The United Methodist Hymnal, 828 for verses 1-11. This Psalm continues the Joseph story beyond the first lesson. For this Sunday, you will need to print the Psalm portion to get the verses specified. The hymnal Psalter is based on the former Common Lectionary (1986), but this fuller selection comes from the Revised Common Lectionary our church adopted in 1992. See "Psalms for Singing" for another musical alternative.
The connections between hearing, believing, confessing and calling upon the name of Jesus as Lord for salvation. Consider singing "By Grace We Have Been Saved through Faith" (Worship & Song, 3110) as a response.
Jesus frightens the disciples when he walks toward them on the stormy sea. He tells them not to be afraid. Peter walks toward him and sinks, only to be lifted by Jesus. The disciples declare Jesus to be the Son of God. Consider singing "Love Lifted Me" or the new and bluesy "When the Waves are Crashing" with this reading (Worship & Song, 3101 or 3144).
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Are schools starting soon where you are? Think about ways to connect and commission students and their families for their learning and mission as disciples as they re-engage life in and with their school communities.
Yesterday, August 6, was the anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima, and Monday, August 8, the bombing of Nagasaki. Worship resources are available to assist your congregation's prayer in observance of these days and seeking to give voice to the resolve that nuclear weapons never be used again. Consider affirming the Methodist Social Creed today, and singing and affirming its companion litany, approved by the 2008 General Conference. (This link is to a bulletin-ready pdf document including both the Creed and its companion litany). Additional resources are available for congregations considering or ready to join the worldwide effort to eliminate nuclear congregations considering or ready to join the worldwide effort to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth.
September 11, designated as Patriot Day in the civil calendar of the United States, falls on a Sunday this year. Your worship staff at Discipleship Ministries have posted numerous resources over the years dealing with this anniversary, and new resources for the tenth anniversary will be added later this summer. Click here to reach the page that holds them all.
Denominational Calendar: The next denominational emphasis is Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15. The next denominational special Sunday is World Communion Sunday, October 2. In preparation for World Communion Sunday, consider viewing "Living into the Mystery," either in worship or as part of a class. You can view it online if you have broadband Internet; or order the DVD. The video and ordering details are available here.
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Atmospherics: An Opportunity to Switch Streams
Today provides a possible opportunity to switch streams from Old Testament to gospel. We've completed the stories in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have "starring roles." This week starts the story of Joseph. It concludes next week.
So if you've been doing the patriarchs and wish to switch to the gospel for a while, of you've been in the gospel for a while, and want to "pick up" on the Joseph story, today's the day.
Genesis: Learning from the Ancestors
Banishing the Dreamer
Genesis brings us now to the story of the fourth generation of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob's children). All of Jacob's grabbing is over. We see him here giving -- both favor and an extraordinary coat -- to his youngest son, Joseph. That Joseph, the youngest, is the recipient of such favor continues the reversals of "the way things are done" he experienced in his own life. One might almost call such reversals the "new tradition" of God's people.
This insight alone might be enough for focus in worship today. How do people in your congregation and community embody the "new tradition" of reversals of expectations as witnesses to and participants in God's kingdom? How do your investments as congregation and as individualswhere you lavish your favor and resourcesreflect such commitments? Where do your investments of favor and resources instead follow those of the rest of the family, who appear to want to establish themselves at the expense of the one their father favors? What stories or images from your congregation or community capture each of these approaches? Consider these as the working raw materials for the design of worship space today.
This year's readings skim the surface of the Joseph story. This week we see him sold into slavery. (This is what the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God). Next week we see him exalted and offering gifts to his family. (This is how the kingdom of God undermines and conquers the kingdoms of this world). The lectionary does not include the stories of the struggle from point A to point B.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this omission. One advantage may be that we see clearly the contrast between the values of this world and the values of God that God intends and enacts in the world. One disadvantage is that we miss constructive engagement with what may be just as importantthose years and times when our lives as individuals, congregations and communities may seem stuck between the influence of these values, rather than embodying either of them fully. As you discuss designing worship in these two weeks given for the Joseph story, keep in mind the possibility of taking either tack, or perhaps even both (the bookends this week, the murky middle next, or vice versa), depending on where your congregation is or is ready to head in the near term, and, as importantly, the ministry opportunities and needs for prayer (see Compass Points below) that lie before you.
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Romans: Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101
"If thy heart believe and thy life confess"
Today we read second of three installments in Paul's extended meditation on how to make sense of a mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian community. How do Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians regard one another? How do Christians (Jewish or Gentile) regard Jewish people who are not Christians? Where is the common ground that all people share as they contemplate faith in God in the light of Jesus?
As with last week's reading, this week's selection requires careful attention to theological and even grammatical detail. The words of this week's text have often been radically misconstrued to create essentially a transactional vision of the Christian faith. If I at some point say the right words (confession with the mouth) and convince myself (believe with the heart) that Jesus is Lord, the return is salvation. For, after all, "everyone who calls on the Lord shall be saved."
The logic expressed in the transactional interpretation is not flawed. One can certainly derive such conclusions from this week's text.
What is flawed is the premise. The premise seems to be that salvation amounts to a set of discrete sequential steps to reach a stated prize rather than a way of life.
Early Christianity was hardly about sequential steps and almost entirely about way of life. To confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord is not one discrete act that happens once, but rather the verbal witness of a life that continuously embodies the confession.
Likewise, believing with the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is neither an assent to a fact (a head game) nor something one comes merely to feel deeply. Instead, it the phrase speaks of core values. That this particular Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, was raised by God from the dead re-orients the world and all relationships in it.
Finally, "calling upon the name of the Lord" is not a one-time act by an individual, but rather, in context of Paul's argument and the line from Joel to which he here refers, a reference to the community that regularly seeks the Lord (YHWH in Joel, Jesus here) for deliverance.
Paul's point here? All people, not only Jewish people, now have access to God's saving activity in their lives and the life of the world. All are invited to hear the good news of God's kingdom, to join those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to have their lives reoriented by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus that has reoriented all of reality, and to continue calling upon his name. Calling upon his name includes, but is not limited to, intercession, worship, and obedient following of his will and way.
John Wesley's Notes on this chapter put it perhaps most plainly. "The sum of which is, If thy heart believe in Christ, and thy life confess him, thou shalt be saved." A life grounded in Jesus inwardly and outwardly is the way of salvation. A lifenot sporadic decisions or statements, but a life.
What are the signs of lives grounded in Jesus around you? Who is growing inwardly in holiness and freedom from the power of sin? Who is growing outwardly in doing good to all? How is the community of faith growing in faithfulness to all the ordinances of God? What structures do you have in place as a congregation to support individuals and the congregation as a whole in living out the core belief in God's raising of Jesus, the core confession that Jesus is Lord, and the core practices of calling upon the name of the Lord?
Do not use this text as an occasion to bash the congregation or its members for not living these signs of salvation fully yet. Use it rather as an opportunity to highlight examples of how such lives in your midst are working, and stories of how people have discovered ways to live this way of salvation in Jesus more deeply. These signs and stories are particular to your people and context. Don't settle for generic substitutes. Send your worship planning team to listen for and gather the real stories from the real people where you really are. Use those examples and stories as the generative metaphors for the design of worship space in art, in seating arrangements, in music and in drama.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
An Even Wilder Night
This week's text take place the night of the wild day we heard about last week. The disciples have organized, fed, dismissed and gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers from the 5000 plus crowd that had just been fed. Now Jesus sends them into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee to the other shore while he himself went into the mountains to get some time for prayerthe time he did not get earlier after hearing the news of John's beheading. While Jesus was gone, the disciples did not get far. They found themselves stuck somewhere in the middle of the sea, battered by the opposing wind and waves of another of that Galilee's frequent sudden storms. So slow was their progress that Jesus was able to catch them in the early hours of the morning by walking out toward them on the water.
The disciples see him approaching and are terrified. They think Jesus to be some sort of apparition, perhaps a demonic spirit. They cannot conceive they are seeing a flesh and blood human. They need proof, not just verbal reassurances, that the phantasm is who he claims to be. Peter spells out the conditions. "Command me to do what you're doing." Jesus did, and Peter began to. But then he noticed the wind, got scared, began to sink, and called to Jesus for help.
Jesus did help him. Jesus reached out his hand, pulled him out of the water, then offered this line: "Little-faith, for what reason did you waver?" Peter didn't answer that question. Suddenly, with both Jesus and Peter safely aboard, the wind stilled. That brought the disciples to their knees with a confession, "Truly, you are the son of God!"
John Wesley's interpretation of Peter's wavering isn't the sort of moral scolding one might have come to expect from some evangelical preachers in our day. He doesn't take Jesus' question as an accusation. Instead, he wrote, "He was afraid - Though he had been used to the sea, and was a skilful swimmer. But so it frequently is. When grace begins to act, the natural courage and strength are withdrawn." Wesley sees "Little-faith" not as a negative, but a positive. It's not that Peter has only a little faith, but that he in fact does have a little bit of faith and exercises it, even in the windstorm.
If you want to take Wesley's trajectory on this as a theme in worship today, then talk in your worship planning team about who has a testimony of how they had to learn to live all over again when God's grace touched their lives. What was it like to be a babe in Christ, even while being a mature or skillful person in this world? What were those first halting steps in faith like for folks? How did Christ accompany these folks safely back to the boat, and then still the winds? What did that stilling elicit from them when it happened?
Still, Jesus' question remains. Why do we waver when Jesus commands us to do something? What do we look at instead of Jesus? What are we afraid of, enough to cause us to lose focus on Christ and to sink, as it were?
Jesus does not want us to focus on what we're afraid ofthe wind and the waves in this story. We give more power to what we fear, very often, than to whom we love or the path we're on toward Jesus.
And note this: Peter had gotten close enough to Jesus so that Jesus only had to reach out his hand to pull him back out of the water. In other words, Peter almost made it all the way to Jesus. He was nearly there when he suddenly lost heart.
Who has that story to tellof a lapse of focus or capacity, but just that, a lapseand then with Christ stepping right back up again and continuing in the way? Are such stories the better focus for your congregation today, or are the "babe in Christ" stories, or some combination of the two?
Where are you focusing in this text today? Is it the "tradition of reversals"? If so, consider using the Song of Mary (UMH, 198-200; The Upper Room Worshipbook, 17-20; or the traditional English version from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 50) as a confession of faith to follow the sermon.
Are you focusing on either or both of the "bookends" of the Joseph story? Then consider offering an opportunity for reaffirming the baptismal covenant ( Baptismal Covenant IV or the new contemporary version, used at General Conference).
Or are you moving outside of the lectionary proper and focusing on the "murky middle," those stories of ups and downs that seem to lead almost nowhere at the time? Then consider a confessional hymn, such as Charles Wesley's classic "I Want a Principle Within" (UMH 410), or a hymn of trust, such as "Take My Life and Let It Be" (UMH 399), or a meditative refrain, such as "Wait for the Lord" (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 396) or "Holy Darkness" (Worship & Song, 3141).
Romans: An invitation to next steps. If you have focused on stories of people who have grown in inward and outward holiness, people whose lives reflect all three of the General Rules, the question for each person gathered becomes, "What next step can you take that will enable you to grow in one or more of these ways as well?" You know your congregation. Be bold, but not overbearingly so. If you can ask people to spend some time in silence, perhaps to write down or journal how they may grow or will commit themselves, with the support of others, to grow in inward and outward holiness of life, that may be enough. Perhaps small-group conversation can work for some, if not all. Encourage those who can do so to do this. Perhaps others may benefit from offering some artistic expression of the longing that is touched within them for growth from today's stories. Consider the possibility of offering these either as worship stations, to which people get up and move, or as "in your place" activities, again, depending on the culture of your congregation.
Matthew: Where are you focusing? the night? the trust to step out onto the water? the wavering? or the going on after sinking? or perhaps even on what Jesus does -- time apart for prayer and then gracious guidance and support for his disciples?
The Night: We do not often focus on night and the values (and perils) it brings in morning worship. On the values side, there is rest and commitment to God's keeping. On the perils side, there is the fact of our near defenselessness while we sleep. In the story, the disciples make almost no progress all night long, a sleepless and restless night on waves against opposing winds. They know where they're going. They just can't get there, or even anywhere close. Consider offering a time of prayer and guided reflection/meditation in which people are encouraged to get in touch with each or all of those realities -- the values, the perils, and the frustrations of the night in this story -- and offer them all up to God.
The Trust to Step out onto the Water: Exercising "little faith" -- Stepping out onto the high waves of a windstorm at 3 a.m. is something far more than just "getting outside one's comfort zone." It was a physical act of real faith. Let's get physical! Ask the congregation to consider what they would ask Jesus to command them to do when he encounters them unexpectedly, then to step outside of their seats toward Jesus (wherever they envision him being) once they're clear about what they're hearing.
The Wavering: People know what they say makes them waver when Jesus calls. It's obvious to them, no deep reflection required. Popcorn those responses; make this part fun and light and fast. In this way help people disempower their fears and return their focus to Jesus.
Going on after Sinking: People are also rather aware of where they're sinking in their lives. Often, others are, too. Here is an opportunity for prayer with a simple response: "Save me, Jesus!" The prayer can come from people as they simply call out places where they or others they know are sinking, or you might construct a written prayer that captures some of the more obvious ways people you know are sinking. Or consider a hybrid -- you in the worship team compose a prayer that names briefly how each of you is sinking and needs help from Jesus, and encourage others to join your prayer as they feel led. The call to Jesus is all that is needed. Conclude the prayer with joyous singing of "Love Lifted Me" (Worship & Song, 3101).
And he doesn't save just to stop the peril.
He saves to get you on your feet and going his way again. . Consider singing "We Walk His Way" as a response, and having the congregation physically walk to surround the Lord's Table as they sing (Worship & Song, 3073).
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Greeting: (Genesis, Romans, and Matthew)
The Lord be with you.Opening Prayer:
And also with you.
Incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
For you are my rock and my fortress
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
From the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
(From Psalm 77:2b-4)
- BOW 464 (Genesis)
- BOW 460 (Romans, Matthew)
- BOW 525 (Matthew)
Confession: BOW 479 or BOW 490 (Genesis)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 517 (Matthew)
- BOW 518
- BOW 506
- BOW 511 (Matthew & Romans)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Aotearoa, New Zealand; Australia
The Great Thanksgiving
- The United Methodist Hymnal, 9-11
- The United Methodist Book of Worship, 70-71
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 551
Dismissal: BOW 559 or "Go forth to serve and love the Lord." (Deacon or assisting minister)
Blessing: BOW 566 (Presiding minister)
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