Planning - The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 7: 1-14a.
David tells Nathan his intentions to build a permanent house for the God of Israel, and Nathan initially approves. That night, God tells Nathan that David is not to build a house for God, but that God will build a house (dynasty) for David.
Psalm 89:20-37 (UMH 807).
A poetic, musical version of God's promise/covenant to establish David's throne. If you plan to sing Response 1, use Tone 3 (C major) to chant the psalm; if Response 2, use Tone 5 (A minor). Psalm tones and instructions for chanting are found on UMH 737.
God intends to enact reconciliation through the church by bringing divided humanity (Jews and Gentiles) into one new humanity in Jesus Christ.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
Another "story within a story," but this week's reading skips the "inner story." The story of the disciples' return from their mission (last week) and continuation in ministry with Jesus is "interrupted" by the feeding of the 5000. That story appears in the lectionary next week from John's gospel. For this week, consider how the story of the mission activities of Jesus and the disciples (teaching on one shore, healing on the other) relate to the "centerpiece" of the feeding.
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Ordinary Time continues with what is now the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. While the weeks are merely given numbers, and the lectionary texts do not relate to one another (except the Psalm as response to the Old Testament), how are you and your team keeping the focus of your worshiping community from "drifting" or becoming merely "week by week"? Are you continuing with the David story? Preparing for the extended meditation on Communion (beginning next week) in John's gospel? Or continuing a series started last week in Ephesians and building new partnerships with other congregations and communities in your local area?
While it is true that in the U.S., this is "vacation season," and people may be dropping in and out of worship week by week, sustaining a series enables you and others who worship with you to stay connected with the life of the worshiping community. It also keeps your congregation focused on key elements of your ministry and mission over an extended period of time.
Jurisdictional Conferences in the U.S. were this past week, July 18-21. Your congregation will be getting news of new leadership in your jurisdiction and possibly a new bishop as of September 1. Be sure to pray for your current bishop, your new bishop (if you are receiving one), and all persons, congregations, districts, conferences, and episcopal areas experiencing leadership transitions in the weeks ahead.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
The Season of Creation is commemorated during September.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
World Communion Sunday is October 7.
A Season of Saints is commemorated throughout October, starting with World Communion Sunday and culminating in All Saints Day/Sunday. Resources for 2012 will be posted in June. A basic calendar of saints for each Sunday from 2011 is available for those who did not use it last year. You would simply need to leave one week out, as October has only four Sundays this year.
The first reading is suggestive of a "tent meeting" theme for your worship space today. If possible, you may even want to consider holding worship outdoors, perhaps using a large tent; or for something more elaborate and multisensory, the tabernacle as described in Exodus 25-27. (See the "Tabernacle Model," a lifesize model on display in Israel. If you go with the latter, consider working with a local rabbi or other Jewish leader to explore the meanings of worship "on the go" in the tabernacle setting. If you go with the "tent meeting" theme, you might work with another church that still has the tent meeting tradition and take advantage of the setting to sing "the old songs" (i.e., revival or gospel songs) and explore what it means to worship God in that setting rather than in your more "settled" worship space. Or you might consider partnering with a congregation that rents space and experiences "tabernacle" worship every week by trucking in (and out) their worship and education supplies. Any of these radically different worship settings for today may help you experience the gifts of being a "movement people" and being "the institutional church" (and both have gifts to be celebrated!).
But always remember that worship isn't about the experience of worship! It's about being the people of God who offer themselves as fully as they can to God. So if you "go all out" on atmosphere today, don't let the atmosphere or its novelty drown out everything else that you do. Instead, let it be the backdrop for the proclamation of the word of reconciliation, the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus, and the celebration at Table. And, then, to complete the effect, do consider having "dinner on the grounds" when your worship is concluded today!
Old Testament: From Judges to a King like All the Nations
The transition from a wandering people to a settled people with a king and a unified and official religious life is all but complete as we reach today's reading from 2 Samuel. The only thing missing, David comes to realize, is a temple to YHWH in the newly established capital city of Jerusalem. While the king has a palace, David notes, their God is still worshiped in a tent. David is sure he can eliminate that disparity and complete the transition.
But God has other ideas. It is not David who will build a house for God, but God who will build a house (dynasty) for David and his lineage. And it is one of David's offspring (Solomon) who would later build a house for God.
God notes that God had never once asked for "a house of cedar," but was more than content to be "on the move among the people." It was not the people's role to house or establish God. It was God's role to establish and house the people. God would be housed by them only after God had housed them.
This is a story that raises all kinds of questions for Christians about the tension between being "church on the move" (missional church) and being an established congregation ("institutional" church) with buildings, programs, and budgets. Fundamentally, it may raise for us whether we ought to seek primarily to be and act like an institution or a movement.
So note where this text actually comes out -- and not just in this story today. Today's story seems to make institutionalization -- or, we might say today, a growing, miulti-staff mega-church with multiple campuses -- almost the "settled goal" of our mission.
But that is not the rest of the story. In fact, the David dynasty over all twelve tribes essentially ended with Solomon! Most of the rest of the story in the Old Testament, and throughout most of human history, has been the story of God on the move with a people in exile or diaspora, first with the Jewish people, and then also with the disciples of Jesus, sent literally to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news of God's kingdom. The Jewish people and Christian communities have subsequently been established and institutionalized to a degree across the planet. But at least for Christians, a major point of the institutions has been to continue the missional movement of proclaiming the gospel and discipling people in the way of Jesus "from everywhere to everywhere."
In other words, the Bible, including in this larger narrative, records not a tension of movement versus institution, but rather the dance of movement and institution, each generating and supporting the other. Put another way, it is not a competition, but a symbiosis. And it is the Holy Spirit who is ground and power of it all.
So how will worship today help create this feeling of symbiosis of movement and institution, of spontaneity and order, of ancient tradition and the most brand new, expressing both sides of this polarity full out, neither "checking" the other?
Epistle: Networked Unity
As we noted last week, Ephesians was not written to a single congregation, but to a circuit of perhaps seven distinct Christian communities in seven different towns in the greater Ephesus area of Asia Minor. We may guess at the locations of some of these communities from Revelation, another circular letter composed perhaps some 30 years later: Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Unlike Revelation, which calls out and challenges each of these Christian communities individually, Ephesians addresses issues that would have been common to most, if not all of them. The core issue at Ephesus, and likely a significant issue elsewhere, was how to live as a Christian community that embraced both Jews and non-Jews at the same time.
The reading for today provides a decidedly Jewish theological reading of what makes such community possible: covenant. The function of the "blood of Jesus" here is not atonement, but witness to a covenant. (This is not making an argument for or against various theories of atonement that have developed over Christian history, simply noting that this text isn't describing any of those per se). The mechanics of covenant-making are well-described and often presented in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Genesis 15 and Exodus 24). Two parties that are in serious conflict with each other decide to agree to a truce. The stronger of the two generally initiates a ritual in which one or more animals is slaughtered (not ritually sacrificed) and cut into two pieces. The two parties then walk between the two pieces to signify their agreement to the terms (covenant) of the truce. Along with the statement of the terms usually comes a statement calling the blood of the severed animal(s) as a witness. The implication is that either could expect their own blood to be shed should either violate the terms agreed to.
The blood of Jesus is covenant blood as Paul describes it here. The Gentiles had been entirely estranged from God, but the blood of Jesus is witness to God's initiative to bring not only Gentiles, but Jews and Gentiles together (that is, the whole world) to unity and peace with God and each other (verses 14-16). The cross was the place where God extended a covenant of peace to the entire world.
Think about this too for the partnerships you are forming or strengthening with others in your area who may be following the same series with you. Remember that "cutting a covenant" begins by acknowledging there are real differences between partners -- some of which may threaten your relationships; others of which might build it. How have you already acknowledged these differences? What covenants do you already have in place? Which ones might you be ready to strengthen? What new covenants might you be ready to consider adding?
In verse 19, Paul changes the metaphor from covenant language (Jewish) to imperial language (Gentile). "So you are no longer foreigners and people who must live outside our houses, but you are co-citizens with the saints and people who live inside the house of God." "Foreigners" had some resonance in both worlds. For those from the Semitic world, these were persons who were "outside the house," but were to be brought in and treated with hospitality. For those from the empire, depending on where they were, it referred to persons who might still be treated with some hostility or at least as second-class until they would be received as "citizens." Citizen was the highest basic status one could achieve in the empire, conveying with it full rights to vote, hold office, and receive other benefits that non-citizens could not share. Paul here calls these Gentiles not only "no longer foreigners," but also, and emphatically, "co-citizens." Because of the covenant established in Jesus, they were just as fully "people living in God's house" as were the Jews.
How is hospitality at work in the relationships you are building or strengthening with other congregations where you are? Very often hospitality creates or sustains an "over-under" relationship, where the "host" remains superior to the "guest." How do you see signs of such hospitality that creates and supports "co-citizenship"? How might these be lifted up in worship today? How might worship be an occasion for invitation to take the next step to increase such co-citizen hospitality in your partnerships?
Verse 20 locates the ground on which God's new community is built: "the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone." This is not "community for the sake of community." How are the apostles and prophets foundational in your congregation? in your partnerships with other congregations?
What provides stability to these relationships (like a keystone in an arch) and the capacity to continue to expand (cornerstone) is the degree to which they are connected in Jesus Christ himself.
Without a foundation (apostles and prophets), the building remains unstable. Without a keystone, the arch fails. Without a strong cornerstone (Jesus Christ), the building cannot stand or be expanded upon safely.
One of the ways the church has historically tied itself directly to Jesus Christ in worship is through the sacraments. We are born anew in him in baptism. We are renewed, fed, and sent by him at the Lord's table. How are you celebrating the real presence of Jesus Christ at font and table with one another?
Paul elaborates on the building metaphors to describe "networked unity" across the Ephesian circuit in verses 21-22. "In him the whole household, joined together, grows into Holy Temple in YHWH in which you yourselves have been householded together into a dwellingplace for God in the Spirit." To the Jewish Christians, the word is that they themselves, joined by Christ with each other and with the Gentiles, are Temple, God's very dwelling-place." By this time, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, perhaps for up to 20 years, depending on when this letter was circulated. That God has established the whole of the Christian community, including them with Gentiles as Holy Temple in YHWH, was a breathtaking claim.
For Gentiles, temples abounded. They would not have heard "Holy Temple in YHWH" but probably something more like "a holy temple in the Lord." But that was a highly charged political phrase. The title "Lord" would have referred culturally to Caesar, and so to one of Caesar's temples, which were intended to be places of worship everywhere to emphasize Caesar's supreme authority. That these people, with the Jews, were being made into a holy temple in the Lord was thus no less a breathtaking, even potentially treasonous, claim.
What metaphors in the place where you live would communicate the radical hope (Jewish) and the radical authority (Gentile) that the church is called upon and blessed to exercise as it lives out its radical mission to be a living witness to the God who brings all people into unity on the foundation of apostles and prophets, united and growing in Jesus?
Wrestle with this for a while in your worship planning teams across your partner congregations. Don't try to explain all of these things in worship. But do consider how you might unpack this through other means across your congregations in the coming week.
Instead, in worship today, try to find one or two symbols that convey a similar idea -- something that proclaims radical hope and radical authority across your different communities. Display that symbol prominently in worship today, and use it as an anchor image in what you unpack by other means during the week.
Gospel: Discipleship by the Sea
Breathless is a good word to describe the events recounted in Mark 6. Disciples return to Capernaum by the sea from their mission trip to many inland villages, and no sooner report the amazing results of their ministry than they find themselves being taken by Jesus on another teaching mission shoreside. Then (in the verses this week's reading skips) as evening wore on, they find themselves feeding a massive crowd with what had seemed to be impossibly meager supplies. Then, after all that, Jesus sends them off across the sea, at night, while the wind and the waves are so opposed that they get practically nowhere for hours. No doubt they were exhausted, and perhaps not a little frustrated, even ready to give up.
At General Conference worship this year, we used this text to focus on the theme word "Encourage," based on Jesus' instruction to his disciples as he approached the boat, walking on the water, and scaring his disciples half out of their minds: "Be of good courage. It is I!"
Where do you need to focus in your worshiping community this week? Is it on the report of the disciples in verses 30-34? Is it on their attempt to cross the sea and their diligent struggle against winds and waves? Is it on Jesus, who arrives, calms the storm, and then stays with them as they arrive next morning at a different location than they or Jesus had originally intended?
Each of these in itself could be a strong focus for worship planning today. Discuss and discern wisely in your worship planning team, and follow where the Spirit leads.
- Call to Worship: UMH 93, refrain and stanza 1, "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (2 Samuel)
- Greeting: BOW 307 (Ephesians)
- Greeting: BOW 455 (Ephesians, Mark)
- Greeting: BOW 456 (Ephesians)
- Song: "Christ Has Broken Down the Wall," Worship & Song, 3122 (Ephesians)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (Mark)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 492 or BOW 493 (Ephesians)
- Litany: BOW 495, For the Church and For the World (Ephesians, Mark)
- Prayer: BOW 503 or BOW 506, For the Church (Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW 514, For the Mind of Christ (Mark)
- Response: BOW 191, "May This Mind Be in Us" (Mark)
- Prayer: BOW 546, For Those Who Suffer (Mark)
- Scripture Response: UMH 541, stanza 1, "See How Great a Flame Aspires" (2 Samuel, Ephesians)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico.
- Offertory Hymn: BOW 179, "For the Gift of Creation" (Mark)
- Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: (if Holy Communion is not celebrated) BOW 551 (Mark)
- Dismissal: BOW 559 (Ephesians)
Other resources for this day
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Remember, once you were without hope
and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Praise the Lord.
(based on Ephesians 2:12-13)
Dismissal with blessing:
Deacon or assisting minister (layperson) addressing the people:
Members of the household of God,
go forth to proclaim peace,
tear down the dividing walls,
welcome the new humanity won for us in Jesus Christ.
(based on Ephesians 2:15-22)
Presiding minister: (looking at the people with hands extended in blessing):
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.
Amen. Thanks be to God!