James Tissot. Jesus commands the apostles to rest. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegéticos: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
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 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.
Ephesians 2:11-22. 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—and several weeks to come-- 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.
Worship Planning Notes
Calendar: Keep Thinking Series!
This the eighth Sunday of the Season after Pentecost. See Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry for the Season after Pentecost, Year B for an overview and guidance for planning worship series grounded in the lectionary texts and most appropriate for your particular setting from now to the beginning of Advent.
Where are you in your current series or preparations for the next one? 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?
In the US this is the heart of “vacation season.” 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.
It is also not too soon to start planning for series or emphases later this season, such as Season of Creation (September), Season of Saints (October) or Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). Resources for all of these may be found at the links below.
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
All Month Season of Creation (global and ecumenical)
September 7 Labor Day (USA)
October 15 Hispanic Heritage Month (USA)
All Month Season of Saints
October 4 World Communion Sunday
October 11 Children’s Sabbath
October 18 Laity Sunday
Old Testament: The David Saga
Week 7: Of Movements and Monuments
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 capitol 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, multi-staff mega-church with multiple campuses— almost the settled goal or “promised land” of our mission.
But that is not the rest of the story. The reign of David and his offspring over all twelve tribes essentially ended after one generation, 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.”
So the Bible and subsequent history records not a tension of movement versus institution, but rather the dance of movement and institution, each generating or supporting the other over time. It is not a competition, but a symbiosis. It is not a linear, hierarchal progression from movement to institution, or vice verse, but, at our most effective, the interplay of both. And it is the Holy Spirit who is ground and power of it all to establish the people of God.
Which brings us back to God’s promise to David in today’s story. God’s desire was not simply to establish a dynastic line, but through that dynasty to create and sustain God’s whole people to show forth God’s lovingkindness (chesed), righteousness (tzedekah) and justice (mishpat) for all the world to see.
As Christians, we confess Jesus Christ is the one who has fulfilled the promise to David. We, born anew in him by the power of the Holy Spirit, are those called to continue to live out the same purposes—that the lovingkindness, righteousness and justice of God may be known through us and in us to all.
We are a people, the people of God in Jesus Christ. And like all people, we need institutions that stabilize us and movement that keeps us going. We must never confuse the one for the other. Institutions cannot generate movements, but at their best support them well. Movements cannot outlive the people who participate in them, but need institutions to help carry on their purposes beyond the current line of leaders. Movements hold institutions accountable to the main mission. For us, that is being a people discipled to Jesus and discipling others in his way. And institutions keep movements accountable to the mission as well by ensuring both the current and the next generation are reminded of both the core and the boundaries of our calling.
In Your Planning Team
Today’s reading provides a crucial insight for disciples called upon to be leaders.
Our first focus is also God’s—the formation of an enduring household, or people. It is what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples his intention was that they become fruitful with fruit that will last. When Jesus spoke of enduring fruit, he didn’t mean plastic fruit that wouldn’t rot. He meant trees and vines that would keep producing more trees and vines that would keep producing more fruit (and seeds for more trees and vines and fruit) for generations to come.
As disciples of Jesus, we will find ourselves constantly interacting with both movements and institutions, both in the church and outside it. However we function in relation to either, both institutions and movements matter. And what matters in how we function is whether what we are doing with either or both is ultimately about generating fruitfulness— the perfect love of God in Christ expressed through growth in holiness of heart and life in our own lives and communities, and creating many pathways for others to experience the same in theirs.
Leadership in a movement is different than leadership in an institution. Different skill sets are required. What effective leaders in each will need to emphasize (loyalty versus compliance, for example, each of which has its place) will vary. But for disciples of Jesus, the purpose of each kind of social organization is the same: to build a fruitful people now and for generations to come.
So plan worship today that expresses the value of both movement and institution, tabernacle and temple, and that gives thanks to God for the ways in which faithful disciples function or are called to function in either and both.
One way you may consider doing this is by holding worship outdoors today, tabernacle or tent meeting style, including plenty of “old time gospel” songs and maybe even a bluegrass band for accompaniment, while following the basic pattern of worship, including Holy Communion, from the Book of Worship. We as Christians, and more particularly (though not exclusively) as United Methodists, are a people of Word and Table, of Sermon and Sacrament, of Spirit-filled spontaneity and Spirit-ordered structure.
Be sure in sermon or in testimony (or both) to lift up living examples in your congregation and community of persons whose discipleship involves faithful leadership in movements, institutions, and sometimes both, and ways we can all learn from what the Spirit is doing in their lives to help us all become a more fruitful people, growing in holiness of heart and life and spreading scriptural holiness wherever we are or go.
Epistle: Networked Unity
Week 2: “Christ Has Broken Down the Wall”… and so should we!
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 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 a 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 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 each other?
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 dwelling place 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 dwelling-place. 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 (not Caesar) 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?
In Your Planning Team(s)
Team planning can be challenging. Planning in teams across multiple congregations and possibly multiple traditions can be more challenging. Vive le défi! Long live the challenge!
This week’s text points squarely to the ways God has overcome the challenge of separated and even hostile peoples and uniting us all in Christ. It declares a core truth of our discipleship to Jesus, the one in whom the dividing wall was broken down. Jesus is out to unite us all, and break down every barrier that divides us. If we are on the side of Jesus—if we are his disciples—then our lives and our ministries cannot be about raising new dividing walls, but about finding ways to turn those walls into fences, and then putting gates in the fences so we can visit with one another as beloved neighbors.
We do not become beloved neighbors simply by living in the same geographical region. We become neighbors by eating in one another’s homes, caring for one another’s children and aging or ill family members, actively seeking out the welfare of the other as we do ourselves. We become neighbors by taking the time to know each other and work with each other well enough that we can honestly say we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Even and especially where there are things about them we have difficulty liking or accepting.
Christ has broken down those walls, too.
Living in networked community means for us more than being part of the same district or cluster of churches within a single denomination. There were no denominations in Paul’s day. But we can see from Revelation that each of the seven churches in the Ephesus circuit found themselves in differing cultural contexts with different emphases in their ministries, even when they were “on track.” Where their distinctiveness made them more effective in their contexts, this was applauded (as at Smyrna and Philadelphia, Revelation 2: 8-11, 3:7-13). Where they lost their distinctiveness or their love for God or each other (as at Ephesus and Laodicea, Revelation 2:1-7, 3:14-22), they were warned and called to regain the passion of their first love.
Here, in Ephesians, some 20 years or more earlier, Paul calls these same churches, in all their differences, including especially the differences within some of them of Jewish and Gentile members, actively to love one another for the sake of Christ upon whom, as cornerstone, with apostles and prophets as foundation, they were being built together into one body (Ephesians 2:20).
For disciples of Jesus, ecumenical work and collaboration in mission is not optional. It can be challenging, but it is at the heart of God’s mission to build us all—and ultimately all people-- together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (2:22).
Wrestle with the questions raised in the commentary above 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 what these things already mean, and might yet mean, for your mutual relationships across your congregations in the coming weeks.
Gospel: Discipleship by the Sea
Week 7: The Shape of a Discipling Culture
This week’s reading picks up, in a way, on the reading from two weeks ago. Last week’s reading is set at a time while the disciples have been sent out on mission by Jesus, and Mark uses the occasion of their mission trip that spreads news of Jesus far and wide across Herod’s territory to report on the fate of John the Baptizer, beheaded as a result of Herodias’s “dance of death.”
Note how the disciples are now addressed in the opening words of this week’s reading. They are now called “apostles.” Already. Before Jesus’s death and resurrection, and before Pentecost.
They were indeed apostles. Jesus had sent them out, which is what the word apostle (apostellw, to send out) means in Greek.
And now the apostles were back.
What Jesus does for them upon their return in the opening verse of this week’s reading (Mark 6:30) marks a critical thing we need to do for all disciples of Jesus on a regular basis. He hears their after-action report.
In other gospels, we hear more details about “all they had done and taught.” But here, just that. They reported in. They gave their account. They were accountable.
Then he called them to a time of rest and retreat (verse 32).
And then they joined him again in the midst of his mission.
And then, in the verses just prior to the second part of this week’s reading (Mark 6:45 ff) he sent them out again, at night, to go ahead of him across the sea.
This is the basic rhythm of ministry in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends us out. We do what we are called to do. We return and report in what happened. We may take a break for rest and reflection. We join Jesus in active mission and ministry once again. And then he sends us out again. The cycle continues.
Each part of this cycle is critical for our development as disciples and for our ministries in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be sent out, learning to rely on the Spirit’s guidance and empowerment and not just on our own existing skills or relationships. We need to report in, both what we did and what we learned, what worked and what didn’t, and what we might try next time. Sometimes after we’ve done this, we may need some time to relax and rest. We need to rejoin all the ways the Spirit is “normally” moving in the routines and beats of our daily lives. And then we find ourselves sent out again. Sometimes, as in this case, it may be into very adverse conditions where we learn just how much we must rely on Jesus. Sometimes, it may be smoother sailing. But sent we are, so sent we go.
As you reflect on the ways you seek to form disciples of Jesus in your congregation, perhaps with your worship planning team or perhaps with a group of other trusted leaders, which parts of this cycle are you doing well? Which are missing? Which can you improve, and how? Ultimately, the question is how can you build an underlying discipling culture in your setting in which this rhythm of Jesus discipling his disciples by the sea becomes also the rhythm of discipling disciples where you are?
In Your Planning Team
Worship might be built around the shape of the discipling culture Jesus set and Mark records in today’s reading.
Start with the opening verses of a hymn or song of sending.
Read Mark 6:30, then follow with a prayer or a song or a testimony about what happens when we are sent and proclaim and bear witness to the good news of God’s kingdom happening in our midst.
Read Mark 6:31-32.
Move to a hymn of prayer, and enter a time of extended quiet prayer, perhaps guided by a litany, such as A Litany for the Church and the World (UMBOW 495), with a silent or sung response.
Read Mark 6:33-34, 45
Preach about the entire missional cycle and the culture it created, from being sent, to reporting in, to taking time to rest and reflect, to rejoining Jesus in mission in “normal” life, to being sent out again. Include in the sermon testimonies and examples of which parts of this some of your folks have experienced as strengths, and those parts you as pastor will work with them to see your congregation improve in the coming weeks and months.
Issue an invitation to discipleship, with a hymn as may be appropriate.
Invite all to the Lord’s table, confessing sin, declaring pardon, and offering gifts and themselves in the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Give thanks after receiving.
Then read Mark 6:54-56, noting how the journey continues, and we’re all being sent now into the world to continue the cycle.
Sing the closing verses of a hymn of sending.
Send all forth with the blessing of God and a charge to remember and live out the call to discipleship and mission in the world in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW), Worship & Song, and Ecumenical Prayer Cycle
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)
Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (Mark; “O God, Our Guide and Guardian, 5/6 of the way down the page)
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)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Song: “Christ Has Broken Down the Wall” Worship&Song 3122 (Ephesians)
Scripture Response: UMH 541, stanza 1, "See How Great a Flame Aspires" (2 Samuel, Ephesians)
Response: BOW 191, "May This Mind Be in Us" (Mark)
Litany: BOW 495, For the Church and For the World (Ephesians, Mark)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico.
Prayer: BOW 503 or BOW 506, For the Church (Ephesians)
Prayer: BOW 514, For the Mind of Christ (Mark)
Prayer: BOW 546, For Those Who Suffer (Mark)
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: BOW 492 or BOW 493 (Ephesians, “O God of Shalom,” last item)
Offertory Hymn: BOW 179, "For the Gift of Creation" (Mark)
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71, 78-79 or Holy Wisdom: A Great Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving: (if Holy Communion is not celebrated) BOW 551 (Mark, 2nd item)
Dismissal: BOW 559 (Ephesians)
Sending from Holy Wisdom: A Great Thanksgiving
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!
Other resources for this day