Planning - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c (UMH 828).
The hymnal selection of verses differs from the appointed Psalm verses (The hymnal verses reflected the Common Lectionary, but the Revised Common Lectionary we adopted in 1992 altered the psalm verses and occasionally offered a different psalm). The lectionary's verses are more reflective of the Exodus reading. See "Psalms for Singing: Psalm 105" for an alternative.
Last week's text reminds us we are one body. This week's focus is on being one body in Christ -- loving one another, respecting and forgiving one another, loving and reaching out in care to enemies, and blessing even those who persecute us. Even as Christ overcame the power of sin and death, so his body, the church, is called to overcome evil with good.
Last week, the confession. This week: the cost of that confession. Jesus tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, where he will be killed. Peter rebukes him, and Jesus tells Peter that he is a stumbling block to him by thinking as humans think. Any who will be disciples of Jesus must lay claims to themselves aside, pick up a crucifix, and follow him.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Next weekend is Labor Day weekend. It has been a rough year for "worker rights" in some parts of the United States. See "A Service of Holy Communion for Labor Day," "A Service of Holy Communion for Labor Day," and additional resources from the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society.
The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 (Patriot Day in the U.S.) is approaching. All residents in the U.S. are asked by the government to take a moment of silence at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. For congregations in other time zones, this may correspond with the beginning or ending of worship. Consider how or whether you will incorporate this specifically in worship, or schedule a later time for your congregation or worshiping community to commemorate the day. See our resources for 9/11 anniversary on this website.
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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Today's texts provide singular examples of God's call and human response. While you may be tempted to summarize each briefly to cover them all in your sermon, unless that is truly the best way for your congregation or faith community to hear and experience these texts, let me heartily encourage you to pick just one == and indeed, to pick the one that stays with the stream of texts (Exodus, Romans, Matthew) on which you and your planning team have decided to focus.
Each of these texts, if serving as the focal text for the day, could call for a different arrangement of worship space, different ritual actions accompanying each, and radically different selections in art, music and soundscapes. Vive la difference! And remember that if you are preaching from the lectionary, you and your worshiping community will have the opportunity to make a different selection three years from now if that is what you need to do at that time.
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
God Is Out to Save Others Through Us
Exodus offers one of the most memorable scenes from the Hebrew Bible -- the story Moses and the burning bush. Moses "turned aside to see" a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. What began as a curiosity in the desert turned into an occasion for God to commission Moses to lead the way to freedom for his people, slaves in Egypt. Toward the end of the verses for this week we hear the beginning of Moses' doubts about his capacity to pull off so remarkable a mission.
Discipleship Ministries has developed a day-long transforming Bible study module on this passage which you may find useful as you work with your worship planning team to develop worship this day. Called "Turn Aside and See," this study of Exodus 3-4 leads groups to encounter their own points of resistance for God's call in their lives and to reconnect with God's power to engage God's mission wherever God sends us. If you go this route, you may want to make a series out of the study, or you may use worship this morning as a launch for a fuller study and sending process at other times. You may learn more by clicking on "Turn Aside and See." We offer a full script and links to PowerPoint and video resources, all for free. Contact Carol Krau (ckrau@UMCdiscipleship.org) if you are interested in bringing this as an event to your district or conference.
This story has so many points of resonance throughout Jewish and Christian history and today in local communities you may have difficulty knowing where to begin or focus as you plan worship that engages and responds to this text. We may also bring many presuppositions, expectations, and even movie portrayals to this scene (Charlton Heston's portrayal in The Ten Commandments, or perhaps The Prince of Egypt, or this more recent animated version ), which may either illumine or cloud our ability to hear its call in its original context and for today.
A suggestion as you plan for today, then. Consider asking all of your team members to name the presuppositions and "screenshots" they bring to the text, up front. Get them all on the table. Talk together about how these might influence your reading of the text when you come to it. Decide together which of these may be helpful and which may get in the way.
Now read the text together, out loud several times, with several different readers. Use the classic discipline of lectio divina. On the first reading, ask for each person to identify what stands out calling for more attention for each person. On the second, encourage folks to listen and reflect on that part of the text more carefully and reflect on what God is saying to each person through what stood out. On the third reading, ask what commitment people will make to act on what has caught their attention, what they have turned aside and seen and now will do.
This exercise in your planning team may yield a variety of answers to each of the questions, but you may discern across these answers some common themes that God may be calling a number of folks in your congregation to consider together. Though the imagery itself is lush and may tempt you to using lots of multimedia to try to capture all of it, less may well be more. Consider using for art, imagery and soundscapes those elements that best or most frequently evoked responses and commitments from across your group, those elements that contribute to the shared focus around which you are seeking to develop worship today.
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Romans: Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101
Romans moves to the heart of Christian ecclesiology today. Today's reading is no random list of good ideas, any more than the church is a random assembly of acquaintances who like to spend Sunday mornings together, and perhaps do a few educational and charity projects from time to time. Instead, these are the very kinds of practices that enable us to function as one body in Christ.
C.S. Lewis noted in The Four Loves that "friendships have to be about something, even if it is only an enthusiasm about dominoes or white mice." Mere being together is not enough. Christian love, whether as friendship (philia) or divine love (agap), is about living out the way of Jesus as we participate in God's reign with each other in the church and in the life of the world around us. Oneness and unity are not all we are made for as Christians
That is why Paul moves from the image of the body last week, which could feel rather ingrown and insular, to such radical sets of outgoing action in the reading this week. The focus of this body is not on itself, but on being Christ in the world. That is why and how we can do all that Paul commends here -- outdoing one another in showing honor, never flagging in zeal, giving generously to help others, blessing those who persecute us, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, showing respect toward all, and always loving enemies to the point of offering hands-on care for them. In particular, blessing those who persecute was not theoretical "nice talk" from Paul; it was a call to a concrete response to a lived reality Christians were facing then and have faced in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries more than at any time on record. Paul did not commend these as ideals but as basic practices of Christian community made possible because we are in Christ who has overcome evil, sin and death.
Put another way, these practices are both means of grace and fruit of grace. They are means of grace that open us to experience God's saving power in us as we engage them. And the more we become open to that power in us -- individually and collectively -- the more these practices become habits that yield a rich harvest all around us.
This is truly a peculiar way to live in this world. Though it appears to have been standard practice for early Christians and early Methodists, few "regular churchgoers" these days attempt it. Still in every generation there have been some Christians (and probably some others as well!) who have. Who are the people in your congregation or community for whom these practices are an embedded part of their lives? How do they teach others to live in this way? Hint: You might check to see if there are any Covenant Discipleship groups, monasteries, neo-monastic communities, or Amish or Mennonite groups nearby, as these have often ordered their lives to take up just such practices.
When you have gotten in touch with some of these folks and listened to their stories, or perhaps even invited one or more of them to your worship planning team meeting, design the worship space, visuals, media, and soundscapes around what you have learned from how these folks live and how you are ready to commit and invite more of your congregation to commit to living in Christ as Paul here commends. What does worship space look like if you are really called to love and honor one another? What is the shape of the assembly -- straight lines? A circle? A circle of circles? Tables around a central table? How might worship space reflect a commitment to love and care for enemies and to bless those who persecute you?
If you find yourself serving in an inflexible worship space that does not allow for such creative seating, remember that people can still stand or at least turn their gaze differently. Think about how to reconfigure the orientation of the worshipers even if you cannot reconfigure the orientation of their pews or chairs.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Matthew offers "the rest of the story" of Peter's confession begun last week. Confessing that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God requires of us more than to say the words or be inspired by them. It requires us actually to follow where Jesus leads, even when that may mean harm to ourselves and others with us on the journey. Jesus was clear with his disciples in these verses that his way would lead to his own arrest, torture, execution, and death, as well as to his resurrection. Resurrection, though, presupposes death. God's reign often inescapably will suffer violence in this world, but even in doing so will triumph. Only Satan offers triumph without struggle and suffering.
Jesus is clear. "If any would come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me." He doesn't mean give up chocolate, put on a necklace and attend worship regularly. Discipleship to him is neither game nor ritual pastime. It is an entire way of life, for life and for death.
Self-denial in our culture usually has come to mean an attempt to control oneself or try to keep oneself from certain behaviors. That's not the sense of the verb in its original cultural context, however. "To deny oneself" is to refuse ultimate ownership of one's life and direction, and instead hand that over to another, in this case, to Jesus. Taking up the cross is the sign of that commitment. Jesus rebuked Peter for his refusal to acknowledge the cross as a necessary component of Jesus' messiahship and his own discipleship. If Jesus was going to face a cross, that meant Peter may do so as well. Peter was not just looking out for Jesus. He was also looking out for himself!
Following the way of Jesus can lead to our own deaths at the hands of those his proclamation and work threaten. The message of God's reign is revolutionary to every earthly establishment, and such establishments may be likely to respond with violence or the threat of violence when they understand this.
Who are the Christian revolutionaries, which is to say disciples of Jesus Christ (as Jesus puts it most simply here), where you are; or who influences the folks where you are? What does their self-denial look like? How do they take up the cross? How have they found their souls in the midst of a life that risks losing their lives? Some of these, like those who first heard these words from Jesus and through Matthew, the apostles or other gospel writers, probably have some testimony about seeing "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." How do these folks describe that? Where do they see that? Where do they not see that?
Now think about the arrangement of worship space to help acknowledge the revolutionary character of discipleship to Jesus. What artwork, dance, drama or other expressions do you have available to express the biblical understanding of self-denial, taking up the cross, and following Jesus? How and where will the Scriptures, or at least a gospel book, be physically present in your midst today? Where in particular will the font be -- where we make vows to renounce (deny!) the lordship of the evil powers of this world, promise to resist them, and give ourselves in full allegiance to Jesus Christ? Where will the Lord's Table be? What about seating for the people in relationship to these two sacramental spaces? How might the arrangement of other signsa processional cross or crosses in artwork or projected imagery, a Paschal or Christ candle, censer and incense (if you use these), among others support the hearing and following of this gospel word today?
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Embodying the Word: Responses to the Word for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2011
Exodus: The response you craft should relate to the focus you have chosen.
Is it on the act of turning aside to see? Then offer time for folks to do just that, in reflective prayer, or journaling, or worship stations that allow people to do both.
Is it on God's compassion that moves God's action and call to engage Moses in that action? The consider using the new Methodist Social Creed Litany as a response with some kind of opportunity for ritual action and commitment to further action as a follow-up to each stanza.
Is it on Moses's excuses and God's assurance of presence and power to fulfill the calling? Then consider using the Confession of Faith of the United Church of Canada ("We are not alone") in the United Methodist Hymnal (882).
Romans: What sort of direction do you need the response to take? Will it be more of a confession of sin? If so, consider singing "Confession" (Worship & Song, 3138). Or might it be more aspiration? Try "Come, Let Us Dream" (Worship & Song, 3157). Or perhaps more of a confession of faith. If so, consider "The Lord of Life, a Vine Is He" (Worship & Song, 3155).
Matthew: Either in the sermon or as part of the response, encourage folks to stand as they are able and embody each of the three core actions Jesus describes, one at a time, with a posture or set of physical gestures: deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus. Each person is likely to do each of these in different ways; be sure they have the room needed to do what they need to do with their bodies. After each embodiment, or after all three, ask people to debrief what they did, what it felt like, and what they learned about what each action requires of them both, from this act of embodiment and from other elements in the sermon today. Give at least ten minutes for the embodiment and debriefing. Move from these different embodiments into a corporate, unison confession of faith, such as the Nicene or Apostles Creed, whichever you did las week
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- BOW 452 (Psalm)
- BOW 455 (Romans); or
- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Seek the Lord and God's strength; see the Lord's presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done.
- UMH 268 (Exodus)
- Some or all of BOW 514, especially the last section (Romans and Matthew)
- BOW 462, 465, or 466 (Exodus, Romans)
Acts of Response to the Word:
- BOW 481, with a pardon (Romans and Matthew)
- BOW 478 (Romans)
- BOW 476 (Matthew)
Response to the Romans Reading: "Canticle of Christ's Obedience," 167, United Methodist Hymnal
Concerns and Prayers:
- "A Prayer in a Time of National Crisis," BOW 517 (Exodus, Romans)
- "For Peace," BOW 520 (Romans)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia
- For back to school, consider using this:
(For those who teach)
Right: We pray for teachers who wipe tears and give hugs, welcome laughter and smile often, touch hearts and open minds.
Left: We pray for teachers who equip us for the possibilities of the future, challenge us to consider new ideas, encourage us to do our best.
Right: We pray for teachers who prepare carefully despite crowded schedules, create amazing things from limited resources, work long hours and receive little recognition.
Left: We pray for teachers who are called to a holy task, created in the image of God, empowered to transform lives.
Right: In the name of Jesus the Great Teacher, we pray for teachers. Amen.
Used with permission from Worship in Daily Life: A Resource for Worship Planners. Copyright 1999 Discipleship Resources, Nashville TN. (OUT OF PRINT)
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 555, 552
- BOW 566 (Exodus, Romans). The sung version is available in the 1966 Hymnal, no. 813.
- Or employ some of the imperatives that Paul gives in the Roman's text, such as one of the following options:
An assisting minister (deacon or layperson) addresses the congregation with one of the following:
a. Go now as God's servants:
Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil,
hold fast to what is good
Do not lag in zeal,
be ardent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
(Then the presider blesses the people.)
b. Go now as God's servants:
Rejoice in hope,
be patient in suffering,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints;
extend hospitality to strangers.
(Then the presider blesses the people.)
c. Go now as God's servants:
Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another;
do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;
do not claim to be wiser than you are.
(Then the presider blesses the people.)
d. Go now as God's servants:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil,
but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Then the presider blesses the people.)
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