Revised Common Lectionary Prayersfor this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
A pharaoh who did not know the family of Joseph made his descendents into hard-labor slaves and tried to reduce their numbers by infanticide. The Hebrew midwives and the daughter of Pharoah had other ideas, so Moses was raised in the royal household.
Psalm 124 (UMH 846).
Alternate refrain: "If it had not been for the Lord on my side" (TFWS 2053). See "Psalms for Singing" for another alternative.
Against the backdrop of their mixed Jewish-Gentile community, Paul calls the Christians at Rome to offer themselves fully to God with minds no longer conformed to a Jewish-Gentile dichotomy/enmity paradigm, but transformed by the awareness we are being made into one body, each of us with differing gifts.
In a stronghold of Roman authority, Jesus asks the disciples whom others say he is. Peter confesses, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus then calls Peter and the church in which he will eventually lead to storm the gates of death, assured of victory, and to take authority to "bind and loose" on earth.
We’ve reached the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Throughout this entire Season after Pentecost, the focus is on helping one another take our next steps in faithful discipleship and ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. However you plan during this season, keep that overarching and underlying purpose in mind.
Today marks several possible new beginning points in the lectionary.
The clearest is a shift in the Old Testament readings from Genesis to Exodus, and so from the “First Families” (Abraham through Joseph) to the first leader/deliverer of their descendants (Moses).
The three-chapter excursus on Jewish/Christian relationships ended last week in Romans, and this week we begin to focus on what life as one body with diverse gifts looks like.
And Matthew brings us a classic text—the confession of Peter—that could well be the beginning of a series, should you wish to make it so.
Meanwhile, coming up in three weeks (September 14), the epistle lesson shifts to four weeks in Philippians.
Be mindful of the opportunities for focus the lectionary provides during these weeks. And as always, choose the one (just one!) that will be best at helping your congregation at this time take its next steps in discipleship and ministry.
Schools have probably started by now where you are. For resources and suggestions for worship, see our Back to School Resources
Two weeks from today, September 7, marks the beginning of the ecumenical celebration of the Season of Creation. The original resources, developed in Australia, are topical. Discipleship Ministries also provides planning starters and other resources for these weeks based on the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary.
Whole Month: Season of Creation (2014 Discipleship Ministries lectionary-based themes and overview).
September 1 Labor Day (USA) (August 31, Labor Sunday)
September 15-October 15: Hispanic Heritage Month
Whole Month: A Season of Saints
October 5: World Communion Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources); “Living into the Mystery” Video (streaming; to order on DVD, send request to worship@UMCdiscipleship.org)
October 12: Children’s Sabbath (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 19: Laity Sunday
November 1/2: All Saints Day/Sunday (Also see Church and Civic Holidays)
November 9: “Restored” or Extended Advent 1, Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday (USA), International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11: Veterans Day (USA) (GBHEM resources)
November 23: Bible Sunday in National Bible Week (November 23-30) (USA)
November 27: Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 30: Advent (Regular) Year B Begins, United Methodist Student Day
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance, Week 1
An Uprising of Life and Compassion
This week’s reading in Exodus opens us to a new stream of texts which will carry us through October 19. We have moved from the stories of the “first families” of the people Israel to the story of how their descendants were delivered from slavery to become God’s covenant people on the move to a promised land.
These stories of deliverance have been foundational for the Christian understanding of Jesus as God’s Passover, God’s deliverance from the power of sin and death offered to all. They have also inspired many peoples over the centuries who cry out to God for deliverance from their oppression.
The arc of the Exodus story continues to offer a wellspring of hope to oppressed peoples everywhere. For Christians in particular, these stories call us to reclaim the centrality of baptismal living and mission in concrete, here and now ways. Wesleyan Christians who seek to live the General Rules, created to be practices and means of grace for enacting the baptismal covenant, have particular reason to attend to these stories in these weeks.
The story begins with subversion! Note who the powerful actors are and are not. Midwives and daughters overcome the reactionary and murderous behavior of the most powerful men in Egypt. Their resistance preserves the life not only of Moses but of many other male children as well. The result is a total backfiring of the Pharoah’s plan to reduce the Hebrew population. Instead, their population multiplies! And one of their own comes to be the adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter!
Life and compassion trump fear and oppression. Midwives defy rules. Daughters save a doomed brother. The Pharoah’s daughter takes in an orphan floating in the river, and his real mother is hired as his wet nurse.
In Your Planning Team
Is today the start of a new series or a continuation for you? If you’re starting a new series, remember to use today in part as an overture to the themes of the weeks ahead. If you’re continuing in the OT readings, emphasize the continuity with where you’ve been as well as pointing to where you’re now heading.
Spend some time in your worship planning team doing some social analysis based on this text. Ask: "Are you aware of any ways any leaders in our community may have identified a particular group to oppress or get rid of? Why? Who in your community acts as midwives to preserve their lives? Who plays the role of Miriam, strategically and subtly placing those who may be at risk before the powerful who may preserve them? Who are the 'Pharoah’s daughte'—people on the 'inside' of power, or at least with extraordinary access to power, whose actions could create an opening to convert paranoia and fear to nurture and loving care?"
Now turn the conversation around. To what degree might your congregation be taking on the role of Pharoah, trying to take action to preserve itself against “outsiders”? Or to what degree are you known as “midwives to revolutionaries” in your community? Or how might you be more like the daughter of Pharoah—with ins to power that can make a difference, if you use them prudently for the causes of life, compassion and justice?
Think about these contextual questions on your worship planning team as you design worship around this text. Considering the arc of the Exodus story, from slavery toward promised land, think about how you might design worship space for all of these weeks (now through October 19)— the arrangement of seating, artwork, and soundscapes— to reflect not only their journey, but your congregation’s journey from its current "stuck places" toward a more vital engagement with Christ’s mission in all the “promised places” where he has sent you.
Romans: Theology for Ministry, Week 10 or 5 or 1
Conformed to the Body of Christ: One Body with Diverse Members and Gifts
Romans 12 begins with a “Therefore” and deep breath. The past three weeks (chapters 9, 10, 11) have been an in-depth exploration of the theological challenge of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity in a mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian community. That heavy lifting is now over. Paul has established his key arguments there and is now ready to move on with how, given all of that, Christians of whatever background are to live as one body in Christ together.
If you used the image of the grafted olive branch last week and you have access to morphing software, use it to create a segue between an image of an olive tree and a person or a small group of people (community/body).
Using the imagery of body, Paul pushes the olive tree graft image radically further. Gentile Christians are not merely grafted into the main trunk of God’s covenant with Israel, but all Christians both form one body in Christ, collectively, and individually, each is part the whole like the arm is part of the whole body. We are both collectively and individually being redesigned in Christ to be connected to each other and incorporated into Christ starting with baptism, regardless of the backgrounds from which we have come.
The Holy Spirit gives each of us a variety of different gifts for us to offer to strengthen the whole community. Paul lists a sampling of these in verses 6-8. Note that the gifts listed here are focused not on the “institution” of the church, but on the core activities of the Christian community with each other and on mission in the world—proclaiming God’s living word, serving others, teaching, coaching, giving, leading, and offering mercy.
Many spiritual gifts inventories in recent years have been designed to help people identify what they are going to do for the institutional life of the local church. Some have been used almost as a volunteer employment screening test.
But that’s not the perspective Paul brings here, or in I Corinthians 12 and 14, or in Ephesians 4. Paul cares about the life of the Christian community as a community—for its fellowship, its expression of mutual care, and its witness to God’s mission at work in the world. The emphasis on the community is clear in the metaphor of “body” that pervades this chapter.
In the Roman context to which Paul was writing, Christian community was very intimate. The church in Rome was really a collection of several small house churches where many of the participants literally shared the same house, may have worked together through the day, and shared daily meals and prayers morning and night. Community was not a theoretical construct, or something they might experience occasionally as their otherwise disparate schedules might allow. Community was the constant reality of their daily lives with each other. In this context Paul’s language of the church as body made strong intuitive sense, especially within each of the house communities.
Chances are strong such an intimate experience of community does not describe even the life of many “nuclear families” in your congregation today. Today, parents, children and other family members sharing the same living space may spend more time talking or communicating via social media with persons not physically present or otherwise interacting with screens (whether television, smart phone, tablet, or computer) during the increasingly limited amount of time they all may spend in each other’s physical presence.
So how do we take a text like this written to a community built on intimate face to face relationships and apply it for worship and church life now in the midst of the far more scattered lives we actually lead?
May I go to meddling for a bit? Christians today in many parts of the world do not live with the transformed minds Paul instructed the Christian community in Rome to seek. Our relationships with Jewish people are often limited, if not actually nil. We rarely even think about offering our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. We are surrounded by and may even propagate messages that tell us to build up our own self-esteem, or image, or reputation in the world, indeed to think of ourselves far more highly than we ought. We often do not regard one another in our congregations as members of a single body that also transcends our congregation, but rather as other individuals who happen to be part of the same gathering for worship and perhaps some other enterprises for the common good we ourselves may have chosen to be part of.
In short, we are often and in many ways about as far from what Paul advised in this text as we can get.
Could it be this is partly because for the most part we only interact with one another occasionally, and then perhaps more by virtual than physical presence? After all, in virtual communication, particularly in social media, the goal often seems to be to say as much as possible as quickly as possible rather than to listen well as long as it takes.
Perhaps one thing we may stand to learn is there is no short-cutting the time it takes in each other’s presence to function and live together as the one body of Christ. It takes time together to be able to acknowledge each other’s gifts. It takes time together to figure out how we can all use them together to be the body of Christ together. If for whatever reasons the amount of time we can spend together physically is reduced, it will simply take longer, overall, for us to function well as body of Christ together.
So perhaps we need to adjust our expectations of life in the church toward something like “slower church,” if not actually Slow Church (as Smith, Pattison and Wilson-Hartgrove describe in their book of the same name). We need time together in worship, to be sure. And we need time together in committee and programmatic work. But we also need more. What is also needed is time prioritized somewhere in our hectic schedules for learning about one another, praying together, supporting one another to grow in holiness of heart and life, and doing life together in small or larger ways. What may have taken early Christians three years of daily preparation and life in community before incorporation into the body of Christ may well take more like ten for many of us now.
Can we schedule our lives as congregations so that we make place for being the body of Christ together? Even if we don’t “go radical” as Slow Church proposes, perhaps we can still learn to think in timeframes outside the day, the week, the month, the quarter, or even the year—and in this wider stretch of time available those pockets of time for one another, that, cumulatively, over time, and with the Spirit’s persistent leading, may help get us there.
In Your Planning Team
There are two mutually reinforcing themes in this week’s text. One is transformed lives with renewed minds capable of discerning God’s will. The other is functioning as a single body composed of individuals given many and widely varying gifts. Renewed minds can help us imagine and live into our common body-life. And living into our common body-life in Christ can help our minds become renewed as our life together is strengthened and transformed.
Where you need to start depends on your congregation. It’s typically best to start with strength before going to weakness. So if you have a stronger body life, but not a lot of transformed thinking, start with examples of how your body life works well and where it can take some positive next steps before moving on to address how your minds may or may not yet be as transformed as perhaps they ought to be. Starting with lifting up your strengths creates greater receptivity for dealing with whatever improvements or critiques may need to be offered.
Start there in your planning meeting. Begin by identifying where you are stronger (minds or practice of community), and identify together the strongest positive examples of this in your congregation. Then discuss how they became strong. If you don’t know the answer, take time to call on someone who does. Be sure to find ways to incorporate the stories of these strongest strengths in worship today first, especially though perhaps not only during the sermon.
Then move on to your weaker area, again identifying strengths first, then moving onto genuine weaknesses. As you address weaknesses, remember addressing weaknesses (unless something is severely broken and can be easily fixed with a technical solution) is rarely the best way forward. Rather, build out strengths, and you’ll discover that most weaknesses needing more than a technical solution will be addressed as you do.
As noted above, perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses in our community life, and therefore also the renewal of our minds, is the increasing lack of quality time spent together as a Christian community. You probably have at least some examples in your congregation of the fruit that results when folks have invested serious time in one another. Rather than cajoling folks for what they’re not doing, remember what they are already doing, and invite folks to consider doing more or starting new initiatives to strengthen community life over time.
Journeying with Jesus: Week 10 or Week 3 or Week 1
Last week in Matthew’s gospel we saw the decisive shift in the mission of Jesus toward including people outside the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now, Gentiles as well as Jews would be part of his mission to declare and embody the reality of God’s kingdom drawn near. This week’s text, set in a Roman garrison city named for two decidedly Gentile Roman leaders—Caesar in Rome and the tetrarch Philip in northern Judea—continues to express this humanity-wide focus. It is no accident that the synoptic gospels all note that Jesus asks the two questions in this week’s reading in this most Gentile place of all. Who do others in this region say the Son of Man is? And who do you say I am?
In the book of Daniel, the Son of Man is portrayed as a deliverer to come. There was wide speculation at this point in history about just who or what kind of person this might be. So Jesus wasn’t asking about what people were thinking about him, but rather about what Jewish people in this most Gentile-controlled of regions expected the Son of Man to be. They, of all people, had good reason to long for deliverance, and so for the coming of the Son of Man.
The answers to this question say a lot about the hopes and expectations of these people. That John the Baptist tops the list indicates just how expectant (and perhaps disappointed) they were. Others seemed to expect a prophet to return, either from heaven (Elijah) or from the grave (Jeremiah or another of the major prophets). Hear what that suggests: Only such an extraordinary intervention could generate true deliverance! Yet in just such an extraordinary intervention they were placing their hope.
Then, and only then, did Jesus ask the question about himself. “Who do you say I am?” Peter’s response is also telling. “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” In other words, you are the promised deliverer. You are what folks were looking for in the Son of Man, whether they understood that to be something like John the Baptist or one the prophets returned from the dead, but also much more.
Jesus doesn’t congratulate anyone on their identification of the Son of Man. But Jesus does congratulate Peter on his identification of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. “Blessed are you, Simon, Jonah’s son. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.” And he goes on, “You are Peter (a stone) and on this rock (same word) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
It’s a powerful image Jesus uses for the church in his blessing of Peter. Often, we think of Hades (the realm of the dead) being on the offensive to destroy us all. But here, Jesus reverses that. The church is storming Death’s dominion, and Death’s best defenses cannot stop us setting its captives free. What holy boldness Jesus intended for us to embody as his body!
And this confession and blessing of the church is also made at Caesarea Philippi, in the heart of Empire’s strongest stronghold in all of Palestine.
In Your Planning Team
Your congregation is a living embodiment of the body of Christ where you are. Who are people saying your church and the people in it are? Send out your worship planning team members (or if you don’t have a planning team, send out some other “posse” of inquirers!) to do some local polling of folks in your church’s community—not just around where your building is, but where clusters of your congregation spend their time during the week. Don’t load the question. Just ask it as simply as Jesus did. “Who would you say the people of X Church are?” Use what you learn from these interviews in your sermon preparation, and incorporate the images and sounds of what you learn from that question in the worship space for this service.
But don’t stop there. You are the body of Christ, the church, and your Sunday gathering for worship is primarily as that body. You have a faith to confess, the confession Peter offered and Jesus strongly affirmed. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is the Christ, and we are his body. Whom or what others say you are is an indicator of whether and how you are living up to who you actually are as Christ’s representatives in the world—those sent to storm the gates of Death and set its captives free!
Whether you are bold representatives or poor representatives, you are his body, and so his representatives. In you and through you, especially as you gather around the Lord’s Table to receive the body and blood anew, flow the Messiahship and the power to be witnesses and agents of God’s transforming power. How are you seeing Messiahship and power flowing through you? How are others seeing it flow?
Remember: Death’s gates do not prevail against you. When you as church come marching, challenging death’s power where you are, the gates will give way. You are empowered by Jesus to declare people freed and delivered, to unbind them from their chains. That’s who you are and what you do because that’s who Jesus is and what he did.
Consider together in your worship planning team who, as individuals or as groups, in your congregation and community are on the march against death’s gates, freeing captives, loosing their chains, and binding those forces that kept them captive in the first place. Arrange to have some conversations with these folks, inviting them to share their stories. What images from their stories will you bring into the worship space today? Work hard to find examples from within your congregation if you can. The point here is not to tell the congregation they’re wrong or deficient, but to remind them and inspire them to live more fully into their identity as the body of Christ, Son of the living God.
Embodying the Word: Responding to the Word for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2014
Exodus: As an expression of the theme of preserving life (continued in a way from last week’s text as well), consider offering a response to the word using the Second General Rule, “Do good.”
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:
To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that "we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it."
By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.
By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord's sake.
Romans 12: Consider singing one or more of the following from Worship&Song before and afteras you invite people to gather in small groups to offer prayers for each other as they engage mission in the coming week:
3149, "For Everyone Born"
3154, "Draw the Circle Wide"
3155, "The Lord of Life, a Vine Is He"
3156, "One Is the Body "
3159, "Let Our Earth Be Peaceful"
Matthew 16: A confession of faith—Apostles, Nicene, or another of the basic affirmations of the faith (or perhaps one drawn from the “The Need for Creeds.” Decide what kind of corporate confession you need—not ruling out one of the classics a priori—based on how you discern together what your congregation needs to say today to remember their identity as the body of Christ in and where they are.
- (Exodus or general)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
- Or BOW 555 (Romans)
- BOW 315
- BOW 301 with adaptation
- BOW 421
- BOW 412 (Matthew)
- BOW 555 (Romans)
Confession and Pardon:
- BOW 480 (Add words of pardon) [Exodus, Matthew]
- BOW 479 (Romans)
- BOW 490 (Exodus)
Response to the Word:
- Apostles' Creed, United Methodist Hymnal, 881 or 882
- Nicene Creed, United Methodist Hymnal, 880
Concerns and Prayers:
BOW 504, 527 (Matthew)
Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 68-69
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
Here is an example that local churches may use as long as the copyright information line is printed with it. This prayer may easily be made a unison prayer or a responsive prayer.
Most merciful God:
We give thanks for the work you give us to do.
Our work gives us a sense of importance.
We give thanks for the people we encounter daily.
People give us a sense of belonging.
We give thanks for schedules and routines.
They help us to feel grounded in a changing world.
We give thanks for Jesus Christ.
Christ's love gives meaning to all of life.
— From page 28 of Worship and Daily Life: A Resource for Worship Planners
Copyright © 1999 by Discipleship Resources (OUT OF PRINT). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Dismissal: 559, UMBOW