Planning - The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 1:1, 17, 17-27.
David leads his troops in a public lament for the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.
Psalm 130 (UMH 848).
In response to the cry of national mourning, "Out of the depth I cry to you, O Lord!" For a hymn setting of the 1535 Coverdale version, see UMH 516. If you plan to chant the psalm, consider using Tone 4 in G minor, page 737.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15.
Last week, Paul placed the ball in the Corinthians' court to restore their relationship. This week, Paul reminds the church to make good on its past promise to provide generous support for his collection for the poor in Jerusalem. At stake, says Paul, is not only their integrity, but their participation in the global body of Christ. He expects them to give all that they can so that the standard of living for Christians around the world would be more balanced.
Two more illustrations of the power of the Word to bring abundance of life where no life seemed possible: the healing of a woman with an issue of blood (and so unable to sustain a pregnancy) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus who had died.
Back to top.
This the fifth Sunday of the Season after Pentecost. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time) 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.
Independence Day (US) falls on a Wednesday this year. You may choose to recognize it in Sunday worship either on July 1 or July 8, or in special worship offered on July 4.
The Revised Common Lectionary does provide readings for July 4. The United Methodist Book of Worship version of the RCL does not. Our expectation is that the Sunday readings take precedence. With that in mind, the reading from 2 Samuel and the Psalm would provide an appropriate backdrop for preaching on national lament, which might be a helpful and honest way for people in some communities to respond to continuing economic struggles, job loss, or other struggles of the nation that hit home locally in significant ways. That we lament our losses does not mean we fail to celebrate the value of the nation. Instead, we lift up all those who mourn in this nation and worldwide, seeking God's healing, sustaining, and restoration. The reading from 2 Corinthians might suggest an exploration of the connection between independence/autonomy and interdependence/care for all.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
Atmospherics Overall: Preparing for Community Lament
While during Ordinary Time, the three major readings are not intentionally connected to one another, today is an occasion where they share a common motif -- that of communal grieving or lament.
The readings from II Samuel and Psalm 130 ask for more than audiovisual expression by your readers or tech crew. They invite the congregation to join in an act of lament, not just verbally, but bodily. When David called on the daughters of Israel to "weep for Saul," he was not asking them to feel sad about him, but rather to express sadness through tears, cries, a "limping dance," and, very likely, ululation. The "mourners" at the bedside of Jairus' daughter were likely offering similar public expressions of grief and lament.
In the United States, national lament is rare. Lament itself, if it happens at all, is engaged more by communities or individuals most directly affected by a tragic event than by the nation as a whole. Even in moments such as the funerals of presidents or memorial services for those who died in Vietnam or on 9-11, the focus is often more on thanksgiving for what has been received or on honoring the memory of the fallen than on crying out our pain and our vulnerability before God because of what has been lost.
Think about it. Where do we ever hear something like this in our culture? "O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel." Today's first reading and response invite the congregation to enter that space of pain and vulnerability together, to name it, and to entrust themselves to the only One who can provide deliverance and support in the midst of it all.
If you go in this direction, you may want to make use of prayers and other resources from "Services of Death and Resurrection" (UMH, 870-875, and Book of Worship, 139-171). Keep in mind the numerous special resources in the Book of Worship, such as "At the Service of a Child" (BOW 161-162), "For an Untimely or Tragic Death" (BOW 163-164), "At the Service of a Person Who Did Not Profess the Christian Faith" (BOW 165-166), "A Service of Death and Resurrection for a Stillborn Child" (BOW 170-171). You may want to incorporate some portions of these in the service.
See also these helpful Book of Worship resources: pages 183, 196, 500, 548, 563, 623, and 737-739.
For the reading from 2 Corinthians, you might consider offering images or infographics contrasting the standards of living for Christians where you worship and in other places in your larger community or around the world. One case in point is pastoral salaries. In the United States, the "Denominational Average Compensation" for 2012 is $62,781 for an elder in full connection. The range in the US is from $25,552 (Puerto Rico) or $35,212 (Oklahoma Indiana Missionary Conference) to $75,461 (North Georgia). Meanwhile, the typical salary of a United Methodist elder in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which had the largest delegation to the 2012 General Conference) is about $100 a month or $1,200 a year. Out of that has to come rent, food, health, taxes, and even basic educational costs for children ("public" education in DRC is not "free"). Congregations often supplement with meals and in kind gifts so pastors can make ends meet. Still, they often have nothing saved to support them when they can no longer function as pastors. What does this significant disparity mean for us as United Methodists who are called to overcome the negative effects of poverty in community with, and not simply on behalf of, the poor?
Atmospherics The Texts
Old Testament: "From Local Judges to a King like All the Nations"
Our reading in 2 Samuel of the David saga this week departs dramatically from the thrill of David's victory over Goliath. This week, we find David learning from an Amalekite that Saul and Jonathan are dead and Saul's army routed by the Philistines. We later see how David leads the nation in mourning over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. These are actually two very different stories, even two different kinds of stories. You may wish to consider focusing on just one of them today -- the news of the death and its aftermath, or the mourning for the slain king and his son.
News and Aftermath
That an Amalekite delivers this word is triply ironic. David's troops had just defeated an Amalekite contingent. This particular Amalekite had actually been responsible for finishing Saul off at Saul's own request, when his efforts to fall on his own spear left him injured but not dead. And this Amalekite also brought Saul's crown to David to make David the next King. A citizen of the defeated enemy kills the former king and helps to make a new one. Perhaps it is no surprise that David then ordered his men to strike down this Amalekite immediately (see verses 2-16, not in the lectionary).
All of that is backstory to the heart of this week's reading. But perhaps for your worshiping community, it is this backstory rather than the lament you may be called to contemplate this week. What David claimed as treachery, the Amalekite described as an act of mercy to a man begging to die. While the Amalekite's story differs from the version of Saul's death recorded at the end of I Samuel (31:4-5 -- Saul falls on his own sword and dies, versus here, falling on his spear and lingering), there is no question here that his story is accurate. The only question is whose values get to determine the final outcome. Mercy toward a dying man, in David's view, does not trump the presumption of anyone, least of all an enemy combatant, to kill "the anointed of the Lord" under any circumstances.
Which man does your worshiping community resemble more? Are you more like David, committed at all costs to enforcing social norms? Or are you more like the Amalekite, more often trying to show mercy and make the best you can out of dreadful situations? Which man -- David or the Amalekite -- acted more like "a king after God's own heart" as opposed to "a king like all the nations" in this instance?
Scripture records David's decision. It does not, however, record an evaluation of that decision. It presents both David and the Amalekite's stories and perspectives, shows their conflict, and states the results. And thus, like it so often does, this text offers not one right answer but many questions for us to ponder and struggle over with one another and with God.
Leading the Community in Lament
Prior to offering his lament over Saul and Jonathan, David ordered those from the tribe of Judah among his troops to learn and then sing a song (verse 16). There is no surviving record of this song (called "The Bow"). We do not know how it would have been performed, or how its verses or tune may have related to the lament that follows. The important thing to note is what David was doing. He was rehearsing part of his army so they could help lead the rest of them in what would have been the sung and danced lament that followed. It was a "rehearsal on the spot" for a "ritual on the run."
David needed at least three things to pull this off. First, he needed to know the text, tune, and performance practice of "The Bow" so he could teach it to others. Second, he needed people ready and willing to learn it and perform it when the time came. Third, he needed enough awareness of how to offer a properly dignified song of lament to suit the occasion and honor the memory of the king and his son who were no more. All three of these things called both for creative skill on the spot and deep formation in the traditions of Hebrew poetry and song. The "verses" maybe have been largely new to fit the occasion. The poetry and performance, especially of the "refrains" (verses 19b, 25, 27) would likely have been old enough to have been recognizable and performable in some way by all.
How does your congregation help form people in the rich traditions of Scripture, Christian poetry, music, and liturgy as well as in the gifts of more immediate creativity to be able to create such "ritual on the run," such powerful prayer, when it is needed, wherever folks may happen to be?
The poetry David offers reflects life lived outdoors. God's glory had perished on high places (mountains or plateaus), there is to be no proclamation of this in the streets, and there is a call for dew and rain to be withheld from the mountains and the fields of Gilboa. Saul and Jonathan are praised for their outdoor deeds, their valor in battle, and are described as the lions and eagles. In verse 24, those addressed may be indoors: the daughters of Israel, dressed in indoor finery. The final verse before the last refrain reflects personal grief for Jonathan. The sweep of the song thus moves from the region where David and Saul's men did battle, to the homes they would return to, to David himself, standing with his men, mourning the loss of his best friend, then back out to the whole contingent who share the final refrain.
What is the "movement" of prayer where you are? How well does it embrace the way of life most of you actually share together, whether indoors or outdoors? How does it move to include others in other places? At what point does it include family and personal concerns? And does it end with the personal, or, as this prayer-song does, move back out to the corporate again, allowing corporate joy or pain to be felt individually, and individual joy and pain to be shared corporately, and all before God? How might the structure of prayer offered by David inform the way you pray as a community at worship today and going forward?
A fitting response to this text would be to offer a prayer of lament, built on a similar model, for the losses faced by the people in your own community, especially recent and devastating losses. Work with your musicians and worship planning team to design such a lament. Teach a choir or musical ensemble a refrain they can lead the whole congregation in singing. And you see how the Spirit moves among you to listen, join your grieving, and begin the deep healing you may need individually and corporately.
Epistle: Forging a Way through Deep Church Conflict
As we noted last week and above, the reading from 2 Corinthians this week moves beyond Paul's defense of his own voice in his conflict with the church and more directly to the action he now wants them to take. Paul expects this congregation to make good on its pledge to support his fund-raising campaign for the poverty-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. He does not order them to do it (verse 8), but he does advise they consider doing so (verse 10). Paul thus positions himself not as superior making demands but as co-laborer with them in this effort.
Then Paul makes an interesting rhetorical move. He asks the Christians in Corinth to fulfill their pledge not for his sake, nor even directly for the sake of the people in Jerusalem, but for their own. He had played a bit of a trump card initially (if Christ gave away his riches to enrich you when you were poor, shouldn't you do the same for others?-- verse 9). But here he backs away from that, noting that if they have the eagerness to do this still, it's in their interest, inherently, to act on such eagerness (sort of a "proto-Freudian" anti-repression theory) and that if they help Jerusalem now, Jerusalem would be in a better stead to help them later should the need arise.
Finally, Paul appeals to a term that might be most likely to click in their heads, culturally: "a fair balance." Though the word meant "equality" in the abstract, in practical use it referred to actual balances in the marketplace. Corinth was the crossroads and arguably the trade capital of the northern Mediterranean. Everyone knew what a "fair balance" was -- a reasonable return for the right amount of goods of decent quality. The fair balance was the guarantee of a profitable business and long-lasting business relationships. Even out your abundance and their extreme poverty, Paul says, and everyone can win for a long time to come.
This interchange demonstrates several helpful tactics still used by professional mediators and arbitrators today to reduce the effects of conflict and enhance cooperation toward a common goal. First, when the conflict is about one's authority, the authority figure can back off trying to act on the basis of that authority, and instead begin to act as a colleague, a co-laborer. Once this shift in social location is made, the leader can begin to offer advice that fits the other's self-interests as it leads them to fulfill the common goal. To seal the deal, conclude with a simple, motivational aphorism.
To be sure, Paul's rhetorical tactics here aren't uniquely Christian. Similar processes can and often are used by manipulators or con artists for their own selfish ends rather than for motivating others toward faithfulness toward siblings in Christ's global church. However, what Paul does here does demonstrate skills that we Christians can still learn from and emulate.
How do you teach others to move from conflict to affiliation where you are? Who teaches or models this well? How do people in your congregation or community continue to build affiliation for positive community change where you are, or for others elsewhere?
Gospel: Discipleship by the Sea
While Jesus' teaching ministry, as we saw last week, had happened "by the sea," at a literal shoreline, the healing ministry we see in the two stories we have today occur in the heart of the seaside city of Capernaum. But both of these stories are shoreline stories as well. Healing happens at the turbid meeting place of social convention and deep personal and physical need, and a little girl crosses the shoreline from sickness and even death back to life and strength.
In our series of services at General Conference, the second of these stories was told on the first Saturday at morning prayer and at mid-day Communion. The theme was "Believe."
The Hemorrhaging Woman
The woman with the issue of blood, whose story interrupts the Jairus story, also interrupts social convention by daring to touch a man on purpose. It was one thing for a woman to touch a man in public on purpose at all. That itself simply wasn't done. It was another entirely for an unclean woman (as her hemorrhaging would have made her) to dare to do this. Somehow, she mustered the determination that the possibility of her healing was more important than any taboos, touched Jesus' cloak from behind, and then immediately felt in her body that she was made well.
Social taboos can come with social consequences if they are not honored. When Jesus, aware that power had left him, wheels around to the crowd to ask who touched him, she cowers as she openly admits it was she, probably expecting at least a scolding, if not a stoning, for daring to do what she did. From the position of the keepers of the taboos, what this woman did was tantamount to stealing from and profaning a holy man. This was a spiritual parallel to adultery. From the position of Jesus, however, what she did was to exercise faith. "Daughter, your faith has delivered you. Go now in peace, and be healthy, freed from your affliction."
Did you catch what Jesus called her? "Daughter." She who could bear no children, she who had been unclean, she hears herself addressed as one of the honored women, "daughter of Israel." Jesus more than healed her body. In this moment, he healed her entirely -- body, soul, spirit -- and gave her a name and place among the people again.
What social conventions or taboos keep people away from the body of Christ where you are? Think about symbols for such conventions or taboos that would be obvious for your congregation, and find ways to include them explicitly in the worship space today as you read or preach this text.
But perhaps more important to consider-- Who is reaching out and receiving power from you, unauthorized? Who is cowering, showing you signs of their fear and expectation to be cursed, but also giving you the opportunity to bless? How do you respond when power flows out of you and starts to heal them? And then, when the healing comes and you know it, how do you offer a name and a blessing that restores them not only in body or mind, but in community as well?
A Synagogue Ruler's Daughter, Dead and Raised
The barriers to reaching Jairus' daughter were physical and social as well. Jesus was literally surrounded by people, and he had just dealt with the hemorrhaging woman, as he continued to make his way to Jairus' home. When he got there, the place was surrounded and filled by the hired mourners because the girl had died.
The "right" thing to do when the mourners come is mourn with them. Everyone knew that. Or at the very least, one might observe reverent silence in their presence. Telling them to stop mourning and then throwing them outside the house were definitely not among the "right" things to do.
Mourners gone, and just the parents and their dead daughter left in the house with him, Jesus took her hand and asked her to get up. And she did. They got her some food and the family went on with its life. Apparently, Jesus' command not to tell anyone about this was not followed, else we would not know this story today.
Jesus apparently had had no idea that he would end up healing and restoring the woman with the hemorrhage. But Jesus went to Jairus' house with a mission of healing his daughter. Where do you go with a mission of healing? What sort of resistance, physical or social or economic do you encounter? How do you respond when you meet resistance, especially those who have come to announce or even seal death? How have people where you are brushed these obstacles aside to complete the mission of healing?
Consider how images and soundscapes from such missions of healing you have experienced in your congregation, community, or elsewhere might support the telling or preaching of this text today.
- Greeting: BOW 327 (2 Samuel, Psalm)
- Greeting: BOW 455 (Mark)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 464 (Mark)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 487 (Psalm, Mark)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 491 (Mark)
- Canticle: UMH 516, "Canticle of Redemption" (Psalm)
- Prayer: UMH 446, "Serving the Poor" (2 Corinthians)
- Prayer: UMH 461, "For Those Who Mourn" (2 Samuel)
- Prayer: BOW 500, "For Blessing, Mercy, and Courage" (Mark)
- Prayers: BOW 545 and 546, "For Those Who Suffer" (2 Samuel, Mark)
- Prayers in Relation to Healing: BOW 627, BOW 628, BOW 629 (Mark)
- Response: BOW 207, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Mark)
- Response: UMH 262, stanza 1, "Heal Me, Hands of Jesus" (2 Corinthians, Mark)
- Poem: UMH 656, "If Death My Friend and Me Divide" (2 Samuel)
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
- Thanksgiving (if no Communion): BOW 150-151 (2 Samuel), BOW 550 or BOW 553 (2 Corinthians, Mark)
- Dismissal With Blessing: BOW 539 and BOW 151 (2 Samuel) or BOW 561 (2 Corinthians) or 621 (Mark)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Bolivia, Chile, Peru
Back to top.