Planning - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Jacob encounters God in a dream while "on the lam," heading back to Rebekah's family in Haran (modern-day Turkey) to find a wife.
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 (UMH 854).
Four musical options are available in addition to the chant/response in the hymnal. Worship & Song 3011 ("All My Days") and 3019 ("Bidden, Unbidden") have strong connections to the Psalm. Stanzas 3-5 of "The Lone, Wild Bird" are a paraphrase (The Faith We Sing, 2052). You could use these stanzas in place of the Psalm, or use the stanza as follows: After verse 6, sing stanza 3; after verse 12, stanza 4; skip verses 13-21; after verse 24, sing stanza 5. Dean McIntyre has also created a psalm tone available on the Discipleship Ministries website.
Paul reminds Christians at Rome of the Spirit's witness that we are the adopted children of God and heirs with Christ provided that we suffer with him. Creation groans with us and the Spirit within us while we wait in hope for the promised deliverance from bondage to decay, futility, and death.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Jesus tells the parable of the weeds sown in the field and interprets the parable to the disciples.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Church Calendar: This is the fifth Sunday after Pentecost "Ordinary Time."
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.
Community and World: It's summer north of the equator, and winter to the South. Where is there groaning in labor pains? Where are people fleeing from their past and sleeping unaware in the presence of God? Where are society in general and your more immediate neighborhoods waking up to find that bad seed has been sown among the good and wondering what to do?
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Atmospherics: Three Different Streams
From now until All Saints Sunday, and then again from then until Christ the King Sunday, the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings have no intended relationship to each other. The Season after Pentecost is set up for planning worship around one of these three streams. This is a time to dive deep into one stream at a time, and so to Think Series, not just week to week. Click here for more thoughts on how to "Think Series" during this season.
Genesis: Learning from the Ancestors
Man on the Run, or A First Step
Jacob has fulfilled his name, "Grabber," by "grabbing" the birthright from his brother and his father's blessing by conspiring with his mother. Jacob won these battles, but it cost him. It was no longer safe to be at home.
So Rebekah sent him packing to her homeland and family for protection. Even this is another "grab." Rebekah convinces Isaac to bless Jacob for this journey too, on the grounds (partly true) that Jacob was going to find a non-Canaanite wife from among Rebekah's kin. Esau had already disappointed the family by taking one Canaanite wife. If the covenant promise were to continue through Isaac, it would have to be through Jacob.
Grabbing, grabbing everywhere. But where is God in Jacob's life? Up to this point in the story, we've never seen Jacob interact with God in any way. We have never seen Jacob worship, pray, or acknowledge God. That is about to change, if only a little.
On the run, still in Canaan and only about one-fourth of the way to his destination in what is now Turkey, Jacob lay down to sleep. In his dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on steps connecting earth to heaven. The movement of the angels is a visible sign of the ongoing connection and communication between "heaven" and earth, something which had been invisible until now.
Then God speaks.
And he speaks not from "up there," but standing right beside Jacob. God uses the Divine Name (YHWH) and the name of Jacob's grandfather and father to identify himself. This is not a generic divine being. This is the One who has been responsible for Jacob's family's journeys between Haran and Canaan (Turkey and Palestine) for two generations already. This is the God who promised Abraham land and descendents who would be a blessing to all families on earth. Now this God extends the same promise to Jacob personally.
Here, alone, on the run, and too far in to turn back easily, Jacob has no one on this road to trick and nothing to grab. "I will do you good. I am with you," God says. God promises to stay with Jacob to get him safely to Haran and back.
Jacob's response on waking is telling. "God is in this place," he says. This place is the house of God ("Beth-el" in Hebrew), the gate of heaven. (See Worship & Song, 3132). He took the stone he was sleeping on, set it upright as a marker, and coated it with oil to stain it so it could more easily be found later.
Note that Jacob recognized God's presence, but did not worship. He built no altar there. He offered no thank offering. He made no sacrifice of any kind. He received the message, recognized the messenger, made a vow to God to make this God his God if God would make good on the promise (verses 20-22, not in this week's text), and moved on.
Often, when we talk about God in worship or evangelism, our underlying assumption is that people should make an all or nothing surrender of themselves to God, right here, right now. If they really encountered God, that's what they'd do, we say. Or sometimes we even frame the message that if we want to encounter God, "really, really" meet God, the only way that can happen is if we unconditionally surrender first.
That's not what this story describes. The encounter with God was undeniable to Jacob. But he made no clear act of surrender before or after this. At best, it could be said he made a bargain. If indeed this God came through, Jacob would for his part as well. God did not reject this "non-commitment." It was a start, a first step. And it was enough.
What are the stories of encounters and first steps with God in your congregation and community? What are the stories of how that first step may have led to another, and then another, and then, after many more steps, a journey toward holiness of heart and life?
The good news in this story isn't Jacob's commitment. It's God's. God is committed even to a trickster like Jacob. God keeps the promise. God shows up. Before Jacob took any steps toward God, God took a step toward him.
Draw imagery for worship space today from these stories of encounter and first steps not big dramatic stories of sudden surrender, but the simpler stories, like this one, of God showing up maybe in a dream, or in a vision, or in a word from the Bible, or in some other way.
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Romans: Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101
Joining the Cosmic Groan
Those of us baptized into Christ are the adopted children of God, living in the Spirit and no longer in bondage to the flesh. There is nothing new in this argument. We had heard it in last week's reading.
Here, Paul takes it to the next level. Living in the Spirit, being the adopted children of God, does not remove us from the sufferings of this world. Rather, it gives us the opportunity to suffer with Christ that we may also be glorified with him (8:17).
Paul described the situation that brought suffering to Jesus in last week's reading (8:3). God sent "his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin." Jesus embodied and completed that mission by announcing and demonstrating that God's kingdom had drawn near to expose, confront, dismantle and break the power of sin. That same mission was also the source of Jesus' suffering in his ministry and the grounds of his execution. We who engage in Christ's mission here and now should expect nothing less.
And the struggle we engage in Christ's name and the power of the Spirit with Sin and Death are worth it.
How can we know it's worth it? Paul reminds us we can know it in our very bodies when we pray. The groaning that wells up in us when we sense the enormity of the opposition to the mission we have been sent to carry out is the Holy Spirit groaning in us. We groan because we sense the distance between the fullness of the kingdom of God and the reality of the world around us. Our groaning joins the groaning of the Spirit and all creation, waiting in hope.
The groaning does not stop us. It energizes us. It propels us forward. It is not resignation. It is first fruits of an incredible harvest to come.
We live in a culture that wants to silence such things, kill the pain, or divert our attention from what is happening within us and around us in other people's lives and in creation. But we also live with a Christianity that has domesticated Paul's message about suffering with Christ by engaging in God's mission actively in his name and turned it instead it a sort of tranquilizer ("opiate of the masses") that says, "If you feel bad now, don't worry about it. God will make it better by and by."
The less your active engagement with God's mission, the less groaning you may have. You are not suffering with Christ. And if you're not suffering with Christ, you're denying your inheritance and status as adopted children in the Spirit.
But if you have the groan that groan then someone, somewhere in your midst is actively engaged in God's mission.
Ask all the members of your worship planning team to be listening for groaning before you meet to plan this service. Have them literally listen for it, and record examples of it where they can. It can take on a variety of forms. It could be a sigh. It could be a moan. It could be a hum. It could even be a silent stare in which case you may need video (and permission from the subject!) to capture and share it.
And don't forget the groanings of creation you hear and see as well. Record them all, all you can.
Then talk with folks who have the groaning about what they've seen and about the hope that is in them that sends them on mission where they are.
Play back the groaning during the reading of this text or its preaching.
Play it during the prayers, inviting others to join the groaning (and hang onto this for next week, too!).
Play it during the confession of sin and the pardon.
Play it as you gather around the Lord's table, and particularly at the words "By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."
Play it at the prayer of thanksgiving after Communion: "Send us into the world in the strength of your Spirit to give ourselves for others."
Play it as folks are sent into mission at the end of worship today.
Enter the mission, listen for and join the groaning, and watch God keep real hope alive in and through all who enter the world's suffering with Jesus.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
The Bad Farmer
Last week we had the parable of the Sower, offered by Jesus and then explained to his disciples (sort of!) at the end of a tough day.
This week's parable sounds like that day just got worse. Now, it's not a typical farmer spreading seed everywhere and hoping for some kind of harvest. This farmer is trespassing on another's land and intentionally trying to pollute and destroy his neighbor's crop with a crop that looks like wheat, but isn't. Jesus calls him an enemy.
When the wheat and the weeds first spring up, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart. That doesn't last, though. The farmhands can see it before harvest time, and ask whether they should intervene by weeding out the false crop to give more room for the real one to thrive. No, says the farmer. Removing the weeds now would remove wheat as well. Wait till harvest time, he advises, and sort it out then. Put the weeds in the burn pile and the wheat into the barn.
Anytime there is an open parable followed by a more specific interpretation, it's helpful to treat each separately and then, as in Hebrew poetic parallelism, let the two play off of each other to generate fuller meanings.
Start with the parable itself. Gather your worship team and read it together. Don't think about the interpretation offered later. Just listen to the parable like the first listeners, and see what it fires off for folks. Ask where people see examples of these kinds of things in life around them. Where do they see people intentionally messing up the lives and work of others? Where do they see people ready to come in and try to fix it? Where do they see folks telling those impatient for the quick fix to slow down and take care of things later? Where are there folks who remember that removing one thing you don't want can harm something you do? What do people do with the weeds, in whatever form they come, when they are removed? (In this case, the burn pile may have been mixed in with fertilizer for next season's crops).
See what ideas, images, and possibilities for worship emerge from this conversation, and start drawing up some plans for this part of the text alone. Put these ideas in outline form on a large piece of paper, but take it down before you proceed to the next step.
Now, take a break from this text. Work on another week's worship plan for a bit, or do something else entirely. The point is, get your minds away from what you just did so the team can be open to look at the interpretation version in its own right and see where that may lead.
When you're ready, read the interpretation version (36-43) several times, perhaps having a different reader each time. This is not longer a parable, but an allegorical narrative of judgment and restoration. And it's no longer about plants and agriculturalists, but about people and the divine realm.
Ask: "Where do you see children of the kingdom? What do they look like? How did Jesus plant them in the world? What sort of crops are they intended to become when they quit being seed and mature as plants?"
Ask: "How does the devil plant his children in the world? Where do you see evidence of them? What do they look like? What sort of crops are they intended to become when they quit being seed and mature as plants?"
Ask: "If the field is the world, and the Son of Man is the sower, what does that say about the ownership of the world?"
Ask: "We confess in the creeds of the church that 'he will come again to judge the living and the dead' (Apostles) and 'we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come' (Nicene) (for the whole text of these creeds, see UMH 880 and 882). We do expect this age to end. How is the end of the age a harvest?"
Ask: "What does this text say about the Son's activity at the end of the age? How does this connect or not connect with teaching about a fiery end for the unrighteous, often called 'Hell' in English?" (Keep the focus on what this text actually says, not anyone's preferred theology on these matters).
Ask: "Why wait until the end of the age for the righteous to shine like the sun? How does the end of the age begin to create a harvest of righteousness even now? Where do you see the righteous already shining like the sun?"
See what ideas, images, and possibilities for worship emerge from this conversation, and start drawing up some plans for this part of the text alone. Put these in outline form on a large piece of paper, and leave it up for the next part of the conversation.
Don't rush to the next step. Give this one at least as much time as the first part.
After a brief break, put up both sheets of paper. As a group, play with both sets of answers and worship ideas together, and see what emerges. Look for signs of energy in the conversation where creative connections take place.
You'll now have three sets of worship plans one for each part of the text separately, and one for the two in interaction. With all three before you, get a sense of which plan may best facilitate your particular worshiping community's calling to mission where you are. Pick one, and finish your planning around that one.
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Throughout July, we will offer forms of intercessions based on each of the Scriptures for each week. These may be led by a deacon, or in the absence of a deacon, by a lay leader or lay speaker.
Leader 1: For all who are running from something:
Leader 2: Addiction, abuse, harm caused by others, harm caused to others, anger, love or fear
All: Wherever we are, wherever we're heading, help us to hear you say you are with us.
Leader 1: For those who work to secure a homeland for all peoples
Leader 2: Leaders of nations; leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams, and other religious gatherings; workers in government, business, and non-profits seeking to make a better life for all on our planet
All: Wherever we are, wherever we're hearing, help us to hear you say we are home.
Leader 1: For the sick, the weak, and the worn-out:
Leader 2: All whom we now name before you (Time for speaking names)
Leader 2: Wherever we are,
All: Wherever we go, help us to hear you say you will bring us through.
Leader 1: For all who need our prayers
Leader 2: Family, friends, and neighbors; for soldiers, police, firefighters and all in harm's way; for all who sorrow, all who rejoice and all who plod along; for all who seek you, and all who need to know your name and power to save (Time for speaking names)
Leader 2: Wherever we are,
All: Wherever we go, help us to trust you to keep your promise.
Either of two new hymns in Worship & Song, may frame intercessions with this text.
- John Thornburgh's "When Words Alone Cannot Express" (Worship & Song, 3012)
Sing verse 1. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, confessing hope and faith in God and intercession for the leaders of church and world.
Sing verse 2. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, acknowledging anger's power and the need to be made right in mind and spirit, and with one another.
Sing verse 3. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, giving thanks for the fellowship we have in Christ and with Christ, and the wisdom of young and old in our midst.
Sing verse 4. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, for all who are born, all who are dying, all who are sick, and all who are being made whole.
- Shirley Erena Murray's "Creation Sings!" could frame a two-part prayer. Sing verse 1, then offer a series of thanksgivings or a time for people to offer spontaneous thanks or silent thanks. Sing verse 2, then offer a series of petitions/groans for the pain of the world, or a time for people to offer spontaneous petitions or silent petitions for all who are groaning. Sing verse 2 again to close the time of prayer.
Let us pray for the church and the world, saying,
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For all children of your kingdom, that we may be planted and thrive in your field.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For all children of the evil one, that we may show them love and respect, and faithfully proclaim the gospel.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For our chief enemy, the devil, and for all enemies of life and peace sin, war, disease and death.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For our sojourn here and now,
in weed-filled feeds of our own making,
Come, Lord of the harvest!
Come, Lord of the harvest,
and with your angels reap from us
every spot of evil and injustice.
Come, purify, purge and polish us
by your Spirit,
and in your new creation,
we may shine like the sun.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
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The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
"If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,' even the darkness is not dark to you,
The night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you, O God."
(Adapted from Psalm 139:10-12)
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Other sources and suggestions:
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (Augsburg Fortress)
- Thematic prayers for the season: page 130 (This might be used as the opening prayer.)
- Intercessory Prayers: pages 136-138
- Scripture prayer: page 162 (This might be used as the prayer for illumination prior to the readings.)
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