The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
A sampler for a salt-tasting in Niederfinow, Germany. Photo by Rolf Roletschek.
Used by permission under a Creative Commons License (BY NC-ND).
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12).
The fast God chooses and honors reflects real change toward justice and mercy in the lives of people and communities.
Psalm 112: 1-9 (10) (UMH 833).
Sing the response with Tone 3 in D major (UMH 737).
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16).
Paul's proclamation in Corinth was not based on elegant human wisdom, but on spiritual wisdom displayed with power.
The Sermon on the Mount continues: You are salt and light. I have come to fulfill the law and teach you to do likewise.
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The texts in this Season after Epiphany are divided into two streams (OT/Gospel and Epistle) with one purpose: to prepare your congregation for its work of walking with persons preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant during Lent.
The Epistle Stream focuses on being or becoming healthy as the body of Christ.
The OT/Gospel stream focuses on the calling and teaching of disciples of Jesus.
Keep pursuing the stream most helpful for your congregation to get ready for its Lenten work of forming disciples of Jesus Christ readied to live the baptismal covenant faithfully. For more discussion of these two series or streams, see Planning for the Season after Epiphany 2014.
Today is also Scouting Ministries Sunday If your congregation sponsors one or more scouting troops or similar programs, it would be appropriate to include participants in these programs as leaders in worship (readers, acolytes, Communion servers). Turning worship over or into a Boy or Girl Scout program is not recommended. You may instead schedule separate times for such programs where the integrity of their programming may be better represented.
St. Valentine's Day
If you include recognition of this day in worship, consider how you might remember the witness of the third century martyr or martyrs named Valentinus rather than the cultural celebration of romantic affection. St Valentine is no longer a recognized saint in either the Roman Catholic Church or The Episcopal Church, owing in part to the lack of historical clarity about who this person (or persons) may have been or what he or they may have done.
As with all Sundays that include denominational or other programmatic observances elements, keep in mind this advice from the Book of Worship:
“Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year. The special Sundays are placed on the calendar in the context of the Christian year, which is designed to make clear the calling of the Church as the people of God.” (UMBOW, 422).
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Atmospherics -- OT/Gospel Stream: Calling and Teaching Disciples
Week 4: Salty, Shining Righteousness
The Sermon on the Mount continues with words of blessing and expectation for his disciples. You, in the midst of these crowds you see gathering around you, are salt of the earth and light of the world.
There is requirement in this blessing and expectation. To be useful salt, salt that people will value, the salt must remain salty. And to be light that does any good in the world, it must be made visible to all.
What does it mean for salt to remain salty? The form of table salt we know in North America, a chemically synthesized and purified form of sodium chloride, cannot but be salty. It is salt! But that was not how salt was experienced in the time of Jesus or in many places in the world today. Salt then and in many places still today is a mixture of a variety of compounds. The more salts in those compounds (whether sodium or magnesium or whatever!), the more valuable it was because the saltier it tasted. But the more inert dissoluble compounds in the mix, the more “fillers” we might say, the less salty and the less valuable it was. The blessing, “You are salt” is complemented by the call to remain salty, not to dilute what God’s kingdom is doing with “fillers” from the kingdoms of this world. Bigger is not better. More volume does not equate to better value. Be real. Be authentic—authentic to the one whose kingdom makes us salty!
Likewise, with being light, shining God’s righteousness to all. Shine that light! In the face of the claims of the kingdoms of this world, there may be serious temptation to hide the light to escape notice. No, Jesus says. Shine! Shine brightly! Go to the highest places and the most threatening people and shine, shine, shine!
Being salty and shiny like this becomes the means by which disciples of Jesus may fulfill the law. Such blessing is God’s means to enable anyone who lives it out to exceed the righteousness of the most prominent religious leaders.
The reading from Isaiah for today spells out what such a salty, shining life in God’s kingdom entails here and now. It is not a “holier than thou” life bound by fast days and ritual calendars for the sake of keeping the fasts and observing the traditions. Rather, ritual both mirrors and directs real life. Ritual fasting becomes a means of deliverance for others, not simply a way to enhance self-discipline. The oppressed are set free. Yokes are broken. People share their bread with the hungry, their homes with the homeless, the clothes with those lacking them, and their whole lives with their families and communities. The kingdoms of this world, in the prophet’s day and now, encouraged obtaining, storing up and keeping all of these things for oneself as a sign of importance and blessing. But in God’s kingdom, it’s in the sharing of them all, including our own lives, widely—being salty, being light—that the true fast is kept and shown. Live like this, the prophet continues, and your whole community will be like a well-watered garden and like a spring that never runs dry.
In Your Planning Team
Note again what Jesus says to his disciples. You are salt. You are light. He does not excoriate them for not being salty or shiny enough. But he does direct them to be as salty and shiny as they can be.
Spend the first part of your planning time for this service identifying all the salty (preserving and enriching) and shiny people you know in your congregation and wider social networks.
How are these salty, shiny people fulfilling God’s law and living a true fast that brings deliverance, hope and life to all around them? Decide which of these to highlight in worship today, and how—whether in preaching, or allowing them to share testimonies, or in having others share testimonies about them. The aim is not to lift these persons up above other disciples in your congregation, but rather to help disciples in your congregation recognize ways they themselves may already be salt and light, and encourage them to preserve their saltiness and shine their own light more broadly and boldly.
If your font is moveable, consider filling it with warm salty water (Epsom salts leave a smooth feel on the skin) and moving it to the main entrance of your worship space. As each person enters, have a deacon, lay leader, or pastor greet them with the words “You are the salt of the earth! Remember you are baptized and be thankful!” and an invitation to soak their hands in the salty waters briefly. (Hint: be sure to have cloth towels nearby so folks can dry off, if they wish.)
After worship, consider inviting persons to a “salt tasting.” Ask a foodie in your congregation for advice on where to get a variety of salts for people to try and a collection of finger foods to try them on— unsalted crackers, spreads, or nuts, for example.
Consider the lighting in your worship space today. Maybe your worship space is already filled with light, natural or otherwise. If so, be sure to remind folks of that and to carry this light with them wherever they go.
But if your worship space is dark, or even intentionally darkened to allow for better use of projection screens and stage lighting, think carefully about what may be more important today—the technology or the actual message. Flood the space with light! Bring in extra lights if you need to. Or find another way to help people physically experience something of what it might mean for all of you inside—and even those outside—to be the light of the world that doesn’t hide, but shines!
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Atmospherics -- Epistle Stream: Becoming a Healthy Body
Week 4: The Power and Wisdom of the Spirit
If last week’s reading from I Corinthians could be summarized as “boasting only in the cross of Christ and its wisdom,” perhaps this week’s could be “encountering the power of the Spirit who leads you to wisdom.”
Paul chose intentionally not to try to “wow” the people of Corinth with a display of human wisdom as he brought the gospel to them. From what we can see in his letter, he would have been quite capable of such. Instead, he approached them with “a demonstration of the Spirit and of power (verse 4).” We do not know what that demonstration entailed, but likely it involved healing and other “mighty acts” showing Paul’s message had spiritual authority. In such a spiritually intense, active (and diverse!) city as Corinth, this was certainly a wise approach! But his point in doing so was to ensure their faith, from the very beginning, would not depend on eloquent arguments, but on the very person, presence and power of God.
Then, as people began to mature in the faith, Paul would and did address them with God’s wisdom, wisdom revealed by the Holy Spirit to those who are in Christ (verses 6 ff). Persons maturing in the faith can receive this wisdom because the Spirit dwells in them, they have been gifted by the Spirit, and they have the mind of Christ. To others, Paul says, such wisdom likely comes off as foolishness.
In Your Planning Team
The reading today refers to two attributes of the Spirit at work in a healthy congregation: power and wisdom.
How do you normally make room for each in worship where you are?
What might you plan for worship today to make even more room for each?
To get there, first discuss within your team what you each understand or have experienced the power of the Spirit and the wisdom of the Spirit to be. What has this looked like? What has it felt like? What in worship might make such encounters with the Spirit’s power and wisdom more or less likely to occur?
Expect a mix of responses across your team. For some, it might be silence. For others, it might be ecstatic praise. For others, it might be clear speaking. If your team is fairly representative of the congregation as a whole, trust that doing something with that mix in worship might be a faithful representation of how your congregation can worship in ways that honor and make more room for the Spirit’s power and wisdom.
Then plan worship together based on the mix that emerges from your conversation, making room for as many of these elements as you can and arranging them in ways that maintain a coherent flow overall.
Embodying the Word: Praying or Singing the Ancient Songs
OT/Gospel Stream: The Gloria in Excelsis
As suggested last week, consider singing the same setting of the Gloria in Excelsis this week as you did last week (for one example, see UMH 82). Your worshiping community will know it a little better this week, especially if the choir sang it before worship last week, and you all sang it together in worship last week as well. Singing glory to God this week dovetails well with Christ reminding us we are salt and light for the world!
Epistle Stream: A Canticle Smorgasbord
If you didn’t sing “A Canticle of Wisdom” (UMH 11) last week, it would also be appropriate for today’s reading. Also consider “Canticle of Praise to God,” based on Psalm 95, which praises the power of God in creation and salvation and the promise of God to return as judge.
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- Greeting: 450, 453 (Matthew)
- Opening Prayer: 461 (I Corinthians), 462 (Isaiah)
- Invitation/Prayer of Confession/Pardon: 490 with pardon from 477 (I Corinthians) or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 7-8 (1 Corinthians, Matthew)
- Concerns and Prayers: 495, 503 (I Corinthians), 504 (Isaiah) or consider trying Tongsung Kido (446, I Corinthians)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands
- Prayer of Thanksgiving if Communion will not be celebrated: 552
- Great Thanksgiving: 78-79 or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 9-11
- Dismissal with Blessing: 562, 563
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