Planning - The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
See the texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
A reading from the "opening salvo" of "Second Isaiah" a prophecy to Judean exiles in Babylon that their God is sovereign in all the earth and will continue to sustain, support, restore, and lift up God's servants.
Psalm Response Psalm 147:1-11, 20c (UMH 859).
The psalm continues the themes of the first reading. Consider using the sung response this week, a familiar hymn tune and Charles Wesley text (AMSTERDAM, UMH 96).
1 Corinthians 9:16-23.
Paul writes that he "can't not" share the gospel, and so has no basis for boasting about his commitment to his ministry. He also decribes his strategy of "identification" with others, of coming alongside them and seeking to connect with them as they are.
Mark recounts, in almost breathless fashion, Jesus' intensive ministry of healing and exorcism in Capernaum, his withdrawal for prayer and his determination to move out into the other Galilean villages to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14-15).
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Today is the fifth Sunday after Epiphany. This period of Sundays in Ordinary Time ends with The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on February 19. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is February 22 this year. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Epiphany, Year B" for more details.
February is Black History Month.
Scouting Ministries Sunday arrives next Sunday, February 12. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts provide resources or recommendations for such recognitions. The National Association of United Methodist Scouters prefers that the February date be used for recognizing scouting programs with both boys and girls to avoid conflicting with Lent.
Next Sunday is also the Sunday nearest Valentine's Day (February 14). Consider offering a blessing for couples as part of the prayers or an as act of response to the Word today. This could include a reaffirmation of marriage vows for those who are married (see The United Methodist Book of Worship, 135 ff.) as well as prayers with laying on of hands for all who identify themselves as couples, seeking God's blessing as they seek to honor one another and God in their relationship and discern whether they may enter the marriage covenant. See UMBOW 537 for a prayer for persons who are engaged. Consider modifying this prayer (deleting the second to last line) for those who may not yet be engaged.
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Atmospherics: Heading toward Lent
Now in the fourth of five Sundays in either an OT/Gospel or Epistle series, it's time to start helping folks make the transition into Lent. Here's an article to help you get started, if you haven't already: Planning Lent and Easter for Congregation, Group, and Home, Year B.
This may seem an odd thing to do. Prepare for Lent? Isn't Lent its own season of preparation?
It certainly is. But all too often among Protestants in the U.S., at least, we have treated Lent as an extended Ash Wednesday or Holy Week, focusing on self-reflection, confession of sin and spiritual disciplines for our own sake, individually.
The primary purpose of Lent, however, as we announce on Ash Wednesday, is not self-reflection, but a time in which we as a whole congregation come alongside people to prepare them for baptism, for reconciliation, or for taking significant next steps in discipleship and ministry in Christ's name. While we certainly engage spiritual disciplines and self-denial as we do so, we do not do these things solely for ourselves as if Lent were some sort of personal spiritual marathon. We engage these disciplines more intensely for the sake of others on their intensive journeys of preparation.
Put another way, in Lent, the whole church becomes midwife for new life to be born or renewed among us.
And to be an effective midwife, we do need to prepare!
Whom will you as a congregation and individually be coming alongside intentionally this Lent? What do you need to be doing now to be ready to start doing that later this month, just two and a half weeks from now? Are there practices of prayer, fasting, or searching the Scriptures you may need to get a "running start" on now so you can be ready to share them effectively with others in the weeks to come?
Consider, too, preparing yourselves as a congregation musically. Your choirs or praise teams have already started! Plan to learn one new song for Lent each of the next three weeks, or at least sing one Lenten song each week, starting today.
An added bonus: By making such clear preparations for Lent starting now, you also create an effective segue between your current worship series and the worship series you will experience beginning on Ash Wednesday. It will no longer be or feel like "that was the Season after Epiphany, this is Lent" as if the two had nothing to do with each other. Instead, you will help your congregation experience the evangelical flow of the Christian year as it is intended, and perhaps not only in worship, but in the rhythms of their lives of discipleship as well.
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OT/Gospel Stream: This Call's for You, 2 -- Healers and Messengers of Good News
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?... The LORD gives power to the weakened, strength to those worn-out" (Isaiah 40:28-29).
This line from today's reading from Isaiah is the primary reason this larger text from Isaiah is paired with today's gospel reading from Mark. It is exactly what we see Jesus doing as he continues to inaugurate the kingdom of God in the midst of the people in Capernaum and, in the process, trains his disciples (and us!) to be ready to do the same things.
Simon Peter's motherin-law was weakened by illness, and Jesus visited and healed her. Her power restored, she was able to prepare a meal for Jesus and all his disciples that night (Mark 1:30-31).
Crowds of people afflicted and worn down by many diseases and demons began crowding around the house later that evening, seeking a cure. And Jesus gave it, strengthening them anew (Mark 1:33-34).
When Jesus left the house and the town before sunrise next morning, and his disciples wondered why, he told them he and they were heading out to make sure people in the surrounding towns and villages both knew and could hear the message of the coming of God's kingdom (Mark 1:35-38).
And that is what he and they did -- proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out more demons -- so that everyone there could know and everyone there could hear (Mark 1:39).
This is the work of Jesus. And it is our calling as his disciples to join him in it, that everyone may know and everyone may hear that God's kingdom has drawn near.
We encountered the ministry of deliverance from demons last week. If you need to review any of that in worship today, by all means, do. But this week focuses on the two other ministries that figure most prominently in today's reading -- evangelism (getting the word out that God's kingdom has come near) and healing (offering others the healing power unleashed because God's kingdom has drawn near).
There are strong, effective church-based resources all around you, ready to equip and train folks in your congregations for the ministries of evangelism and healing that are our calling as disciples of Jesus.
Hw are people where you are being trained in evangelism? How are they getting the word out that God's kingdom has drawn near? (Discipleship Ministries has some excellent resources and training, starting here: www.umcdiscipleship.org/lead-your-church/evangelism).
How are people where you are being trained in healing? (Stephen Ministry is one excellent resource for this!) What process do you or others around you have in place to prepare people to lay hands, pray, and anoint with oil for healing (James 5:16)? A number of Episcopal churches have found support for this through the Episcopal Healing Network. Is there a parish nursing program in your congregation or community? See the International Parish Nurse Resource Center and ParishNursing.net for guidance and support. How are you engaged in health-care ministries and in advocacy work to improve health care and access to health care where you are? A local community health center may be a great first contact to find out how you can get involved where you are.
Invite people from one or more of these places, as well as people in your congregation who are already effectively engaged in ministries of evangelism or healing, to talk with your worship planning team about how they were trained, discipled, in these ministries and how they experience themselves as disciples of Jesus when they offer them. Maybe this becomes a video you show in worship, a formation hour, in small groups, or on your website. Or maybe you invite one or two of these folks to share a brief testimony live in worship. Or maybe you host an evangelism and healing ministries training fair before or after worship today (or any combination of the above).
But whatever you do in worship today, remember who you are as the baptized disciples of Jesus, and both celebrate and pray for the ministries of evangelism and healing already in your midst and that the Spirit will continue to stir up among you as you follow Jesus together.
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Epistle Stream: Christian Lifeways, Week 4 -- Living the Mission Contextually
In our previous readings from I Corinthians so far in this series, we've seen Paul addressing a particular issue or problem raised by the Christians in Corinth and then giving them not just a response, but a lifeway, a pattern of living, for addressing similar issues in the future.
This week's reading does not present the "problem" in quite as clear a form as the previous selections have done. You may want to expand the reading, or provide notes in your bulletin, to help your congregation see how this text still fits the pattern. The question in this case is whether apostles should charge for their services. In earlier verses (starting in 9:1), Paul argues that yes, indeed, he and other apostles have full right to expect others to cover their living expenses, and maybe a bit more. He and others have come to provide spiritual blessing to the people. But to do this, they also need to eat and have shelter, at the very least. If you don't muzzle an ox while it's treading the grain, so it can have a bit to eat as it works, why would you even think about not providing at least the basics for those who have come to work among you to proclaim the gospel and teach the way of life in Jesus (verses 1-12)?
In Corinth, though, Paul and his companion Barnabas chose not to exercise their right as apostles. They worked as tentmakers in the mornings to cover their living expenses, freeing them up to focus on teaching, discipling, and preaching in the afternoons and evenings. That was a choice they made, not to show they were superior to others; but, as their first pastors, to give them an example of yet another lifeway -- becoming all things to all people that by all means they might save some (verse 22).
That was the point.
The culture of Corinth was almost completely foreign to Paul and Barnabas. They could both speak Greek, so they could get along in the language. But they knew no one there, nor how the culture worked, nor even how business was actually transacted. So they set themselves up in business, as tentmakers in Corinth, both to earn some money, but also so they could immerse themselves in the daily life of the average worker/trader in that place. With this lived experience, which continued for the 18-plus months they were there, they were learning what it would mean to proclaim the gospel and teach people how to live the way of Jesus right where they were, in Corinth. Only by doing this could they hope to be effective founders of the new Christian community there, because by the time they would leave (and they both knew they would), this new community would have to have learned how to live the way of Jesus right there in Corinth -- with all its particular blessing and challenges-- themselves.
Given the diversity of Corinth, the lifeway Paul demonstrated in becoming all things to all people(s) would be a lifeway these Christians would have to learn and practice as well -- at least if they, like Paul, had any real interest in being part of God's salvation happening in their neighbors. They couldn't presume to approach their neighbors of very different backgrounds as if they had all the answers and their neighbors had nothing. They couldn't presume to be "the experts." They, too, would have to come alongside their different neighbors.
For those of us who live in "western" and "professionalized" cultures, and at the same time increasingly diverse cultures, this is a huge challenge as well. It will take some diligent practice on our part to shift from "being the experts" to "coming alongside," to shift from "giving the answers" to "becoming all things for all people." But this is one of our lifeways as Christians. It's what we do that by all means we may be involved in saving some.
So where are the places in the cultural settings folks in your congregation already inhabit that they can learn how to come alongside others -- to be all things to these others, so that they may, by some means, be part of their salvation? Talk about this in your worship planning team, and be sure to include images of such places from your local setting in worship today.
Consider how your planning for worship today can help people become aware of their need and the opportunities available to support them in making this shift. Start talking now in your worship planning team about what else you may put into place between now and the beginning of Lent (less than three weeks), so that more people in your congregation have had some practice in "coming alongside" those you will be walking with during that season of baptismal preparation.
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We are now three weeks away from the first Sunday of Lent. The Lenten journey is about the congregation accompanying people toward the sacrament of baptism and the affirmation or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. Particularly, Lent is the season of preparing newcomers to the faith for baptism, those baptized and raised in the faith toward confirmation, those who have become estranged toward reconciliation, and those discerning next steps in their ministry on a path toward clarity and commitment.
This could also be a Sunday when the ministry of healing is lifted up or enacted. The gospel reading is full of the healing activity of Jesus. Consider including a time of prayers for healing with teams of people ready to pray for those who ask for healing prayer, perhaps in connection with your celebration of Holy Communion on this day.
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- BOW 307
- BOW 615 -- Greeting in Healing Service I (Healing service, Mark)
- BOW 309 (1 Corinthians, Mark)
- BOW 315 (Isaiah)
- UMH 466 (Isaiah, Mark)
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer: UMH 82 (chant) and 83 (said with a sung response)
Concerns and Prayers:
- UMH 265, "O Christ the Healer," stanza 1 (Mark)
- BOW 314 (1 Corinthians), BOW 524 (Isaiah)
- BOW 615, Service of Healing (Mark)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Ireland, United Kingdom.
Confession and Pardon:
- BOW 479 (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians), preceded by an invitation and followed by a pardon or words of assurance.
- Or this:
Presider: Let us confess our sin and faithlessness to God and to each other:
All: God, our creator and redeemer,
you never grow weary or faint
but we have doubted your will or ability to care for us.
We have said, "My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God"?
We have let anxiety to consume us
and we have let fear paralyze love for the poor and lonely.
Forgive us for holding to our doubt.
Free us to walk in faith
and the strength of your mercy,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Presider to the people:
Hear the good news:
"Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint."
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
People to the presider: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All: Glory to God.
The Great Thanksgiving: Word and Table I (UMH 7-11) or the Great Thanksgiving in the Healing Service I (BOW 618-619)
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
Consider inviting brief offerings of thanksgiving for healing, strength found, life restored, faith renewed, experiences of compassion, and sensitivity from others.
Dismissal With Blessing:
- A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using BOW 559 and the pastor speak the blessing using BOW 561 or UMH 669.
- TFWS 2281, "May You Run and Not Be Weary" (Isaiah), inviting the people to turn to one another and sing this blessing to others.
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