Planning - First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.
Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent to distrust God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Psalm Response: Psalm 32 (UMH 766).
A voice of wisdom from one who has sinned, confessed, and known God's forgiveness. See performance suggestions below in "Embodying the Word."
Jesus Christ as the New Adam who frees us from the power of sin and death.
Matthew's story of Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness.
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Today is the first Sunday in Lent. All Sundays are "little Easters." Sunday is called "the eighth day" in a number of early Christian writings, the day of Resurrection and New Creation. This is why many baptismal fonts have eight sides, and have from the earliest centuries. Remember that Lent is primarily about preparation for baptism and living out the baptismal covenant more faithfully, not primarily about penitence. If your font is eight-sided, highlight this symbolism in worship today as you begin your Lenten Sundays.
On the denominational calendar, Scouting Sunday is scheduled for today. Typically, the United Methodist Church has celebrated Scouting Sunday on a day to avoid Lent, hence dates in both February (February 13) and March (today) are offered on the program calendar. If you have not yet celebrated a Scouting Sunday, consider scheduling this recognition for a time other than Sunday worship if you do it today, or rescheduling until a Sunday during the Ordinary Time after Pentecost (summer into fall).
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is received in three weeks, on April 3, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This denominational offering underwrites the administrative costs of the United Methodist Committee on Relief so it can continue to offer worldwide emergency relief and long-term disaster support with no overhead for its direct services.
The Festival of God's Creation in 2011 falls on Easter Sunday (April 24). You are encouraged always to include the earth and care for the earth in your congregation's weekly intercessions (if not, start adding that now!), and of course on this day as well. If, during Lent, you will encourage folks to reduce their energy consumption, today may also be an occasion for folks to share testimonies or simply place something in the offering plate indicating the results of their efforts to save energy. But Easter should be the primary focus of your celebration this day, regardless of any other denominational focus. So while you may include recognition of the denominational day in worship, keep the resurrection of our Lord front and center, and consider offering other commemorations for the day at a time other than the worship hour.
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Atmospherics: Called to Renounce
Throughout this season of Lent, these helps will help you develop worship around the theme, "Responding to God's Call." Each week, one key call and response will be highlighted. To see the overall plan for this season, with a listing and some explanation of the call and response for each Sunday, click here.
For Lent 1, we explore "Called to Renounce."
Every year Lent begins with the same story -- Jesus' temptation by and renunciation of Satan, his works and his "pomps" after a 40-day fast in the Judean desert. This beginning of Lent is not simply because the synoptic gospels begin their story of Jesus this way, but also because the baptismal covenant begins this way, too. The very first question Christians have historically asked, from the earliest forms of baptismal covenants to the present, is "Do you renounce Satan and all his works." (Some third- and fourth-century versions added, "and all his pomps"). Though we use somewhat different language in our current ritual ("Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?"), the effect is the same. The first Sunday in Lent is a clarion call for all present to declare renunciation as the first act of faithfulness to the Christ who calls us to follow.
Renunciation is not simply an individual act, but an explicitly political one. It is a public declaration of a breach of allegiance. The first step toward life in God's reign is a step away from life under the reign of Satan and the "powers of the air." Having first said yes to Satan in the garden, before we can fully say yes to God now, we must first declare a resounding "No" to Satan and his ways.
That is the logic that lies behind what happens to Jesus in today's gospel reading. For God's Yes to Jesus at his own baptism to get anywhere, before Jesus enters his public ministry he first has to prepare and decisively say No to Satan. The forty-day fast was the time of the preparation, at the end of which, though famished and physically diminished, Jesus was spiritually prepared for the strong temptations that followed.
So these forty days of Lent are here for us to prepare new candidates for baptism, and re-prepare ourselves through them, for their and our first response to the baptismal covenant, renouncing Satan.
Three of today's Scriptures remind us of the many venues in our lives where this renunciation must be made and kept. In Genesis, we begin in a garden full of everything needed to sustain us and nothing to harm us, with one exception: the poison of the tree of knowledge. In Psalm 32, we find ourselves inside the body of a person struggling with physical sin and sickness. In Matthew, we move from desert (verses 1-4), to the heart of Jerusalem (verses 5-7) to an unspecified high mountain (verses 8-10).
In which of these kinds of places do you or members of your congregation or community most regularly find yourselves tempted to follow a way other than the way of life, the way of God's kingdom? Are you tempted by abundance to want more? Are you struggling with temptations inside your body, or inside the structures of your congregation? Are you tempted by a harsh environment not to listen for God's word? Are you tempted by prominence and fame? Or are you tempted by the prospect of control over others? Perhaps different landscapes or cityscapes symbolize the real, basic "besetting sins" that keep some of many of your worshiping community from living fully into and out of the covenant of baptism. Perhaps for those of you who have made the ritual renunciation at baptism and profession of faith, one or more of these places are crying out for a new or renewed act of renunciation in their lives today.
Discuss this in your worship planning team. Where are you and members of your team finding yourselves beset by the ways or works of Satan, either because you have never yet renounced Satan in that setting or part of your lives or because though you had renounced Satan you fell back under his sway? (If the language of "spiritual forces of wickedness and evil powers of this world" works better for your team, use that!) This conversation requires some honesty and vulnerability from each of you, at least to name places or areas where you are tempted and not yet set free. But this conversation is vital if you want to plan worship -- not just a sermon -- that is as real as our primal need for renunciation actually is, just as it was the first thing Jesus had to do in his ministry. Have the conversation, and you can be real about this. Be real about this in worship, without hype, hyperbole, or hyper-theoretical in song, prayer, and ritual action -- which may include as a response the first question of the baptismal covenant -- and you may expect the Holy Spirit to start setting many more of you free.
And after you help one another renounce together -- candidates and long-time members alike -- be sure to announce any candidates for baptism or confirmation you may have, and pray over them, laying hands on them (not just the pastor, but the congregation!). And then pray for them again by name each Sunday during Lent until their baptism at Easter. If they have sponsor(s)/mentor(s) (and each should -- not just parents for babies here!), pray for them by name, too. If you have a confirmation group, present them and announce the day of confirmation. For more information, including ritual resources and guidance, see Come to the Waters (Discipleship Resources, 1997), particularly Part II.
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The liturgy for Lent. Lent is neither all penitence nor an extended Holy Week! Jesus is not on the cross in any of the readings for this season until Palm/Passion Sunday and again on Good Friday. Keep that in mind as you plan music, prayers, and other elements for this season. Think of and plan for these Sundays based on the Scripture readings, and especially the gospel readings, for each week. Many of these are celebratory! Go where the Scriptures go -- not to some preconceived idea of penitence, suffering, denial or restraint. These are part of the daily disciplines of the season, to be sure, but Sunday worship in these weeks shows the whole round of our callings to live as those baptized into Jesus Christ.
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Embodying the Word: The First Sunday in Lent, Year A
Today and throughout Lent, this section will focus on the second movement of the basic pattern of our worship (see UMH pp. 2-5), and in particular the reading of Scripture in worship.
Lent is a season for hearing the Word of God in Scripture for its power to challenge, inspire, and move us to new life and renewed life in Jesus Christ, to begin or deepen our life in the covenant of baptism. If there is a season where we are called to listen for God's Word to transform us, this is it!
During these weeks we will consider ways to help God's word in Scripture be heard deeply by one and all.
Genesis 2 and Matthew 4 are such familiar stories that many will be tempted to tune out, figuring they already know what's coming. Find three strong, expressive readers, perhaps an older adult, a younger adult, and a child. Assign each a role: one as narrator, one as Eve/Jesus, and one as the serpent/devil. Offer the reading of these texts as "reader's theater," placing the readers in front of individual microphones and perhaps seated on tall stools. This is a reading, not drama. The readers "act" with their voices, and perhaps a bit with gestures. But let the focus be on the quality of the voices; or if your congregation contains a large number of deaf persons, on the quality and artistry of the signing. The point here is to move the dialogical character of these stories into the forefront, so that the interests of all (storyteller plus the two characters) can be plainly discerned.
The Psalm today is a first-person narrative. Responsive reading really will not do for this. The narrative flow will be lost. And for this day, the musical response supplied seems out of place. Have a reader read, or better, a cantor sing the verses, and then sing a Taiz response (three times through at the beginning and at each response point indicated in the hymnal) such as "O Lord, Hear My Prayer" (TFWS 2200), "Bless the Lord, My Soul" (Upper Room Worshipbook, 377) or "O Christe Domine Jesu" (Upper Room Worshipbook, 389). Keep the music for the Taiz chorus constantly in the background as the reader or cantor reads or sings the verses, and conclude by singing the Taiz response six times or as long as seems appropriate.
Romans presents special challenges for attentive listening for most people. Its form is that of a philosophical argument, and its use of lots of technical philosophical/theological language supports that form. There is only one speaker: Paul. Consider reading this text from a paraphrase, such as this one:
Sisters and brothers, here's how God has saved us.
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, long before the Law ever existed. That's why everyone, even from Adam to Moses, before the Law existed, died -- because sin produces death, and everyone has sinned, because Adam's sin has infected us all.
But now God, by a free gift of grace, has used this same problem -- of one person's action being able to infect all the rest -- to save us.
That one person is Jesus Christ.
In Adam's sin, death was able to conquer the whole human race.
In Christ's righteousness, God has lavished on us the free gift of grace so that we can all conquer sin and death.
In Adam's disobedience, we all became sinners.
In Christ's obedience, we can all be made righteous.
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- BOW 327
- BOW 331
- BOW 333,(Matthew)
- BOW 335 (Romans)
- UMH 268
- Season of Ash and Fire, page 19. (No longer in print, but available as a downloadable eBook).
Prayer of Confession:
- BOW 487 (Genesis)
- Prayer of Pardon: Last portion of BOW 475
- Confession and Pardon: BOW 476 or 477 (Romans)
- Invitation, Confession and Words of Assurance: See Season of Ash and Fire, page 20
Canticle of Christ's Obedience: UMH 167 (Romans)
Prayer for Illumination: See Season of Ash and Fire, page 22.
Response to the Word: "Lord Jesus Christ, you refused," Stages on the Way, page 38.
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 514 (Romans, Matthew)
- BOW 520 (Matthew)
- BOW 522 (Seasonal)
- BOW 528 (Seasonal)
- See Season of Ash and Fire, pages 23-24.
- Stages on the Way, pages 33-34
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
(Note: The UMC has mission initiatives in these three countries).
Invitation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline: BOW 322
Prayer of Thanksgiving if the Lord's Supper is not celebrated:
- BOW 552
- See Season of Ash and Fire, p. 23.
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW 60-61 (Seasonal)
- A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion
Dismissal with Blessing:
- BOW 529 If you are bold enough and if it commends itself to your people, try using the sign of the cross and inviting each person to sign himself or herself on the last line of this prayer.
- See Season of Ash and Fire, page 24.
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