Planning - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
A potential coup attempt against Moses and Aaron becomes the occasion for God to test the "whole gathered assembly" about their willingness to follow instruction. God provides quail for meat and "manna" for bread with specific instructions for its gathering and use.
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or Psalm 78 (UMH 799).
Psalm 105 is the Revised Common Lectionary selection. Selected verses from Psalm 78, from the Common Lectionary, are found in The United Methodist Hymnal, number 799.
Week 1 of 4 in Philippians. Paul shares his trust in God in life or death, his desire to come and see the Christians at Philippi again, and his hope that when he may come he would find them of one heart and mind with each other and in whatever struggles they may face with those who oppose and persecute them.
Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month is September 15-October 15. For planning resources and sample liturgical texts, see "Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month" by the Reverend Liana Prez Flix and "Preaching and Worship Resources for Hispanic Heritage Month." For a list of music resources, see "Resources for Spanish, Hispanic, and Latino Worship and Music Training." For many more Spanish language and Hispanic-Latino resources, see our Hispanic/Latino Resources page.
Two "mini-seasons" within the conclusion of Ordinary Time, but using the same lectionary texts, are under development for your congregation to try. During September, there is the Season of Creation. For October, Discipleship Ministries is pioneering a "Season of Saints," and seeking stories of saints you know whom you are willing to share with others, via the UMC Worship Blog. More resources for the Season of Saints will be available in the weekly worship planning helps for October, on the Discipleship Ministries website, and on the UMC Worship Blog in the coming weeks.
Another pioneering effort in the church calendar is The Advent Project. Like the Season of Creation and the Season of Saints, The Advent Project uses the lectionary we currently have -- in this case to recover the earlier Christian practice of a full seven-week Season of Advent that focuses particularly on the culmination of all things in the second coming of Christ. While the current readings for the current four-week Advent do this as well, United Methodists and other participants in The Advent Project note that in the West, at least, a "cultural Christmas" tends to overwrite nearly everything, including music and Scripture readings, during much of December.
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Today is an opportunity to "switch streams" in your preaching and focus without "missing a beat." We completed the readings in Romans last Sunday. Today, we begin a series in Philippians. If you have been following the gospel lesson, you may wish to consider "switching it up" by moving to Philippians for the next few weeks. If you have been following the Exodus story, you should probably plan to stay the course, unless you have good reasons to end that story with the crossing of the Red Sea rather than, as the sweep of that story itself (beyond Exodus) ends, with the entrance into the promised land.
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
From Captivity to Wilderness and the Enemy Within
Last week, we witnessed God delivering the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army sent out to capture them and either kill them or return them to what would promise to be even harsher slavery conditions in Egypt. God rescued the people from "the enemy without."
This week, we see how being set free from external enemies is never quite enough to be "free indeed." We see a whole "congregation" of Israelites now gathered with the purpose of complaining about the lack of adequate food provisions. This "congregation" had the makings of a mob that could lead to a coup that could lead to anarchy in the middle of nowhere. Not only the leadership of Moses and Aaron, but the fate of the entire people was at stake.
God responds directly not only to the crisis of food, but also to the underlying crisis of potential social chaos among the people. God would provide the food (quail at night, manna in the mornings), but God would do so as a test of the discipline of the people. They would all be fed, but only if they cooperated. There would be enough for all if each took enough for each day, one day at a time. God would provide a double portion for them to collect on the morning before the Sabbath so they need not collect on the Sabbath day. God would provide. God would lead.
When Moses and Aaron reported God's plan for provision, they also added an important note. The people's complaining, they said, was not ultimately against their leaders, Moses and Aaron, but against their God. Moses and Aaron admitted they did not have the power in themselves to answer the real needs of these people. God did.
And so, at the prompting of Moses, Aaron immediately called the "whole congregation" into worship (verse 9), where they could now see the glory of God over the wilderness, the very place they feared to be their graveyard (verse 3). As they gazed, Moses repeated God's promise of provision of meat by night and bread by morning. That evening, the quail landed: meat. Next morning a flaky substance appeared on the grasses after the dew lifted. "What's this?" ("Man hu?" in Hebrew), they asked. The bread God has given -- the bread of heaven.
It was a strange feast-- birds from the sky, insect excretions on the ground. It came at no cost to the people. It could feed them all if they would follow God's instruction on gathering it day by day (foreshadowed in verses 4-5, stated to the people in verses 16 ff). And by following these simple disciplines, by submitting to an authority beyond their fear and their own cravings, they could become a people capable of bearing the glory they saw in the cloud.
Where are the resonances of this story in your congregation and community today? Has your congregation come out of a time of trouble only to have found itself in what appears to be a worse situation? Have you faced down external enemies only to find the enemy within an even more challenging foe? Where is the voice of God speaking of ample provision (with some discipline required!) in the midst of your current situation? Are there leaders in your congregation or community who are "taking the heat"? Who is pointing folks to God -- and God alone -- as leader and provider? Who has a testimony of "out of slavery into the wilderness" where you are? Who has a testimony of God's strange, but ample provision?
Do not miss the connections to Holy Communion. When Jesus refers to himself as "the bread that came down from heaven" in John's gospel, this is the story he's citing. When we say as we give the bread, "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven," it is both to this story and to Jesus that we refer. Through the lenses of this story, this is strange bread, unexpected in form, but more than sufficient to provide for us day by day. When we pray as Jesus taught, "Give us this day our daily bread," we recall this story as well.
And so Jesus comes to us in small fragments of bread, and it is enough. For at the Lord's Table, we, like the congregation of Israel in the wilderness, have drawn near to God and have seen God's glory -- radiant, unexpected, sufficient -- bidding us not away from, but deeper into the wildernesses, deserts, and wild places.
This bread and this cup are food and drink for that journey, God's journey with us and for all from captivity, through wilderness, to promise.
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Philippians: Of One Heart and Mind
Foundations of Real Unity in Christ
Philippians as a letter is all about what Alan Hirsch calls "communitas" and what my colleague Dan Dick has been finding as a serious longing among spiritual seekers who find most experiences of the church empty, useless, or worse. They longed for a genuine, compelling sense of community with others on common mission with Christ and beyond themselves. Paul here uses a term he comes back to -- homothumadon -- to begin to catch this. We often translate this as something like "with one heart" or "in one spirit," but the imagery here is more like either sharing the same "inner smoke" ("thumos" refers to the smoke from a sacrifice, which is thought to represent the inner life force that dwells in the chest cavity) or having hearts that beat in synchrony. Athletes and sports fans might describe this as being "in the zone" -- only in this case, the "zone" is a collective experience. The whole team, the whole community, is "in the zone."
That's what Paul prays for this community in Philippi -- a group of unlikely friends bound together in Christ. He wants them to be that united -- not glommed together, but deeply, organically connected. And he wants this for them not for the sake of their own experience, but, as he says, for the sake of the "faith of the gospel." People this closely bound will not be intimidated by opponents (who are unlikely to have such cohesion, anyway!). And they will not only not fear suffering, they will count suffering a privilege (verse 29) for the sake of Christ.
This is not a unity formed simply around shared assent to common beliefs (though those are not unimportant!). It is a unity formed by the Spirit among members of the body of Christ. And it is a unity that we are free either to embrace or walk away from. Paul calls this ragtag community to embrace it, and firmly. We'll see some of the urgency in this call to these people in chapter 4. But the point for all of us is that being "homothumadon" can also be a possibility, and more than that, an ideal opportunity for us.
But not if we just wish it so, or simply think nice thoughts or write neat articles, blogs or Facebook posts about it. Paul's language is clear and concrete. "Homothumadon" happens when we "stand firm striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, in no way intimidated by opponents." This is language of contest and unified struggle moved by a common impulse.
Are we committed to living the good news of Jesus Christ, looking for signs of God's kingdom and saving power at work, joining in with each other and others, and bearing witness to what we're seeing and doing? No commitment, no risk, no danger? Then no communitas. "Community" in some generic way, maybe. Friends you can hang with and who might help you out in a pinch, possibly. But not that amazing, powerful, rich depth of life with one another in Jesus Christ that Paul prays for the Christians at Philippi (and for us!). Not "homothumadon."
There are likely times in the life of your congregation where some folks have experienced a level of communitas, "homothumadon," like what Paul describes here, if only briefly. Church camp experiences often approximate it. Mission trips may have done this for others. Perhaps the sudden, deep fellowship that forms on an Emmaus walk or Chrysalis flight, if only for the second or third day. Let the influence of those who have had such experiences be heard and seen as you design worship around this text for today.
But as you listen to, engage, and perhaps encourage some of these folks to share these brief experiences of communitas, hold up what Paul holds up as a standard for all. This doesn't need to be an extraordinary experience glimpsed briefly by a select few. It can be the norm of Christian community.
Those who've tasted this probably long for more of it. Some of those who haven't may decide they want to if they have the opportunity to hear and see these witnesses. Expect hungry people with hunger that will grow if you deeply engage this week's reading and the readings from Philippians over the next three weeks.
But don't raise the level of hunger and not provide a way to satisfy it! Offer them Christ! And offer them genuine opportunities for intense, small-group accountable missional experience that won't be just for a few days, but for a lifetime.
Covenant Discipleship is one way, grounded in the depth of our Wesleyan tradition, to gather people to help one another "stand firm striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel." And you can find dozens of resources on the internet, and probably in any larger city near where you may live (in North America and Britain, at least) where there are folks experiencing this in organic groups and house churches. The New Day Communities in the greater Dallas area are a prime United Methodist example. Don't be satisfied with second- or third-hand accounts. Go talk to practitioners face to face, or at least via Skype or social networking, and perhaps invite one or more of them to come talk with your worship planning team and your congregation about what life in Christian communitas (not just community) is like for them.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Matthew's gospel offers another outrageous agricultural parable. This time the farmer/landowner is not just crazy (as in the one who scattered seed everywhere, or the one who intentionally planted mustard weed), but radically unfair or overly generous, depending on your point of view. This landowner seems almost obsessed about getting all possible laborers working in his vineyard. He wants to be sure he gets as much of the harvest in as quickly as possible. He seems not to care at all about how much the project might cost or "fairness" to the situation of each individual worker. He pays each one exactly the same, no matter how long each worked. Everyone got the daily wage, one denarius, enough to cover the costs of life and a meal for the family that day (daily bread).
An interesting feature of this parable: It is the landowner who spends all day recruiting people to work in the field, and it is a manager (not the landowner) who pays the recruits the same wage at the end of the day. So one more upside-down reality: the landowner is working a harvest of people and letting someone else deal with the crops and the cash (though under his orders!).
And why? Because God's desire for the abundant harvest of life, joy, and justice is that abundant, and so is God's grace in offering the opportunity to all to be part of the harvest and its sufficient daily reward.
Who in your congregation or community is out there, actively "harvesting people" where you are? If you think no one is, think again. Advertisers (print, billboard, radio, television, Internet) are working at this all the time. Gangs do it daily. Salespeople of all sorts are working any leads and contacts they can find. In the U.S., the armed forces use every means they can to draw in new recruits to a challenging and potentially lethal life for a few years or a career. We're surrounded by all sorts of recruiters, all sorts of harvesters, all the time. But not all are harvesting people to grant them "daily bread."
So who in your congregation or community is actively working wherever they are to do that?
Find these people, talk with them, invite them to meet with your worship planning team, and possibly to share what they're doing as a testimony during worship. Let their stories deeply inform what you do with the arrangement of worship space, art, music, and movement in worship today.
And remember that this parable was a driving and inspirational force in early Methodism. In John Wesley's day, Wesley himself and the lay preachers and exhorters of the Methodist Societies strove where they could (Wesley didn't allow this where no active trial class meetings were in place) to offer "field preaching" morning and evening. Those who responded to the preaching and wanted to know more would be invited to attend a "trial class meeting" or a "trial band," provided that they seriously sought to flee the wrath to come and showed an interest in trying to live into the General Rules with a small group of up to twelve others. The result: A bountiful harvest of lives redeemed by and sent to work in God's kingdom.
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The Lectionary opens a new book this week -- Paul's letter to the Philippians. How will listening to this text shape the worship? Are you and your congregation open to listening to it even if it is not the focus of preaching for the day and weeks to come?
Our General Rules (2008 Discipline, 103) state that "the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded" is an "ordinary means of grace" and call us to attend to it, among the others listed there. How do you as a congregation pay attention to the Word of God when a particular text is not preached that Sunday?
This brings up the importance of finding and training readers who will proclaim the text in its reading. How do you train readers where you are, so all can attend to the rich feast of the Word, whether read or expounded?
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Embodying the Word: Intercessions for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2011
Prayer for All of God's Harvest Fields
This proposal for prayer asks for your local and global awareness and creativity as a worship planning team or as a congregation, as well as for your openness to spontaneous prayers by individuals who may pray aloud all at the same time or offer silent prayers as each may choose. If you are hoping that members of the congregation will simply pray aloud, especially all at once, unless your congregation is steeped in some Asian Christian practices of prayer, expect to provide some active encouragement for folks to do so.
Using the guidelines for comprehensive praying (below) as a guide, gather two or three images showing God's harvest, or the need for God's harvest, for each of them.
Here's the list:
- The leaders and mission of the church locally and across the world;
- The leaders of nations, peoples and economies, for justice and peace
- The earth and its care
- The sick, the poor, the marginalized and those in any danger
- The people who have entrusted themselves to our prayers, and
- Thankful remembrance for those who have died in Christ and whose prayers continually accompany our own.
Be creative here. Don't limit yourselves to "the usual" (like simply a picture of your pastor or bishop for church leaders). Consider also being as outrageous as Jesus' own parable is for each of these. For example, include an image of people with whom you are not yet in mission but could be or people with whom you are in mission among these leaders in the first intercession. Remember: If you project images of people and their faces are recognizable, you need to get their written permission, first!
Project the general topic of the intercession as you project images related to each. Invite people to pray for what they see as signs of God's harvest in each of these images, silently or aloud, singly or all at once. Don't rush this, but don't drag it out, either. You may find it helpful to have music for a hymn about harvest you may sing later playing quietly in the background throughout this time. When your projection of images of one intercession is complete, move to the next. Conclude with the Lord's Prayer (if you are not celebrating Holy Communion today) or with a verse from the hymn. Many of the hymns listed under "Thanksgiving" (UMH 938) may be appropriate, as would one of the verses from "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" (UMH 140).
Summer and winter and seedtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
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- 374, BOW; "Creator of all things"; 456, BOW (Exodus)
- 349, BOW; 379, BOW (Philippians)
- 583, "Father of earth and heaven . . . " sung to Terra Beata (United Methodist Hymnal, 144); 564 (Exodus)
- For excellent fresh opening prayers, see Revised Common Lectionary Prayers Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts (Augsburg Fortress, 2002), pages 132 and 189.
- BOW 465; 539; 569, "Eternal God, hallowed be your name. . . ." (Matthew)
Prayer for Illumination:
- BOW 399, Week 2 (Exodus, general)
- BOW 485 (Exodus)
Acts of Responses to the Word:
- 292-294, BOW Some or all of the "Covenant Prayer," particularly "I do here covenant . . ." and "I do here willingly . . . promising that I will strive . . ." (Philippians)
- BOW 423, Litany (Matthew)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 520, 511, 505, 544, 546 (Philippians)
- BOW 540, 456 (Matthew)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
- BOW 557 (Exodus)
- BOW 569, "Eternal God, hallowed be your name. . . ." (Matthew)
Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 561 (Philippians)