Planning - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
1 Samuel 17 (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49.
The shepherd, David, uses the implements of his trade and the power of the Lord to defeat the giant warrior, Goliath. "The Lord does not save by sword and spear" (verse 47).
Psalm 9:11-20 (UMH 744).
The psalm celebrates God's defense of those who are afflicted by catching the offenders in the traps they have made. As alternate responses, consider TFWS 2075 (sing twice at each response point) or 2172, singing a full verse and refrain of the hymn at each of the responses.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13.
Tension abounds. Paul argues that his suffering for the sake of the gospel provides all the credentials he needs for the Corinthians to listen to him. The ball is in their court now.
Jesus treats a storm the same way he treats demons. He rebukes it, and tells it to shut up. Then Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear -- not just of the storm, but of what Jesus did to end it.
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This the fourth Sunday of the Season after Pentecost. We enter into a time of semi-continuous readings from Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospels that are not intentionally connected to one another in any way. If you use the lectionary, as the vast majority of our congregations do, rather than trying to connect all three readings, focus on just one stream of them (OT, Epistle, or Gospel) to create several "series" for worship that work best in your context. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time) Year B" for an overview and guidance.
Through much of June and July, the Old Testament reading focuses on the story of David. The Epistle readings (from 2 Corinthians) address conflict and authority in the church. And the gospel largely tracks the "Discipleship by the Sea" narrative Dr Marcia McFee and I used in designing worship for the 2012 General Conference. Which of these three trajectories is most promising or fruitful for your congregation or worshiping community for the next several weeks? Though you may continue to read all of the texts in worship, pick just one where you will focus and go deep. Dr. McFee has also posted all her worship scripts for the evening worship services at General Conference on her website.
Dr. McFee and I both advocate discovering and developing an "anchor image" as a way to hold a visual and metaphorical center through any extended series -- whether the ten-day series of General Conference, or what may be a six- to eight-week series of worship and preaching in your local congregation. You can hear and see Dr. McFee talking about how we found and she developed the anchor image for "Discipleship by the Sea" on YouTube.
Independence Day (US) falls on a Wednesday this year. You may choose to recognize it in Sunday worship either on July 1 or July 8, or in special worship offered on July 4. The Revised Common Lectionary does provide readings for this day, although the United Methodist Book of Worship version of the RCL does not.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
Which stream of texts are you following through these next several weeks? Let that determine how you "dress" the worship space.
Old Testament: "From Local Judges to a King like All the Nations"
God's design for rule and kingship isn't like that of the nations, even if the people want a king like all the nations. Today's reading from 1 Samuel and response from Psalm 9 make that plain.
A king like all the others would come against an opponent with a larger army and better firepower. Might and power would win -- the kind of might and power only a king could muster by laying heavy taxes on the people and conscripting their sons into his army.
That's not how the God of Israel, nor David, the king-to-be, would save the day. Instead, a shepherd puts away the weapons of the established king and picks up the modest tools of his trade (slingshot and five small stones) to defend the honor of his God and his people against Goliath, the champion of the Philistines. And in the Psalm, God wins victory over enemies by leading them to fall into the very traps they had set for God's people. No "usual" king (or Klingon!) could take great glory in such battles. But God will, so that God's king will be an instrument who reveals God's glory through passion for the honor of God's name and humble means rather than garnering glory for himself through superior force or technology.
Though this text is long (despite it being abridged a bit by the editors of the lectionary!), the story it tells is compelling. David cannot and will not put up with blasphemy against YHWH. He is determined to act after seeking Saul's support. And David cannot and decides he will not wear Saul's armor. He knows his own skill with the tools he uses daily, clubs and slingshots. Those are all he will bring into battle.
What passion and gifts are there among the people where you are to address head-on the blasphemous claims of whatever dominant forces you encounter in your cultural contexts that blaspheme against the name and way of Jesus?
Who uses their own gifts and passion well?
How do these persons function as examples for others -- not to try to "put on" someone else's gifts or to pretend to be motivated by a passion not their own?
Listen for the local stories, and if you offer a time for testimony in worship, encourage the telling of such stories as part of the Response to the Word today.
A note about testimonies: Telling stories about oneself during worship may be an unfamiliar practice. If that is true where you are, consider allowing one or two people to prepare the stories they will tell, make them concise, and practice them before they share them. That may help others who may not have come prepared feel more ready to share their own stories, and the example of concise telling may help keep this part of the service from dragging.
Epistle: Forging a Way through Deep Church Conflict
The reading from 2 Corinthians this week fairly bristles with signs of the conflict between Paul and the Christians in Corinth. Consider offering a reader's theater reading to bring out the strong contrasts this week's reading offers. Have one reader read through verse 5, being sure to slow down through verses 4-5 to allow the congregation to feel the intensity of what Paul describes. Have a contrasting voice read verses 6-7, again with deliberation, but perhaps with a bit more energy. In verses 8-10, have the readers alternate the contrasting parts.
Then have both readers read verses 11-12 in unison, and one reader, alone, read verse 13.
Here's how this might play out, using an adapted version of the public domain World English Bible as the text:
Reader 1: Working together, we strongly encourage you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For it says,
"At an acceptable time I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you."
Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.
We are giving no cause for offense of any kind to make sure the service (we offer) may be not blamed.
(more slowly) but in everything we are commending ourselves as servants of God,
(with pauses) in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings;
Reader 2 (again, with pauses): with purity, with knowledge, with patience, with kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
Reader 2: by glory
Reader 1: and dishonor, by evil report
Reader 2: and good report;
Reader 1: as deceivers,
Reader 2: and yet true;
Reader 1: as unknown,
Reader 2: and yet well known; as dying,
Reader 1: and behold, we live; as punished,
Reader 2: and not killed; as sorrowful,
Reader 1: yet always rejoicing; as poor,
Reader 2: yet making many rich; as having nothing,
Reader 1: and yet possessing all things.
Readers 1 and 2: Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians. Our heart has opened wide. We are not constraining you, but in your own affections you constrain yourselves. So now in return, I speak as to my own offspring, you also, open your hearts wide.
Again, remember that what we have in this letter is only one side of a tense conversation. You might consider asking a few writers in your congregation to listen for and write out what they're hearing on the other side, or ask an artist to paint the "state of the conflict" and describe the painting.
Paul's final rhetorical move in these verses is important. He places the ball squarely in the court of the Christians at Corinth. He has now made the bulk of his case for why they should still listen to him. Next week's reading does not revisit that. (The week after sort of does, but we'll get to that!)
One key question is this: How does the process of moving from conflict to constructive conversation happen in your congregation or community? Are people continually retrenching to defend their own validity to speak, or are they able to state their case, put a period to it, and await a response? How do you as a congregation, or as leaders in the congregation or wider community, help to model such constructive engagement of conflict? And how do you, or how do people where you are, model "putting the period" and awaiting response?
Gospel: Discipleship by the Sea
Mark presents a familiar story-- the calming of the storm on the sea of Galilee. We used it at General Conference under the theme word of "Embark" on Monday, April 30. Our focus that day was on Jesus actively sending these disciples into danger in order to get to "the other side," while also accompanying them on the way.
Nearly every film made about Jesus includes this scene as a defining moment. So do the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). The question you will want to consider as you think about how to help your congregation experience this text is what you want to emphasize. Is it the sudden fierceness of the storm, the sudden calm afterward, the fear of the disciples before, or their fear and awe afterward? Or perhaps it is the decisive words of Jesus, both to the storm and to the disciples: "Shut up!" and "Why are you so scared? Do you have no faith at all?"
The geography of the Sea of Galilee makes it especially susceptible to sudden violent storms. This is part of the reason that the gospels generally describe Jesus and the disciples sailing more or less along the shoreline rather than directly across the open body of the sea. If you were closer in, you could make a tack for the shore and ride out a sudden storm with minimal damage. But here, Jesus' opening words are "Let's set out for the opposite shore." That meant sailing directly across the sea. And worse, it was getting dark, which meant the temperatures were more unstable.
That a storm would suddenly arise on this sea under these conditions is unremarkable. What is remarkable is that Jesus would lead his ship and the others with them to cross this sea at night and so to head out into deep waters that could capsize their boats in the event of a sudden strong storm. Jesus had to know he was likely leading these people into serious danger. Meanwhile, he went to sleep on a pillow, leaving the disciples to face their own fears and the violent storm on the open sea themselves.
This kind of experience is the heart of many initiation rites and survival training programs across many cultures and times. When they face danger together, initiates learn both the limits and the depth of their resources.
These disciples learned their limits right away. The storm was too big for them. And it was too big for them even to be respectful of their master. Their words ("Don't you care we are about to be capsized?") reveal panic and disrespect at once.
What happened next slammed them against more of their own limits. Jesus told the sea to shut up just like he had told demons to do so earlier, and there was an immediate calm. Jesus' probing questions teach them even more. "Why are you so scared? Do you have no faith at all?"
The words used here are important. Jesus asked why they were panicked before. And immediately they move from panic to what the Greek puts as being "afraid with a great fear." The RSV translation, "filled with awe" is too tame. Jesus' question and action moved them from "circumstantial panic" in the face of real physical danger to what we might call "existential" or "holy terror." It was only then, in the face of such holy terror, that they could ask the right question: "Who is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
That question hangs. An answer is not given. How might worship today help people remember encountering holy terror and the questions that began to hang for them when they did?
Or, to take another tack, one that picks up on the "theme" word from General Conference: Where is Jesus calling you to "cross over to the opposite shore?" Where is Jesus calling you and your congregation to stop studying and sail into open seas at night? If you are in the midst of such a storm that Jesus led you into, what are you learning about your limits? About his power? About what it means to follow him?
Solstice happened on earth this past week (June 20). Depending on where you live, the size and activity of your congregation may be increasing or decreasing during the coming weeks, perhaps dramatically! If you're in the Southern hemisphere, you may be in the midst of a winter break just about now. Depending where you are there, your attendance could be booming, or plummeting, during these weeks. If you are in the northern part of the Europe or the United States or southern Canada, you may be experiencing an influx of visitors seeking relief from the heat of places south. If you're in the midwest, south, or desert southwest of the US, some of your folks may be "summering" at a lake house or in some of those "northern" reaches.
Wherever you are, winter or summer vacations are likely to change who is available to do what. Be sure you and your worship planning team have prepared to help your congregation experience vital worship no matter who is or isn't there. If you're just now reading this, and it's May or June already, it's not too late to start making those plans now. Gather a team to review the Scriptures, help select storylines, find images and soundscapes, locate music, and be deeply formed together around Word and Table!
- Background for the Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time, Kingdomtide): BOW 409
(Consider sharing some of this in your church newsletter, website, or bulletin)
- Greeting: BOW 327 (1 Samuel, Mark)
- Opening prayer: BOW 464 (Mark), BOW 466 (2 Corinthians)
- Scripture response: UMH 534 (stanza 2), "Be Still My Soul" (Mark)
UMH 512, "When the Storms of Life Are Raging"
- Prayer of Confession and Pardon: BOW 479 (2 Corinthians) add pardon
BOW 490 (2 Corinthians) add pardon
- Concerns and prayers: BOW 164 prayer that begins "Almighty God ..." (Mark)
BOW 546 Blessing of persons who suffer (Mark)
Collect for Christian Families (Father's Day, 437)
Litany for Fathers (Father's Day, 441)
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71 or BOW 78-79
- Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 559 (1 Samuel, 2 Corinthians)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay
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