Planning - Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
The prologue to Job sets the cosmic background for Job's experience of dramatic loss and the questions about God's justice and human suffering that follow.
Psalm 26 (not in UMH Psalter) or Psalm 25 (UMH 756).
Psalm 26 focuses on the theme of integrity and asks for God's vindication on the basis of the integrity of the person or community praying. This may be better suited for a later reading in Job. If you use Psalm 26, consider using the sung response from 516. If you use Psalm 25 (UMH 756), consider the following responses: Response 2 with Tone 3 in E-flat major (see 737) or using the hymn "Through It All" (UMH 507). A simple chant tune can be created to accompany this chorus: G-F G A-flat; FE-flat D E-flat. As with all chant in the hymnal, the first note is used for the words or syllables up to the dot, then the remaining three notes are used with the remaining syllables.
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12.
The writer of this theological treatise begins by declaring the glory of Jesus Christ God's ultimate messenger and Son, with majesty and authority above all angels, the pioneer and perfecter of our salvation.
Family values, Jesus-style: God has blessed and established the marriage bond as a relationship that is never to be discarded or reduced to disposable property. Jesus also blesses children and calls his disciples to do the same, never treating them as a nuisance or distraction from "real work."
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Today is also World Communion Sunday. UMC Giving resources are available from www.umcgiving.org. Discipleship Ministries worship resources are here. The special churchwide offering collected today underwrites scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students across the global church and in the U.S.
World Communion Sunday was begun by the former Federal Council of Churches in the 1940s to help bring American Protestant Churches to a greater sense of unity by agreeing to celebrate Communion on the same day. Back then, many Protestants celebrated no more than quarterly, and rarely on the same schedule. Today, most Protestants in the US celebrate at least monthly, and usually on the first Sunday of the month; a fast-growing number now celebrate weekly. While World Communion Sunday thus now no longer has the practical significance it once had, it is still good to remember at least once a year that Christ invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sins, and who seek to be at peace with their neighbor, no matter where or in what Christian denomination they may be.
A Season of Saints also kicks off today with World Communion Sunday and culminating in All Saints Day/Sunday. We have posted a basic calendar of saints for each Sunday with links to more information about each saint available for both 2012 and 2011 Worship Planning Helps are already posted with suggestions for the 2011 resources. More detailed helps for 2012 are coming soon. The October 2012 editions of Worship Planning Helps will contain more detailed suggestions for celebrating with this year's calendar of saints.
The first full week of October is also National Mental Health Awareness Week. Tuesday, October 9, is the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding. Mental Health Ministries provides a wide range of additional faith-based resources for worship and prayer through this week.
Children's Sabbath is observed on October 14.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) continues through October 15.
Laity Sunday is October 21.
All Saints Sunday is November 4.
As you begin your planning for Advent and Christmastide, consider how you will enable the unique emphases of both seasons to be fully expressed. The focus of Advent is on the second coming of Christ, new creation, and the culmination of all things in him. The focus of Christmastide is far less about the circumstances of the birth of Jesus and more about the significance and challenges of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. See "Restoring Advent and Christmas 2012/2013" for three proposals for helping both seasons have the impact for which they were originally designed.
The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer for today lists Afghanistan, Mongolia, and several former Soviet republics. All but one of these is predominantly Muslim (Mongolia is predominantly Buddhist). How will you help your congregation offer their intercession for Christians and people of other religions in these places on this World Communion Sunday?
As with most of the Sundays during Ordinary Time, there is no intended overarching theme among the readings. Don't try to force one. Instead, help the congregation experience and embody each of the texts in its own integrity as well as you and they can.
This is another of the "stream-crossing" Sundays in the lectionary cycle. While the readings from Mark continue, both the Old Testament (Job) and the Epistle (Hebrews) begin a new series today. We will read from Job throughout October. We will read from Hebrews, except for All Saints Sunday (November 4), until Christ the King Sunday (November 25).
Theodicy in Drama: Job
Job continues our foray into Israel's wisdom literature, this time in the form of a poetic drama. Everything you've explored about Hebrew poetry still applies here (except for those brief sections written in prose). But now, on top of that, we see an exploration of a key theme of wisdom literature in the genre of drama, with multiple speakers interacting with Job's lament that God appears to be unjust.
Job is the Bible's most thorough and comprehensive wrestling with the problem of God and human suffering. The drama offers a serious critique of widely-held beliefs that human suffering was always and only linked to human sin. It also refuses, both in the beginning and in the end, to let God completely "off the hook" for what can only appear to him (and perhaps to us) as unjust suffering. Indeed, as we see in today's reading, God had directly approved the suffering that Job would endure (Job 1:12, 2:6).
The problem of human suffering remains one of the most significant challenges to all theistic religions and philosophies. As David Hume, the Enlightenment Scottish philosopher put it, "If God is good, God cannot be omnipotent. If God is omnipotent, God cannot be good." Richard Dawkins' best-selling book, The God Delusion, makes much of the argument that the level of evil in the world is incompatible with either a good or an omnipotent being such as God. Worse, he notes, much of the evil in the world is either perpetrated or permitted to go unchecked precisely by faithful adherents to religion. A careful reading of Job during these weeks -- both in worship and beyond -- will help you and your worshiping community reframe many assumptions about the nature of suffering and the nature of God in ways that respond meaningfully to these and other challenges to the goodness, power, and existence of God.
As noted above, Job is written as a drama. This week's reading is the prologue to the play. In it, we see two critical pieces of background. In scene 1 (1:1, 2:1-6), God continues to brag about how upright Job is, despite having lost all of his children and all of his property and wealth (in the verses not included from chapter 1). At the same time, God is convinced by the Adversary to allow the Adversary to test Job further by attacking his body directly. The sores the Adversary inflicts make Job unclean. This is why Job takes up residence in the town's garbage dump/ash heap. Scene 2 (verses 7-10) finds Job on the ash heap, scraping his sores to relieve the itch and pain, and being told by his wife to "curse God and die." She is only the first of Job's closest living associates to take on the role of "adversary" to him in the days ahead.
Job is often associated with "patience" in popular sayings. In modern usage, "patience" is usually understood as quiet resignation to the way things are with some measure of hope things may get better. The end of this week's reading (verse 10) can seem to justify that image of Job.
However, as the drama continues to unfold, Job is anything but patient in that sense. He does not curse God, but he does insist that he had done nothing to deserve what has befallen him. He also demands that God show up to defend Godself for what has happened. Job continues to do exactly what his wife now and his friends later will ask him to stop doing: he "perseveres in his integrity" (verse 9).
Since the book of Job is a drama, this week and each week you read from it, you may want to offer a more dramatic form of reading, or even design the worship space as the setting for the drama, especially if you and your worship planning team choose to focus on Job during October. Offering the reading each week as a drama may help your congregation connect with each week's reading more deeply. Today's "characters" would include God as ruler/judge, the Adversary (the Hebrew word "ha-satan" here does NOT mean "devil," but something more like prosecuting attorney), other members of the heavenly court who watch the interchange (choir or praise team), Job and his wife. The congregation might take the role of God (in unison). Staging might include an ash heap (for the scene with Job and his wife this week, and many of the scenes in subsequent weeks). You might look at Archibald MacLeish's play, J.B., for more ideas about staging.
Soundscapes might include the hubbub of a courtroom assembly in scene 1 and perhaps sheer silence or meditative music in scene 2 (ash heap).
You may also want to consider offering this reading as a video presentation each week rather than as a "live" event to enable you have more editorial control over the final product. If you don't have the cast or materials needed for the dramatic presentation, consider creating and projecting images of the stage settings while a well-practiced narrator reads the text. Consider having the person who plays Job or the narrator (if you are not staging this) lead the singing/chanting/reciting of the Psalm in response from the ash heap (or with the ash heap image still onscreen).
Job and A Season of Saints:
Today's reading from Job is also an excellent tie in to the story of Carpus, the "Christian Saint" for today's opening of "A Season of Saints." Carpus, along with several other Christians from the region of Pergamum in modern-day Turkey, was literally dragged in the streets for being a Christian and refusing to worship the Roman gods. He was subsequently beheaded. This was during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (ca. 161-180). Like Job, Carpus was an upright man who faced intense suffering, and, in his case, death. Like martyrs before and after him, including our Lord Jesus, Carpus stands as a reminder that suffering happens in the world, that faithfulness to God is no sure protection against it. And, like Job, and Jesus, he stood on his integrity.
Anna Howard Shaw also stood on her integrity as a person called by God to be a Methodist preacher and a prophet in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. The second woman to graduate from Boston University School of Theology, her Methodist Episcopal Conference refused to ordain her. But the Methodist Protestant conference of New York did in 1880, and she began serving churches while also completing a medical degree at the University. Preacher and physician, she went on to become a leading proponent of women's rights in the U.S. and worldwide, serving with and eventually leading the National American Woman Suffrage Association in the early twentieth century.
A Priestly Covenant: Hebrews
The reading from Hebrews today is a proclamation and celebration of the glory of Jesus Christ. This is not "Jesus our friend," but Jesus the authoritative redeemer of all.
Orthodox iconography and some modern stained glass art have captured this sense of Jesus perhaps better than many other artforms. Be careful about copyright. (Many websites are copyrighted. You MUST obtain permission to use copyrighted material, even for worship!) Also be respectful in your legal use of such images (some Orthodox groups may find it disrespectful to take a picture of an icon). You may want to contact a nearby Orthodox priest or someone on an Orthodox website to discuss how you might use such images and where you may find them. Look especially for images of "Iesous Pantokrator" Jesus Ruler of All. Some of these may be appropriate for Christ the King Sunday later in the year (November 25).
In addition to accompanying the reading of this text with powerful images of Jesus as Ruler of All, consider offering the reading in a call-and-response way to engage the congregation more fully. Here is a fresh translation you may use:
Proclaimer: Over and over again, in many, many ways, God has spoken from of old
People: God has spoken!
Proclaimer: to our ancestors
People: God has spoken to our ancestors!
Proclaimer: through the prophets. And in these last days, God has spoken to us
People: God has spoken to us!
Proclaimer: through a Son,
People: God has spoken to us through a Son!
Proclaimer: God made him to be the inheritor of everything and made all the worlds through him. He is
People: He is
Proclaimer: the radiance of God's glory!
Proclaimer: He is
People: He is
Proclaimer: the imprint of God's very being!
Proclaimer: He carries
People: He carries
Proclaimer: the entirety of the universe by his powerful word!
And when he had cleansed us from the sins we had done,
People: He cleansed us!
Proclaimer: He took his seat
People: He took his seat
Proclaimer: at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavenlies,
Having become so much greater than the angels
People: He's greater than the angels!
Proclaimer: As the name which he has inherited is far superior to theirs.
People: Blessed be the name! Blessed be the name of Jesus!
Proclaimer: For God did not put the coming world order, about which we have been speaking, under the command of angels. No, for as someone said somewhere,
"What is humanity that you remember us,
or our children, that you notice us at all?
You have made us for a little while to be lower than angels,
yet you have crowned us with glory and honor,
Putting everything under our command."
Now, when God put everything under our command, God did not leave out anything that would not be under our command even though for now we do not yet see everything being under our command. But
Proclaimer: we see Jesus
People: We see Jesus!
Proclaimer: For a little while he was made to be lower that the angels,
People: For a little while
Proclaimer: but now,
People: but now
Proclaimer: thorough his finished work of the suffering of death, he has been crowned with glory and honor,
People: You are crowned, Lord Jesus!
Proclaimer: because by God's grace he tasted death for all.
People: You tasted death for all!
Proclaimer: For it was only right that the One by whom and for whom all things came into being, the One who is bringing many children into glory, should make him who would lead them all to salvation perfect through the things he suffered.
People: God perfected him through suffering!
Proclaimer: For the one who makes holy, and all those who are made holy, are from the One God.
People: The same God who perfected Jesus perfects us!
Proclaimer: That's why Jesus is not ashamed
People: He's not ashamed!
Proclaimer: to call us sisters and brothers,
People: Jesus calls us sisters and brothers!
I will announce your name to my sisters and brothers,
In the midst of the congregation I will sings hymns to your name!
This is the word of the Lord.
People: Praise the name of Jesus! Amen! And Amen!
Hebrews and A Season of Saints
What would motivate someone like Carpus and his companions to be willing to be tortured and die for the sake of confessing Jesus and refusing to worship other gods? What would motivate a young, immigrant woman from England, like Anna Howard Shaw, to buck the powers that be in the religious and political culture of her church, her seminary, and then her world to advocate for the rights of God's daughters to preach and vote, even if she did not at the time advocate for the rights of all of God's daughters? The powerful vision of Jesus proclaimed in today's reading from Hebrews could certainly have something to do with it. If Jesus is the imprint of God's very being, and if he carries the entirety of the universe by his powerful word, and then through him God put everything under our command, what other response can the faithful followers of Jesus have?
How often does your congregation proclaim and confess and help one another truly "get into" and fully "live out of" this vision of our Risen Lord? This is not the Jesus who "helps you get by." He is not salve. He is Savior. He is Lord. And he confers power on us, here and now, not simply to "get by," but to become perfected through suffering as he was. Perhaps, if we wish to "Join Our Friends Above" (UMH 709), Carpus and Anna, it is time we confessed, preached, prayed, celebrated the sacrament, and served in the world out of this powerful vision of the one who is determined to make saints of us all.
Mark: Discipleship Everywhere
Discipleship happens everywhereand in all relationships, including relationships with spouses and children. The first part of today's reading from Mark may conjure images of a divorce court in our day, but that would not have been what would have come to mind in his own day. There were no divorce courts then. All a man had to do was write on a piece of paper that he wanted to divorce his wife and give that piece of paper to her and perhaps to a priest. The more accurate image might be one of Donald Trump on his former hit television show, The Apprentice, pointing at that week's "loser" and announcing, "You're fired!" "You're fired!" means you're disposable, and you've been disposed of.
We live in an age of many disposable things and disposable relationships a context where lots of seemingly split-second decisions end relationships of many sorts. Factories suddenly shut down, temporarily or permanently, laying off thousands. People we think are friends suddenly ditch us. Job changes or cuts from the economic downturn have meant people have had to move away suddenly from everything and everyone they've known. And we're left with torn relationships, wounded hearts, and sometimes nowhere to turn. We end up, like so many of the things we dispose of, in the garbage dump, the ash heap.
Think about using imagery depicting disposability and what happens when we consciously or unconsciously choose to get rid of things or people around us not just to us in the moment, but to the things and people for the long term. If you've set up an ash heap for the reading from Job and the responsive psalm, here's another opportunity to use it today.
The first part of this week's reading from Mark also invites a compassionate and clear sermon about divorce. This is no time for laissez-faire thinking on this issue in the North American cultural context. Tread boldly and wisely! Keep in mind this text has been a "text of terror" for many women and men who are in marriage with a violent, addicted, or otherwise abusive, destructive, or self-destructive partner situations where mediation and counseling may be unjust or entirely ineffective. At the same time, many children and families have been ripped apart by societal processes and pressures that make divorce seem a "natural" part of a cultural life built on individual fulfillment and disposability.
Think through this with your worship planning team. What do you know collectively about your congregation's experiences of divorce? How many one-time members are no longer in the congregation because of divorce and remarriage? What are your own deep convictions about divorce and remarriage? This would be a good time to review the "Social Principles" in the Book of Discipline (see 161. D). But do not presume that the church has said enough there or has done enough by saying what it has said. People who are hurting from the sting of divorce or who seem to be falling into the trap of our culture's allure surrounding divorce need much more in the way of support, interpretation, guidance, and compassion.
The second part of the reading continues the broader theme of rejecting disposable relationships this time with a focus on children. The text is no call to sentimentalize children or to become child-focused in a way that becomes smothering, dominating, or projecting the failed expectations of parents onto them. Instead, Jesus teaches us to bless children instead of treating them as a nuisance or a distraction from what "really" matters. Blessing children is an integral part of what really matters because in blessing children, we prepare them and ourselves to experience the fullness of the power and will of God to bless all who are vulnerable and small in the world.
Consider displaying images of ways your congregation blesses children and consider a soundscape of children's voices as they are doing things children do playing, singing in a choir, answering a question at school or Sunday school, or helping someone. And think through whether keeping children away from worship, or even having a "children's sermon" that isn't engaging them (but really "using" them to talk to their parents and others!) is the best your congregation can offer to embody this teaching of Jesus.
Mark and A Season of Saints
If you are focusing on the gospel through these weeks, neither of today's "preselected" saints makes a great tie in for worship. Consider other ways to tell their story throughout the coming week, such as Twitter links or Facebook conversations. And for today, remember, the "calendar" for A Season of Saints is intentionally incomplete, with spaces left for you to add your own local examples. So use that opportunity from the "get-go" to lift up the names or stories of folks you know in your congregation or wider community who have been shining examples of faithfulness in marriage and blessing children.
Whichever of the three streams you and your worship planning team choose to focus on today and in the subsequent weeks, be sure to connect it to the ways you celebrate Holy Communion on this day, which in many Protestant denominations in the U.S. is celebrated as World Communion Sunday. If you will focus on Job, consider using Word and Table IV or another version that allows us to encounter strong language about the suffering of Jesus. If you are focusing on Hebrews, you may want to use a version of the Great Thanksgiving that focuses more on the glory of Christ, such this version used at General Conference. For Mark, consider either the version on pp. 72-73 of The United Methodist Book of Worship or this English version, this bilingual Spanish-English (English-Spanish) version, or this bilingual Korean-English version (pdf) on the Discipleship Ministries worship website.
- Greeting: BOW 449 (Psalm)
- Call to Prayer: BOW 196, Call to Prayer (Job)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 488
- Prayer: UMH 531, For Overcoming Adversity (Job)
- Prayer: BOW 545, For Those Who Suffer (Job, Hebrews)
- Litany: BOW 495, A Litany for the Church and for the World (World Communion)
- Prayers: BOW 501-506, For the Church
- Prayer: 556, The United Methodist Hymnal, "Litany for Christian Unity" (World Communion)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
- Response: "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" (Job, Mark)
Confession of Sin:
Be sure to precede confession with the Invitation (UMH, p. 7) and follow with Words of Assurance or the Pardon (UMH, p. 8).) See This Holy Mystery (pdf) for more about the Invitation.
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 488 (World Communion)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 492 (World Communion, Mental Health Awareness Week)
- Great Thanksgiving: Word and Table IV (Job), BOW 72-73, "The Great Thanksgiving for World Communion Sunday," this version used at General Conference. or the newer English version, or this bilingual Spanish-English (English-Spanish) version, or this bilingual Korean-English version (pdf)
- Closing Prayer BOW 567