Planning - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
The other "bookend" of the Joseph story -- Joseph, now second in command in Egypt, reveals his identity to his brothers and promises to provide land, food, and protection for the family during the famine and beyond.
Psalm 133 (UMH 850)
The blessing of living together in unitya fitting response to the Genesis reading for today. See Psalms for Singing, Psalm 133 for another alternative.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Paul concludes his excursus on the theological connection between God's covenant with Israel and the Jewish-Gentile church with a strong affirmation of Israel's place in God's saving intent toward the whole world. AllJew and Gentilereceive salvation by God's mercy and grace, not by merit. And God's calling and gifts cannot be called back. Israel's place is permanently secure, while Gentiles are like grafts of a wild olive tree into a domesticated olive tree (see image above and verses 16-21, not in the lectionary reading, but critical to the argument).
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
Jesus tells the crowd that it is what comes out of the heart that pollutes us. Then Jesus discovers great faith coming from a foreigner (the Canaanite woman) who won't take "no" for an answer. (See "Draw the Circle Wide," Worship & Song, 3154, for a response to the latter story).
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 (Patriot Day in the U.S.) is approaching. See our resources for 9/11 anniversary on this website.
Denominational Calendar: The next denominational emphasis is Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15. The next denominational special Sunday is World Communion Sunday, October 2. In preparation for World Communion Sunday, consider viewing "Living into the Mystery," either in worship or as part of a class. You can view it online if you have broadband Internet; or order the DVD. The video and ordering details are available here.
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Be alert to the fact that big changes are coming starting next week! The Abraham (and Sarah) to Joseph narrative ends, and Moses and the Exodus narrative begins. On September 11, the readings from Romans will conclude; and on September 18, four weeks in Philippians will begin. Look ahead in the Lectionary to discern where you are headed.
Genesis: Learning from the Ancestors
Claiming God's Mission
The readings from Genesis, which have focused on the "first families" of the people Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his children), come to a close with the end of the Joseph story this week. This is not the end of Genesis or the end of the family story as such. But what happens in this story does lay out the main plotlines for the remainder, through the death of Joseph which sets up beginning next week the stories of what happens when Egypt has a Pharoah who did not know Joseph. In literary terms, this "bookend" (as we called it last week) is the dnouement.
This whole sweep of stories, beginning with Abraham (chapter 12) has focused primarily on the persons who most clearly carry on the covenant promise with God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Each of them, in his own way, ended up becoming a representative of the whole of the people, a marker of what faithful covenant living with this God might look like.
Joseph represents the fact that the people of God are a sent people. Joseph understands himself to have been sent by God to help save the lives of others. Joseph was to be a missionary to people among whom he had been a slave.
Whom do people in your congregation and community serve? How do they understand themselves to be sent by God to preserve the lives of these people, or do they? If not, who may share a current testimony that corroborates this testimony of Joseph of having discovered oneself sent by God to save or preserve those served?
It was precisely in the midst of preserving the lives of others that Joseph was also able to preserve the lives of his own family and to honor his ancestry by bringing his father and his household to live with him in Egypt. Joseph was on that job for two years before this opportunity presented itself. It is critical in this story to see that as important as family and ancestry were to Joseph, he was able to offer only the degree of care and protection for them that he did because he was on God's mission first. Who in your midst has a story to tell about how they discovered where God had sent them in the midst of being on their job? Who in your midst can testify to how God used that place of sending precisely as a vehicle to bless those they loved?
Joseph's missionary service was a thoroughly "secular" job. He calls that job the direct result of God's call, provision, and sending. While there is no question that Joseph had trust in God's care for himself and others and understood his gifts in organizational management and dream interpretation to have come from God, we never once see him offering an act of worship or leading others to do so. How does the conversation in your congregation, conference, or other judicatory concretely recognize and support ALL the settings into which God sends people in mission, not equating or reducing "the ministry" to "what clergy and denominational or full-time congregational leaders" do? Think about concrete signs, images, or words in the life of your congregation and community that support this larger biblical vision as you plan worship and design the worship space.
God's mission can be joined and led in many forms, indeed many more forms than religious ritual and the leadership of communities of faith per se. God's mission, God's kingdom and righteousness, are for all, and especially for all the baptized, to seek first, engage with whatever gifts and callings and sendings are ours from God as we entrust God with everything else.
Romans: Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101
Grafted into Israel
Plan to read verses 16-21 today if you are continuing a focus on Romans. These verses contain the most compelling image in Paul's argument: Gentiles are like wild grafts into a domesticated olive tree (Israel). (A free, open-licensed image of a graft being joined to an olive tree is offered above with links to the original source).
This metaphor grounds all of Paul's arguments in these three chapters (9-11). God has taken nothing away from God's promises, call and gifts to the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob/Israel. That root is firmly planted, and the trunk is capable of supporting all kinds of new implants, as well as to receive back all branches that had been pruned. This metaphor of deep connection forming between rootstock and graft also prefigures the image of church as body of Christ in chapter 12.
What do folks where you are know about grafting? Any gardeners in your midst? Any olive growers, apple orchard keepers, or vinekeepers? (Apple orchards and vineyards often use similar processes for improving yields.) Is there anyone you might be able to call in to meet with your worship planning team to help you explore the implications of this imagery for your life as a Christian congregation?
Are there opportunities for you to call in a rabbi or other leaders from a nearby Jewish community to be part of this planning conversation with you? What would worship look like and more that just worship on this day, but what would your community life look like if you took seriously the notion that as an entirely Gentile congregation you are really a wild graft on the rootstock of Judaism? This is not a call to sing in Yiddish or Hebrew this Sunday (though perhaps in conversations with your rabbinical and other Jewish sisters and brothers you may decide to do that). It is instead an opportunity to begin to open up conversation and planning toward a relationship that bears living witness to Paul's vision in Romans 11.
Keep in mind, as you do so, that the deep patterns of Christian worship that underlie our official ritual texts both for Sunday and for daily prayer (in the Hymnal and Book of Worship) already reflect in many ways ancient Jewish practices and are in substantial harmony with contemporary Jewish worship practices, especially among Conservative and Reformed branches of the Jewish family. So for Christian worship, this is as much a matter of rediscovering our deep rootedness in the Judaism of Jesus, and living more fully from such roots, rather than trying to create a "new patch" to put on "old wineskins."
When you take on such a challenge, you will also find yourselves living out the Psalm for today (Psalm 133) far more deeply. At a minimum, do consider inviting a Jewish cantor to lead and teach you to sing this Psalm together as Jewish people have for centuries.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
The reading from Matthew for this Sunday provides two stories that can be read perhaps most fruitfully side by side, assuming you include the optional verses (10-20). Indeed, they might be read precisely alongside each other as you offer the reading of the text as follows:
Reader 1: 10-11
Reader 2: 21-23a
Pause for reflection
Reader 1: 12-14
Reader 2: 23b-26
Pause for reflection
Reader 1: 15-20
Reader 2: 27-28
The first story (10-20) addresses theories about unclean hands, food and words. The second (21-28) records an encounter between Jesus, the disciples, and an unclean woman (Canaanite) whose daughter had an unclean spirit (demon). The second story illustrates the challenges raised by the first, but taken up by several notches, especially when the unclean mother of an unclean girl refuses to be dismissed even by very harsh words reflecting Jesus' own sense of calling to offer ministry for the Jewish people exclusively.
Great was this woman's faith! Jesus and his disciples had "withdrawn" to the region of Tyre and Sidon (verse 15). They were taking time away from mission there. This was a vacation. The coastline in the region was the Riviera of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean world. If the fact of their being in that place were not enough to indicate they had little interest in any active engagement of the mission while there, Jesus' own retort to the woman, when he finally answers her, makes it plain. Jesus understood his mission to be only to Jewish people. There just weren't many Jewish people in that region, and she certainly wasn't among them. In short, he's on vacation, and even if he weren't, he would have had no intention of reaching out himself to the likes of this woman.
She insists constantly looking for any opening at all, finds one in his dismissive and actually insulting reference to the Gentiles as house pets and prevails.
Immediately, from this point forward, the mission of Jesus gets back into high gear with a far more inclusive focus. We immediately see Jesus teaching, healing and feeding a mixed crowd of Jewish and Gentile people alike in northern Galilee (Matthew 15:29-39). No wonder the Pharisees, when they catch up to him (16:1), ask for a sign from heaven!
Reading the two parts of this text in the inter-woven way suggested above might help emphasize what Jesus and his disciples come to learn while taking some time out. Perhaps it is not simply words that defile, but labels and attitudes. Perhaps freedom from an exclusive focus on one brand of people, relegating the rest to second-class or worse (dogs!), requires no less change in heart, and so in action.
Who are the "Canaanites" where you live and work, the folks you think should dismiss or at least should not respond to? With whom may they be calling you to be in mission? How will you reflect the voice of these Canaanites where you and your faith community live, work and play? Remember, in this text, this wasn't about just adding a few more people to the circle of concern; this story marks a decisive break with Jesus' announced mission, a break he does not go back on. Where are the places where you and your faith community are being called to make such a radical break with the limitations of the cultural canopies under which you have lived and operated? How can you expose those places in worship today? How will you help to lead worshipers to a place where they, like Jesus, are challenged and then, following him, move boldly forward?
One possible tack for atmospherics suggested by this text: images and soundscapes that speak of vacation for your congregation. It was, after all, on a vacation from mission that this dramatic change in Jesus' ministry occurred. Where do your folks go on vacation? What music and sounds do they associate with such places? (Keep in mind that this week's Ecumenical Prayer Cycle focuses on the South Pacific; see below). Do they go there expecting to learn anything or do very much, or simply to get away from it all? How do they respond if, on vacation, they discover themselves being asked to help others in some way?
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Embodying the Word: Responses to the Word for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2011
This would be a great Sunday to acknowledge varieties of ways that people in the congregation are in ministry in their daily lives -- on the job, in the places where they shop, learn, hang out and play, and with their families -- and to acknowledge that the primary ways Christians can be in ministry are exactly by such daily means in all the missional contexts in which we find ourselves. If we do the simple math, such as where do Christian people actually spend the vast majority of their time (hint: NOT inside the church facilities, unless they're hired to do so!), this should be a no brainer! This might be a day especially to highlight persons whose jobs or avocations involve saving or preserving the lives of others and commissioning them to continue to do so in all the places they do it. In so doing, they are fulfilling the baptismal vow to serve as Christ's representatives in the world (UMH 34) and the newly adopted local church membership vow to faithfully participate in the ministries of the congregation "by your witness." See resources for such commissioning in UMBOW 591-592.
Acknowledging and embodying our status as wild olive grafts. What are ways you are able to do that effectively this Sunday where you are? One idea (and I'm sure you can think of better ones, especially if you work this out together with local Jewish leadership!) might be to invite people to write one commitment they will make to re-connect with our Jewish heritage in the short term and bring that forward to "graft in" to a Styrofoam formed olive rootstock. (This might be done either with paperclips attached to a piece of paper and stuck into the Styrofoam, or using something like Post-It notes) as they bring their offering forward that morning.
Where did you need to focus today? On the teaching about what defiles, or the persistent faith of the Canaanite woman, or the turn-around that happens in Jesus' own attitude and ministry and calls us to do the same?
The focus on what defiles parallels closely two elements of the baptismal covenant (Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness and resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves) and the first of the General Rules -- "Do no harm." Changed hearts from which evil no longer flows involve God's commitment, first, to "deliver us from evil" and our continuous response to God's grace by our commitment to do no harm. Committing ourselves to doing no harm in turn involves us acknowledging that, in fact, by our action and inaction we often do harm of many kinds to many people every day. Consider offering a time for extended meditation and reflection of the whole of the First General Rule, reproduced below, and for people to make commitments at two levels -- for themselves and with one other person (perhaps in front of, alongside, or behind them) with whom they'll check in during the coming week to see how the commitment is going.
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury -- i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.
If the focus is on the persistent faith of the Canaanite woman, consider how a response to the word for today may be a direct response by the congregation to some of the more persistent "outsider" voices your congregation hears. For this to have maximal impact, strongly consider inviting a representative of such outsider voices to be present both to press their case and to hear your response. In other words, make this real. Don't just "say it in church." DO it in church, too!
If the focus is on the radical change in Jesus' ministry that follows this encounter, consider what radical change you will help your congregation make as their response to the word. This is one of those rare occasions where Scripture demands that the radical change just start happening, beginning today. In other words, this is something that needs to be sprung on folks -- a confrontation with the limits of their vision and mission followed by a commitment to overcome that limitation beginning that very day, with follow up to make sure you stay on course with that commitment going forward. As you are planning worship around such a theme, then, get good input from the many kinds of voices on your worship planning team about what such a radical reorientation might look like where you are. Is it about racism? classism? failure to evangelize? environmental insensitivity? poor stewardship? You and your team know what it is where you are. It may be more than one thing. Pray, listen, and then commit to act!
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- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
When we live together in unity!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
Life for evermore.
From Psalm 133: 1, 3b
- Romans: BOW 456
- Matthew: BOW 453
- Or use this call to worship:
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.
From Psalm 28: 1-2
- "Act of Centering," 471, BOW (connects with Genesis and Joseph weeping)
- BOW 456 (Romans)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 522 (Matthew)
- BOW 518 (Romans)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: The Pacific islands: Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Western Samoa and the French Overseas Territories of New Caledonia (Kanaky) and French Polynesia (Tahiti)
- BOW 479 with words of assurance and pardon as at number 477 (Romans)
- BOW 478 as long as it is understood as the prayer of Christians as well as Jews (Romans)
The Great Thanksgiving: 70-71, BOW
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
- BOW 552 (Genesis)
- BOW 550 (Matthew)
- Sing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," 672, United Methodist Hymnal (Genesis)
- "As We Go," Worship & Song, 3183
- BOW 559 (Genesis, Matthew)
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