Planning - The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 11:1-15.
A king like all the nations, even one "after God's own heart," may be thoroughly corrupt. Today we read the saga of King David's failure to lead his troops into battle, his adultery with Bathsheba, his failure to compensate Uriah for adulterating his wife, and his order to have Uriah placed on the frontlines and abandoned to slaughter.
Psalm 14 (UMH 746).
A cry for deliverance from corruption all around and a recognition that only God, and no mere mortal, can provide what is needed. If you plan for the congregation or cantor to sing the psalm, use Tone 4 in G minor with the sung response. See UMH pp. 736-737 for more details.
The lectionary leaves out the preceding verses that make sense of this passage (verses 1-13). The reason that the writer bends the knee before the Father is the revelation of the mystery that God will use the church as the means to make one new humanity out of the two (Gentile and Jew). That is why he prays that they may be "filled with all the fullness of God" -- that they may live out the fullness of the calling to which they have been called.
John's version of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water to meet the disciples as they row in vain against wind and waves.
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Ordinary Time continues with what is now the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. The lectionary texts do not relate to each other (except the Psalm as response to the Old Testament), so don't try to make them do so! Instead, today you can continue a series (2 Samuel or Ephesians) or start a new one (John, on the feeding of the 5000 and the meaning of Holy Communion).
How are you beginning to plan now for after "vacation season" comes to a close? See "Seasons and Series for Fall 2012" on the United Methodist Worship Blog or "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost, Year B" on the Discipleship Ministries website for prompts and suggestions.
Continue in prayer for your current bishop, your new bishop (if you are receiving one), and all persons, congregations, districts, conferences and episcopal areas experiencing leadership transitions in the weeks from now through September 1, when the new quadrennial terms for our US bishops begin.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
The Season of Creation is commemorated during September.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
World Communion Sunday is October 7.
A Season of Saints is commemorated throughout October, starting with World Communion Sunday and culminating in All Saints Day/Sunday. Resources for 2012 will be posted in June. A basic calendar of saints for each Sunday from 2011 is available for those who did not use it last year. You would simply need to leave one week out, as October has only four Sundays this year.
Atmospherics -- Old Testament: From Judges to a King like All the Nations
If in last week's reading it appeared that "a king like all the nations" may have been God's goal all along, this week's reading should thoroughly dispel that. Why? Because a king like all the nations, even one described as "a person after God's own heart," is particularly susceptible to the worst of the temptations, corruption, and sin that anyone can commit. In this week's reading, the Bible offers no apologies or spin. It simply discloses how King David was a coward (or lazy, or both!), an adulterer, a thief, and a murderer.
Psalm 14 in response to this story asks for deliverance from the grip of such corruption and its consequences.
Together, these texts turn the spotlight not on the sins of others, but on our own need to acknowledge where we are also mired in corruption and, no less than David, need not only God's forgiveness, but God's delivering power to set us free.
Consider developing an imagescape created through projected video or still pictures, possibly even a fog machine, that communicates being surrounded by sinfulness on all sides with no apparent way out unless and until God answers the cry of the psalmist, "O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!"
Epistle: Networked Unity
Today's selected reading from Ephesians really does need to be expanded, to include verses 1-13, if the selected text is to be understood in its context. Verse 14 begins "For this reason" It is the previous verses that supply the reason!
So looking back at verses 1-13, what is Paul's point that leads him to pray for this circuit of congregations in Southwest Asia Minor?
Verse 1 opens with another "For this reason" statement. Those words point back to the previous chapter (last week's reading). Paul says he is frequently imprisoned, and gladly so, because he gladly proclaims that God is making one new humanity in Jesus Christ (2: 15), and that the church is precisely the place where this new humanity is coming into being. For this "mystery" to be made known among the Gentiles, that God is offering and making them fellow heirs with Jewish people in the church through Christ, Paul has been sent to proclaim it in places where Gentiles abound. Proclaiming such a message of the boundless riches of Christ offered to all, Jewish and Gentile alike, and then seeing signs of that grace actually happen, often had meant that Paul would end up beaten, jailed, or tortured.
That's why Paul is praying for the "Ephesian circuit," a group of related congregations where Jewish and Gentile were functioning as one body in Christ both within and among their communities. First, in verse 12, he says he doesn't want them to lose heart because Paul suffers for this implying they might as well, as they continue to live this way. Then, in verses 13 ff (the selected text for today), he goes on to pray even more for them. He prays they may be strengthened inwardly, given all wisdom in the Holy Spirit, to understand "with all the saints the breadth and length and height and depth" of God's love, that they may all, across the entire circuit, become "rooted and grounded in love," and that knowing this love that goes beyond all else, they may be "filled with all the fullness of God."
It was the awareness of the abundance of God's grace, God's lovingkindness toward all, that motivated Paul to live out his mission, despite the consequences. It is exactly that same awareness, in even greater intensity, that he here prays the Christian communities in the Ephesian circuit may experience as they do the same.
Paul was not merely wishing them something vague like abundant spiritual blessings and wisdom. He's not trying to flatter them with well-wishing. He is instead praying for them to be as deeply or more deeply grounded in the love of God among one another that they will be able, even more than he has been, to see the Holy Spirit do infinitely above what they could ever ask or imagine, all to Christ's glory, come what may.
How broad, wide, high, and deep are people in your congregation and across the congregations you partner with living and experiencing the love of God right now?
Don't presume it's hardly at all!
Start by asking folks on your worship planning team to describe the "field of vision" or "field of living" they each have, personally. Some may be broader, others deeper, others wider. Begin to imagine together how the gifts of those with "deeper, broader, wider or higher" ways of experiencing God's love might encourage others to share such love with others, come what may.
As you design worship today, if congregations in your "circuit" are not actually worshiping together, considering inviting a "worshiper exchange" between your congregations, with some from each congregation visiting another one today. But consider these visitors not to be passive consumers, but persons who will be ready to offer a testimony about the ways they've experienced the breadth, depth, width or height of the love of God in their own congregation or community that might offer blessing and encouragement to the people of the other congregations or communities. In other words, send them as missionaries of encouragement in the Spirit to spur on every other partner congregation toward more boldly sharing the abundant love and grace of God with all they encounter.
Gospel: The Holy Meal, Part 1-- Sharing with All
The story-line in Mark's gospel is "interrupted" to help us focus on John's telling of the "Feeding of the 5000." The purpose of this extended stay in one long chapter in John's gospel is to help Christian congregations experience and reflect deeply in these weeks on "this holy mystery" of Christ with us in the sacrament of his body and blood.
Are you ready for a deep dive into Holy Communion in these weeks? Maybe even to experiment with celebrating weekly during this extended time in John's gospel?
While there are many ways you might approach the "kickoff" of these coming weeks, perhaps the richest embodiment today would be a bountiful experience of Holy Communion, using large loaves and generous portions with plenty to spare, and a plan to send many of your members out two by two to share the blessed elements with those who were unwillingly absent this day. A simple act of commissioning (see below) for those who will share the blessed bread and wine could be offered just before the post-Communion prayer.
For an outstanding resource and small-group study on practices of extending the table, see Mark Stamm's book, Extending the Table: A Guide for a Ministry of Home Communion Serving.
Here is a brief order of commissioning for those you may send out today:
Pastor: Receive these gifts, shared in this body, that all who were unable to join us here, may know and feel they are joined with us in Christ's body and blood.
Communion Ministers: We go as ambassadors of Christ.
Pastor: Let us pray.
All: O God, you have made us one body, one blood in Christ. Go with these who carry these gifts, that your love and our thanksgiving may abound. Amen.
"This Holy Mystery," our denomination's foundational teaching document on Holy Communion -- reaffirmed by the 2012 General Conference -- is available for download from the Discipleship Ministries website. Additional support articles, a free study guide, as well as "This Holy Mystery" in Spanish, Portuguese and French, are available on the Discipleship Ministries website.
You might also use these weeks to engage a small group in a study that enriches your practice of Holy Communion, such as Living into the Mystery: A United Methodist Guide for Celebrating Holy Communion.
Or perhaps you would prefer (or also like!) study guides for adults and children in book form. If so, you may wish to order Gayle Carlton Felton's study guide for older youth and adults (one per participant) or Carolyn Tanner's leader's guide for children and younger youth (one per leader; book contains legally reproducible content for class members).
- Greeting: BOW 449 (2 Samuel)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (2 Samuel, Psalm, Ephesians)
- Prayer of Confession and Assurance: BOW 478 (2 Samuel, John)
- Prayer: BOW 399, Week 2 (John)
- Prayer: BOW 431 by Barbara Dunlap-Berg (John, Communion)
- Prayer: BOW 510, For Discernment (2 Samuel, Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW 522, For Purity (Psalm)
- Prayer: BOW 525, For Wisdom (Psalm)
- Response: BOW 193, "Prayer for Wisdom" (Psalm)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago
- Offertory Hymn: BOW 179, "For the Gift of Creation" (John)
- Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71 or 76-77
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 551 (John)
- Blessing: BOW 529, A Prayer of Saint Patrick (Ephesians)