Peter walking on the Water. Painting by Alessandro Allori,
ca.1590s. Public domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28.
Sibling rivalry moves from murderous intent to economic gain as Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery.
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22,45b.
See The United Methodist Hymnal, 828 for verses 1-11. This Psalm continues the Joseph story beyond the first lesson. For this Sunday, you will need to print out the Psalm separately to include the verses specified. The hymnal Psalter is based on the former Common Lectionary (1986), but this fuller selection comes from the Revised Common Lectionary our church adopted in 1992. See "Psalms for Singing" for another musical alternative.
The connections between hearing, believing, confessing and calling upon the name of Jesus as Lord for salvation. Consider singing "By Grace We Have Been Saved through Faith" (Worship & Song, 3110) as a response.
Jesus frightens the disciples when he walks toward them on the stormy sea. He tells them not to be afraid. Peter walks toward him and sinks, only to be lifted by Jesus. The disciples declare Jesus to be the Son of God. Consider singing the old gospel song "Love Lifted Me" or the newer and bluesy "When the Waves are Crashing" in connection with this reading (Worship & Song, 3101 or 3144).
Calendar: Where Are You and Where Are You Heading?
Which series are you pursuing? Are you continuing a new series in Romans from last week? Did you conclude a mini-series on Jacob’s story last week and are looking for the next place to go? Or are in the second week of a new series in Matthew after a diversion elsewhere?
Stay with your series if you started one last week. Or, if you just completed the Jacob story and do not wish simply to continue into the two-part Joseph saga, consider moving back to the gospel today. Though last week’s story really provides the backdrop for this week’s (walking on water later the same night after the feeding of the 5000), you could make a new start with the water episode this week as well, if you think through it. Just remember to make your new beginning clear, and to preview where you’ll be headed as you do.
And remember, whichever path you continue or start afresh today, remember the primary criterion for making your choice: Which one will best support your congregation in taking its next steps in discipleship and ministry in Jesus’ name and the Spirit’s power. You and your planning team are in the best position to discern this. Pray, think and discern well!
Are schools starting soon where you are? Have they already started? Think about ways to connect and commission students and their families for their learning and mission as disciples as they re-engage life in and with their school communities. See Back to School Resources.
This past Wednesday, August 6, was the anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima, and Friday, August 8, the bombing of Nagasaki. Worship resources have been posted to assist your congregation's prayer in observance of these days and seeking to give voice to the resolve that nuclear weapons never be used again. Consider affirming the Methodist Social Creed and its companion litany today in worship. (The link is to a bulletin-ready .pdf document including both the Creed and a musical setting of its companion litany).
Back to School Resources
Whole Month: Season of Creation (2014 lectionary resources coming soon).
September 1 Labor Day (USA) (August 31, Labor Sunday)
September 15-October 15: Hispanic Heritage Month
Whole Month: A Season of Saints
October 5: World Communion Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 12: Children’s Sabbath (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 19: Laity Sunday
Atmospherics: First Families: Week 8 (or 5 or 1)
The Grabber Gives Favor
or Getting Rid of the Favored Halfling
Genesis brings us now to the story of the fourth generation of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s children). All of Jacob’s grabbing is over. We see him here giving. He gives favor and an extraordinary coat to his youngest son, Joseph. That Joseph, the youngest, though also (at that point) the only son of Rachel, Jacob’s favored and younger wife, is the recipient of such favor continues the reversals of “the way things are done” Jacob experienced in his own life. One might almost call such reversals the “new tradition” of God’s people.
This year’s readings skim the surface of the Joseph story. This week we see him sold into slavery. (This is what the kingdoms of this world do with the kingdom of God). Next week we see him exalted and offering gifts to his family. (This is how the kingdom of God undermines and conquers the kingdoms of this world). The lectionary does not include the stories of the struggle from point A to point B.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this quick overview of the Joseph saga. One advantage may be that we see clearly the contrast between the values of this world and the values of God that God intends and enacts in the world. One disadvantage is that we miss constructive engagement with what may be just as important—those years and times when our lives as individuals, congregations and communities may seem stuck between the influence of these values, rather than embodying either of them fully. As you discuss designing worship in these two weeks given for the Joseph story, keep in mind the possibility of taking either tack, or perhaps even both (the bookends this week, the murky middle next, or vice versa), depending on what will be most helpful for your congregation to take its next steps in discipleship and ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power.
In Your Planning Team
Assuming you choose to go with the Joseph readings as provided this week and next, where in this week’s story do you need to focus ?
Is it more on the beginning of the story, with Jacob’s reversal of expectations by lavishing favor and gifts on the youngest of his sons? If so, discuss in your team how people in your congregation and community embody the “new tradition” of reversals of expectations in their lives and ministries. Then, get to meddling. Talk together about how your investments as congregation and as individuals—where you lavish your favor and resources—reflect or perhaps do not reflect such commitments, or instead reflect the commitment of the “rest of the family” to establish themselves over against their “unfairly” favored brother.
Or is it more on the rivalry and jealousy that led Joseph’s brothers, as a group, to determine to kill him, or leave him for dead, but then finally, on Reuben’s urging, sell him into slavery to Midianite (Ishmaelite—and therefore familially related!) traders?
Which better represents where your congregation needs assurance or challenge at this time? Do they need to claim God’s abundant giving that often reverses expectations? Or are they struggling with rivalries of their own, and perhaps need the mirror raised to see where such may lead?
Pray, discuss, and discern, then plan worship together accordingly.
Theology for Ministry: Week 8 or Week 2
The Place of Israel, Part II
Today we read the second of three installments in Paul’s extended meditation on how to make sense of a mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian community. How do Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians regard one another? How do Christians (Jewish or Gentile) regard Jewish people who are not Christians? Where is the common ground that all people share as they contemplate faith in God in the light of Jesus?
As with last week’s reading, this week’s selection requires careful attention to theological and even grammatical detail. The words of this week’s text have often been radically misconstrued to create essentially a transactional vision of the Christian faith. If I at some point say the right words (confession with the mouth) and convince myself (believe with the heart) that Jesus is Lord, the result is salvation. For, after all, “everyone who calls on the Lord shall be saved.”
The logic expressed in the transactional interpretation is not flawed. One can certainly derive such conclusions from this week’s text.
What is flawed is the premise. The premise seems to be that salvation amounts to a set of discrete sequential steps to reach a stated prize rather than fundamentally an initiative on God’s part and a whole way of life in response on ours.
Early Christianity was hardly about sequential steps and almost entirely about way of life. To confess with the mouth that Jesus is Lord is not one discrete act that happens once, but rather the verbal witness of a life that continuously embodies this confession.
Likewise, believing with the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead is neither an assent to a fact (a cognitive assent) nor something one comes merely to feel deeply (a limbic response). Instead, the phrase (believe with the heart) speaks of core values. That this particular Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, was raised by God from the dead re-orients the world and all relationships in it.
Finally, “calling upon the name of the Lord” is not a one-time act by an individual, but rather, in context of Paul’s argument and the line from Joel he is quoting, a reference to the community that regularly seeks the Lord (YHWH in Joel, Jesus here) for deliverance.
Paul’s point here? All people, not only Jewish people, now have access to God’s saving activity in their lives and the life of the world. All are invited to hear the good news of God’s kingdom, to join those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to have their lives reoriented by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus that has reoriented all of reality, and to continue calling upon his name. Calling upon his name includes, but is not limited to, intercession, worship and the obedient following of his will and way.
John Wesley’s Notes on this chapter put it perhaps most plainly. “The sum of which is, If thy heart believe in Christ, and thy life confess him, thou shalt be saved.” A life grounded in Jesus inwardly and outwardly is the way of salvation. A life—not sporadic decisions or one-time statements, but a life.
In Your Planning Team
Today’s reading scarcely mentions the place of Israel at all, except to say, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (10:12). God’s salvation in Jesus Christ operates for all people, regardless of background. Lives grounded in Jesus Christ are grounded in salvation.
Discuss these questions in your planning team:
1. What are the signs of lives grounded in Jesus around you?
2. Who is growing inwardly in holiness and freedom from the power of sin? Who is growing outwardly in doing good to all?
3. How is the community of faith growing in faithfulness to all the ordinances of God?
4. What structures do you have in place as a congregation or that you can refer persons to outside the life of the congregation per se to support individuals and the congregation as a whole in living out the core belief in God’s raising of Jesus, the core confession that Jesus is Lord, and the core practices of calling upon the name of the Lord?
Use this text to highlight examples of how such lives in your midst are working, and stories of how people have discovered ways to live this way of salvation in Jesus more deeply. These signs and stories are particular to your people and context. Don’t settle for generic substitutes. Send your worship planning team to listen for and gather the real stories from the real people where you really are. Use those examples and stories as the generative metaphors for the design of worship space in art, in seating arrangements, in music and in drama.
Journeying with Jesus, Week 8 or Week 1
Walking Where There Is No Ground
This week’s text take place the night of the wild day we heard about last week. The disciples have organized, fed, dismissed and gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers from the 500- plus crowd that had just been fed. Now Jesus sends them into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee to the other shore while he himself went into the mountains to get some time for prayer—the time he did not get earlier after hearing the news of John’s beheading.
While Jesus was gone, the disciples did not get far. They found themselves stuck somewhere in the middle of the sea, battered by the opposing wind and waves of another of the Sea of Galilee’s frequent sudden storms. So slow was their progress that Jesus was able to catch them in the early hours of the morning by walking out toward them on the water.
The disciples see him approaching and are terrified. They think Jesus to be some sort of apparition, perhaps a demonic spirit. They cannot conceive they are seeing a flesh and blood human. They need proof, not just verbal reassurances, that the phantasm is who he claims to be. Peter spells out the conditions. “Command me to do what you’re doing.” Jesus did, and Peter began to. But then he noticed the wind, got scared, began to sink, and called to Jesus for help.
Jesus did help him. Jesus reached out his hand, pulled him out of the water, then offered this line: “Little-faith, for what reason did you waver?”
Peter didn’t answer that question. Suddenly, with both Jesus and Peter safely aboard, the wind stilled. That brought the disciples to their knees with a confession, “Truly, you are the son of God!”
John Wesley’s interpretation of Peter’s wavering isn’t the sort of moral scolding one might have come to expect from some evangelical preachers in our day. He doesn’t take Jesus’ question as an accusation. Instead, he wrote, “He was afraid - Though he had been used to the sea and was a skilful swimmer. But so it frequently is. When grace begins to act, the natural courage and strength are withdrawn.” Wesley sees “Little-faith” not as a negative, but a positive. It’s not that Peter has only a little faith, but that he does have a little bit of faith and exercises it, even in the windstorm.
Still, Jesus’ question remains. Why do we waver when Jesus commands us to do something? What do we look at instead of Jesus? What are we afraid of, enough to cause us to lose focus on Christ and to sink, as it were?
Jesus does not want us to focus on what we’re afraid of—the wind and the waves in this story. We give more power to what we fear, very often, than to whom we love or the path we’re on toward Jesus. This is a significant reminder for us both in our discipleship and in the course of offering ministry in Christ’s name.
Finally, note this: Peter had gotten close enough to Jesus so that Jesus only had to reach out his hand to pull him back out of the water. In other words, Peter had almost made it all the way to Jesus. He was nearly there when he suddenly lost heart.
Peter did walk on the water. He walked where there was no ground he could see or feel. As long as he kept focus on Jesus, he kept walking.
Take heart, and keep exercising whatever “little-faith” you have. Christ will pull you the rest of the way through even when that faith or focus fails.
In Your Planning Team
So, are you launching a new series today after the Jacob story the past four weeks? Or are you continuing from last week, or from weeks ago?
Again, if you’re launching, launch! Arrange the space, change the graphics, and develop the art and musical feel that will characterize the series, starting today. And, again, plan today not only to talk about today’s text, but to preview the upcoming themes in your series, for however many weeks you are designing it.
If you are continuing, be sure today builds off of last week’s introductory emphasis, however you built that. Consider singing or at least including in the music for the day in some way a musical theme that ties the whole series together. If you’re launching, introduce that new theme today, and weave it in some way throughout the series.
For today’s reading, talk in your team about how team members have normally heard this text interpreted. Then discuss whether or how the text itself endorses that interpretation, perhaps in light of the notes from John Wesley and my notes above about Peter very nearly making it all the way to Jesus on the water, at night, in a raging storm. Finally, ask them what is or might be most helpful to them to hear Jesus speaking to Peter not in blame, but in encouragement and honest questioning.
Particularly as you choose hymn texts for today, consider those that support this kind of more encouraging reading, a reading that, like the feeding of the 5000 last week, reveals far more what God can do with what may seem like very little than what our very little itself may actually be.
And, as always, think of persons who may have a testimony to share about how they were, even with little faith, able to walk where there was no ground, or, even if they had a brief lapse, found Christ bearing them up again.
Embodying the Word: Responses to the Word for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, 2014
Genesis: Where are you focusing in this text today? Is it the “tradition of reversals”? If so, consider using the Song of Mary (UMH 198-200, The Upper Room Worshipbook 17-20, or the traditional English version from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 50) as a confession of faith to follow the sermon.
Are you focusing on either or both of the “bookends” of the Joseph story? Then consider offering an opportunity for reaffirming the baptismal covenant (Baptismal Covenant IV or the contemporary version, used at the 2008 General Conference).
Or are you moving outside the lectionary proper and focusing on the “murky middle,” those stories of ups and downs that seem to lead almost nowhere at the time? Then consider a confessional hymn, such as Charles Wesley’s classic “I Want a Principle Within” (UMH 410), or a hymn of trust, such as “Take My Life and Let It Be” (UMH 399), or a meditative refrain, such as “Wait for the Lord” (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 396) or “Holy Darkness” (Worship & Song, 3141).
Romans: An invitation to next steps. If you have focused on stories of people who have grown in inward and outward holiness, people whose lives reflect all three of the General Rules, the question for each person gathered becomes, “What next step can I take that will enable me to grow in one or more of these ways as well?” You know your congregation. Be bold, but not overbearingly so. If you can ask people to spend some time in silence, perhaps to write down or journal how they may commit themselves, with the support of others, to grow in inward and outward holiness of life, that may be enough. Perhaps small-group conversation can work for some, if not all. Encourage those who can do so to do this. Perhaps others may benefit from some artistic expression of the longing that is touched within them for growth from today’s stories. Consider the possibility of offering these either as worship stations, to which people get up and move, or as “in your place” activities, again, depending on the culture of your congregation.
Matthew: Where are you focusing? The night? The trust to step out onto the water? The wavering? Or the going on after sinking? Or perhaps even on what Jesus does— taking time apart for prayer and then gracious guidance and support for his disciples?
The Night: We do not often focus on night and the values (and perils) it brings in morning worship. Night brings rest and commitment to God’s keeping. At the same time, we are also nearly defenselessness while we sleep. In the story, the disciples make almost no progress all night long, a sleepless and restless night on waves against opposing winds. They know where they’re going. They just can’t get there, or even anywhere close. Consider offering a time of prayer and guided reflection/meditation in which people are encouraged to get in touch with each or all of those realities—the values, the perils, and the frustrations of the night in this story—and offer them all up to God.
The Trust to Step out onto the Water: Exercising “littlefaith”—Stepping out onto the high waves of a windstorm at 3 a.m. is something far more than just “getting outside one’s comfort zones.” It was a physical act of real faith. Let’s get physical! Ask the congregation to consider what they would ask Jesus to command them to do when he encounters them unexpectedly, then to step outside of their seats toward Jesus (wherever they envision him being) once they’re clear about what they’re hearing.
The Wavering: People know what they say makes them waver when Jesus calls. It’s obvious to them, no deep reflection required. Popcorn those responses—make this part fun and light and fast. In this way, help people disempower their fears and return their focus to Jesus.
Going on after Sinking: People are generally aware of where they’re sinking in their lives. Often, others are, too. Here is an opportunity for prayer with a simple response: “Save me, Jesus!” The prayer can come from people as they simply call out places where they or others they know are sinking, or you might construct a written prayer that captures some of the more obvious ways people you know are sinking. Or consider a hybrid—you and the worship team compose a prayer that names briefly how each of you is sinking and needs help from Jesus, and encourage others to join your prayer as they feel led. The call to Jesus is all that is needed. Conclude the prayer with joyous singing of “Love Lifted Me” (Worship & Song, 3101).
Jesus truly saves!
And he doesn’t save just to stop the peril.
He saves to get us on our feet and going his way again. Consider singing “We Walk His Way” as a response, and having the congregation physically walk to surround the Lord’s Table as they sing (Worship & Song, 3073).
Greeting: (Genesis, Romans, and Matthew)
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
For you are my rock and my fortress
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
From the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
(From Psalm 77:2b-4)
- BOW 464 (Genesis)
- BOW 460 (Romans, Matthew)
- BOW 525 (Matthew)
Confession: BOW 479 or BOW 490 (Genesis)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 517 (Matthew)
- BOW 518
- BOW 506
- BOW 511 (Matthew & Romans)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia
The Great Thanksgiving
- The United Methodist Hymnal, 9-11
- The United Methodist Book of Worship, 70-71
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 551
Dismissal: BOW 559 or "Go forth to serve and love the Lord." (Deacon or assisting minister)
Blessing: BOW 566 (Presiding minister)