Floor mosaic directly in front of the Lord’s Table at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Israel. Church established ca 350. Floor mosaic ca. 480. Much of the church building was destroyed by arson in 2015. Public Domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegéticos: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
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 a soloist to sing the psalm, use Tone 4 in G minor with the sung response. See UMH pp. 736-737 for more details.
Ephesians 3:14-21. 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), verse 10. 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 6:1-21. 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.
Worship Planning Notes
This the ninth Sunday of the Season after Pentecost. See Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry for the Season after Pentecost, Year B for an overview and guidance for planning worship series grounded in the lectionary texts and most appropriate for your particular setting from now to the beginning of Advent.
Remember to keep the main theme of this season the main thing you focus on in worship, whichever series you are pursuing. The purpose of this season is to provide an extended time in which the worship life of the church actively supports disciples of Jesus accountably carrying out their ministries in the world in his name and the Spirit’s power.
Today, the David saga continues and hits a dramatic turn as we see David failing, miserably, to be a just or moral person or king. Disciples and church leaders fail sometimes. What do we do when this happens?
The readings in Ephesians bring us to the heart of the letter and of Paul’s declaration of God’s hope for the churches on the Ephesian circuit, and everywhere. He prays they may be so rooted and grounded in love that any divisions among them, including the most basic Jewish/Gentile divisions, may be overcome by the love of Christ who breaks down every dividing wall of hostility. How does your congregation support disciples in living into and out of such rootedness in such love?
A new series on Holy Communion could begin this week, as we take an excursus into the story of the Feeding of the 5000 from John’s gospel and it’s aftermath. If you start this series today, how will you keep the focus on how this holy mystery calls and challenges us to be and become better disciples of Jesus in our daily lives?
Though we are still in the heart of “vacation season” in the US, that’s no reason not to build worship series through these weeks. Indeed, it’s compelling reason to do so! Sustaining a series enables you and others who worship with you to stay connected with the life of the worshiping community. It also keeps your congregation focused on key elements of your ministry and mission over an extended period of time.
Remember to start planning for series or emphases later this season, such as Season of Creation (September), Season of Saints (October) or Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). Resources for all of these may be found at the links below.
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
All Month Season of Creation (global and ecumenical)
September 7 Labor Day (USA)
October 15 Hispanic Heritage Month (USA)
All Month Season of Saints
October 4 World Communion Sunday
October 11 Children’s Sabbath
October 18 Laity Sunday
Old Testament: The David Saga
Week 8: We All Fall Down
Today’s reading from 2 Samuel could be rated R, TV-MA or even NC-17. It exposes laziness, lust, rape, uncleanness, abuse of power, murder, and political corruption.
Even “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) is susceptible to temptation. In this week’s reading, the Bible offers no defense or spin on the reprehensible things King David does. It just names them, unblinkingly.
David did not go out to battle with his men, despite the fact this was the season when kings would do that (11:1).
David was a voyeur. (11:2).
David was an adulterer (11:3). He knew Bathsheba was a married woman, yet sent for her to be brought to him anyway.
David was a rapist, by our standards at least. In this power situation, Bathsheba would have had no ability to give consent or say no. (11:4).
David committed uncleanness. He forced himself on Bathsheba at a time when Torah said she was ritually unclean. (11:4)
David was a deceiver (11:5-13). He had no intention of confessing what he had done. He did not try to create any real restitution. In effect, he tried to bribe and distract Uriah, playing with him and getting him drunk.
David was a murderer, successfully plotting against the life of Uriah. (11:15). And in so doing, by finding a way to destroy one of his own most loyal soldiers, he was a traitor to his own country.
This was David, the man after God’s own heart.
He fell, and kept falling. At every point he could have made a different choice, but he did not. There appeared to be no end to what evil he was capable of. And so there was no limit to the corruption he could fall to.
These stories are not told as signs of David’s greatness. He is not being praised for being able to do all these things and get away with it. The Bible does not exalt those who “did it my way.”
Nor do we recount these stories in worship today to say David was the chief of sinners.
We follow the reading of this story with Psalm 14. Psalm 14 recognizes we are all vulnerable to such temptation. “There is none who has done good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3). And it asks for deliverance from the grip of such corruption and its consequences.
For us all.
In Your Planning Team
Week by week we rehearse the practice of confessing our sin and hearing God’s words of pardon in our corporate worship. (If you aren’t, strongly consider starting today!).
We do this for two reasons, closely related to each other.
Corporately, as the body of Christ, we have, as we confess, failed to be an obedient church. It’s fact. We have failed and we keep failing. We’re not giving this our all. We’re missing the point together, almost constantly. We’re not okay, even if we feel good about our attendance or our giving or the intensity and excellence of the worship we offer. We need to come clean about this. We need to admit this about ourselves as a collective, trust God’s forgiving love, and then allow God’s power working in and through us together to make us better than we have been—even if we find we need to confess the same realities about ourselves, if in different degrees or for different reasons, next week.
Our corporate confession is a means of reconciling us with God. We speak the truth about ourselves. God speaks the truth about God’s lovingkindness and commitment to keep working in our midst to set us free.
We also confess individually. We acknowledge to God in the silence that follows the corporate confession our own particular sins and failings, our lusts, our avarice, our self-centeredness, our refusal to love God with all our heart or our neighbors as ourselves. Our own sins, personally, individually, contribute to the sinfulness of the whole body, and the sinfulness of the wider worlds, and not just to the brokenness of our own relationships with God and neighbor. Both we and I need to be made right with God and neighbor. Only God’s power can ultimately provide the deliverance needed.
We all fall down. And like David, we will all keep falling down unless we receive the grace from God and the support from sisters and brothers to do what David did not do: confess our sins to one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).
Public worship is not the venue for such mutual confession. This is the work of small groups or one on one relationships. Historically, it’s been the work of people and their confessors, or, as in the bands of early Methodism, people in a very small group who could and did confess their struggles and their sins and seek God’s particular forgiveness and support and strength from one another to experience both deliverance from sin’s power and growth beyond what now besets them.
Worship today provides an opportunity to invite people to both corporate and personal confession as part of worship, and perhaps a more penitential form of the Great Thanksgiving (such as Word and Table IV). But it also invites something more. It invites the opportunity to experience a thorough examination of life, and to enter into some process of confession and dialog with at least one other person beginning during this coming week.
When John and Charles Wesley first developed the bands (small groups of 5 persons, divided by sex) in 1738, they understood these groups were not for everyone. These were not the same as the later class meetings, where the conversation was more general and specifically related to living out the General Rules. Members of the bands needed to be people who already knew justifying grace, who were ready to hear others name their faults and do the same for others, and to speak honestly and plainly to each other. They provided a list of four sample questions to guide the conversation in those meetings.
1. Have you been guilty of any known sin since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be a sin or not?
What we see in these four questions shows the bands were not intended as an exercise in self-deprecation or navel gazing. Rather they were opportunities for testimony to one another, both of our personal failings, but as importantly of the activity of the grace of God freeing and teaching and guiding group members into all holiness.
What we learn about such groups from the Wesleys indicates that if we are going to invite people to be part of such groups this week, we need leaders for those groups, in advance, whom we trust both to screen possible applicants and to be able to lead the group to function effectively. We also learn that such a group meeting is not a “one-off” in response to a sermon. Such a meeting becomes a regular practice, and for the Wesleys and early Methodists a weekly practice.
Participation in the bands was never made a requirement for those seeking to be or remain members of the Methodist societies. It was a commended practice for those who sought to experience a greater degree of victory over the power of sin in their lives than other means of grace or Christian conversation had so far produced.
Whether or not you are able to have at least one such group ready to function this coming week, be sure also to provide other options for this examination of heart and life. The list may include trusted spiritual directors, pastors, or laypersons prepared to function as personal confessors.
As you think about songs and prayers for worship built around this theme of confessing sin this week, remember from the example of the Wesleys’ questions that this is not just about acknowledging our sin, but also about sharing and hearing testimony of God’s power delivering us from sin’s power. This week is about a midsummer reality check for disciples. Part of that reality is our sinfulness, and part of it is also God’s ongoing work to forgive us and deliver us from sin’s power.
“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (UMH 57) would be a most appropriate hymn, either at the entrance or as a response to the word, or during communion today. Truly, “He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me.”
Epistle: Networked Unity
Week 3: Becoming Rooted and Grounded in Love
Today’s selected reading from Ephesians really does need to be expanded, to include verses 1-13. Verse 14 begins “For this reason…” It is the previous verses that supply the reason and the chapter before that which supply the reason.
Through Christ, God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility separating Jew and Gentile, and by the power of Christ’s love and the work of the Spirit, God is making one new humanity in place of the divided two.
God is busy making one new humanity, including especially in their midst, in their Christian communities that bring together both Jewish and Gentile people as one body in Christ.
And God’s strategy for doing this is nothing other than filling people with and spreading abroad the abundance of love God has for the world, ultimately expressed in Jesus Christ.
That’s why Paul prays what he prays in today’s reading.
His hope and prayer is the people in the Ephesus circuit may become so rooted and grounded in the love of God which knows no breadth, width, depth or height, that they may become so filled with the knowledge and love of God by which God continues to break down these barriers and build new community everywhere, starting where they are.
And Paul is aware this is a big ask. That’s why he concludes this reading as he does, because he knows God can accomplish far more that even the biggest thing we can ask to accomplish God’s purposes.
Whenever we hear someone praying over us, our first response should be gratitude that someone is praying and for the Spirit empowering that prayer. Our second response should be our own prayer seeking how we may participate in fulfilling what is being prayed over us.
How shall we be strengthened in our innermost selves with the power of the Holy Spirit?
How shall we allow Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, more and more?
How shall we allow ourselves to be rooted and grounded in love?
How shall we open our awareness truly to comprehend, more and more, the breadths and length and height and depth of God’s love in Jesus Christ, a love that truly surpasses all human knowing?
How shall we become persons and a people, within and across our congregations, who are filled with all the fullness of God?
How do all and each of these become concrete, lived and living realities and not just eloquent wishes for us?
In Your Planning Team
At the very least, today’s text invites two responses. The first is to go deep. The second is to spread wide.
We are to go deep into the love of God. Sing of God’s love. Pray, rejoicing in God’s love. Give thanks for God’s love. There is no shortage of hymns and songs and prayers that do this. Pick those your congregations can offer by heart and with the fullest gusto. Go!
And we are to spread wide the love of God. Consider inviting folks to visit across the congregations in your circuit today for a particular purpose—to share words or other signs of love with people in your congregation as they enter, in testimony as part of the response to the word, and as servers with you or even instead of folks from your congregation at Holy Communion.
These are starters. They point the way. They are publicly enacted signs of discipleship to Jesus. They are a spark.
Be sure also in your planning, and work with others in your congregation and across your circuit, to lift up and find other concrete ways to keep the fire going through the coming week, and beyond.
You will want to pass it on.
Gospel: The Holy Meal
Week 1—Distributing to Them All
The story-line in Mark’s gospel is “interrupted” for the next five Sundays to help us focus on John’s telling of the “Feeding of the 5000” and its aftermath. 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.
This week we hear the connected stories of the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water to reach disciples struggling to cross by night.
The meaning of the feeding of the 5000 will be unpacked in some depth over the next several weeks. For today, John’s focus is primarily on the fact that all present and choosing to identify with the crowd by being seated were fed. Jesus and his disciples distributed what they had to everyone who was ready to receive.
He and his disciples fed them all.
That was such a remarkable thing, some were prepared to declare Jesus as their king. Jesus would have none of this, and disappeared into the mountains. The disciples made their way to the shore, and started across the water.
It was night. Night is a poor time to try sailing on the Sea of Galilee. Winds and waves are more turbulent than usual, and storms can happen at any time.
Jesus caught up with them, walking across the sea. The one who had fed them was still with them, taking them where they needed to go.
Today, the connection between these two stories may matter most.
Put most simply, Jesus feeds us if we let him. And when he does, we find, even in our struggles with adversity in the world, he comes to us and takes us where we need to go.
The one who feeds us sends us, and meets us on the way.
We have a new, free resource available to you online (beginning July 1) and in hard copy (order now by emailing Carolyn Dandridge) that may assist your study through these weeks in small groups or even as the basis for a sermon series in conjunction with the Sunday readings from John’s gospel. It’s called The Meaning of Holy Communion in The United Methodist Church, by E. Byron Anderson.
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 all 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, so your love and our thanksgiving may abound. Amen.
To support and strengthen your reflection on and experience of Holy Communion in these next five weeks, consider using some of the resources available through Discipleship Ministries and The Order of Saint Luke.
“This Holy Mystery,” our United Methodist teaching document on Holy Communion, reaffirmed by the 2012 General Conference, is available for free download. Additional support articles, a free study guide, as well as This Holy Mystery in Spanish, Portuguese and French, are available here.
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).
In Your Planning Team
In addition to the ideas listed above about celebrating communion, extending the table, and beginning group studies, remember these essential elements for launching a new series.
1. Your first service is an overture that shows where you’re heading, and previews upcoming weekly themes, and gets folks engaged in the overall theme as well as today’s topic.
2. Start one or more common threads that will recur, perhaps in slightly different ways, from week to week. One obvious common thread for this series is weekly celebration of Holy Communion. Others might include a song or chorus you’ll sing, or an artwork you’ll build on, or a prayer you’ll pray each week.
3. Market the series not just several weeks ahead of time, and not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week in your ongoing forums for communicating with the congregation.
4. Extend the series with Sunday School, mission opportunities related to it, and ongoing weekly meetings in person or via social media that enable folks to take what you’ve talked about on Sunday and continue to work out or give testimony to its implications throughout the week.
The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
Greeting: BOW 449 (2 Samuel, “Trust in the Lord,” after chart, ¾ down)
Opening Prayer: BOW 460 (2 Samuel, Psalm, Ephesians; “O God, Our Guide and Guardian, 5/6 down)
WORD AND RESPONSE
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)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: 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
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession and Assurance: BOW 478 (2 Samuel, John)
Offertory Hymn: BOW 179, "For the Gift of Creation" (John)
Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 551 (John, 2nd item)
Blessing: BOW 529, A Prayer of Saint Patrick (Ephesians)