Hagar and Ishmael [Banished] in the Desert.
Illustration from Gustave Doré’s English Bible, 1866. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayersfor 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
Isaac ("he/she laughs") is weaned. Sarah contends for his inheritance against Hagar's son, Ishmael ("God hears"). Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. God provides for all of them.
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or Psalm 17 (UMH 749).
Psalm 86 is a good fit responding to Genesis 21, but it is not in the hymnal. (The hymnal psalter is based on the 1983 Common Lectionary rather than the 1992 Revised Common Lectionary). Print Psalm 86 in the bulletin and/or project it. Or use Psalm 17.
Baptized into Christ's death, we are raised with him to walk in newness of life.
Jesus instructs his disciples as he sends them out on mission.
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After “launching” last week with Trinity Sunday, the Season after Pentecost begins in earnest this week with whichever series you are pursuing for the next while. See Think Series! Worship Planning after Pentecost Year A for an overview of how the lectionary supports series preaching throughout this Season.
As you finalize your series plans, remember the purpose of this season. Lent is about preparing people to live as disciples of Jesus. Easter Season is about giving especially the newly baptized or confirmed time to focus deeply on the doctrinal foundations of the faith and on discerning the Spirit’s calling and gifts for ministry, culminating in a celebration and commissioning for these ministries at Pentecost. The Season after Pentecost is about seeking the Spirit’s guidance and supporting one another as we undertake these ministries in Christ’s name.
So the key question to keep before yourself and your planning team as you design worship series during this season is this: What’s the best set of Scriptures to focus on for the next while to help our people take their next steps in ministry in their particular contexts?
If seeing God at work in (and sometimes despite!) the lives and decisions of the “first families,” start with Genesis 22 and stay with Genesis for several weeks.
If deepening your theology is your next best task, go with Romans. Today’s passage on the meaning and implications of baptism is a terrific starting place.
If you need to focus more on learning what it means to be on mission with Jesus, you couldn’t have a better starting place than today’s reading (and the ones to come) from Matthew.
Keep your eyes on the prize: supporting people in ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. Then stay focused on the track you choos,e so you and your congregation can “go deep” over these weeks and thus be more likely to grow in love, service, and understanding.
June 19 Juneteenth
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
Back to School Resources
August 6, 8 Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial
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
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Atmospherics -- First Families: Week 1: "A First Family Behaving Badly"
We begin the “First Families” series of texts this summer in what may seem an odd place. Far from an idyllic story of “the ideal home,” we encounter a story of rivalry, jealousy, perhaps some bullying, and exile. At the same time, we see God acting to bring blessing where even “Father Abraham” proved capable only of bringing division, danger, loss, and pain.
It’s not a new story in Genesis. The sibling rivalry of Cain and Abel had resulted in Abel’s death and Cain’s exile. Once agai,n here we find two brothers, though from different mothers, vying for attention and full acceptance, this time not from God, but from their human father, Abraham. At stake is the inheritance Abraham would convey to the one (and only one) who was considered the legitimate heir. Would it be his chronologically older son, Ishmael, born to his wife’s servant, Hagar? Or would it be the younger Isaac, born to Abraham’s “legitimate” wife, Sarah? Abraham’s decision, like God’s after Abel’s death, is to banish Hagar and Ishmael.
The questions this decision raises, and how Abraham reaches it, are enormous.
What is Abraham up to? How can he banish his son and the child’s mother just because his wife is worried about the inheritance? What about Sarah? Does her insecurity truly warrant what she demands? Is God endorsing what Sarah wants? (See verse 12.) Is Abraham hearing correctly? Did God really say such things?
The story clearly indicates God did say these things, and more. God tells Abraham it’s okay to throw Hagar and Ishmael out of the household because God will take care of them and make a nation of Ishmael (verse 13). God repeats that promise to Hagar after she is thrown out of the family and after she pleads that God not make her watch the death of her child (verse 18), which is to say, only after she has undergone a horribly traumatic experience.
Yes, God is good to God’s word. God does provide, and right away. God helps Hagar find a well at that very moment. She is able to raise Ishmael, and he marries a woman from Egypt. A new family line begins, a new family line equally blessed by God to beget a “great nation.”
What a place to start a series, right?
Right! It may be a great place for your congregation and those in your congregation beginning new journeys in ministry. It’s a reminder of the fully human nature of the church, and the fully divine provision in, through and sometimes despite the realities of our particular congregational communities. Are there jealousies in your congregation? Are there fears about who will “inherit” leadership in the church? Do you have some folks who would be just as happy to see others “thrown out” or at least leave? Ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power is supposed to happen in the context of a congregation like this?
Yes. Perhaps a few of those starting out are still “starry eyed” about what your congregation (or any congregation) can really be like sometimes. Chances are, though, most are not. Drawing near to today’s story of a “first family behaving badly” may help your congregation name and own at least some of its own bad behaviors (what congregation doesn’t have some?), and, as Abraham and Hagar learned to do, trust God’s abundant provision for life and community and blessing through you despite them.
While there may be quite a few among you who strive after perfection in love in this life, and maybe even a few who have attained it, no congregation, taken on the whole, is perfect. Or likely ever will be.
Just about every God-story your congregation can tell and every ministry your congregation or its members undertake will include its share of messiness and bad behavior.
That doesn’t justify anything. It just simply is the case. It’s a constraint we all live with.
And it constrains us all.
But the good news is it doesn’t constrain God, or what God can do with us in the imperfect vessels we are as congregations and the individuals who make them up.
Most congregations I know, probably yours included, want to be supportive of one another in ministry in Christ’s name and power. We truly want that.
And we truly, and sometimes horribly, fall short.
Still, God does not fall short. The One who is beginning a good work in us will see it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6).
We can face adversities, including adversities of our own making in the church, when we have this trust.
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In Your Planning Team
Questions for Addressing the Theme
What are some of the messy God-stories people in your worship planning team, congregation or community tell? Spend some time telling them in your team, and listening for both our mess and God’s response in the midst of it, or beyond it. Decide how some of these stories may inform your plan for worship today (song selection, prayers, artwork) and perhaps how some may be told, either in sermon (with permission) or testimony (by the person who tells the story, with permission from anyone else involved in the story).
Addressing the Space
Think about how arrangement of furniture, imagery, and artwork might help make worship today a safe place for worshipers to connect with their own messy God-stories, and perhaps leave room for folks to tell a few to each other in a time of response after the sermon.
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Theology for Ministry, Week 1
"Baptized into Death, Raised to Walk in Newness of Life"
Romans 6 is a foundational for our understanding of God’s grace and the sacrament of baptism. If you celebrated the Easter Vigil, including the services of the baptismal covenant associated with it, you also read this text that night or early morning. The Easter overtones are obvious—we are baptized into the death of Christ, and if into his death, also into his resurrection, enabling us to walk in newness of life now and to live in the hope of the promise of Resurrection for ourselves and new creation for the world in this age and the age to come. As I Peter 3 reminds, such baptism is no mere washing, much less a dabbing with small amounts of water. This baptism is burial. In burial, our bodies are destroyed by the earth over time. So also in baptism, the body of sin at work within us is destroyed, is being destroyed, and will continue to be destroyed, which means we have been and are ever more being freed from sin by God’s power, and brought more and more into the fullness of life in our Triune God.
The passage ends with a bit of a hymn that was apparently known to Paul, and perhaps known already to the Christian communities in Rome who first received this letter. When he writes, “We know that…” (verse 9), in a way he’s really inviting his hearers to join the song:
Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again;
Death no longer has dominion over him.
The death he died, he died to sin, once for all;
But the life he lives he lives to God.
Verse 11 is Paul’s addition to this song, summarizing all he’s been saying here:
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ. [Alleluia!]
This may be sung, chanted (using Psalm Tone 1, UMH 737, or any number of UM or Anglican chant settings), or read responsively.
Uniting people together in a song they already sing and adding a verse to it must have had a powerful effect on the first hearers of this text, and certainly would have helped to drive Paul’s point home. (Note: Paul did the same thing in some of his letters, most famously in Philippians 2).
Singing we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ says much about the kind of life we live in response to God’s grace. This is not the perspective of some in the nineteenth century holiness movement that says we actually don’t or even can’t sin anymore because we’ve received a “second blessing.” Nor is this the perspective of nineteenth, twentieth, and twnety-first-century “liberal” theologies that either deny the reality of sin or claim some basic original innocence for humanity. Considering ourselves dead to sin is an ongoing struggle in which we may be empowered by the fact of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to keep remembering who God has rebirthed us to be, and we have to keep ourselves open to the true life in Jesus Christ in the midst of all the death that does surround us and would engulf us. Christ’s victory over sin and death is secure. Our embodiment of that victory in our lives depends on us no longer continuing in sin and the ways of death but abiding in the one into whom we are baptized.
Ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power begins at and flows from the font. The one who has conquered sin and death empowers our ministry in his name. The Spirit whose outpouring begins upon us there continues to be poured out through us to others. How will worship today inspire and challenge folks where you are to claim and stay in this baptismal flow?
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In Your Planning Team
Baptismal imagery, and perhaps a version of reaffirmation of our baptismal vows, such as this, may abound today as you begin this series in Romans.
The key questions for your team to decide have to do with how your congregation can best “get inside” this text. As noted above, the heart of this week’s reading from Romans 6 is in the form of a hymn. Might you want to sing it in chant form (as suggested above), or create a new setting, a refrain you’ll repeat many times until it gets into the hearts and minds of the people?
If so, talk in your team about which verse or verses need to make up the heart of that refrain. That will depend on what core inspiration or challenge is most needed by your congregation so folks will feel as empowered for their next steps in ministry as possible. Are there still lingering concerns about worthiness? Then perhaps build the refrain around verse 6—“The body of sin is destroyed, we are slaves no more.” Are there concerns about power? Then perhaps verse 4: “Jesus raised from death means we are raised to new life.” Or does one of these verses powerfully somehow
“sing your song?” If so, that may be your clue about what to have as refrain.
Then consider “posting” the refrain on a banner, or as a title or background on slides (if you use projection), and on the cover and top of the bulletin or newletter you distribute today.
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Journeying with Jesus: Week 1 "Instruction for Mission and Ministry in Christ's Name"
Today’s reading from Matthew continues Jesus’ instruction to disciples he is sending into mission. In the verses before this week’s reading, the emphasis was on the things the disciples were to do (cast out demons, heal the sick, proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom, travel light, stay for a few days with local families and bless them, move on to the next town or village). The focus of this week’s reading is on the kind of hostile reception they might expect and must learn to accept as they do these things.
Sometimes these verses are taken out of context in ways that suggest that Christians should automatically expect opposition just because they are Christians. While this does happen, we all must pray and support our persecuted sisters and brothers. But for those of us who are part of the dominant culture wherever we find ourselves, any thought that folks or forces are trying to persecute us just because we are part of The UMC or other Christian denominations is more paranoia than reality. So how can “most of us” hear this text?
Jesus was not here proposing at all that being affiliated with a church, in itself, will get us in trouble. These words are spoken to people Jesus is sending into mission in his name—not to comfortable seats in assembly halls on Sunday mornings. It is to those of us who not simply accept the name of Christ, but actually follow him and go where he sends us that these words are spoken. And to that audience his basic word is “Expect opposition and conflict all over the place when you’re actually doing my work. Expect it—don’t run from it, don’t whine about it, and don’t be afraid of it. God’s got your back—even if you get killed in the process. Just deal with it and stay on mission.”
Sitting comfortably in climate-controlled worship spaces, or gathered with people like us to talk about God or Scripture, or sitting around tables in committees to set budgets, develop policies, and otherwise support the institutional structures of church—these are may be good and faithful things for disciples of Jesus to do. Such activities, though, are unlikely to bring much if any opposition from anyone outside the church. One can do many of these things without actually “confessing Jesus’ name before people.” Beelzebub watches, and yawns.
Jesus still calls and sends. He’s not sanguine about the messes we’ll find and sometimes actually cause when we go and do what he’s been trying to train us to do—proclaim God’s kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. These actions can and sometimes will garner threats, cause conflict, and split families. Allegiance to one’s own safety, or to everyone getting along, or even to cherished family relationships cannot trump allegiance to Jesus Christ and his mission—else, and he is quite clear about this, we are not worthy of him.
In all of this, Jesus offers a word of comfort: God loves us more than little birds (10:31).
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In Your Planning Team
Keep your eyes on the prize. The prize is being on mission with Christ in the world and supporting one another as we each seek to live as his disciples sent into his mission fields every day.
Discuss in your planning team what parts of this week’s text will be most valuable for worship today to emphasize so that more folks in your congregation, especially those just starting out, hear and can act on this instruction from Jesus about opposition as encouragement and challenge rather than as discouragement or a temptation to self-pity, demoralization, or self-righteousness.
In other words, design worship today so it does what Jesus does in this text: normalize rather than raise anxiety about opposition, and give tools and the assurance of God’s support (and yours) as you all will face it in one way or another from time to time.
You probably have people in your congregation, or people they know, who have faced (and come through) some sort of adversity or opposition or even hostility toward them and the ministry they were offering. Share these in your team, and have team members gather others. Find ways to use these stories (with permission) or give persons time to share them in testimony (brief and rehearsed).
As these stories are told or shared, keep in mind you may have some in your own congregation who may find them troubling or offensive, including (but not necessarily limited to) what John Wesley referred to as “those that serve God in a low degree” (see his sermon, The More Excellent Way). But it may also spur on those who knew there was a more excellent way, that there was more to the way of Jesus than “enjoying” worship or talking about Scripture with people much like themselves.
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Embodying the Word: The Entrance for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
As we begin a new season, we begin “at the beginning” of the basic pattern of worship.
Genesis: While the Entrance is normally an experience of creating hospitable space with God and the assembly, this reading from Genesis seems to be about an act of radical inhospitality that appears to be justified even by God. It would be inappropriate actually to show inhospitality toward others in the Entrance this day or any day. But consider the possibility of projecting images or signs, or even having signs around the worship space, such as ““Do not enter,” “No skateboarding on steps,” “Wrong Way,” “No Trespassing,” “No Parking,” or “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.” Consider a responsive reading that acknowledges such signs, but also acknowledges the voice of God who provided a future for Ishmael.
Sign: Do Not Enter
One: When the way in is blocked,
Many: God opens another.
Sign: No Skateboarding on Steps/No Trespassing
One: While we protect our property and seek to avoid liability,
Many: God seeks to offer life and joy to those we drive away.
Sign: Wrong Way
One: While we offer a word of judgment
Many: God tries to turn us all around to follow Jesus.
Sign: No Parking
One: While we try to prevent others from staying where we want traffic to flow,
Many: God offers rest and life-giving water.
Sign: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service
One: While we enforce rules to defend health or decorum,
Many: God calls the poor who own no shirts or shoes blessed.
Romans: If you do not wish to offer a reaffirmation of baptism in response to the sermon today, consider doing so as the first acts of worship. Call everyone to face the font, wherever it may be (preferably near the entry to the worship space, which may be near the rear). Have the pastor begin worship from the font, pouring in the water for all to see and hear as the words of the reaffirmation liturgy begin. If you have projection in your worship space, show video images of flowing water.
Matthew represents a realistic call to high commitment to the mission of Jesus. A reaffirmation of baptism (renewing our pledge of allegiance to our Triune God), or a covenant service (see Book of Worship, 288 ff) or “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition” (UMH 607) could be appropriate actions for entrance today. Consider singing the simple text “I have decided to follow Jesus” (TFWS 2129) as a refrain before, after, or throughout this opening act of commitment.
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Greeting: BOW 453 or BOW 456 (Matthew)
Opening Prayer: BOW 464
Confession and Pardon:
- BOW 486 (Matthew)
- Page 8 or 26 in The United Methodist Hymnal (General)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 486 (peace)
- BOW 526 (the world and its peoples)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Dismissal and Blessing:
- BOW 559 and 563
- And/or sing 665 in The United Methodist Hymnal or 2279 in The Faith We Sing.
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