Planning - The Second Sunday after Epiphany
See the texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20).
God's call was difficult for Samuel to identify, and the message with the call (verses 11-20) even harder to deliver to one who had been a father and a mentor.
Psalm Response: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (UMH 854).
Use Tone 2 in D minor if singing the psalm with the response. Whatever musical setting you may use, go for an intimate, meditative sound, and probably a minor key.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20.
Paul confronts the ease with which some, apparently even in the church in Corinth, could justify using prostitutes (in our day, the ever more prevalent use of pornography). This is no mere economic arrangement, Paul reminds. Just as in marriage we are made one with a spouse, so in baptism we have been made one with Christ. As spouses belong to each other, so we belong to Christ, and so we are to give glory and allegiance to the One to whom we belong.
John 1:43-51 .
Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip announces to Nathanael that he has found the one expected by Moses and the prophets. Nathanael is skeptical until Jesus tells him he was watching Nathanael as he was sitting under a fig tree.
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We continue in "Ordinary Time." Through these weeks, the Sundays are given ordinal numbers in relation to a past holy day, in this case, Epiphany. The color, beginning today and lasting until Transfiguration Sunday (February 19) is green. And our readings starting today are divided into two distinct streams. The Old Testament/Psalm and Gospel all focus around themes of calling to discipleship and the ministries into which Jesus calls his disciples. The Epistle reading (from I Corinthians 6 focuses on basic "lifeways" or "practice patterns" of Christian discipleship. Either would make an excellent series. Plan to pick one of these as your focus, as the two streams are not designed to intersect. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Epiphany, Year B" for more details.
This week and next are rich with denominational, ecumenical and wider cultural events. This Sunday is also Human Relations Day.
January 16 is the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance. The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25) begins this coming Wednesday. Next Sunday is Ecumenical Sunday (January 22).
As you plan to observe some or all of these in worship this week and next, keep in mind these words from the United Methodist Book of Worship.
"Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year" (UMBOW, page 422).
So let the readings for the day set the context for how you will approach the additional emphases, rather than the reverse.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday will be observed on January 16. For print resources related to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, see The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 435. For an extensive list of online resources related to Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, see our selection of resources on the Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Calendar.
This week also begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). For more on this, visit the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the World Council of Churches website. Also see "The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle" on the World Council of Churches website. In addition, see the 2012 Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity pages from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. We continue to include the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle as part of the worship planning helps (under Prayers and Concerns, below) as we have since 2006.
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As noted above, there is much that can happen this day. Keeping in mind that our attention to God's word in Scripture is our first calling, the beginning of a new five-week series in worship (whether OT/Gospel or Epistle) may be the most important thing to emphasize. Weave the other elements into the beginning of this series as you may need to, but do not let them distract from making a strong beginning!
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OT/Gospel Stream: A Calling from God, Week 1
The texts from the Old Testament and gospels for these first two weeks are rich with possibilities for worship and preaching. Do not try to cover them all each week, and especially not on this "launch" Sunday! Think less breadth and greater depth. Go deeper in those places where your worshiping community is most ready or most needing to go.
Consider the following some possible places to go deeper as you begin this series today.
How do I know it's God calling me?
A voice calls us to take a next step or launch in a new direction. How do we discover that the voice we are hearing is God's?
Our reading from Samuel today shows us how he came to understand this.
At first, Samuel thought the voice he was hearing was Eli's. Eli had been Samuel's trusted mentor for several years. It was Eli who most clearly represented God to Samuel. Ask in your worship planning team what the voice of God sounds like to them. Pay attention to what you learn from one another in this conversation.
Though it took a while to make the connection, it was Eli who finally helped Samuel understand that the voice he was hearing was the voice of God. Talk in your planning team about how others may have helped them recognize that the voice they were hearing was the voice of God.
How do I/we listen for the voice of God?
Eli gave Samuel some basic instruction in listening to the voice he was hearing. Samuel was to offer himself and all his attention, letting God do the talking. Perhaps this was a form of prayer Samuel had not yet learned. How well have you learned, taught, or practiced this as a congregation?
A recent study of prayer practices by United Methodists indicated that only sixteen percent of the surveyed congregations had in place any intentional process to teach people to pray. As the study notes, congregations seem simply to assume that people will learn these practices on their own; but as this Scripture reveals (and as a larger portion of the non-Anglo congregations surveyed practiced!), prayer turns out to be something that does not "come naturally" to many people, and so must be taught. So who teaches prayer? How do they teach it, and what do they teach? How might worship today offer at least a primer in some practices of prayer (and in particular, listening prayer) that people can take away from them and work with through the coming week?
Is God calling me? I'm no pastor!
The "call of Samuel" in today's reading actually has nothing to do with pastoral ministry or congregations, either. Though Samuel was already being apprenticed by Eli to become a priest, when God called, it was for Samuel to do something else entirely. And in this case, God wasn't even asking for a long-term commitment. What did God want? God wanted Samuel to listen, and then to speak a challenging word of warning to his mentor. Responding to this first call from God opened Samuel to hearing God calling again many more times in his life and relaying what he heard to others. After years of hearing and responding to God's callings, Samuel became known as a trustworthy prophet.
Take some time in your worship planning team to talk about how some of you may have experienced a call like Samuel's. Are some of you being apprenticed in some other profession, but now experience God revealing something that needs to be shared more widely in your current context?
What processes in your congregation help people attend both to their profession and to the guidance they are receiving from God, rather than imposing on the experience of the guidance the presumption that God speaking means that God is "calling them into the ministry" (as if the only "real" ministry is pastoring a congregation).
What language or thought patterns might you be working against to help people hear and connect appropriately with Samuel's call?
What can you do in worship symbolically, not requiring words, or perhaps in your selection of hymns or other songs to combat any "entrenched biases" about "calling to ministry" and to open people up to considering what the voice of God may be asking them to do in the contexts where they find themselves already?
John offers us this week, and Mark next week, stories about a different kind of calling -- a calling to become disciples. How the call comes, and how different people respond is different for each. This week, we hear the "call to discipleship" stories of Philip and Nathanael.
What is a call to discipleship?
A call to discipleship, and then what the life and ministry of disciples involves, is at the heart of this whole five weeks of readings from the Old Testament and the gospels. You may want to begin today, or pick up next week, focusing on what discipleship itself entailed in Jesus' day, and what it means for us now.
We see the call to discipleship in its very simplest form in Jesus' call to Philip in verse 43: "Follow me."
Again, the call was not, "Become a preacher." Nor was it "Change the world." The call was to follow Jesus. It was a call to become his apprentice. It was a call to learn how he lived and to learn to do the same.
There are still a few professions that offer apprenticeships before one enters into practice for oneself. Medicine is among them. So are a number of the building trades (plumbing, electrical, ironworking, to name a few). Ask your worship planning team to name or talk with people who have been through such a residency, apprenticeship, or internship to describe the hands-on, day to day life of following the teachers they experienced. Consider how to use images and snippets of the stories these folks tell in worship today as you explore what discipleship means.
And remember-- Early Christianity had a three-year "apprenticeship" called the catechumenate. This was a time when one or a few others in the community would come alongside those seeking to become Christians to teach them, day by day, what it takes to follow Jesus. Early Methodism had a similar process in its trial class meetings, six months of learning how to live the baptismal covenant by learning how and helping one another practice the General Rules. After being in a trial class meeting for six months, people could apply to become members of the Methodist Society. If accepted, they would continue in a "regular" class meeting to continue to help them grow in their faithfulness to Christ.
Being Ready for Yes!
If you are going to talk about what a call to discipleship means, be sure to be ready to point people to ways they can actively pursue it! It's probably not a Sunday School class. Perhaps it's something more like a Covenant Discipleship Group, an Emmaus 4th Day Group, a campus ministry, a United Methodist Men's Mentoring group, or some other small group (5-7 people) where folks continue to build discipling relationships with one another and hold one another accountable for living as disciples and building discipling relationships with others in their daily lives.
Philip in today's reading was more than ready. His immediate response to Jesus' call was to invite Nathanael to join him. In fact, it was not Jesus who first called Nathanael at all. It was Philip!
Part of being ready for Yes is recognizing the fact that for some, a call to follow Jesus, actually to follow him rather than to show up in worship or participate in congregational programs, is exactly what they've been longing to hear.
You may have one or more examples of such eager, immediate response in your congregation -- whether recently or at some point in the past. Go or send people from your worship planning team to go and talk to these people about what that was like. Perhaps someone would be willing to share a testimony about it in worship. In sharing such stories, the point is not to make it seem that everyone should have such an immediate, eager response, but rather that some do, and that you're glad as a church to welcome the next such person who does.
Nathanael, of course, was not. His responses were nothing less than sarcastic. He seems to think that Philip's excited report about finding "the one foretold by Moses and the prophets" was unbelievable, and not in a good way. Had Philip lost his mind? Could anything good come out of Nazareth?
Jesus was not deterred by the response. He played right back with Nathanael (verses 47-50). Was Nathanael being serious when he claimed Jesus was "Son of God" and "King of Israel" (verse 49)? Probably not. But he did follow, all the same, through the ministry and death of Jesus, and beyond (see John 21:2).
What should disciples expect? Why would we answer this call?
Disciples should expect lots of ordinary life, to be sure. To follow a person as a disciple means you are with that person most of the time. And most of the time most people, including Jesus, are doing fairly ordinary things, such as walking, or eating, or sleeping.
But here Jesus offers something that may be easily missed or misread. "Truly, truly I tell you [all], you will see the heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Do we expect to see the skies split and angels all around? That is exactly what Jesus tells these first followers to expect and what many Christians through the ages have come also to expect.
"The heaven opened up" means that the existing world order is being broken into and invaded by God. Discipleship to Jesus involves becoming able to see the opening of God's world and reign into this world and its powers in real time. It means we get to see what others so easily miss -- that this world, as it is, is deeply broken in ways that only God can (and will and does!) restore. It also means participating in this opening of heaven as it happens.
So who among you has a testimony of seeing the heaven opening in real time? How does being able to see this change and inform the lives of these disciples?
Angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man echoes the story of Jacob encountering God in a dream at what would come to be called Bethel (Genesis 28:12). In the dream, the angels ascended and descended a ladder -- the pathway from earth to heaven and heaven to earth. Here, Jesus indicates he himself is that pathway, and his disciples will come to know this.
Jesus does not put these images of splitting skies and angels abounding out there as claims for himself, but rather as promises of what those disciples, and we who join them, will encounter as we follow him.
Do you expect this? How are you inviting others to expect this?
Epistle Stream: Christian Lifeways, Week 1
Treating the Body as Temple of the Holy Spirit
Perhaps in U.S. culture there could be no better "attraction" for the beginning of a worship series than sex. And that's exactly where this series starts!
I Corinthians is full of practical advice from Paul addressing specific issues that had become problematic among the Christian community in Corinth after he had left as the "founding pastor."
Paul's responses are rarely "here's exactly what to believe" or "here's what I think about X" or even, "here's what to do about Y." Instead, Paul points these Christians, again and again, back to basic lifeways, ways to live out their faithfulness to Christ as his disciples and as new creations in the Holy Spirit.
This week's reading is exemplary of that pattern. While Paul is clear that having sex with prostitutes and any other forms of sexual impurity are to be shunned and rejected by Christians, he does this with an appeal to a lifeway -- how we treat our bodies. Our bodies, he reminds, are "a temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6:19, translation mine).
It was and remains a remarkable turn of phrase. Temples were places where the community assembled or where one went to perform certain religious rites or duties. Whatever god or divine principle was worshiped there, that was the place where that entity was thought to dwell, and its rites were the rites appropriate for connecting with that entity. In some of the temples in Corinth, those rites included sexual acts with temple prostitutes as a means of uniting the individual with the divine.
Paul turns tables on the idea of temple in this short phrase. Temple is now no longer, for Christians, a place where one goes. Temple rites do not unite us with the divine. Temple is now everywhere our bodies go. And our bodies are already the "indwelling place" of the Holy Spirit.
This is why shunning sexual impurity matters. It desecrates our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we are not free agents with our bodies if the Holy Spirit indwells us. We are, as Paul reminds, "bought with a price" (6:20a).
But the larger question and challenge for us is not about shunning sexual impurity. That's a given. And we need to learn and teach and practice better ways to help one another do that. But the larger question for them and for us to live into is how, in all our lives, to glorify God in our bodies (6:20b), the temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
So start with the sexual issues. They matter. But in your worship planning team, take this where Paul ultimately takes it -- to how we learn to use our bodies, all the time, to glorify God.
Who does this well in your midst? Who continues to learn how to glorify God in his or her body more and more? Talk with these people about what they've learned, what they're still learning, and how they've learned it. Then weave these stories or testimony into your selection of images, music and ways of praying in worship today.
Whatever you can do with this during the "worship hour" will, of course, be only a start, although it may be in many cases far more than anyone may have provided in a long time. Be sure to let that start lead somewhere! If you do not already have in place some good linkages to help people take the stewardship of their sexuality and their bodies seriously, find them or start creating them so that what happens in worship today will be more than "Be warmed and filled" (James 2:16).
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Compass points for the Season after Epiphany
Find your focus, grounded in one of the streams of the biblical texts for the coming weeks. Remember there is no "Season of Epiphany." Do not try to impose ideas about "light" or "manifestation to the world" on each Sunday. These texts are not trying to accomplish any such themes. Listen carefully to the two streams of Scriptures with your worship planning team, select one to follow for this season, find the points of deep resonance within that stream of texts with what is happening in your congregation, community and calling where you are, and design and plan from there. If not already, at least as you near the end of Ordinary Time, be watchful for ways the texts open you to prepare for Lent, the season of intensive baptismal preparation and reconciliation.
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- BOW 305 (Second Sunday After Epiphany); BOW 307 (Human Relations Day)
- BOW 456 (John)
- BOW 315, 423 (Human Relations Day)
- BOW 313 (1 Samuel)
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer:
- UMH 205, "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (Psalm 139)
- UMH 125, "Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness" (I Samuel)
Response to the Word:
- UMH 463, "Lord, Speak to Me" (I Samuel)
- UMH 502, "Thy Holy Wings, O Savior" (Psalm)
- UMH 501, "O Thou Who Camest From Above" (I Corinthians)
- UMH 475, "Come Down, O Love Divine" (John)
- TFWS 2127, "Come and See" (John)
- TFWS 2130, "The Summons" (John)
Concerns and Prayers:
(There are many options for this week depending on the flow and direction of the service you plan.)
- BOW 423 (Human Relations Day)
- UMH 403, "For True Life"
- UMH 570, "Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola" (Human Relations)
- BOW 435 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- BOW 510, "For Discernment" (1 Samuel)
- BOW 519, "For Others" (Human Relations)
- BOW 526, "For the World and Its Peoples" (Human Relations)
- BOW527, Form of Intercessions (Human Relations, Samuel, John)
- BOW 544, "For Leaders" (John, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- BOW 547, "For a Victim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression" (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Cyprus, Greece, Turkey
Prayer of Confession:
(Be sure to add Words of Assurance and/or Pardon following the prayer of confession.)
- BOW 480 (Psalm)
- BOW 492 or BOW 493 (Human Relations)
- BOW 478 (1 Samuel)
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71, 72-73, 78-79, or BOW 58-59.
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 552 (Psalm)
Dismissal With Blessing:
- The theme of intimacy suggests BOW 562 or BOW 563.
- A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using BOW 559 and the pastor could speak the blessing using BOW 561 or UMH 669.
- BOW 559 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- Or, use a form of the Franciscan Blessing
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