Planning - Second Sunday in Lent
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
El Shaddai (God of the Mountains/God of Compassion) calls Abram to be exclusively loyal and offers to covenant with him to make him (to be renamed Abraham) the father and Sarai (to be renamed Sarah) the mother of many nations.
Psalm Response: Psalm 22:23-31 (UMH 752-753).
The Lord's acts of deliverance for one people in one age will lead to generations of praise to the Lord worldwide. Note that verses 23-24 are not included in our hymnal version (it reflects a previous version of the lectionary). Use response one and verses 25-31. If you sing the psalm, use Tone 4 in A minor with Response 1.
Paul reminds the Jewish-Christian congregations in Rome that the founding stories of Judaism point to a God who graciously offers to include people in covenant on the basis of faith, not perfect obedience to the law.
Following Jesus means following him to his death, and possibly our own. Jesus tells the disciples that he will suffer and die at the hands of the religious authorities. Peter rebukes him privately, but Jesus rebukes Peter in front of all the other disciples. Jesus then turns to the crowds to declare that all who want to be his followers must take up their cross and follow him. If you're in this for yourself, you will lose everything. But if you're in this to follow Jesus and see the gospel lived, even if you die, you've gained it all.
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The early church developed Lent as a season to prepare those to be baptized at Easter to respond to the questions they will be asked and the vows they will take.
This gospel theme this week is "What It Takes to Be My Disciples." This may be a good time to review these questions in worship, in classes, small groups, and through text, email, and social media:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior and promise to serve him as your Lord?
Will your remain faithful member/s of Christ's holy church and serve as Christ's representative/s in the world?
What does it look like to say yes to each of these questions -- and then actually live this way?
See "Planning Lent and Easter for Congregation, Group, and Home, Year B" for an overview of the biblical themes for each Sunday of this season.
Friday, March 16, marks the 40th day before the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church (April 24-May 4). Download 50 Days of Prayer for General Conference from Upper Room Ministries in multiple formats (including ePub) and languages (English, French, Portuguese), so all in your congregation may join this journey of prayer each day, and especially as you gather for worship on Sunday.
March 18, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, is designated as One Great Hour of Sharing Sunday. The special offering collected this day underwrites the administrative and programming expenses of UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR provides direct assistance, coordinates volunteers, and partners with organizations on the ground worldwide to bring both immediate and long-term relief after natural and human disasters. This special offering makes it possible for 100 percent of donations to specific projects to be spent solely on providing relief, with zero percent administrative costs taken out of them.
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This week's readings bring together strong images of God's grace in initiating covenant and equally strong calls for our response to God's call. The gospel, which is the focus for these weeks of Lent, focuses particularly on the necessary response if we are to be his disciples.
Images evoking baptism seem particularly appropriate: flowing rivers, rapids perhaps, the "whitecaps" of God's grace, even waterfalls -- unstoppable, beautiful, growing (perhaps from a drop to a mighty stream, like the praise grows, almost exponentially, in Psalm 22), and shaping everything around them.
The question is, will we jump in and allow ourselves to be carried in this flow, even at risk to our own lives? Or will we stand along the sidelines or try to stand against it to preserve ourselves?
Will we put our whole trust in Jesus' grace and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? Or will we instead assert our own lordship and follow Jesus when it seems convenient to us?
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Atmospherics: The Texts
Week 2/Challenge 2: What It Takes to Be Christ's Disciples
This week's gospel reflects the expectations of Jesus for any who will follow him, for any who will be his disciples. The bottom line is that we follow him no matter what, even when that means discomfort or danger to ourselves.
Note which comes first: the call to follow, not the call to self-endangerment.
And note, as well, that the call to follow has always, throughout the gospels (including in Mark!), come after Jesus has declared and demonstrated the good news of God's kingdom drawn near.
We are called and invited to follow Jesus into the fullness of life with God, which also means we are called and invited to enter God's own struggle against the "powers" that bring chaos, destruction, and death. Joining God unreservedly in God's mission as Christ's disciples, we become conduits of God's life, cleansing, healing, and delivering love to those who have been damaged or destroyed by the powers that be.
Genesis opens up to us two realities at once: God's gracious intention and our responsibility to live it out. God calls Abram to enter into a covenant when Abram and Sarai are very old and still without a proper heir. God will make Abram and Sarai the ancestors of many nations (17:4). Abram, in return, is to "walk before me and be blameless" (17:1) and to keep the sign of this covenant alive (circumcision of all males henceforward, 17:9-14).
God does not abrogate God's side of covenants. But there would be two means by which Abram or his descendents could do so. They could fail to "walk before God and be blameless" or they could fail to perpetuate the covenant sign of circumcision.
Reading this story through the lens of the gospel for today opens up another vista. Discipleship to Jesus is another invitation into covenant with God, to "walk before God and be blameless." To "walk before God" means to carry out one's life in the face of God. To be "blameless" (NRSV) means to have complete integrity, or as it is often translated, to be perfect.
Jesus, Son of God, true God of true God, calls those who would be his disciples to nothing less. The covenant signs he tells us to keep are the new covenant in his blood-- the meal, Holy Communion-- and the sign of our rebirth-- the bath, baptism. Keeping these signs alone is not the substance of our discipleship any more than circumcision alone was the substance of the covenant with Abram. The substance of our discipleship is following Jesus, walking in the mission of Jesus with integrity, toward perfection in love in this life, even in the face of the potential of a shameful execution at the hands of powers that are threatened by his way.
Romans is the exegetical hinge here. The heart of Paul's argument in this week's reading is that God has always operated toward humankind graciously and on the basis of faith, starting with Abram. In Romans, the faith we exercise is faith in the "one who raised Jesus from the dead." It is not enough that we merely "keep the law" or even keep the signs of the covenant given to us (baptism and Holy Communion), though we are certainly called to do the latter. What God called Abram to do God also calls us to do: trust and actually follow in God's way.
Mark's gospel lays this week's theme before us the most directly. "Whoever wishes to follow after me, deny yourself, take up your crossbeam, and follow me."
Denying self here does not mean "engage in extreme ascetic practices." Nor does it mean "Give up chocolate for Lent." The word is not "discipline" oneself. Self-discipline, as Paul and James remind, is important as well. But that is not the point here. The verb "aparneomai" (commonly translated "deny") comes from the realm of legal and property transactions, and it means to renounce a relationship with someone or a claim upon property. To deny oneself, take up one's crossbeam, and follow Jesus means to renounce claim upon one's own life, facing the possibility that following Jesus can mean shameful execution. Jesus alone has claim over our lives if we are his disciples -- not death, not other powers, and not ourselves.
There is to be no evasion of the reality that execution may lie this way. The powers arrayed against God's reign are as deadly serious about defending themselves as God is "lively" serious about overcoming them to bring new life to all. This is why Jesus counter-rebukes Peter in the strongest possible terms "Get behind me, Satan!" (8:33). It is also why he adds, "So, whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this wicked, adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of such a one whenever he comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels."
Get in. Get all the way in. Be convinced of the truth of God's reign, and of Jesus, God's prophet and Son. Follow him wherever he leads, period. No backing down. No backing out. No hedging bets. Plunge in. Stay in.
This is about life and death, about life overcoming death. Back out or back down from following Jesus and declaring God's reign in word and deed, and you are on the side of death. But plunge in, and stay in; and though you may die, you are part of the movement of Life Himself.
On this second Sunday of Lent, to which of these angles into this core message are those who will gather with you in worship most ready or most needing to respond? Do they need (or do they bear witness to) God as provider of a future and a way where there appears to be no way? Then while you may read and work from all the texts, you might center around Genesis.
Are you struggling with how to connect the call of Jesus to the call of God more broadly? Romans might be your starting place for worship design.
Or do you need to address the "meat" head on -- whether folk will follow Jesus, get all the way in, or not? In that case, Mark might be your beginning and ending point for worship planning.
Pastors, you may not know yourself where to begin. But there is wisdom in your worship planning team, the Spirit's wisdom through the whole body of those who are praying and working together for this encounter with God in Word, song, art, music, dance, testimony, and Table. Seek and trust the Spirit's wisdom through the body for the starting place, then build out with all the creativity and skill and networks of relationships around that table.
Praise in Lent?
The Psalm this Sunday is Psalm 22. We may be more familiar with it from Good Friday or references to the death of Jesus. But this week's verses are from the latter part of the psalm, offering praise for deliverance from death.
Yes, praisein Lent!
United Methodists continue a long habit of thinking of Lent as an extended Holy Week, full of penitence and the suffering of Jesus. Help break the United Methodists where you gather of this habit!
Remember, the readings and calendar for the Sundays in Lent are not particularly penitential or focused on Jesus' suffering. While today's gospel reading does foretell his suffering and ours when we follow him, the point of all this season isn't his suffering, but our preparation to "take the plunge" into the baptismal waters and follow him wherever he leads.
Our ministry of intercession as the church can be enriched by using comprehensive forms of intercessory prayer that include the whole scope of the needs of the church and the world, including world affairs, missional issues in the life of the congregation, prayers for the churches in the world (see "Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer" below) and prayer by name for those in your congregation and every congregation who are preparing for baptism, reconciliation, renewal, or discernment of vocation. See UMBOW 495, UMH 877, or TFWS 2201 for examples of "Prayers of the People" that help facilitate this more comprehensive and interactive way of congregational prayer. See Intercessions for the Christian People (also viewable on Google Print) for weekly forms of intercession based on the Revised Common Lectionary.
What is going on in the world that calls your congregation to prayer?
Do you have a deacon appointed to your church? If so, it is very appropriate that he or she lead the intercessions as an expression of the deacon's vocation of "relating the gathered life of Christians to their ministries in the world, interrelating worship in the gathered community with service to God in the world" (2008 Discipline, 328).
The United States continues to be engaged in the longest war of its military's history in Afghanistan. Continue to pray for peace in the world and for those in the armed services. See "Praying for Peace in the Face of War: Resources for Worship."
Given the focus on the cross in the gospel lesson, today may be a good time to consider commending the sign of the cross if you have not used this rite at an earlier time in the initiation process, perhaps immediately prior to or following the intercessions. See Come to the Waters, page 111.
The words from the gospel lesson about "taking up the cross and following" are spoken to the crowd, a crowd that understood the cross as an instrument of torture and death for notorious criminals and those who stepped out of line with Rome or dared to speak truth to power. Many in our culture speak of "their cross" primarily as troubles in their lives or families -- troubles that bring pain and sorrow, but not usually death and public shame. We may be tempted to view the current economic crisis as such a cross, bringing pain and sorrow, but not necessarily also bringing the good news of God's reign. How might you help your congregation begin to name and take up what "the cross" as Jesus describes it here might actually be for them today? This might be an act of response to the word or in response to a call to discipleship.
If you have used "Connecting Worship with Daily Living in Lent," you might ask the people how they are doing with the commitments they made. Be sure to have copies available for those who may not have received one earlier. Or call the people to acts that make for peace. Or if not, you might begin this week! It's never too late.
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Hymn Suggestions: For music suggestions for the service, see The Faith We Sing Worship Planner (TFWS), the indexes in The United Methodist Hymnal (UMH), and Lectionary Hymns on this website.
Call to Worship: UMH 292, stanza 1, "What Wondrous Love Is This"
Greeting: UMBOW 343 (Mark)
Opening Prayer: UMBOW 467 (Genesis)
Opening Prayer: UMBOW 469 (Genesis, Romans)
Call to Prayer: UMBOW 187, "Jesus We Are Here" (Mark)
Call to Prayer: UMBOW 196, "Call to Prayer" (Mark)
Prayer of Confession: UMBOW 476 (Mark)
Prayer of Confession: UMBOW 483 (Genesis, Romans)
Prayer: UMH 268, Lent (Mark)
Prayer: UMH 403, For True Life (Mark)
Prayer: UMBOW 336 (Mark)
Prayer: UMBOW 511, For God's Reign (Psalm)
Prayer of Great Thanksgiving with Communion: UMBOW 60-61
Prayer of Thanksgiving (if no Communion): UMBOW 551 (Genesis, Mark)
Benediction: UMBOW 189, "May This Mind Be in Us" (Romans)
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