Planning - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
While Moses was up on the mountain with God, the people became anxious. Aaron leads them to fashion a golden calf and to worship it. This appalled God and Moses. Only through Moses' intercession was disaster averted.
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (UMH 829).
Paul addresses the specific conflict in the community at Philippi head-on, calling the two chief parties in the conflict by name and asking for the assistance of Syzygos, a bishop whose name means "yokemate," to help resolve it. The letter then turns towards its close, with exhortations to rejoice, trust God, and focus all thoughts on worthy things.
Jesus tells the parable of the Wedding Banquet. Those invited did not respond, so the king ordered his servants to hit the streets and alleys to invite everyone to come. One person came who refused to dress appropriately; he was promptly thrown out. The conclusion: many are called, but few are chosen.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Today (October 9) is the "assigned" Sunday for Children's Sabbath (GBGM page that hosts links to other pages, including Discipleship Ministries resources) -- Children's Sabbath for the UMC is October 7-9. Children's Sunday is October 9. General Conference in 2000 changed the date of this ecumenical observance for United Methodists so it would not conflict with Laity Sunday, but in 2008 also provided for Children's Sabbath to be celebrated on the Third Sunday assuming that Laity Sunday would be covered at another time in the year.
Today is also the last Sunday in Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month. For planning resources and sample liturgical texts, see "Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month" by the Reverend Liana Prez Flix and "Preaching and Worship Resources for Hispanic Heritage Month." For a list of music resources, see "Resources for Spanish, Hispanic, and Latino Worship and Music Training." For many more Spanish language and Hispanic-Latino resources, see our Hispanic/Latino Resources page. For new resources from the ReThink Church media campaign (United Methodist Communications), click here.
And today is the second week of Discipleship Ministries' new "Season of Saints." Each week, we're asking you to consider highlighting, in some way, a historical Christian saint, a saint who is part of our United Methodist heritage, a saint you know personally in your congregation or community, and a saint in another United Methodist congregation or ministry. You can remember them in prayers, create special bulletin inserts, or tweet links about them during the week between Sundays. Exactly how you keep this season is yours to create and have fun with.
We're also asking you to help other United Methodists learn and share stories of the saints you know through the UMC Worship Blog. Resources for the Season of Saints are included in these weekly worship planning helps for October and All Saints Day/Sunday and on the UMC Worship Blog.
For October 9: Christian Saint: John Woolman (died October 7, 1771)
United Methodist Saint: Jennie Fowler Willing (died October 6, 1916)
Each week during this season, additional resources and links will also be provided in a special "Season of Saints" section immediately preceding "Embodying the Word."
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
Covenant Under Test
Today's reading from Exodus is full of rich imagery, high drama, and challenging theology. Moses "talks God down" from utterly obliterating the people because of their idolatry and transferring the promises of descendents wholly to Moses and his line.
Is God angry and out of control? Is a mere mortal bringing God to God's senses? How do you and people in your congregation respond to this story?
Some may argue that God was testing Moses, tempting him with power to see how he would respond. The Bible itself gives no indication of this.
What was tested, however, was the relationship between God, Moses, and God's people, Israel. It was tested by the Israelites themselves, who came to Aaron demanding he make gods for them. It was tested by Aaron, who so quickly complied without apparently putting up any sort of resistance. It was tested by God, who proved ready to try to start from scratch, much as this same God was already known to have attempted in the Great Flood. And it was tested by Moses, who dared to question God, speaking up both for the sake of the people and of God's own reputation among the nations. How would it look to the other nations and their gods should the God of Israel obliterate these people after having appeared to have rescued them?
The relationship ultimately held. God would be their God. Moses would be their leader. Aaron would be reclaimed as a priest of YHWH among them. The people would return to the worship of YHWH alone.
Infidelity of the highest sort occurred. The hope embodied in the covenant prevailed. And Moses' persistent and insistent intercession was at the heart of it.
Where do you and the people of your congregation and community find yourselves surrounded by infidelity, defiantly broken relationships, and disintegrating community? Who is standing in intercession before the only one who can bring deliverance out of the mess that people have made of their lives? What are you/they hearing God say? What are you/they saying and doing in response?
Disintegration, infidelity and brokenness are conditions that call disciples of Jesus to fervent intercession. With today being Children's Sabbath, the effects of these things on children's lives may be front and center.
Start with that call to fervent intercession. Design worship today that enables people to engage in such fervent intercession for congregation, community, and world. Consider whether or how today's text may be calling some in your congregation to a community-wide ministry of intercession with people in other congregations or even other faith communities.
If you do not celebrate Holy Communion today, make this time of fervent prayer the focal point of response to the word. If you do celebrate Holy Communion today, consider incorporating these "fervent intercessions" into the Great Thanksgiving itself, placing them between the two paragraphs of the epiclesis -- after the paragraph beginning "Pour out your Holy Spirit" and before "By your Spirit make us one with Christ." Provide promptings for spontaneous outpourings of fervent prayer, rather than a written text. And prepare folks to offer themselves in such fervent prayer in this way by demonstrating how such fully embodied intercession may be offered during other parts of worship, perhaps including the sermon time.
Whether Communion is celebrated or not, leave "plenty good room" for this kind of praying, which may be a first in some of our congregations. Implore God for the sake of the brokenness and infidelity you see around you, especially but not only for the sake of children on this Children's Sabbath, and call on God to rescue and not to destroy or allow destruction. Then be sure to listen for God's response, which may come in unexpected ways.
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Philippians: Of One Heart and Mind
Making Peace with One Another, Experiencing Peace with God
Paul's letter to the Philippians is heading for its finale. This is thus the time both to name the conflict that instigated this letter and its earnest pleading to return to the fuller levels of communitas they had previously known, and to a final flurry of communitas-basics as he bids them farewell.
The conflict appears to be led by two influential female leaders in the church, Euodia and Syntyche. Paul calls on a third person, perhaps a bishop (Philippians 1:1 is addressed to the the saints, bishops and deacons in Philippi), to intervene decisively and bring the conflict to a close. We do not know whether the word "Syzyge" is a name, a title, or a term of friendship. Translated as it often is, it means "sharer of the yoke" ("yokefellow" in KJV), literally, or "loyal companion" (NRSV), more figuratively. However, given the fact that Paul has named the other two, it seems reasonable to assume this is a name, and probably the name of a respected male leader in the church. It is not unusual for Paul to be this directive toward or about specific persons in his letters. A number of early Christian documents attest to the role of bishops as judges or arbitrators given the authority to decide and resolve disputes in the community. Here, Paul names the parties involved, calls for the help of Syzygos, and then quickly changes the subject back to the larger theme of what makes for Christian communitas. This would seem to indicate his confidence that "Syzygos" was someone who would simply take care of this and all could move on.
Who "handles" conflict in your congregation or community? Are the parties named, or simply known but not talked about openly? Are there any decisive processes or people who have the respect and capacity to "make the call" so that the conflict can cease or be transformed? Or does conflict seem to play itself out endlessly, keeping everyone at some distance and impeding the capacity for Christian communitas where you are?
Even if you find yourselves in the latter position, there may be people in your congregation and community who remember times when there were ways and people who could "make the call" so that the community could move on. Find those stories. Let them be heard and celebrated in worship today. And see what these stories may open up as possibilities for such processes and people today -- processes and people who are truly a gift from God so that the church can do what the rest of this week's reading calls for.
Paul is realistic about conflict. What the rest of this chapter provides is not a way to avoid or escape or prevent conflict from happening in the first place. Conflict sismplys will occur. What the practices commended in verses 4-9 create is not a community devoid of conflict, but a community that has developed capacities to handle conflict with confidence and grace as it comes.
These practices are simple and profound. Always rejoice in the Lord. Practice gentleness. Remember the presence of God and the return of Jesus. Rather than holding on more tightly in challenging circumstances, pour out your souls to God in prayer with thanksgiving. Flow with the peace of God. And stay focused in your thinking on what is good, what is beneficial, what is working more than on what is broken, bad or lacking. These are concrete practices, disciplines of heart and mind that Paul had taught them before (verse 9). He reminds the congregation of these practices here once again and bids them stay practiced in them.
What specific practices and disciplines for Christian communitas do you actively teach to one another and to others who enter your community of faith? Where do you see the fruit of these practices and disciplines in the lives of those who engage them? What are you doing or what might you begin to do to ensure that more of these (if not all of them) are actively, concretely taught where you are? How are you supporting and holding people accountable for mastering these practices and disciplines where you are? How can worship today help people experience the possibility and hope of such practices in their lives?
And on which part of this reading might you need to focus as a congregation today? On the active engagement of conflict transformation (verses 1-3). Or on the practices and disciplines that nurture Christian communitas (verses 4-9)?
If you need to focus on conflict transformation, consider how the sequence of Invitation to the Lord's Table, Confession, Pardon and Peace may become a lively way of enabling movement toward deeper reconciliation -- not just today, but from today forward. The Peace is, after all, intended to be such an agency of reconciliation, answering the call of the invitation to enable us to be those who "seek to be at peace with one another" (UMH 7).
If you need to focus more on practices for communitas, consider drawing particular attention during the sermon to the second part of the "epiclesis" in the Great Thanksgiving ("By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world," UMH 10), and describe these practices as those means of grace by which we embody such oneness "until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet" (The Lord IS near!). During the distribution of the blessed bread and wine, consider singing this week the Taiz piece, "In the Lord I'll be Ever Thankful" (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 381). [Audio sample]
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
The parable of the wedding guest in Matthew has been the subject of many sermons over the years, including John Wesley's "Of the Wedding Garment." The opening paragraphs of Wesley's sermon reference many other sermons and commentators of Wesley's own day and several preceding generations and show how each, in its own way, was either incoherent or encouraged a slide into Antinomianism. Instead, he argued, the wedding garment points to "the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).
Wesley then goes on to describe what that holiness does not entail -- neither the adoration of holy things, nor acts of "holy war" (persecution or worse), nor mere harmlessness ("Whereas were a man as harmless as a post, he might be as far from holiness as heaven from earth") nor even doing all the good one can to others.
"Yea, suppose a person of this amiable character to do much good wherever he is; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, relieve the stranger, the sick, the prisoner; yea, and to save many souls from death: it is possible he may still fall far short of that holiness without which he cannot see the Lord."
Nor is it even "attending upon all the ordinances of God."
So what is the wedding garment, "the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord"? Wesley cites Galations 5:6 ("faith which worketh by love" KJV) and writes: "In a word, holiness is the having 'the mind that was in Christ,' and the 'walking as Christ walked.'"
What Wesley did not note in his sermon, but is entirely compatible with what he said, is that the wedding garment would actually have been supplied by the host in such cases, by the king in this parable. That someone was in the midst of the party without wearing the wedding garment was thus a sign that though that person had accepted the "invitation," he had not, in Wesley's terms, accepted the also freely offered "qualification." In short, though the garment was offered, this person refused to put it on. It was that refusal that left this person to be cast into the "outer darkness."
Here is the conclusion of Wesley's sermon, accordingly:
The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. This he has proclaimed to them in his word, together with the terms of salvation, revealed by the Son of his love, who gave his own life that they that believe in him might have everlasting life. And for these he has prepared a kingdom, from the foundation of the world.
But he will not force them to accept of it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel; he saith, "Behold, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Choose life, that ye may live."
Choose holiness, by my grace; which is the way, the only way, to everlasting life. He cries aloud, "Be holy, and be happy; happy in this world, and happy in the world to come." "Holiness becometh his house for ever!"
This is the wedding garment of all that are called to "the marriage of the Lamb." Clothed in this, they will not be found naked: "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." But as to all those who appear in the last day without the wedding garment, the Judge will say, "Cast them into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
How is your congregation or how are Christians in your larger community BOTH inviting people to experience God's justifying grace and preparing people to grow into "that holiness without which no one can see God?" Methodism was a movement equally intent on inviting people to experience God's justifying grace AND on creating the contexts in which they could more reliably grow in God's sanctifying grace, into "entire holiness," toward "Christian perfection." Methodists considered it an act of cruelty only to invite people to the feast, but leave them unqualified to enjoy its bounty with others. This is why, in time, John Wesley came to refuse to do any field preaching in towns that lacked an active Methodist society. He would not invite people unless he knew there were reliable ways in that place also to "qualify" them.
Fast rewind to the first century and the first hearers of this parable. Were they thinking in these terms of justifying and sanctifying grace? Would Jesus' own proclamation or teaching up to that point have given folks that kind of language or framework for "getting" the parable?
Probably not. While that does not diminish the value of Wesley's interpretation, it does mean that there are other issues we are called to consider as well. The parable says that God's kingdom is like the king in this story. The king wants to throw a party to honor his son's marriage. The "right people" refused to come, twice; the second time actually beating up and killing some of the servants sent to bear the invitation, so the king killed them and burned their cities to the ground.
Now there's an uncomfortable thought. The kingdom of God destroys those who refuse to come and mistreat its messengers, and not just them, but the communities around them.
Where do you see signs of destruction around you that may have been the result of refusal to embrace the kingdom's invitation to rejoice with God in the Son? Be discerning, but not hesitant. This parable goes there. (And there is no Moses in this story to call a halt to that!) What is the point of noticing and naming the "rage of God's kingdom"? Much the same as Wesley's talk of "fleeing the wrath to come." Ignoring or belittling the call of God's kingdom occurs at the belittler's own peril with real risk for those around them.
This is Jesus, mean and wild. Listen to him together as a worship planning team. Don't avoid this. Don't soft-pedal it. Don't try to tame him or sanitize him or his full teaching about God's kingdom for your congregation. God's kingdom means business. Ignoring it leaves one on the ash heap of history.
So the king(dom) invites all. And all sorts come, good and bad. And out of all these good and bad people there remains one, just one, without the garment the king had supplied for all to wear. Everyone else was wearing it. This one was not. He must have refused to put it on. Refusing the garment meant this man really did not belong at the banquet, any more than the previously "chosen" belonged. He had entered, but not to be part of what was happening there. The king(dom) casts him out.
God's kingdom is like this king -- inviting the right people, destroying those who belittle the invitation, inviting all, and pushing aside those who embrace the invitation only half-heartedly.
"Many are called, few are chosen" is the pithy saying appended to the end of this parable. If it fits, it's ironic, as in this story many are called and only one is excluded! Perhaps a better summary statement might be from Luke's gospel: "Whoever puts hand to the plow and turns back is not fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
Who is the audience? It is the same as last week's text -- followers of Jesus listening to the teaching of Jesus in the temple, plus a group of Pharisees and assorted other religious leaders who had, in last week's reading, tried to confront him and lost. Jesus had told one parable against them, and this is another. They may have understood Jesus as numbering them among those who belittled the king's invitation and murdered the king's messengers. And that seems to be the point -- Jesus was indeed confronting them here, once again.
But he was equally confronting the crowd of adoring fans who were listening to his teaching. Look, he's saying. God's kingdom means business. It is joyful business, a celebration of God's culmination and a new generation to come. If you don't want that news, you'll end up like these religious leaders and their cities (a direct jab at Jerusalem!) -- destroyed by God. And if you're not actually hear to be about the joyful business, to put on the wedding garment and join the party, you'll find yourself cast out just as surely.
As you listen to these words of Jesus in your worship planning team, what do you hear Jesus saying? How is he confronting you? Where do these words comfort and where do they prick your souls?
How can worship today help those who hear these words from Jesus really hear him as they need to -- whether as confrontation, comfort or both? How will you speak, sing, and celebrate around the font, with Scripture, and at the Lord's Table in ways that faithfully invite all -- the good and the bad -- not only to show up, but to take and wear the wedding garment, to rejoice in God's kingdom, and to do so actively and willingly, today and going forward? How will you urge people to experience not only God's embrace, but also actually dance to the heartbeat of God's love, putting on the whole mind of Christ, walking as Christ walked?
Look for the examples where you are of people who already live this way -- wedding garment on, life growing more holy, rejoicing in God's wedding banquet. If they're not already on your worship planning team, invite one or more of them to participate for this planning session. They have the contagioius stories, the hearts on fire with God's grace, and minds that are those of Christ, that can not only invite others to show up for worship and God's mission, but bring them fully into the dance.
Story for Children's Sabbath: Concerns about children working as apprentices on ships, from The Journal of John Woolman, pages 245-247, 256.
Hymn: "'Tis the Gift to Be Simple" (A hymn from the Shaker rather than the Quaker tradition, but well in keeping with John Woolman's life and witness).
Jennie Fowler Willing
Story: In connection with Children's Sabbath, see Willling's thoughts on family worship and the Christian education of children in her book, Diamond Dust, pages 69-71.
Embodying the Word: Reflections Between Distributing and Praying Together
The sharing from the Lord's Table has begun. Some have received. Others are waiting to receive. It will be a few moments before all are ready to offer the post-Communion prayer of thanksgiving together. What can folks do to focus their hearts and minds in the meantime?
One practice has been to offer simple hymns and choruses for all to join in singing during the distribution. Not all sing, and some find singing distracting, especially if the songs selected bear little connection to the texts read or considered during worship that day.
During these weeks of October, we'll provide in this space another option -- brief, meditative poems or prayers, based on the readings for the day, for reading or for singing by soloist, choir, ensemble, or congregation.
Burn, wrath of God, turn
Your searing blaze upon my soul;
Swear, holy fire, dare
Consume my sin till I am whole.
Your body's bread infest my flesh;
Your blood in wine my blood refresh.
Whirl, Spirit-storm, hurl
All lesser gods my heart has made;
Speak, Word of Truth, wreak
Your judgments, all my strength persuade.
Your coming here in bread and wine
Make me, renewed, your grace to shine.
Rend, Three-in-One, end
Earth's kingdoms' claims on body, mind;
Break, One-in-Three, take
Your people sent to humankind:
As body broken, wine outpoured
Your way incarnate, coming Lord.
(Hint: "incarnate" is a verb in the last verse, so long "a").
Philippians: See suggestion above"In the Lord I'll be Ever Thankful" (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 381)
Come, come, come to the banquet!
Christ has his bride, join in the dance!
Here, take, put on this garment--
Freedom and peace, new hope has come,
Earth and all creatures, rejoice!
No more refusal, no more excuse,
Enough of scorn, come at his call;
Christ here invites you, why now delay?
Enter his joy, joy meant for all! Refrain:
Look all around you, everyone's here,
Greatest and least, rich ones and poor;
From every culture, nation and people
Freed from all grief, saved from all war! Refrain:
Does fear restrain you? Lose what you have!
Move to his rhythm, unclasp your heart.
Bread has been broken, wine has been poured,
Remember, give thanks! Come, take part! Refrain:
Now you have seen, held, tasted the Lord;
His body, blood, flowing in you;
You are his servants, call one and all,
"Come to his feast! Make all things new!" Refrain:
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Musical Call to Worship:
- BOW 199, "Come! Come! Everybody Worship!" (Also found in The Faith We Sing, 2271) (Exodus)
- BOW 454 (Exodus, Matthew)
- BOW 464 (Exodus)
Acts of response to the Word:
- 329, UM Hymnal, "Prayer to the Holy Spirit" (Philippians)
Prayers of Confession:
- BOW 479 (Exodus)
- BOW 482 (Exodus, Philippians)
Prayer for Illumination:
- 392, UM Hymnal, "Prayer for a New Heart" (Exodus, Philippians)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 512, Prayer for Guidance (Philippians)
- BOW 516, Prayer for the Nation (Exodus)
- BOW 530, Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Philippians)
- BOW 544, Prayer of Blessing for Leaders (Exodus)
- 459, UM Hymnal, "The Serenity Prayer" (Philippians)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal
The Great Thanksgiving:
- BOW 70-71, The Great Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
- BOW 552, Prayer of Thanksgiving
- BOW 561, Blessing
- or the Franciscan Blessing
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