Planning - The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.
Some 30,000 chosen men of Israel accompany David to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem on a two-stage journey: Baale-Judah to Obed-Edom, and then Obed-Edom to Jerusalem. The journey takes several months, with a three-month hiatus in the middle. This was because one of the cartmen (Uzzah) was killed by touching the ark (verses 6-11). On the final leg, David leads the procession while dancing and wearing only a "linen ephod." This was not quite enough to be "properly attired."
Psalm 24 (UMH 755).
An appropriate response to the story of the entry of the ark into Jerusalem. Either sung response is appropriate for this day. If you plan to sing the Psalm or have a cantor sing the Psalm and the people sing the responses, consider the following tone suggestions:
Response 1: Tone 4 in F minor (See UMH 737)
Response 2: Tone 5 in F minor (See UMH 737)
You could also use UMH 213 ("Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates") as a metrical version of the Psalm response. Or follow the suggestion below in "Atmospherics."
A new Epistle series begins today as we begin readings in Ephesians. The letter opens with praise to God for the recipients' salvation as part of God's eternal plan through Jesus Christ.
Mark tells two stories in one -- a "present-time" story and a "flashback." The "present-time" story recounts Herod hearing about Jesus and deciding he must be John the Baptist raised from the dead. The "flashback" is the story of Herod's order to have John the Baptist beheaded.
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This the seventh Sunday of the Season after Pentecost. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time) 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.
It's Ordinary Time, but this needn't be any ordinary Sunday nor need any Sundays be. All are extraordinary, for all are marked by the extraordinary reordering of the world by God's kingdom in the power of the resurrection of Jesus, present with us, especially as we experience him at Table. The world's news agencies will continue to document and even to market the march of death, the groanings of resistance to deliverance, the seductive call to withdraw and enjoy ourselves, consent by our inaction. But the dance, the saving march of God, goes on always and everywhere in response to the celebrations of the joyous and the cries of the needy. How will you help your worshiping community always be part of that march, that dance!
Jurisdictional Conferences in the U.S. are July 18-21. It is at these conferences that new bishops are elected and consecrated, new and existing bishops are appointed to their episcopal areas, some general agency board members are appointed, and jurisdictional agencies report and have their boards appointed or affirmed. Keep all persons involved in these conferences and the decisions they will make for the good of the church -- regionally, in the US, and globally -- in your congregation's prayers.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
A Day for Stream-Crossing or New Beginnings
Throughout this Ordinary Time, our usual advice to worship planners is to focus on only one stream of texts (Old Testament, Epistle, or Gospel) and build a worship series from it. Today's readings from 2 Samuel and Mark, however, may invite you to a singular moment of "stream mixing," as both are strongly linked by a common motif of dance.
You can even stay in your current series -- the transition from judgeship to kingship in 2 Samuel, or Discipleship by the Sea in the gospels -- and simply add the other text as a focal point as well -- without interrupting your series. Or you could use today as an opportunity to mark a segue between the Old Testament series and the beginning of a new series focused on the gospel.
And of course, you can also use today to begin a different series altogether, as the Epistle reading begins a series in Ephesians starting today.
Which of these opportunities are best for your worshiping community in your context? Be sure to discuss this with your worship planning team, and then plan and celebrate your choice for this day (or if a new series, the weeks ahead) with full gusto!
Old Testament and Gospel-- Dance of Life, Dance of Death
David dances exuberantly (and nearly naked!) as the Ark of the Covenant is brought to its resting place in Jerusalem, the new capitol. Salome, daughter of Herod and Herodias, dances seductively before her father and his retinue. Her dance is so entrancing that Herod offers to do whatever she asks in return. Prompted by her mother's pleading, she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And so her dance became a dance of death.
Dance of life, or dance of death?
What is the place of dance in the life of your worshiping community? In the lives of the people who attend? How does dance exult in life? How does it participate in death?
Anthropologist Ren Girard identifies dancing as the most powerful way to spread any sort of social contagion through a crowd -- whether a contagion of joy that seems to lead to life (the banquet after a massive sacrifice of animals and grain, enough to feed "the whole multitude of Israel") or a contagion of fear and frenzy that leads to murder (the head of John the Baptist on a platter as the conclusion of a royal banquet).
For soundscape, consider rhythmic music in the background throughout the service, building to crescendos as the congregation is invited to dance more vigorously. For imagery, consider bright, vibrant, dancing colors -- maybe something like the "visualization" images that are part of many computer media players today -- as music is being sung or played.
Psalm 24 lends itself to an experiment in processional dancing as a preparation to read the gospel. (It's okay to change the order of the readings. Today you might consider doing the Epistle as the first reading, the Old Testament as the second, followed by the Psalm). You know your congregation well enough to know what kinds of rhythm and movement resonate there and what kinds of rhythm would just come off as either "old school" or "offensive" or simply "not doable."
Generally speaking, the basic beat in 4/4 rhythm in the U.S. changed in the 1960s from an emphasis on beats 1 and 3 to beats 2 and 4 (from "downbeat" to "upbeat"). Watch a crowd that's clapping to a song or hymn sometime: Folks born after about 1963 tend to clap on 2 and 4, while those born earlier may tend to clap on 1 and 3, regardless of what the drummers do. So if your congregation is mostly over 45, plan to perform the psalm to a 1/3 beat; if mostly younger, 2/4 or something else entirely. Whatever you choose, remember: This is not a performance by a few expert dancers FOR the congregation. It is a performance BY the congregation before the Lord.
Whatever the beat, arrangement, or dance style you decide on, think about starting this part of the service outdoors (the earth is the Lord's), moving toward the entrance of the building (verse 3), and then pausing after verse 6 for a confession of sin and absolution to enable you to be a people of clean hands and pure hearts. If you are able to place your font outdoors or just at the entrance to the sanctuary, encourage people to use the water to remember their baptism as they enter the sanctuary. Then dance with joy, however you do it, at the doors! "Lift up your heads, O gates!"
Don't have people go to their seats at this point, but raise up the Bible from which the gospel will be proclaimed and have the congregation surround and continue to follow the Bible as it is taken to the center of your worship space to be read. Keep repeating the call "Who is the King of Glory" with the congregational response, said or sung: "The Lord, strong and mighty! The Lord, mighty in battle!" as you approach the place where the reading will occur. When the reader arrives at that place, continue to verse 9, this time with everyone dancing or at least shouting "Lift up your heads, O gates." Repeat the call and response of verse 10, three more times, louder each time.
The energy level will be very high now. Don't go to a dead stop and just send everyone back to the pews or seats! Instead, proclaim the gospel boldly in their midst, conclude it with the threefold call and response of verse 10 of the Psalm, and then sing a refrain or brief song to celebrate the presence of the Risen Lord, the King of Glory, in your midst.
Be sure at some point after the service to give folks time to reflect and maybe talk back a bit about this experience of dancing together before the Lord. Some will have found it liberating; others, annoying; others, embarrassing; others, just plain weird. Offer folks the opportunity to raise their hands as you name a way they may have felt about the experience. All responses are okay. But what you want to help people begin to name isn't so much how they felt ABOUT it, but what they experienced as they did it. How did they experience themselves giving themselves to God more fully in their bodies? Did they begin to get a sense of how the dance could lead them out of themselves toward God, or, as for Herod, toward death or complicity in the death of others? What rhythms are we dancing to in our life as a congregation? rhythms of life that lead to joy and strength? or rhythms of death that lead us inexorably to allow or even encourage death all around us? How does the "Lord of the Dance" (UMH 261) teach us, beckon us, or invite us to dance with him in this world?
(New Series!) Epistle: Networked Unity
Today begins an extended series of readings in Ephesians, concluding August 26.
Ephesians is a very different kind of letter with a very different purpose and theme from 2 Corinthians, from which we had been reading up to now.
For starters, Ephesians was a "circular letter"; that is, a letter intended to circulate among seven congregations, six of which had been started by and remained in an oversight relationship with the congregation Paul helped to establish in Ephesus. Ephesians tends to focus on broader themes of Christian theology and community life rather than on more specific details of the life, concerns, or questions of any particular congregation.
One of the realities of this region is that Jewish people and Gentiles had been living side by side with one another for many years. This informs a key section of the letter, focused on how in Christ God broke down the "dividing wall" separating "Jew" from "Greek" (gentile), and so the life of Christian congregations both could and did include both Jewish and Gentile members as equal participants.
As a circular letter, though, Paul's point is not simply to reinforce the value of crosscultural congregations in each place. Indeed, as we might say in Nashville, this letter isn't for "you" in "your" congregation. Rather, it's for "all y'all" across an intentional local network of congregations. Paul's larger agenda here was to support the thriving connection these seven congregations could have with one another, across the different kinds of city and town cultures represented in each. The vision of church Paul advocates for in this letter expresses unity in Christ, not simply on a local level, but also (and just as important) on a regional level. We might even say he was teaching all of these congregations, individually and in their regional network, what it means to be "One in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."
Spending these next seven weeks in Ephesians, then, starting today, also becomes an invitation for your congregation, perhaps with several others in your area (even of different denominations!), to be exploring how you can be united in common ministry and supporting one another in that ministry in your larger community or region. Let me suggest, indeed, that to spend significant focus on Ephesians for these weeks, and not to be doing so with ways to embody your "networked unity in Christ" with other congregations or Christian ministries, may be an extended exercise in missing the point.
So if you decide to begin this as a series today, strongly consider having in place a plan to embark on this series with other congregations where you are, and a goal that throughout the series, as well as at its conclusion, you will have identified at least one form of mission or ministry you will strengthen or begin to share across your local or regional network in concrete ways.
This week's reading is part of the introduction to the letter. As with many introductions to letters in this era, this one lays out both a common platform (something all its readers presumably could agree upon) and a bit of a preview of what the letter as a whole will address.
Also like letters in this era, especially "public" or "circular" letters such as this is, the syntax is both formal and complex. This is not Paul trying to show off just how sophisticated his Greek can be (though this is substantially more so than 2 Corinthians!). It is, rather, Paul writing in the idiom expected for letters such as this.
For his first-century audience, this complex, sophisticated syntax would still have been relatively accessible. When we try to translate it directly into English, however, its rhetorical complexity may be more likely to come across as as stilted and hard to understand. In other words, what would have been both expected and even welcomed by its first readers may actually be more than a little off-putting for readers or hearers of it today.
Be aware of this both as you read and as you teach or preach this text. I almost never recommend using a paraphrase version in worship. Here is one of those places, however, where I make an exception.
And let me offer an even more dramatic suggestion here. Note before the reading that Paul lays out a Trinitarian vision of salvation in this introduction. Then add subtitles, such as the following, when you read it.
Verses 3-6: How the Father has blessed all who are in Christ, and so we live to praise the Father's grace;
Verses 7-12: How Jesus Christ has saved us, will restore all things, and so we live now to praise the Son's glory
Verse 13: How the Holy Spirit enlivens and saves us, and so we live now to praise the Spirit's glory.
One might go even further in helping your readers and hearers grasp the heart of each of these three sections by focusing on the core activities of each Person of the Trinity exalted here. The Father intentionally and continually reaches out to choose people. The Son lavishes grace and wisdom on us now as we await the fulfillment of all things in him. And the Spirit, whose guidance we feel in us, among us, and around us, is both seal and pledge of the fullness and fulfillment of God's promise in us, through us, and for the whole of creation.
Such a rich, Trinitarian doxology was solid ground for Paul to begin a letter about unity and common mission to a network of diverse congregations in first-century Asia Minor -- a starting place in praise they could all join with a resounding, "Amen."
There are two questions (at least) for your worship planning team and the planning teams of other congregations you are networking with to consider if you are beginning this series today. First, "How is this Trinitarian foundation of praise functionally foundational for your relationship to God in and across your congregations?" And second, "Where it is not, what is?"
As you consider a response to the Word today, strongly consider using the same Trinitarian creed or confession of faith across all the congregations you will be networking with during this series. If you are working across denominations, many will have the Nicene Creed or Apostles Creed firmly in their worship repertoire, and some of them may be reticent to go for something "invented." Ask your partners, work this out together across your teams, and see where the Spirit leads you all.
As you think about the possibility of focusing on Ephesians for a while in your worship planning team, be thinking also about concrete ways your congregation may be in closer connection and perhaps common mission and learning with a Jewish congregation in your community. This letter, after all, was written to Christian bodies that included both Jewish and Gentile believers.
There are several possible focus points in the 2 Samuel passage. I've suggested one direction in "Atmospherics," above. Another is the whole issue of the three-month hiatus that happened after the death of Uzzah when he touched the ark and was immediately killed. Without getting much into the theories of why or how that happened (the leading one is that this was electrocution: the structure of the ark wood box with gold overlays would have made it a pretty potent capacitor as it was carried on a cart across the dry conditions of the Judean desert), the larger question is: "What do we do when tragedy blocks our current plans?" A third direction might be go deeper with the "ritual dancing can move people to kill" notion here, and begin to unpack more about what appears to be a possible connection between the intensity of David's dancing and the magnitude of the sacrifice that was offered when the Ark was received at the tablernacle.
If you are working with the gospel series, be sure to connect the two stories of Mark's Gospel today to each other. That is the intent of the story within a story structure; the inner helps interpret the outer. Just as Herod was moved by "the dance of death" to be complicit in the execution of John the Baptist, so he will be moved to execute the one he identifies as John the Baptist raised from the dead. Does he have a choice? Not if his mind and body are still moving to the drumbeat of death! How do we identify the beat to which we dance or march? How to we break free from the persistent pounding of the drumbeat of death to follow the Lord of Life?
- Call to Worship: BOW 199 (2 Samuel)
- Greeting: BOW 450 (2 Samuel)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 494 (Psalm)
- Prayer: UMH 69, For True Singing (2 Samuel, Ephesians)
- Prayer: UMH 713, All Saints (Mark)
- Psalm Response: UMH 755 and UMH 212, response 1.
This response may be found in a four part setting in the Methodist Hymnal 1935, #584 (C major).
- Scripture Response: UMH 261, refrain, "Lord of the Dance" (2 Samuel)
- Scripture Response: BOW 182, "Doxology" (Psalm)
- Scripture Response: BOW 177, "Amen Siakadumisa" (Psalm/Gospel)
- Scripture Response: UMH 712, stanza 1, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" (Mark)
- Response: BOW 176, "Heleluyan" ("Hallelujah") (2 Samuel)
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 557 (Psalm)
- Doxology: BOW 180 or 185, "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow" (2 Samuel, Ephesians)
- Dismissal: BOW 559 (2 Samuel, Mark)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama.