Planning - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
"Wisdom cries out in the street," warning of disaster for those who remain complacent and will not heed her instruction.
Psalm Response: Psalm 19 (UMH 750).
This psalm is a composite of two earlier and rather different psalms: verses 1-6 on creation; verses 11-14 on the law of the Lord. You may choose to offer just the latter part today and to sing "Cantemos al Seor" (UMH 149) to capture the theme of the first part as an opening hymn. If you plan to sing the Psalm, consider using Response 1 with Tone 5 in D minor or Response 2 with Tone 1 in D major. Alternately, you might use the opening line of "Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word" (UMH 596) as the refrain.
Extended instruction on the dangers of the tongue and the challenge involved in disciplining it.
Peter's confesses Jesus is the Christ. Jesus teaches his disciples about the realities of his messiahship rejection, suffering, death, and then resurrection. Peter rebukes Jesus privately. Jesus rebukes Peter publically, calling him Satan. Jesus teaches all who will hear that his followers must deny themselves, take up the crucifix, and follow where he leads.
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This is the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and the third in the Season of Creation.
Some congregations in the US may be participating in "National Back to Church Day" today. For more information about this initiative, see http://backtochurch.com. One bit of advice -- the "free" part of this initiative and its "front-end" are web-based. People who may be considering "coming back" to your church will see many options in your area, most of which will have inviting and up-to-date websites tuned to reach newcomers or those coming back after an extended absence. If you decide to register to be part of this process, be sure you're ready!
Perhaps new Sunday school teachers will begin their work this week, or new accountable discipleship groups will be forming. If you have not formally installed or recognized teachers already, consider using the following from The United Methodist Book of Worship:
- Dedication: UMBOW 601, "An Order for the Installation or Recognition of Church School Workers"
- Presentation of Bibles: UMBOW 587, "An Order for the Presentation of Bibles to Children"
- Dedication: UMBOW 602, "An Order for the Commissioning of Class Leaders"
What is going on in your in your community that calls for thanksgiving or intercession? in the nation? in the world?
How is planning going for the upcoming months? See "Seasons and Series for Fall 2012" on the United Methodist Worship Blog for suggestions.
These weeks of Ordinary Time are especially suited for "series preaching" through books or "big stories" of the Bible. Continue the stream you began two weeks ago. See "Worship Planning for the Season after Pentecost, Year B" on the Discipleship Ministries website for further suggestions.
Some congregations will find the need to keep some remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, on this day. See our ever-growing collection of resources under the title, Times of Crisis.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
A Season of Saints is commemorated throughout October, starting with World Communion Sunday and culminating in All Saints Day/Sunday. We have posted a basic calendar of saints for each Sunday with links to more information about each saint available for both 2012 and 2011 Worship Planning Helps are already posted with suggestions for the 2011 resources. More detailed helps for 2012 are coming soon.
Children's Sabbath is observed on October 14.
Laity Sunday is October 21.
All Saints Sunday is November 4.
Both Proverbs and James offer an admonitory tone this week, but about very different things. If you choose to connect them, do so while staying true to the series you started two weeks ago. Proverbs is about the consequences of ignoring the call of wisdom. James is about the challenge of restraining the tongue and the consequences when we don't. Each deserves its own primary focus if you are following either of these streams, rather than the gospel.
Proverbs, like much of Hebrew wisdom literature, calls for careful, meditative thinking and reflection for the fullness of its meaning to emerge. We worked through just one verse in last week's helps to illustrate how this might work.
This week's reading adds another layer to the mix. Each of the verses this week is set in a larger narrative and even dramatic frame, which itself interacts with the structure and meaning of the whole. If you chose to do the line by line reflection last week, you may choose to focus on the dramatic framework this week.
In that framework, we see Lady Wisdom in some distress. She has been speaking and calling out in the key gathering places of the community -- the city gates, the town squares, city streets, and the marketplace -- but few if any seem to heed her call. She seems almost ready to give up on them entirely. So she changes tactics, from calling people to wisdom and the fear of the Lord to making sure everyone knows the ruin they are heading for if they do not start paying attention.
Given the dramatic framework, how will you read this text in worship today? Might a dramatic reading, or perhaps a well-prepared video, be helpful?
The last two verses may be the most important, and the two you may most profitably help your congregation "unpack" in worship today.
Waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
But those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster. (NRSV)
"Waywardness kills." What is waywardness? The Hebrew is "turning away," a term that speaks of an inability or unwillingness to stay on the "right path," the path of the fear of the Lord. This "turning away" or "waywardness" or "meandering" is deadly, she says.
How might such waywardness be corrected? How can we help others quit meandering to their doom?
"Complacency destroys." The Hebrew term for "complacency" (as contrasted with "at ease" in verse 22) points to the "bliss" of the ignorant. It is not knowing and not caring that one doesn't know that's really at stake. Such complacency, Wisdom warns, causes those who have it to be destroyed.
How can we help release others from ignorance of their true situation, awakening them to the realities around them and helping them want to stay awake, and so rescue them from self-destruction?
"Those who listen will be secure at ease, without dread of disaster." The word for "listen" means more than "hear." It means "pay attention and conform oneself to what is heard." Those who listen to wisdom and let what is heard direct the way they live. They are not only not "wayward," they live in "securely pitched tents" (the Hebrew here is "they will safely tabernacle"). They are not wandering, but "at home." The "ease" they experience is a contrast to the "complacency" of fools, because it is an ease that is based on knowledge that they are in a secure, safe situation, rather than an ignorance that assumes it or doesn't even care. And one is "without dread of disaster" or "tranquil in the face of evil's threats."
How do we help one another listen, keep listening, and keep allowing our lives to be conformed more and more to what the Spirit teaches us? How do we help people desire the security, sense of ease, and freedom from dread that abiding in wisdom provides. How do we help one another desire it more than the apparent excitement of a wayward life or the bliss of ignorance?
Discuss these questions in your worship planning team, and consider whether or how you might continue to discuss them in small groups in worship or in other small-group or online settings throughout the week ahead.
And as you plan for worship today, think about how worship space, music, and images may help support the urgency of Wisdom's call.
And note in your planning the ways the Psalm may be helpful, too. The second half of Psalm 19 commits those who pray it precisely to the kind of listening Lady Wisdom commends -- meditating on the law of the Lord. The "parallel rhymed" phrase "the law of the Lord is 'the precepts of the Lord are" is itself a form of meditation in Hebrew. The point of the repetition/parallel rhyme is to help move "the law of the Lord" away from being merely an idea or a set of principles into a central place in our thinking and praying in as many ways as possible, and so something we come to meditate upon day and night.
Doing the Word: James
This week's reading from James includes a number of images: a horse with a bit, a large ship piloted by a small rudder, and the tongue setting a forest ablaze, staining the whole body, set on fire by hell itself.
The first verse rejects the notion that not just anyone can teach. Those who teach, James reminds, will be under greater scrutiny (verse 1), not just about what they say, but about how they actually live. Teaching in the church is not so much about how to think about God or Jesus as how to follow him, concretely.
Verse 2 may seem puzzling. The NRSV translation makes it appear that people who are eloquent may be considered "perfect" because of their eloquence, since they have learned how to discipline their speech so well. The Greek conveys a slightly different sense: "If someone in speaking does not stumble [i.e., sin], that one is mature, a man capable of keeping the whole body under check." What James underlines here is not eloquence, but integrity.
And integrity is difficult to maintain because the tongue is, as James concludes, "set ablaze by hell" (verse 6). Christians are called and empowered to overcome the power of hell and consistently to speak and act in ways that reflect the Spirit's presence and power among us.
So what does it take to tame the tongue? Individuals are generally poor at this on their own. We need small, accountable groups of folks watching over one another in love, offering both support and loving correction. Do you have such groups where you are? If not, when will you start one or more?
Early Methodists had such groups, called class meetings and bands. These groups provided hands-on accountability and support for people to live out the General Rules (and so the baptismal covenant) fully. The first of these General Rules ("avoiding harm of every kind") also included these specific examples related to speech:
"The taking of the name of God in vain.
Fighting, quarrelling, brawling returning evil for evil, railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or ministers."
Small accountability groups, such as Covenant Discipleship Groups, have been a means to recover this practice of early Methodism. Read more about how accountable discipleship can work in your congregation, and strongly consider offering an invitation to become part of such a group in your invitation to discipleship following the sermon today.
Mark: Discipleship Everywhere
Mark places Peter's confession and the subsequent confrontation between Peter and Jesus in the exact middle of his gospel on purpose. Everything Jesus has tried to teach his disciples about discipleship up to now leads to the definition of "wanting to be his disciple" that Jesus gives here. To want to be a disciple of Jesus requires self-denial and taking up the cross. And everything Jesus does from this point forward proceeds from it as he heads to his own cross.
Self-denial here does not mean merely abstaining from the "pleasures" of life. It means continuing to make the decision that you will not be the master of your own existence. Instead, Jesus and his mission will drive everything you do.
"Taking up the cross" does not mean wearing a piece of jewelry or placing symbolic representations of the crucifix of Jesus on our walls. Nor does it mean putting up with suffering of various sorts in our lives, calling it "our cross to bear." The crucifix was not an instrument of personal self-discipline; it was an instrument of public torture and humiliation. Taking up the cross means taking on actions for the sake of the gospel that may lead to your own torture, public humiliation, and even execution. Followers of Jesus will walk intentionally into dangerous places despite personal risk to themselves to ensure that the work of God's kingdom is declared and embodied.
John Wesley advocated "taking up the cross," along with "denying ourselves," as means of grace. Henry Knight notes in The Presence of God in the Christian Life (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1992), pages 122-126) that Wesley distinguished between "bearing a cross" and "taking up a cross." We "bear a cross" when suffering is laid on us that we did not choose. But in "taking up a cross," we choose to suffer what we might have avoided. Taking up the cross is accepting the call to act with God's love in the world, whatever the cost.
Jesus is clear in his call here. He does not say "bear the cross." He says "take up the cross." And he is even more pointed than that. Those who want to be his disciples will take up the cross and follow him. That also means those who do not deny themselves and take up the cross do not want to be his disciples (Mark 8:34).
This is a line in the sand.
Deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow -- or don't.
At least not yet.
Perhaps there are folks in your congregation who think of themselves as disciples of Jesus, but if they take his standard for discipleship seriously, they may discover they may not even have wanted to be.
But maybe now they do.
And perhaps some are more his disciples than they may think.
Disciples of Jesus live out their discipleship with Christ's body, the church, as they together help one another live out the vows of the baptismal covenant. (See UMH 33 ff).
How is your congregation helping its members help one another to live out the calling to renounce and reject the evil powers of this world?
How are you helping one another truly repent of sin?
How are you helping one another to accept Christ's power in your lives and in your life as a body to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
How are you helping one another to put your whole trust in the grace of Jesus Christ as Savior and serve him as Lord?
How are you actively helping your members and participants work with sisters and brothers in Christ across all boundaries of race, class, age, and politics?
How are you helping one another to be faithful representatives of Christ in the world?
How are you building both accountability AND trust in God and one another so that you live as fully as possible from our baptismal covenant with God and one another?
These are the questions and vows that help us live Christ's call to discipleship.
We do not live any of them on our own. We live them -- and fail at them -- and try again at them -- together, as his body, failing and learning and growing in love for God and one another and in the wisdom and power of the Spirit to amend our lives.
Jesus issued this line in the sand not to turn his disciples away, but to remind them, and us, of what lies ahead. And so of our absolute need for God and one another as we seek to follow where Jesus leads.
How will you plan worship today that helps those who are ready to step up and take Christ's call to discipleship both as seriously as he offered it and then live it with one another as powerfully and lovingly as he makes it possible?
- Opening Prayer: UMBOW 461 (Psalm)
- Opening Hymn: "Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud," 113, United Methodist Hymnal (Proverbs) This hymn opens a wide array of metaphorical names for God and paves the way for the encounter with "Wisdom" in the Proverbs reading.
- Canticle: "Canticle of Wisdom," 112, United Methodist Hymnal (Proverbs) This canticle might be used in place of Psalm 19 as a response to the Proverbs reading.
- Song of Prayer: UMBOW 193, "Prayer for Wisdom" (Proverbs)
- Prayer: UMBOW 525, "For Wisdom" (Proverbs)
- Responsive Prayer: UMBOW 514 (May this mind be in us) Proverbs, James, Mark
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Bulgaria (nominally 85 percent Orthodox, 13 percent Muslim); Hungary (55 percent Roman Catholic, 15 percent Reformed, 3 percent Lutheran, but only 15 percentindicate weekly religious attendance); Romania (87 percent Romanian Orthodox, 4 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent Protestant)
- Great Thanksgiving: UMBOW 70-71 (general) or 62-63 (Mark)
- Dismissal: UMBOW 189, "May This Mind Be in Us" (Proverbs, James)
- Blessing: UMBOW 564 (Proverbs, James)