“The Blessing of the Animals,” by Master of St. Veronica,
early 15th c. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayersfor this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
The people quarrel with Moses at Rephidim because there is no water. The Lord tells Moses to strike the rock at Horeb with his rod. Moses names the place Massah and Meribah.
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 (UMH 799).
Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to have in them the mind that was in Christ Jesus. He "sings them their song" and urges them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
The chief priests and elders ask Jesus by what authority he acts. In response, Jesus asks them a question they refuse to answer. He then tells the parable of a father who asks each of his two sons to go work in the vineyard. One says, "No," but decides to go; the other says "yes," but does not go.
We continue in this Season after Pentecost to pursue the season’s main purpose—to support and challenge the baptized to live out the discipleship and ministries in the world in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power.
Today marks the final Sunday of this year’s Season of Creation. The original Australian developers of this mini-season have developed topical resources unrelated to the lectionary, here. Discipleship Ministries provides planning starters based on the lectionary readings for each Sunday. This week’s Season of Creation lectionary theme, based on the Exodus reading, is “Blessing All Creatures: Water.” All life needs water to survive. Today opens the possibility to explore how water is used where you are, and how church members may use it and help it be used in ways that ensure more life for more people and creatures.
Today is also the Sunday before St Francis Day (October 4), the day Western Christianity has most often set aside for a Blessing of the Animals. Consider blessing not just animals, but plants and other living things important in people’s lives. See The United Methodist Book of Worship, 608-610 for a sample order of service for the act of blessing.
During October, Discipleship Ministries also provides resourcing to enable your congregation to observe A Season of Saints, expanding the opportunity for your congregation to lift up historic Christian saints, significant leaders from our United Methodist heritage, and local saints you identify where you are—all in service to the overall mission of the Season after Pentecost. This is the fourth year we have provided support for this focus during this month, stretching from World Communion Sunday through All Saints Day/Sunday. Feedback from congregations who have pursued these series has been consistently positive! So consider whether this may be helpful in your context as your planning team completes its work for this season!
Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month continues through October 15. It is a month-long U.S. civic observance (September 15-October 15) recognizing the contributions of Hispanic and Latino persons to U.S. history and current culture. . Resources specifically for this observance are linked above. For many more Spanish language and Hispanic-Latino resources, see Discipleship Ministries's Hispanic-Latino Resources page.
If you haven’t started planning for Advent, it’s time! Discipleship Ministries has an archived webinar you can view yourself or with your planning team, a complete handout of the slides for the webinar, and a planning article exploring the texts in depth. The webinar provides at least five different approaches for Advent and Christmas Season planning to help you and your congregation celebrate each as fully as you can, as well as links to hundreds of other Advent related resources on our website.
Whole Month: Season of Creation (2014 Discipleship Ministries lectionary-based themes and overview).
September 15-October 15: Hispanic Heritage Month
Whole Month: A Season of Saints
October 5: World Communion Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources); “Living into the Mystery” Video (streaming; to order on DVD, send request to worship@UMCdiscipleship.org)
October 12: Children’s Sabbath (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 19: Laity Sunday
All Month: Native American Heritage Month
November 1/2: All Saints Day/Sunday (Also see Church and Civic Holidays)
November 9: “Restored” or Extended Advent 1, Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday (USA), International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11: Veterans Day (USA) (GBHEM resources)
November 23: Bible Sunday in National Bible Week (November 23-30) (USA)
November 27: Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 30: Advent (Regular) Year B Begins, United Methodist Student Day
Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
When Water Runs Dry… or … Overcoming the Power of Fear
God’s ample provision of meat and manna was not enough to prevent another near riot among the people when the water supply began to run low, as this week’s reading from Exodus reveals. On the one hand, the concern was legitimate. People can survive on limited food for some time. They cannot survive more than a few days without water. On the other hand, God had already provided for other needs, just as Moses had said God would do, so the bitter and even threatening impatience of their complaint (“Why did you bring us out from Egypt? To kill us and our children and our animals with thirst?” (verse 3) seems, at first glance, more than a little “over the top.”
Over the top or not, there it was, and there Moses was, once again, required as leader to seek God’s assistance for his own sake. He believed the people were ready to stone him (verse 4). God replies speedily with advice and promise of provision.
This is the wilderness, the desert, a wild place. This is not a “settled” place by any stretch. In such habitats, things don’t always work smoothly, or for long. And things can get dangerous, fast. It isn’t a sign of neurosis to wonder if folks might die out there. They very well could.
The question becomes how to deal with these very legitimate concerns. Do we let them inform how we proceed in this environment, or do we let them, and the fear they can cause, overwhelm us? If we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the fear, we will find ourselves adding to the danger we actually face. Fear can reduce our resourcefulness and close down our creativity. Improvisation, adaptability, and openness to a Word beyond ourselves are the most valuable characteristics for leaders and people in such unpredictable places.
The refugees from Egypt were in a desert where water was absent or scarce. There remain many people on our planet who have abundant water nearby, but none of it provided through taps or wells is safe to drink (I just got back from Kindu, Congo, right along the Congo River, where this is the case!) Care for water means more than making sure water exists, but making sure all can have access to safe water.
At the end of this story, Moses gives two names to the place where God provided safe drinking water from the rock: Massah (“challenge”) and Meribah (“quarrel/revolt”). The people had challenged God’s provision and threatened revolt. God responded with flowing water. Moses’ action of naming the bad behavior highlights the limitations of the people and, even in the face of these, the bounty of God and God’s purpose to save.
In Your Planning Team
Have you been approaching these texts during September through the lens of the Season of Creation? If so, use today to end the series and make a segue to your next series (perhaps on Season of Saints kinds of themes, or shifting to the gospel).
How do you end a series? Here are several important elements for an effective ending.
1. Review where you’ve been. Help people see the connections and recall the development of the themes across these weeks.
2. Fulfill the promises. Be clear how what is happening in worship today, as well as over these weeks, delivers on what you made this series out to be and do.
3. End with a bang, or a celebration! As noted above, one way you can do this is by including a Blessing of the Animals and Other Creatures in or just after your service today. If so, be sure to announce well in advance (and widely—including liberal use of social media) that this service will be available and when and where. Many congregations have been surprised how many newcomers turn up when they hear the church is offering a pet blessing. Call it eco-evangelism, if you like!
4. Use the momentum of today’s bang to capture interest for your next series. Assuming you have some newcomers present, or even if you don’t, a big service today is a great opportunity to get folks “hooked” into the upcoming series. So be sure to promote what’s coming in multiple ways throughout this Sunday and the coming week.
Today’s text in particular raises issues about how we perceive and respond to God’s provision, or perceived lack thereof. What stories can folks in your congregation and community tell about ways they’ve seen God provide? What stories are told about times it appeared God did not provide? How did folks respond to a lack of provision? And what did God do next? Send members of your planning team to gather such stories and find ways to weave them into the body of the sermon today, whether as illustrations or as chances for local storytellers to tell them.
Today’s text also speaks to how we respond to desert places, places or situations where what we had taken for granted is now or perhaps even perpetually up for grabs. War, violence, and economic changes can all very quickly change what had been thought to be a “domesticated place” into an unstable, unpredictable wilderness. Anxiety, both legitimate and paralyzing, can run high. Who has a story of how legitimate anxiety that asks for help (like that of Moses) led by God’s grace to a transformed situation, flowing with water? Who has a story about how paralyzing anxiety (like that of the people) led to revolt and the potential for great destruction?
Whatever the destabilizing challenge, who was trying to lead? How were they leading in ways that engendered community in the face of challenge, and trust in God in the face of hardship? How was/is God’s voice heard in such places and times, and what was/is God doing to provide “water” where you are?
Let the design of worship space around this text reflect both the disorientation and genuine need of God’s people then and there and here and now (where you are), AND the reality of God’s abundant provision of the water of life. Consider how baptism and the font may play a role in worship today, and whether your font adequately conveys the abundance of God’s provision. If not—commission a new, larger, more generous one, and dedicate it today—another possibility for a bang today, whether you are doing the Season of Creation series or not!
Philippians: Of One Heart and Mind
Singing Their Song
If Paul’s introduction to his letter to the Philippians (last week) did not clarify his point about the nature of Christian communitas (standing in one spirit, striving side by side with one soul, or as in Acts, “homothumadon”), this week’s text drives it home. “Be concerned about the same thing, having the same love, soul-sharers, concerning yourselves around one thing.” Don’t get distracted by yourselves and your ego-needs (as some therapists might put it). Look out for each other, for the communitas, with Christ’s mind as your mind, individually and collectively.
Then he reminds them of a hymn, which perhaps they knew or even sang, and which perhaps they could join in singing as he recounted the words (verses 5-11). It’s one thing to talk about such unity, such communitas. Singing beloved words together, or learning to sing new words and tunes together, can also help to create and sustain it.
The hymn itself bears multiple resonances with their own story as told in Acts and from what we know from historical sources about the city at the time of Paul's ministry there. Philippi was a Roman colony and a major "retirement village" for veterans of the Roman army. Issues of authority, respect, and social rank were prominent in the local culture—then, and no doubt now where you are. Consider showing images of Roman soldiers or other soldiers in rank formation, and perhaps “authority figures” from your community as the hymn begins (verses 5-6). We know from Acts that there was at least one slave who had become part of this congregation (the demon-possessed slave-girl who was freed by Christ through the ministry of Paul), and Jesus takes on the form of… a slave. Everyone in a Roman colony understood crucifixion to be the most shameful form of execution in the empire.
"Therefore God highly exalted him" would have been a stunning reversal of everything “normal” Philippian culture knew or taught about its gods. The gods exalt the victors, never those so obviously and shamefully defeated! Yet this is the heart of the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ. The voice of the reader might highlight this reversal, or even the reader's location. Consider using multiple readers—and having a second reader pick up the reading here, verse 9, from a place opposite the first.
The movement of the first part of the hymn is continually downward — not grasping equality with a superior, becoming human, becoming a slave, being crucified. Then, in verse 10, it is we who go downward, on our knees with all creation. This is what Christian worship is: Our exaltation of the Crucified as we lead the universe in bowing in reverence to Christ, and our own confession of the Lordship of Jesus to the glory of God.
This is a hymn. Do try singing it in addition to reading it today. See UMH 168 or Worship & Song 3032, 3176 or 3177.
In Your Planning Team
I’ve mentioned this several times, but this week’s text is largely a hymn composed by Paul, and perhaps with the congregation at Philippi while he was with them. It certainly connects powerfully the social realities and story of the congregation at Philippi as we know it with the story of Jesus and how he (and so we) become agents of God’s salvation for the universe!
If your congregation had a song custom-composed for you, as this one appears to have been for the Christians in Philippi, what would it say? What key story about Jesus would it tell? What stories about you would it draw on, play off of, or perhaps even subvert?
The Rev. Jessica Lynn Powell has recently written a prayer poem bringing this ancient song together with the experiences of folks in Ferguson, MO, and elsewhere: Memory Reruns: A Prayer Poem. You may find it useful inspiration for what your song may need to say, or how.
Invite a songwriter to be part of your planning for this service and to work with you to develop a Christ Hymn for your congregation. Have a soloist or choir introduce it, then sing it again during Communion and as the hymn of sending. Sing one or more version of this Christ hymn, too—perhaps as the opening hymn or part of the opening song set. But also start singing your song—and see how singing it over time may help unite your folks in the one heart and mind of Christ.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
The Authority of God and the Power of Institutions
The beginning of the reading from Matthew 21 presupposes some awareness of the action that took place in the verses preceding. Jesus has just made what some call “The Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, but others who witnessed these events something more like an act of vandalism or and a serious “disturbance of the peace.” As Matthew describes it, Jesus entered the temple, “and drove out all who were buying and selling in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (21:12, NRSV). This would have affected hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and it would have effectively shut down the sacrificial operations of the temple for several hours, if not for the rest of that day. This was no small disturbance!
The only way to purchase items for sacrifice was to exchange money at the temple from money changers in the court of the Gentiles and then purchase the desired items from the appropriate merchant with temple currency. No money changers, no temple currency. No temple currency, no sacrifices to buy. No sacrifices to buy, and for most people during a pilgrimage season (such as this Passover season), then few if any sacrifices at all. The only thing, it would seem, that prevented Jesus from being arrested on the spot was that there were so many supporters of his there shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David” that the religious officials were not sure they’d be able to have him arrested without provoking a riot.
So their question that opens our text this week, set when Jesus returned to the temple the next day, was no mere academic examination of his credentials. This man had shut down the temple the day before. They wanted to know how he thought he could get away with this and then dare to show his face at the temple the next day as a teacher there. They wanted answers, and they wanted to be sure that Jesus would answer as publicly as he had acted the day before.
But they didn’t just want an explanation. They wanted an explanation they could attack. Jesus responded with a question that put them on the spot. They wanted Jesus to declare his reasons. He asked them to declare their commitments. Their refusal revealed that their ultimate commitment was to their own power and authority, not to truth or to the kingdom of God Jesus was declaring and teaching. Jesus knew his authority was from God, but if these religious leaders would not acknowledge God’s authority at work when they saw it in people like John the Baptizer, then Jesus had no reason to say another word to them.
At least, not on their terms.
Jesus did say another word, indeed several other words, in the parables that follow. We hear the first of these this week—the parable of the two sons.
Like his previous question, this parable ends with a question asking the listeners to declare their commitments. Who does the father’s will? The son who said he would do it but didn’t, or the one who, despite what he may have said, actually went ahead and did it? This they answered, not seeing the trap. The tax collectors and sinners are ahead of you, then, he tells them. They did see God at work in John the Baptizer, believed his message, and changed their lives. But when you (religious leaders) saw that happen, you changed nothing. Implication: The tax collectors and sinners are doing the father’s will. You’re just saying you will.
Today’s reading is movement confronting institution, Spirit confronting structure. The institution does what institutions typically do: defend what they hold to be most valuable, including their power to name and defend what that is on their own terms. The sorts of things temple and synagogues were formed to manage simply had no way to address or account for tax collectors and prostitutes changing their lives because of the ministry of an entrepreneurial rabbi named John who repurposed and radicalized washing rituals while declaring judgment to come. Temple and synagogues were primarily about stability, not conversion, about faithfully preserving tradition, not changing lives here and now. There is value in such stability and in such preservation, but not to the exclusion of real conversions and life change. Institutions can and even should guard some kind of center. But the center is only that, and God may (and does!) work in many ways in peripheries far beyond the center’s usual point of view. When that happens, God calls the institutions guarding the center to remember their truest vocations.
In Your Planning Team
Questions for Discussion
How are these issues of center and peripheries, of institution and movement, of Spirit and structure at work in the life of your congregation and community?
How engaged are you in the work of witnessing to God’s power and desire for real life-change, for conversion? How do the institutions you have witness to and support such a witness where you are? How do the institutions and structures you have end up trying to preserve some former status quo more than bear witness to God’s kingdom and discipleship to Jesus Christ here and now?
From where do you tend to say someone like John the Baptizer gets the authority he exercised? From you? Or from God? Do you like the answer? More importantly, would Jesus? What are you going to do about it?
Now, think together about how the usual design of the worship space provides stability, and what it is providing stability for. Stability can be a good thing, a genuine gift—never forget that. But what kind of stability does your worship space enshrine? It is a vision of comfort? A witness to God’s reign? Does your space privilege preaching (and therefore those who preach) over everything else? Is worship a show where you are? Or is it truly” the work of the people?”
If someone were to come in and wreck the usual worship space in some way (as Jesus had done in the verses before), what would that unleash? Why? Is there some element of the worship space, analogous to the temple of the Gentiles overrun by money-changers so that one group could worship at the expense of the space of another—that perhaps NEEDS to be temporarily wrecked this morning so that the space may be a place of prayer for all people? Think about this carefully, and decide whether or how you might handle this—perhaps using images onscreen of “what would happen if X were broken.” Strong caution: do not “desecrate” primary symbols, such as the Bible, or the font or the Lord’s Table. The altar and the temple structures proper were not touched by Jesus!
Next, think through how the design of worship today can facilitate hearing God’s call to everyone to repentance and new life following Jesus Christ. How can what you sing, confess, and pray today, as well as HOW you do these things, help to enliven a Spirit of life, joy, and hope in God’s saving power for all people you encounter everywhere?
Embodying the Word: Intercessions for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2014
Intercessions with Sung Ostinato
Sing “Wait for the Lord” (The Upper Room Worshipbook, 396; Worship & Song 3096) as a frame for a comprehensive selection of biddings offered by a leader, one bidding spoken or chanted between each singing of the verse. In this way, the singing of the verse becomes a channel of intercession in which everyone can participate.
Sing “Wait for the Lord” two or three times until there is familiarity with it, and people can sing it without looking at words or notes.
Leader (says or chants): With disciples of Jesus everywhere and the congregations who are his body…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With all who work for justice, freedom and peace…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With the earth and all that lives and moves upon it…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With people in this community, and all the communities from which we have come…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With all who rejoice this day…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With all who suffer, all who struggle, all who are far from home…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With all who have asked us to pray…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With all whom your Spirit now calls us to pray…
All Sing “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): In the fellowship of all who have known your salvation… (after this, quiet toward silence).
All Sing (at almost a whisper) “Wait for the Lord”
Leader (says or chants): With the words Jesus has taught us… (all pray the Lord’s Prayer together).
This way of praying the intercessions can work with any number of easily remembered “cyclical songs” focused on prayer, including other Taizé pieces such as “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” (TFWS 2118), “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (TFWS 2200) and “Ubi Caritas” (TFWS 2179), which might be especially appropriate for a focus on Philippians; various settings of the Kyrie, Eleison (UMH 482, 483, 484; Worship & Song 3133) and other short prayer songs, such as “Remember Me” (UMH 491), “In God Alone” (Worship & Song 3135) or “Lord Jesus Christ, Your Light Shines” (Worship & Song 3137). At the end of the final bidding, draw the singing to silence, then, if you are not celebrating Holy Communion today, introduce the Lord’s Prayer. Otherwise, move directly to the Invitation to the Table.
- BOW 449 (Exodus)
- BOW 349 (Philippians)
- BOW 583, "Father of earth and heaven . . . " sung to Terra Beata (United Methodist Hymnal, 144); BOW 564 (Exodus)
- BOW 465 (Exodus, Matthew)
- BOW 281 (Philippians, Matthew)
- BOW 250; BOW 510; BOW 539; BOW 569, "Eternal God, hallowed be your name. . . ." (Matthew)
Acts of Response to the Word:
- "Canticle of Christ's Obedience," 167, United Methodist Hymnal
- "All Praise to Thee, for Thou, O King Divine," 166, United Methodist Hymnal
- "At the Name of Jesus," 168, United Methodist Hymnal
- "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne," 2100, The Faith We Sing (Philippians)
- 292-294, UMBOW — Some or all of the "Covenant Prayer," particularly "I do here covenant . . ." and "I do here willingly . . . promising that I will strive . . ."
- 608-610 Blessing of Animals (Season of Creation, St Francis Day)
Confession: BOW 476, 477 (Philippians, Matthew)
Prayer for Illumination: BOW 399, Week 2 (Exodus, general)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 529 (Philippians)
- BOW 250, 510, 717 (Matthew)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71.
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 552, 557 (Exodus)
Dismissal with Blessing:
- BOW 564 (Exodus)
- BOW 561 (Philippians)
- General: Franciscan Blessing