Planning - The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10.
King David seals the terms of his rule over the tribes of all Israel in a covenant ceremony at Hebron, conquers the Jebusites at Jerusalem (verses 6-8), and locates his throne there seven years into his reign.
Psalm 48 (UMH 782).
A song in praise of Jerusalem as a sign of God's power to defend the people/nation Israel. The sung response is a familiar tune. If you sing the psalm, consider using UMH 782, Tone 4 in F minor (see UMH, page 737).
2 Corinthians 12:2-10.
Paul rejects boasting in his own spiritual experiences as a way to establish an "upper hand" in his ongoing disputes with the Christian community founded there. Instead, he says, God has given him a "thorn in the flesh" to remind him of the sufficiency of God's grace and to enable him to boast in weakness so he can identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Jesus encounters resistance to his ministry in his hometown synagogue. He sends his disciples on an "advance mission" to get the word and signs of the power of the coming kingdom out to as many villages in the region of Galilee as possible.
Back to top.
This the sixth 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.
Independence Day (US) fell on Wednesday earlier this week. The Revised Common Lectionary does provide readings for July 4. The United Methodist Book of Worship version of the RCL does not. Our expectation is that the Sunday readings take precedence.
If you are in the US, but have not recognized Independence Day up to this point, today's readings may provide some occasion for you to do so.
A focus on the David story (II Samuel) might connect with what it meant for the American colonies to consolidate power, beginning on July 4, 1776, but also what it means for power to become more coordinated if not consolidated within the Christian community.
2 Corinthians might lead to an exploration of ways restraint in the use of power (boasting in the profundity of his spiritual experiences, in Paul's case) contributes to the reduction of tension and improvement in leadership in communities. This was a key principle in the arguments for limited government in the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the US Constitution.
In Mark's gospel, Jesus learns that his hometown was a non-starter as a base of operations, and so radically decentralizes his movement by sending disciples in pairs to surrounding villages to spread the word and the power of God's reign. Running into a brick wall at home did not stop Jesus, even as running into the brick wall of British colonial instransigence did not stop the colonists from finding a way to obtain the independence from Britain they needed to have viable lives in North America.
In none of these cases do the Scriptures point to American Independence as their fulfillment. Rather, the Scriptures may illuminate and in some ways critique the American experiment, even as they urge those living here (or anywhere!) to final loyalty to God's reign in Jesus Christ.
Welcoming New or Re-Appointed Clergy: By now, many United Methodist congregations in the U.S. will also have welcomed back or received a newly appointed pastor, associate pastor, or deacon. If such is the case in your setting, you will want to ritualize the appointment and welcome the newly appointed staff member with prayer and other appropriate recognition. See meditations on how this week's readings relate to actions of welcoming new or re-appointed clergy immediately after the Atmospherics section, below.
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.
Atmospherics Overall: The Tension of Greatness and Humility
Although the only readings intentionally related to each other this week are 2 Samuel 5 and Psalm 48, each in its own way also includes a tension between greatness and humility. Majestic King David still has to be ratified by the "lowly" tribal leaders. (Consider using an image of a king in all majesty followed by pictures of scruffy soldiers.) Impenetrable Zion is made so not by its walls, but by its relationship to the Sovereign God. (Consider mages of strong fortifications followed by the "open courts" of the temple.) The only valuable boasting, Paul says, is in weakness that provides an avenue for God's strength to shine through. (Perhaps use an image of a "strong" professional athlete who used drugs to "bulk up" followed by an image of someone like Stephen Hawking). The Jesus who has just raised the dead can do no deed of power in his hometown. Similarly, while he gives the disciples authority to cast out demons, he orders the disciples he sends out on mission to take almost nothing else with them and to rely entirely upon the hospitality of strangers in the towns where they will go. (Consider images of "successful churches"; that is, large church campus plans, followed by images of circuit riders or just the small list of things Jesus allowed his disciples to take on this missionary journey.)
Atmospherics The Texts
Old Testament: "From Local Judges to a King like All the Nations"
2 Samuel continues to unfold the story of David. Last week we saw him leading his own victorious troops in lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in their failed battle against the Philistines.
This week, the transition from judges over tribes to a unifying king over a nation comes to a kind of fulfillment in the coronation of David at Hebron.
Between last week's reading and this, David has been anointed king in Judah (which would later become the Southern Kingdom) and began his reign from Hebron. Saul's son Ishbaal was crowned king over Israel (the ten northern tribes), with the support of his general, Abner. David and Ishbaal had waged war against each other to establish the rightful claimant to the throne of the entire nation (chapter 2). Feeling disrespected by Ishbaal, Abner defected to work for David, but was shortly killed by David's general, Joab (chapter 3). Meanwhile, other assassins killed Ishbaal (chapter 4). Joab was publicly reprimanded for killing Abner. The assassins of Ishbaal, no doubt hoping for a prominent place in David's court for their deed, were instead publically executed and dismembered for all to see (4:12).
The elders of the ten northern tribes had previously recognized David's military leadership on their behalf during Saul's reign (5:2-3). But the coronation we read about today happened only after the two most powerful people in Israel (Abner and Ishbaal) were dead. So, in essence, it was David's righteousness -- his acts of respect for other established leaders, shown in how he handled the assassinations of both Abner and Ishbaal-- that helped this day to come.
Earning the consent and respect of the governed rather than the exercising military power is in evidence here. The elders of the Israeli tribes initiated the covenant with David; not the reverse. They were not there on his command performance. David would have to be faithful to them, not just they to him. And the terms were witnessed by YHWH, not just the new King's inner circle (II Samuel 5:3).
How is power conveyed and consolidated where you are? More specifically, how is power conveyed and consolidated in your congregation? your district? your conference? your jurisdiction?
Spend some time exploring this question with your worship planning team and others in leadership in the life of the congregation before planning worship around this text. This may be a challenging and difficult conversation. Give plenty of time for it, perhaps over several sessions. It may be challenging because how power flows is not something we tend to feel comfortable talking about in congregations. We tend to demonize human and institutional power when it comes to church. We complain when church feels "too political," forgetting that every human institution is, as Aristotle noted, necessarily political -- all of them, including the church, have to manage and consolidate power in some way. This was clearly in play at the recently completed General Conference. Some of your members may have seen it at closer hand in your annual conference. And Jurisdictional Conferences (July 18-21) will be exercises in such "church politics" in the weeks ahead.
Having gained some clarity about how power is conveyed and consolidated in your congregation historically and currently, then ask what norms for the conveyance and consolidation of power, if any, this week's reading might suggest. Then explore how those norms might inform the conveyance and consolidation of power going forward in ways that are more righteous, more in keeping with God's reign, than they currently may be.
Having discussed all that, you may now be ready to plan worship focused around this text, considering how artwork, the selection and flow of music, and the ritual actions of the day, grounded in the basic pattern (entrance, proclamation/response, thanksgiving/Communion, and sending forth), might enable your congregation both to encounter this text faithfully and be sent forth to order the power given to them, individually and corporately, with greater transparency and righteousness than when they first gathered.
Epistle: Forging a Way through Deep Church Conflict
This week's reading from 2 Corinthians reveals rhetoric under the pressure of conflict in ways that may be interpreted as at once redemptive and problematic. One way to summarize what Paul writes here might be: "You want someone with spiritual revelations? I've got spiritual revelations, from the third heaven, even! But I'm not going there. And here's why. The most important spiritual revelations I have come from my struggles and my suffering and the assurance of the sufficiency of God's grace in the midst of that."
As we had noted in the reading for June 24, Paul had already previously put down the ball of defending his authority to speak and had shifted the conversation to the issues he wanted to address with them in the first place (chapters 7-9). But here we see he has he picked it up again. Indeed, he begins doing so immediately in chapter 10, and he continues to do this through today's reading and beyond.
In a live conversation, when a topic previously settled or tabled is suddenly reopened, what happens to the conversation itself? Does one party re-opening an issue thought to be settled help deepen the conversation, or does it break trust and derail it?
If your congregation had received this letter from Paul, had accepted the invitation to "throw open your arms toward us" (6:13), and were able to hear and respond positively to his appeals toward generosity (chapters 8-9), how would folks where you are feel and respond to Paul defending his own ministry again beginning in chapter 10? I can think of several people and congregations who might put the letter down and walk away, shaking their heads. They might not do it physically, but they would at least "turn off" to anything else the letter might say. The final warnings that close this letter (chapter 13) might be the last straw.
Is this any way to keep a conversation alive and moving toward a better relationship when you're in conflict?
If you're focusing on 2 Corinthians in these weeks (today's text is the final reading), take the time to discuss this in your worship planning team.
Recognizing that the way Paul has structured his argument -- or at least the way the argument now appears to be structured in what may actually be a compilation of several contentious letters into one- -- may actually get in the way of it being heard may be important as you think together how to address this text in worship for today. Even people who are not following along with the overall flow of 2 Corinthians will be able to pick up in today's reading that Paul's rhetoric here feels less than helpful. "You want revelations? I've got revelations! But I'm not going to talk about those!" It sounds more like angry, self-defensive posturing than a respectful invitation to listen.
Therein lies also part of the revelatory and even redemptive nature of this text. Bringing up old wounds or settled decisions is very common to all of us when we find ourselves in stressful or conflicted relationships, even or perhaps especially in our families and in church. We may even know it is self-defeating when we do it, but we do it anyway. Perhaps what a focus on this text today might do is help us both acknowledge our tendencies to do this and, having acknowledged it, either do it less; or when we catch ourselves doing it, stop ourselves, or each other, and try to move on to the heart of what really needs to be shared and said now.
The issue with our text for today is not that it is wrong: far from it! It's that it was (and is) quite likely that the important message it has to deliver can't be heard above the noise and baggage with which it is delivered. That important message still needs to be heard. That message is found in verses 7b-10.
The way this message is delivered matters also. Paul doesn't announce it as a principle from on high. He describes it as the result of ongoing conversation and struggle with God that has changed his perspective. "Whenever I am weak, then am I strong" (verse 13).
Let me offer a bit of personal testimony about that conclusion here. I heard this text preached at the congregation I was attending shortly after my first wife died. I had great respect for the preacher. She was articulating quite clearly how God's strength can be made perfect in weakness. But at that moment, in my continuing grief, I was simply overcome with physical weakness. My body felt heavier than I could sustain in a seated position. It was like someone was pushing me into the pew. There was nothing wrong with the preacher's exegesis per se. But for me, at that moment, all I could think was, "No. When I am weak, I am weak. Period."
For me, that was actually a positive affirmation (I know it sounds otherwise!). I was very much locked into a struggle with God in those days. Pushing back against Paul's conclusion, presented as if it were a principle, was actually helpful. It kept me in the struggle. And at that point, the struggle was nearly all I had; it was keeping me going, and I knew that.
But what I also knew was that not everyone there who might be struggling with God might know that the struggle itself mattered, that it was legitimate, that it should be cherished. I was in seminary at the time and was constantly surrounded by pious voices of other students (thankfully, not of faculty) telling me it was wrong to struggle with God, that I should just praise God more, that I needed to "let go and let God." For every one voice that could affirm the struggle (as indeed this preacher did when I spoke with her about it later), there were fifty calling me to task for it.
I am grateful for those few who could hear me. I remain fearful that many people engaged in struggle with God find far too few voices who will affirm the value of the struggle.
That experience deeply colors my own reading and response to this text, and indeed to any attempt to turn "When I am weak, then I am strong" into a principle rather than a conclusion reached after Paul's own authentic struggle with his own physical and spiritual weakness and limitations. As a Christian and as a pastor, I never want my siblings or those among whom I preach or teach who may be going through such struggles themselves to find themselves, as I easily could have in that instance, more or less in the lurch, wondering if perhaps they should feel guilty for their struggle, that if they just had more faith they'd "get it" that God's strength was happening right then and there.
In continual reflection on this text over the years, I have come to see that Paul was precisely affirming the struggle here. He recounts his own need to keep going back to God to deal with whatever his thorn in the flesh was. He was open about the struggle. It was only through that struggle over a period of time that he finally came to see and hear what he did: God's grace providing for him what he needed, even in the midst of struggle.
I've tried to tell my own story here in the same way Paul did. How will you tell stories, or let stories be told in your midst, that validate the real struggles people have with God and what they are learning in the midst of those struggles? How will you structure worship today to allow for that to happen for folks, so that those who struggle with God, and those that currently don't, can hear, love, and respect one another where they are?
Gospel: Discipleship by the Sea
Neither of this week's gospel stories takes place by the Sea of Galilee. One is in Nazareth. The other is or will be in a variety of other villages dotting the Galilean landscape.
But both of them are still stories of a shoreline. The difference is this shoreline doesn't consist of land encountered by water, but rather by towns, villages, and cultures encountered by the power of the good news that God's kingdom has drawn near.
If we think of the Nazareth story in these terms, the shoreline looks like rocky cliffs. Water may pound against them; but to all appearances, almost nothing is changed. Jesus, who had worked wonders, quite literally, along the Galilean shore and in other places "could do no mighty acts there except, when he laid hands on a few sick people, he healed them."
Facing such stiff opposition there, Jesus left the town of his youth and began going to the villages surrounding it and teaching there (verse 6). Meanwhile, he sent out the twelve, two by two, to multiply the announcement of God's reign in word and power wherever they would go. And so the town that seemed almost untouched by the ministry of Jesus thus became the epicenter of an earthquake of God's truth and power that would shake every village in the region for miles around.
Does the attempt to proclaim God's reign in word and power fall on deaf, unbelieving ears where you are, even within your congregation? If so, do you keep trying the latest tactics, the "silver bullets" of megachurches and "church-help" groups, to change things there? Do you keep pouring more eggs into the same basket, hoping against hope that they will finally hatch instead of rot?
Or do you do what Jesus did here, and actually, later on in our reading today, instructed his disciples to do: Enter, demonstrate God's power, proclaim repentance and, if there's no hearing, move on to the next place and try again?
Note that the "next places" were not congregations. Jesus did not tell his disciples to join a "synagogue revival circuit," wait around until Saturday morning worship and function as the "guest preacher" for the day. He sent them out to show the power of God's kingdom and to proclaim repentance wherever they went, day in, day out -- and mostly outdoors! He gave them specific behavioral instructions and exactly zero doctrinal ones. They were to take sandals for walking, but not much else: No money, no bread, no spare change of clothes, and no way to collect money. Their deeds of power and the form of their lives themselves were the chief proclamation that some new power of blessing had arrived that had changed their own lives. They didn't need to say much at all. The only words they needed to offer in the face of such blessing were, "Repent."
So at the end of today's reading, Jesus was teaching in the villages surrounding Nazareth; and his disciples were fanning out in all directions from there, demonstrating God's power and calling people to repentance. When Jesus would arrive there, the deeds of power already done would prepare people for the teaching he would offer.
That was Jesus' missional and incarnational strategy. It was a missional strategy because it wasn't about getting people to "come in" as much as it was about going out himself and sending others out beyond where he could go. It was an incarnational strategy, because it wasn't primarily about convincing people about doctrine, but rather demonstrating, in the flesh, the truth that God's reign had come, opening the way for dramatically changed lives.
So how is this missional and incarnational strategy of Jesus being lived out where you are? How might the planning of worship reflect the message of this text that Jesus' mission, to which his disciples are continually called, is far more "out there" than "in here," especially when "in here" seems to be dead set against believing the message of God's reign come in Jesus?
Where are you heading this summer? Are you following the David cycle, the Corinthian correspondence, or the ministry of Jesus?
If you are following the David cycle, today would be a good time to think about the nature of leadership in the Christian community, particularly if you are celebrating receiving a new pastor or other staff person today. Although David was appointed King by God through the "ordination" offered by Samuel, his actual ability to lead would depend not on his appointment, but upon the relationships he would be able to forge among those whom he had been sent to serve. The language of covenant from the reading is very appropriate to the "pastor-people" relationship in local congregations. And the ritual in "An Order for the Celebration of an Appointment" (UMBOW 595) is in very real sense a covenant ceremony. If you are planning to use this order, you may wish to consider it in place of a formal sermon and immediately prior to celebrating Holy Communion with the new minister presiding (if the new person is an elder or appointed licensed local pastor). In any event, be sure to allow enough time for all people indicated in the order to be contacted and understand their role in the service. Better yet, be sure that any who will be so celebrated have had one-on-one meetings with each of the people indicated to begin to establish a personal pastoral relationship.
Note: If the appointment is a deacon, you will need to adapt the service in appropriate ways per the rubrics on 597.
Note further: The Book of Worship was published prior to our current ordering of ministry, so wherever "diaconal minister" appears, "deacon" could also be inserted and understood. Some changes in wording to more adequately reflect the deacon's place in the orders of ministry could be made.
For example, on 595, in place of what the leader says to the diaconal minister, the leader might say to the deacon:
"Name, you have been sent to live among us
as a bearer of the Word of God
in service to the community,
equipping all Christians for ministry in daily life,
and assisting the elder in the administration of the sacraments.
If you are following the Corinthian correspondence, you might consider exploring issues related to profound spiritual experience and vulnerability. Very often, as Paul points out in the first letter to this church, Christians may be tempted to use profound spiritual experience as a basis to create a claim for personal superiority. Here, Paul reminds us all that any advance in spiritual growth happens not because of our superior abilities or experiences, but because of our ability to be vulnerable to the working of the God who reveals strength in the midst of our weaknesses.
The gospel lesson today is a clarion call for getting the word out about the gospel in word and deed. What is your church doing already to ensure that everyone in your neighborhood or community is hearing the gospel from and seeing it lived out in power by the people of your congregation? The mission Jesus sends these disciples on is "ultra-low-budget" financially and "ultra-demanding" personally. What models for such low-cost, high-impact mission efforts do you have in your congregation?
- Greeting: BOW 452 (Psalm)
- Prayer: BOW 442 (Independence Day)
- Prayer: BOW 515 or 516, For the Nation (2 Samuel, Independence Day)
- Prayer: BOW 526, "For the World and Its Peoples" (2 Samuel, Independence Day)
- Prayer: BOW 502, "For the Church" (Mark)
- Response to Scripture: UMH 206, refrain: "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light" (2 Samuel)
- Choral Response: UMH 77, stanza 1, "How Great Thou Art" (Psalm)
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 550 (2 Corinthians)
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW 78-79
- Hymn of Commitment: BOW 223 "O Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians, Mark)
- Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 177, "Amen Saikudumisa" ("Great Amen") (Psalm)