William Blake, Jacob’s Dream, 1805. Public Domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for 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
Jacob encounters God in a dream while "on the run" after tricking his brother. Rebekah's favorite, he is on the way to join Rebekah's family in Haran (modern-day Turkey) and find a wife among her kin.
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 (UMH 854).
Four musical options are available in addition to the chant/response in the hymnal. Worship & Song 3011 (“All My Days”) and 3019 (“Bidden, Unbidden”) have strong connections to the Psalm. Stanzas 3-5 of "The Lone, Wild Bird" are a paraphrase (The Faith We Sing, 2052). You could use these stanzas in place of the Psalm, or use the stanza as follows: After verse 6, sing stanza 3; after verse 12, stanza 4; skip verses 13-21; after verse 24, sing stanza 5. Dean McIntyre has also created a psalm tone for unison chanting of the Psalm.
The Spirit witnesses we are the adopted children of God and heirs with Christ — provided we suffer with him. Creation groans with us and the Spirit within us while we wait in hope for the promised deliverance from bondage to decay, futility, and death.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Jesus tells the parable of the weeds sown in the field and interprets the parable to the disciples.
This is the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in the church calendar. In the Southern hemisphere, it is midwinter. In the Northern hemisphere, it is midsummer. For those north or south of the tropics, it is thus a time of extremes. For those in the tropics, however, this time of the year the midpoint of an extended season of very normal weather with similar patterns just about every day, either wet (Northern hemisphere) or dry (Southern hemisphere). Our global fellowship as United Methodists includes congregations and parts of annual conferences who experience all of these seasonal realities at this time of the year.
Wherever you are on the planet and whatever your prevailing weather pattern, we are all invited to use this season of the Christian year to take a deep dive into particular streams of texts (OT, Epistle, or Gospel) to help us help one another strengthen our discipleship and ministries in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whether you are continuing a series started after Trinity Sunday, or a mini-series in these texts started last week, keep your focus on helping your congregation, and the people who are part of it, live out the purpose of this season.
Back to School Resources
August 6, 8 Hiroshima/Nagasaki Memorial
Whole Month: Season of Creation (2014 lectionary resources coming soon).
September 1 Labor Day (USA) (August 31, Labor Sunday)
September 15-October 15: Hispanic Heritage Month
Whole Month: A Season of Saints
October 5: World Communion Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 12: Children’s Sabbath (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
October 19: Laity Sunday
Atmospherics -- First Families: Week 5 or Week 2
A First Step Is often Enough
Jacob has fulfilled his name, “Grabber,” by “grabbing” the birthright from his brother and his father’s blessing by conspiring with his mother. Jacob won these battles, but it cost him. It was no longer safe to be at home.
So Rebekah sends him packing. He is to go to her homeland and family for protection. Even this is another “grab.” Rebekah convinces Isaac to bless Jacob for this journey, too, on the grounds (partly true) that Jacob was going to find a non-Canaanite wife from among Rebekah’s kin. Esau had already disappointed the family by taking (grabbing?) a Canaanite wife for himself. If the covenant promise were to continue through Isaac, it would have to be through Jacob.
Grabbing, grabbing everywhere. But where is God in Jacob’s life?
Up to this point in the story, we’ve never seen Jacob interact with God in any way. We have never seen Jacob worship, pray, or acknowledge God. That is about to change, if only a little.
On the run, still in Canaan and only about one-fourth of the way to his destination in what is now Turkey, Jacob lay down to sleep. In his dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on steps connecting earth to heaven. The movement of the angels is a visible sign of the ongoing connection and communication between “heaven” and earth, something which had been nearly invisible in the story of Jacob until now.
Then God speaks.
And he speaks not from “up there,” but standing right beside Jacob.
God uses the Divine Name (YHWH) and the name of Jacob’s grandfather and father to identify who God is. This is not a generic divine being. This is the One who has been responsible for Jacob’s family’s journeys between Haran and Canaan (Turkey and Palestine) for two generations already. This is the God who promised Abraham land and descendents who would be a blessing to all families on earth. Now this God extends the same promise to Jacob personally.
Here, alone, on the run, and too far in to turn back easily, Jacob has no one to trick and nothing to grab. “I will do you good. I am with you,” God says. God promises to stay with Jacob to get him safely to Haran and back.
Jacob’s response on waking is telling. “God is in this place,” he says. This place is the house of God (“Beth-el” in Hebrew), the gate of heaven. (See Worship & Song, 3132). He took the stone he was sleeping on, set it upright as a marker, and poured oil on it. One might, maybe, call this an “offering of oil,” but that would be stretching. There is no specific “offering language” used for this action. The more likely scenario was he was using the oil to mark the stone so it could be found more easily at a later time.
Jacob recognized God’s presence, but he did not worship. He built no altar there. He offered no thank offering. He made no clear sacrifice of any kind. He received the message, recognized the messenger, made a vow to God to make this God his God if God would make good on the promise (verses 20-22, not in this week’s text). He marked the occasion by marking a big rock. Then he moved on.
Often, when we talk about God in worship or evangelism, our underlying assumption is that people should make an all or nothing surrender of themselves to God, right here, right now. If they really encountered God, that’s what they’d do, we say.
Or sometimes we even frame the message that if we want to encounter God, “really, really” meet God, the only way that can happen is if we unconditionally surrender first.
Or, perhaps even more often, we assume the worshiper present in any given service of worship is only “really” responding to God in worship if she or he is having some profound experience of emotional surrender, and we may even “program” the flow of worship or the worship music to try to lead to that kind of outcome.
That’s not what this story describes, is it? The encounter with God was undeniable to Jacob. But he made no act of surrender, emotional or otherwise, before or after this. At best, it could be said he made a bargain. If this god made good on his promises, Jacob would for his part as well. God did not reject this “non-commitment.” It was a start, a first step.
And it was enough.
The good news in this story isn’t Jacob’s commitment. It’s God’s. God was committed even to a trickster like Jacob. Before Jacob took any steps toward God, God took a step toward him. And God did keep the promise.
It may not be entirely obvious how this story applies to the larger theme of this season. What are we supposed to garner about supporting one another in our discipleship and ministries from this odd account of a man who didn’t worship, even when God showed up and made lavish promises?
Perhaps part of what we are to garner is a challenge to some of our assumptions about the nature and effectiveness of our ministries and the people among whom we offer them.
Do we expect that because we have followed our calling in ministry, that those among whom we offer our ministry are only truly responding to it if they show up in worship with us? Or at least communicate their response to what we’re doing using some sort of God language? Do we think either we or God may not be effectively “reaching them” or we’re doing something wrong if they don’t show these signs?
A question: Does God in this story seem to expect Jacob to have any other response than he actually did? Does God seem in the least disappointed or view it as a problem that Jacob didn’t offer any form of worship at all?
No. God just shows up, and offers what God has to offer. And then keeps following through.
God will be faithful to Jacob, no matter what.
This has profound implications for how we approach our ministries in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. We are called to be in ministry just as God was. Show up. Make an offer. Leave room for whatever response may come, even if it’s hardly any response at all. Then, be good to our word.
In a wider American and even United Methodist ecclesial culture where we are expected to claim and show results for our work in terms of concrete changes others have made, what we learn in this story about how God works with us, and thus how we may be expected as to function as Christ’s disciples in ministry, may feel a bit counterintuitive. Everything else is schooling us, forming us, to say we’re succeeding when we can prove we’re effective, that we can say we caused something to change, and the bigger the change the better. But this story seeks to school us as Jesus schooled his own disciples to announce and embody God’s kingdom the best they can, and be faithful to their word, just as God is faithful to God’s word.
God’s grace is like this. It most often moves us one step at a time. And at the time, whatever the one step is, it’s enough.
In Your Planning Team
Discuss in your planning team what sort of assumptions you each may bring about what an appropriate or effective response to the ministry you offer, however you offer it, may be. Have some fun with this. Some of what you share or discover, as you share it, may turn out to be funny after you think about it. This conversation isn’t about “getting it right,” but being honest and vulnerable about “how it is” with you.
Then shift the conversation toward what offering ministry faithfully with few if any expectations of response or change by others looks and feels like. How does this approach fit with some of your assumptions? Where does it challenge some of your assumptions? And what would be helpful (to each of you) to help you get past assumptions that align less well with a basic posture of presence and faithfulness?
Out of that conversation, you may have a clearer idea what kind of music, and what songs, prayers, and “feeling” or “feeling journey” worship today needs to take to be most helpful to the people of your congregation. You may also be able to name people who are or have become good examples of the kind of faithful presence in their discipleship and ministries God models in today’s reading. Send team members to one or more of these to capture their stories about how they’ve grown in this way. Consider how these stories may inform or be shared in the worship you plan together.
Theology for Ministry: Week 5
Joining the Spirit's Groan
Those of us baptized into Christ are the adopted children of God, living in the Spirit and no longer in bondage to the flesh if we keep our focus on the Spirit and the things of the Spirit until the Spirit can help us break our bondage.
Now Paul takes this to the next level. Living in the Spirit, being the adopted children of God, does not remove us from the sufferings of this world. Rather, it gives us the opportunity to suffer with Christ that we may also be glorified with him (8:17).
God had sent “his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin” (Romans 8:3). Jesus dealt with sin by announcing and demonstrating God’s kingdom had drawn near to expose, confront, dismantle and break the power of sin. That announcement and demonstration also became the source of Jesus’ suffering in his ministry and the grounds of his execution. We who engage in Christ’s mission here and now should expect nothing less.
And the struggle we engage in Christ’s name and the power of the Spirit with sin and death is worth it.
How can we know the struggle is worth it? Paul reminds us we can know it in our very bodies when we pray. The groaning that wells up in us when we sense the enormity of the opposition to the mission we have been sent to carry out is the Holy Spirit groaning in us. We groan because we sense the distance between the fullness of the kingdom of God and the reality of the world around us. Our groaning joins the groaning of the Spirit and all creation, waiting in hope.
The groaning does not stop us. It energizes us. It propels us forward. It is not resignation. It is first fruits of an incredible harvest to come.
We live in a culture that wants to silence the groaning, kill the pain, or divert our attention from what is happening within us and around us in other people’s lives and in creation. Many of us also live in a “Christianized culture” that has domesticated Paul’s message about suffering with Christ and turned Paul’s message instead into a sort of tranquilizer (“opiate of the masses”) that says, “If you feel bad now, don’t worry about it. God will make it better by and by.”
The less your active engagement with God’s mission, the less groaning you may have. The less groaning you have, perhaps the less you are suffering with Christ. And the less you are suffering with Christ, the more you may be denying your inheritance and status as adopted children in the Spirit.
But if the groan is happening—that groan—then someone, somewhere in your midst is actively engaged in God’s mission.
Got groan? Paul, and your sisters and brothers in Christ, are hoping you do. Or soon will.
In Your Planning Team
Ask all the members of your worship planning team to be listening for groaning before you meet to plan this service. Have them literally listen for it, and record examples of it where they can. It can take on a variety of forms. It could be a sigh. It could be a moan. It could be a hum. It could even be a silent stare—in which case you may need video (and permission from the subject!) to capture and share it.
And don’t forget the groanings of creation you hear and see as well. Record them all, all you can.
Then talk with folks who have the groaning about what they’ve seen and about the hope that is in them that sends them on mission where they are.
Play back samples of the groaning during the reading or preaching of this text.
Play it during the prayers, inviting others to join the groaning (and hang onto this for next week, too!).
Play it during the confession of sin and the pardon.
Play it as you gather around the Lord’s table, and particularly at the words “By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
Play it at the prayer of thanksgiving after Communion—“Send us into the world in the strength of your Spirit to give ourselves for others.”
Play it as folks are sent into mission at the end of worship today.
Enter the mission, listen for and join the groaning, and watch God keep real hope alive in and through all who enter the world’s suffering with Jesus.
Journeying with Jesus: Week 5 or Week 2
Parables of the Kingdom: A Bad Farmer
Last week we had the parable of the Sower, offered by Jesus and then explained to his disciples (sort of) at the end of a tough day.
This week’s parable sounds like that day just got worse. We’re no longer hearing about a typical farmer spreading seed everywhere and hoping for some kind of harvest. This farmer is trespassing on another’s land and intentionally trying to pollute and destroy his neighbor’s crop with a crop that looks like wheat, but isn’t. Jesus calls this “bad farmer” an enemy.
When the wheat and the weeds first spring up, it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart. That doesn’t last, though. The farmhands can tell which is which before harvest time, and ask whether they should intervene by weeding out the false crop to give more room for the real one to thrive.
No, says the real farmer, the one whose field the bad farmer infected. Removing the weeds now would remove wheat as well. Wait till harvest time, he advises, and sort it out then. Put the weeds in the burn pile and the wheat into the barn.
The kingdom of God is like that farmer, the good one, not the bad one.
End of parable.
What comes later, prompted by the request of his disciples, is an explanation, and once again an explanation intended only for his disciples, not for the crowds to whom he offered the original parable.
And once again, the explanation isn’t a parable, but rather an allegorical interpretation of the parable. The parable itself was intended to get people to think, ask questions, and see the world differently. The allegorical explanation, like all other allegories, is intended to play out one scenario that emerges if you were to populate the parable with different characters. It’s not the “one right interpretation” of the parable. Rather, it’s one potentially useful one—useful for some purposes at least.
So how might this interpretation have been understood as useful to Jesus’ disciples, or early Christians generally, or us?
It does make certain things clear, doesn’t it—including some things that may not be obvious without a careful reading. For example, in this allegorical interpretation, humans are neither the planters nor the reapers. The Son of Man and the devil plant. and angels reap. Humans—no matter who “planted them” in “the field”—are plants. Humans have no agency, whatsoever, in determining who is in the field and who is not. Nor do humans have any agency in determining what will become of them at harvest. The kingdom is God’s. We get to live and grow in it. And like it or not, we’ll be surrounded by all kinds of others who may look like us but were sown among us by powers intent on trying to disrupt God’s kingdom and perhaps destroy us.
We Wesleyan Arminians don’t like this allegorical interpretation. It sounds incredibly predestinarian and fatalistic. Mr Wesley himself barely covered this text in his Notes upon the New Testament, saying pretty much only (though correctly) that the Greek word behind what the NRSV translates as “all causes of sin” is “scandals.”
But let’s be clear about the text itself. Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism existed when it was written. It wasn’t trying to establish either doctrinal position on divine or human agency per se. Rather, as in the parable, it was saying don’t even try to get rid of those you perceive to be evil people. Live right alongside them. Be the wheat you are. Let the angels handle the weeds as God directs.
Why would this have mattered to the disciples that day? Remember from chapter 12 what that day had been like. Opponent after opponent had come after Jesus, and them. The explanation of the parable of the sower had addressed something of how to understand how something like that could happen in the first place (different people have different abilities to let the good news of the kingdom soak in). In one way, it might be said the parable of the sower might help the disciples of Jesus gain a more compassionate perspective on these people.
But the opponents were still there, everywhere. And it seemed they were pretty intent on continuing to function as opponents. Shouldn’t we, or shouldn’t God at this point, do something to get rid of them sooner rather than later?
No, this explanation says. No. To do so now would only harm everyone, including you. So God won’t do it now. Let go any idea of doing it yourselves, either.
Put another way, weeds and wheat together is God’s will for the kingdom at this time, for the common good of all. Be wheat. Live with and amidst the weeds. And trust God’s angels, and no one else, to sort it out in God’s own time.
In Your Planning Team
When there is a relatively open parable followed by a more “closed” allegorical interpretation, it’s often helpful to treat each separately and then, as in Hebrew poetic parallelism, let the two play off of each other to generate fuller meanings.
Start with the parable itself. Gather your worship team and read it together. Don’t think about the interpretation offered later. Just listen to the parable like the first listeners, and see what it fires off for folks. Ask where people see examples of these kinds of things in life around them. Where do they see people intentionally messing up the lives and work of others? Where do they see people ready to come in and try to fix it? Where do they see folks telling those impatient for the quick fix to slow down and take care of things later? Where are there folks who remember that removing one thing you don’t want can harm something you do? What do people do with the weeds, in whatever form they come, when they are removed? (In this case, the burn pile may have been mixed in with fertilizer for next season’s crops).
See what ideas, images and possibilities for worship emerge from this conversation, and start drawing up some plans for this part of the text alone. Put these ideas in outline form on a large piece of paper, white board, or projected image, but take it down or hide it before you proceed to the next step.
Now, take a break from this text. Work on another week’s worship plan for a bit, or do something else entirely. The point is, get your minds away from what you just did so the team can be open to look at the interpretation version in its own right and see where that may lead.
When you’re ready, read the interpretation version (36-43) several times, perhaps having a different reader each time. The interpretation is not a parable, but an allegorical narrative of judgment and restoration. And it’s no longer about plants and agriculturalists, but about people and the divine realm.
Ask: Where do you see children of the kingdom? What do they look like? How did Jesus plant them in the world? What sort of crops are they intended to become when they quit being seed and mature as plants?”
Ask: How does the devil plant his children in the world? Where do you see evidence of them? What do they look like? What sort of crops are they intended to become when they quit being seed and mature as plants?
Ask: If the field is the world, and the Son of Man is the sower, what does that say about the ownership of the world?
Ask: We confess in the creeds of the church that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Apostles) and “we look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come” (Nicene) (for the whole text of these creeds, see UMH 880 and 882). We do expect this age to end. How is the end of the age a harvest?
Ask: What does this text say about the Son’s activity at the end of the age? How does this connect or not connect with teaching about a fiery end for the unrighteous, often called “Hell” in English? (Keep the focus on what this text actually says, not anyone’s preferred theology on these matters.)
Ask: Why wait until the end of the age for the righteous to shine like the sun? How does the end of the age begin to create a harvest of righteousness even now? Where do you see the righteous already shining like the sun?
See what ideas, images and possibilities for worship emerge from this conversation, and start drawing up some plans for this part of the text alone. Put these in outline form on a large piece of paper, and leave it up for the next part of the conversation.
Don’t rush to the third step. Give this one at least as much time as the first or second part.
After a brief break, put up both sheets of paper or slides, or uncover both halves of the whiteboard. As a group, play with both sets of answers and worship ideas together, and see what emerges. Look for signs of energy in the conversation where creative connections take place.
You’ll now have three sets of worship plans—one for each part of the text separately, and one for the two in interaction. With all three before you, get a sense of which plan may best facilitate your particular worshiping community’s calling to supporting growth in mission where you are. Pick just one, and finish your planning around that one.
Embodying the Word: Intercessions for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Leader 1: For all who are running from something:
Leader 2: Addiction, abuse, harm caused by others, harm caused to others, anger, love or fear…
All: Wherever we are, wherever we’re heading, help us to hear you say you are with us.
Leader 1: For those who work to secure a homeland for all peoples
Leader 2: Leaders of nations; leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams and other religious gatherings; workers in government, business and non-profits seeking to make a better life for all on our planet…
All: Wherever we are, wherever we’re hearing, help us to hear you say we are home.
Leader 1: For the sick, the weak, and the worn-out:
Leader 2: All whom we now name before you… (Time for speaking names)
Leader 2: Wherever we are,
All: Wherever we go, help us to hear you say you will bring us through.
Leader 1: For all who need our prayers…
Leader 2: Family, friends, and neighbors; for soldiers, police, firefighters and all in harm’s way; for all who sorrow, all who rejoice and all who plod along; for all who seek you, and all who need to know your name and power to save… (Time for speaking names)
Leader 2: Wherever we are,
All: Wherever we go, help us to trust you to keep your promise. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Either of two new hymns in Worship&Song may frame intercessions with this text.
- John Thornburgh’s “When Words Alone Cannot Express” (W&S 3012)
Sing verse 1. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, confessing hope and faith in God and intercession for the leaders of church and world.
Sing verse 2. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, acknowledging anger’s power and the need to be made right in mind and spirit, and with one another.
Sing verse 3. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, giving thanks for the fellowship we have in Christ and with Christ, and the wisdom of young and old in our midst.
Sing verse 4. Play a verse while people pray silently or aloud, for all who are born, all who are dying, all who are sick and all who are being made whole.
- Shirley Erena Murray’s “Creation Sings!” could frame a two-part prayer.
Sing verse 1, then offer a series of thanksgivings, or a time for people to offer spontaneous thanks or silent thanks.
Sing verse 2, then offer a series of petitions/groans for the pain of the world, or a time for people of offer spontaneous petitions or silent petitions for all who are groaning.
Sing verse 2 again to close the time of prayer.
Let us pray for the church and the world, saying,
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For all children of your kingdom, that we may be planted and thrive in your field.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For all children of the evil one, that we may show them love and respect, and faithfully proclaim the gospel.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For our chief enemy, the devil, and for all enemies of life and peace—sin, war, disease and death.
Come, Lord of the harvest!
For our sojourn here and now, in weed-filled fields of our own making,
Come, Lord of the harvest!
Come, Lord of the harvest,
and with your angels reap from us
every spot of evil and injustice.
Come, purify, purge and polish us
by your Spirit,
and in your new creation,
we may shine like the sun.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
"If I say, 'Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,'
even the darkness is not dark to you,
The night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you, O God."
(Adapted from Psalm 139:10-12)
Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico
The Great Thanksgiving: 70-71, BOW