Planning - Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany
From Moses' final sermon: There are two ways -- life and prosperity or death and endless troubles. The way of life requires that we walk in God's ways and not bow down to or serve any other gods.
Psalm 119:1-8 (UMH 840-841).
Response 2 probably fits best with the theme of the OT/Gospel stream today. Sing with Tone 1 in B-flat major (UMH 737).
1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
Despite their spiritual riches, the people in Corinth are still living by the flesh. Their ongoing cliques around particular leaders prove this.
"You have heard it said but I tell you." The way of the kingdom of God exceeds and sometimes subverts the righteousness of the Pharisees.
Back to top.
Today is the sixth Sunday after Epiphany. The texts today and for the next two Sundays fall into two distinct streams (OT/Gospel and Epistle), either of which your planning team may wish to adopt as the "theme" for worship from now through the end of this month.
If you're following the OT/Gospel stream, the focus is on the teaching ministry of Jesus, and perhaps especially on "What God's kingdom requires and blesses." If you choose to follow the Epistle stream, the focus is on coaching the worshiping community to live out its calling to be the body of Christ where you are.
Choose and stay with the stream that seems most fitting for where your worshiping community is and needs to head, especially as a means of laying a foundation for the extended weeks of baptismal preparation known as Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 9).
On the denominational calendar, February is Black History Month. Resources are available from the General Commission on Religion and Race and through the 21st Century worship resources on the Discipleship Ministries website.
Scouting Ministries Sunday is scheduled for this Sunday, February 13. As you plan for this day, while it would be appropriate to include participants in the five youth development programs United Methodists recognize as leaders in worship (readers, acolytes, Communion servers), turning worship into a Boy or Girl Scout program is not recommended.. Such a program could be offered appropriately at a time other than regular Sunday worship.
Have you begun planning for Lent, yet? It's not too soon! There are sponsors to line up, ways to support candidates for baptism and professing membership to incorporate, and a coherent series of services to produce so that those preparing, and the congregation, experience a seamless, ongoing journey toward faithfulness and discipleship to Jesus Christ in the covenant of baptism. For specific guidance with suggestions for weekly ways to include those preparing in worship, see Come to the Waters by Daniel Benedict.
On the U.S. cultural calendar, St. Valentine's Day is tomorrow, February 14. If you include recognition of this day in worship, consider how you might remember the witness of the third-century martyr or martyrs named Valentinus rather than the cultural celebration of romantic affection. Note as well that St Valentine is no longer part of the sanctoral cycle (the calendar for remembering saints of the church) for the Roman Catholic Church or The Episcopal Church, owing in part to the lack of historical clarity about who this person (or persons) may have been or what he (or, as some scholars think, they) may have done.
As with all Sundays that have some cultural or programmatic elements, keep in mind this advice from the Book of Worship:
"Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year. The special Sundays are placed on the calendar in the context of the Christian year, which is designed to make clear the calling of the Church as the people of God." (UMBOW, 422).
Back to top.
Atmospherics: OT/Gospel Stream -- What God's Kingdom Requires and Blesses
In this week's readings, the "blessing" is intimately woven into requirement.
To live into a future of "life and prosperity," Moses reminds the covenant people that they must keep the covenant to worship only YHWH and walk in all of YHWH's ways, commandments, and ordinances. Life and prosperity for all are the fruit of such living. Destruction awaits them should they worship other gods or abandon the ways laid forth in the covenant.
Jesus pushes what were normally thought of as basic requirements even further, though, in a series of statements beginning "You have heard it saidbut I say to you." What they have heard said about murder, judging others, reconciliation, adultery, divorce and taking oaths reflects too much the ethics of the kingdoms of this world rather than the way of God's kingdom. Jesus here names the way of God's kingdom in each instance, and calls those who would follow him to take it up. Such practices -- whether in how we speak of others, how we prioritize reconciliation with others and with God, how we handle the gift of sexuality and the bond of marriage, or how we speak with unquestionable integrity -- reflect a reliance on God's kingdom alone and lead us to lives that, though not without suffering, clearly know and participate in the blessings Jesus had named in the beatitudes.
In both texts, two ways are set before the people. In both texts, there are choices to be made. And in both texts, the voice of God is clear about which choice yields the better long-term outcomes. Choose life. Choose the practices Jesus commends in each of these cases.
How might you as worship planners help make it more likely that more of those who gather around these texts on this day will indeed choose life, choose the practices commended by Jesus?
Here are a few hints how NOT to do this! First, make the choice for life seem hard and possibly undesirable. Second, make sure people know that for the most part, people do not choose these ways and perhaps would prefer not to. Third, make it seem that it's the work of the rare heroic individual, acting with only Jesus or God to back him/her up, who would ever make such choices. In short, do everything you can to make such a choice seem out of reach for all but the most committed. Do this, and you will ensure that indeed, only the most committed, none of whom may gather where you worship, will make such choices.
Or do the opposite, and see if it might produce an opposite result. Share your own stories or go talk to people who have practiced the ways that Jesus commends here. How have people mastered the temptation to judge, condemn and dismiss the value of others, promoting and enhancing life rather than death by their thoughts and speech? Who models reconciliation as a way of life? Who is overcoming the power of lust? Gather up these testimonies, these success stories, and find multiple ways for them to get out and be reinforced in worship this day. Make it clear that the choice is good, desirable, and one that works for many, especially when they've got support that keeps them accountable and encourages them on the way. And be sure not only to speak, or put up in videos, artwork or images, but also sing and pray, as the Psalm does, of the goodness of God's commandments, and how blessed and happy those are who keep them.
As the body of Christ, we are not only called and expected but also empowered through the Spirit and each other's watchful love to live fully in the way of life, fully in the ways of the kingdom of God revealed by Jesus. If worshipers where you are enter worship this day doubting any of that, do what you can as worship planners to help them leave this day with such doubts set aside, sent forth with confidence, resolve, and support to choose life.
Epistle Stream: I Corinthians
Paul has been clear from the beginning of this letter to the Christian community he founded in Corinth that he knows they have been given abundant spiritual gifts, and he rejoices in this fact. At the same time, however, here he is just as clear that despite the abundance of those gifts, as a community they continue to live "in the flesh" and not "in the Spirit." The evidence of this is their internal factionalism that promotes "jealousy and quarreling" (verse 3) that threatens to tear them apart.
They have to get beyond this, and so do many congregations. And Paul shows them a way. It's not a way that requires them to do a lot of self-analysis and work at internal changes over years. Instead, it involves a shift in thinking about leaders. No one leader at any time does everything right or all that needs to be done. No one preacher has THE final word from that time into eternity. No, Paul says. That way of thinking is "thinking in the flesh," attaching too much authority to one person.
Instead, he says, think about your leaders in the Spirit. That is, see what the Holy Spirit has done with each of these leaders (Paul, Apollos, others) to bring the people to where they are now and take them to the next level. Paul offers them this analogy. Paul had planted seeds. Apollos (apparently a significant pastor for them after Paul left) watered that seed. (It was probably Apollos who baptized many of them, since Paul indicates he had not done so!). Perhaps someone or some team of persons is in leadership now. But whoever has been involved, it is always God through the Spirit, not solely through particular leaders, who brings the increase.
Paul admits here he hadn't done much to communicate with them or teach them such spiritual thinking, such thinking about how the Spirit undergirds and superintends their lives. He hadn't thought them ready for that while he was there, and perhaps they still weren't as ready as he would like (verses 1-3), but now he is doing so, at least on this point. It is time for them to wean themselves from attachments to particular leaders and learn to digest "spiritual meat."
How do you need to approach this text as a focus for worship planning this week? Where does it speak truth into the situation of your worshiping community? Where is it resonant? Where is it dissonant?
What Paul does for the Christian community in Corinth might today be called "reframing." He gives them a different way to understand their connection to leaders from the one they had learned, probably from their families and surrounding culture. Reframing can sometimes be a very powerful tool for helping individuals and groups move through "stuck places."
Paul's reframing here is grounded in his understanding of the Spirit as the Giver and Generator of Life in the body of Christ, or God's field, or God's building, as he puts it here (verse 9). They were stuck on unhealthy attachments to particular leaders. Where are you stuck? How might an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in your midst help you reframe what's happening and get "unstuck"?
Consider how reframing might be a core image to weave into the worship space today. If you use projection, keep an image of frames, or an animation of changing frames, onscreen. Consider how the same image might be placed in different physical frames throughout the worship space and convey a very different message. Play with this as an anchor image, and see where the Spirit of Life leads your team!
Back to top.
Embodying the Word: Praying or Singing the Ancient Songs
OT/Gospel Stream: The Gloria in Excelsis
This may be a week when you will want to pray the Gloria in Excelsis in a different way, especially if you have sung it to the same tune for the past two weeks. To maintain continuity with singing in some way, consider a way of praying it in unison with a simple sung refrain (antiphon) before and afterward, such as UMH 83.
Epistle Stream: A Canticle Smorgasbord
The contrast between the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh in the I Corinthians, plus the Way of Life and the Way of Death in Deuteronomy is caught nicely in the "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (UMH 205), especially if you sing Response 2. While the words of this canticle are largely Scripture (and so ancient), their arrangement here is new.
Back to top.
- Greeting: UMBOW 451, UMBOW 453 (Deuteronomy), UMBOW 456 (I Corinthians)
- Opening Prayer: UMBOW 461 (Matthew) UMBOW 464 (I Corinthians)
- Invitation/Prayer of Confession/Pardon: UMBOW 485 with pardon from UMBOW 476 or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 7-8 (1 Corinthians, Matthew)
- Concerns and Prayers: UMBOW 495, 501 (Deuteronomy, Matthew) UMBOW 503 (I Corinthians)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta
- Prayer of Thanksgiving if Communion will not be celebrated: UMBOW 552
- Great Thanksgiving: UMBOW 78-79 or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 9-11
- Dismissal with Blessing: UMBOW 561, 566
Back to top.