The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
From Moses' final sermon: There are two ways—life and prosperity or death and endless troubles. The way of life requires us to walk in God's ways and not bow down to or serve any other gods.
Psalm 119:1-8 (UMH 840-841).
Response 2 better fits 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, Christians in Corinth were still living by the flesh as cliques forming around preferred leaders. To live by the Spirit is to recognize they are God's field, God's building.
"You have heard it said… but I tell you." Part I of two weeks of Rules of Relationships. This week: Overcoming sin.
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The texts in this Season after Epiphany are divided into two streams (OT/Gospel and Epistle) with one purpose: to prepare your congregation for its work of walking with persons preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant during Lent.
The Epistle Stream focuses on being or becoming healthy as the body of Christ.
The OT/Gospel stream focuses on the calling and teaching of disciples of Jesus.
Keep pursuing the stream most helpful for your congregation to get ready for its Lenten work of forming disciples of Jesus Christ readied to live the baptismal covenant faithfully. For more discussion of these two series or streams, see Planning for the Season after Epiphany 2014.
And for Lent, see Planning for Worship During Lent, Year A: Living Our Baptismal Calling. 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 additional guidance with suggestions for weekly ways to include those preparing in worship, see Come to the Waters by Daniel Benedict.
April 13-19 Holy Week
April 13: Palm/Passion Sunday
April 17: Maundy Thursday
April 18: Good Friday
As with all Sundays that include denominational or other programmatic observances 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).
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Atmospherics -- OT/Gospel Stream: Calling and Teaching Disciples
Week 5: Rules for Relationships, Part 1: Overcoming Sin
During this next two weeks we see Jesus getting quite serious about rules for relationships, and Old Testament lessons that underscore the importance of getting the rules straight.
Jesus strengthens what were normally thought of as basic rules for relationships in today’s reading, often introduced by ”You have heard it said… but I say to you….” The common understanding of the “basic rules” about murder, judging others, reconciliation, adultery, divorce, and taking oaths had come (and often still come!) to reflect too much the way 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 teaches his disciples (and we who “overhear” this teaching) to take it up. 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, and whether how we speak with unquestionable integrity—all reflect the degree of our reliance on God’s kingdom alone and lead us to lives that participate in the blessings Jesus named in the beatitudes (last week).
In both texts, Old Testament and Gospel, 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 the way of life, worshiping only our God, Moses instructs. Choose what I say, not what you have heard it said, Jesus reminds.
Neither Moses nor Jesus offers a compromise. Choose life, or death; obey God’s laws or prepare to be destroyed, Moses says. I tell you to place actual reconciliation above ritual, to break yourselves from the bond of lust, to honor your marriage and the marriage bed, and to speak the truth always, Jesus says. Neither offers another way. These are the ways to life, the ways to blessing.
In Your Planning Team
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 three ways to make sure your congregation is likely not to choose life and blessing!
Make the choice for life and blessing seem hard. Most people are not attracted by hearing simply how “hard” something is. They want to know what will make the choice worth it, even and especially if it involves challenges.
Make sure people know that, for the most part, other people do not choose these ways. This is called “negative priming.” People tend to do what they believe many other would do if given the chance or the challenge. But if they think hardly anyone does it, they’re less likely even to give it a try.
- Make it seem that it’s the rare heroic individual, acting with only Jesus or God to back them up, who would make such choices. You may think this would make people feel more special, but it tends to make them feel more alone. Christianity is a social religion. “It takes a village” of folks watching over one another in love, spurring each other on to love and good works -- as Jesus did with his disciples.
Neither Moses nor Jesus intended life to be out of reach. Both longed for their people to experience life with abundance of joy.
So don’t do those three things as you think about music, art, and preaching today. Instead, try these three:
Bear witness to the abundance and joy that comes from living this way.
Share your own stories or send team members to go talk to people who have mastered the temptation to judge, condemn, and dismiss the value of others, people who model reconciliation as a way of life, people who are overcoming the power of lust, people who value their marriages even when times get tough, and people who are known for being true to their word. Use these stories and testimonies (with permission!) live, in story form, or in video to “surround [your congregation] with a community of love and forgiveness” that will help them desire life.
Show how many people actually do live these ways, or at least try.
Worshipers may not generally recognize that they themselves actually often live these ways until they’ve heard how others are doing it. So once you’ve had some testimonies, start asking for raised hands of the number of others present who have done or experienced something of what the witness shared has said or done. When people see how many others are doing at least some of these things, they may be encouraged to do more of it themselves.
Help folks see how we almost always pursue life and blessing with the help of others who are more than eager to help.
Make sure the stories told are stories of “social religion,” of how persons learned from and were encouraged and supported and cheered on by others as they chose ways of life and blessing. Such stories reduce the sense of isolation and the anxiety that comes from “It’s all up to me (and Jesus).”
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.
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Atmospherics -- Epistle Stream: Becoming a Healthy Body
Week 5: You are God’s Field, God’s Body
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 and yourselves as a body 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.”
And that means it’s time for them to recognize their own spiritual role as a people. It can’t be just about leaders anymore. They, the people, are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul doesn’t develop the metaphors. For now, simply to state them may be enough. They are God’s field. They are soil for harvest and the harvest itself. They are God’s building. They, as a community together, one supporting the other, provide a home for God and a home of God in the midst of the wider community. There are farmers for fields, and there are architects and engineers for buildings. Paul himself in a way takes on both of these roles in this letter. But they must not forget who they are first: God’s field, God’s building.
In Your Planning Team
In today’s reading, Paul spends much more time outlining the disease than offering the cure. Sometimes when people are in denial that they are sick or addicted, they need such extensive confrontation before they are able to hear the cure and act on it. But then, when the cure is announced, they’re ready to act immediately.
Is your congregation as “stuck” in cliques around particular past or present leaders as the congregation in Corinth was? Are they in denial about being so “pastor dependent” that they seem to believe they can (or should) do little or nothing at all, and that the pastor or staff should do all or the lion’s share of the ministry for them? Is today a day to name this, detail it, offer loving but firm confrontation?
Or are they aware, not in denial, about their problems, and ready to focus in on the cure?
Or are they basically healthy in respect to their understanding of leadership and their own role, and perhaps it’s time to become healthier still? Ultimately, do they need confrontation, courage to take the next step, or encouragement?
Discuss where your congregation is on this spectrum of “stuck” to “ready to change” to “ready to go deeper” and let that guide you to focus your approach to this text and its healing message in worship today.
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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.
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- Greeting: 451, 453 (Deuteronomy), 456 (I Corinthians)
- Opening Prayer: 461 (Matthew) 464 (I Corinthians)
- Invitation/Prayer of Confession/Pardon: 485 with pardon from 476 or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 7-8 (1 Corinthians, Matthew)
- Concerns and Prayers: 495, 501 (Deuteronomy, Matthew) 503 (I Corinthians)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta
- Prayer of Thanksgiving if Communion will not be celebrated: 552
- Great Thanksgiving: 78-79 or The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 9-11
- Dismissal with Blessing: 561, 566
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