Planning - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
A pharaoh who did not know the family of Joseph made his descendents into hard-labor slaves and tried to reduce their numbers by infanticide. The Hebrew midwives and the daughter of Pharoah had other ideas, so Moses was raised in the royal household.
Psalm 124 (UMH 846).
Alternate refrain: "If it had not been for the Lord on my side" (TFWS 2053). See "Psalms for Singing: Psalm 124" for an alternative.
Against the backdrop of their mixed Jewish-Gentile community, Paul calls the Christians at Rome to offer themselves fully to God with transformed minds (not conformed to a Jewish-Gentile dichotomy/enmity paradigm), but with the awareness that we are being made into one body, each of us with differing gifts.
In a stronghold of Roman authority, Jesus asks the disciples who others say that he is. Peter confesses, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus then calls Peter and the church in which he will eventually lead to storm the gates of death, assured of victory, and to take authority to "bind and loose" on earth.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 (Patriot Day in the U.S.) is approaching. All residents in the U.S. are asked by the government to take a moment of silence at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. For congregations in other time zones, this may correspond with the beginning or ending of worship. Consider how or whether you will incorporate this specifically in worship, or schedule a later time for your congregation or worshiping community to commemorate the day. See our resources for 9/11 anniversary on this website.
Denominational Calendar: The next denominational emphasis is Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15. The next denominational special Sunday is World Communion Sunday, October 2. In preparation for World Communion Sunday, consider viewing "Living into the Mystery," either in worship or as part of a class. You can view it online if you have broadband Internet; or order the DVD. The video and ordering details are available here.
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Exodus: The Way of Deliverance
An Uprising of Life and Compassion
This week's reading in Exodus opens us to a new stream of texts that will carry us through October 16. We have moved from the stories of the founding families of the people Israel to the story of the making of these people into a covenant people called to live under God's law and on the move from oppression in Egypt into a promised land. These stories, too, have been foundational for the Christian understanding of Jesus as God's Passover, God's deliverance from the power of sin and death offered to all, and for many peoples over the centuries who cry out to God for deliverance from their oppression.
The arc of the Exodus story continues to offer a wellspring of hope to oppressed peoples everywhere, as well as for Christians reclaiming the centrality of baptismal living and mission in concrete, here and now ways. Wesleyan Christians who seek to live the General Rules, created to be practices and means of grace for enacting the baptismal covenant, have particular reason to attend to this story in these weeks.
Today the story begins. Read it closely. Note who the powerful actors are and are not. Midwives and daughters overcome the reactionary and murderous behavior of the most powerful men in Egypt and so preserve the life not only of Moses, but of many other male children as well, causing the numbers of the enslaved to continue to multiply (not just increase!).
Spend some time in your worship planning team doing some local, regional or national social analysis based on this text. Have leaders in your community identified a particular group to oppress or get rid of? Why? Who in your community acts as midwives to preserve their lives? Who plays the role of Miriam, strategically and subtly placing those who may be at risk before the powerful who may preserve them? Who are the "Pharoah's daughter" -- people on the "inside" of power, or at least with extraordinary access to power, whose actions could create an opening to convert paranoia and fear to nurture and loving care?
Now turn the conversation around. To what degree might your congregation be taking on the role of Pharoah, trying to take action to preserve itself against "outsiders"? Or to what degree are you known as "midwives to revolutionaries" in your community? Or how might you be more like the daughter of Pharoah -- with ins to power that can make a difference, if you use them prudently for the cause of compassion and justice?
Think about these contextual questions on your worship planning team as you design for worship around this text. Considering the arc of the Exodus story, from slavery toward promised land, think about how you might design worship space for all of these weeks (now through October) -- the arrangement of seating, artwork, and soundscapes -- to reflect not only their journey, but your congregation's journey from its current "stuck places" toward a more vital engagement with Christ's mission in all the "promised places" where he has sent you.
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Romans: Christian Theology and Ecclesiology, 101
Romans 12 begins with a deep breath. The past three weeks (chapters 9, 10, 11) have been an in-depth exploration of the theological challenge of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity in a mixed Jewish-Gentile Christian community. That heavy lifting is now over. Paul has established his key arguments there and is now ready to move on with how, given all of that, Christians of whatever background are to live as one body in Christ together.
If you used the image of the grafted olive branch last week, and if you have access to morphing software, use it to create a segue between an image of an olive tree and a person or a small group of people (community/body).
Using the imagery of body, Paul pushes the olive tree graft image radically forward. Gentile Christians are not merely grafted into the main trunk of God's covenant with Israel, but all Christians both form one body in Christ, collectively, and individually each is part of each like the arm is part of the whole body. We are both collectively and individually being designed in Christ to be connected to each other, regardless of the backgrounds from which we have come to be incorporated into Christ by baptism.
Each of us brings different gifts to the community we are being formed into by the Spirit. Paul lists a sampling of these in verses 6-8. Note that the gifts listed here are focused not on the "institution" of the church, but on the core activities of the Christian community with one another and on mission in the world -- proclaiming God's living word, serving others, teaching, coaching, giving, leading, and offering mercy.
That may be a challenging distinction to make. Many spiritual gifts inventories in recent years have been designed to help people identify what they are going to do for the institutional life of the local church. They have been used almost as a volunteer employment screening test. That's not the perspective Paul brings here, or in I Corinthians 12 and 14, or in Ephesians 4. Paul cares about the life of the Christian community as a community -- for its fellowship, its expression of mutual care, and its witness, collectively and individually, to God's mission at work in the world. The emphasis on the community is clear in the metaphor of "body" that pervades this chapter. Our "medicalized" culture, however, tends to atomize the body to its parts, while Paul's culture understood the body to be the epitome of interconnectedness. And our models of church life may be more "organizational" or even "mechanistic (how one part fits another like a cog in a machine) than organic. We may focus on interchangeable parts. Paul focused on unique and irreducible wholes.
Remember that in the Roman context to which Paul was writing, Christian community was very intimate. These were small house churches where many of the participants literally shared the same house, may have worked together through the day, and shared daily meals and prayers. Community was not a theoretical construct. It was the nature of their daily lives with one another.
Where are there vibrant small Christian communities like this in the life of your congregation or community -- small groups of people deeply committed to one another and to living out and bearing witness to the mission of God with one another and wherever each goes in the course of the day? Invite your worship planning team to be in conversation with folks who are living this way as you develop worship around this text today. How are they or how have they become "one body" together? How have these groups been transformational for the people involved? What have they learned about thinking about one another (and others) "with sober judgment"? How have they created space for the variety of gifts they bring to the table for their life and witness as communities of Jesus to be expressed? What do they say about being members not only of the whole group, but individually of one another?
Then think together as a team, with their input and involvement where possible, about how worship space in arrangement, sight, smell and sound today can reflect both the joys and the challenges of living as Paul describes here in Romans 12.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Last week in Matthew's gospel we saw the decisive shift in the mission of Jesus toward including people outside the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." Now, Gentiles as well as Jews would be part of his mission to declare and embody the reality of God's kingdom drawn near. This week's text, set in a Roman garrison city named for two decidedly Gentile Roman leaders -- Caesar in Rome and the tetrarch Philip in northern Judea -- continues to express this humanity-wide focus. It is no accident that the synoptic gospels note that Jesus asks the two questions in this week's reading in this particular place. Who do others in this region say the Son of Man is? And who do you say I am?
"Who do people say the Son of Man is?" is not a public opinion poll question about himself. The phrasing is intentional. "Who is the Son of Man?" In the book of Daniel, the Son of Man is the deliverer to come. There was wide speculation about just who or what kind of person this might be. Jesus then isn't asking just about himself, but about what Jewish people in this most Gentile-controlled of regions expect the Son of Man to be. They, of all people, have good reason to long for deliverance, and so for the coming of the Son of Man!
The answers to this question say a lot about the hopes and expectations of these people. That John the Baptist tops the list indicates just how expectant (and perhaps disappointed) they are. Others seem to expect a prophet to return, either from heaven (Elijah) or from the grave (Jeremiah or another of the major prophets). Hear what that suggests -- that only an extraordinary intervention could generate true deliverance! Yet in such an extraordinary intervention they were placing their hope.
In short, the people in this heavily occupied region of Galilee had a pretty good idea what they were hoping for. Perhaps some were already seeing that hope embodied in Jesus.
Your congregation is the body of Christ where you are. Who are people saying your church and the people in it are? Send out your worship planning team members (or if you don't have a planning team, send out some other "posse" of inquirers!) to do some local polling of folks in your church's community -- not just around where your building is, but where clusters of your congregation spend their time during the week. Don't load the question. Just ask it as simply as Jesus did. "Who would you say the people of X Church are?" Use what you learn from these interviews in your sermon preparation, and incorporate the images and sounds of what you learn from that question in the worship space for this service.
But don't stop there. You are the body of Christ, the church, and your Sunday gathering for worship is primarily as that body. You have a faith to confess, the confession Peter offered and Jesus strongly affirmed. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus is the Christ, and we are his body. Who or what others say you are is an indicator of whether and how you are living up to who you actually are as Christ's representatives in the world.
Whether you are bold representatives or poor representatives, you are his body, and so his representatives. In you and through you, especially as you gather around the Lord's table to receive the body and blood anew, Messiahship and the power to be witnesses and agents of God's transforming power flows. How are you seeing it flow? How are others seeing it flow?
With that transforming power, what Jesus tells Peter applies to you as well -- do not forget this! Death's gates do not prevail against you. When you as church come marching, challenging death's power where you are, the gates will give way. You are empowered by Jesus to declare people freed and delivered, to unbind them from their chains. That's who you are and what you do because that's who Jesus is and what he did.
Consider together in your worship planning team who, as individuals or as groups, in your congregation and community are on the march against death's gates, freeing captives, loosing their chains, and binding those forces that kept them captive in the first place. Arrange to have some conversations with these folks, inviting them to share their stories. What images from their stories will you bring into the worship space today? Work hard to find examples from within your congregation if you can. The point here is not to tell the congregation they're wrong or deficient, but to remind them and inspire them to live more fully into their identity as the body of Christ, Son of the living God.
- How will you chart the course for worship over the coming weeks? The Moses narrative begins on this Sunday and stretches out for the next ten weeks. What an opportunity to relate the narrative of God's journey with a people from slavery to the Jordan River and the Promised Land!
- Romans is coming to its denouement, concluding on September 11. How are you sustaining energy and interest in this text this week and for the coming three?
- If you are using today as an opportunity to "switch streams" from Old Testament (since the series in Genesis is concluded) to the gospel, you have started at a good and challenging time! Where does today's text, to start your new series, evoke your confession of their hope for deliverance and who Jesus is? How will you invite people to make their own confessions, both liturgically and in daily life?
If your community or you (as planner/leader) are squeamish about the use of creeds and statements of faith, what does that mean? Explore the material on "What We Believe" on the umc.org site. Spend some time reviewing "Our Theological Task" in the Book of Discipline. And listen and encourage your worship planning team to read or listen to "The Need for Creeds," Krista Tippett's interview with Jaroslav Pelikan exploring the rich tradition of creeds and creed making in Christianity, including a creed from the Maasai people. Does your congregation regularly confess the faith of the church, or do they rarely do so? If you are the pastor, help your people explore these critical issues. People want to engage with the core beliefs of the church and sense that they have a living relationship with them.
Exodus: As an expression of the theme of preserving life (continued in a way from last week's text as well), consider offering a response to the word using the Second General Rule, "Do good."
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:
To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that "we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it."
By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.
By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord's sake.
Romans 12: Consider singing one or more of the following from Worship & Song before and after as you invite people to gather in small groups to offer prayers for each other as they engage mission in the coming week:
- 3149, "For Everyone Born"
- 3152, "Welcome"
- 3154, "Draw the Circle Wide"
- 3155, "The Lord of Life, a Vine Is He"
- 3156, "One Is the Body"
- 3159, "Let Our Earth Be Peaceful"
Matthew 16: A confession of faith -- Apostles, Nicene, or another of the basic affirmations of the faith (or perhaps one drawn from the "The Need for Creeds." Decide what kind of corporate confession you need -- not ruling out one of the classics a priori -- based on how you discern together what your congregation needs to say today to remember their identity as the body of Christ in and where they are.
- (Exodus or general)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
- Or BOW 555 (Romans)
- BOW 315
- BOW 301 with adaptation
- BOW 421
- BOW 412 (Matthew)
- BOW 555 (Romans)
Confession and Pardon:
- BOW 480 (Add words of pardon) [Exodus, Matthew]
- BOW 479 (Romans)
- BOW 490 (Exodus)
Response to the Word:
- Apostles' Creed, United Methodist Hymnal, 881 or 882
- Nicene Creed, United Methodist Hymnal, 880
Concerns and Prayers:
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 68-69
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
Here is an example that local churches may use as long as the copyright information line is printed with it. This prayer may easily be made a unison prayer or a responsive prayer.
Most merciful God,
We give thanks for the work you give us to do.
Our work gives us a sense of importance.
We give thanks for the people we encounter daily.
People give us a sense of belonging.
We give thanks for schedules and routines.
They help us to feel grounded in a changing world.
We give thanks for Jesus Christ.
Christ's love gives meaning to all of life.
From page 28 of Worship and Daily Life: A Resource for Worship Planners Copyright 1999 by Discipleship Resources (OUT OF PRINT). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Dismissal: 559, UMBOW
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