Planning - The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost and Hiroshima Remembrance Day
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a.
David takes Bathsheba, pregnant with his child, into his household as one of his wives when news of Uriah's death/murder arrives. The Lord sends Nathan to rebuke David and to announce a curse upon him and his family. David acknowledges his sin.
Psalm 51:1-12 (UMH 785).
A psalm sometimes described as David's confession after the confrontation with Nathan. If you sing the Psalm, consider using Response 1 with Tone 5 in D minor or Response 2 with Tone 2 in C minor. See UMH, pages 736-737, for more details.
The abundant giftedness of the members of the body of Christ is designed by God to build up its unity under Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus announces to the crowd that crossed the sea to catch up with him, "I am the bread of life."
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On the Christian calendar, we are ten weeks out from the celebration of Pentecost. The lectionary texts, unrelated to each other except for the Psalm to the Old Testament reading, continue in three different series.
How are you beginning to plan now for after "vacation season" comes to a close? See "Seasons and Series for Fall 2012" on the United Methodist Worship Blog or "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost, Year B" on the Discipleship Ministries website for prompts and suggestions.
Continue in prayer for your current bishop, your new bishop (if you are receiving one), and all persons, congregations, districts, conferences and episcopal areas experiencing leadership transitions in the weeks from now through September 1, when the new quadrennial terms for our US bishops begin.
On the secular calendar, Hiroshima Remembrance Day is tomorrow, August 6. On August 6, 1945, just before 8:15 a.m. Tokyo time, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, on the city of Hiroshima. Leveling more than sixty percent of the city, the bomb caused 70,000 residents to die instantaneously in a searing flash of heat. More than 140,000 had died by the end of the day; and thousands more in the subsequent days and weeks died from radiation poisoning and burns. The Truman Library offers educational resources. Google Video also has a powerful presentation. The General Board of Church and Society offers additional theological and advocacy materials. The United Methodist Council of Bishops provided a statement on the 60th anniversary in 2005. Discipleship Ministries offers Hiroshima and Nagaski Worship and Prayer Resources.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
The Season of Creation is commemorated during September.
Hispanic Heritage Month (US) is September 15-October 15.
World Communion Sunday is October 7.
A Season of Saints is commemorated throughout October, starting with World Communion Sunday and culminating in All Saints Day/Sunday. Resources for 2012 will be posted in June. A basic calendar of saints for each Sunday from 2011 is available for those who did not use it last year. You would simply need to leave one week out, as October has only four Sundays this year.
Atmospherics -- Old Testament: From Judges to a King like All the Nations
In 2 Samuel last week, we watched David's crimes unfold. This week, we encounter the consequences -- rebuke from a prophet and a curse on his family to last for generations. "The sword shall never depart from your house" (12:10) meant that his family would begin tearing itself apart from that point forward. Next week, we will see that curse beginning to come to fruition in the rebellion, usurpation of the throne, and then the death of Absalom. David would eventually die as a feeble, shivering, and broken man. Ultimately, after Solomon was able to consolidate power during his reign, Israel itself would be divided into two nations in the coming generation. David's crime spree we saw last week wasn't the only cause of that. But today's reading cites it as a significant contributor.
This week's text, though, is not just about David. David in Israel's history is the symbol of Israel's kingship at its very best. So the judgment and curse here stands as a judgment against human kingship -- and later, empire -- itself.
In this light, all human empires and governmental powers stand under the judgment of God for taking what belonged to others and killing the innocent. Consider whether or how this text may lead your reflections or prayers about Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembrance Day (tomorrow).
Psalm 51 is an appropriate response to this reading, regardless of one's theories about its authorship. Today, as on Ash Wednesday, it helps us pray honestly about our sin. It also helps us pray honestly about the mercy, salvation, and hope we seek from God in the face of our own deeds of selfish rashness as individuals, congregations, denominations, citizens, regions, or nations.
As you are planning worship today, especially if you are following the "David" stream this season, find ways to connect the praying of this Psalm to the reading or preaching of this text. Do not limit Psalm 51 to a few verses extracted for a "call to worship." This isn't a call to worship. We need to be aware of our sin before we can pray this. So the reading and perhaps preaching from 2 Samuel may need to come first.
And do not limit your encounter with Psalm 51 today to reading it or just singing through it. This isn't a reading; it's an act of prayer, which may (and originally did) include music. It is an act of corporate sung repentance seeking embodied mercy.
Whatever you do in planning around this text, let Nathan in the story and the Spirit in your midst "point the finger." This is not an occasion for the preacher or others to condemn people in public. It is rather the place of worship leaders to let the text speak, and as it does, to provide ways for people to respond as they may need to.
Epistle: Networked Unity
Ephesians 4 invites us to consider two possible states for its first hearers and for us. Much of Ephesians seems to presume a general state of "things going well" among the churches centered around Ephesus and simply to offer a kind of "theological summary" to encourage more of the same to continue. But the intensity of the language of unity this week may point in another direction as well. Across many cultures and times, repeated motifs in rhetoric are often an indication that what is repeated is not happening as it should, and attention needs to be paid toward repentance or redirection.
"One body, one Spirit, one hope of calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" -- that's seven "ones" in a very short space. Combine that with Paul's calling upon the people "to walk worthy of the calling by which they had been called, being zealous to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond-chains of peace," and what is conveyed is a strong sense of urgency about the teaching and the practices he is about to offer here. It is certainly possible the communities that made up the "Ephesian circuit" did have it all together, and Paul was simply urging them to keep it up. But the strength of this rhetoric at least suggests Paul may have been concerned that some of them may not.
Do you have it all together where you are? Just how well are partnerships working within your congregation and across the networked relationships you are forming with others?
Paul offers two watchwords here for those seeking to embody the oneness that God establishes in the church: "walk worthy" of your calling in Christ Jesus and "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond-chains of peace."
Where are people in your congregation "walking worthy of their calling" in their actual daily lives? In our heritage, this points to how we help one another live and grow in holiness of heart and life until we are made perfect in love toward God and neighbor. How do the partnerships you are forging with others help you all, across all your congregations, become entirely holy?
How does your congregation and how does your partnership with others actually help you "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond-chains of peace"?
Very often, groups seeking to build community or improve partnerships aim and settle for "everyone just getting along" and no one's feelings getting hurt. That, however, turns out to be a great recipe for miscommunication and dysfunction, not healthy community! Paul sets a much higher bar here. Our unity isn't forged in our feelings. It is forged by no one less than the Holy Spirit and bound together by nothing less than the peace of Christ. Peace (Shalom) in the Bible doesn't mean simply a lack of conflict. Instead, it always points to the abiding presence of health and wholeness, even in differences and conflict.
What are the signs of healthy community within each of your congregations and across your network? And what do you do as individuals or a community -- intentionally or perhaps by good habit-- to encourage both "walking worthy" and "keeping the peace?"
Discuss these questions in your worship planning team and across the worship planning teams in your partner congregations. Consider developing a plan for a response to the sermon today that enables thanksgiving for the strengths you and your partner congregations have, mercy for what you lack, and grace to improve -- both in "walking worthy" and in "keeping the peace."
For the sake of your own growth as a congregation and the growth of your partnership, these first five verses may be focus enough for today.
But if there is time or better need for more or for a different focus, read and build on! This week's reading continues with a description of particular leaders and gifts the Spirit has offered in the midst of all of the Christian communities in that region -- Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. While other "gift lists" are more expansive (see Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12), these five seem to include the key roles necessary for the growth and multiplication of Christian communities, almost wherever they are.
Note that Paul does not say all five gifts are present in the pastor or in any one person. Quite the opposite! The people are the gifts! Some are apostles. Some are prophets. Some are evangelists. Some are shepherds. Some are teachers. Persons exercising these gifts in the community equip the followers of Jesus for their hands-on ministries and build up the body of Christ. The latter does not necessarily mean making the congregation or the network larger. It does mean helping the congregation or the network of whatever size to function with the unity and integrity of one body.
Further, these five kinds of gifted people and their differing roles offer these two key functions (equipping the saints and building the body) toward particular goals -- unity in faith (which does not mean merely uniformity in beliefs), unity in knowing Jesus (which includes following his direction), and, ultimately, maturity "into the full stature of Christ." (We Wesleyan Christians would say, "Christian perfection.") In short, the goal of all these roles is to make us all, with our varying gifts and roles, as competent in fulfilling and witnessing to God's reign in our lives as Jesus was in his.
And this goal was intended to be achieved by all persons in these communities, not just a select few (verse 13). That's why Paul is adamant in the verses that follow that not achieving this goal it is not an option. "That's why we must no longer be infants, tossed about and carried along by every passing fad of teaching, the trickery of people and their skill in methods of deception; instead, we are [all] to grow up by all means into Christ, the head." Perpetual growth (growing in holiness toward perfection in love in this life) is to be the normal mode of Christian life. Full maturity (perfection) in Christ in this life is its expected and achievable end.
How does your congregation and network of congregations work actively to help all people achieve full maturity in Christ in this life? What does "full maturity in Christ" look like where you are? Who might you say has more or less achieved that? How did those people "get there"? If you are planning to build worship today around this part of Ephesians 4, consider selecting music, visuals, and soundscapes would support the theme of "No More Lifelong Babies: Full Maturity in Christ for All!"
As you consider whether to tackle this, keep in mind that while early Methodism did seek to help all of its adherents achieve "perfection in love in this life," their practices for doing so were primarily not accomplished within the congregations of the Church of England or other churches of the day, but alongside them. Early Methodists remained connected to the ongoing worship life of the congregations for Sunday and Feast Day worship and for the celebration of the sacraments. But they relied on their own separate, non-congregational structures of class meetings, bands, and societies to do the work of ensuring that everyone who would remain in them would be growing "in holiness of heart and life." This left the early Methodists free to be relatively exclusive in their groups -- inviting all but retaining only those who were serious about living out their faith accountably under the General Rules -- while also experiencing the more "inclusive" environment of congregations that were open to all to attend, regardless of their interest in such growth.
So what kind of congregation are you? Are you an open, Church of England-style congregation ready to receive and keep all who come your way? If so, inviting people into deeper forms of discipline will likely require that people do so in an additional smaller environment, such as the early class meetings and societies, which will of necessity have higher standards for obtaining and retaining participants. Or are you a "high-expectation" congregation, where all professing members are in accountable relationships and groups that keep them growing in Christ and are willing and able to "speak the truth in love" to one another when they go astray, possibly even rescinding professing membership for a time if there is not a willingness to repent? The kind of congregation you actually are -- not just wish you might be -- should shape the approach you take in planning worship around this text today and in continuing to build partnerships in ministry and mission across your local network.
Gospel: The Holy Meal, Part 2-- I Am the Bread of Life
As 2 Samuel offered the "aftermath" to the reading last week, John's gospel offers the first of several installments of the "aftermath" of the feeding of the 5000 we read last week. We already got a hint of some of the aftermath from last week, as Jesus hid himself in the mountains to avoid the crowd declaring him their king, and then met the disciples on the Sea of Galilee as they were rowing to reach their next destination.
It's at that next destination that the next level of "aftermath" unfolds. Some from the crowd the day before had gotten into boats themselves that night, presuming Jesus' next stop might be Capernaum. Jesus is none too welcoming to these seekers. He begins by insulting the reason they came: "You're seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the bread and got full" (vs 26). Why is seeing signs important? In John's gospel, it's everything. It's about whether you "get it" about who Jesus is and what's happening in the world now that he has come. Jesus is saying, "You're not here because you get it."
He continues in words the audience in the story still wouldn't get, but that early Christians would. "Don't spend your time working for perishable food but for food abiding into eternal life which the son of man will give you." The early Christians here heard one thing: the Eucharist.
This did not mean to them "spend all your time focused on ritual." It likewise didn't mean "forget ritual." Instead it meant something like "live in such a way that you can also participate in the ritual with integrity."
The Eucharist in early Christianity was not made available to all, everywhere, not even to all the baptized from week to week, though it was celebrated at least weekly. What we know of early Christian Eucharistic practices is that one really did have to be living demonstrably in the way of Jesus as discerned by the gathered community even to be present in the room when worship happened, much less to receive the blessed bread and wine. If Didache, from roughly the same time and place as John's gospel, is any indicator, the "ban" was a very active practice in Syrian Christianity (home to John's gospel, and possibly Matthew's as well). The ban was not intended to cut people off as much as to ensure that all present really were prepared to offer themselves, individually and collectively, as a pure sacrifice to God at worship.
So when the Christians in John's community heard "spend your time working for food abiding into eternal life," they likely heard "live in such a way that you both reflect and are worthy of the food you receive and share in worship."
Clearly, the biblical context is not ours. We place few conditions on people receiving from the Lord's Table. We require only a sense of willingness to follow Jesus, to repent of our sins, and to seek peace with others. We make no restrictions at all about who can be present when we worship. So we lack the "objective correlative" in our context that made sense of these words to their first hearers.
What we needn't lack, however, is the teaching and support that calls disciples of Jesus to remember and live out what we pray at the Lord's Table. The article "From the Table into the World" explores these very connections between what we pray at the Lord's Table and how we "live what we pray" in our daily lives.
The dialog between Jesus and his "inferior" seekers continues as they ask another question that may seem out of the blue. "What do we need to do so we can perform the works of God?" The question shows they're still not "getting it." Now they want to be able to pull off the "tricks" Jesus performed. They want the secret to his "magic."
It wasn't magic. It was a sign. They don't get that. Jesus knows it. But he offers them a way to "get it" if they will take him up on it. "This is the work of God: that you believe into the one God has sent." "Believe into" means "commit your life to following." If you become my follower, my disciples, Jesus says, then you can "get it." Then you'll see the signs, and you'll do them, too. Not instantly, but by following him over time, you will.
In verse 30, the people make clear they don't see the signs. That's why they ask for one. And what they ask for seems to miss the very point of what they had experienced the day before. "Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness." Hadn't they just come to Jesus because they had miraculously eaten bread in the desert themselves?
Jesus' response is patient but to the point. The manna wasn't the true bread from heaven. The bread the day before wasn't either (obviously: it was from a boy's lunch!). It was a sign of the true bread. That bread comes from God and gives life (zoe, not bios-- "aliveness," not mere biological function) to the world.
Now their hunger manifests. "Give us this bread always!"
Jesus answers, "I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me shall not be hungry again, and the one who believes into me shall no longer thirst" (vs. 35).
Think together and discuss in your worship planning team what people are looking for where you are. Are they looking for a quick fix, like the bread of the previous day? Are they looking for a silver bullet, like the "secret to the magic" these folks requested? Or are they looking for what Jesus actually offers -- the more rigorous way of daily and lifelong discipleship to him?
Next ask yourselves this, quite honestly. What do you actually most regularly offer people through worship where you are? Are you offering a "quick fix," the fulfillment of some immediately felt need or desire? Are you offering or claiming to offer a "silver bullet," ten ways to a happier or more fulfilled life, "secrets" to success?
Or are you offering your own witness and the witness of others to a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ and extending the offer to others actually to "believe into" him, to follow him with their whole lives -- and not backing down on the fact that that, and only that, is what you offer?
Look through your worship plans and bulletins. Recall your conversations about planning. Think about what you say and what you sing in worship. And resolve that today, in planning worship around this text, you will follow this dictum: Offer them Christ, the true bread of life.
The texts today lend themselves to interpretation in light of the events 67 years ago. We know from last week's reading that David acted deliberately in not joining his troops, in taking Bathsheba into his bed, in ordering what amounted to the execution of Uriah. What he did not know at the time, but perhaps could have guessed had he been willing to think of it, were the dreadful consequences of these deliberate acts for his family and the nation for generations to come.
If you read the Atomic Bomb-Truman Press Release, you will see a similar clarity about the awesome power of the atomic bomb, but a lack of awareness of the full impact of its destructive force -- not simply on an enemy target in Japan, but on the history of the world ever since. Those of us who lived through the long shadow of the Cold War, the duck and cover drills, and the stocking of fallout shelters remember it well. You might ask for folks in your congregation to share a story or two about their memories of those days.
But those days, the days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are still with us, even if the named enemy is no longer the Soviet Union. As this is being written, terrorist acts continue throughout the world; North Korea and Iran have only escalated the development of their nuclear capacity. North Korea continues to test long-range missiles, and the United Nations is struggling to find ways both to respond to North Korea and to prevent Iran from completing the development of nuclear weapons.
This is just as true now in 2012 as when I wrote the preceding paragraph originally in 2009! Three years have passed, and hardly any progress at all has been made to lift the shadow of terrorist and nuclear threats.
This day is also the first Sunday of the month, a day when nearly ninety percent of United Methodist congregations will celebrate Holy Communion. How we need the Bread of Life, not just today; but, as the crowds in John's Gospel declare, always! And what a blessed miracle it is that God wants to give us this bread always, if we will but allow ourselves to receive it! What else can we do in response but "offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us"?
This is why John Wesley began ordaining elders and General Superintendents (bishops) for the Methodists in the U.S. It was to enable what he called "Constant Communion." It was to be sure that the people called Methodists need never be without access to the Bread of Life as offered and received from the Table of the Lord, the water of Life from the font of Holy Baptism, and words of Life from the teaching and preaching of Holy Scripture.
May your fonts be full, you Tables be ready, and your ears and voices alert to hear, proclaim, and live the living Word of God in worship today!
- Call to Worship: UMH 93, refrain only, "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (2 Samuel )
- Greeting: BOW 454 (2 Samuel, Psalm)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 461 (2 Samuel, Psalm)
- Call to Prayer: UMH 641, "Fill My Cup, Lord" (John)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 486 (Psalm, Ephesians)
- Prayer: UMH 353, Ash Wednesday (2 Samuel, Psalm)
- Prayer: UMH 366, For Guidance (2 Samuel, Psalm)
- Prayer: UMH 456, For Courage to Do Justice (2 Samuel)
- Prayer: UMH 535, A Refuge Amid Distraction (2 Samuel)
- Prayer: UMH 713, All Saints (Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW 399, Week 2 (John)
- Prayer: BOW 431 by Barbara Dunlap-Berg (John, Communion)
- Prayers: BOW 505 and BOW 506, For the Church (Ephesians)
- Responsive Prayer:BOW 514, For the Mind of Christ (Ephesians, John)
- Response: BOW 189 or BOW 191, "May This Mind Be in Us" (Ephesians, John)
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW 71-72, or the version for today from Lift Up Your Hearts (Year B)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Canada, U.S.A.
- Prayer of Thanksgiving BOW 554 (Ephesians, John)
- Blessing: BOW 564 (John)
Additional resources (John)
Greeting: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
What do you seek?
We seek bread that satisfies the hunger of our souls,
bread that brings life to the whole world.
Come, let us gather around Christ in Word and Table.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that by the stories and pictures we see through the Scriptures, we may eat the Bread of Life and trust in him now and forever.