Kudzu takes over a field near Canton, Georgia.
Photo by Jud McCranie. Used by permission. CC BY-SA 3.0.
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
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
The Lord interrupts Samuel's grief over Saul's many failures and sends him to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as the Lord would show him.
Psalm 20 or Psalm 72 (UMH 795)
The hymnal’s psalter was based on a previous lectionary that did not include Psalm 20. Psalm 72 celebrates what a good king would do, what respect he could expect, and what hopes the people might have for him and his reign. Use Response 2, or, for a Christological response, TFWS 2069 or 2070.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13), 14-17
Since we are in Christ, a new creation, we are empowered to live for him.
Two parables of the kingdom of God—seed scattered that takes root, grows, and leads to harvest, and mustard weed—a woody, fast growing and spreading, persistent nuisance in Middle Eastern fields much like kudzu in the U.S. South or pokeweed in the Midwest.
Calendar: The Season after Pentecost
Your current series should now be well and properly underway. The key strategic challenge to you, your worship planning team, and worship leaders is to maintain the momentum and deliver on the promise you have lifted up for this series, while continuing to develop the next series or two. Always, from week to week, your primary leadership challenge is not one of performance or marketing (though these matter, too), but to lead the particular people of your particular congregation in your particular place to offer themselves and their gifts to God in worship the best way they can. You want the series to succeed as a means of edifying the body and strengthening disciples. But keep first things first. The primary questions are “How did God move among us today as we worshiped?” and “Did we worship and respond well to what God is doing among us?”
As you continue to refine the upcoming services in this series and start a new one, keep in mind, as well, the overarching purpose of the Season after Pentecost: To support disciples in growing in personal holiness and living out the ministries the Spirit has empowered them to offer. Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry after Pentecost, Year B may be a helpful guide.
Through much of June and July, the Old Testament reading focuses on the story of David. The Epistle readings (from 2 Corinthians) address conflict and authority in the church. And the gospel picks up Mark’s story of Jesus, beginning today with the attempt by his family to “rescue” him after rumors start flying that he has lost his mind and is casting our demons by the power of Satan. Which of these three story arcs (leadership, internal conflict or the challenges of discipleship) is most promising or fruitful for your congregation or worshiping community for the next several weeks?
June 19, this coming Friday, is Juneteenth, an important celebration for peoples in the U.S. of African descent marking the date in 1865 when African Americans were first informed of their freedom, made law in 1863 through the Emancipation Proclamation. You may find “The Right Hand of God” (4041) and “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” (4042) from the newly released Africana Hymnal Project particularly relevant as part of a worship service commemorating this day.
June 21 is Father’s Day in the United States. Remember that cultural calendar events, like program events, should never displace the focus of worship of our Triune God or the emphasis of the biblical texts or the Christian year, but rather find their home within it. How will you help your congregation challenge and honor fathers well in the light of the series you are pursuing and the Scriptures offered that day?
Youth 2015 is a major gathering of United Methodist Youth from across the connection, this year focused on living out the means of grace. Find ways to be in prayer in worship and at other times for the thousands of United Methodist youth who will be attending this event, including those from your congregation, cluster or district, June 24-28 in Orlando.
Independence Day (U.S.) falls on a Saturday this year. You may choose to recognize it in Sunday worship on July 5 or in special worship service offered on July 4. The Book of Common Prayer (1979) provides readings for this day. The Revised Common Lectionary and The United Methodist Book of Worship version of the RCL do not.
So, which stream are you focusing on for the next several weeks? The movement from judges to kingship and the character of the king (I Samuel)? Or Paul’s efforts to re-establish his authority and provide helpful leadership for the conflicted and spiritually challenged Christian community in Corinth (2 Corinthians)? Or the sweep of the story of Jesus discipling his disciples as he carries them with him in his mission along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and beyond (Mark)?
Old Testament: The David Saga
Week 2: Moving On and Listening for God's Direction
This week’s reading falls at a time of year when many United Methodist congregations and pastors may find themselves “moving on.” Sometimes the change in leadership is welcomed by congregation and pastor alike. Sometimes one or the other may be disappointed that change has come.
But always with any significant change comes a process of grief, even when congregation, outgoing and incoming pastors are thrilled with the outcomes. This is because the beginning of any new way of life or change in significant relationships also marks the end of what had been known by all parties before. Active social networks change for pastor and congregation alike. Who the pastor relates to most closely in leadership and personally changes, and so changes the culture of the congregation. If the pastor has a family with children, their friends, schools, and place within schools change. Even something as simple as when and where one goes to get groceries, coffee, or a pedicure or haircut changes. And every one of these changes is a loss of patterns that had become familiar, even loved. It is emotionally and physically challenging to find new ways to do things and new people to relate to. Initial excitement about the newness of it all and possibly expanded opportunities for pastor and congregation alike do not overcome the expense of energy required by the loss of former patterns and relationships and the need to learn new ones.
We all need to make time for both excitement and grief whenever such changes occur. And when we have, then we can all move on sounder footing.
In our reading from 1 Samuel today, Samuel was at a point of significant change. Samuel and Saul had parted ways at Gilgal, never to meet again (15:35). It had become clear that Saul, whom Samuel had anointed, was not an acceptable king for the people. God had rejected him as king over Israel (15:23, 16:1). Samuel went into hiding for some time at Ramah.
Samuel must have felt as if he had failed, too. Samuel had anointed Saul, after all. Samuel had seen evidence of the Spirit beginning to work in Saul as Saul joined the company of the prophets for a time. And now, despite this remarkable beginning, Saul had failed, colossally. And Samuel had so shown up Saul at Gilgal, both by verbal rebuke and then by doing himself what Saul was supposed to have done—destroy Agag, king of the Amalekites (15:33) —that he had to know he was a marked man if he continued in public ministry. What was there for Samuel to do now but grieve his losses, lay low, and wait for Saul to die?
So Saul went to Ramah and grieved.
Taking time for the pain and grief was certainly a wise and healthy thing to do. What faced Samuel, though, was the prospect of doing this for the rest of his life, or at least the rest of Saul’s life.
But God had other ideas. While Saul was at Ramah, apparently in hiding, God spoke to Samuel and told him he still had work to do. He still had a ministry of prophecy and anointing, and it was time to be about it again. God had chosen a successor for Saul, one of the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem. It was time for Samuel to go anoint him (16:1).
After some initial (and appropriate!) questions, Samuel set out. After assuring the town elders that he had come in peace (i.e., he wasn’t going to do to anyone there what he had done to Agag!), he gathered the family of Jesse for a sacrifice at which he would anoint one of them, the one whom God would name to him, as the next king (16:3).
Here’s the key phrase for us as disciples of Jesus engaging our ministries, and as congregations and pastors who may be facing pastoral changes at this season of the year: “the one whom God would name to him.” When Samuel introduced Saul as the anointed king, Saul was literally head and shoulders above the others (I Samuel 10:24). He literally “stood out.” It was obvious from his appearance that he was intended to be “over” the tribes of Israel. Yes, God named Saul, too. But Saul also looked the part.
Not so here. It wasn’t the oldest, or the tallest, or any other dominant physical characteristic that would mark the one God would name. God looks on the heart. God knows the next best step for all involved (16:7). This time would not be anything like the last time. It was God’s naming and Samuel’s readiness to listen for it that would mark the right way to go.
So often in our leadership we tend to approach new situations based almost entirely on “what has worked before.” Whether as congregations, pastors, disciples, or decision-makers in any organization or group, if we’ve been successful trying something a particular way in the past, we’re likely to default to the same process when we face a similar circumstance in the future. And we’re likely to resist approaches that may actually be better, but that are different from what we’ve known.
Samuel stands as a model to all of us for leadership in new situations. We are not to rely on the past, on appearances, on what seems right or easy. We are to rely on the leadership of God to show the way. We are to pray and become clear about God’s will and direction for the here and now. Yes, we may have some expertise from training and past experience. Or maybe if we’re new in our ministries or our settings, or with one another in leadership, we need to admit, up front, we’re still gaining expertise, despite whatever our previous experiences may have been.
Of course, we seek to bring our best wisdom to the table every time.
But it is God who looks upon all of our hearts and who knows what our best next step should be.
Disciples of Jesus, lay or clergy, long-time or new… remember this.
In Your Planning Team
Maintaining the Flow and Feel of the Series
Last week, you will have set the stage, even literally, for this series on leadership as disciples of Jesus. You will have created some elements in your space design and graphic design that will remain constant throughout the series. And you will have included some customized pieces within that design specific to the issues of last week’s reading on the nature of faithful leadership.
This week, you may wish to keep one or two elements of last week’s focus in view, even as you add new elements that will help you focus on this week’s key points about dealing with grief in transitions, moving on, and listening for God’s direction (not only wisdom gained from past experience) as you move into the next phase of your ministry. This way, you will visually demonstrate how one week builds on another and has led to the next.
Discerning Where to Focus Today
All three of these points are important for disciples as they engage their ministries in the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Disciples need to remember starting something new always involves letting go of familiar people, places and patterns, and that means dealing with some measure of grief. They also need to be encouraged that a time of grief, while both inevitable and necessary, is not to last forever, and to be ready to listen for God’s renewing call, even in the midst of some grief or disappointment. And then, of course, we all need to remember that God’s plans for critical next steps are wiser than our “default mode” of decision making, and so we all need to practice listening for God rather than relying on that default mode, no matter how experienced we may be.
Addressing all three of these points may be too much for one sermon or service to do. Your congregation may be at a point in its life where you really need to focus on just one of these in worship, and use other venues to explore the other two, whether in small groups, via social media conversations, or in Sunday school. Or you may even decide that these three points are so important, that each requires a Sunday and week of focus on its own and spend the next three weeks unpacking this text. This may be especially valuable if you are the new pastor or your congregation has just undergone a significant change, crisis, or disappointment.
So take time as a team to pray, individually and together, seek the Spirit’s guidance about how to best to respond to this week’s reading, and trust the Spirit to show you the way. As this text itself bears witness, the Spirit knows how to do that!
In many United Methodist churches, this will not be a Communion Sunday. However, our four-fold pattern is designed to give significant time to acts of thanks, whether Communion is celebrated or not. Be sure to incorporate time to give thanks for specific times in the lives of the disciples gathered for worship that relate to the focus or foci you address from today’s readings in song, confession, or sermon.
Epistle: Forging a Way through Conflict
Week 2: We are All New Creatures Walking by Faith
Last week, we saw Paul using some of the arguments against his legitimacy (he isn’t eloquent, he isn’t attractive, and he is in trouble with the authorities a lot) precisely as an argument for his legitimacy, because such sufferings only more closely identified him with Christ.
This week, we have two verses that have often been quoted separately out of context, becoming almost taglines or slogans in their own right: “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. All former things are passed away. Behold, all things are brand new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Both of these “famous lines” are zeroing in on the same problem. As we saw in last week’s reading, at least some folks in the Christian community in Corinth, perhaps reflecting shared values with the larger cultural context of Corinth, have come to believe that Paul should be ignored or rejected because he doesn’t look or sound impressive (we walk by faith, not by sight!), may be a bit of a ranting lunatic (“if we are beside ourselves, it is for God,” 5:13), and perhaps, even, that he seems too “heavenly minded” in light of the very real, concrete human realities these people are facing in Corinth (“we regard no one from a human point of view,” 5:16).
The ground of Paul’s argument here seems to be that Corinthian culture is simply not a helpful matrix, at all, for discerning the way and will of Christ in their midst. This is why he concludes this section with, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creature. All former things are passed. Behold, all things are brand new!” (5:17).
Within that last verse, a key phrase is “in Christ.” Though Paul had not baptized many of them, Apollos, who succeeded him, had. It was through the Spirit-anointed waters of baptism that these persons had moved from being learners outside of Christ to being born anew to a living hope in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Being in Christ made them brand new creatures, and the church was to be the brand new environment that supported their brand new way of life. As brand new creatures in a brand new body in which Christ was head, they were no longer to adopt and live out of the values of the Corinthian culture as means of evaluating what was good or legitimate, but only the values of Jesus himself and of God’s reign.
Living out of being in Christ was what Paul sought in his own life. It’s what he taught those seeking to become disciples at Corinth while he was with them. And it is what he continued to lift up for them through his ongoing correspondence with them.
Paul had not changed what he valued. For those among the church at Corinth who had moved away from the centrality of life in Jesus Christ, Paul here reminds them of what he had always made front and center, these first things, common values he had sought to instill while he was with them.
Christians walk by a Spirit-led faith, not culture-conditioned sight. That’s why we don’t use human criteria to evaluate ourselves or others. After all, we have been made brand new creatures capable of living out the culture of God’s kingdom amidst whatever ways our earthly cultures may seek to form us.
This means some measure of conflict between Christian criteria and some cultural criteria for success of validity may be expected. The wider culture has not itself become a new creature in Christ. Christians have. And we are called to continue to live and evaluate others as new creatures walking by faith, not merely sight.
Back to top.
In Your Planning Team
As you think about the worship space, what elements will you keep from last week so that the space as a whole communicates you are continuing in the same series? You had focused on the way of the cross last week, but this week you are focusing on learning to walk by faith as new creatures in Christ rather than merely by sight granted by the formation the general culture may have given us.
To answer that, ask in your team what images speak of “walking by faith in Christ” where you are, and what images speak of “how the culture in general sees things”? Do not overly demonize “the culture” as you answer this question. Your culture, no doubt, has given you many gifts that are quite compatible with the gospel, so you should expect some of these images to overlap, at least somewhat.
Think about this in terms of the music you will include in worship today as well. What songs or hymns (from whatever source) help your congregation express gratitude for being made new creatures in Christ? What songs or hymns (again, from whatever source) may help your congregation express what it means to walk by faith rather than sight?
Next, get to the nub of how this week’s text fits into the larger series on helping disciples forge their way through conflict. We see Paul reminding people to rely on the influence of the values of Christ versus those of Corinth’s otherwise consumeristic and hedonistic culture in terms of how they evaluate others. More than this, we see him reminding this congregation that their true culture IS as new creatures in Christ, no longer merely Corinthians with some friendships in common. Paul includes himself. If we are new creatures in Christ, given new birth through him, we are also siblings wherever we find ourselves in the world.
When we are in conflict with one another in the church, this is an invaluable point to remember. Even when we disagree or don’t like one another, God has made us sisters and brothers in Christ. We’re part of the same family. We have this in common. And this is a firm foundation we can build and rebuild our relationships with one another upon, as long as we actually do so walking by faith and not merely by sight.
So a third stream -- and perhaps what may emerge as a central stream of elements of worship space, song, and prayers today-- may be those elements that express our common “new creatureliness” in Christ as the ground for both unity and reconciliation when unity becomes strained.
Gospel: Learning and Practicing Discipleship by the Sea
Week 2: Shoreline Dispatches of God's Kingdom
Last week we had our introduction of the “liminal” and “shore-like” life and ministry into which disciples of Jesus are called. This life of discipleship to Jesus is liminal in part because this present age has become a threshold (“limen” in Latin) for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. It is shore-like (litus is Latin for shore), not simply because Jesus does much of his teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, but because much of our lives are lived at the intersection of the wild and the domesticated, of natural chaos and imposed order, between water and land. The core ministries into which Jesus called his disciples (proclamation, deliverance, and healing) also stand in this liminal and litoral space between truth and confusion, possession and freedom, disease or death and health and life.
Today’s reading is part of the extended narrative of the parable of the sower in Mark’s Gospel, and the two parables we hear today are offered from a boat at the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Both are parables in the truest sense. They mess with our usual ways of thinking about things and leave us perplexed, scratching our heads, if we hear them carefully and take them seriously. In this way, both take us and keep us on the threshold, at the shore.
The first of these is sometimes called “the seed growing secretly.” The usual counsel that comes out of such a title seems to be that God will take care of the growth of God’s kingdom and bring about the harvest in due season. While that is not an entirely inaccurate reading, the text itself is rather more shocking than that, at least to its first hearers.
Simply put, almost no one would think about a kingdom as being merely “scattered” like seed on the ground. Kingdoms don’t “just happen.” Kingdoms are exercises in sustained organization and all kinds of human effort. When we think of God as King, we tend to translate the idea of God’s kingship looking like the kingships of the world—sustained and growing by means of force, planning, and diligent effort.
Yet here, Jesus says God’s kingdom is nothing like that. It is planted. It grows organically. Fruit emerges. There is little planning or effort we do or even God does to bring about its result—an inevitable and abundant harvest. What may seem random, hidden in the earth, and even of little significance ends up becoming sustenance for God’s new world.
Here is a deep lesson for disciples of Jesus to learn. We do not build God’s kingdom. At most, we scatter its seeds, just as Jesus is doing from the boat calling back to the folks on land. Then we watch and bear witness to what God does with it over time. Whenever harvest comes, we go in and reap. The kingdom, like the random seeds, has its own logic for growth and fruitfulness.
The second parable is even more bizarre. It was odd enough for Jesus to compare the kingdom of God with a crop from seeds randomly scattered. Now he compares it with the seed of mustard weed, which, in fact, no one would try to plant at all. Mustard weed was the kudzu of Palestine (hence the image above!). It grew wild, taking over and sometimes choking out the crops the farmers did want to plant. Its seeds were spread by the birds who ate them and deposited them from field to field. Farmers would do their best to get rid of it from their fields, but the more mustard weeds, the more birds would come by; and the more birds, the more mustard seed would be spread. Jesus says, the kingdom of God is just like this.
A huge nuisance?
An interrupter and interferer with what we actually want?
Reproducing and multiplying despite our best efforts to stop it?
Oh, and worse, doing exactly what mustard weed does—attracting the “birds of the air”—a profound metaphor for people “not like us,” in Jesus’ day-- to nest in its branches. And of course, when the birds do that, they eat the seed and spread it even more.
Bad enough that the kingdom of God seems to grow in ways we can’t predict or understand. But now Jesus teaches the crowds and his disciples that God’s kingdom happens in ways that most of Jesus’ own contemporaries, including his disciples, and maybe including some of us, if we hear him as they did, may only experience with some feeling of disgust.
Messy, noisy, disliked, irritating, taking over, unstoppable as mustard weed (or kudzu in the U.S. South, or pokeweed in the U.S. Midwest): This is what the kingdom of God is like. No fancy parades or “mission accomplished” banners unfurled. Just ongoing persistent undercurrents that transform the world.
If we’re to be disciples of Jesus, prophet of this kingdom, we’d better learn to get used to that -- and so, in following in his way, have our spiritual senses re-tuned so that that which most normally may provoke disgust in others becomes for us the way of justice and joy. We need to become comfortable with the “threshold” or “fringe” ways by which the kingdom is planted and the messy ways by which it spreads.
And this has some implications for what it is we think we’re trying to build or accomplish in our ministries in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. We may be more scatterers than establishers. Our work may be more to send out some kind of seed that may grow later than “nail down a solution” that “fixes” a particular problem. And our work may best be evaluated by what it subverts, and by mess, noise, and viral spread than by longevity or perfection.
In Your Planning Team
What parts of the “shoreline” in your space will you maintain today and throughout the series? How and what will you recede into the background from last week’s service, and how and what will you bring forward to draw attention to where the two parables of this week’s service are headed?
What kind of musical arrangements (not just texts) can help your congregation express and experience the heart of today’s shoreline message about how God’s kingdom comes and how we can best both proclaim and bear witness to its coming in word and deed through the ministries of folks in your congregation? These parables are both organic in content (seeds, birds, crops, weeds and “bird fertilizer”) and wild in meaning. What kinds of music your congregation can offer today are at once “organic” and “wild” like these parables?
The kingdom comes like scattered crop seed and like intentionally planted weeds. How have members of your team and participants in your congregation and community seen the kingdom of God come in these ways? Gather such stories, and consider how to scatter the more “normal” ones and find ways to plant the wilder ones as part of worship today—all in ways that will encourage disciples of Jesus to discern how best to sow their lives and ministries in witness to God’s kingdom at loose in the world.
- Greeting 240 (first item), 451 (“In the midst of the congregation...”) (1 Samuel, Psalm)
- Opening prayer 468 (Mark), 466 (2 Corinthians)
WORD AND RESPONSE
- Scripture response UMH 694 (stanza 2) "Come, Ye Thankful People Come" (Mark)
UMH 275 "The Kingdom of God” (Mark)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Brazil
- Concerns and prayers 544 (I Samuel), 527 (2 Corinthians, Mark)
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION