Planning - The Third Sunday after Epiphany
See the texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10.
Jonah finally begins to fulfill his assignment to proclaim God's judgment to the people of Nineveh ("that great city"). He walks through about one-third of the city's streets on the first day, announcing that only forty days remain before doom arrives. The response of the entire city is rapid and complete: The entire human population fasts, "and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth" including the farm animals. God relents and does not bring harm to the city.
Psalm Response: Psalm 62:5-12 (UMH 787).
In God alone our souls in silence wait. In God alone is our help. See Worship & Song, 3135, for a Taiz refrain. If singing the Psalm, use Tone 4 in E minor.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31.
Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that they should order their lives by the realities of God's kingdom, not by the standards and practices of "this world" that is "passing away."
Mark offers the core of Jesus' proclamation, perhaps the title or tagline of every sermon Jesus preached: "God's kingdom has drawn near: repent and believe this good news!" Jesus calls some fishermen to leave their livelihood and their families to follow him.
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We continue in "Ordinary Time." Through these weeks, the Sundays are given ordinal numbers in relation to a past holy day; today is the Third Sunday After Epiphany. The color from now until Transfiguration Sunday (February 19) is green. And our readings through these weeks are divided into two distinct streams. The Old Testament/Psalm and Gospel all focus around themes of calling to discipleship and the ministries into which Jesus calls his disciples. The Epistle reading (from I Corinthians) focuses on basic "lifeways" or "practice patterns" of Christian discipleship. Either would make an excellent series. Plan to pick one of these as your focus, as the two streams are not designed to intersect. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Epiphany, Year B" for more details.
Coming in February are Black History Month and Scouting Ministries Sunday (February 12). Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts provide resources or recommendations for such recognitions. The National Association of United Methodist Scouters prefers that the February date be used for recognizing scouting programs with both boys and girls to avoid conflicting with Lent.
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It's week 2 of this 5-week series. If you made a strong beginning to your series last week, be sure to keep the momentum you established going strong this week and through the weeks to come, so these five weeks feel like and are a unified whole.
Whichever series you started (OT/Gospel on calling and discipleship, or Epistle on Christian Lifeways) should continue to drive your choices about imagery, lighting, soundscape and the arrangement of worship space for these five weeks. You can build on the atmospherics you started -- adding more or making slight variations-- but don't change them radically from week to week. The feel of the space and of the flow of these services will do more to convey a sense of connection between them than anything you can say, tweet, or preach.
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OT/Gospel Stream: A Calling from God, Week 2 -- "The Eager Yes!"s
The Revised Common Lectionary gives us two straight weeks to focus on calling from God. And in none of the readings do we see anyone being called to be a pastor. Last week, we saw Samuel first struggling to understand who was calling, and then responding to God's calling for him to give his mentor, Eli, some very tough words about his family's future. It was a one-time call, but one that opened Samuel up to hearing and responding to God's voice throughout his life.
We also saw Jesus calling two very different people to follow him, and we observed the two very different responses each gave. Both said yes, but how each got to yes was different. Philip responded openly and eagerly. Nathanael was, at best, a skeptic. Jesus made it clear he was ready to take on both and that neither would be the same for the adventure. Follow him, he said, and they would see the kingdom of God breaking in, because Jesus himself was the pathway of God's kingdom.
This week we have two more calling stories, and this time the response to both of them is like that of Philip last week: over-achievingly eager! Jonah has finally arrived at Nineveh to announce a coming judgment; and the whole people, and even the livestock, wear sackcloth as a sign of repentance. Jesus encounters Simon and Andrew just casting their nets into the sea for a catch, calls them to follow, and they do, immediately, leaving boats and nets. Then he sees James and John, calls them, and they even leave their father behind in the boat to follow him.
The callings are different: Repentance for Nineveh, lives as disciples to a wandering rabbi for Peter, Andrew, James and John. But the responses are the same -- immediate and dramatic willingness to do whatever it takes to answer the call.
Why a dramatic response? Perhaps in part because the call itself was dramatic. Jonah was a foreign prophet from a backwater nation who had traveled across the desert to warn the people of Nineveh they would be invaded and taken over in forty days time (Jonah 3:4). Given the political situation at the time, this was not an unlikely scenario. The timeframe was too short to rally and train an army ready to defend against an invader that could arrive, lay siege, and take over within forty days. They would need divine help to survive. And that's exactly what they sought -- and received. God had mercy when he saw their acts of repentance, and the invaders never came.
If we focus only on verses 16-20 in Mark, we may miss just how dramatic Jesus' call to discipleship would have been understood by those hearing him and immediately following.
In verse 14, we find that Jesus came to Galilee right after the arrest of John the Baptizer. John had been operating in Judea, but he was arrested by Herod, ruler of Galilee. Jesus did not "flee" from the trouble that had beset John. Instead, he located his ministry in one of the leading trading posts in the heart of Herod's territory, in Capernaum. Jesus was a man with some nerve!
But even more dramatic than his decision to move into the "heart of darkness" was the message he proclaimed there: "The time has come, and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news!" Being called as a disciple by this gutsy man proclaiming that message in Herod's territory was either the most exciting or the most terrifying prospect one could imagine. Perhaps there was some combination of both. But for these four men on that day by the sea near Capernaum, excitement won. And they began to follow Jesus.
They repented as well. For them, however, repentance looked rather different than it did for the people of Nineveh. For the Ninevites, repentance was an act of self-abasement, lamenting their sin (perhaps), and seeking mercy from God. For these four new disciples, repentance was leaving behind their livelihoods and families to become disciples of Jesus, whatever that may mean.
So how are you and your worshiping community at responding when God calls? As we saw last week with Samuel, it may take us a bit of time to understand that it is God calling. And as we saw last week with Nathanael, we may initially be more skeptical than eager to say yes. God knows that and perseveres with us until we do say yes.
But when we say yes, do we remain reticent, or do we go "all in"? In both of this week's texts, what precedes people going "all in" is a clear announcement that the world as they know it is about to be changed dramatically, whether for the worse (Jonah in Nineveh) or the better (Jesus in Capernaum).
Who has responded eagerly and gone "all in" to a calling from God? Go talk to these people and hear their stories. Very likely you'll find that they, too, "got it" that the world as they had come to know it could change dramatically if they said yes to God. And so they did.
As you hear these stories in your worship planning team, ask yourselves how you can design worship today -- in music, images, and message -- that makes as real for your worshiping community as Jonah and Jesus made it to those who heard them that God is doing something dramatic in the world and invites us to be part of it. Jesus does not simply "add life" to our lives, but is Life himself. And if we become his faithful, "all-in" disciples, not simply his cheering section or memorial society, we will know that Life and that kingdom drawing near, too.
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Epistle: Christian Lifeways, Week 2-- Living Light
Paul and many early Christians may very well have believed that the world was literally coming to an end during their lifetimes.
Of course, this did not happen. Their belief in a rapid end to the world, if they held it, was mistaken.
So when we come to a text like this, where such a mistaken belief appears to drive the argument, some of us may be likely to dismiss the whole argument out of hand. Others may struggle with an even bigger question: If Paul and many early Christians were wrong about this, what else might they have sincerely believed but been equally wrong about?
However, if you have chosen to explore this series of texts in Christian lifeways for these weeks, that isn't your question. You may need to deal with that question in other ways (and you should, if you do!), but not in worship today.
What you can deal with in worship, though, is the first question. Should we simply dismiss this argument, or is there critical guidance for our lives as Christians here that a possibly mistaken belief about timeline does not mar?
Christians in many generations since Paul would affirm the ongoing value of Paul's advice here. The world has not reached a decisive end. Nor has the coming judgment arrived, nor the new creation begun. But God's kingdom is still breaking into this world, here and now. And God's inbreaking kingdom does relativize all other claims, loyalties and lifeways -- even the most basic ones, such as marriage, grieving, rejoicing, buying and selling, and politics (those who "deal with the world").
Just as we saw in last week's text addressing sexual impurity, Paul is not content to give specific directions on what every Christian married person or business person must do. He is not out to regulate or micro-manage the Christian life! Rather, Paul wants to make sure the Christians in Corinth are asking the most important questions about their lives and loyalties and living accordingly. And this week, the question is something like "Given the ongoing inbreaking of the kingdom of God, how will your order your lives, from the most personal (marriage) to the most public (politics), so that God's kingdom clearly comes first?" Put another way, how do you "live heavy" in the kingdom of God and therefore "live light" in the relationships of your life?
This is a text that cries out for some video interviews and possibly some live testimony. How, indeed, are people in your congregation ordering even these basic relationships in light of the ongoing coming of God's kingdom? Gather and show the best of the responses as inspiration. Some may not have thought of this kind of question before. That's fine. For them, ask how they might begin to order their lives differently; show the best of these. Sharing both kinds of responses -- those on the way and those just beginning to consider how to get there -- gives people at a variety of places on their own journeys both inspiration and perhaps some new ideas for how they can take the next steps, too.
The point is not to embarrass, of course! The point is to take seriously that being citizens of God's kingdom does mean all other relationships are relativized to our loyalty to the aims of God's kingdom. The marriage covenant, for example, is for Christians a specification of the baptismal covenant, not simply a choice of a life-partner with whom we may or may not raise children. When we mourn, we do not do so as those who have no hope, but rather as those whose hope is in the resurrection of Christ, his return and the new creation (I Thessalonians 4:13 ff).
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- BOW 307 (Ecumenical Sunday, Season After Epiphany)
- BOW 455, BOW 457 (Ecumenical Sunday)
- BOW 309 (Mark)
- BOW 312, BOW 314 (Jonah)
- BOW 468 (Ecumenical Sunday)
- UMH 489, "For God's Gifts" (Psalm)
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer:
- UMH 125, "Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness" (Jonah, Mark)
- UMH 734, "Canticle of Hope" (1 Corinthians)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 495, "A Litany for the Church and for the World" (Ecumenical Sunday)
- BOW 505, "For the Church" (Ecumenical Sunday)
- BOW 519 (Ecumenical Sunday, Jonah, 1 Corinthians)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia
Prayer of Confession:
- Call to Confession: UMH 366, "For Guidance"
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 490, BOW 492 or BOW 493 (Psalm, Ecumenical Sunday, Jonah), adding an act of pardon as on UMH 8.
The Great Thanksgiving:: UMH 9-11. Be sure to use the entire service, beginning with the Invitation on page 7.
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 551 (Jonah, Mark)
Dismissal With Blessing:
A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using BOW 559; and the pastor could speak the blessing using BOW 561, BOW 566, or UMH 669.