Planning - The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43.
Highlights of the story of the dedication of the temple complex in Jerusalem with extended portions of the dedicatory prayer by King Solomon. In this prayer, Solomon calls on promises in the covenant with David to ask God to sustain the dynasty and to hear the prayers prayed in or toward the temple.
Psalm 84 (UMH 804).
A psalm in praise of the beauty of the temple and its worship. If you sing the psalm, consider using Tone 1 in D major. Or you could sing 2042 in The Faith We Sing, a metrical sung version of the Psalm.
Put on the whole armor of God as defense against surrounding evil spiritual strongholds and pray constantly for all sisters and brothers in Christ.
Jesus continues to contrast those who "chew on his flesh and live into eternity" with those who "ate the manna in the wilderness and died" while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The point is so clear and offensive, perhaps particularly in that context, that many of his followers abandon him; but Peter and an unspecified number of others remain because they are convinced he has the words of life.
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Today is the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Next Sunday is a "hinge Sunday" in the Revised Common Lectionary. Three new streams of texts begin at once, so you will have the opportunity to move to a different stream easily. Choose which one based on what your congregations needs to focus on at this time.
The new streams are wisdom literature (Old Testament, with selections from Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Esther), practical instruction (Epistle, with a series of selections from James), and a return to the Gospel of Mark, beginning roughly where we left off before the extended readings from John 6. See "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost, Year B" on the Discipleship Ministries website for prompts and suggestions.
Summer vacation season is winding down in the northern hemisphere. This may be the last weekend for "summer schedules," whether your community receives people during these months or tends to send them to other climates. If your summer involves a different worship schedule, be sure to announce widely the beginning of your fall schedule!
Speaking of fall, how is planning going for the upcoming months? See "Seasons and Series for Fall 2012" on the United Methodist Worship Blog for some suggestions.
Schools may be back in session by now or starting soon. Will you have a "back to school" celebration? How about a Sunday school kickoff? See our resources here.
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. U.S. Bishops begin their new terms on September 1.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
The Season of Creation is commemorated during September. United Methodist resources based on the Revised Common Lectionary are here.
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. A basic calendar of saints for each Sunday with links to more information about each is available for both 2012 and 2011. Worship Planning Helps are already posted with suggestions for the 2011 resources. More detailed helps for 2012 are coming soon.
This is the final week of all three current series in the lectionary, whether OT, Epistle, or Gospel. Be sure in your planning to make this week count as a decisive end to one series, and to include clear invitation and a bit of a preview for the series to come.
Old Testament: From Judges to a King Like All the Nations
Today's reading marks the epitome of the transition from the way of life of Israel under judges to its new way of life under kings. A successful transition of power has taken place within the royal family (David to Solomon). All that remains of the former "wandering" way of life was the tabernacle -- literally a portable "tent" for public worship, suitable for a people on the move but no longer appropriate for nations with an established kingship. This week's story of the building and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem marks the end (or obsolescence) of the tabernacle, though some of its fixtures reappear on a far grander, more "regal" scale, in the completed temple complex.
The first reading and psalm invite an exploration of more than what it means to transition from one kind of worship space to another. At stake here is really a transition from being one kind of worshiping community to another. One way to characterize this is a transition from "small community on the move" to "large establishment on the town square." Another, but related way, might be a transition from being an "outsider" or "sectarian" group with little direct influence or power to an "insider" or "mainstream" community that is almost identical in composition with the "power players" of the wider culture. Certainly, Methodism experienced this transition from "offscourings of the world" to "America's Church" in the nineteenth century. What was gained in such transitions? What was lost?
While worship is never "about" us, our worship space over time does reflect our commitments to God, our past, and our vision for the future. Has your congregation moved from one location to another, or perhaps remodeled or even dramatically changed the worship space you use over time? If so, what did you bring with you from past worship spaces to the present one? What did you leave behind? Why?
You might consider adding or featuring imagery or artwork or elements of your existing worship space that connect with previous spaces of worship, either your own or historic places of Christian worship. But again, this isn't to replace worship with a local church history lesson. Instead, it is to get at the core questions about how your worshiping community will faithfully step up to God's call for you in this present hour with all its gifts, past and present, including how your worship space facilitates that.
To get the answers to these questions and others that will help "exegete" your current worship space, you'll need to do enough advance planning to do some interviews with folks. The underlying questions are whether and how your worship space is doing all it can to enable your congregation, as it is today, to worship God and love neighbor as fully as it can from the depths of our common Wesleyan and Christian heritage.
Don't try to rush this in the last minute. And if you go this route, consider including the comments of those you've interviewed (with their prior permission, of course) as part of the bulletin and/or screen presentation or as an element in the sermon or other act of worship today.
Another angle to consider is to explore the contents of the dedicatory prayer.
What is the theology of this prayer? Do you have a sense of covenant about this space or the people in it (such as the baptismal covenant) that you might recall in worship today? Are there elements of that theology that you would find problematic or challenging (such as, perhaps, its inherent nationalism and polytheism or henotheism)? How might you use this prayer as an opportunity to help you and your congregation pray well on behalf of the church and the world while being "in the world" and not "of the world"?
Epistle: Networked Unity Clothed in the Uniform of the Gospel
Today's reading from Ephesians is the last in the series. If you have been following the Ephesians texts in preaching, how will you "wrap up" today? Keep in mind that the author's wrap up ISN'T the section on spiritual defensive armor. Instead, it is a call to pray, to greet and welcome a coworker he is sending, and to live in the fullness of the peace of Christ.
Taken out of context, this section of "spiritual warfare" has often been used to support one or both of two approaches that are, in the end, incompatible with the mystery of the gospel that the letter as a whole reveals "fortress" or "fight first" mentalities. In the fortress mentality, since we are so surrounded by evil, the attempt is to hide behind the armor and shield ourselves from contact with the world Christ came to redeem. In the "fight first" mentality, we are called to wage active, first-strike, spiritual warfare in full confidence (arrogance?) that we have all the truth and every other institution needs to learn it exclusively from us. This letter as a whole calls us neither to fear of evil powers nor to arrogance, but rather to humility and confidence in the One who has himself conquered all things and is at work making one new humanity, despite all divisions and powers of division, in him.
So for today's text, consider projecting images of the Roman armor elements described in the text. The link is to an archived version of a reputable museum website that had been available for many years. You can probably find hundreds of links to sites that claim to offer "replicas," but beware of marketing hype versus scholarship! Keep in mind that the uniform described in Ephesians was not for warriors on the front lines, but rather for those who were in a defensive battle, or perhaps for Roman soldiers serving as "police" on security duty. Even the "sword" is not the long battle sword, but the short sword (more like a dagger) that might be used by police to break up fights in close range on the streets. This sword appears to be more of an instrument for preserving the public peace than waging war. "Onward Christian Soldiers" might be an appropriate hymn to respond to some biblical texts, but not this one, if we are reading and interpreting it carefully.
A strong implication of the type of uniform Paul describes here is that the Christian life is not a "great war waged far away on a cosmic scale," but rather far more about the day to day business of actual (incarnational) "peace-keeping" or "gospel living" on the ground where we actually are. We're not being extracted from our contexts as soldiers sent to do battle with a far-off or abstract foe, but rather we are invited to be clothed in order to be situated as Christians precisely in our local contexts. Why? Because these powers and principalities are manifest precisely here, where we are. This spiritual uniform is thus not for the "conquering hero," but for the ordinary Christian and the Christian community in the midst of its ordinary encounters in daily life.
Where this appears in this circular letter is not in a section of "high rhetoric," but actually just after one section of very practical advice (the end of chapter 5) and the beginning of another (the verses following today's reading). So it seems likely that Paul may have intended this also to be heard as fairly pragmatic spiritual advice. The armor of the local Roman police would have been quite familiar to all of his readers and hearers. The practical impact of the metaphor would thus have not been lost on them. Presumably, then, the practices or qualities Paul associates with each piece of the uniform would not have been lost on them, either.
Framed this way, what does it mean for your worshiping community, practically, to put on the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the shoes of the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit -- so they can actually practice what Paul intends here in their daily lives and contexts as well? Spend some time in your worship planning team, or perhaps with other pastors as well, discerning this. Certainly, this may be more than you can take on in worship today. But consider how you can continue the conversation through the coming week to help ground members of your worshiping community in just such pragmatic spiritual practices for their daily contentions with the powers and principalities they will surely encounter.
Gospel: The Holy Meal, Part 5 -- Scandal, Parting, and Staying
Embodying or helping the congregation to experience the scandal, offense, and parting of ways described in the reading from John's Gospel without causing direct offense themselves could be a challenge. One faithful and prudent embodiment is surely through celebrating Holy Communion today, and the reminder that the words of the epiclesis ("Pour out your Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ") are words we really mean and words we believe the Spirit truly honors precisely in part because of the words of Jesus from today's gospel reading.
Though few English translations portray this accurately, the verb Jesus continues to use in today's reading is almost always the verb "to chew upon" rather than the more generic verb "to eat" (verses 56-58). The one exception is in verse 58. Here he uses the verb for "to eat" to characterize what "the fathers" did (they ate, and died!), but immediately switches verbs back to "chew upon" to describe what is now on offer: "the one who chews upon this bread shall live for ever." Jesus' point is here so pointed, as it were, that we see many of his disciples (presumably not the Twelve) beginning to waver (verse 60) and then actually abandoning him (verse 66).
All because he insisted that he was the bread from heaven, and his disciples would have to chew on his flesh to continue to abide in him and so be sustained in and into eternal life.
Jesus lets them go. He does not try to stop them.
Perhaps there are persons in your worshiping community who find themselves hesitant to accept this "hard teaching" as well. How will you respond should some of them choose to leave because of this teaching that receiving the body and blood of Christ is essential to our lives as disciples of Jesus?
It is a hard teaching, to be sure. And it does raise real questions.
But perhaps the most important question is the one Jesus himself asked the Twelve: "Do you, too, wish to go away?"
Simon Peter answered for them. "Lord, to whom would we go [if we left you]? You have the living words of eternal life, and we have placed our full confidence and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God."
That was enough for this small group of the closest disciples. They didn't have to understand the "hard teaching" at that time. They had come to know who Jesus truly was and placed their full confidence in him, no matter what. Though they had no way to understand this teaching now, they trusted that if Jesus had said it, the Spirit would indeed reveal its meaning to them in time. And indeed, the Spirit did.
Perhaps here is the clue and cue for helping your congregation relate to what may be a very hard teaching for them -- perhaps even for you and members of your worship planning team. Jesus has given us himself to eat to sustain us in eternal life. He truly is and continues to be the bread of heaven, sustaining us in the eternal life of heaven and giving us a foretaste of the new creation here and now. It is not necessary that we understand this, or how it happens. The question for us is, do we trust him enough to let him feed himself to us? Or will we, because we cannot understand these things, decide we, too, must walk away?
The gift of such faith is God's. The choice to receive it is ours.
How will you design worship today that places these questions squarely before your worshiping community, reminds them of the gifts of God available to them, and invite them, too, to choose?
Communion: If you have been celebrating both Word and Table these weeks of reading and preaching from John 6, what has been your congregation's experience? What will you do now? Are there strong reasons not to continue weekly celebration of Holy Communion? Or are you and your congregation ready to continue? Give prayerful thought to how your worship leadership team will proceed on this matter. If you have not read or led your congregation in a study of This Holy Mystery or Living into the Mystery, now might be a good time to consider doing so. The document itself is available for free download (your apportionment dollars at work) in pdf; or you may purchase a study guide for older youth and adults and one designed especially for younger youth and children.
- Call to Worship: United Methodist Hymnal, 93, refrain, "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (1 Kings)
- Opening Prayer: BOW, 467 (John)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW, 486 (1 Kings, Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW, 399, Week 2 (John)
- Prayer: BOW, 31 by Barbara Dunlap-Berg (John, Communion)
- Prayer: BOW, 504, "For the Church" (Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW, 516, "For the Nation" (1 Kings, Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW, 521, "A Vision of Hope" (Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW, 528, A "Prayer of Susanna Wesley" (Ephesians)
- Scripture Response: United Methodist Hymnal, 600, stanza 1, "Wonderful Words of Life" (John)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
- Great Thanksgiving: BOW, 70-71 or 72-73
- Prayer of Thanksgiving (if no Communion): BOW, 553 (Ephesians, John)
- Blessing: BOW, 564 (Ephesians, John)
- Benediction: BOW, 190, "Benediction" (Ephesians)