Plan of Solomon’s Temple. From a 19th century book of biblical charts. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegéticos: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
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.
Ephesians 6:10-20: Parting words from Paul: Put on the whole armor of God as defense against surrounding evil spiritual strongholds and pray constantly for all sisters and brothers in Christ.
John 6:56-69: 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 that many of his followers abandon him. Peter and an unspecified number of others, including the Twelve, remain. They are convinced Jesus is the Holy One of God who has the words of life.
Today is the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
It is also a wrap-up Sunday for whichever of the three streams of texts you are currently pursuing.
A good series wrap-up does three things. It arrives at the point promised from the beginning and makes it well. It retraces the arc of the story line from beginning to this ending. And it makes a segue into the next series.
In the David saga, we arrive, at the end, at the dedication of what was at the time the largest religious complex on the planet, Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. The prayer of dedication makes clear, however, that the point of this saga has not been about the building, but the faithfulness of the people who turn to God in prayer.
In Ephesians, we come to Paul’s parting words, a call to put on the whole armor of God and remain in constant prayer for all God’s people everywhere, including but not limited to the seven churches in the Ephesus circuit. Paul portrays spiritual readiness as a basic posture for all Christians, not simply their leaders. The tie that gives strength to the whole network and the whole body of Christ is constant prayer for one another.
And in John, we see the aftermath of the specificity of Jesus’ teaching about “chewing” his flesh and drinking his blood: many leave him. But we also see the confidence and the promise for those who choose to abide with him, and let him abide in them—the very life of God. All among the great crowds were fed bread and fish. The ministry of compassion for all who hunger in this life is for all. But, in the end, relatively few chose to become or remain as disciples of Jesus, abiding in him, and he in them. For those who choose to stay, there is no other greater meal than Jesus Christ, the Holy One, who has the words of life.
Next week, three new series begin. For the next five weeks, the Old Testament reading will focus on wisdom literature, with selections from Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Esther. During those same five weeks, the Epistle will focus on practical Christian living in James. The Gospel returns to the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus as he discipled his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. You’ll have another opportunity to switch streams on October 4.
Plan well to end your current series well today. Make a strong segue to your next series, whichever it may be (or something else entirely). And lay out at least the focus or the theme of the series you are planning for the next several months. This will help your congregation know where you are, where you’re heading, and how and why worship is being intentionally planned to contribute to their discipleship, and not just one more thing to check off their weekly to-do list.
Resources for Planning Ahead
Here are three articles and a webinar to help you plan through the end of the year.
Seasons and Series for Fall 2015
Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry During the Season after Pentecost, Year B
Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/2016 Celebrating Extended Advent: Why and How-To, September 15 at 7:30 p.m. CDT.
Back to School Resources: United Methodist Communications
All Month Season of Creation (global and ecumenical)
September 7 Labor Day (USA)
October 15 Hispanic Heritage Month (USA)
All Month Season of Saints
October 4 World Communion Sunday
October 11 Children’s Sabbath
October 18 Laity Sunday
November 1 All Saints Day (USA Standard Time Begins)
November 8 Extended Advent Begins
Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday
Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11 Veterans Day (USA)
November 22 Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday
Bible Sunday (USA)
November 26 Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 29 “Regular” Advent Begins
United Methodist Student Day
Old Testament: The David Saga
Week 12: A Temple to Faithfulness
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. So today’s reading marks the end of the tabernacle and the transition of its core symbols to the temple on a grander and more permanent scale.
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 19th century. What was gained in such transitions? What was lost?
But there’s a third level, and a most basic level to consider in this story as a culmination of the David saga we have been exploring through these twelve weeks. Recall the very first story in this series, the one that launched the transition in Israel’s history from being a collection of tribes with judges to being a unified nation under a king.
What precipitated this transition? Samuel had lost his capacity to lead, and his apparent successors (his sons), like Eli’s sons, were not following in their father’s ways (I Samuel 8:5). Samuel’s ways were about faithfulness to the Lord and justice for all the people. We don’t know in what ways Samuel’s sons had failed to live up to this standard, but the people were clear they believed there was a better way. They believed a different kind of successor was now needed, one who could unify them more effectively for their common good. They believed a king, such as other nations around them had, could do this better than continuing to rely on judges.
Note, in I Samuel 8:7, that God did not disagree with the complaint the people brought against Samuel. God tells Samuel to listen carefully to what the people are saying about him and his sons. He also tells Samuel that behind their desire for a different kind of leader lay a different kind of betrayal, not of Samuel, but of God.
And yet, God provided a king—first in Saul, then in David, now in Solomon. God blessed the work of these kings in bringing about much greater consolidation and direction for the people, reducing internal conflicts and making Israel a player on the world stage. God even made a covenant with David and his ancestors to establish them forever if they remained faithful to God and God’s ways. Every sign was, and in today’s reading continued to be, that God was (conditionally) blessing the kingship.
It’s that parenthetical word that is essential for us as disciples as we wrap up this series. Conditionally. The condition was that the king continue to serve only YHWH and not the gods of other nations, and lead the people to do likewise.
Solomon recalls that in this week’s reading. “There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me” (I Kings 8:25, NRSV, emphasis added).
Last week we looked at our responsibility as leaders to prepare others to succeed us and move out of the way when the right time comes. This week we recall, from the beginning to the end of this series, that this work of leadership and succession requires us to ensure our successors are thoroughly formed in Christ’s way, as much or more than we ourselves may be. The promise for the continuity of our ministries as disciples of Jesus depends not solely on us, nor is it even ultimately about us. It is and has always been about our faithfulness to the task of continuing to make disciples in the way of Jesus who will succeed us.
Samuel had, in fact, failed in this task, at least twice. He failed in his own family. And he failed with Saul. David, despite his personal failings in many other ways, did not fail at this with Solomon. But Solomon, as the story continues, did fail with his sons. The result was the united kingdom under Solomon became divided, and the successors to the divided thrones almost without fail persisted in “doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” leading to the utter destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by Assyria in 721 BCE, and the exile of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) into Babylon beginning in 586 BCE.
It’s all about faithfulness, in our own lives, and in the lives of the disciples we are responsible to form around us and to succeed us.
Will you be found faithful?
Will those who come after you?
That is the question that determines our legacy as disciples of Jesus and leaders in ministry in his name and the Spirit’s power.
In Your Planning Team
While the building is not the primary point of today’s reading, or this series, it is certainly an important way in which we seek to embody God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to God and pass that legacy of faithfulness to future generations.
It’s thus no accident, and not necessarily a problem, that many congregations speak of their history in terms of the buildings they have built. Given today’s text and the Psalm in response, this may be a very good day to focus specifically on how your building (or buildings over time) reflects your commitment to God and your vision for ministry in the past, now and for the future.
The reason for doing this isn’t to spend a lot of time during worship on a guided tour of your facilities. Rather it’s to focus on how your facilities can inspire and help your worshiping community faithfully step up to God’s call for you in this present hour with all its gifts, past and present.
And, crucially for today, how your space reflects your commitment to be disciples who are forming disciples to continue the ministries the Spirit has launched among you and to start new ones.
In order to exegete your worship space accurately, you may need to do enough advance planning to do some interviews with folks who were part of the decision making around its design. The underlying questions for the interview are not just about what different signs or symbols or design elements mean, but how, taken all together, the space was created to enable your congregation to worship God and love neighbor as fully as it can from the depths of our common Wesleyan and Christian heritage. 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.
But all of this to get at the underlying point of Solomon’s prayer and this whole series: How are you actively forming people, including through worship, to live as faithful disciples now, disciples who are making disciples for the generations to come?
Ephesians: Networked Unity
Week 12: Clothed in the Uniform of the Spirit
Taken out of context, today’s concluding remarks from Paul on our spiritual clothing and on mutual prayer have often been used to support either 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 in him, overcoming by his power all divisions and powers of division.
The whole armor of God Paul describes here is more first-century police uniform than army battle gear. The sword described is the short sword used by officers of the peace, not the long sword used in battle. See this collection of authentic Roman armor elements, an archived version of a reputable museum website that had been available for many years.
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 who keep the peace in our local contexts. Why? Because these powers and principalities are manifest 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.
Nor would it have been lost that Paul’s rhetoric moves from readiness symbolized in clothing to readiness practiced in praying for one another, individually, across their network, and “for all the saints,” the whole body of Christ around the world. When they pray, Paul admonishes them to “pray spiritually” as they persevere in their intercession for all Christians, including, he asks, especially for him.
“Pray spiritually” (“praying in every season in spirit,” literally) means to pray heartily, pray intently, or, even more literally, “get their breath into their prayers.” This is more than reciting a list of requests. It is earnestly and non-anxiously striving in prayer.
And prayer ”for all the saints.” All meant all. It meant remembering the global connection of disciples of Jesus alive at that moment. And it meant remembering those who had died as his disciples. Not just the members of your family, or your local congregation, or your denomination. All disciples of Jesus, everywhere.
We see in what Paul asks for himself something of what he intended this prayer for all the saints to be. Paul portrayed all Christians, not just himself, as ambassadors for Christ who speak of the mystery of the gospel (6:19-20). We all need boldness. We all need for the Spirit to enliven our speaking for the sake of the gospel. What form that boldness will take and how we will each speak the gospel will vary with the contexts and ministries given to us by the Holy Spirit. But we all need both. And we all need to pray for one another, for all other disciples of Jesus, for both.
And when we do, when we are joined together across multiple groups and congregations in praying for one another in this way, donning the uniform of the Spirit, I, at least, cannot help but believe our unity and the boldness and wisdom of our witness will be greatly multiplied.
In Your Planning Team
The two “parts” of today’s final reading from Ephesians are deeply connected. We put on the Uniform of the Spirit, the whole armor of God, in part precisely so that we offer ourselves in prayer for one another, praying spiritually for all the saints, as Paul commends.
Today provides an opportunity to put on the armor—to explore what this means, in practical terms, as well as to invite all, physically, to put it on imaginatively and see what happens.
It also provides an opportunity to practice deep, fervent congregational prayer for one another, for the others across your network, and for all Christian everywhere.
It is the Spirit who unites us. It is in praying spiritually we most profoundly connect with the “dear, uniting Love” (UMH 566).
And it is around the Lord’s Table that this connection becomes physically manifest in our collective thanksgiving with the whole church, those on earth and in heaven, and in receiving from the Spirit the body and blood of our one Lord.
Sing heartily. Pray powerfully. Celebrate richly. And plan together, across your networks, shared items you will all do in each of these actions to manifest the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace that is yours through the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gospel: The Holy Meal
Part 5—Scandal, Parting and Staying
Jesus did not cease to scandalize when discussing what it meant, and promised, to abide in him.
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 an offer: “the one who chews upon this bread shall live forever.” Jesus’ point is here so pointed, as it were, that we see many of his disciples 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 proplr 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” (verses 68-69).
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 had 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—and so to receive Christ into us-- is ours.
In Your Planning Team
Today’s reading almost ends with a whimper. “Do you also desire to go away?” Jesus asks the twelve? (verse 67).
But it doesn’t. It ends with faithful disciples. It ends with people who completely trust Jesus. It ends with people who are open to receiving the life-giving word he is and brings, even when they cannot understand that word.
And so it ends with people who will receive the promises for all who “chew upon [his] flesh and drink [his] blood” (verse 56).
It ends with people like we can be, if we desire and decide to do the same.
The promise: we abide in Jesus and he in us.
The promise: we live because the living Christ is in us.
The promise: we will live forever.
Three great promises for all who chew on his flesh and drink his blood, for all who continue to be ready and willing to receive him when the body gathers to celebrate Holy Communion.
As you plan worship for today, consider how you might stage hymns, prayers, preaching and even the text of the Great Thanksgiving to focus on each of these promises, one at a time—abiding in Christ and he in us, having the life of Christ in us, and receiving eternal life.
And if you are not already celebrating Holy Communion weekly, and if you’ve followed this series, may what you have done over these weeks, and especially today, have opened your hearts and the hearts of your people to move to weekly Communion from now on.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
Call to Worship: United Methodist Hymnal, 93, refrain, "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (1 Kings)
Opening Prayer: BOW 467 (John)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Prayer: BOW 399, Week 2 (John)
Prayer: BOW 431 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)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: BOW 486 (1 Kings, Ephesians; 2nd item)
Blessing: BOW 564 (Ephesians, John)
Benediction: BOW 190, "Benediction" (Ephesians)