Planning - Trinity Sunday/Peace with Justice Sunday
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
The temple furnishings come suddenly alive for Isaiah as he experiences the realities behind the symbols, living cherubim ascribing triple holiness to "Lord God of Hosts." In that encounter, he hears himself claimed and called by the Holy, Holy, Holy One.
Psalm Response: Psalm 29 (UMH 761).
In a polytheistic world, this Hebrew temple song proclaimed that YHWH rules over all other gods in the heavens and on earth. If you do not sing the psalm itself, be sure to sing a rousing refrain! In addition to the setting in the hymnal, consider The Faith We Sing, numbers 2007, 2015 (refrain), 2019 (refrain), 2023, 2026, 2033, or 2039, with the music playing more quietly in the background during the reading of the psalm and rising as the time for the entire congregation to sing the response approaches.
If we have received the Spirit of God, we can and should live from the power of the Spirit, even and especially in the face of suffering.
Jesus uses two different metaphors to help Nicodemus understand life in the kingdom of God being born again by the Spirit and the story of the serpent in the wilderness.
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Today is Trinity Sunday in the Christian Year and Peace with Justice Sunday on the program calendar. These two belong together, as long as we focus primarily on the worship and teaching of the Triune God who calls us into Eternal Community of love, justice, and peace with God and one another both here and now and in the age to come.
Peace with Justice Sunday is a United Methodist Special Sunday that includes a special offering. Half of the funds collected in this offering stay in your annual conference to support peace and justice projects where you are. The other half supports the advocacy, peace, and justice work of the General Board of Church and Society across our global church, including the Jerusalem Peace and Justice Project (Democractic Republic of the Congo) that addresses the evils of conflict mining and provides health education and means for former child-soldiers to re-enter society with skills for productive labor.
June 17 is Father's Day. 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 light of the Scriptures offered that day?
June 19 is Juneteenth, an important celebration for people in the U.S. of African descent. It marks the date in 1865 when African Americans in Texas were first informed of their freedom, made law in 1863 through the Emancipation Proclamation.
Independence Day (US) falls on a Wednesday this year. You may choose to recognize it in Sunday worship either on July 1 or July 8, or in special worship offered on July 4. The Revised Common Lectionary does provide readings for this day, although the United Methodist Book of Worship version of the RCL does not.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15.
This is Trinity Sunday. It is not a day for explaining the "mathematics" of the Trinity, or even, necessarily, for trying to unpack the complexities of the "homoousios" (of one being) clause of the Nicene Creed or the "neque confundantes personas, neque seperantes substantialem" (neither confounding the persons, nor separating the being) of the Athanasian Creed. If these are questions folks are asking where you are, by all means address them today. Just be sure you know what you are talking about when you do. One ends up rather deep in the waters of technicalities of philosophy and theology that can quickly move the novice into any of a variety of heretical streams if one is not well-versed and careful. Be prepared; and if you are not, don't go there!
The heartbeat of Christian theology, our understanding of the nature of God, is that God is God-in-relationship. There is relationship within the Being of God, toward humankind, and with (and beyond) all creation. Christian theologians have captured the idea of Relationship-within-God in the Greek term "perichoresis" (parry-kor-E'-sis) from the time of the "church Fathers" (John of Damascus and Gregory of Nanziaznus, among others). In Greek, perichoresis means, literally, "dancing around." Perichoresis originally referred most specifically to the circle dance performed by the chorus of a Greek play. As Christians used this term to describe the nature of the Trinity, they did so also to speak of the ways in which the Father offers himself to the Son with the Spirit, the Spirit offers himself to the Father with the Spirit, and the Spirit flows between Father and Son and the whole of creation, bidding us to join the dance of God, the dance of Love.
The image at the top of the page looks little like a dance. At first glance it probably looks more like stasis -- Father and Son seated on the eternal throne, Spirit eternally in one place and attached to eternal rays that have already moved into the universe. If we have a static idea of God, that is probably exactly how we would read this.
But that was certainly not how the artist who created this sounding board in this space intended it to be read. And my strong hunch is, if you have Trinitarian images in your worship space today, they were probably not intended to be read in a static way, either.
So what's going on with this sounding board?
Look at the larger motif -- a motif of concentric circles in the board and the larger space, of which this piece is a part. There is the circle around the Trinity, the circle of angels and apostles around them, the circle of the board itself, and around the pulpit itself, there is another circle in the form of the pulpit rail. These circles draw the eye in motion both into and around the pulpit, and the radiating beams of the Spirit portray the Trinity as flowing out and reaching into the whole of the gathered community, as part of the universe, in this ever-radiating circle of the Life of God. Think of it as ripples on a pond. The Scripture proclaimed from this place and radiating out into the gathered community, thanks to the function of this board, does this, too.
So what are the symbols that radiate Trinity where you worship? Look in stained glass, or on the chancel furniture, or maybe in embroidery or on the sides of pews. Look in banners, or on the processional cross you carry, or table cross you may display. How does your worship space already proclaim that we are surrounded in and by our Triune God? (Or does it? And if not, what will you do so that today, and hereafter, it does?)
Above all, look in the three "Great Places" that order all our life in worship the Font, the Table, and the space for the assembly of the people. Using the traditional language, we would say of the font that by the Father's blessing, the Spirit is poured out upon water to birth us anew into Jesus Christ. Of the Lord's Table, we would say that by the Father's blessing, the Spirit is poured out upon bread and wine to transform them and through them us-- into the living body of Christ renewed by the Spirit and redeemed by his blood. And what is this space in which we gather but a sign of our life together as the body of Jesus Christ, listening for the Word of the Father, the Teaching of the Son, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as we travel from font, to Table, to the world to bear witness to all that we have known and seen and experienced in the deep fellowship of this Triune God.
What about such symbols where you live and work? Consider sending your worship planning team on a "Trinity hunt" to take photos of images of the Trinity they find in their workplaces and in the world during the course of a week, and include them in worship this Sunday. Then, after Trinity Sunday worship, cast the net wider, and encourage all attending worship on Trinity Sunday to take such photos in the coming week, and use them throughout the rest of this Ordinary Time as a reminder that we are always surrounded and invited into the Dance of the Trinity!
Atmospherics: The Texts
The reading from Isaiah reminds us of the power of long-standing symbols in their proper places. What symbols where you worship function like the cherubim over the ark of the covenant in the temple, radiating holiness? What happens in your congregation or community that radiates holiness? Consider accompanying the reading of this text with images collected by your worship planning team as suggested above.
The reading from Romans alludes indirectly to baptism. We have received the Spirit of adoption through baptism, that Spirit that makes us cry, "Abba, Father!" So consider reading this text from the location of your baptismal font, where we receive God's covenant for us in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John's conversation about the new birth by water and Spirit addresses baptism directly. Though you may read Romans from the font, for the reading of the gospel, consider inviting everyone to join in a circle around the font.
John reminds us that we who are born of the Spirit should expect to be led in worship and mission to places we didn't expect, for the Spirit blows where it will. And we should also expect nothing less than the vulnerability and power of new birth in our midst all the time. We humans are never born as adults, but always as very needy, and vulnerable, and therefore often demanding infants. What we learn most in our infancy is trust in a wider community to help us, feed us, nurture us and even correct us until we can do these things on our own, and then help other infants in the way do the same.
If everyone is gathering around the font for the reading from John, and perhaps even for the preaching today (and if so, be mercifully succinct for the same of those who may have difficulty standing!), where will this be? An increasing practice ecumenically is for the font to be placed every Sunday near the place where most people enter worship, rather than by the pulpit, up front, away from where most people may be likely to access it. For the sake of today, think about locating the font where people actually can assemble around it. After today, though, think seriously about locating it near the entrance, and keeping it filled with fresh water, so that week after week people can use the water to remind themselves of their baptism and identity as those born anew by water and the Spirit in the life of the Triune God.
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We are everywhere swept up and surrounded in the Eternal Comm-Unity and can be moved and transformed by it most powerfully if we will but open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hands to serve, and our hearts -- plural! (no solitary Christians with a Trinitarian God!) -- to the fullness of God's love and power in and through us.
The imagery and the soundscapes of this week's texts, especially in Isaiah 6 and Psalm 29, are powerful and awe-inspiring. Don't let your congregation "wimp out" by merely reading these texts in a ho-hum way. "All in the temple cry, 'Glory!'" means that! Offer honor and glorious praise with every medium you have available to accompany this Psalm.
On this Peace with Justice Sunday, we proclaim that the peace, justice, and love we know in this Triune God cannot be contained in any place of worship. It demands to be let out, to roll down like waters, to flow like a mighty stream.
Let justice flow in your worship today! Pray it down! Pray it fervently, with full voice.
Don't just collect an offering! Be the offering in your congregational time of prayer and in the Great Thanksgiving at Table. Give plenty of space for prayer today for justice and peace with our whole church.
And do not neglect the deepest experience of the Triune God we are regularly offered -- the Table -- where we meet Jesus, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, and are sent forth by the Spirit as his prophets, leaders, and faithful people.
For United Methodist Book of Worship worship resources related to Trinity Sunday, see 410-412; for Peace with Justice Sunday, see 428.
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Greeting: BOW 300 (Psalm)
Greeting: BOW 391 or BOW 411 (Trinity Sunday)
Opening Prayer: BOW 392 (John)
Prayer of Confession: BOW 428 (Peace with Justice)
Prayer: BOW 412 (Trinity Sunday)
Prayer: BOW 513, For Justice (Peace with Justice)
Response: BOW 195, "O Lord, Deliver Us" (Peace with Justice)
Canticle: UMH 80, "Canticle of the Holy Trinity"
Affirmation of Faith: UMH 880, The Nicene Creed (Trinity)
Sung Affirmation: UMH 85, "We Believe in One True God" (Trinity)
Doxology: BOW 182, "Doxology" (John, Trinity)
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Blessing: BOW 563 (Trinity)
Blessing: BOW 521, A Vision of Hope (Peace/Justice)
The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: : Lesotho, : Namibia, : South Africa, Swaziland
For additional suggestions, see UMH 937-938, UMH 953, and Book of Worship 428.