Planning - The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14.
Solomon succeeds David as King and follows David's advice (in the preceding and intervening verses) to consolidate his power by isolating or ordering the death of David's most powerful adversaries. Some years later, he has a dream in which he asks the Lord for discernment to govern, and God promises him wisdom beyond that of any before or since.
Psalm 111 (UMH 832).
A psalm of praise in a time of national and religious stability and prosperity. The last verse is the reason this psalm was chosen as a response to the first reading. If you choose to chant, use Response 1 with Tone 1 in C major or Response 2 with Tone 3 in D major.
The writer advises the churches to be clear minded and grounded in the Holy Spirit. The regular singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and giving thanks to God in all things are good practices to sustain such groundedness.
Here the language of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ becomes graphic and specific. The Greek verb changes here from "phagein," a generic term for eating with some symbolic overtones, to "trogein," a much more specific verb meaning "to chew upon." This verb was explicitly physical in its referents at the time. The meaning of the teaching for the gospel's audience: Those, and only those, who gather to offer the Eucharist and so receive the blessed and transformed bread and wine have eternal life. Indeed, the gospel commends Holy Communion as THE means, par excellence, of abiding in Jesus Christ (verse 56).
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How are you beginning to plan now for after "vacation season" comes to a close? See "Seasons and Series for Fall 2012" on the United Methodist Worship Blog or "Planning Worship for the Season after Pentecost, Year B" on the Discipleship Ministries website for prompts and suggestions.
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 in on September 1.
Labor Day (US) is Monday, September 3.
The Season of Creation is commemorated during September.
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. Resources for 2012 will be posted in June. A basic calendar of saints for each Sunday from 2011 is available for those who did not use it last year. You would simply need to leave one week out, as October has only four Sundays this year.
Are there developments on the local, national, or global scene that should shape your corporate ministry of prayer on this day? Do note that there are many island nations and two dependencies (French) in the Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer. How will you help your congregation include them all meaningfully today?
This week's texts offer a rich feast. In I Kings, we see the uneasy but "successful" succession of royal power from David to Solomon. The Psalm offers high congregational praise. Ephesians commends being wise and sober, grounded in the Spirit through personal and corporate practices of praise. And in John's gospel, we hear the most explicit references to Holy Communion as sharing in the body and blood of Christ anywhere in Scripture. Once again, where you will focus among these texts should determine the predominant images and soundscapes for worship.
Old Testament: From Judges to a King Like All the Nations
If you're following the David/Solomon saga, today's reading from I Kings provides an opportunity to get at "image" versus "reality." The selected text itself presents an image of "all is well." But the verses NOT included in the reading present an entirely different picture, one of continual threat, upheaval, moral and religious ambiguity, corruption, and state-sponsored assassination as the primary means of dealing with it all. The lie promoted by "spin doctors" is to assume that everything we see of any public figure can or should be covered or veneered in the most attractive package possible. The lie promoted by the current trend of "reality TV" is to assume that what isn't "normally" seen is the only "real" reality. Related to that lie is the subtle lie of "authenticity" that seems to suggest that if we just got rid of all of our "masks," our lives would have much more integrity. The truth of this week's reading, and many like it in the Bible, is that our positive "public image" and the often chaotic personal and interpersonal relationships "behind the scenes" are both reality, both inescapable and essential parts of who we are, and so subject to God's saving power to transform and use for God's glory.
As you contemplate how to develop images or drama related to this reading in your worship planning team, think about masks that WON'T come off, onions being peeled down to the core (which turns out to be nothing!), images or drama or mime of the same person experiencing triumph AND defeat, behaving beautifully AND despicably, or serving others AND being selfish all at once. You might also consider offering the reading in an interspersed way, reading a verse or two of the "official" text for the day (the "public image") and then reading a passage from the parts left out (such as the story of Solomon ordering the execution of his brother, Adonijah, or the fact that Solomon's "wisdom dream" happens at the "illicit" shrine of a foreign god, or the story of David on his deathbed telling Solomon to be sure to kill Joab in as dishonorable a way as possible).
Today's Psalm as Response to OT or Epistle
This is also one of those occasions when the Psalm could be understood as a response to either of the first two readings, rather than simply to the reading from the I Kings. If you are continuing a series on Ephesians, Psalm 111 evokes many images and practices of praise that may help the congregation experience and embody some of the practical advice of today's epistle lesson. The focus on wisdom, sobriety, and joyous praise in Ephesians is echoed in the Psalm as well. Each verse, each line of the psalm, could be accompanied by images or become an invitation to practice what the Psalm enjoins. What does it look like where you are, or what MIGHT it look like, actually to "give thanks to God with one's whole heart in the midst of the congregation"? Do you have any digital images of your congregation or members of your congregation praising God with all they are? Don't be limited by "enthusiastic" or "TV evangelism" kinds of images here. Think too about your musicians and artists and sound team and others in the act of offering themselves fully through their art and skill, whether that "looks" contemplative, or technical, or ecstatic. Help the congregation experience this psalm as a prayer or song of thanksgiving that prays or sings them, and so helps them become more deeply grounded in God.
Epistle: Networked Unity Through Psalm, Hymn, and Spiritual Song
To be sure, one could make further connections between the first and second readings as well this week, as both include the theme of wisdom. Let me encourage you, though, if you are tempted to do this, to do it only in passing. Stay focused in the stream you have chosen, whether (in this case) OT or Epistle.
Why? First, because it is always better to remain focused in this way. Second, because the two contexts in which wisdom shows up (OT and Epistle) this week are fundamentally different. The "Wisdom of Solomon" referred to in the first reading is a gift from God for a particular person in a particular context. The wisdom described in Ephesians is instead to be an ongoing pursuit and practice of daily Christian living and a characteristic of the Christian community itself (verse 15).
The real point in the reading from Ephesians is for all Christians and the wider Christian community to pursue such wisdom not through "mind-expanding, performance enhancing drugs" but rather through the corporate and individual singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in a spirit of constant gratitude (verses 18-20).
It is important not to miss this. Wisdom comes and is sustained, Paul tells this network of congregations, through singing such texts with a grateful heart.
Paul's point here is sure, and has been bedrock for growing Christians of every generation. The wisdom we need to live as those who are wise, to make the most of the time in evil days, is made abundantly available to us as the Spirit fills us in our singing in grateful praise to the God of our salvation in the name of Jesus Christ.
This is why the Wesley brothers invested so much effort and energy in composing, teaching, and publishing collections of hymns for the people called Methodists. For them, it mattered deeply both that we sing, as Paul commends here, but indeed also what we sing. For the Wesleys, what we sing must be that which tends toward and supports "social religion"; that is, religion in which sisters and brothers in Christ are actively watching over one another in love and building one another up in love and good works toward perfection in love in this life. It is in a preface to one of these collections that we find John's famous dictum, "Holy solitaries" is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness ("from the preface to the 1739 collection, Hymns and Sacred Poems).
This is also why these collections of hymns were made to be sung not merely at meetings -- whether of the society as a whole, or in the class meetings, but also as part of the daily practice of individual Methodists, wherever they would go. The form of the hymnals as books was of such a size as to fit in a pocket so that more and more of these psalms and hymns and spiritual songs could become the "playlist" of each Methodist, and the collection as a whole their "iPod."
What do the people in your worshiping community sing every day? Does the singing life of your community support individual religion and the pursuit of individual holiness, as if, contrary to Scripture and our Wesleyan tradition, persons could make Christians of themselves by themselves or by mere solitary contemplation, or by approaching theology and spiritual practice as a matter of entirely personal tastes and preferences? Or do the singing practices and texts of your community support social holiness, knitting the community and local networks of communities together through melody and doctrinally sound texts in the love and power of Christ?
How will you and your worship planning team work to help your congregation develop vital playlists of biblically sound psalms, hymns, and spiritual song not only in worship, but also in their small groups, meetings, and daily lives?
Gospel: The Holy Meal, Part 4 -- "Chewing upon the Body of Christ"
Even if you're not following John's Gospel for preaching in these days, by all means plan on Holy Communion today. It would be hard to imagine how this text could be read in worship and then the congregation not continue by sharing the bread and cup. This text simply cries out for it!
As we saw in last week's reading, Jesus had already noted that his disciples would "eat" him, since he is the bread of life who has come down from heaven. We noted at that point that this term "eat" ("phagein" in Greek) would still be understandable as a metaphor, parallel to the ways in which some of the prophetic and apocalyptic literature spoke of their protagonists "eating" a scroll from God. The point there was to "digest inwardly" what God had said, and so make it fully part of their lives.
This week's reading offers a different verb -- "trogein." This verb means "to chew upon." It is far more literal. It is not used elsewhere to refer to eating in a metaphorical sense. The shocking literalism of this -- repeated twice (verses 56 and 58), and underscored by his statement in verse 55 "For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink" -- is made clear also in next week's reading, where we see many of his followers to this point leaving Jesus precisely because he put things this clearly, and to their minds, offensively.
But again, for the Christian community where this gospel was composed and for its first hearers, there was no offense here at all. Receiving the very body and blood of Christ each time they gathered for Sunday worship was for them a source of life and hope.
Some may object that this reading of the texts promotes the doctrine of transubstantiation, which the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church explicitly rejects. Today may be a good time to clarify what transubstantiation is as a doctrine, why it was rejected by our Articles (borrowed and edited from the 39 Articles of the Church of England, 1563), and what we do affirm about the reality of the presence of Christ both in our midst and in the elements of bread and wine after we have offered the Great Thanksgiving.
Specifically, transubstantiation is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that seeks to explain precisely how the bread and wine at the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ. Borrowing the philosophical categories of "substance" and "accidents" from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas (who developed this doctrine most completely) explained that while to all appearances ("the accidents") the bread is bread and the wine is wine both before and after the Great Thanksgiving, the "substance" of each has been transformed through God's action by the words of the priest who repeats the words of Christ ("This is my body/This is my blood") during the prayer. The substance of the bread would be its "breadness." It's very "breadness" is now the flesh of Christ. Likewise, the "wineness" of the wine is now the blood of Christ. The substances have changed, but the outer appearances have not. This interpretation was to affirm that in Communion people really did receive Christ himself, while also to deny that they were being cannibals in so doing.
The key issue that led the Church of England, and consequently the Methodists, to reject this doctrine as a means of explaining in what way the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ was Rome's insistence at the Council of Trent (1551) that this was the only possible explanation, and that any attempt to articulate any other explanation was heresy (see Canon 1 at the end the articles). The Church of England, and so the Methodists, held within it a range of views about the means by which the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, but nearly all held that they did so, not on the basis of pagan philosophy, but on the basis of the promise of Christ himself. Anglicans (and we!) have objected to the Roman insistence that pagan philosophy become the basis for holding a belief in the transformation of the bread and wine and the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion, rather than the promises of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. The result was the Anglicans (and so we) anathematized the doctrine of transubstantiation articulated at Trent in 1551, just as Trent anathematized any who would waver from their articulation of that doctrine.
Again, all the while, both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches affirmed (as does the Church of England then and now, and as does the United Methodist Church today) that Christ is really present in these gifts and in our midst as we offer them and that those who receive the blessed elements at Holy Communion truly receive the body and blood of Christ.
This is why we pray as we do at the Great Thanksgiving. Following the practice of some of the oldest Great Thanksgivings in Christian history, we pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out "on us gathered here and on these gifts of bread and wine." More specifically we pray, "Make them be for us the body of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood." (UMH p. 10).
We, joining countless Christians across cultures and centuries, believe we receive what we have prayed by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we affirm that the bread now is for us the body of Christ, and the wine now is for us the blood of Christ. We do not insist upon any particular explanation about how this occurs. We reject the notion that transubstantiation is the only right way to describe this. We simply rely on the word and promise of God. So we do not shrink from boldly believing, as did the writers and first hearers of John's gospel, that here we are given the grace to chew the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood, and by so doing we abide in him and he in us (John 5:56). And we know and feel in so doing that we, with them, will live because of Christ, and indeed will live into the age to come (John 5:57-58).
So today when you celebrate Communion, use real bread that requires you to chew -- that is the verb in John's Gospel! And consider whether and how you may drink rather than simply dip. This needn't necessitate individual cups, and certainly not disposable ones. Fewer germs are transmitted by mouth than by hands, anyway! Embody what this text teaches, as fully as you can where you are. Accompany the celebration at Table with familiar songs and hymns and spiritual songs (drawing on the advice from Ephesians!) that focus on abiding in Christ through the sacrament of Holy Communion. See especially "Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face" (UMH 623), "Come, Let Us Eat" (UMH 625), "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" (UMH 626), "O the Depth of Love Divine" (UMH 627), "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart" (UMH 629), "Become to Us the Living Bread" (UMH 630), "O Food to Pilgrims Given" (UMH 631), "In the Singing" (TFWS 2255), "Here Is Bread, Here Is Wine" (TFWS 2266), "Come, Share the Lord" (TFWS 2269), "Author of Life Divine" (Worship & Song, 3166), "You Feed Us, Gentle Savior" (W&S 3169), "What Feast of Love" (W&S 3170) and perhaps as a song to accompany the Invitation to Table, "Come to Jesus" (Songs of Zion, 61).
So where will you focus today? What series have you started, or what message are you best positioned to hear this coming Sunday?
Have you recently gone through a transition in leadership? Then some exploration and experience around I Kings may be most appropriate as a focal text for the service of the Word and may inform your prayers before you come to Table to give thanks and encounter the One who will lead you in the next steps of your dance together.
Are you working on building up the body for fuller and more faithful ministry in the world? Ephesians and the Psalm will give you ample opportunity to learn about and work on essential practices for building a Christian community grounded in God.
Or are you using the opportunity the lectionary offers in these weeks to focus on encountering Jesus in Holy Communion? If so, today may be the high point and perhaps the most challenging and difficult if you are taking the reading from John seriously and not trying to avoid or explain away its extraordinarily clear and intentionally shocking and offensive language.
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- Greeting: BOW 451 (1 Kings, Psalm)
- Opening Prayer: BOW 468 (1 Kings)
- Canticle: UMH 112, "Canticle of Wisdom" (1 Kings, Wisdom of Solomon)
- Prayer of Confession: UMH 586, For the Spirit of Truth (1 Kings)
- Prayer of Confession: BOW 487 (1 Kings, Ephesians)
- Intercessory Prayer: UMH 429, For Our Country (1 Kings)
- Prayer: BOW 399, Week 2 (John)
- Prayer: BOW 431 by Barbara Dunlap-Berg (John, Communion)
- Prayer: BOW 510, For Discernment (1 Kings)
- Prayer: BOW 525, For Wisdom (1 Kings, Psalm, Ephesians)
- Prayer: BOW 530, A Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1 Kings, Ephesians)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: The Pacific islands: Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Western Samoa and the French Overseas Territories of New Caledonia (Kanakry) and French Polynesia (Tahiti)
- Response: BOW 193, "Prayer for Wisdom" (1 Kings, Psalm)
- Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: BOW 76-77
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: (if Communion is not celebrated) BOW 555 (1 Kings, Ephesians)
- Blessing: BOW 564 (1 Kings, Psalm, John)
- Benediction: BOW 177, "Amen Siakudumisa" (Psalm, Ephesians)