The Dream of Solomon. Luca Giordano, 1693. 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 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.
Ephesians 5:15-20. 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.
John 6:51-58. Here the language of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ becomes graphic and specific. The Greek verb for “to eat” 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).
Worship Planning Notes
Coming in for the Landing and Announcing the Next Destination
Just two weeks, this week and next, remain in the current lectionary series. Stay the course with your current series; and, if you have not done so already, begin promoting your next one. As you do so, be clear about the “Why?” The Why for this season is to challenge and support disciples of Jesus in their ministries in daily life as well as in and through the work of the congregation and wider connection. The Why for your next series should articulate briefly and clearly that what you’ll pursue next both builds on what you’re currently doing and helps take you to the next level where you are. Any of the three upcoming lectionary streams (Wisdom literature in the OT, James in the Epistle, Mark in the Gospel) could be what takes you there. Your role as pastor and team is to choose one and be clear with your congregation about why that’s your choice.
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.
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 11: Challenges of Succession
We’ve followed David’s story from God’s call to Samuel to anoint him through his kingship, his fall into a cascade of sin, and now to his death and succession by Solomon, son of Bathsheba.
We attend to this whole saga not simply to gain some awareness of the past, but to find guidance for our own leadership and ministry as disciples of Jesus.
Today we come seeking guidance about succession. We will all be called upon numerous times within our lives to pass on the work we have been asked to lead to others.
United Methodist pastors and congregations know this well, especially those who have experienced an appointment change during these past few weeks. Many outgoing pastors and deacons have been in close communication to ensure the successor is able to continue the ministries underway as well as make way for new ministries and new directions. At stake, always, is more than the previous pastor making sure what she or he cared about is cared about in a similar way going forward. It’s not about ego. It’s about the perceived good of the whole body of people she or he had been charged to lead.
So it is with the ministries all disciples of Jesus undertake as leaders. If we are leading, our concern can never be primarily for ourselves. It must be for the good of the people we are leading and the mission we have undertaken together.
This was at the heart of Solomon’s request to God in his dream while was at Gibeon to offer sacrifice (I Kings 3:4-5). Solomon asked two related things: An understanding mind to govern the people, and the ability to discern between good and evil (3:9).
Solomon did not ask to become the wisest man ever alive. He asked for discernment to govern the people well. His concern was not for himself. It was for the welfare of those he was charged to lead and provide for.
And in order to lead and provide properly for the people, he knew he needed particular guidance to distinguish good from evil. That request speaks volumes. It identifies how unclear those lines may sometimes be. Perhaps as he asked this, Solomon had on his mind the two assassinations he had ordered (of Joab, David’s military commander, and Adonijah, his older brother) just before he went to Gibeon and had this dream.
We who pass on ministries or leadership to others, as well as those who take them on, need much the same things. We need discernment about what it best for all those we lead, not simply best for our own egos or legacy. And we need clarity about what is good and what is evil in the process by which we pass on or receive leadership, and courage to choose what is good.
Sometimes there can be a tendency for leaders in the church and Christian leaders in non-profit Christian-based ministries to hold on to positions of leadership long beyond the point they can lead effectively. Sometimes this is driven by ego, or a desire to keep the influence or power one has in that position. Sometimes it is because it is believed there is no one available who is competent to take on what that leader is doing. Always, the result of hanging on to power for power’s sake is destructive to everyone involved. Often, the result will be a protracted conflict that undermines the mission and harms more people than the ministry or position was created to help.
Blessed are those who, like David, prepare for another to assume their responsibilities when their term or the ministry they are leading calls for new leaders to assume their place. Blessed are those who take on new leadership with humility, recognizing the need for ongoing guidance from the Spirit and others in the congregation or ministry so the good things the ministry was created to enable can continue and multiply. And blessed are all who recognize, in whatever stage of leadership they may find themselves, the constant need for clarity about what is good and what is evil.
In Your Planning Team
Where God has called us to lead something intended to last beyond us, God has also called us to prepare ourselves and possible successors to continue it after us. And where God has called us to succeed another, we respond to that call not with a desire to “make it our own,” but rather to make the ministry as effective as God gifts us to make it.
American culture idealizes “getting to the top.” Apart from the more recent “servant leadership” movements, American corporate and educational cultures do little to form people as effective leaders who care for the welfare of the people they are leading and the cause or mission for which they are leading them.
Disciples of Jesus have a different take on what it means to be “at the top.” Jesus was quite clear. Whoever would be first must be servant of all (Mark 10:44). The position isn’t the goal. The goal is the welfare of the people and the effectiveness of the mission the people you are leading have gathered to pursue.
“The Servant Song” (TFWS 2222) may be particularly appropriate for today, not simply as a hymn to sing through once, but as a refrain that recurs throughout the course of worship today. You might sing verse 1 as a response to the reading of the word. Verse 2 would work as a response to the sermon. Verses 3 and 4 could function as responses within or a frame for the Prayers of the People. Verse 5 would be a fine way to introduce the Great Thanksgiving (especially if you use sung responses today), or, together with verse 6, function as the words of sending.
Ephesians: Networked Unity
Week 11: The Wisdom We Need through Psalm, Hymn, Spiritual Song and Giving Thanks
This week’s reading from Ephesians continues the theme of transformation—personal, congregational, and network-wide—of last week’s reading.
Today, Paul gives us another frame to understand why these transformations are so important for us. They are about ensuring we can “live not as unwise people, but as wise.”
Last week, we explored one set of corporate practices essential in our transformation: small groups that hold us accountable and support the changes we need to make so God’s Spirit can transform us.
This week, Paul gives us another set of corporate practices he sees as means of grace by which we can receive and grow in such wisdom: congregational singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and congregational and personal practices of thanksgiving.
It was no accident that 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 together, as Paul commends here, and 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 the earliest Methodist hymn 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, p. viii).
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 each individual Methodist, 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 these psalms and hymns and spiritual songs could become the “playlist” of each Methodist, and the collection as a whole their “iPod.”
The primary means by which Christians offer their thanksgiving to God together (Ephesians 5:20) is the Great Thanksgiving. This is why Christians have gathered at least weekly for most of the history of the church, East and West, not only to hear the word and sing hymns of praise, but also to celebrate at the Table of the Lord.
Recognizing the need for some act of thanksgiving even when Communion is not celebrated on the Lord’s Day, the developers of our current Basic Pattern of Worship named the third movement of our worship as “Thanksgiving and Communion.” With or without the Great Thanksgiving, if we want to be a church or a network of churches growing in wisdom, we need also to give substantial attention to giving thanks to God together for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wisdom from psalms, hymns, spiritual songs and thanksgiving? Really? Really! We learn what we sing more profoundly and more permanently than what we say or hear. And when we express gratitude together, we are enabled to overcome and begin to rewire our brains away from their inherent focus on ourselves individually and what’s wrong, a pessimism that leads to paralysis, and are enabled to imagine and bring about more of what’s good for all. (See Barbara Fredrickson, “Gratitude, Like Other Positive Emotions, Broadens and Builds,” The Psychology of Gratitude, ed. R. Emmons and M. McCullough (New York: Oxford UP, 2004), 153, 155).
Isn’t that exactly Paul’s point? We move away drunkenness, a self-indulgent and negative behavior (5:18). And instead, we embrace personal and corporate practices that redound to wisdom, goodness and joy, with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and acts of thanksgiving.
In Your Planning Team
What do your people sing?
What sings them?
That is, what do they know so well, they no longer need to look at the words (much), because they can sing it by heart, with full voice?
Today may be an ideal day to plan a “Great Day of Singing.” Dean McIntyre (now retired from Discipleship Ministries) sketched out an order of service for such a day over a decade ago. You could easily substitute song selections, use today’s Scripture readings, and include Holy Communion for a service that embodies the heart of what today’s text calls for.
If your network includes congregations of other denominations, be sure to plan the medley portion together, so that all the congregations are singing not just United Methodist favorites, but favorites across your network.
But don’t stop with singing today. Find ways to move the message beyond this morning. Learn what people’s “life soundtracks” really are (if they listen to music regularly) and encourage them to transform those soundtracks to include more psalms, hymns, spiritual songs and acts of thanksgiving. We do become what we hear and sing.
To that end, consider providing a track list for your congregation on your website or Facebook page, as well as a link to it in your bulletin today. We have hundreds of piano accompaniments you can link to or download and distribute for this purpose for many of the public domain hymn tunes across our United Methodist-related resources. This is one positive way to help your congregation and your wider network surround one another with 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 of that term 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 in the Bible or in Greek literature 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 reject. 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 ancient Greek philosophy, but on the basis of the promise of Christ himself. Anglicans (and we) have objected to the Roman insistence that ancient Greek 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 or even a right way at all to describe this. We rely not on ancient Greek philosophical categories, but 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).
In Your Planning Team
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).
The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) and Ecumenical Prayer Cycle
Greeting: BOW 451 (1 Kings, Psalm; “In the midst of the congregation, 5/6 down)
Opening Prayer: BOW 468 (1 Kings)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Canticle: UMH 112, "Canticle of Wisdom" (1 Kings, Wisdom of Solomon)
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)
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)
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: UMH 586, For the Spirit of Truth (1 Kings)
Prayer of Confession: BOW 487 (1 Kings, Ephesians)
Prayer of Thanksgiving: (if Communion is not celebrated) BOW 555 (1 Kings, Ephesians; final item)
Blessing: BOW 564 (1 Kings, Psalm, John)
Benediction: BOW 177, "Amen Siakudumisa" (Psalm, Ephesians)