Planning - Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Joshua receives instructions and instructs the people of Israel about how to cross the Jordan River. The priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant are to take the lead. As soon as they stepped into the river, the water stopped flowing upstream, allowing the people to cross on dry ground. (A new Exodus!)
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 (UMH 830).
A fitting response to the reading from Joshua. If chanting, use Tone 3 in E-flat Major (UMH 737).
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13.
Paul fondly recalls the way that the Thessalonians received him and the gospel he preached. He and his ministry colleagues worked diligently to add no burden to the people. The people gladly heard and received the gospel.
Continuing his public teaching in the temple, Jesus warned the crowd and his disciples about the duplicity of the powerful Pharisees. He admonished those present to act differently. They were to honor only God, follow one rabbi (Jesus), and refer to one another as siblings, servants or students as a sign of humility and mutual respect.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Discipleship Ministries' "Season of Saints" continues. Each week, we're asking you to consider highlighting a historical Christian saint, a saint who is part of our United Methodist heritage, a saint you know personally in your congregation or community, and a saint in another United Methodist congregation or ministry. You can remember them in prayers, create special bulletin inserts, or tweet links about them during the week between Sundays. Exactly how you keep this season is yours to create and have fun with.
We're also asking you to help other United Methodists learn and share stories of the saints you know through the UMC Worship Blog. Resources for the Season of Saints are included in these weekly worship planning helps for October and All Saints Day/Sunday and on the UMC Worship Blog.
For October 30: Christian Saint: Kahkewaquonaby (Native American missionary in Canada)
BR> United Methodist Saint: Jacob Albright , (founder of the Evangelical Association)
Each week during this season, additional resources and links will also be provided in a special "Season of Saints" section immediately preceding "Embodying the Word."
Daylight Saving Time ends next Sunday! The clocks "fall back" one hour.
All Saints' Sunday is also next Sunday. This was John Wesley's favorite service of the Christian Year. However, when he revised the calendar and lectionary for Methodists in North America, he did not include it. That explains in part why some United Methodists may find All Saints celebrations more strange than familiar. Discipleship Ministries has a collection of resources for All Saints Sunday, in addition to our regular planning resources.
As you celebrate Communion this Sunday, you may want to draw special attention to the words before the Sanctus, "And so with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn." If on no other day of the church year, this is a day to sing this hymn, so that your music joins the music of the heavenly host. See the musical settings in The United Methodist Hymnal on pages 17-25. Also see Songs of Zion, 247; The Faith We Sing, 2256 and 2257; Mil Voces para Celebrar, 33, 82; Come, Let Us Worship, 233; and Worship & Song, 3171 and 3172.
Advent officially starts on November 27, but beginning November 13, the readings for each Sunday are already addressing the primary Advent theme of the return and final reign of Christ, making all things new. For resources to begin Advent celebrations a few weeks early using our current lectionary, check out The Advent Project website.
Looking Ahead: November 20, 2011, is Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, a major feast day in the life of the church since its founding by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 in response to attempts by governments in Mexico and elsewhere to declare themselves the ultimate authority in the lives and even the religions of their subjects. Plan to celebrate Holy Communion on this day. See "A Great Thanksgiving for Christ the King Sunday." See also this Call to Worship and this Service of Song and Worship that recapitulates the whole Christian Year on this, the last Sunday of the standard Christian calendar.
Thanksgiving (USA) will be observed on November 24, 2011. See the United Methodist Book of Worship and the Planning Calendar of the Discipleship Ministries website for a selection of resources. See also "Musical Thanksgiving," Hymns for Thanksgiving Day, and "Traditional Hymns for Contemporary and Blended Worship, Volume 7: Thanksgiving."
The First Sunday of Advent is November 27 this year, and we move into Year B of the lectionary (focus on Mark's gospel, the stories of David's family, and the epistles of Ephesians, Hebrews, and James).
Remember, Advent isn't about Christmas -- mangers, shepherds and Magi-- but about its eternal context, the promised inbreaking of God's reign into the powers of this world and the fulfillment of that promise begun in God's incarnation in Jesus. For more specific guidance for Advent, see "Planning Advent for Year B" on this website.
After Deliverance: Settling the Land of Promise
Joshua offers us literally a landmark story in the journey to the promised land: the crossing of the Jordan River. The image of "crossing the Jordan" has taken on many meanings in a variety of cultures over time. For some, it has meant something like taking the decisive step into a new way of life. For others, it has referred to death or crossing from this life into the next. For African slaves in North America crossing rivers into free states or countries after journeying for miles on the Underground Railroad, all levels of the various biblical and cultural stories seemed to have operated at once.
How do people where you live understand the phrase "crossing the Jordan"? What associations do they make with it? Are these positive? negative? inspiring? Be listening for these associations as you begin to look at how the text may suggest other meanings for your particular congregational journeys.
Part of what is remarkable about this text is what it does not do. It does not simply repeat the details of the crossing of the Red Sea, where the waters parted on both sides at just the right time to deliver the people from sure death at the hands of the Egyptian army. While there is a miracle involving the stopping of water, here that functions more or less as a side light to the main story.
The key symbol in this story is the Ark of the Covenant held by priests leading the way and then standing with it in the dried river bed. In the Exodus story, no one was standing in the middle. They were all fleeing for their lives. Rather than being a rite of rescue, crossing the Jordan was both a literal and symbolic rite of passage. The Ark stops, and all eyes are on it as the people cross calmly. The Ark both was a central symbol and held the central symbols of this people -- worship, law, God's provision, and leadership. The long, solemn processional "this side" to "that side" was itself a reminder that these were the people of this covenant.
How do rites of passage happen in your congregation or community? Where are people standing "here," but really needing to get "there"? How do you as a congregation or faith community help make the transition possible for others and stand in the midst of the passage as living signs of the body of Christ while that transition takes place? How do you follow God's command to Joshua in this text to lead the formation of powerful, rich, deeply symbolic ritual, not just whatever basic actions it takes to "help people over"? In the significant passages of our lives, it's never just the fact of the crossing that makes the difference; it's the depth of the meaning of that fact. Rich ritual invests meaning in facts.
So where do you do this well as a congregation? Baptism may be a primary example -- particularly if lots of water, even immersion, and a rich use of oil is involved, so that there can be no physical doubt that new life has been born by water and the Spirit. At the Lord's Table today, as at every other such occasion, we are invited to come with thanksgiving and gifts of bread and wine and to leave more deeply realizing our truest identity, "the body of Christ redeemed by his blood." How do your actions around the Lord's Table help make that invitation to "cross " into our truest identity an undeniable reality for those who participate?
See Living into the Mystery: A United Methodist Guide for Celebrating Holy Communion for many suggestions from leading scholars and teachers that can enrich and enliven your congregation's experience and expression of this holy mystery.
But keep this in mind. There was no prior tradition of "crossing the Jordan" to which Joshua could point. He could (and did!) help people recall the stories they had heard about the crossing of the Red Sea (though that entire generation, for the most part, was now dead!). What God opened for him -- and what the Spirit may open for you -- is a way not simply to relive that past moment, but to create a new one for this new day built of the "stuff at hand" priests, the ark of the covenant, and later (in the next chapter) twelve stones, one of which would be carried out by one person from each tribe and placed in a heap in the camp on the other side as a reminder of what God had done on that day. Through both of these "impromptu" ritual actions -- the Ark leading the way and being held in the midst as the people crossed, and the heaping of the stones as a memorial of this action -- it was made clear that this crossing was not merely their own work, but truly the work of God with them.
So be on the lookout as you plan today, not only for opportunities to celebrate the sacraments richly, but also for other ritual the Spirit may invite you to develop so that other stories of your congregation's walk with Christ may be recalled and lived afresh in this present moment.
I Thessalonians: "Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow"
Plant Well, Trust God with the Harvest, and Keep in Touch
Garrison Keillor ends every daily installment of "The Writer's Almanac" with these words: "Be well. Do good work. And keep in touch." It's sound and encouraging advice for writers, who must do much of their work alone.
This week's reading from I Thessalonians could be summarized in the similar phrase listed above.
Paul and his companions remind the Christians in Thessalonica that they had planted well. The missionaries were hardworking day laborers while there (verse 9), not expecting to be paid for sharing the gospel. They demonstrated purity in all their dealings with the people (verse 10). Their approach was not like a master to slaves or a commander to soldiers, but like a compassionate father to children -- encouraging, coaching them toward life with God. And the result of these ways of being among the people was that the people received their testimony as being not from Paul and his companions, but from God. A church was planted, a church that was centered on God and not on Paul and his companions.
Planting a new community in Christ and leading it to trust God to help it flourish and grow is deeply relational work. Paul came to Thessalonica assuming no place of privilege, but working hard just like all the other day laborers. It was how he lived and worked among them that made the difference in their lives. In the midst of their work, they encouraged people to "live a life worthy of the God who had called them into his kingdom and glory." Those who responded to these urgings were then formed into a community to live out the witness to God's kingdom themselves. Though Paul was the "planter" and chief organizer of this community, when he left, it was theirs under Christ, and they were continuing to manage and lead it themselves. "Trusting God with the harvest," he would no longer organize or directly lead them, but would instead "stay in touch" by sending Timothy (chapter 3) and through continued correspondence (this letter and II Thessalonians).
Isn't this also what both Kahkewaquonaby and Jacob Albright did in their respective ministries among Native Americans in Canada and German speakers in the United States?
Where are people in your congregation or community actively encouraging others to "live a life worthy of the God who has called them into his kingdom and glory" in the midst of their work? Who is engaged in gathering folks who respond to this urging into small groups or other expressions of Christian community where they can learn, grow, and become such missionaries themselves? Who is providing moral and theological guidance, and how is that happening? Who is "staying in touch" without trying to control what happens in these smaller "bands of believers"?
Sometimes, congregational leaders (clergy and lay) feel threatened when folks in congregations or the wider community begin to take on a missionary function such as Paul modeled in Thessalonica. Certainly, the Church of England felt threatened enough by the early Methodist movement that in many places its pulpits were closed to John Wesley and other Methodists, and in some there is evidence that church leaders supported acts of violence or vandalism against Methodist leaders.
Think about your own congregation and your leaderslay and clergy. Do you or would you feel threatened if some folks began actively evangelizing among people in your church's neighborhood and forming new communities of faith?
Or can you see the possibility that this is precisely the kind of activity that you WANT to encourage your own people and leaders to do?
Why do this? If we follow Paul's example here, it is not for the sake of getting more people into your congregation, but for the sake of the gospel itself, and for the sake of radically expanding the number of deeply formed disciples of Jesus Christ engaged in God's mission wherever they are.
If your congregation has participated in this extended "Season of Saints," perhaps as you've remembered and celebrated the lives and witness of Christian and United Methodist saints, past and present, some of you have gotten a deeper glimpse of what it may mean to "lead a life worthy of God who calls us into his own kingdom and glory." Perhaps you've sensed that far more of us are called into a direct ministry of encouraging others in toward leading such a "life worthy."
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
Leadership as Siblings, Students and Servants
We've just heard Paul describe his relationship with the Christians in Thessalonica as being like a father for children.
Jesus, in today's gospel reading from Matthew, may seem to rebuke Paul!
"Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9).
If you needed any further evidence that the semi-continuous texts in the lectionary for Ordinary Time were not selected to coordinate with each other, this may be a case in point! If those of us on the Consultation on Common Texts were trying to coordinate texts, well, here you might accuse us, rightly, of making a serious mistake!
At the same time, in many ways, having this stark juxtaposition today may actually be rather helpful, even though unintended. Was Paul actually disobeying Jesus in how he approached and described his work in mission in Thessalonica? Or was he actually fulfilling what Jesus spoke?
The answer to this, I think, has everything to do with audience and context. Paul's context in Thessalonica was with people who primarily had no prior knowledge of the teaching of Jesus, and certainly no prior experience of living in the light of his message or in obedience to him as Lord. Paul never lays claim to the authority of being their spiritual father. He uses the term in his letter to describe his affection for them as he helped lead them to new birth in Christ.
By contrast, the people to whom Jesus speaks in the temple in Matthew were either already his disciples or people who were interested enough in his message to risk being seen listening to it in that very public space. Such people as these either were or would become leaders in the movements of mission that would follow in his name. Jesus addressed these people as if they were already one community, living in community together, having had enough instruction in his way that they were ready to take on the mission. It's not unlike the setting in John's gospel where Jesus says to his disciples who had at that point been with him and learned from him for three years, "I no longer call you servants, but friends" (John 15:15).
Jesus' point here is to contrast the way of leadership based on religious, political and economic privilege that he sees embodied in the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day with the kind of leadership and community that best manifests the way of God's reign. The Pharisees, as he here caricatures them, led by elitism, special knowledge, and an expectation of respect for their positions. Leaders in God's reign are called to a different way -- as co-students, peers in learning from Jesus; as siblings, with God alone as their father, or even, as it may have been heard in that context, "paterfamilias"; and as servants, putting themselves at the disposal of others, not in a position of authority over them.
It is as we are brought into the way of life of Jesus in community with others that we begin to live this way. Certainly, as Jesus often notes, and notes here quite clearly, this was neither the expectation of the larger Roman culture nor the practice of the religious leadership of his own day. This way of Jesus would have to be learned, and so it would have to be taught to those who had not previously encountered it. Thus, there would have to be instructors, and indeed, there would have to be "fathers" and "mothers" in the faith, as it were, at least but also only as long as it took to inculcate the community into its identity as a band of students, siblings, and servants.
It was thus against the permanent establishment of titles such as rabbi, father, or teacher in the life of the community of God's reign that Jesus inveighed. Having those as permanent titles, especially given the practices associated with those roles in first-century religious leadership in Judea, was what was keeping the majority of the community from becoming both fully mature and fully obedient to God's reign. Those who are just beginning to join the community need a flesh and blood rabbi or two to orient them to this way of life. They need instructors to set forth the community's basic beliefs and ethics. And they need fathers and mothers who will both embrace them and challenge them to grow in compassion. But from there the expectation is that folks really do grow, do become students in their own right, function as siblings, and lead by serving. This is why James instructs the early Christians to have but few among them who function as teachers (James 3:1).
So back to Paul and Thessalonica. If the long introduction to his letter, perhaps especially the reading for today, means anything, is it not that he was indeed fulfilling rather than denying the teaching of Jesus in this gospel? He worked side by side with people, like a sibling. He sought to serve them, not lord it over them. Even in his fatherly relationship with them, he made it clear that his words and his authority in offering them, were not his, but God's. And in taking as much time in this letter as he does to reconnect with the life he had shared in community with these people rather than coming right out and giving his "authoritative opinions" up front, he models his respect for the integrity of their own community in Christ.
Back to today's gospel, and back to you and your context. Where do you see examples of vital, vibrant witness to the kind of community and leadership Jesus describes in your midst, either in your congregation or across the wider community of Christians where you are? Who is good at a form of "rabbi-ing" and teaching that introduces people to the way -- both in practices and in teaching-- so they can then actually live this way themselves? Where are the small bands of students who truly model the way of Jesus? Who functions as a good, compassionate father, urging those not yet part of the way of Jesus toward his way? Where are the pockets or networks of relationships where people truly watch over one another in love as siblings? Who leads by actively teaching and promoting servanthood? Where are the communities of practice that embody the servanthood these people describe?
I cannot tell you from Nashville what language, imagery, or manner of life these people and groups may have where you are. Go look, go ask, and go discover. Let what you glean from the conversations you have with these folks, or may already have had over time, inform your choices of imagery, sounds, songs, movements and texts in worship today. And keep in mind, too, that this is all part of what it means to mean to be a saint, too.
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Season of Saints: Week 5
Kahkewaquonaby (also known as Peter Jones), 1802-1856
Overall Story: : Born to an Ojibwa mother and a Welsh Canadian father, Kahkewaquonaby was raised first by his mother in Ojibwa ways, and then, beginning at age 14, by his father, from whom he learned European ways. Though he was baptized at age 18, he did not at that time have any real respect for Christianity. He saw the damage "Christian" Europeans had done to the people of his mother's family, and considered that utterly immoral.
That would change during the next few years. He began to undergo a spiritual crisis that moved him to attend a Methodist camp meeting, where he experienced a genuine sense of all things -- Native and European --coming together in Jesus Christ and Christ coming into his own heart. As he wrote of the experience later,
"Every thing now appeared in a new light, and all the works of God seemed to unite with me in uttering the praises of the Lord. The people, the trees of the woods, the gentle winds, the warbling notes of the birds and the approaching sun, all declared the power and goodness of the Great Spirit."
After this experience, Kahkewaquonaby began a new life as a missionary with the Methodists, developing translations of the Bible and a complete hymnal in Ojibwe (still in use), preaching widely, and ever advocating for land rights and education for the First Nations peoples of Canada. Both his preaching and his advocacy landed him personal audiences with major leaders in both Canada and England, including King Williams IV and Queen Victoria.
Source: Sarah H. Hill, "Kahkewaquonaby" in For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists. Order of Saint Luke Publications, 1995, p. 145.
Hymns: A Collection of 7 Hymns, The Lord's Prayer, Decalogue and Apostle's Creed in English and Ojibwe (Chippewa) by Kahkewaquonaby.
Jacob Albright, Albright (Jakob Albrecht) 1759-1808
Overall Story: Jakob Albrecht was born and raised as a German-speaking Lutheran in the region of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He had started a fairly successful tile and brick business in Lancaster County as a young adult, and seemed content with his life.
The death of several of his children began to change that. He confided in a friend (Adam Riegel) who was part of the United Brethren Church about his deep spiritual struggle, and he experienced conversion in his home in 1792. In 1793, he found a Methodist class meeting that gave him not only spiritual support, but a license as an Exhorter. (Today we would call this "lay speaker" or "lay servant minister.")
With this license in hand, he began a field preaching ministry in 1796 among German speakers across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, gathering those who responded into Methodist-style class meetings wherever he went. This led to two challenges with his Lancaster class meeting. First, they would not agree to support him to obtain a license to preach, unless he would preach only in English. Then, in part because of his travels taking him away from Lancaster so often, they removed him from the class meeting (and so the Society and Church) because of his "absenteeism."
Though the Methodist Episcopal Church would not ordain him, the German Methodist class meetings he had started in the region did in 1803. By 1807 these classes had organized themselves into "The Newly Formed Methodist Conference," and elected Jakob Albrecht as their bishop, an office he had neither sought nor fully exercised. He died while on a preaching mission in 1808. After his death, the new denomination changed its name to "Die Evangelische Gemeinschaft" (The Evangelical Association).
Source: Hoyt L. Hickman in For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists. Order of Saint Luke Publications, 1995, 123.
Hymns: "Now Have I Found the Ground Wherein" Original German text (Ich habe nun den Grund gefunden) by Johann Rothe, translated into English by John Wesley. One of Albrecht's close associates in the work, Samuel Becker, was converted while singing this hymn (Rothe's version) in 1805.
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The sharing from the Lord's Table has begun. Some have received. Others are waiting to receive. It will be a few moments before all are ready to offer the post-Communion prayer of thanksgiving together. What can folks do to focus their hearts and minds in the meantime?
One practice has been to offer simple hymns and choruses for all to join in singing during the distribution. Not all sing, and some find singing distracting, especially if the songs selected bear little connection to the texts read or considered during worship that day.
During these weeks of October, we'll provide in this space another optionbrief, meditative poems/prayers, based on the readings for the day, for reading or for singing by soloist, choir, ensemble or congregation.
22.214.171.124. (STUTTGART, UMH 611)
Here I stand on Jordan's shoreline;
There, an unknown promised land.
In the midst are priests encircling
Ark with words from God's own hand.
Will I step into this river?
What now makes my soul refrain?
Fears of unknown, coming danger,
Clench my heart, my feet restrain.
Here we stand before your Table,
There, the places where you send.
In the midst your church receiving
Blood and body, Savior, Friend.
We will plunge into this river.
Nothing makes our souls refrain.
Greet the unknown. Love the stranger.
Hearts are freed. The Savior reigns!
We remember, we have seen
your love for us Lord Jesus,
Teacher with firm patience,
drawing us to Life.
We have tasted and held dear
your Truth in us Lord Jesus,
body bruised and broken,
cup of Living wine.
We will follow where you journey,
your grace bids us, Lord Jesus,
freed from death's destruction,
bringing all to Life.
126.96.36.199.5.5. with Refrain (188.8.131.52)
Jesus, you are our Rabbi,
you teach us the truth
and show us the way.
Your way lightens all burdens,
forgives others' sins
and turns Night to Day!
We bless you, Jesus, Rabbi,
We bless you, Father, God,
We bless you, Teaching Spirit,
One Joy, One Love, One Way of Life.
Father, holy in heaven,
Creator of all,
you love what you made.
Your love breaks every oppression,
lifts up the weary
and frees every slave.
We bless you, Jesus, Rabbi,
We bless you, Father, God,
We bless you, Teaching Spirit,
One Joy, One Love, One Way of Life.
Spirit, teaching us daily,
striving within us
cleansing from sin:
Your joy enlivens the humble
drives us to serve, and
by serving to win.
We bless you, Jesus, Rabbi,
We bless you, Father, God,
We bless you, Teaching Spirit,
One Joy, One Love, One Way of Life.
- BOW 450 (All Saints)
- BOW 453 (Psalm 107)
- BOW 460 (Matthew 23
Acts of response to the Word:
- BOW 501, Prayer for the Church (1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 528, Prayer of Susanna Wesley (Matthew 23)
- 353, United Methodist Hymnal, Prayer for Ash Wednesday (1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 476 (Matthew 23)
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 495, A Litany for the Church and the World
- BOW 540, Prayer for Those Who Work (1 Thessalonians)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda
The Great Thanksgiving:
- BOW 70-71, "The Great Thanksgiving for the Season after Pentecost"
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion:
- BOW 550 (Matthew, 1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 555 (Matthew)
- Musical Doxology, BOW 182 (Psalm)
Blessing: BOW 567, Closing Prayer (Matthew 23)