A Season of Saints, Week 1
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Planning Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
Image: Still from “Living into the Mystery”. Copyright © 2010, The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church (Discipleship Ministries) May be reproduced for use in worship and education if the copyright is cited.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Lamentations 1:1-6. The destruction prophesied has come. Jerusalem and the temple are in ruins. Exile from Jerusalem and Judah has begun. The prophet gives voice to the people’s lament: "Her foes have become her masters… because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions."
Psalm 137 (UMH 852). One of the most painful of all the psalms and a fitting and realistic response to the first reading. Use the printed version with Tone 4 in E minor (UMH 737, or transpose the response to F minor), or use one of the many musical settings of the psalm, such as TFWS 2217 or The Upper Room Worshipbook, 342 or 343.
2 Timothy 1:1-14. Paul's greeting and opening exhortation in the second letter: Remember who you are, rekindle the gift in you, don't be afraid. There is no shame in suffering when it comes from trusting and obeying the Lord.
Luke 17:5-10. Jesus teaches on faith and status. The disciples ask for more faith; Jesus says they need a different kind. They appear to want to be treated as equals of powerful persons; Jesus tells them to regard themselves as slaves who can’t be sold for profit. Their one task is obedience.
Today is the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost.
And it’s October, the most programmed month in The United Methodist Church.
Scriptural Series for October
All three streams of texts could be used to start a new series, starting today.
The Old Testament focuses on life after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Judah, and, starting mid-month, on life after returning home to ruins. You could treat this as a six-week series (though interrupted by All Saints on November 6), you might call “After the Disaster.” Dawn Chesser will be supporting this series in her weekly Preaching Notes.
The Epistle gives us four weeks in 2 Timothy, with a common theme of “Leaders Persevering.” If you use this series, you may want to continue for the next two weeks in the epistle (again interrupted by or centered on All Saints) as it addresses “The Coming Judgment.”
The Gospel focuses on core practices all disciples, not just leaders, are to “Keep on…” doing from now until All Saints.
Beginning November 13, all three streams turn toward “end of the world” kinds of themes, so these helps will use that opportunity (especially starting November 20) to support the observance of Extended Advent, with a series theme, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
In addition to the supports for Extended Advent in these helps, a brand new series of helps planned collaboratively as intentional series and including full service orders, commentary on songs and hymns, sermon notes and planning notes for each Sunday will debut soon. The first series in this new format will cover Advent 1 (regular Advent) through Epiphany Sunday (January 1). We will continue to provide updated helps in the current format through the Season after Epiphany 2017, and then shift entirely to the new format beginning with Lent 2017.
As our Book of Worship reminds (422 and again on 434), Scripture and the season or day of the year, not other programmatic emphases, should take precedence every Sunday. Programmatic emphases or Special Sundays or Special Days are set within the context of the Christian Year not as a way to “take on” a Sunday for the emphasis, but rather to use the emphasis to help underscore the emphases of the season and the Scriptures for that Sunday.
Programmatic Focuses for October
A Season of Saints
Today also kicks off six weeks of celebrations, concluding with All Saints Day/Sunday, called “A Season of Saints.” A Season of Saints is not a separate celebration, but rather a series of enhancements you can offer in worship and throughout each week, regardless of which Scripture series you are following, to expand your congregation’s celebration and remembrance of faithful Christians across the centuries, within United Methodist heritages, and in your community from one day (All Saints) to a whole month (World Communion Sunday through All Saints). As a way of marking this time, you may wish to add either red (for saints and martyrs) or white (for All Saints) or both to the basic green color palette of this Season after Pentecost.
This year’s resourcing for A Season of Saints includes links to music and videos from Martyrs Prayers, a multimedia project led by Michael Glenn Bell and Duane Arnold, setting the prayers of Christian martyrs across many ages and cultures to music and video. The linked article for the season includes links to appropriate selections from this resource for each week, as well as both a globally recognized saint and a United Methodist saint. These weekly planning helps will provide additional resources you may find helpful as you plan for this year’s celebrations.
This week, we remember Oscar Romero, martyred while presiding at the Lord’s Table, and Sarah Peters a faithful early Methodist laywoman who died from exposure to a diseases carried by the prisoners she faithfully visited, witnessed to, and prayed with. John Wesley described her witness and work, as well as her death, in his journal (pages 381-387 in the linked resource).
Hispanic Heritage Month (USA) (September 15-October 15)
This US civil observance continues through October 15. Consider how you may best include Hispanic-Latino people, resources and music in your worship during this time. The link offers a variety of resources to help.
World Communion Sunday
A Season of Saints begins with World Communion Sunday, a time to celebrate our global connections as Christians, including in our celebrations at the Lord’s Table. United Methodists collect a denomination-wide offering to provide scholarships for for U.S. (racial- and ethnic-minority) and international undergraduate and graduate scholarships. The United Methodist Book of Worship includes the Great Thanksgiving for this day (pages 72-73). Our Resources for World Communion Sunday also include our video, Living into the Mystery, available for free viewing online, or as a DVD. Royalty costs preclude our making it available as a download.
World Communion Sunday was begun among several U.S. Protestant denominations in the 1940s as a way of recognizing and celebrating that we celebrate Communion with Christians of many theologies and denominations all over the world. At that time, many Protestant denominations in the U.S. celebrated Communion very infrequently. Quarterly celebration was often the norm, and it was rarely coordinated across denominations or even within them. Setting the first Sunday of October as World Communion Sunday through the Federal Council of Churches became one way to ensure that at least once per year, many American Protestants, and their related missionary churches outside the U.S., might celebrate at the same time.
Since this 1940s, when World Communion Sunday was founded, nearly all Protestant denominations in the U.S., including United Methodists, have significantly increased the frequency of celebrating Holy Communion. Weekly celebration is a common stated norm. Celebration at least monthly is the most commonly practiced norm, including the first Sunday of each month and other Holy Days, such as Christmas Eve, Epiphany, Transfiguration, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, World Communion Sunday, All Saints, and Christ the King. Today, then, many more U.S. Protestants celebrate Holy Communion on the same Sundays many times every year. So now, World Communion Sunday brings special emphasis to that part of our ecumenically shared Communion ritual where we join the songs and prayers of all the saints on earth and all the saints and creatures of heaven around the Lord’s Table. May your celebration be filled with the praises of our Holy, Holy, Holy Triune God this day!
Children’s Sabbath is observed October 7-9 in the UMC. Children’s Sabbath is not to be confused with a “Children’s Sunday” when children might be particularly featured as choirs or other leaders in worship. Children’s Sabbath is a weekend of activities, including but not limited to worship on Sunday morning, to focus on advocacy for the needs of children in the United States and around the world. (See Discipleship Ministries Resources.)
Laity Sunday is October 16. This year, we have also provided a full collection of non-lectionary based worship resources specially designed for the emphases of this day. These include a full order of service with suggested music, guidance on how to lead the service, preaching notes, and commentary on the suggested songs and hymns. You’ll also find posters, bulletin covers, and bulletin inserts in both color and black and white.
Reformation Sunday is October 30. The date is chosen as the Sunday nearest October 31, but not to interfere with All Saints (November 1 or Sunday closest). It commemorates primarily Martin Luther’s reformation in Germany. While Methodists are far more related to Anglicans than Lutherans, historically and theologically, United Methodists are in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Consider how you might collaborate with an ELCA congregation and other United Methodists and Methodist bodies with whom we are in full communion (AME, AMEZ, CME, UAME, AUMP) to hold a joint celebration, if not on Sunday morning, at a later time that day.
Start planning now how you will celebrate each of these days that come one after the other so that worship does not become an occasion for the "cause du jour" (or “cause de la semaine”), but focuses always on our Triune God, whom we encounter in Word and Table. You may find that organizing around the Scripture series and “A Season of Saints” through these various additional commemorations helps you keep the focus where it belongs.
All Month A Season of Saints
To 10/15 Hispanic Heritage Month (USA)
October 2 World Communion Sunday (UMCgiving.org resources)
October 9 Children’s Sabbath
October 16 Laity Sunday
October 31 Reformation Day
All Month Native American Heritage Month (USA)
November 1/6 All Saints Day/Sunday, Daylight Saving Time Ends (USA)(November 6)
November 11 Veterans Day (USA)
November 13 Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday (USA) / International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church / Extended Advent Begins
November 20 Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday / Bible Sunday
November 24 Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 27 Advent 1, Year A / United Methodist Student Day
December 1 World AIDS Day
December 21 Longest Night / Blue Christmas
December 24 Christmas Eve (Christmas Season continues through January 1/6)
December 25 Christmas Day
December 26 Kwanzaa (Kwanzaa continues through January 1)
December 31 Watch Night / New Year’s Eve
January 1 Epiphany Sunday / New Year’s Day
January 8 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 15 Human Relations Day (2017 resources coming soon)
January 16 The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (USA)
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 25 Ecumenical Sunday
While you may be tempted or even feel compelled to find some way of connecting all of this week’s texts around World Communion Sunday, consider resisting the temptation in your planning. Remember, these texts were not chosen either to “fit” with World Communion Sunday (which is not actually a thing for many U.S. denominations, including Lutherans and Episcopalians, much less worldwide), nor to relate to each other. Read them all if you can. And stay the course with the focus of whichever stream you have been working through during these weeks. Then, build in connections to World Communion Sunday from that stream.
Old Testament Stream: After the Disaster, Week 1
During the past seven weeks in Jeremiah, we’ve focused on the lead-up and the beginnings of the siege of Jerusalem that led to the destruction of the city and the temple and the forced exile of thousands of the people of Judah to Babylon.
Starting today, a new series begins focusing on the people’s responses to the results and what prophets call them to do now that their homeland is obliterated (for the next three weeks) or that they’ve returned to a place still in ruins (starting October 23).
We see a decided shift from “prophet as forewarner” to “prophet as co-mourner” and then “prophet as exhorter.”
We start, today, with mourning.
The texts from Lamentations and the Psalm are poetic cries of anguish and pain. They are also songs for occasions of mourning (funeral dirges) in form and content.
As we have seen before, Jeremiah understood his prophetic calling to include joining and giving voice to the mourning of his people when God’s judgment arrives.
We in the United States, especially if our heritage is European, primarily tend to sing songs of comfort in difficult times, including at funerals. We look for God to be with us. We anticipate with joyful hope the resurrection made possible by Jesus Christ. These are fine and healing places to center the worship we offer at times like these.
At the same time, however, our service of death and resurrection seeks to give expression to the pain, grief, and loss involved. That is why it includes Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths I cry unto thee,” UMH 873) as one way of giving corporate voice to pain and grief while also confessing our trust in God. It is precisely because such pain and grief are most palpable and given expression that later in the service we are able to pray Psalm 23. It is in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, not simply peering at it from a distance, that we most profoundly experience the comforting, guiding, and protecting presence of the Good Shepherd.
In the religious tradition Jesus, his disciples, and many of the earliest Christians shared, as well as in Orthodox Judaism today, grief was and is typically shared much more openly. Orthodox Jewish funerals to this day happen fairly quickly after death, typically within 24 hours if at all possible, though never on the Sabbath or high holy days. Until the burial and through it, the energy of shock and grief in the community is focused on honoring the dead, not primarily on comforting the living. Mourning is practiced as an indispensible part of honoring the dead. An intense focus on mourning is expected to last at least seven days, with family and friends coming to visit and care for those who have lost loved ones after the funeral so that they can all grieve deeply. It's called "sitting Shiva" (sitting “seven,” literally). Disciplines recognizing and leaving room for the mourning continue for another 23 days to the "sloshim" (thirty, counting the seven). After the thirty days, with the exception of those who have lost a parent, the official ritual actions of the mourning period are complete. Read the “ABCs of Death & Mourning” at aish.com for more details.
The reading from Lamentations and the response from Psalm 137 call us all to mourn with a people who have lost their cities, their livelihood, their connections, their homeland, and the center of their religious and cultural life-- the temple in Jerusalem.
An ancient Eucharistic prayer thanks God that Jesus “suffered with the suffering ones.” Consider how worship today may enter into that suffering in solidarity that embodies Christ’s suffering with us.
In Your Planning Team
Beginning the New Series
A service focused on mourning may seem an odd or counterintuitive way to begin a new series. But it is exactly the right way to begin this one. Mourning what was decisively lost was the necessary beginning of the journey forward “after the disaster” for those who experienced such profound destruction. It is not possible to move on to something new without grieving all that had been lost.
This does not mean you begin the series on a “low note.” It means you begin it in solidarity with those then and now who have gone through intense loss and after that try to figure out what to make of it and where to go from there.
So don’t think about this as a “low” point to start. Think about it as a high intensity point to start—because it is. There are few places anywhere in Scripture that express grief with higher intensity than you will find here, today.
And then don’t think about the rest of the services in this series as “tips for finding your way up” or even necessarily “forward,” but rather as “joining others struggling their way through.”
What is the promise for this series? You might consider framing it as something like “going through with people who are going through.” This is a series that is about the journey and taking the journey with one another. Different people may glean different things from it. But like all good journeys, taking it together will be transformational for all, even if in different ways. So the promise for this series isn’t about how you’ll be changed together, but simply that you will, and that you’ll give thanks for all that God does with you as you engage this journey faithfully in the coming weeks.
Lamentations is a lament that mourns real losses and invites and leads others in such mourning. The most important thing you can do with this text in worship today is to read it well and, rather than seek to explain it, per se, help the congregation feel, and if possible, join the grieving embodied in the prophet’s words.
Here are some suggestions and questions that may prepare you to prepare your reader and the ways you will invite the congregation to join the lament this day.
- Read the text aloud in your team, and ask team members how they respond emotionally to it. Experiment with multiple ways of reading it until it elicits among you something closer to the mourning it invites. Strongly consider inviting one of your team members who has participated in this exercise to be the reader for this text in worship, so the reading there may be more likely to elicit the intended response as well.
- Where are the losses that may be going ungrieved or unhonored in your own heart, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your congregation, in your city, in your region, in your nation, in the world? How might you invite your congregation to recall, and if not name in real time, at least express corporate mourning over these losses today?
- Consider how you might invite the congregation to “sit Shiva” or even, if necessary, “fulfill the sloshim” in daily times of mourning for one or more of these things in the coming week or weeks.
Season of Saints Angle: Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero, Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, like the singer of Isaiah’s song (Isaiah 5:1-7), looked upon the people he was called to lead and instead of justice heard a cry. It was the cry of the poor, and the cry of all who were persecuted by the government and the military leaders who were working for basic human and labor rights in their villages and country. He was an outspoken opponent of policies of his own government, and of US policies that supplied weapons to enable the Salvadoran government to continue them. In March 1980, while completing the Great Thanksgiving for a celebration of the Mass at a local hospital, Archbishop Romero was shot and killed, perhaps, it is thought, in response to a sermon he had offered the day before, in which he encouraged Salvadoran soldiers to exercise their first allegiance to Christ and refuse to participate in obeying any orders that harmed the poor.
There were attempts from that point forward for Archbishop Romero to be recognized as a martyr and saint in the Roman Catholic Church. For some time, the progress toward final canonization had been blocked, but Pope Francis got the process started again, and Romero was “beatified” (the last step before being declared a saint) on May 23, 2015.
United Methodists rightly recognize in this Roman Catholic martyr a Christian leader who shares our common baptismal vocation to “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,” even at the cost of his life. He lived his prayer, Let my blood be a seed of freedom.”
Epistle Stream: Mission in the World but not of It
Leaders Persevering, Week 1
“Staying the Course”
In II Timothy, Paul gives very direct and directive advice. It is not hard to read between the lines of the verses we see today and find Paul’s concern that Timothy may be backing away from his calling and the mission Paul had sent him to Ephesus, essentially as a bishop for the region, to accomplish. Paul pulls no punches. He says “rekindle the gift,” “do not be ashamed of the testimony” (suggesting Timothy may be acting too timidly, as if he were ashamed), “hold to the standard of sound doctrine” (as if Timothy may have been backing away from the standard,” and “guard the treasure” (as if Timothy may have been on the brink of letting it go). Along the way (verse 7), there is also an implicit “don’t be a coward!” Paul issues Timothy a call to re-engage fully and boldly, press on, and fulfill his tasks at hand as teacher and leader in the region of Ephesus.
Rekindle the gift. Go back and remember who you have been through your formation in your family. Go back and remember what you were becoming when you were with me on mission. Go back and remember and re-inhabit everything that was given to you by the Holy Spirit when the Spirit directed me to send you to Ephesus. None of us were wrong about you, and the Spirit does not fail. Do not fail yourself. Rekindle the gift.
Do not be ashamed of the gospel, or of the fact it lands people like me, and maybe people like you, in prison, or worse. You know this is part of it. You know such suffering in the gospel is an essential part of living the gospel. This is the way of light and immortality. Embrace the suffering, and embolden others to do the same. Trust Jesus Christ fully, as I know you have, and as you see I do. Do not be ashamed.
Teach soundly. People may not always be happy with truth. Teach it anyway, and no other. And do not fail to teach it. Teach soundly.
Guard all this treasure given you—your formation, your calling to Christ, the mission the Spirit sent you to accomplish here, the gospel with its sufferings, never faltering in the soundness of what you teach. What a treasure! Guard it. Don’t neglect it. Don’t fritter it away. Don’t walk away from it. Guard it, so you can keep drawing from it.
In Your Planning Team
Beginning the New Series
These next four weeks in II Timothy are about strengthening the leaders in your midst. Today’s reading from the beginning of the book sets up the outline for some of the key topics you’ll explore in greater depth in the weeks to come: dealing with suffering, faithfully teaching the Scripture, and exercising your leadership by living your life as a libation—pouring out for others, not gathering in for yourself. Today’s reading in a very real way is the “overture” for the series itself. The series promise is that leaders will be encouraged and strengthened for the heart of their work in the Christian community.
While today’s reading is the overture, pointing to the topics for the coming three weeks, it is also the grounding for this series, not just topically, but spiritually. “Rekindling the gift” and “guarding the treasure,” first and last on Paul’s list of five things he wants Timothy to focus on, are the “sine qua nons” without which efforts on the other three (dealing with suffering, teaching soundly, and living as a libation) would go nowhere fast. It’s the work of the Spirit and living in the Spirit’s power (rekindling the gift) plus continuing to draw on the entirety of the heritage Timothy has received (guarding the treasure, also a gift of the Spirit!) that will enable him to engage the other three successfully.
And the same is true for all of us who are called and appointed as leaders in the body of Christ.
So today is not just about the preview of coming attractions, so to speak. More than anything, today and the week ahead need to be about challenging and supporting leaders in the rekindling of their own gifts and the guarding of the treasures they’ve been given. Worship alone can’t accomplish this work. Plan to integrate this into formational activities for your leaders today and throughout the coming week. Rekindling, like kindling in the first place, isn’t an “instant on” activity. It takes time and some patience to get a fire going from its first sparks to roaring flames to, at last, a bed of blazing coals. Guarding a treasure sometimes requires becoming aware you have a treasure, what it is, and that it is worth guarding! This, too, takes time and far more than one worship service can be expected to generate. Worship this week may be the spark that reignites the passion for both in your leaders. But you’ll need to do more throughout the week to take that from spark to living flame.
Because this letter and this series is so intently focused on leaders—and not generic advice for everyone in the church-- you and your team will need to decide how to present this text today, especially in preaching. It is a serious category mistake to apply it to the congregation as “general encouragement” to “hang in there” when times get tough. This is Paul telling Timothy, “Look, you’re faltering. Stop it. Reverse course. Get back on the right path.” Its one leader holding another leader accountable. How will you embody that in what you preach from this text today and the prayers, hymns and other elements that surround it?
1) Pastor, imagine you are Timothy. Worship planning team, imagine you are Paul, and you’re saying these things to your pastor. How would you respond to these concerns, Pastor? Where are the embers going out for you? Where are you acting or leading too timidly, as if you are ashamed of the gospel? Where are you holding back or even compromising the truth of the gospel, the call to discipleship, and the expectation of holiness of heart and life? Pastor, if you can honestly answer these questions with your planning team, and talk about what you’re going to do to improve accountably on each, you will be offering a powerful model for all of your leaders.
2) Rather than focusing on your own rekindling, emboldening, and commitment to teach the truth, consider using these simply as examples, and address the sermon specifically to your leaders, asking them to answer these questions for themselves, and announcing there will be opportunities for them to meet in smaller groups to support and keep one another accountable for their own progress in these three areas, as needed.
Pastor and team, you know best how to discern which of these two directions, or some other direction, would be most appropriate at this time where you are. Just remember, this really is about holding Christian leaders accountable to their leadership roles and seeking to make them stronger, not about how to deal with life when times get tough.
And as you plan sermon and worship for this Sunday, keep in mind your worshiping community may include folks who have experience coaching others like Paul coached Timothy here, and others who have benefited from such directive coaching in their lives. Identify who some of these people, in particular, may be. And invite them to share their stories with your team, and perhaps in worship, as you plan worship for this day.
On this World Communion Sunday, we remember that our fellowship in the body of Christ (not just the United Methodist Church) is truly worldwide. Consider spending time remembering especially Christians who continue to suffer for their faith. The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle provides a constant reminder of our sisters and brothers around the world in every nation. Be sure to use that cycle today (see resources below) if you haven't before.
A Season of Saints can do the same throughout these weeks. Both Oscar Romero and Sarah Peters are examples of people who died for their faith, though in very different ways—Romero by assassination, Peters by illness contracted in the course of faithful ministry in prisons. Consider including intercession specifically for these nations and the Christians in them (very few and often persecuted!), even as you give thanks for the witness of Romero, Peters, and every saint who lived and died unashamed of the gospel.
Gospel Stream: Learning from the Master
Keep on… : Week 1
Keep on Obeying
Luke brings us two short sayings from Jesus: one about faith and the other about status. In both he confronts assumptions his disciples bring to them then and now.
Self-improvement is a mantra in our culture. Every day, we hear hundreds of offers from companies that want us to buy their product or service to improve our lives or our skills in some way, often by promising us more of what we already think is a good thing. This is what many advertisements do, and the average American is exposed to hundreds of them across multiple media platforms every day. So for us, the disciples’ question “Lord, increase our faith,” (that is, “give us more”) may seem quite reasonable.
But Jesus doesn’t answer their request as they put it. It’s not more faith that they need. It’s a different kind of faith: “Mustard weed faith.”
Mustard weed was the scourge of farmers in Palestine. It grew wild. Birds would ingest but not entirely digest its seeds and drop them everywhere. It would take over fields and vineyards. It would compete with existing crops. Pulling it up did little good, because more birds would just bring more seed from somewhere else, and you'd be back in the same place in a few weeks. It was persistent, irritating, and fast-spreading. It would be there whether you liked it or not.
Mustard weed was so effective (and so such a menace!) because it was so purpose-built and so intent on fulfilling its purpose—to propagate itself by all means everywhere.
That's the kind of faith we need, Jesus says, faith both small and contagious enough to be carried everywhere by folks living like birds. Not more. Not bigger. Not even deeper. Just contagious enough to be caught, dropped, and then take root.
More or bigger faith isn’t what we need. It’s faith that goes and gets carried everywhere.
And that’s how such faith spreads.
But only, Jesus, reminds in the rest of this week’s reading, if we keep this point straight: Jesus is in charge, not us. The faith does not spread like mustard weed if we think we've got all the strategies down just right, or if we think we control the mission and act like we do. The mission is God's, not ours. We get to help, even as we've been helped. We go and serve at the bidding of Jesus, like a family servant, not because we feel like it or because we want to make our own ministries bigger (see mustard seed faith!). And when the day is done, ours is to say, "We are servants of no use to anyone else. We have done your will, O God."
Mustard seed faith is grounded in obedience to Christ. Obey. Every hour. Every day. And then the next one. And the next one. And so on.
Got mustard seed faith?
Ready to apron up?
Season of Saints: Sarah Peters
From John Wesley’s Journal, November 13, 1748, describing Sarah Peters
“For these four years past,” says one who was intimately acquainted with her, “we used once or twice a week to unbosom ourselves to each other. I never knew her to have one doubt concerning her own salvation. Her soul was always filled with the holy flame of love, and ran after Christ as the ‘chariots of Ammidadib.’ She used to say, ‘I think I am all spirit, I must be always moving. I cannot rest day or night, any longer than I am gathering in souls to God.’ Yet she would often complain of her weakness and imperfections; and cry out ‘I am an unprofitable servant.’”
Sarah Peters embodied both the mustard seed faith and the apron. She was tireless in spreading the gospel to the prisoners at Newgate prison in London; and she was absolutely committed to continue to go there to listen, to pray, and to evangelize as often as she could. Her faith did spread like mustard weed, as Wesley’s journal reports, since her evangelism with a condemned man named John Lancaster so moved him, that he began holding prayer meetings and evangelizing other prisoners. And she was ever the servant, understanding her call from God to visit, pray with, and evangelize – especially the condemned and those dying from an infection spreading through the prison at that time. There were no known precautions one could take to protect oneself from the infection, other than to avoid the infected altogether. Sarah Peters believed these persons, especially, were in need of visitation and prayer and that God was calling her to pray with them. So not visiting them was simply not an option. It cost her her life, just a little over a month after her visit with John Lancaster that had moved him so.
In Your Planning Team
Beginning the New Series
While the series in II Timothy focuses on leaders in the Christian community, this series, “Keep on…” points to core activities all disciples of Jesus are called to keep on doing. Over the course of these next six weeks, culminating at All Saints, we will be reminded to keep on obeying (today), healing, praying, trusting in God’s mercy, and seeking and saving the lost. On All Saints, we celebrate as we remember all who have “kept on” and finished the course in faith.
“Keep on” is different than “remember to.” Worship can spur us to “remember to” do each of these things as they come week by week. But to actually “keep on” doing them, as Jesus calls his disciples to do through these weeks, takes more prodding, encouragement, challenge, and accountability. After all, these aren’t just things we’re called to do or think about during these six weeks. These are things we’re called to keep doing and keep living into all the rest of our lives. So as you develop plans for worship, remember to develop plans for follow up and accountable growth through each week. If you’ve doing this well, these six weeks are enough time to develop habits in folks they will be able to sustain when worship no longer functions as a primary prod because we’ve moved onto the next season.
The series promise, then, is the development of holy habits for a lifetime, starting now.
1. Depending where you are, your folks may or may not be familiar with mustard weed. If you’re in the Southern U.S., kudzu might be a reasonable analog. In the Midwest, it might be pokeweed. Along fence rows, maybe it’s mulberry bushes. All three spread rapidly and almost uncontrollably, though kudzu rarely (if ever) spreads via birds. Few today would intentionally plant any of these in their fields, much as few in Jesus’ day would ever intentionally plant mustard weed. During the reading or as part of preaching this text, use images or refer to the plants that best convey “noxious, rapidly spreading plants” where you are.
Here’s an image from modern day Israel you can use (with attribution as noted on the page) of a lupin plant in the foreground (the plant that was supposed to be there) surrounded by a whole field of wild mustard: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lupinus_pilosus_with_Mustard_plant_%28Sinapis%29_in_the_background.jpg
2. I’ve suggested an apron as an image for a family servant above. I’m aware this may be seen as sexist in some quarters, although male chefs and cooks use them, too, and long before that, field workers of both sexes wore them. What images would best and most appropriately convey the nature of our service to Jesus he describes in this passage where you are?
3. The “United Methodist Heritage” saint for today, Sarah Peters, truly embodies all sides of Jesus’ teaching well—contagious faith and unflagging service. Who embodies either or both of these now, where you are? Send members of the team to talk with them, or invite them to come to you to talk with you about what they've seen happen as a result. Then see how you can weave their stories or testimonies into worship today, too.
Embodying the Word: Prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion
The prayer of thanksgiving following Holy Communion in our official ritual (UMH 11) is a wonderful and simple prayer, easily memorized if you pray it often enough. It says exactly what needs to be said in these moments with brevity, eloquence, and grace. We thank God for feeding us in this holy mystery, and we ask the Spirit to send us forth to be what we have prayed and received: the body of Christ active in the world. In general, I would commend that congregations learn this prayer so they can pray it from the heart and let it begin to pray them!
However, for some of our congregations, a process of formation through repetition may be unfamiliar (as commendable as it may be) or even problematic. It is for such settings that the following prayers, connected with the themes of the lectionary texts, are offered through the weeks of October.
Thank you, God, for feeding us.
Your flesh and blood sustain us, Jesus,
to weep with all who weep,
to hold them in our hearts
and serve them with our lives.
Even so, send us by your Spirit. Amen.
What joy! What assurance! What power
you have given us,
in giving us yourself!
You have rekindled the gifts in us!
Now send us to live and speak the truth
In your power and by your grace. Amen.
we thank you for serving us at your Table
against all convention.
Send us forth with such faith
that all whom we touch cannot help but know
your life springing up within them. Amen.
WORD AND RESPONSE
Litany for Living in a Strange Land (Psalm)
Leader: We live in a strange land today
Voice 1: — captive to consumption beyond our needs,
Voice 2: — boxed into politics without confession,
Voice 3: — entertaining ourselves yet feeling empty,
Voice 4: — sensing that things are out of balance economically and ecologically, yet not quite ready to do anything about it.
ALL: How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
Leader: We've been washed, but we are not yet clean.
ALL: We've been baptized but we're not yet free.
Leader: We are in a strange land today.
ALL: We live in the land as aliens and strangers.
The culture is seductive and we become resistant to living as disciples of Jesus.
Leader: We cave in to it; get lost in it; we forget our story.
ALL: How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?
Prayers of Intercession / Concerns and Prayers
An outpouring of prayers (Ask a diverse group of persons to offer the following or other prayers from various parts of the room — if they can be heard — or at different microphones. If any are able to pray the prayer in a native tongue other than English, have them do so and then read it in English, or ask another to speak it in English.)
UMH 564, "For the Unity of Christ's Body"
UMH 574, "For Renewal of the Church"
UMH 456, "For Courage to Do Justice" (consider changing I to we, me to us, and my to our)
UMH 429, "For Our Country"
BOW 527 (use the last section in bold type)
BOW 495, "A Litany for the Church and for the World"
BOW 501-506, Prayers for the Church
BOW 545-547, "For Those Who Suffer" (Lamentations, Psalm)
The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
UMH 412, "Prayer of John Chrysostom" (closing prayer before blessing &dismissal)
BOW 559 or 567 (2 Timothy, Luke)
Litany for Ministry in the World for Which We Commune in Christ (Psalm, Luke)
If feasible, the congregation could move to the steps or narthex for this act of offering themselves for service. A deacon or assisting minister (layperson) should lead the litany.
On the boundary of assembly and dispersion we, Christ's priestly people, face the strangeness of our powerlessness and our vocation.
We can't do everything, but we can love.
We can't speak the final word, but we can love.
We don't quite feel like we belong, but we can love.
When Jerusalem is a faint memory, still, we can love.
When we don't have the answers, still, we can love.
When we can't agree about gay and straight, still, we can love.
When we feel awkward and restless, still, we can love.
We're frustrated with the constraints of youth and aging, but we can love now.
We long for the good old days, but we can love now.
We are weary of waiting for the land of promise, but we can love now.
We may let petty irritations trip us, but still, we can love.
We may choke on our faith songs, but still, we can love.
We may limp in our worship and service, but still, we can love.
We will be embarrassed at how messy our lives are, but still, we can love.
Here the pastor blesses the people.