Moses seeing the promised land.
Painting by Christian Rohlfs, 1912. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayersfor this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Moses was allowed to see — but not enter — the Promised Land. He died in the land of Moab and was buried in an unknown burial place there. The Israelites mourned his death for thirty days.
Psalm Response: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 (UMH 789).
This psalm is the basis of the text, "O God Our Help in Ages Past."
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.
Paul continues his "re-introduction." He recalls the suffering that accompanied his first visit. He also reminds them of the authenticity and gentleness of his proclamation among them.
The Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question: Which kind of commandment was the greatest? Jesus answers, and concludes his reply with questions for them about the identity of the Messiah. From that day, their questions ceased.
The Old Testament reading makes its final transition from Moses to others today, as we witness the death of Moses after he has seen the promised land. This marks today or next week as a good time to transition to the gospel reading for a time, if you wish.
A Season of Saints enters its fourth week today. Each week, we’re inviting you to consider highlighting a historical Christian saint, a saint who is part of our United Methodist heritage, and a saint you know personally in your congregation or community. You may 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 inviting 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 23:
United Methodist Saint: Sarah Crosby, first female Methodist preacher
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.”
All Month: Native American Heritage Month
November 1/2: All Saints Day/Sunday (Also see Church and Civic Holidays)
November 9: “Restored” or Extended Advent 1, Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday (USA), International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11: Veterans Day (USA) (GBHEM resources)
November 23: Bible Sunday in National Bible Week (November 23-30) (USA)
November 27: Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 30: Advent (Regular) Year B Begins, United Methodist Student Day
If you haven't started planning for Advent, it's time! Discipleship Ministries has an archived webinar you can view yourself or with your planning team, a complete handout of the slides for the webinar, and a planning article exploring the texts in depth. The webinar provides at least five different approaches for Advent and Christmas Season planning to help you and your congregation celebrate each as fully as you can, as well as links to hundreds of other Adven- related resources on our website.
Atmospherics -- After Deliverance:
Seeing and Moving Toward the Land of Promise
Through these remaining Sundays after Pentecost, the Old Testament readings leapfrog through the highlights of the settlement of Palestine by the tribes of Israel. That journey begins with today’s story of the promised entry and the death and burial of Moses from Deuteronomy 34. Moses has been to the mountain, has seen the land of promise, and knows he will not get there with the people he has led to this point.
Moses’s death prompts a secret burial, a thirty-day period of mourning, and a decisive change in leadership to Joshua.
In last week’s text, we saw the beginnings of the transition from settlement near Sinai to taking on the journey to the Promised Land. To make that journey start required a clear sense of God’s promise to guide and a full year of preparation. This week, that journey is complete. The people have come to the ridges overlooking the land they are to occupy. Moses is still vigorous and sharp as ever. But settling a land already occupied by others is an entirely a new challenge requiring new leadership.
The new leader would be Joshua. Moses had apprenticed Joshua for many years. He had laid his hands on Joshua to impart his spirit (Deuteronomy 31, Numbers 27:12 ff). Joshua had shown able leadership in battle (Exodus 17, against the Amalekites), a critical skill for the years of occupation that lay ahead. Perhaps his determination to enter the Promised Land, despite fears raised by ten of the twelve spies Moses had sent (Numbers 12), set him apart the most. Here was a leader who trusted God’s promise and would be true to the mission.
A bit more about the thirty days of mourning. Stopping everything for a full lunar cycle was not simply to bury the body and grieve Moses’s death. It was also to let go of many accustomed ways of life so that new ways under Joshua’s new leadership could be embraced. It takes 3-4 weeks to start a new habit, to form new customs.
If you want to get from “before” to “after,” you have to go “through” and do it in a way that lets you let go of before, and start heading decisively toward after.
In Your Planning Team
First off, are you beginning a new series around the OT texts today? If so, how will you design worship today to function as an “overture” that a) establishes the major theme of the entire series and b) previews the themes for each of the coming weeks of the series?
And be sure to let folks know, well in advance, when this new series begins, and something of what it may entail. Even if you are actually continuing in the OT stream, today actually could mark a new beginning, a shift from discovering God actually delivering us, to, starting today, what it means to live into the fullness of God’s intention when the primary acts of deliverance are complete.
As you consider today’s text, here are some questions to discuss in your worship planning team.
- Where are you and your congregation in your journeys? Are you at the edge of a new place of promise? Can you see it? What's the vista like? How will you help your congregation get a glimpse of the vista you see in worship today?
- What are you like as you see this vista? Take a look at the image of Moses that begins this set of helps. Notice it's called "Moses seeing the Promised Pand," and what it focuses on is just that— Moses as he sees it. We can scarcely make out the land at all. But we can see Moses. What do you see in Moses as he sees the promise? What are folks in your congregation seeing, and what do you see in them as they see whatever promise lies ahead of you?
- If you are ready for a bold new step forward, what has to stop, or die? How will you honor what you will let go of, while still clearly letting go? Or if you've been there before, or may get there soon, what stories can you or others tell, or what hopes or awareness will you cultivate?
- If you are poised just now for some new journey to begin, what would need to "lie fallow" for several weeks, giving you and your congregation time to end existing patterns that are no longer useful and to start new ones that will be? Where are you or other leaders tempted simply to "switch lanes without signaling"? How will you, with others, overcome that temptation and help your congregation do likewise.
Keep in mind as you plan worship that maintaining the usual basic pattern of entrance, proclamation and response, thanksgiving and communion, and sending forth remains essential through times of transition and beyond. This basic pattern in worship is like breathing and heartbeat, a regular pulse your congregation and millions of Christians around the world have relied on for centuries, while other patterns of life and leadership may change.
As part of this season of saints, how might worship today help your congregation get a glimpse of their promise, honor past leaders, or name future leaders for the next steps? Is today a good opportunity for a “day apart” together, meeting away from your usual campus—a time for mourning, or reflection, or re-collection?
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I Thessalonians: "Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow"
How We Came to Christ, or, Real Evangelism
I Thessalonians 2 continues the long re-introduction begun in last week’s reading. Here, the writers remind the Christians in Thessalonica of their initial meeting, how they interacted while they were together, and the feelings of care they continue to have for the Christians of Thessalonica. The writers also remind these Christians about the similarity of their shared experiences of persecution for the faith. Paul and company had gone there initially because of persecution in Philippi. Now the Christians in Thessalonica themselves have experienced persecution for their faith.
In Your Planning Team
Yes, normally there would be more biblical exegesis first, but the way to approach the Scripture this week really depends on a key decision you and your team make first about how you will approach it today.
There are at least two angles from which to experience this text in worship today. One is to look at the text from the perspective of the congregation receiving it. Here the theme of the service might be “How We Came to Christ.” As you prepare for this day, have members of your worship planning team ask folks in your congregation how the people who helped bring them to Christ shared Christ with them. You may consider inviting one or two of the people who shared their story with your team to share it in worship as a brief (1 to 2 minute) testimony.
A second angle is from the perspective of how your congregation does evangelism now. Here the theme may be, “Real Evangelism.” Paul is very clear about what “false evangelism” looks like. Unfortunately, it looks very much like a number of approaches that are in wide use today, approaches that seek to “market” the gospel to get more people to attend or join. Paul has strong words for this: “Deceit, impure motives, or trickery” (verse 3). Real evangelism, as Paul decribes it here (verses 7-8) and as Bryan Stone writes in Evangelism after Christendom, is a “practice of the Holy Spirit” offered in obedience to the Spirit. As Stone puts it:
“To offer Jesus as the Christ is to offer him not merely as a theological proposition to be be believed but as Lord, as the One to whom obedience is due” (p. 244).
What are the places and stories from your congregation and community where people are engaging in real evangelism? Where are they offering Jesus as the Christ, the Lord, and inviting people to join them and you in living out his way, rather than trying to entice them or convince them to join your congregation? This isn’t just about “lifestyle evangelism,” which in this culture is a quick way to ensure the gospel is not heard or understood. It includes real proclamation in words that invite people to join in the way of Jesus in words and deeds.
Listen for how people who offer and do this kind of evangelism talk about what they’re doing, starting with Paul, but not stopping there. What images do the evangelists in your congregation use that counter the prevailing consumerist/productivity models that have shaped us in every way, including our religious practices? Highlight images in worship today by whatever means you have available—as examples of what Paul and his companions said they were doing in Thessalonica.
Matthew: On Mission with the Master
What Kind of Law, and Messiah?
Matthew offers us this week's conversation around two final questions exchanged between Jesus and other religious leaders (opponents) in the temple.
The questions in this week’s reading come from the Pharisees and then from him to them. The Pharisees’ question asks him to tell them what kind of law, of all the laws, is the most important. It is a trap, as verse 35 attests. At the very least, they’re asking him (they think) to choose between moral law and ceremonial law, to declare an ultimate allegiance either to the Pharisees (who would have generally focused on the moral law) or the Saducees (ultimate guardians of the ceremonial law as operators of the temple). His answer rejects both paths and blazes another, one that turns any politically-based reading of the Bible on its head. “Love the Lord your God with all you are AND your neighbor as yourself. From this all the law and prophets hang.” These are the kinds of commandments that define all others, in law and prophets, and all others provide guidance for fulfilling these.
Law and prophets bear witness to the teaching of Jesus. The writings, notably the Psalms, bear witness to his identity. Matthew’s construction of the second question in today’s reading makes that plain.
Jesus actually asks two questions, the second radically refining and defining the first. “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” The first could have opened up many conversations about what the messiah would DO, but the second makes clear that Jesus’ concern is what kind of person the messiah IS. The concern Jesus raises is not as much functional, as relational. What is the relationship of the messiah to others? What is the messiah’s most immediate community?
The answer given is not surprising. “The son of David.” Jesus’ response, however, is surprising. “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying ‘The Lord says to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, and I will make your enemies a footstool ’” (Psalm 110:1). Psalm 110 and Psalm 2 were the linchpin in the whole of the Writings (the books of the Bible other than the law and prophets) for what messiahship was and promised. “How does it make any sense that David calls his son, 'Lord'?”
Jesus was not refuting their answer, but seeking to expand it. They saw only the functions of the messiah—deliverance from enemies—and not the relationship. Jesus says Messiah is not simply of David, but of the very God, the Lord their God, to whom they owed their existence as individuals and a people. After all, what mere mortal can sit at the right hand of the Lord?
If the Lord their God is also the messiah, that reality reorients not only their (and our) present duty to love God and neighbor, but also the trajectory of their (and our) hope. We are invited to hope for something more and better, much better, than only deliverance from temporal injustices (though that is part of the promise, to be sure!). We are invited to hope that in the very acts of loving God and neighbor, giving witness to God’s love with and to our neighbors in word and deed, we are already living into God’s future now.
It is great good news that Messiahship is not conferred by our God upon a political leader who works the systems in place to fix the status quo. Instead, God conferred messiahship upon Jesus, God’s own son, who makes all things new.
In Your Planning Team
The text today includes two critical truths for Christians that relate to each other: the most important kind of commandments and the nature of the messiah. Your task as worship planners is to find ways to help folks in your congregation engage both well.
The Most Important Kind of Commandments
Time for some “on the street” interviews. Send team members to ask folks inside and outside your congregation what kinds of laws matter most. Don’t frame it in religious terms: Keep it general. Then ask them to explain how their most important kind of law guides their living day to day. Consider getting permission from those you ask and then recording these interviews on audio or video. Edit what you gather into some coherent form, then roll the final version before or during worship as a reminder of the many kinds of answers people have to this question.
Jesus does not say that all answers are equally valid. Quite to the contrary, he claims his is the first and final word. So also ask folks in your congregation how they answer these questions: How does the priority of loving the Lord our God with all you are and your neighbor as yourself guide the way you apply all others directions from God in the Scriptures? How does that priority help you follow Jesus more faithfully?” Listen for signs in these interviews of lives that bear witness to a centered way of living as Christ’s disciples. Don’t focus on (or replay!) negative examples. Use the best stories and images to inspire more of the same among others where you are.
The Nature of the Messiah
So here maybe I get to meddling—you decide if this names reality where you are.
At least in much of The United States as I see it, the culture is youth-obsessed, elder rejecting, and driven by “can-do” folks who are “middle aged.” Within this framework, the message of messiahship is about what some heroic middle aged (typically 30s or older) person will do to inspire the young and rescue the old. Doesn’t this name an underlying plotline of nearly every super-hero or fantasy movie released in the past two decades (Spiderman and Harry Potter perhaps excepted)? Deliverance in this cultural mythology comes from the heroic (and often violent and destructive) efforts of an individual or team fending off the “bad guys” (who are themselves usually either middle aged or older), but only for now, since there has to be something left for our middle aged heroes to do in the next sequel.
It’s no accident we call these “action movies.” Deliverance is based almost entirely on action, and, as already noted, typically violent action to counter the violent actions of the “enemy.”
How does this underlying cultural mythology of deliverance relate to or affect the way we receive the nature of messiahship Jesus embodied and reveals? Remember the question Jesus asks—not, “What does messiah do?,” but, “Whose son is the messiah?” Saints are those who ask the second question, and answer it with their own lives, witness, and songs of love of God and neighbor.
Some where you are mean to be saints, not heroes, like the messiah Jesus was and describes, not the ones our culture lionizes in blockbuster after blockbuster. As you plan worship today, pay particular attention to images and songs. How well do the images you might use convey messiahship (and discipleship) based on loving God and neighbor? How might you sharpen what you plan to sing and see and say so everything points in ways that inspire folks to mean to be saints of God rather than heroes of this culture, too.
Compass Point: Thinking and Planning Ahead
The first Sunday of Advent is officially November 30 this year.
Remember that the purpose of Advent is less about preparing for the babe in the manger (a story Mark, this year’s gospel, does not even tell!) and much more about preparing our lives for the second coming of Christ to complete what his resurrection began.
With Advent, we also begin a new year in the lectionary. During Year B, the Old Testament focuses on the stories of David’s family. In the epistles, we will read Ephesians, Hebrews and James. The gospel is Mark.
Mark’s gospel gives us but few examples of Jesus’ teaching, but that teaching illumines the meaning of his actions, and the actions reflect the teaching. The first of those teachings is definitive for the whole gospel: The age is fulfilled. God’s kingdom is arriving! Repent and believe this good news (Mark 1:15).
In the Old Testament stories of David and his family, we see both the temptations and the possibilities associated with the use of power in service to God.
Ephesians picks up where Romans leaves off, providing guidance for a community that had integrated Jewish and Gentile people from day one. Hebrews brings a Jewish and intensely liturgical interpretation to the ministry of Jesus, the understanding of the gospel, and the mission of the church. And James brings a pragmatic, didactic approach to spiritual formation steeped in the wisdom tradition of Israel.
Begin thinking now, if you haven’t already, about how the sweep of these texts supports, confronts, or bears fruit in the life of your congregation and community. Start praying for insight about how such points of connection may lead you and your worship planning team to approach the larger design of worship for the coming year.
Season of Saints, Week 4
Overall Story: Yona Kanamuzeyi was an Anglican pastor in Rwanda in a region near the border with Burundi. He was not only outspoken about the attempted genocides, but also active in making sure the churches under his charge offered sanctuary to Hutus fleeing from Burundi and actively supported the unsteady peace between Tutsi and Hutu in the Arusha Accords (1993). The assassination of the Hutu president of Rwanda unleashed a furious backlash against the Tutsis and any Hutus who had vocally supported the terms of the Arusha Accords. This is why Yona Kanamuzeyi was targeted for elimination.
Many Anglican and other African Christians honor his memory not only because of his life of active witness for peace and care for refugees, but also his actions as he faced his own death. He faced it both calmly and firmly. And he consistently sought to support the others who were facing death with him, leading them in prayer and in singing, even as they were being taken away and shot, one by one.
Hymn: Yona Kanamuzeyi is particularly remembered for leading the singing of the gospel song, “There is a happy land.” You can find the text and free, downloadable arrangements of this song at the CyberHymnal website.
At the 2008 General Conference, the United Methodist Church took an unprecedented action of specifically calling upon United Methodists to commemorate the life of a non-Methodist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as “a modern day martyr for the cause of Christ.” This was asked for because, as the author of the petition noted, Bonhoeffer “rose above our basic human instinct to proclaim a love that is worth dying for."At the same time, this action was non-Disciplinary, meaning that except for a notation in the General Minutes and an article in the United Methodist News Service, there is no record and perhaps no wider awareness that General Conference voted to confer this status on Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who rejected the direction of the “official” church in Germany, joining the Pastor’s Emergency League (later known as The Confessing Church) in 1934. He worked closely with his students in Germany (at Finkenwalde, until the Nazis shut down the seminary in 1937) and the U.S. (at Union in New York City) to develop a disciplined way of life together that rejected any form of “cheap grace” and required clear commitment to Jesus in all actions in the concrete realities of their current contexts. It was out of that commitment that Bonhoeffer conspired as a double agent for the German intelligence agency, Abwehr, with a group of who plotted a failed assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler.
Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned in 1943, not primarily for being involved in the assassination attempt, but for being a double agent with the SS’s rival agency, Abwehr. After another failed attempt in 1944, while Bonhoeffer was still in prison, more information about Bonhoeffer’s involvement as an informant for the assassination plots while an Abwehr officer, came to light, ultimately leading to his death sentence. He was executed on Sunday, April 9, 1945, just after he finished leading a morning worship service with other inmates at the concentration camp at Flossenburg.
Hymn: “By Gracious Powers,” UMH 517, was written by Bonhoeffer while in prison in 1944.
Prayer: “At the Close of Day,” UMH 689, also written while Bonhoeffer was in prison.
Overall Story: Sarah Crosby was born in 1729 and joined a Methodist Society at The Foundry at age 21, in 1750. Within the Methodist Society, she soon became a class leader, and her guidance of this class became so sought after that it expanded to thirty, and eventually to over 200.
As this occurred, it was clear that Crosby had moved from class leader to preacher. She was aware of this as well, and sought the counsel of John Wesley about how to proceed. Women were not permitted to preach in the Church of England nor any churches of any size in that day. Wesley acknowledged her extraordinary gift and encouraged her to proceed.
And proceed she did. By the time of her death in 1804, Crosby was known for keeping a daily preaching schedule of 2 to 3 times per day (“field preaching”) and being an outspoken leader for social reform in and beyond the Methodist Societies.
Source: Heather M. Elkins, “Sarah Crosby.” For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations for United Methodists. Order of Saint Luke Publications, 1995, p. 212.
Hymns: “This Little Light of Mine” (UMH 585), “Rescue the Perishing” (UMH 591)
Embodying the Word: Reflections between Distributing and Praying Together
188.8.131.52.D (Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee)
Verse 1: You who fed us quail and manna,
You who formed us in your law;
You who led us through the desert
First in fear, but now in awe;
Now we stand at promised borders,
Now we glimpse the land to come;
You who brought us on this journey,
Safely lead us to our home.
Verse 2: Pasts are rich and worth rememb’ring,
Leaders strong who showed the way;
Those who challenged all our murmuring,
Now gone on to endless day.
May we honor, Lord, their memories,
Not to imitate what’s gone,
But release the need to hold them
And embrace to ones to come.
Verse 3: You have fed us blood and body,
You have given bread and wine;
Spirit strong, renewed within us,
Making human tasks divine:
Sent to office, school or sidewalk,
In all places we may dwell,
Jesus, help us see your promise,
May we all your praises tell.
You come to us in truth,
Your scars show.
And now because you’ve come
We, too, know
The mystery of truth in scars.
You come to us with joy,
Your tears show,
With news too good to hold,
So we know
The mystery of joy in tears.
You give to us your blood,
Our lips show.
Your body for our lives,
Our flesh knows
The mystery of God with us.
You send us out in peace,
To love as we are loved
So all know
The saving mystery of Love.
To see all truth as hanging
from those twin nails,
loving you with all,
loving neighbors the way I love myself;
To see all things through the lenses of those loves, Lord,
Fix my blurred, my darkened sight.
But more than this, fix my soul.
I can mistrust my gaze,
and gaze is not enough to love
as you command.
You ask not just for sight or mind,
but strength and heart;
you ask for soul to be engaged toward all--
you, my neighbors, all that you have made.
This sustenance of bread and wine,
your flesh and blood in mine,may be a start.
It has before.
I have left your table
resolved anew, filled with confidence, peace, joy,
ready to give my all for you and them.
Sometimes that lasts an hour,
perhaps a day or two, no more.
Perhaps its residue remains,
though I no longer see nor feel
Fix, oh fix my soul.
Apprentice me, not once a week,
but every day, each hour
in your ways.
Teach me, not here,
But everywhere to see your grace
And give thanks.
Let your flesh in mine,
your blood in these veins
not be dilute, but concentrate,
not ash, but embers glowing to ignite
whatever love in me remains
f or you, and neighbor as myself,
in to a flame that glows,
its fuel no longer spent,
renewed, perpetually, by your grace,
until by grace I eat again.
Fix, so fix, my soul.
- BOW 452 (1 Thessalonians)
- BOW 455 (Deuteronomy)
Musical Call to Worship:
- 199, "Come! Come! Everybody Worship" (also no. 2271 in The Faith We Sing) — Matthew
- BOW 462 (Matthew)
Acts of response to the Word:
- BOW 501-506: Prayers for the Church
- BOW 514, Prayer for the Mind of Christ; may include musical responses at 189 and 191 (Matthew)
- 268, United Methodist Hymnal, "Lent" Prayer
- 646, United Methodist Hymnal, "Canticle of Love" (using Response 1) (Matthew)
- BOW 476, Prayer of Confession and Pardon (Matthew)
- BOW 489, Prayer of Confession (Matthew)
Prayer for Illumination: Page 34, BOW
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 518, Prayer for Others (Matthew)
- Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: The Indian Ocean islands: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives
The Great Thanksgiving:
- BOW 70-71, "The Great Thanksgiving for the Season After Pentecost"
- BOW 190, Musical Benediction (Deuteronomy, Matthew)