(Left) Nicholas of Myra, statue at Saint Nicholas Church in Ghent. Photo by Peter Dewit. Note the children in the basket at the bishop’s feet. Nicholas was known for defending and rescuing children at risk of abuse or being sold into slavery or prostitution. Used by permission. CC-BY-2.0. (Middle) Flag of the Muskogi Creek people during the US Civil War, from whom Samuel Checote came and later united with the Upper Creek people to form the Creek/Muskogi Nation, centered in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Image public domain. (Right) “Children’s Sabbath” is a registered trademark of the Children’s Defense Fund, sponsor of this day in our program calendar.
Revised Common Lectionary
See full texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegéticos: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
Job 23:1-9, 16-17: Job tells his "friends" he is earnestly seeking for God, trusting that God will listen to his arguments that his suffering seems unjust. Despite his seeking, God has been absent or non-responsive.
Psalm response: Psalm 22:1-15 (UMH 752). "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Do not be too quick to apply this to Jesus. This is an ancient lament of a people seeking God in the midst of suffering they cannot explain. That is why it is such a fitting response to the reading from Job. If singing the Psalm, use Response 2 with Tone 2 in D minor (see 736-737, UMH), or use the response to "Canticle of Redemption"” (Psalm 130) on UMH 516, with G-Bflat-F-G, G-F-Eflat-D.
Hebrews 4:12-16: The word of God is not words in a book, but a living, energetic, and powerful force that exposes everything in our “interior” lives to God’s omniscient judgment. That's why having a great high priest who has passed through the heavens and who has experienced what we have is vital for us. Jesus enables us to stand before God boldly, even as we seek mercy.
Mark 10:17-31: An encounter between Jesus and a fairly wealthy man who has been faithful to the core principles of Torah toward other people seeks the secret of eternal life. Jesus tells him he need do only one more thing — sell all he has, distribute the proceeds to the poor, and come follow him. He goes away disturbed by what he hears, and his disciples are left wondering how anyone can be saved if a person so clearly “blessed” won’t be.
Worship Planning Notes
Today is the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost on the Christian Calendar.
After last week’s “stream switch” Sunday (if you chose to switch streams), this week may be the second week in your new series. Keep this in mind as you plan to build on the momentum and the story arc you started last week and to use this week to segue and build into the next as well.
Today is the second Sunday in A Season of Saints.” Each week, we invite you to remember and give thanks for one suggested global Christian saint and one United Methodist heritage saint, plus one living or past saint from your congregation or community.
This week’s global Christian Saint is Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (sometimes known, though in very different form, as Santa Claus). This week’s United Methodist heritage saint is Samuel Checote, Methodist Episcopal Church South preacher and Chief of the Creek Nation (1867-1875). In the spirit of both, and of Children’s Sabbath, you may find the Prayer from Ravensbruck, set to music by Michael Bell of The Project: Martyrs Prayers, a helpful reflective resource.
Children’s Sabbath is also observed today in The United Methodist Church. Children’s Sabbath is part of a larger week-long process of faith-based advocacy for the needs of children in the U.S., sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund. Resources for keeping this day are also available from the sponsor of this observance, The Children’s Defense Fund.
You may note that United Methodists celebrate the Children’s Sabbath one week earlier than the suggested dates from the Children’s Defense Fund. We do this so as not to interfere with our scheduled observance of Laity Sunday, which is always the third Sunday of October. This year’s theme is “Disciples Called to Action: Creating Unity in Ministry.”
Hispanic Heritage Month (USA) continues through October 15. Consider this month an invitation to get to know your Hispanic/Latino neighbors and congregations better, including opportunities for the sharing of meals, mission projects, and opportunities for fellowship and worship.
Resources for Planning Ahead
Here are three articles and a webinar to help you plan through the end of the year.
Seasons and Series for Fall 2015
Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry for the Season after Pentecost, Year B
Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/2016
All Month Season of Saints
Through Oct 15 Hispanic Heritage Month (USA))
October 11 Children’s Sabbath (Additional Worship Resources)
October 18 Laity Sunday
November 1 All Saints Day (USA Standard Time Begins)
November 8 Extended Advent Begins
Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday
Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
November 11 Veterans Day (USA)
November 22 Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday
Bible Sunday (USA)
November 26 Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 29 “Regular” Advent Begins
United Methodist Student Day
December 1 World Aids Day (GBCS resources, Discipleship Ministries
December 21 Longest Night/Blue Christmas
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 31 Watch Night/ New Year’s Eve/ Holy Name of Jesus
Which stream of readings are you focusing on during these weeks? Job and the problem of suffering? Hebrews and the high priesthood of Jesus? Or Mark and the events leading to Jesus’ arrest and execution? However you have chosen to focus, consider how the arrangement of the worship space, the presence of art, the play of light and shadow and soundscape might best support your ongoing theme.
Theodicy in Drama: Job
Week 2: Where Is God?
Job speaks boldly to God and his friends from the ash heap. In the intervening chapters, three of Job’s friends have tried to convince him that he must have done something to deserve what has happened to him, because God is just. For them, that means that God blesses the righteous and brings suffering and punishment to the wicked.
Job will have none of that. His words ring with questions still being asked today. Where is God? Where can one go to speak to God and know that God is giving a fair hearing?
Job is at the edge of atheism. His questions spring from a genuine search that has so far come up empty. And in the last two verses we read today, he says he is weary, and he blames God for the weariness. What he wants not most of all is to be in such thick darkness that even God could not find him and continue to inflict such pain on him.
The experience of intense suffering draws some people into a sense of deeper trust and peace in God. But that is not everyone’s reaction, and here it is not Job’s. Still, he has not given up and walked away from God. Instead, he is driven by a desire to meet God before a fair judge and plead his case. He rages against his suffering and against the absence of any meaningful response he can perceive so far. Some might say, he’s “rarin’ for a fight” with God.
These are not comfortable words or typical expressions of feeling in many congregations. Often, it seems, we want to bring such harsh expressions to a quick “resolution,” if not avoid them altogether. We might be tempted to follow this reading with a hymn or song that says things may be bad now but everything is going to be all right.
That is why Psalm 22, and just the first half of it, was chosen as the response to this reading. Like Job, the psalmist’s questions are real and the psalmist’s agony is palpable. The part we pray today, like this reading from Job, ends before the resolution, leaving the questions and accusations out there, hanging. “Why did you forsake me?” (verse 1). “My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You lay me in the dust of death,” (verse 15) we pray with this Psalmist.
Whatever else you do in worship today, plan to let your congregation pray these words. Perhaps the best “response” after both readings, Job 23 and Psalm 22, is extended silence.
If you are focusing on Job in these weeks, be sure your sermon or message or dialog with the congregation about Job’s questions takes those questions seriously. At this point in Job, there are no answers to the questions. There is only the acknowledgment that these are the honest questions and feelings he has about what is happening to him. Do not try to “protect” your congregation from these questions and these feelings. The Bible doesn’t. Instead, consider today an opportunity for folks to acknowledge similar questions and feelings they may have, or may have had. Offer them before God and one another. And entrust the outcomes to God.
Job and A Season of Saints
Like Job, Nicolas lost his family. Both of his parents died in an epidemic in his native town of Patara. We have no record of Nicolas’s personal feelings or possible struggles about this loss. But we do have record about what he did as he came into his Christian parents’ sizable inheritance: whether at the direction of his uncle, the Bishop of Patara, who raised him, or not, he began to give his wealth away to any he encountered who were in need. It was this devotion to the needy, as well as his faithfulness to the church, that led his uncle to ordain him a priest in Patara. And it was for this reason the church in Myra, a shipping town east of Patara, ordained him as their bishop.
It is very likely he was among those tortured, imprisoned and exiled during the persecutions of Diocletian (ca. 303-312 in Asia Minor under the administrations of Galerius and Maximinus). But he survived this period to appear at the Council of Nicea (arguing on the side of the Athanasians against the Arians) and to continue his episcopate until his death around 343 AD in his early to mid-70s.
For Job, there was no one to answer the question, “Where is God? Why is this happening to me?” For Nicholas, there was—his uncle and the church. Their “answers” weren’t delivered as long speeches condemning Nicolas’s questions. From what we can see, their answers were simply the sharing of love and care. People were there for him. And so he was there for others, especially children, facing suffering or loss in their lives.
During his episcopate, stories of his generosity and even heroism, especially toward children in poverty, abounded. So Nicholas makes a great tie-in for Children’s Sabbath as well, IF you tell the stories we have about the actual man, and not the flying toy-maker legends of a much later era.
Samuel Checote’s story is also one of suffering and loss. His family and his whole people were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma, where his parents died not long after they arrived there. Methodist schools essentially raised him, and their influence in his life led him to become a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South with a particlar outreach among his own ”Lower Creek” people. He remained enrolled and served as a Methodist pastor, except during the Civil War (where he served in the Confederate Army, with many of his “Lower Creek” brothers) and during his political career that followed.
After the war, it became clear that the two major factions of the Creek people (“Lower” and “Upper,” or “Macintosh” and “Loyalist”) needed to unite and function as one nation. When it was time to elect a chief to unite the two nations, Samuel Checote was the chosen leader. He served two terms (1867-75), lost a third bid, and was again elected chief in 1879 for a final third term. During this time, he continued to work for the unity and upbuilding of the people, especially through improvements in education, often against stiff and even violent opposition in his first and third terms. After losing his fifth election bid in 1883, he served instead as official delegate from the Creek Nation to Washington DC until his death in 1884.
The tremendous challenge that Samuel Checote faced in his life was to bridge the cultures and customs of what were fundamentally the four worlds of his own Lower Creek people, the Upper Creek people, Methodist Christians, and the United States government to bring a greater possibility of harmony and hope to all involved. In the midst of his personal and political losses, he proved himself an Indian Christian statesman and leader, honoring his people, Christ, and the nations he served and led.
In Your Planning Team
Today you may have three agendas to juggle as you and your team plan worship. It will be the second week of your series in Job, with a reading that calls for fullest attention. It’s also the second week in “A Season of Saints,” with two compelling stories to consider (Nicolas of Myra and Samuel Checote). And it is Children’s Sabbath, a weekend when you should be focused on advocating for children.
The question becomes which of these things you focus on in worship, and which you focus on in other venues (Christian education, small groups, other forums or social media during the week).
In the Book of Worship, we strongly discourage focusing on programmatic emphases of any kind RATHER than the biblical themes for each week or season. Given the seriousness of the question in this week’s reading (“Where is God?”), and the need to leave that an open question as the texts we have leave it, it may be best to focus worship almost only on the Scriptures, with more or less passing references to the other emphases in calls to worship or in the prayers. Consider hosting a meal and a forum after worship to address Children’s Sabbath, perhaps using the examples of Nicolas of Myra and/or Samuel Checote as a reminder of the call to share compassion with all, always, and especially with children, the poor and the vulnerable as part of your larger program.
A Priestly Covenant: Hebrews
Week 2: Jesus, the All-Knowing and All-Merciful High Priest
The reading from Hebrews today is one source of the ancient English Christian prayer for purity that has opened worship in countless English-speaking congregations for roughly a thousand years, and that appears in a similar role in Word and Table I (UMH 6):
unto you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid;
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration
of your Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord.
If you are focusing on Hebrews through these weeks, today’s reading would provide a good occasion to begin worship this way as well.
If you do, remember this prayer is not a confession of sin. It is an act of preparation to help the congregation praise God in song (see UMH 6). The confession of sin in most orders of worship developed in response to the recovery of early Christian examples, and particularly since Vatican II (including our own ritual!) appears after the sermon, as part of the response to the Word and in preparation for Holy Communion.
In the ancient English prayer at the beginning of worship, we ask the Spirit to begin the work of opening us to hear God’s word. Then we praise God and hear God’s word read and preached. Having heard, we are indeed, as Hebrews tells us, “naked and laid bare” before God. Then we are ready to “make an account” by confessing our sin and receiving God’s pardon (Hebrews 4:13).
In the course of all that, we need to remember as well that when Hebrews refers to “the word of God,” it is not referring to the Bible, and certainly not to the New Testament, which hadn’t even been collated yet!
It is rather referring, as the Bible usually does, to God speaking in the midst of God’s people. (“The Word of the Lord came to X, and said…”). This is why our doctrinal standards do not say the Bible is the word of God, but rather, in the language of the Confession of Faith, Article III, “the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the word of God” (2012 Book of Discipline, p. 71). The Bible is the authoritative source for us for how God speaks and contains many examples of God speaking among God’s people. But it is still the act of God speaking in the midst of the gathered assembly through Scripture, sermon, prayer, song, and prophecy, which Hebrews, with the majority of Scripture, calls “the Word of God.”
This is why reading the Bible aloud is so vitally important in Christian worship. The Scriptures read in the congregation are one vehicle for hearing God speak. This is why it matters that the reading (or interpreting) be done well, so all can hear (or see) and all can understand the importance of what is being said (or signed). This is why we suggest a period of silence for reflection after each reading and a response in some form (Psalm for Old Testament, perhaps a hymn or anthem for Epistle, alleluias or responsive song or sermon after the gospel) that picks up on key themes of the reading or readings just heard. This is why the church developed some sense of ceremony around the reading of Scripture—because the reading aloud of Scripture merits that level of group attentiveness.
This is also why “the preaching moment,” in whatever form it takes, is so vitally important, and why it takes up the time it does in worship. It is a time to make whatever connections the congregation may have made with the word read in their midst more complete, to “make the way plain,” as it were, for the Spirit to do its work of piercing our best defenses against the word of God, and letting that word be planted, grow, and yield its harvest within us. Because of the word of God read and preached, we can confess our faith. Because of the word of God read and preached, reminding us that in Jesus we have a great high priest, we can pray as we ought, approaching the throne of grace boldly. Because of the word of God read and preached, we can confess our sin to God, receive God’s pardon, and seek peace with one another. Because of the word of God read and preached, we can offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, a holy and living sacrifice, around the Table of the Lord and receive his body and blood to live renewed as his body in the world.
Hebrews and A Season of Saints
There are few if any tie-ins between today’s reading from Hebrews and the stories of Nicholas of Myra and Samuel Checote. Remember, you are invited not merely to use the suggested saints from the calendar, but to identify some of your own each week.
So perhaps there are saints from your congregation’s history or your congregation or community’s present who are shining examples of what happens when the Word of God moves powerfully in our lives. Invite one or more of these to give testimony, live or recorded, either as part of the sermon or as a response to it.
In Your Planning Team
With this week’s reading as background, discuss in your planning team how the design of your worship where you are helps the word of God be fully heard and do its fullest possible work. And then design worship in ways today that better allow the word sung, read, proclaimed, confessed, prayed and celebrated around the Font and the Table to do just that… not just for today, but going forward.
Maybe in addition to opening worship with the Collect for Purity today, conclude the prayers of the people, leading into the Invitation to the Table and Holy Communion, with a litany along the lines of this:
Pastor: For the word of God is alive today,
People: God’s word is alive!
Pastor: The word of God is active today!
People: God’s word is active!
Pastor: Sharper than any sword, it pierces everything, and lays everything about us bare before God.
People: Holy God, we are an open book to you!
Pastor: You see everything we say, or think, even what we didn’t know we thought!
People: Lord, have mercy.
Pastor: But we have a high priest, come down from the heavenlies, made just like us, tested just like us, yet without sin.
People: Jesus, Son of God!
Pastor: So when God’s word lays us bare, we can confess without fear
People: No fear!
Pastor: Without any wavering.
People: No wavering.
Pastor: And we will dare to come boldly before God’s throne
Pastor: With absolute confidence
Pastor: That we will find grace
People: We will find grace
Pastor: We will find grace
People: We will find grace
Pastor: We know we will find grace
People: Oh yes we will!
Pastor: In our every time of need.
People: Praise you Jesus! Praise you God! Halleluyah! Halleluyah! Amen!
And then it’s time to confess, receive God’s pardon, share God’s peace, and celebrate around the Lord’s Table.
Mark: Discipleship Everywhere
Week 7: To Have… and Let Go
Some years back, while flipping channels late at night, I came across a television preacher using the end of today’s reading from Mark to justify his “prosperity wisdom” message. Certainly, one could take verses 29-30 out of the entire context of this section of Mark’s gospel and do that fairly easily. If all you hear is “No one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mothers or children or fields for me and the gospel will not receive back a hundred fold, now in this life, houses, brothers and sisters, and mothers and children and fields,” then, the “prosperity wisdom” teaching seems validated by Jesus himself.
But the very next words (conveniently left out by the “man of God” onscreen) are “with persecutions.” (Remember the persecutions Nicholas endured?) And of course, Jesus is saying all of this after just having said that the rich have next to no chance of entering God’s reign.
Jesus meant all of it. Yes, we gain back much in this life. But this isn’t “sow your $1000 seed of faith into this ministry, and God will give you back $100,000.” No. Jesus wasn’t talking about personal wealth multiplying in ways not even the cheesiest get-rich-quick schemes on the Internet or infomercials claim to be able to do. He was talking about the shared wealth of the Christian community. Keep following me now, keep making disciples, and all of you will become part of more wealth than you can imagine, because all of you will be gladly sharing it with all. (Tie in with Nicholas of Myra!) Luke records one later instance of the fulfillment of these words in Acts 2:43-47.
The sharing of resources with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46) is, indeed, as Jesus points out earlier in this week’s text, nearly impossible for the wealthy to do. Most of the time, they just won’t do it. (Nicholas was an exception!) And they’ll be “shocked, shocked I tell you,” just like the rich young man in today’s reading (Mark 10:22), if you said you expected them to do so. After all, “I’ve worked for what I have, and I’ve earned the right to keep it or do whatever I chose to do with it. You nor anyone else has the right to tell me what to do with my money!”
If Jesus is Lord, Jesus does.
And he is.
Then, after the rich man goes away unsatisfied, Jesus stuns his disciples. Rich folk, he says, have little chance of entering God’s kingdom. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he says. (and no, that isn’t talking about a short gate in the temple; that’s an old commentator’s “urban legend.”). When his stunned disciples ask “Then who can be saved?” he puts it even more bluntly. “For humans, impossible.”
“But not for God,” he continues. “For God, everything’s possible.”
We’ve seen this before in Mark’s Gospel. In the parable Jesus tells, seed scattered creates a miraculous harvest in good soil, and in the stories that follow it, the dead are raised, the barren can conceive, storms are stilled, and demoniacs are set free. People can’t do these things. God can, and God does. All the time.
The point? From one angle, wealth is every bit the impediment to fullness of life in God’s kingdom as illness, deadly storms, death, and demon possession/mental illness are to fullness of life on earth. Wealth can be just that dangerous. It can derange us that much. But God can deliver us even from its incredible power over us so that it no longer controls us, and we, instead (like Nicolas!), gladly share it and even go out of our way to look for new ways to share it, however much or little we have, with all who can use it.
It was that very thing Jesus offered the rich man that day—God’s salvation from the power of wealth. The wealth he had and the status and the culture that came with it may have kept him “law-abiding.” After all, God blesses the righteous with wealth, right? (The Book of Job teaches otherwise!) Trouble was, all of that wealth also made it nearly impossible for this man to follow Jesus. Let it all go, Jesus says. Then you can follow me. Then you’ll experience eternal life.
A word that cuts to the bone, “piercing to divide soul from spirit, joints from marrow,” this is.
And he is our high priest who knows our lot and experiences our temptations, yet without sin—so we can approach boldly, asking exactly for the grace we need to be set free from the power of wealth, like Nicholas, and unlike the rich young man in this story.
We won’t set ourselves free.
But God can.
Will we let go enough to let God?
In Your Planning Team
Today’s reading is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus for our (mostly) middle and upper middle class congregations. We are generally a powerful, well-resourced, can-do people. We tend to think we can do whatever we set our minds to.
You can’t deliver yourself from your wealth, he reminds.
And unless you are delivered from that, you’ll always be on the outside of God’s kingdom looking in, if that.
That is unless we follow the direction of Jesus, and John Wesley. We may gain much, but the purpose of gaining much is to be able to give much.
This young man had already gained all he could need for a lifetime.
It was time to give it all away if he were going to find life and not just respectability in synagogue and society.
The question is not whether. It is when.
For this young man, the when was now.
When is the when for the folks where you are?
There are very likely saints in your congregation and community who have discovered when the when was for them, and started living accordingly—giving away whatever they could as well as they could and following Jesus.
There are others who, like Samuel Checote, gave themselves away as public servants for the sake of their people and their people’s relationships with others. Samuel Checote’s final “when” was a call to let go of being chief and instead become ambassador.
Send members of your worship planning team to gather stories of these people who, like Nicolas and Samuel Checote, discovered their “when” and continued on their way rejoicing.
Then celebrate the one who gave his all for us around the table, and, fed by him, go forth to give yourselves away for others.
And so begin—or continue-- to live as saints.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
Greeting: BOW 451 (Hebrews, “In the midst of the congregation…” 5/6 down)
Opening Words (Job)
O LORD, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
Psalm 22: 19-21, NRSV
Call to Worship (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Since, then, we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are,
yet without sin.
WORD AND RESPONSE
Litany: BOW 520, "For Peace" (Job, Psalm)
Song of Response: BOW 195, "O Lord, Deliver Us" (Job, Psalm)
Prayer: BOW 547, "For a Victim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression" (Job)
Poem: UMH 595, "Whether the Word Be Preached or Read" (Job, Hebrews)
Prayer: UMH 597, "For the Spirit of Truth" (Hebrews)
Prayer: UMH 403, "For True Life" (Mark)
Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession and Words of Assurance: BOW 477 (Hebrews)
Prayer of Confession: BOW 485 (Mark)
Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 550 (Psalm, Hebrews, Mark; 1st item)
Prayer of Thanksgiving: BOW 557 (Job)
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 70-71
Dismissal BOW 559 (Mark)
Blessing BOW 563 (Hebrews, Mark)