Planning - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Job 42:1-6, 10-17.
Job acknowledges God's power and presence and his own need to repent. God restores Job when Job has offered intercession for the "friends" who had misrepresented God.
Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) [UMH 769].
A psalm of trust and testimony. If you plan to sing the Psalm, use Response 1 with Tone 5 in F minor or Response 2 with Tone 1 in C major. Or for a more familiar tune, try the first and last lines of the first stanza of "I Will Trust in the Lord" (UMH 464) and this Psalm tone: C-D-C-F; F-F-D-C.
The writer continues to compare the priesthood of Christ with that of the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood. The Aaronic/Levitical priesthood offered physical sacrifices daily for their own sins and the sins of the people. Christ's priesthood, a priesthood of intercession, has ended such sacrifices. By offering himself in obedience to God, even to the point of death, Jesus became the perfect and complete channel of intercession for the whole world.
As Jesus and his disciples leave Jericho for the final journey to Jerusalem, a blind man, Bar Timaeus, seeks healing, is healed, and becomes a disciple himself.
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Today is the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost.
This is also the fourth Sunday in this year's Season of Saints. Each week, we suggest a global Christian Saint and a United Methodist heritage saint, and we invite you to think of one living and one past saint from your congregation or community as well to lift up in worship or in stories you share throughout the coming week.
The global Christian saint is Florence Nightingale. She was born in Italy while her parents were vacationing in Florence in 1820. It was her time with the British army during the Crimean War (1853-1856) that brought attention to her work and her voice as nurse, health researcher, teacher, and activist. The British and their allies lost the war; but worse, the death rate of injured soldiers was near 75 percent because of the horrid conditions of the British field and military hospitals. Florence Nightingale documented the problems and advocated for solutions. Her efforts in military hospitals there and subsequently in India brought about major reforms in health care, sanitation, and the profession of nursing -- not only in military hospitals, but throughout the British Empire, and so throughout the world. She consistently ascribed her drive to work for health care and sanitary conditions as a response to the calling of God on her life.
This week's United Methodist heritage saint is Jakob Albrecht (in English, Jacob Albright), founder and bishop of the Evangelical Association, one of the predecessor denominations of The United Methodist Church. Albrecht was a preacher and evangelist, primarily among German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania. Informed by his experience and licensing as an exhorter among the Methodists, Albrecht preached a Wesley-Arminian gospel, inviting people to justifying and sanctifying grace, then formed them into prayer classes for mutual support and encouragement. As these classes got together for "big meetings" (think, outdoor revivals), the number of converts and participants grew. By 1807, Albrecht organized these groups into a conference that elected him bishop and sent out itinerant ministers to preach and hold services among German-speaking peoples in the region. He died from complications of tuberculosis after the second meeting of the Conference in 1808, and his witness and example lived on.
Basic calendars of saints are available both 2012 and 2011 Worship Planning Helps are still posted and include suggestions for the 2011 calendar. The October 2012 editions of Worship Planning Helps contain more detailed suggestions for celebrating with this year's calendar of saints.
October 31 is Reformation Day. Though this day appears on the United Methodist program calendar, it does not take precedence of a Sunday or of All Saints Day. However, given our full communion agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you may wish to find ways to partner with a local ELCA congregation for their celebration of this day. A copy of the study guide exploring this relationship, "Confessing Our Faith Together," is available.
All Saints Sunday is November 4. Veterans Day is November 11. In 2012, Veterans Day falls on a Sunday, so Monday, the 12th of November is considered a federal holiday. Discipleship Ministries resources for celebrating in the community or as part of Sunday worship on November 11 (Armistice Day) are also available.
Advent and Christmastide draw near. How will you plan and lead worship so that both are kept with full integrity? See "Restoring Advent and Christmas 2012/2013" for three proposals for helping both seasons have the impact for which they were originally designed.
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Atmospherics -- Theodicy in Drama: Job
We noted last week how important it was to understand and convey the tone of our reading from Job. This week, while tone still matters, the more important issue is in the interpretation of its meaning. God restores abundantly what Job had lost. But unless we want to posit a serious internal inconsistency in the book of Job (some scholars do), the restoration itself ("happy ending") is not and cannot be the main point of the story. After all, the whole of the book has been an extended argument against the idea that "the righteous are always rewarded and the wicked are always punished."
If Job is internally consistent, then, the restoration isn't the climax, but the denouement, a side effect of the climax. The climax toward which the whole drama has been moving is actually Job's response to God (42:1-6) and then God's response to the "friends" (42:7-9).
In verses 1-6, we hear Job's final response to the fullness of God's self-revelation in the preceding chapters (38-41). Job begins by acknowledging God's ability to do all things (verse 2). This is a simple response, but not simplistic. It is no platitude. The preceding chapters have opened up the extent of God's activity in all things on earth, in the heavens, and in the spiritual realms. Job is saying his mind has been blown, and he "gets it" now.
In verse 3b, Job answers God's very first question (38:2). Job's response in English could sound merely self-deprecatory. It's not. Instead, the language here reveals that Job had come to the end of what he or anyone could put into words. The first verb, often translated "utter," captures this already. This verb in Hebrew does not generally refer to "articulate speech" but something closer to moans or the growls of animals. In other words, Job is confessing that based on how his mind has just been opened (or blown!) by God, he recognizes that he has and could have had no words to say that could mean much of anything. Indeed, as the second half of the verse notes, he found he was dealing with "wonders" beyond what he could even begin to know. Job says here what those sometimes called "mystics" have said across many cultures and religions: When it comes to speaking of God, in the end, there simply are no adequate words.
Job replies to God's second question (38:3) beginning in verse 5. Job is not here saying that "seeing" trumps "hearing." The question here isn't one of what sensory processes are involved in perceiving something. Hebrew, Greek, and many Indo-European and Semitic languages make a connection between "seeing" and "knowing." In all of these languages, the verb for "knowing" is typically related to if not identical with the past or perfect tense of a verb in that language for "seeing." So to say "I know" something or someone is also to say "I have seen" it. (The ancient Indo-European root for all of these words is * ? , digamma-iota-delta in Greek, "wheed" in Latin letters -- the digamma is derived from the Phoenician/Hebrew letter "vav" and is the consonantal predecessor to the letter v in Latin and the wh- sound in English. So we get our English words "video" and "wit" from it). We might say this in English something like "I can picture it clearly in my mind's eye" or "I am fully aware of that." What Job is saying here, then, is that all his prior knowledge of God is like what we might call "hearsay," something at least one step removed from his most immediate awareness. He thought he had known something about God. Now he knows God. Having come to know God in this more immediate way (God's words illumine everything in his visual cortex, we might say), he is all the more aware of how much he cannot possibly know.
"That is why," he says, "I despise [myself] and feel sorrowful in dust and ashes" (verse 6). Job is not punishing himself. This is not about guilt. It is no false humility. It is about self-awareness in the face of God-awareness. And watch this -- this is also about redeeming the ash heap to which Job had initially retreated as an exile. As the story begins, the ash heap is where one would go because one is as unclean as the garbage burned there. And as the story begins, Job's sorrow was about his losses, his alienation, or his anger about having no control or grounding left in his life. But look where this is now. The ash heap is no longer a sign of being an unclean outcast, but rather exactly the right place for him to begin a new life in the new awareness of who God is and who he is. He is not cowering in fear. He is finally letting go in trust.
With that, the poetry of the book literally ends. The rest is prose and denouement. God speaks again, but not to Job. God rebukes Eliphaz and the other friends for "not speaking of me what is right as my servant Job has done" (verse 7). What were they wrong about? Their persistent argument against Job was that God always blessed the righteous and punished the wicked, and that to question this was to question the justice of God, and so to add sin to the obvious heinous sin Job must have already committed to be in the state he was in. This would have been understood as mainstream, everyday, normal theology. God rejects that theology here. He calls it "what is not right" ("right" in the sense here of grounded in fact), while what Job has said is right. When was Job speaking what was right about God? When Job could finally acknowledge that given what he had just encountered in God, he had nothing he could say coherently!
But now that he had reached that point, there was something Job could do. Now he could offer an intercessory sacrifice for the sake of the friends to plead that God would not punish them as they deserved for speaking so confidently yet so groundlessly about God. Job did this. Restoration for all soon followed (verses 10-17).
In your worship planning team discuss these questions.
- Where are the Jobs where you are?
- Where are those at first consigned to the garbage dump, but who find God there, and so find even that place a kind of refuge?
- What have you said about these people?
- What is God saying about them in this story?
- How do you see these folks being respected and treated not as rejects, but as effective priests and intercessors for those who have misunderstood, hounded and persecuted them?
Now, how will you design worship today so that the witness of these people, perhaps known to you or more widely known, become part of this drama's larger witness to the nature of God and God's justice?
Reading Job Aloud: Verses 1-6 call for a dramatic reading with two "voices," the voice of Job and the "quoted" voice of God. Verses 3a and 4 are quotes of earlier statements of God to Job, to which Job offers reply. Consider how you will present this. If you read it straight, you may miss this dialogical character of this passage, and you may be likely to confuse those who hear the text read aloud. Consider then using either two readers (one for Job, one for God speaking the quoted lines), or two different voicings by the same reader (if you have a sufficiently skilled reader), or projecting the words of God onto a screen, without speaking them, and having Job respond to what is projected. If you go with two readers, consider where the reader of God's words is relative to Job. Is the reader on the other side of the stage area or worship space, or would God be standing behind Job, or perhaps not even be seen? Think through with your planning team what will work best in your context.
And think through, too, how you will choose which verses to read today. You could very well stop where the poetry stops. Or you could, more or less in harmony with Hebrews, and in a certain way with Mark, continue through verse 9 and Job "the beggar" (like Bar Timaeus in Mark), assuming the role of "high priest" (with due references to Hebrews) for his friends. Think carefully about what your congregation most needs to hear and grapple with in this final installment from Job and the final installment in this series focusing on God's justice in the world.
Job and A Season of Saints
Job's life had become marked and marred by massive losses of wealth, of loved ones, and of his own health. Unable to live near anyone else because of the extent of his illnesses, infections and open sores, Job took refuge in the least sanitary place of all: the garbage dump.
Though his friends had come to see him there, they did nothing to alleviate his physical suffering.
Florence Nightingale, attached to the British army during the Crimean War as a nurse and health care specialist, did do something to try to alleviate the massive physical suffering she saw in the British field and military hospitals. The 73 percent death rate in these centers for healing was unacceptable. Like Job, she called attention to the fact that this degree of suffering and death was unnecessary and unjust.
And like Job, she dared to face this suffering head on and to lift her voice in constructive protest. At the time Florence Nightingale entered the field of nursing, it was simply not something a "proper" Protestant English maiden would pursue. Her family was far from supportive of her decision. But she was convinced that God had called her to this work of charity and service in hospitals and to making conditions in them far more conducive to health and healing than they currently were. Like Job, persisting in his insistence that no sin of his could have accounted for the degree of suffering he was enduring, Florence Nightingale persisted in responding to the sense of calling to service to the sick and the poor, a persistence that ended up revolutionizing health care in her day and to this day.
Job's lament, as he comes to discover, was not ultimately against God. It was against his circumstances and the widely accepted but ultimately false interpretations of God's involvement in his circumstances offered by his friends, stand-ins for the surrounding cultural assumptions about such matters. God's extended "mind-blowing" monolog is as much if not more directed at these assumptions as it is as Job. That such suffering had to be deserved in some way is ultimately utterly rejected by God -- and we see in the life and work of Florence Nightingale a living witness to God's continuing refusal to allow humans to resign themselves to such suffering as a "divine given."
Millions continue to die every year across the globe because of diseases that could be prevented or effectively treated. Malaria, cholera, and the other "diseases of the poor" do not need to keep ravaging human populations. We know that. And The United Methodist Church continues to partner with many others to end all of the killer diseases associated with poverty and the conditions that make them more likely to spread. For more information on ways the witness of Florence Nightingale continues to be implemented through The United Methodist Church, see the Global Health section of the UMC Mission website, and the Imagine No Malaria website of United Methodist Communications.
A Priestly Covenant: Hebrews
This week's reading from Hebrews adds two more claims about the superiority of the "Melchizekian" priestly ministry of Jesus to that of the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood of Israel. First, while the death of the priests constantly interrupted the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Jesus never ends (verses 23-24). The Risen One never stops appearing before God on our behalf to plead for our salvation. Second, while the Aaronic/Levitical priests needed to spend part of their time in sacrifices to deal with their own sins before they could present sacrifices and intercessions on behalf of the people, Jesus, the blameless and exalted one who offered himself in life and in death once for all, never has to pause to address those issues. He can intercede for us without ceasing.
A sermon or focus on this text today could devolve rather quickly into "Christianity is way better than Judaism." There is little doubt that this text was making that point to some degree in its day. But that is likely not a constructive point for Christians to continue to make now. Here and now in most contexts, such an argument would come off being boring at best (failing the "so what?" test) and thoroughly offensive at worst.
So what do we do with this text now? I would suggest that the best gifts of this week's reading, along with last week's, is helping Christians today reclaim the biblical vision of priesthood both for Jesus and for ourselves.
The approach of Reformation Day (October 31) may make this a particularly helpful time to consider this.
The Sixteenth Century Reformation has brought many good gifts to those of us who identify as Protestants. It also brought good gifts to the Roman Church, which reformed itself to a significant degree.
But not all of the legacy of the Reformation has been helpful. Part of the unhelpful legacy is that for most Protestants, the term "priest" is something we don't want to use or apply in our contexts, unless we're talking about "the priesthood of believers." But even there, the ideology that informs how we interpret that term is more akin to democracy (everyone has equal say) than biblical and historic (not just Roman Catholic or Protestant distortions of Roman Catholic) understandings of priesthood.
Indeed, in many Protestant circles, the term "priest" is a "bad word." Priests are what we "don't" have. Priests are those who arrogate all authority to themselves. Priests require that we go "through them" to get to God. Priests wear funny clothes that make us think they think they're better than we are. Priests act holy all the time when leading worship and make it clear that they're holier than we are or could ever hope to be if we're not one of them.
That's just some of the baggage we may bring. And that is exactly what it is, baggage. And it is baggage that distorts our vision and keeps us from understanding the role of priesthood in the Bible and the church. And that despite that fact that both John and Charles Wesley were priests in the Church of England.
In this week's texts, then, what do we learn about priesthood and the priestly role of Jesus and our own priesthood as his body here and now?
First, the heart of the priestly role is the responsibility and privilege of intercession for the whole people. Leading the regular rituals of sacrifice was an important public means of carrying out that intercession, as sacrifice was the primary context in which that intercession took place. Indeed, some kinds of sacrifice were offered precisely so that the needs of the people could be placed before God.
The world needs someone to "stand in the gap" for its needs. In Israel's worship in the temple, that "someone" was primarily the priest. In Israel's worship in the synagogue, that "someone" was the "minyan," the gathering of at least ten men required for the daily prayers to be said for the larger community. As the body of Christ, the priesthood of the believers, the priesthood -- those charged especially with intercession for the church and the world -- is all of the baptized. We, together, are given this priestly ministry of intercession so that we will stand in the gap here, constantly, offering to God all the needs and blessings of this life, even as Jesus stands in the gap in heaven for us all.
A question for your worship planning team: How does the way you handle prayer in your weekly worship take seriously the priesthood of all of the baptized who gather there? Do you see and practice prayer as an essential and vital part of your collective priesthood? Is it a "time filler," or is it a serious and powerful encounter of the people before "the Father's throne"? Are you praying only for those known to you, and then only for health and healing, or are you taking on the fullness of the intercessory responsibility for the whole of the church, the whole of the world, and indeed the whole of creation?
The United Methodist Book of Worship (especially p. 495), The Faith We Sing (especially #2110) and the prayer outline in Morning and Evening Prayer in The United Methodist Hymnal (see p. 877) include outlines for topics of praying that can help your ministry of intercession in worship, your priesthood, be exercised in more comprehensive ways. The print resource Intercessions for the Christian People expands on these "outlines" using the lectionary readings for each Sunday. And the Book of Common Prayer offers six different forms of "Prayers of the People" (beginning on p. 383).
The second thing we learn about the priestly role is how important it is that intercession be constant. In Christ, and among the saints (we learn in Revelation), intercession is constant in heaven. As body of Christ here on earth, it can and should be constant in our midst, too.
The monastic tradition has sought intentionally to embody the ministry of constant intercession, in part by having chapters of the orders present throughout the world, so that literally at every hour and every minute of every day there would be people intentionally offering themselves in a ministry of intercession. Those who pray the Daily Office (Evening, Night, Vigil, Morning, mid-morning, Noon, and mid-day) in non-monastic settings understand themselves joining the prayers of God's people "already in progress." Morning and Evening Prayer resources in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989, pp. 876-879), and Mid-Day and Night (Compline) resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (pp. 568-579) are part of that cycle. An affiliate organization of Discipleship Ministries, The Order of Saint Luke, has developed resources for all the "liturgical hours."
How are you, whether personally, in your congregation, or as a network of congregations and others who pray, seeking to embody the constancy of the ministry of intercession on earth as it is in heaven?
If you developed a side-by-side slide set for the reading from Hebrews last week, you may wish to reuse that format again today. If you go this route, keep in mind that the writer of Hebrews seems to have more than just the crucifixion in mind when speaking of him "offering himself once for all" (verse 27). His entire life is in view, including his years of preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God and his obedience to God in the face of opposition and at the risk of suffering. So when you portray Christ offering himself as opposed to a priest offering burnt offerings, include more than an image of the crucifixion.
Hebrews and A Season of Saints
When Jakob Albrecht's preaching began to generate converts, people who were genuinely moved by the message and showed signs of receiving justifying grace and welcoming sanctifying grace, he quickly realized, in part because of his experience in a Methodist class meeting, that for these initial experiences to grow he needed to link these persons in small groups with leaders ready to watch over them and one another in love. While the primary agenda of the Methodist class meeting was conversation, though, for Albrecht's "classes" the primary agenda was praying for one another. This is why he called them "prayer groups" rather than "class meetings." In a very real and practical way, Albrecht and the early members of the Evangelical Association were forming themselves to take on their priesthood "on earth as it is in heaven."
Mark: Discipleship Everywhere
The healing of Bar Timaeus in Mark's gospel records the striking eagerness (desperation?) of a blind beggar to be seen and heard by Jesus in the face of a fickle crowd of onlookers who appear to be trying to "manage" or "handle" the blind man. Today's reading may be as much a mirror for ourselves as it is a record of historical people and events.
Consider approaching this reading as a devotional exercise for your worship planning team. As the text is read aloud, perhaps several times, ask team members to identify where each finds herself or himself portrayed in this story. There is the eager (perhaps overly eager?) blind beggar. There is the skeptical crowd that tries to control him at first, and then, when they see Jesus does want to talk to the blind man, tries to act as if they control access to him. There is Jesus, who hears Bar Timaeus and who answers his cry, heals his blindness, and calls him to follow. Allow time for sharing the associations your worship team members made.
Now ask a tougher question: Who are the blind beggars in your midst -- as individuals and as a congregation -- that you or your congregation try to silence or hide or keep out of public view? What does it take for you or your congregation to move from silencing or hiding these folks to acting in a more patronizing (if apparently helpful!) way? Why are you trying to get credit for "helping" people when you're actually in the way? What does it take for you to get yourselves OUT of the way so Jesus can do with these folks exactly what he intends to do?
Now discuss in your team what you need to do with this story from Mark for this worship service so that the kinds of things you've experienced and learned through the conversation you've had about this text, and perhaps more beside, can emerge and inform those who will gather in worship that day. How might you read this text? Might mime (if you have good mimes) or dance (if you have good dancers) be a way to dramatize the approach of the different characters (especially Bar Timaeus and the crowd) as this text is read? If you are preaching on this text, where do you need to focus so your congregation hears best what the Spirit is already trying to say to you and your team (and so you, preacher, don't try to manage the congregation's response to Christ in your midst!).
And what about lighting and soundscapes for this service, if this text is your primary focus and if you can control or add lights or sounds? Might a spotlight point out the dancers or mimes while a narrator reads (off to the side, not in light)? Or might the reading happen in total darkness (for the first part, paralleling the blindness of Bar Timaeus), and then full lights when he is healed? Or maybe Bar Timaeus and the crowd might be placed in blindfolds, and only Bar Timaeus's blindfold be removed when he is healed, a sign that the crowd is still blind though sure it knows how to see?
This is a story of healing. Consider the possibility of offering a service of healing as part of today's worship, perhaps as a station or stations for healing prayer persons may go to after receiving Communion. For more resources, see The United Methodist Book of Worship, pages 615-629.
Finally, for a fascinating reflection on the significance of the Bar Timaeus story in the light of contemporary philosophy at the time of its writing, see Gordon Lathrop's prcis of his book, Holy Ground, at http://ebookbrowse.com/lathrop2003-pdf-d231511186.
Mark and A Season of Saints
Both Florence Nightingale and Jakob Albrecht were addressing blindness, head on, in their own day.
For Florence Nightingale, the blindness was both physical and cultural. Blindness was one of the common side effects of war injuries combined with poor health care. But there was also a blindness to the whole problem of poor health care and sanitation to be overcome before the physical blindness could be prevented or healed. Florence Nightingale's hands-on work and advocacy helped a whole society, and through it the world, address, heal and prevent both forms of blindness.
Jakob Albrecht was deeply concerned about the spiritual blindness he found among his fellow "mainline" Christians. Raised a Lutheran with the typical Lutheran "obey the rules and receive the sacraments" theology of his own day, Albrecht found himself having little if any personal spiritual life or relationship to God until an epidemic killed several of his children and a more "evangelical" preacher (Anton Houtz, one of Otterbein's "United Brethren") preached the funeral services offering the comfort of God, personal forgiveness, and the promise of a holy life. This led him to begin attending a Methodist class meeting, and there not only to learn but also to grow personally in not only understanding justification but also in feeling an assurance of salvation and the possibility of holiness in heart and life. As he grew in these convictions, he wanted to share them widely with others, and so applied for, and received, an exhorter's license from his class meeting. He wanted to open the eyes of his fellow "spiritually blind" German-speaking immigrants just as his own eyes had been opened to see and receive the living and active saving grace of God.
- Call to Worship: UMBOW, 181, "Sing to the Lord a New Song" (Job, Mark)
- Greeting: UMBOW, 449 (Psalm)
- Canticle: United Methodist Hymnal, 646, "Canticle of Love" (Psalm)
- Opening Prayer: UMBOW, 461 (Job, Psalm)
- Prayer of Confession: UMBOW, 478 (Job)
- Prayer: UMBOW, 545, "For Those Who Suffer" (Job, Mark)
- Prayer: UMBOW, 546, "For Those Who Suffer" (Mark)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: The Indian Ocean islands Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives
- Prayer of Thanksgiving: UMBOW, 552 (Job, Mark)
- Great Thanksgiving (Communion): UMBOW, 618-619 (Mark); 78-79 (general)
- Blessing: UMBOW, 566, "Sarum Blessing" (Mark)
Reformation Day emphasis: UMBOW, 444