Planning - Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.
The prophet is appalled at destruction, violence, and perversion of justice, wondering whether God is listening or even cares. "I will keep watch to see what he [God] will say to me ... . The Lord answered me and said, 'Write the vision ... it will surely come ... the righteous will live by their faith.'"
Psalm 119:137-144 (UMH 840)
The juxtaposition of the submission in this Psalm and the outrage in Habakkuk is striking. Do not use the Psalm as a "solution" to the prophet's cry, but rather as part of a spectrum of responses reflecting trust in God in the face of the reality of violence and injustice around us that does not seem to abate.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12.
Paul greets the Thessalonians, expressing thanks for their growing faith and their love for one another even in the face of persecution. He assures them of his prayer that they be worthy of God's call and continue to grow in faith so that Christ may be glorified in and through them.
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You have several choices for worship today. You may follow the Sunday lectionary and use these readings. You may use the readings and develop a plan for worship for All Saints Day/Sunday. Or you may choose to focus on the celebration of Reformation Sunday (see The United Methodist Book of Worship, 444.)
Keep in mind that today is one of the occasions when you can "switch streams," as both the Old Testament lesson and the Epistle start in different text families today. If you've been planning worship within a given stream, that may lead you to choose to celebrate All Saints today so that you can pick up, rather than interrupt, a new stream next week.
While Reformation Sunday appears on the program calendar, it does not appear in the Book of Worship as a day for particular emphasis. This is because our Methodist heritage does not derive from the Reformation per se, in which churches were changed largely in response to the input of the state in the sixteenthcentury, but rather from the societies and class meetings that formed among people connected, and not connected, to those state-supported (if not state-controlled) churches.
Reformation Day is certainly significant for our full communion partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, however. So if you are in a setting where you are already in a strong partnership with another ELCA congregation, or seeking to form one, today may be a good time to celebrate Reformation Sunday as part of that partnership.
Remember: At 2 a.m., Sunday, November 7, most Americans will turn their clocks back one hour, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST).
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Old Testament Stream: The Prophets -- Righteousness, Justice and Peace
Today we have our one and only reading from Habakkuk in the three-year cycle. And the reading we have cries out for justice -- from God! There is violence everywhere. Does God even care? There is more violence and destruction on the way. Will God raise a finger?
Part of the role of a prophet is not only to represent God to the people, but to represent the real questions, fears and challenges of the people to God. And that is exactly what we see Habakkuk doing in today's text.
Who challenges whether God cares or whether God is doing anything about injustice or impending danger where you are? Are voices and questions such as theirs welcome in your worshiping community? How might such voices be heard in worship today?
Habakkuk does more than ask the question, however. He waits for an answer. And he keeps waiting until it comes. And when it comes, it's a call to continue waiting, but to wait with expectation. Some of the "it" to wait for was, in fact, further destruction. And then, and only after that, restoration. But in the midst -- how to tell the righteous from the wicked. The righteous live in and through their faith, their ongoing trust in God manifest in their way of life. The proud (those who are sure they know what "should" happen) will not survive, because their "spirit" is "not right." They stand on their own certainties, and so they will fall and fail in the coming troubles.
So who not only raises the questions, but has learned to wait for answers and to keep waiting until they come? Who hangs tough with the questions without dismissing God, the people, or the questions?
What visuals or images speak of keeping profound, challenging questions to God before you and before God in your worshiping community? What are some of those questions right now, among the people where you are? What does such "questioning" sound like in terms of tone -- think here both of soundscapes and the music you will use in worship today. Think of it, too, as you pray today.
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Epistle Stream: Mission in the World but not of It
The key concern of Paul's second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica is to provide additional support and reassurance to their faith, and particularly their hope in the return of Christ. The need for this kind of letter is made clear in the verses we read today. These Christians are facing serious persecution because of their faith. We do not know exactly what that persecution entailed, except that it may have been more of the kind of thing Paul himself had experienced there and shortly thereafter from the same people in Berea (see Acts 17:1-15).
Experiencing persecution is often the result of living in the world but not of it. Indeed, the more this is the case, the more the persecution may come, especially when the "not of it" part is so clear that it becomes a threat to those in power who are "of it."
And if Paul's words of encouragement in today's reading are any indicator, these Christians had clearly lived "not of it." In the face of persecution, both their faith in God and their love for one another only increased.
Sometimes, that's like what "the world" does, too. Going through a serious ordeal can create a strong sense of bonding and a commitment to see a mission through all the more. This sounds much like the "band of brothers" phenomenon that so many soldiers and survivors of disasters across many centuries and cultures have reported.
The difference is the mission. Paul makes clear what their mission is, and ours as well. "That we may be made worthy of God's call and fulfill every good resolve and work by God's power, that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you by his grace" (verse 12). This is a call beyond survival, and to "thriving in goodness," always depending on God's power, whether in the face of persecution or in a less immediately dangerous situation to come.
Send members of your worship planning team out to talk with folks who have been there, done that on the front lines, wherever those front lines may be -- the local community, wars, ecology, fair labor practices, immigration, health care, spiritual life, prayer ministries -- and not just as "issues" but as lived experiences. Ask these folks about the faith that sustains their work and witness.
Who has become a "band of sisters and brothers" in the mission of Christ where you are? What contributed/contributes to their bonding and commitment to Christ and to one another?
Who has learned to "thrive in goodness" in season and out of season, where you are? How do they support and teach others to do the same?
What images of ongoing increase in faith and love toward one another does your worshiping community know and speak of? What images of "thriving in goodness" resonate in your worshiping community?
What does music that speaks of such bonds and such goodness sound like where you are? How might prayers reflect that?
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Gospel Stream: Learning from the Master
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he."
It's a story we've turned into a children's song, and children do seem to enjoy the song. Maybe it's partly because Zacchaeus, as the song puts it, was small, as they are, and that despite the fact that Zacchaeus was small, Jesus chose to eat with him at his house anyway.
Luke doesn't make this into a children's story, though. Zacchaeus may have been small in stature, but he was far from small in power, wealth and influence. He was no "wee little man," but was, rather, a "big man about town" in an important town (Jericho) and an intimidating one at that. This was a man who could, and would, ruin you financially when he wanted to. And there was no one who could, or would, stop him from doing so. He ran the tax collection game in Jericho. He was the big boss.
So when Jesus announced he intended to stay and dine at Zacchaeus's house, and did so quite publicly, it is no wonder that everyone who saw it began grumbling about Jesus eating with sinners. Zacchaeus was in fact a very notorious sinner. And yes, Jesus would be eating with him.
And bringing his disciples along.
Maybe that's why he needed lodgings as commodious as those Zacchaeus could provide? Because he had an entourage to think of, not just himself?
But that was clearly not the main point. The main point was instead, as everyone grumbled, for Jesus to spend time with this chief tax collector, this chief of sinners.
The rumors about Jesus doing this, eating with sinners, rumors Zacchaeus had likely heard but perhaps dismissed, had turned out to be true. And today it was his turn.
And so the big man changed, dramatically. We have no idea what he had heard from Jesus. Luke gives us no sense that Jesus had said even a word to him other than, "I'm staying at your house" before Zacchaeus announced his plans to change his financial position radically. He would give away half of his wealth to the poor. With what remained, he would pay back fourfold anything taken by fraud (which would likely be a sizable number of Jericho's citizens!). That he could even offer to do this was already a sign of just how wealthy he had gotten, and so just how much he had defrauded people.
In short, he repented -- boldly, concretely, completely, and publically. This profession of what he would do was not made in the house. It was made right there, in front of everyone else.
Maybe he had been thinking about this for some time. Maybe years of accumulated and repressed guilt for his crimes had caught up with him. But all it took was for Jesus to say he would stay at this house, and not just Zacchaeus was changed, but the fortunes of the poor of Jericho and everyone victimized by him over the years were changed, too. And all for the better.
So it is also there, publically, that Jesus tells him salvation had come to his household, and confessed before all that this notoriously sinful man was a son of Abraham, a true brother in the faith.
What did his disciples learn from watching this? What do we learn? What do you and your worship planning team learn?
We don't know the answer to the first question, but we can guess. Jesus had been eating with sinners, including tax collectors, all along, and bringing his disciples with him when he did it. This was no new tactic by Jesus. It was no publicity stunt. It was part of his regular practice. We remember this every time we celebrate Holy Communion using Word and Table I or II: "He fed the hungry, and he ate with sinners," we pray.
Where do you eat with sinners and bring others along to watch and learn? How practiced are you at this? What happens when you do this?
Don't spring these questions on the congregation in worship. Go ask folks ahead of time and find one or two who do so already if you possibly can. Let the living witness of these persons be the guide and inspiration for others to consider how they may do likewise, and what may happen that overflows with goodness for all if and when they do.
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- This could be said on any Sunday of the Christian year, but we will note it on this Sunday: the Revised Common Lectionary gives three readings and a psalm response to the first reading. This does not mean that the psalm cannot be used as a text for preaching. It does mean that in the schema of worship the psalm is a "response" in the "call and response" rhythm of worship. Therefore, it should not be read by a reader, but should be a common response of the people, either said or sung or some combination of the two. For more on this topic and on ways of congregational response using the Psalms, see UMH 736-737 or The Worship Resources of The United Methodist Hymnal, pp. 110-126.
- Habakkuk reading. The prophet is contending with God. Perhaps if we preachers were honest, we would help our people break forth with their cries. Don't rush to God's response before giving voice (and perhaps some silence in the midst of the reading) to the prophet's lament. In our violent times today Habakkuk's voice in 1:1-4 is uncannily the voice of those in the Middle East, in the Darfur area of Sudan, and perhaps our own, as young men and women in our armed forces continue to be killed. How many in the world wonder with Habakkuk why the law seems slack and justice never prevails? What is gathering for worship in these days but the determination to stand at our watch post and wait to see what the Lord will answer concerning humanity's complaint? Our complaint? Keep a tension between our complaint and the complaint of our enemies and of the poorest of the poor. Avoid indulgent self-pity.
- 2 Thessalonians reading. Paul was writing to address a concrete situation among the Thessalonians, so read this greeting that way. During the reading, invite the members of the congregation to close their eyes and listen. Reading the text with their eyes can come later; urge them to hear it as a letter to them. Consider following the reading with a brief time of silence in which to note the word or phrase that sticks out to their minds and hearts.
- Luke reading. Zacchaeus gets to see and welcome Jesus. How fast does transformation and conversion take place? How do we know it has happened?
Give some thought to the congregation's and your own assumptions about conversion. How does this story challenge or confirm such assumptions? In your congregational life, how do you live out such assumptions? Do you have water in the font and baptize people at the invitation? Do you invite people to "come down" and invite yourself into their world? Or do you invite them to come down and "move in" with your church as a "member" today? Note that Jesus did not invite Zacchaeus to come to his house (I know he didn't have one!), but rather he calls this marginalized man to share his home with Jesus. A favorite text (or pretext) for evangelism is John 1:39 where Jesus responds to the query about where he lives, "Come and see." How does this story contrast with that scenario? What if our efforts to have open hearts, open minds, and open doors were oriented toward our being attentive to open hearts, minds, and doors in the lives of people like Zacchaeus, and we go into their world, listen to their questions, and struggle with their past, present, and future? What if that is how we "ReThink Church?"
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Embodying the Word: Sending Forth for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
As we come to the end of the church year, we come also to the ending of the ritual of Word and Table, the sending forth. Many congregations have experienced the sending forth really as little more than a period at the end of the service, a sign that it's time to leave. Words and blessings are exchanged, perhaps a closing hymn, and a postlude. In some churches, after a benediction, everyone sits down to listen to a postlude with organ or orchestra or choir or other musical performance; and then folks depart.
But the sending forth is intended historically to be less about a conclusion than a propulsion. It's less about eloquent words or music we share at the end of a worship experience we've had together, and more about, as Mark's Gospel puts it, being "driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit." It is saying "Having offered what you have offered, having received what you have received, get out of here and live as disciples of Jesus sent to fulfill his mission." At a minimum, we need to know we are being sent, not just dismissed or scattered.
For some congregations, the kinds of dismissals generally offered in books of worship and on our website (see below for a great example written by Dan Benedict based on the reading from Habakkuk today) accomplish this larger purpose well. The pastor is engaged and clearly intends to bless people in the name of the Trinity and send them into mission. The people feel themselves so sent. And so they are.
But for others, these kinds of more formal exchanges of words, however eloquently or passionately spoken, still don't quite get it. Some need more than words printed in a book, a bulletin, or on a screen.
Beginning today through the end of Ordinary Time, we'll offer some ideas here that may help those congregations seeking a more embodied form of sending forth. Pick one of these, adapt as you see fit, and let us (worship@UMCdiscipleship.org) know what the Spirit did as people were sent forth in this way.
Sending into this world, with its injustice and violence (Habakkuk)
After the hymn, invite the congregation to go to the windows and walls of your worship space and to look or imagine beyond those walls the signs of injustice and violence that are present just on the other side, or in the surrounding neighborhood, or in the neighborhood where they live, or anywhere in the world beyond these walls. Invite them to pay attention to what they are seeing or imagining, and begin to listen for God's call. Remind them that what they are seeing is the stirring of the Spirit, drawing their attention to work that lies before them individually and before us collectively as a congregation. Ask them to decide one thing they will do about the injustice and violence they have been led to observe. Ask them to commit to God and to one other person there to do that one thing. (Take time for people to share their commitments with one another.) Conclude with a Trinitarian prayer of blessing and sending forth into all these places and all this work God has given each person to do.
Sending into ministry and encouragement (2 Thessalonians)
After the hymn, invite the people to close their eyes and ask the Spirit to bring to their attention faces and names of people they know who are suffering or persecuted. Allow 30 seconds of silence for this. Then ask people to open their eyes, and hold their hands out in front of them, together and palms up. Ask them to imagine that these people are now in their hands. Invite them to look at these people, listening for their cries and their circumstances (allow another minute for this). Invite the people to raise these people in their hands above eye level, commending them to God. Then invite them to lower their hands, and bring their hands close to their hearts.
When all have done this, say,
"God who has called us, taught us, and fed us,
Now sends us from this place
To offer care and encouragement
To these people we have commended to God's care
And now hold in our hearts.
Go forth, to love and serve God and these neighbors,
In the compassion of God the Father,
With the truth of Jesus Christ,
And the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sending into Distribution (Luke, or if you have celebrated Holy Communion today)
Jesus told Zacchaeus he would stay at his house for the day, sharing a meal and all other hospitality a guest could expect to receive. Zacchaeus responded lavishly, not just to Jesus but to the world. He would give away half of his possessions to the poor, and restore anything he had received by fraud four times over. It was a public pledge. He was standing there, right by the tree he had just climbed down from to welcome Jesus, in plain view of all (Luke 19:8).
Jesus has come by this house today, sharing a meal with us in which he offered himself to us.
Salvation has come to this house.
Salvation has come to this house!
Get out something to write with and write on.
Make a list of ten things you have right now that you do not need. (Give time for this)
Now make a second list. Write down the name of people you know who could use what you have. (Give time for this as well).
Salvation has come to this house.
Salvation has come to this house!
Go bless these people with these things,
And bless others beside,
Because salvation has come to this house!
Salvation has come to this house!
And now salvation goes forth from this house
To all the houses our Triune God has sent you to bless.
Salvation goes forth from this house
To every house
In the name of God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit who sends us.
Glory to God! Amen.
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- BOW 327 (Luke)
- BOW 354 (Luke)
- A Zacchaeus Greeting
How shall we prepare our house for Jesus' coming?
With climbing sycamore trees and hilltops of praise.
How shall we prepare this house for the coming of the eternal Christ?
With listening for his approach and eagerness to glimpse his presence.
How shall we prepare this house for the coming of our Savior?
With coming out of hiding and delighting that he comes seeking and saving the lost.
How shall we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Son of God?
By hearing again
the words of the hope spoken by the prophets,
and the gospel that God did not send the Son to condemn the world,
but that the world through him might be saved.
- BOW 528, "Prayer of Susanna Wesley" (Habakkuk, Psalm)
- BOW 511 (Habakkuk, Luke)
- BOW 460 (Habakkuk, Luke)
BOW 588, "A Celebration of a New Beginning in Faith" (Luke)
See the introduction for the kinds of situations for which this might be most appropriate.
Confession and Pardon Sequence
This sequence should include the invitation (UMH 7) and pardon (UMH 8)
Thanksgiving when there is no Communion
Dismissal with Blessing
- BOW 255 (Habakkuk, Psalm) Since this is for Advent, you may want to adapt it slightly.
- BOW 521 (Habakkuk, Psalm) Find ways for this Chippewa prayer to be a living expression of your people.
- BOW 527 (Habakkuk)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda
- UMH 7-8 (general)
- BOW 478 (Habakkuk)
- BOW 323 (Luke) The pardon text is especially appropriate.
- BOW 78-79 (General, inclusive language)
- BOW 71-79 (General, Habakkuk)
- BOW 553 (Luke)
- BOW 550 (Habakkuk, Luke)
- BOW 559 (1 Thessalonians) Add a blessing to this.
- Based on Habakkuk and Luke
An assisting minister, deacon or lay person, charges the people:
Cry out against violence.
Repent of greed.
Seek the lost.
Open your hearts and homes to Jesus in the poor and outcast.
In all things be thankful and give glory to God.
Then the pastor blesses the people.
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