United Church of Christ

Sermon Seeds July 15, 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Year B
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 10)

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Lectionary citations:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 with Psalm 24 or
Amos 7:7-15 with Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Worship resources for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost Year B, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 10 are at Worship Ways


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
Ephesians 1:3-14
Additional reflection on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Reflection on Psalm 24

Focus Theme:
Who Does God Say We Are?

Reflection:
by Kathryn Matthews

What a wonderful opportunity we have, for several Sundays in a row, to preach on the Letter to the Ephesians, and yet, if we choose only one of those Sundays, there is perhaps no more beautiful passage than this week's text from the opening of Paul's letter to the little struggling church in Ephesus.

It's true that churches struggle in every age and every place, and their issues and challenges are often very similar, even in very different times and very different circumstances. The commentators make this clear: empire, in one form or another; the surrounding culture, with its many and powerful messages; our drive to divide and be divided; and the questioning human spirit, longing to understand our lives, both individually and communally…a heady mix that might lead us to experience Paul's exuberant poetry as an uplifting message of both meaning and hope because it fixes us firmly on the sure foundation of God's own purposes and love.

No catechism here

No, this is not a catechism or systematic statement of beliefs: it is heart language as much as head language, as poetry and praise ought to be. Like all of our talk about God, it is partial, too, for our human comprehension is limited. Lewis Donelson says that Paul's "propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They are true, but God is still transcendent" (Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, Westminster Bible Companion).

Yes, it's undoubtedly a good thing to provide context and even a little exegesis when we preach this text. Once again, we can talk about the authorship of the letter, although simply explaining that Paul or one writing in his name probably wrote the letter, and then referring to the author as "Paul," seems like the best approach.

We can explain that scholars debate whether the letter was actually written to the church in Ephesus or as a circular letter for many churches eager to receive further teaching and guidance from the great apostle-teacher, Paul. In that way, we're not just overhearing a message meant for one church but a word meant for us today, in each of our churches, as well.

A burst of exuberance

Perhaps my favorite scholarly note is that our passage of many run-on sentences (at least that's what they would have been called by my junior-high English teacher) was originally, in Greek, only one, very long sentence. That's not only remarkable to consider; it illustrates the exuberance of Paul once he got wound up and launched into his writing. His sense of gratitude and wonder at everything God has done, is doing, and has promised yet to do, leads him to soaring heights of praise in which he acknowledges God as both blessed and blessing.

In fact, this text is so beautiful, especially in Eugene Peterson's version in The Message (which makes the passage much more accessible and moving as well, as it does with all of the Epistles) that very little background may be needed for the congregation to be deeply moved, and deeply inspired, by its message.

How it all works

In recent years, for example, we keep learning more and more amazing things about the way the universe works. Something called "the God particle," that is, the Higgs-Boson particle, has been discovered, but it seems to provoke both wonder and questioning more than clear and firm answers about "the meaning of it all." (Here are two helpful articles for making this connection, although there are many more: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/higgs-boson-god-particle-explained-comics/4743 and http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/guest_bloggers/6160/the_magic_of_the_higgs_boson_particle__/.)

It seems to me that Paul is, in a sense, exploring a similar question when he sings out his praise for "the big picture" of God's purposes. He's certainly not taking a scientific approach, or even a philosophical one, to his work. Instead, he sings from deep faith, from intuition that sometimes whispers and suggests, and sometimes bursts out in assured conviction of God's goodness and mercy, of God's amazing grace. That's what this first part of the Letter to the Ephesians is about: God's amazing grace.

God puts things back together

In his introduction to the letter, Eugene Peterson writes evocatively about the brokenness of our lives and the way God puts things back together, as they should be: Paul "begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, 'sets' this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones--belief and behavior--knit together and heal" (The Message).

That's all part of "the plan" that continues to unfold right before our eyes, if we take the time to notice, the great plan of God to bring everything together in one marvelous unity in Christ. God is working this great wonder in every age, in every day, in each of us and all of us, together. When we ponder who God is, and how God is, we get a sense of who we are as creatures formed, lovingly, in God's own image.

The plan may be an ancient one, rooted long before the earth was created, but it stretches forward, too, far into the future, and we have our own place within it, in this moment of history. To live meaningfully in this moment, however, we need to see ourselves not only as heirs, as those who receive these blessings, but as ancestors as well, for God has an eye on all that will come after us, and a grace-filled purpose for it all.

Singing God's goodness

A second, related, line of thought relates to our human response to God's great goodness, of which Paul also sings. I have often heard folks who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" speak of their deep longing to find a place and a community of worship where they feel both deeply moved and a sense of belonging.

Interestingly, these are people who lead lives that have many marks of discipleship: healing the sick and broken, working for justice, sharing generously, forgiving and seeking reconciliation and peace. But they long for a spiritual community where they can sense, with others, God's presence in quiet moments in community, in ritual, in music, in worship.

We might be surprised by how many Spiritual But Not Religious folks are actually hungry for traditional ritual and liturgy. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of many writers who draw our attention to our worship life and to our spiritual hunger: in her sermon, "He Who Fills All in All" (in Home by Another Way) she wonders if we are offering the spiritually hungry "a place where they may sense the presence of God, among people who show some sign of having been changed by that presence."

Longing for the divine

As Anthony Robinson has written so powerfully about evangelism, "People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists. At least they don't want those things instead of God" ("From Generation to Generation [or not]").

Bringing these two threads together, about worship and God's great plan for all things, one might blend a sermon with large-screen images of the universe, like the dramatic photographs returned to us by our long-distance spacecraft of the heavens, the stars and the earth, which may inspire awe at times as effectively as our words and music and sanctuaries.

And then we could picture our cities and countryside in many different settings, our neighborhoods and the people they hold, nature, including images of the very smallest things, even drawings of particles and other such incomprehensible objects. Such use of the visual and the imagination (perhaps during the reading of the text, along with music) might make it a bit easier to ponder God's grand plan for all things.

Justice and worship, worship and justice

Yes, the ethics of discipleship will be addressed in this letter to the church in Ephesus, but we Christians today seem to spend far more time talking about the rules than raising the quality of our time with God together, in worship, and on our own, in prayer-time. This might be especially true of us in the United Church of Christ, as we follow our passionate commitment to justice and healing for a broken world.

It's a good thing that we work hard on the issues, but we also need to be able to return to a base camp where we can renew our spirits, where we can tap into the deep roots of our tradition, the ancient songs of praise and lament, the blessings that we have received and will share with those who come after us.

We have, after all, been brought together not only to work but to pray and praise, to remember and remind, to celebrate and to hope as well. We can draw on that time together and find the courage to hope, as the Letter to the Ephesians will say in two more chapters, for "far more than all we can ask or imagine" (3:20).

A voice from the border

One of the most powerful commentaries on this text comes from the voices assembled by Cláudio Carvalhaes in "Proper Ten," in Preaching God's Transforming Justice Year B. He shares the responses to this text from people who live in Nogales, Mexico, near the border with the United States. They "engage the Bible from their own social location…drawing connections to their own lives," and they ask, "What is God telling us to consider, to do, to change, to move, to engage, or to transform here today?"

I appreciated not only their questions and observations, including God's call to participate in the healing of all things, but also Carvalhaes' description of Ordinary Time. I was taught that Ordinary Time describes the numbering of Sundays, but Carvalhaes connects it to "the normative, the standard, the expected in life….the daily stuff of life fueled with extraordinary encounters with God." This is where God is at work, just as much as in those highest heavens. It is a beautiful thought on a warm summer morning in Ordinary Time, and provides rich material for our reflections together.

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The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

You're invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

For further reflection:

Rachel Carson, 20th century
"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."

Socrates, 5th century B.C.E.
"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom."

Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart, 21st century
"...words are like nets--we hope they'll cover what we mean, but we know they can't possibly hold that much joy, or grief, or wonder."

Mahatma Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, 20th century
"When every hope is gone, 'when helpers fail and comforts flee,' I find that help arrives somehow, from I know not where. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal."

Ray Bradbury, 20th century
"We are an impossibility in an impossible universe."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, 21st century
"... but it's your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined."

Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, 20th century
"We live in all we seek."

Anne Lamott, 21st century
"We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be."

William Shakespeare, 17th century
"We know what we are, but not what we may be."

Thomas Merton, 20th century
"Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about [God]."

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 20th century
"When I discover who I am, I'll be free."

Additional reflection on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19:
by Kathryn Matthews

Focus Theme:
God-inspired Joy

Have we tamed the gospel? How passionate is our worship, how exuberant our praise, how deep our awe at what God is doing in our lives and in the life of the world? Do we really know what it feels like to rejoice "with all our might" because God is present in our lives?

Have we ever felt so full of exultation about Who God Is that we want to dance without inhibition, right in front of our family, our friends, and our community? Or are we closer to being the "frozen chosen" who sit almost immobile in our pews?

Bright, sustaining source of hope

We think of David in the Hebrew Scriptures as hero and king, and his memory was indeed a bright, sustaining source of hope for the people of Israel. But when we think of his humanness we tend to concentrate on his flaws, especially his tragic affair with Bathsheba.

This week's reading, however, portrays a very human, very joy-filled, dancing David, undoubtedly pleasing in God's sight. (It recalls Irenaeus' famous line, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." David certainly comes across as "fully alive" in this story.)

From grief to dancing

This week's reading from 2 Samuel, in one sense, book-ends the reading from two weeks ago (2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27) when David was full of grief over the deaths of Jonathan and Saul. The man who, tradition says, composed the psalms was obviously a person of deep feeling, and today's passage about his joy gives us another side of his passion, his profound gratitude and praise for God's work in the life of the Israel, bringing the people together, uniting the kingdom, strengthening them in common cause against the enemy Philistines, establishing the people and their land and the Davidic dynasty to the glory of God, fulfilling the promises of God right before their eyes, in their own lifetime.

The ark that had been captured by the Philistines had then been returned by them because of its awesome power, which frightened the foreigners. Then, for a while, it rested in the house of Abinadab. David, in establishing Jerusalem as his seat of power, wanted to restore the ark to the center of the people's shared life, and he went to fetch it from its temporary home.

In a sense, the ark had always had a temporary home, moving with the people in their journeys and resting only for a time in Shiloh. Perhaps David felt the ark was truly coming home, even though that home was a new one.

God with us in so many ways

Patricia Dutcher-Walls provides background for this episode in the long and often painfully violent story of David's rise to power. The celebration represented the culmination of a process of consolidation, with building projects (including a magnificent home for David himself); the expansion of David's family with many wives, concubines, and children; and military victories over the Philistines.

And now, here is the final touch: bringing God right into the center of things, literally, that is, with the ark, which had traveled with the Hebrew people throughout their time in the wilderness and later in the Promised Land. As well as holding the tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, Dutcher-Walls writes, the ark was "a visible symbol of God's awesome presence" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

Religion and exuberance?

In our age of the separation of church and state, it may be difficult to picture such an overtly religious celebration by the head of state, particularly one involving exuberant dancing before God. However, in the time of ancient Israel, it was important, Dutcher-Walls writes, that David establish himself as faithful to God and the religious traditions of the people he now ruled.

In doing so, David must have reassured the people of his continuity with those who had come before him; the newness of this capital city would be balanced, no doubt, by the "the stability and orthodoxy" represented by the ark. It couldn't have hurt David's credibility, either, in the eyes of the people, because this was obviously a king who enjoyed the favor of God.

But this isn't a private celebration of David's personal success, Dutcher-Walls observes, for the people themselves participate in the procession and the feast that accompanies the return of the ark, reminding them "that David is king for them," but he is also "the primary intermediary between the earthly and divine realms in the ancient world" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts).

The complexities when political and religious realities overlap

Perhaps we might learn from this passage that even when church and state are separate, our "political and religious realities overlap in complex ways, humility and wisdom are required to understand and carry out one's allegiances and commitments to both" (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts). Today, people of all faiths in a diverse society can find unity in a public life that reflects "humility and wisdom" on the part of all, including and especially its leaders, and a shared dream of a place at the table for all of the children of God.

The passage that is omitted by the lectionary is one of those unpleasant and perplexing biblical stories that jar us: the earnest and attentive Uzzah, reaching out to prevent the fall of the ark, is struck dead, presumably for failing to observe the proper rituals necessary to touch the ark. The lectionary often spares us such unpleasantness, but it's good for us to consider such stories, for there they are.

Trying to do the right thing

Yes, it's difficult to accept with our modern sensibilities, and it's a hard text to preach (even more so than the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the Book of Acts, and that's a tough one), when you think about the unfairness of it: wasn't Uzzah sincerely, piously, even instinctively trying to do the right thing, bless his heart? Wouldn't we have done the same in that situation?

However, this is a glimpse of the people of Israel's understanding of faithfulness, their awe, their sense of the sacred and the "otherness" of God, a God whose name became something they could not even say out loud because of its profound holiness. When we compare our faith and our ritual with that of ancient Israel, does it seem that we have tried to "tame" God? Who is God for you?

Welcome to worship, here's your crash helmet

Is God a nice, friendly companion who comforts us and offers us a reward for our good behavior and our regular attendance at church? Or is this God of David and the people of Israel more likely the terrifying God of Annie Dillard, the remarkable American author, who famously wrote, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?....It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews" (Teaching a Stone to Talk).

Many preachers are familiar with this passage from Dillard; perhaps this is the Sunday to share it with our congregations. This is not so much the fearful image of a punishing God, though, as it is an attempt to convey the people's ancient understanding of God's awesome otherness, God's transcendent power and glory. It is oddly comforting, in a very different way from the tamed and domesticated Comforter-God, that the universe is not spinning wildly out of control but is in the hands of a God so much greater than our imaginations (which are pretty powerful engines in their own right, if we would only use them).

Building the City of God

David had many flaws (a reading of the entire narrative of his life makes us wince more than once) but a lack of passion was not one of them. In the joyous procession of the ark toward Jerusalem, his new capital and now, in a sense, "The City of God," he had many reasons to rejoice. Things were now coming together for him very nicely; things were falling into place as he established this throne (or laid claim to God establishing it).

Tradition says that David wrote the psalms, and this scene recalls verse 6 in Psalm 16: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage." No wonder David danced! Jubilation is a word we rarely use, perhaps because such a feeling has been limited for many, for the most part, to sports and political victories. But what if we felt deep-down-in-our-hearts jubilation over what God is doing in our lives? Would we dance, too?

The frozen chosen

Henry Brinton has compared our "frozen chosen" worship, especially in Euro-American churches, to a modern dance solo by Paul Taylor, the dancer/choreographer who "simply stood motionless on stage for four minutes." Like Taylor's dance, our worship is often motionless: "What we do is nothing--we just stand still, hardly moving a muscle," engaging everything but our bodies (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

Indeed, this is especially noticeable in Euro-American Protestant churches, where both the offering plate and communion itself are brought to the people in the pews, presumably so that we won't need to move at all. Contrast that immobility with the vitality of churches where the congregation comes forward to bring their offerings and to receive communion.

Receivers who give

It reminds me of Tony Robinson's work, Transforming Congregational Culture, in which he writes of our need to see ourselves as "receivers who give": in our pattern of seeing ourselves only as givers in church, it's easy to forget our brokenness, our neediness, our "less worthy" selves: "The self that is anxious and the self that is hurting; the self that is, yes, capable of giving but that also needs to receive the gifts of God and the grace of God."

Might David have had a keener sense of his own need to receive the gifts of God that day, or better, might David have understood just how many gifts he had already received? Our theme this week, "Who Does God Say We Are?", leads us to consider our identity as "receivers who give," during worship on Sunday, yes, but in our whole lives as well. Treasure, talents, time, forgiveness: these are gifts that we can share with all of God's children, and all of God's creation.

A dance of stillness

Brinton quotes a lovely passage from Frederick Buechner's Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who, in describing David's dance with God as "'they cut loose together...whirling around before the ark in such a passion that they caught fire from each other and blazed up in a single flame' of magnificence."

David didn't even care when his wife, Michal, watched disapprovingly (she came, not insignificantly, from the house of Saul, David's predecessor and rival). Brinton observes that Michal, like many of us in church today, might have been more comfortable with Paul Taylor's dance of immobility (New Proclamation Year B 2009).

On the other hand...

I feel compelled to offer an "on the other hand" note here, for all of us introverts who might read this reflection differently: I believe it's possible to feel a sense of God's presence and goodness and sacredness while sitting absolutely still. In fact, I wonder if one way to interpret Taylor's "dance" is to feel our need to stop, metaphorically: to stop moving, trying, striving, running around from here to there, reaching, reaching, reaching...have we lost our sense of God in the inner stillness we might find in reflection, in meditation, in the quiet? Thomas Merton claimed that "Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to [God], being attentive to [God], requires a lot of courage and know-how."

There is also the question of mobility issues, for those who cannot get up and physically dance (I think of my mother, in the front pew every Sunday, with her walker). While dancing David may provide a valid and valuable (and much-needed) corrective (addition?) for less-than-vital worship services, so might the quiet nuns and monks and mystics who experience God in silence and stillness as well.

Some of us might feel discomfort if we interpret a sermon or text as suggesting that we have to dance (literally, not just in our spirit or heart) in order to worship God in beauty and truth. There are, we know, so many wondrous paths to God; how can we share the journey together?

And then they sat down to eat

In any case, for all the dancing and rejoicing, the otherness and the transcendence, the burnt offerings and the prayers, the power and fear and danger and joy, even with the awareness we have about the temple that will be built and the glory it represents, the passage itself culminates in an experience that we also share with the people of ancient Israel and their mighty and glorious king: they share a meal together.

Food is distributed "among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins." Each one had a portion, each one had enough, great and powerful along with small and ordinary, men and women, each one with food to eat and a spirit of gratitude and awe to take home with them.

A story for us today

How is that image, that story, a story for us today? When we praise and pray and share our meal at the table, are we aware of "all the people, the whole multitude" of the world that hungers for "a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins"? How are we doing when we, like the people of ancient Israel, return to our homes? Does any of this have an effect, a power, in the life that we share with all of God's children, not just our own families, our church, our friends?

In an age when our communal ties are fraying (see Robert Putnam's classic book, Bowling Alone), what does it mean to you to be able to gather as a church family and sing, break bread, and open your heart in prayer, not as a solitary activity but with others, as David did with the people?

For further reflection:

Anne Sexton, 20th century
"Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance."

Martha Graham, 20th century
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."

John Maxwell, 20th century
"A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position."

Friedrich Nietzsche, 19th century
"Without music, life would be a mistake....I would only believe in a God who knew how to dance."

William Butler Yeats, 20th century
"How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

Mr. Miyagi, The Next Karate Kid, 1994
"Never trust spiritual leader who cannot dance."

J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals, 20th century
"To be full of being is to live as a body-soul. One name for the experience of full being is joy."

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, 19th century
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

Hopi Indian Saying
"To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak."

Snoopy (Charles Schulz), 20th century
"To live is to dance, to dance is to live."

Additional reflection on Psalm 24:
by Brooks Berndt

The biblical scholar Robert Altar paints a vivid picture of pilgrims ascending up Mount Zion to the Temple as they chant a psalm that begins by declaring, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." In essence, the pilgrims were proclaiming that the Temple, the place held to be the residing place of God, was a microcosm of the larger world. God's presence was to be found everywhere.

Yet, as the psalm continues, it is made clear that this presence is neither welcomed nor experienced by all. It comes with a fight, and it is experienced by those seeking to live a just and moral life. The pilgrims climbing up that hill were among those seekers.

A year ago the UCC passed a resolution entitled, "The Earth is the Lord's--Not Ours to Wreck." In responding to the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, it was realized that a fight was being waged over the very future of this planet, a planet that belongs to God. The resolution called for faith communities to be "bold and courageous as we address the greatest moral challenge that the world has ever faced." It called upon churches "to resist all expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and demand new sources of renewable energy that are accessible to all communities."

Like a climb up a mountain, this struggle takes stamina and effort, but it is a struggle made all the easier when we sing our way to the top. It is made all the easier when we realize the company that we keep as a people united in faith. Together, we climb upward. Together, we are seekers of that just and moral life in which the presence of God is experienced.

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The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He writes a column called "For the Love of Children" that recently launched with The Letter Manifesto: Children and Climate.


Lectionary texts

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Psalm 24

The earth is God's
   and all that is in it,
the world,
   and those who live in it;

for God has founded it
   on the seas,
and established it
   on the rivers.

Who shall ascend
   the hill of God?
And who shall stand
   in God's holy place?

Those who have clean hands
   and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls
   to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.

They will receive blessing
   from God,
and vindication from the God
   of their salvation.

Such is the company
   of those who seek God,
who seek the face
   of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads,
   O gates!
and be lifted up,
   O ancient doors!
that the Ruler of glory
   may come in.

Who is the Ruler of glory?
   God, strong and mighty,
God, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads,
   O gates!
and be lifted up,
   O ancient doors!
that the Ruler of glory
   may come in.

Who is this Ruler of glory?
   The Sovereign of hosts--
God is the Ruler of glory.

or

Amos 7:7-15

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said, "See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, 'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'" And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'"

Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the Sovereign
   will speak,
for God will speak peace
   to the people,

God will speak
   to the faithful,
to those who turn to God
   in their hearts.

Surely God's salvation is at hand
   for those who fear God,
that God's glory may dwell
   in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness
   will meet;
righteousness and peace
   will kiss each other.

Faithfulness will spring up
   from the ground,
and righteousness will look down
   from the sky.

God will give
   what is good,
and our land will yield
   its increase.

Righteousness will go
   before God,
and will make a path
   for God's steps.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:blains@ucc.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: "Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place" in Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about "traditional" colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.  
    
Before the Reformation's iconoclasm, and Trent's code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of "best," "second best," and "everyday"--not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the "best" vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got "second best" or "everyday."

So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the "received" tradition!

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