Seasonal

Preparing for Autumn (Year C)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2022, Year C, copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress.

Preaching

Fall means a return to routine: to work, to school, to church too. It may be useful for the preacher to acknowledge that discipleship implies discipline, and that there are real implications when we choose to follow a Christian way of life. But discipleship does not just imply hardship or suffering. There is joy inherent in pursuing a life of faith. Redemption, grace, and the promise of abundant life await those who follow Christ.

This season begins with Jesus warning would-be disciples to consider the cost of discipleship (Lectionary 23). The ramifications of following God are evidenced in the stories of Naaman, Jacob, Zacchaeus, and Paul (Lectionary 28, 29, 31, 23). There is no promise that leaders will even receive gratitude: Moses deals with blaspheming people and an angry God; Jesus sees only one in ten healed lepers return to give thanks (Lectionary 24 and 28).

Cost becomes a literal issue in the many texts this season that focus on money. The prophets offer strong words for those who would cheat the poor (Lectionary 25 and 26). Stories about wealthy men and tax collectors offer both threat and encouragement for reform (Lectionary 26, 30, and 31). During the fall many churches engage in stewardship appeals. The right use of money is a strong theme. How do congregations show God’s care for the poor? What virtuous “tax collectors” might we have in our midst? How might ordinary people use their money to give honor to God?

When we consider the ideal of discipleship, we inevitably come up short. It might be a consolation this season to see how God works in and through the most unlikely of characters. Gospel readings include Jesus giving praise to an unjust judge, a dishonest manager, and a tax collector (Lectionary 29, 25, and 30). Old Testament readings remind us that God chooses the trickster, Jacob, to be patriarch and an enemy commander, Naaman, to be healed (Lectionary 29 and 28). Reformation Sunday ends this time frame, inevitably recalling our tradition’s founder, Martin Luther, a man who wasn’t always the most politic or gentle. Readings from 1 and 2 Timothy, letters ostensibly written by Paul to a young disciple, remind us that youth is no impediment to leadership (Lectionary 24–30). The preacher might encourage worshipers to think more broadly about the identity of God’s people; they might not always be who we expect. Social systems and hierarchies that label some virtuous and others irredeemable may need to be questioned.

Paul, an unlikely hero himself (Lectionary 24), calls on the believer to endure. From his prison cell in Rome he proclaims that the “crown of righteousness” awaits (2 Tim. 4:8, Lectionary 30). Jesus reassures with parables about finding a lost sheep and coin (Lectionary 24). Although the story of the prodigal son is not told in these months, we can hear its echoes. Amazing grace comes in the redemption of the lost and in being found ourselves. Though we will fall short of God’s intent for us, we need not fear. We do not need to save ourselves. Reformation Sunday’s second reading reminds us that we are “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift” (Rom. 3:24).

In the best Lutheran theology, this gift of grace frees us to be disciples in a new way. With God’s law written on our hearts (Reformation Sunday), we can dare to take up Paul’s call to Philemon, serving our neighbor not out of duty but on the basis of love (Lectionary 23). Discipleship is a serious calling but also a joyful one. What are we waiting for?

Intercessory Prayer

The seasons are visibly changing as crops are gathered in, leaves fall, and cold winds begin to blow. You may want to consider a day of special prayer for all adults and children who are returning to school and/or Sunday school activities. A blessing of backpacks may be desired. Also, this is the season of Reformation and, in some places, confirmation. Many of our readings are centered on God’s justice and solidarity with the poor. Let us remember to pray on Labor/Labour Day for essential workers. Let us remember to pray for first responders, especially as related to the remembrance of the September 11 tragedy in the United States.

Stewardship is about the sharing of time, talents, and treasure. We are often afraid to pray boldly for God’s abundant provision through finances. As we tarry in prayer, let us invite our congregation to call out the people, places, and things for which they are grateful. Let us remember that God is generous, and that we are called to be generous, merciful, and compassionate toward all. As we pray, let us petition God to refresh, fill, and bless us with new beginnings in Christ Jesus.

On Reformation Sunday, pray about the privileges and responsibilities of discipleship. Encourage your congregation to renew their vows to proclaim the good news through word and deed, to serve all people, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Lean into helping your congregation understand the means of grace: baptism, communion, and word. Pray for renewed zeal and for your congregation to continually choose life and reject sin. This season is a good time to remember the ELCA’s commitment to racial reconciliation (elca.org/racial justice). Be bold in prayers of repentance regarding the sinfulness of American slavery and repentance for the evils of racism and discrimination, which have torn at the fabric of our country’s unity. Consider using prayers from the “Society, Justice” section of All Creation Sings or its “Lamenting Racism” litany as part of your intercessory prayer. This content is available in the SundaysandSeasons.com Library under All Creation Sings > Prayers, Thanksgivings, and Laments.

How can we invite our congregations to observe that we are continually being re-formed as a church? Can you create a prayer banner to hang in the worship space that includes words or phrases from members about where and how they long for God’s re-formation? Throughout this season, continually pray for God’s blessing upon the baptized and for the newest members of your church, that all will live out their baptismal callings and boldly follow Jesus beyond the four walls of the building and into the neighborhood to be the church for all people.

Now is the time to persist in prayer! We affirm with Martin Luther that God does not need our good works, but our neighbors do. This is a good time to take an inventory regarding the needs of your community. Once identified, begin to pray out loud about these concerns in Sunday services. Pray that God will raise up lay leaders to become the answer to these prayers. Take special notice of those in your neighborhood who are “modern-day lepers.” These may be people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, or STDs, or infected with the viruses of racism and discrimination. Pray about how you can participate in God’s healing works of mercy. How can we lead the community in prayerful action? What kind of public witness can you have as you seek to be a prayerful and missional community of faith?

Assembly Song

Choir has returned and excitement is in the air! The kids are back in school, and church activities that may have taken a break for the summer are back in full swing. It feels like a new season, although according to the church’s calendar, we are still journeying through the time after Pentecost, known in some places as “ordinary time.” Note that it isn’t the “Pentecost season” and that there is no special overarching focus on the Holy Spirit during these weeks. Instead, the focus is on the stories, prophecies, and poems that are lavished upon us in the lectionary week by week. And every year we make new discoveries in the old stories. During the coronavirus pandemic and time of renewed calls for racial justice in 2020, more than one church staff noted that the same lectionary texts they had heard so many times before instantly took on new relevance and developed new layers of meaning for those difficult times.

Rotating musical settings of the liturgy by season adds variety, and although this is not officially a change of church-year season, Autumn is a good time for a fresh setting. If you have simplified for the summer, perhaps you will add back in a Kyrie, a canticle of praise, an offering song, or other musical elements. Even though this isn’t really a “thematic” season, continue to avoid the trap of choosing “general” hymns. Although this time of year can be the most challenging for finding music that “fits,” it is just as important to seek out hymn texts complementary to the lectionary now as at any other time. Use the weekly hymn suggestions in Sundays and Seasons, Indexes for Worship Planning, or any of a number of online planning guides to help you.

Some congregations remember Francis of Assisi on the first Sunday in October with a blessing of animals. This is often an outdoor service, providing a unique opportunity to think about what kind of singing works well outside. It’s a great time for simpler songs, perhaps led by children: some enjoy “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” or “If I Were a Butterfly.” Some may prefer “All Things Bright and Beautiful” or “For the beauty of the earth” (ELW 879). Whatever you choose, it’s the perfect day for honoring the gifts of God’s creation in a special way.

It is tempting to load up the fall with all kinds of additional observances commonly observed in other Christian denominations: World Communion Sunday and Children’s Sabbath are popular. Instead of making every Sunday a festival day, let the lectionary speak for itself. Celebrate holy communion every week, and take care to honor the gifts of children in some way every Sunday.

The last Sunday in October is observed as Reformation Day in most Lutheran congregations. Using the readings appointed for Reformation Day (October 31) interrupts the sequential nature of the time after Pentecost, and this year means missing a beloved story: the meeting of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Lectionary 31). Consider sticking with the weekly series while finding ways to associate the themes in these readings with the continuing reform of the church. Sing a mix of Reformation hymns and songs that relate specifically to the Lectionary 31 readings. Your youngest singers might especially enjoy singing “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man.” We are all part of God’s family!

Worship Space

While you may not have more than one set of green paraments, consider how you might use other fabrics, lights, or decorations to change the color and mood of the worship space. The weather is getting cooler, and in many places in the northern hemisphere leaves are changing colors. Can you add in some deep greens, rich oranges and yellows, and earthy browns to the colors you use in worship to indicate the change in season while still being in the time after Pentecost?

The lectionary provides images of feasting during September and October. If you do not already practice this, you might consider collecting nonperishables during the offering and bringing them to the table. Perhaps you could gather canned goods on or around the table until Thanksgiving so the assembly can see the collection of food growing in abundance and spilling into the chancel area or even into the assembly. These stories of feasting can serve as a reminder that we can provide feasts for people who do not have the resources they need and that we are called by God to provide for them.

Autumn is a time when people in the northern hemisphere are ready to cool off after warm summers. Baptismal themes can be found in many of the readings, but two Sundays provide especially clear examples: from Hades, the rich man asks Lazarus for water to cool his tongue (Lectionary 26), and Naaman washes away his leprosy in the Jordan (Lectionary 28). How might you make your baptismal font and its cool, life-giving waters especially prominent during this time? If your font is large, how could you entice and encourage more people to play with the water before, during, and after worship as they remember their baptism?

Another rich image in the lectionary during this time is that of difference, and Jesus as the bridge between differences. Jesus elevates the lowly, casts down the rich, and levels the playing field for everyone. How might this image of bridge-building show up in your worship space? What are the parts of worship that are bridges? The gathering rite is a bridge from the world into worship and the gathered assembly. The hymn of the day and credal profession of faith serve to bridge word and meal. The sending rite is a bridge back into the world. What might you do artistically to illuminate these bridges? Worshipers at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco walk from one room, where they hear the word, to another room, where they celebrate the meal, traveling across a threshold. Can you use images, fabrics, or signs to evoke the feeling of bridges and crossing from one place to another?

Finally, this period after Pentecost culminates with Reformation Sunday. You might consider bringing some old doors into the church and inviting people to graffiti onto them things that need reforming (wide-tip permanent markers would work well). One door might collect reforms for the self; one, reforms for the church; and one, reforms for the world. Encourage people to write before, during, or after the service, and then share the completed graffitied doors on your social media channels.

Seasonal Checklist

  • If you are returning to a school-year worship and education schedule, update websites, social media, newspaper listings, voicemail messages, outdoor signs, and internal publications such as a newsletter.
  • Some congregations present Bibles to young readers at the start of Sunday school. If that is part of your tradition, or one you would like to start, make sure Bibles are ordered, delivered, and inscribed, and that parents and baptismal sponsors have been notified and invited. A blessing to accompany a presentation of Bibles is available in Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Edition (p. 594).
  • If you intend to have a pet blessing on or near October 4, get the word out now. This is an ideal opportunity for community outreach. See a form for blessing animals on pages 253–254. Consider incorporating prayers from the “Creation, the Earth” section of All Creation Sings (pp. 47–48).
  • Begin asking for “harvest” contributions to enliven the worship space, interior gathering spaces, and exterior areas. Cornstalks, pumpkins and squash, fall flowers, and produce that has been canned can all be gathered during September for a colorful autumnal display.
  • Begin planning for Advent if you have not started already.

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From sundaysandseasons.com.

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