Seasonal

Preparing for Summer (Year C)

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

Preaching

For many in the northern hemisphere summer is a season of vacation. Warm weather and abundant growth make for an ideal time to experience the great outdoors. School breaks and relaxed work schedules offer opportunities to visit family and friends, and to host guests at home. Some travel farther afield, seeking adventures abroad. The lectionary texts this summer offer preachers a rich variety of themes related to these experiences.

Hospitality and hosting are major themes throughout the summer lectionary. Jesus sends the disciples out to preach the gospel, instructing them to be guests in the homes of others (Lectionary 14). Abram and Sarai host strangers who prove to be angels; that theme is repeated in Hebrews later in the season (Lectionary 16 and 22). Martha works to host Jesus and his disciples, complaining that her sister Mary doesn’t do her share (Lectionary 16). Preachers can use these texts and others to explore the power dynamics inherent in offering and receiving hospitality. What can it mean that God chooses to act in the role of guest and calls on believers to do the same? Do our churches anticipate the visits of angels in disguise? How do we ensure that everyone, guest and host alike, has access to “the better part” (Luke 10:42)?

Those who travel abroad or visit from afar may be interested in how the lectionary texts this summer define insiders and outsiders. Numerous gospel readings this season feature healing miracles: the Gerasene demoniac and the bent-over woman are two (Lectionary 12 and 21). When Jesus tries to restore healed people to their communities, his work is often resisted. Nevertheless, in Galatians and Colossians Paul proclaims that there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised nor uncircumcised, slave nor free, male nor female (Lectionary 12 and 18). Abraham even bargains for the salvation of the communities of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose primary sin is not one of sexual deviance but a lack of hospitality (Lectionary 17; see also Ezek. 16:48-50). The seminal question “Who is my neighbor?” is answered by the parable of the good Samaritan in a surprising way (Lectionary 15).

The preacher might consider where we as Christian people succeed in embracing Jesus’ broad definition of neighbor and where we still fall short. Thinking about people of different abilities, social locations, ethnic origins, sexual orientations, and gender identities, the community can wonder about what it means to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). What work might our communities need to do to be able to see each person as neighbor? Do our worship practices, table fellowship, and neighborhood involvement build up barriers or tear them down? When breakdowns in community occur, are there pathways to forgiveness and restoration? Acknowledging the realities of our sinful world, what challenges might we not be able to overcome this side of heaven?

Finally, as farms and gardens produce their bounty, as field and forest verdantly grow, the preacher can embrace Paul’s vision, “New creation is everything!” (Gal. 6:15, Lectionary 14). Reflecting nature’s abundance, the believer too can use the summer to grow and change. Our new life in Christ produces fruit in abundance all year long!

Intercessory Prayer

Summer can be a time for playfulness, even in prayer. One way you can play is to experiment with the manifold ways we can imagine God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; Mother, Friend, Comforter; and others. As you do so, remember that the observance of Father’s Day is at hand. As you pray for fathers, leave space for gratitude for godly and present fathers, as well as for lament for the opposite. It is also playful to pray about upcoming vacations, trips to the cabin, swimming, boating, hunting, and fishing. Let us revel in God’s beauteous creation!

Summer is a time when we lean deeply into God’s work of justice in the ELCA and other church bodies. Prayer concerns for this season may revolve around George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, and the ensuing Black Lives Matter uprising; the June 12 remembrances of Anne Frank, Medgar Evers, Nelson Mandela, Richard and Mildred Loving, and the many LGBT people and their allies who died in the Pulse nightclub massacre. On June 17 we commemorate the Emanuel Nine, killed in 2015 by a son of the ELCA, Dylann Roof.

During this season, may our prayers encourage lament, repentance, and changed behavior that leads to the active desire to be allies to those who are in the righteous struggle against the sins of racism, homophobia, or discrimination. You may consider the role of silence to express lament and grief. You may investigate holding a “soaking service,” where people are invited to sit, pray, and cry over the sinfulness and brokenness of our world. You may consider uplifting the importance of “praying with our feet” as we actively address the systemic changes needed to remake our world anew in the image of love. A form for lamenting racism is presented in All Creation Sings (pp. 62–63) and reproduced in the seasonal rites section in this volume (p. 203).

As we pray through the summer, not only do we pray for farmers and their crops; we also pray for God’s people to love justice, hate oppression, and have a zeal for truth, and that we may stand with all who are victimized, ostracized, overlooked, or thrown away by society. Just as farmers are currently planting and tending crops, we tarry in prayer asking God to plant and cultivate the seeds of faithfulness in each of our hearts. You may encourage parishioners to pray Hebrews 11:1 (Lectionary 19) and to write down those things they are hoping for but do not yet see. These prayers could be posted or displayed as the hopes of God’s people in this season.

Finally, our liturgical readings invite us to pray for the fruit of the spirit (Lectionary 13), that we might recognize ourselves as those who are sent out by God to be the hands, feet, and smile of Jesus in a world that so desperately needs him. Let us pray for Christians to be good stewards of their time, talents, and treasure, to discover their unique vocations, to take up the holy work of being peacemakers, and to welcome all to the hungry feast, with no exceptions. How can our prayers reflect our desire to be gracious hosts to our beloved communities? We are urged to give God thanks for God’s salvific work in the world as we declare and proclaim God’s grace and mercy through our prayers and petition God to make of us a people who feed, forgive, help, and heal all of our neighbors, everywhere.

Assembly Song

The long, warm days and relaxed pace of summer provide time to unwind, to debrief the Lenten and Easter seasons just finished, to file and put away materials used during the program year, and to begin planning for the next season. A relaxed, simpler, perhaps shorter structure to the liturgy is appropriate as well. Allow the essential elements of the liturgy to stand alone, while some of the “fancier” additions take a vacation. (See “Pattern for Worship” on pages 91–93 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship for guidance on what is essential.) During this season you might consider beginning with just a single gathering song before moving on immediately with the prayer of the day and the readings. Perhaps the psalm is sung to one of the simple chant tones found in our worship book, rather than a more involved setting with cantor or choir and a refrain. Perhaps your presiding minister will opt to pray the proper preface to the great thanksgiving in a speaking voice rather than chant. Do note that the full course of three readings (plus the appointed psalm) are always read! The images presented in all of the readings work in tandem, commenting upon, interweaving with, and enriching the witness of the others. They are not intended to stand or speak alone.

With choirs and other musical ensembles likely to be on hiatus, what other musical resources are available? Young musicians may have learned selections for spring solo and ensemble competitions that are still fresh. Or maybe they are taking private lessons during the summer. Take advantage of their talents and teach them a hymn or two while they are with you! Your congregation will be enlivened by their presence. Maybe it’s also time to train a new cantor or two. They may feel more comfortable learning and trying out a new skill during a time when the assembly may be smaller and perhaps more relaxed or casual.

Stick mostly with music your assembly already knows and sings well during the summer, and do not teach much new material. Do try to schedule songs that respond to or reflect upon each Sunday’s themes in the readings, rather than simply choosing random favorites. It is important to be aware of exactly what your assembly does sing well. If you’re not sure, ask around. Ask people you can trust, and take note that what they can sing well is not always the same as what they say they like best. One fun way to take the pulse of your most enthusiastic singers is to hold a hymn-singing session or two where people are invited to call out the number of any hymn they would like to sing. This can be done for ten to fifteen minutes as the “prelude” to a service or, if more time is desired, can be scheduled separately.

Many congregations schedule outdoor services during the summer. Again, simplicity is a virtue, and no elaborate setup is necessary. Keep the focus on assembly song, rendered acoustically. If your congregation has more than one service each Sunday, you might encourage simplicity by holding an early service indoors and a later service outdoors, keeping the music and liturgy the same for both. Accompaniment can be as basic as a single guitar with a confident song leader or an old acoustic piano wheeled out to the patio. Enjoy singing together as a family, plain and simple.

Worship Space

The time after Pentecost is a good time to make sure your worship space has a working air conditioner, extra hand fans, or a cooler full of popsicles (unless you happen to be in a colder climate). Our worship spaces should exude hospitality, so make sure you have whatever you need to ensure that worshipers are comfortable during the hot summer months. While climates vary in the early summer from already hot in the south to still cool in the north, the beginning of this season can be marked by growth: plants are starting to grow or to bear fruit, graduations from schools and universities mark growth into a new phase in life, and the color of this time—green—can grow in our churches. One thing to think about is how long the season is, so if you have the resources, start out with some light green paraments or other decorations and have them grow in vibrancy throughout the summer. Of course, it may not be practical or possible to own multiple sets of paraments, but think of other ways to add growth in green color to your worship space. Color-changing LED flood lights are increasingly inexpensive and widely available online and allow you to change the light to almost any color imaginable. You may have spaces you could light up with different colors. Or you might be able to project an image that “grows” each week, perhaps of vegetation. Or maybe projected images begin by depicting ministries within the congregation, then “grow” to depict the wider outside community, and then grow again to suggest how the church can help the wider community grow even as the church itself grows.

The lectionary during this summer period finds Jesus on journeys. Perhaps we can use the summer to invite our congregations into a journey with Jesus. What would it look like if our assembly journeyed while worshiping? Could the assembly begin worship at the font and then move to seats, then move to the table together for the meal? Maybe the assembly could hear the word in one place and share the meal in another or begin outdoors and move indoors. Another journey to think about is the one from our church buildings out into the world. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, so during this summer season worshipers could be encouraged to take pictures of things and places in the neighborhood we are called to love. Pictures could be printed and displayed or projected around the exit doors of the building. You might also consider superimposing #loveyourneighbor or something similar onto each image as a reminder of Jesus’ call to his followers as they leave the building and enter into their daily lives.

The summer lectionary also points us to seeing that, in Jesus, all are welcome without exception. If you have movable seating, consider placing the table in the center of the room and arranging your seating in a circle around the table. If you have fixed seating, perhaps for a time you could worship in a fellowship hall or outdoors where a circle could be created. The symbol of a circle having no end and no beginning can be particularly poignant when members of the assembly hear about the inclusivity of Jesus in these readings. Consider other ways during the summer to communicate that all are welcome; utilize the time to take stock of your worship space and change things that need changing. If you were a first-time visitor, would you feel welcome?

Seasonal Checklist

  • If summer worship and education schedules change, update websites, social media, newspaper listings, voicemail messages, outdoor signs, and internal publications such as a newsletter.
  • Schedule and plan commissioning services for any special ministries organized by the congregation (vacation Bible school, mission trips, church camps). Use Blessing and Sending for Mission (Occasional Services for the Assembly, pp. 159–160) on the Sunday prior to departure. Consider inviting participants to assist with worship leadership upon completion of their program.
  • Use Farewell and Godspeed (ELW, p. 75) when people leave the congregation to move to a new community or to bid farewell to graduates leaving for college, other study, or other opportunities.
  • Encourage people to worship with a local congregation while traveling. Publicize the “Find a Congregation” tool at elca.org so travelers can research churches in the places they are visiting.
  • If you plan to use a different worship space or to rearrange your existing space, find volunteers to help with moving furniture and preparing the visual environment. Consult with musicians, ushers, and altar guild members about the practical needs of a worship space.
  • Recruit volunteers for any special ministries you may be starting this summer or fall—freshly baked communion bread, community garden, food drive, and so on.vFind musicians to serve as cantors or to play instruments if your regular music leaders will be taking a break over the summer.
  • If you intend to offer a back-to-school blessing or blessing of workers on Labor/Labour Day weekend, begin planning and advertising now.
  • Make plans for “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday if your congregation plans to participate. This annual day of service is generally scheduled for a Sunday in early September (check elca.org for the 2022 date and planning resources). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day.

_________________________________________________________________________

From sundaysandseasons.com.

Copyright © 2022 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.

Click here to see our website's terms of service.