Preparing for Summer (Year A)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2023, Year A, copyright © 2022 Augsburg Fortress.


Preaching during the summer—when things tend to slow down in church life—can truly be as interesting and life-giving as it is during the fall. One interesting way to explore this possibility is to take advantage of series or thematic preaching, rather than preaching one-off messages. Carrying homiletical themes over a series of weeks not only keeps things interesting but also fosters growth in both preacher and congregation. Even if a preacher opts not to preach a thematic series, these ideas may help germinate sermonic seeds.

The tendency to slow things down during the summer can be balanced with the texts in year A, which suggest, to the contrary, that we “ramp things up,” most notably in the areas of discipleship and thinking through Jesus’ identity. Just who is this Jesus whom we proclaim? Who is this incarnate Word who manifests in our preached words?


As God in Christ acts in and among us, how do we become and remain disciples? Year A gospel texts in these early months after Pentecost invite us to examine discipleship because Jesus himself centers the life of discipleship.

Jesus is calling the disciples to share good news of the coming reign of God—although this news may not have been considered “good” for all who heard! Jesus teaches us much about discipleship by how he responds to questions about who he spends time with (Lectionary 10). Jesus calls, claims, and sends. This sending is ongoing: discipleship ultimately necessitates a continual and arduous sending, accompanied by success, failure, and the need to innovate (Lectionary 11, 18).

We also learn that discipleship has a cost: it sometimes results in unexpected conflict and division (Lectionary 11, 12). We learn the sheer weight of what it means to “accept” the work of a disciple. This work is a serious matter, both for the disciple and for those to whom the disciple is sent (Lectionary 13). Discipleship is service to the least (Lectionary 13), and the banner of Christ’s discipleship is taken up by the least likely candidates (Lectionary 10, 19, 20, 21). When God calls us to innovate in the ordinary, we do so as exemplified in these texts.

Rethinking Jesus

The gospel texts declare Jesus as Messiah, but tension always surrounds the matter of who others want Jesus to be versus who he actually is. Connections to today’s social, political, and cultural contexts should not be difficult to imagine from here: Jesus causes us to ever bear in mind our traditions, the people with whom we associate, what it means to be grace-filled but prophetic, and the notion that if Jesus dealt with race (Lectionary 20), so should we. Homiletical inquiries on the theme of rethinking Jesus may include:

  • How does Jesus break (religious) molds? (Lectionary 11)
  • Whom does Jesus choose as a part of his circle of followers and surrounding ministry, contrary to whom we think Jesus should choose? (Lectionary 10, 12)
  • Jesus as one for whom care means saying the gracious things, but also the hard things. (Lectionary 14)
  • The “offensive” Jesus (Canaanite woman, “harsh sayings”); issues surrounding race and belonging. (Lectionary20)


Parables are often preached in a way that reveals “hidden meanings,” although more recent homiletical practice also allows for some leeway in treating the passage outside of these traditional parabolic parameters. The parables presented in Matthew 13 (Lectionary 15–17) can be preached thematically as “parables,” or could be examined through this lens: What is the out-reaching discipleship strategy at play here?

Intercessory Prayer

Summer brings with it a change of weather and of pace. Life both slows down and somehow simultaneously speeds up. School is out for most students, while those still in school may move into a slower-paced season of classes. Meanwhile, many families begin a full schedule of vacations, camps, community activities, and other ways to keep children busy and engaged. For those not in affluent or well-connected families, summer may be a time when the days seem endless, boredom grows, and a deep longing for connection and friendships is more apparent. Summer is a time when some people are more connected to family and friends far away, while others become more isolated without the connections of school and community.

The lectionary readings for summer are about Christian discipleship. A congregational focus on discipleship may reveal deep connections within the congregation and, simultaneously, deep isolation of groups and individuals—in other words, matters of who is in and who is out. This focus on discipleship turns outward as well: How is the community represented and cared for in the congregation, and who is unknown or excluded? Invite the congregation into a time of deep listening and careful observation, becoming more aware of how the church is serving both its members and the larger community. As an intercessory prayer practice, invite worshipers to connect with someone outside of their household as a prayer partner. Open the church space once or twice a week for an extended period for prayer partners to meet, get to know one another, and pray with and for each other, the neighborhood, and the wider community.

Our senses become more tantalized during the summer. Flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, children are playing outside, the sun is shining—all engaging our senses with the changing world around us. Practice praying with your senses, perhaps focusing on each sense for two or three weeks. Announce verbally, in the worship folder, and on social media which sense you’re practicing praying with each week. Invite people to share what they discover. Pair senses with the summer lectionary readings:

  • Holy Trinity and Lectionary 10: Touch. Emphasize baptism. Invite worshipers to give thanks for baptism while washing their hands, bathing, or showering.
  • Lectionary 11–12: Sight. Focus on the ways in which Jesus saw people and offered them compassion. Pray for the people you see/encounter this week, seeing/encountering them through the eyes of Jesus.
  • Lectionary 13–15: Taste. Focus on the refreshment Jesus brings through living water. Look for ways you can refresh others’ lives, offering a “cup of cold water” in welcome. Pray for the people who grow and harvest your food.
  • Lectionary 16–18: Smell. Think about the wheat and weeds growing together, the yeast mixed in with the flour, and the bread of communion. Invite the congregation to pray for those they consider “weeds,” people they avoid or overlook. Bring incense, oils, and fresh bread into the worship space. Imagine the journey each took to get to you, and pray for the people and environments that produced them.
  • Lectionary 19–21: Hearing. Invite the congregation to listen for God’s voice. Perhaps it is heard in the “sound of sheer silence,” in their hearts, or in Jesus’ admonition, “Do not be afraid.”

Assembly Song

Summer can be a time for making connections. We can reconnect with ourselves, taking time to breathe deeply, experience stillness, and invite renewal. We use the slower pace of summer days to reconnect with our families. Perhaps we find energy to play with our children or gather with extended family to catch up and to remember our ancestors. During this season of growth, we connect with creation, nurturing the green things that grow on the earth, tending them, quenching their thirst as God’s word refreshes our own weary souls.

Summer is also a time of restoration and reconciliation. Even as we enjoy rest, we are called to labor in service to those who are hungry, who are homeless, and who cry for justice and mercy. “What does the Lord require of you?” (ACS 1057) would make a fitting opening this season of living into our baptisms, as we practice walking humbly, seeking justice, and loving kindness. We see God’s abundant gifts around us in gardens and on farms, reminding us that there is plenty for everyone. “Build a longer table” (ACS 1062) inspires us to expand our welcome and make room for all.

In many communities, people use the summer months to travel, and in-person attendance at church services may be lower than during other parts of the year. In this case, the summer might not be the best time to introduce a new liturgy. Consider singing a very familiar and well-loved setting, or Holy Communion Setting Ten in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, which uses hymns in place of liturgical songs. Other hymns could also be substitutes. In some, the language almost exactly matches that of the liturgical songs (“Kyrie,” “Glory to God,” “Holy, holy, holy,” and “Lamb of God”). Others are strong approximate paraphrases, making them a good fit textually and thematically for creative and enriching worship. If your assembly is becoming familiar with All Creation Sings, they may enjoy “Kyrie eleison/Haitian Kyrie” (ACS 1073), “Glory to God/Gloria a Dios” (ACS 911), “Holy, holy, holy/Santo, santo, santo” (ACS 1089), and “Lamb of God most holy/Santo Cordero” (ACS 932).

While it can be difficult to learn a whole new liturgy, the summer can be a good time to try something else new, like a sung confession, blessing, or dismissal. “Let your peace rain upon us/Yarabba ssalami” (ACS 989) could be sung as part of the confession. Short, repetitive, or call-and-response songs would work best for a sung dismissal, like “May God bless us/Bwana awabariki” (ACS 986). Singing parts of the liturgy that we normally speak can add new life to these texts and help us commit them to memory. Both Evangelical Lutheran Worship and All Creation Sings have a “Confession, Forgiveness” and a “Sending” section with appropriate texts for these parts of the service.

A pick-up choir can energize congregational singing if your choir does not meet regularly during the summer. The choir’s part should be something that does not require much rehearsal time, like adding a descant or a choral stanza to a familiar hymn. Ideally, they could gather for a brief rehearsal just before the service so that anyone who is at church that day can participate. The choir could also sing in unison to introduce a new hymn—helpful any time of the year but particularly during the summer when attendance might be lower. Encourage the children in your congregation to sing with the adults here. Summer is a wonderful time for intergenerational music-making.

Worship Space

Your worship space is a visual announcement of your most deeply held values and beliefs. When we enter any space, it gives us an intangible or a bodily feeling that can invoke awe, playfulness, solemnity, or delight. Some questions to ponder as you think about the physical space in which all are invited to worship during the time after Pentecost: What is being honored and held as sacred? Who is uplifted and valued? Who is missing? What narrative are we embracing as evidenced by the art we choose and the arrangements of our spaces? How can we surprise and delight ourselves by ensuring the presence of images or representations of various ethnicities, cultures, physical abilities, and identities in our worship spaces? How can we remain aware of the open spaces for gathering, for reflecting, for moving about, as well as the “negative shapes”—pathways, wide or narrow, that are created by the placement of furniture, partitions, or art pieces? These in-between spaces can create a sense of jovial welcome or quiet solemnity.

As summer brings for some the promise of rest—a break from the usual routine, a lightness of being—for others summer is the season of long workdays, unrelenting heat, exhaustion, weariness. With rising temperatures due to global climate change and the heat of racial injustice historically erupting into uprisings in the summer, how might we visually call to mind the cries for justice—for migrant farm workers, for racial equity—within our worship spaces? The lectionary includes the persistent cries for equality of care and attention by the Canaanite woman (Lectionary 20) just as marginalized communities today call for long-awaited justice.

In June, three distinct days that relate to our just or right relationships with one another fall within a nine-day period: Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and the ELCA’s commemoration of the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine—at the same general time as the readings tell of the miracles of a girl raised from the dead and a woman healed of a hemorrhage (Lectionary 10). What miracles of healing for today might the art of your worship space help everyone present to envision? Some ideas to consider for June 11 and 18 (or the entire month of June):

  • Nine open Bibles invoking the faithfulness of nine precious souls—lost to a shooter who was raised and confirmed within our own denomination—and offering an opportunity for lament, reflection, and a commitment to taking action to dismantle white supremacy.
  • Nine strands of fabric, perhaps in different colors, hanging from a banner and gently braided together with one strand of gold to remind us of the imago Dei, the image of God, within each of the martyrs whom we honor.
  • Sidewalk chalk made available to all ages to write words or symbols of welcome on any pavement outside (or that is part of) your meeting space. Children and “non-artists” can participate along with more experienced artists. Might the words be written within the shape of a river that leads into or out of the worship space? This could be accompanied by a written or spoken explanation of the fleeting, temporary nature of the colorful chalk art (soon to be washed away by the rain or time) and the ways in which this temporality may free us to imagine shapes and relationships—in chalk and in life—that closely mimic the perfect justice and love exemplified by the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity.

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. 159–60) 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 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.
  • Find musicians to serve as cantors or to play instruments if your regular music leaders will be taking a break.
  • 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 for the 2023 date and planning resources). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day.



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