Seasonal

Preparing for Summer (Year B)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons: Year B 2021, copyright © 2020 Augsburg Fortress.

Preaching

Trinity Sunday is the great hinge between the two halves of the liturgical year: the incarnation of Christ and our response of discipleship. Though we are saved by grace, discipleship calls us to make a decision for Jesus. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua booms to the migrants of Israel who are on the threshold of a new life (Josh. 24:15; Lectionary 21). Will you serve the Lord, or will you serve something or someone else? Biblical binaries call us to rigorous self-examination through clarifying images of trust and faith.

John’s call to a higher kingdom begins the gospel cycle where we are called to be born of the Spirit and not of the flesh (Holy Trinity). Mark then fleshes out the kingdom, beginning with his parable of binding the strong man’s household (June 6, Lectionary 10). God’s new household is centered not on flesh relations, but on spiritual ones. Mark continues with the call to trust the word of God, smaller than seed, but which grows to reap large harvests (June 13, Lectionary 11). Jesus rebukes the sea and calls for peace, then turns to ask: Do you have faith, or not? (June 20, Lectionary 12). Mark’s disciples are amazed at Jesus’ healing powers, but Jesus strictly orders them not to say a word. They are star-struck, but have no faith (June 27, Lectionary 13).

On July 4 (Lectionary 14), Jesus is the unwelcome hometown prophet, an experience paralleled by the traveling disciples who must shake the dust off their feet. In the gruesome execution of John the Baptist (July 11, Lectionary 15), we get a rare glimpse of Herod’s inner turmoil, which cannot overcome his outer destructive oaths. Discipleship, however, also calls us to rest in faith even as Jesus continues to heal and feed the crowds (July 18, Lectionary 16). So Mark sets us up for John’s five weeks in the wilderness with Jesus still feeding the hungry crowds, but also calling us to work for the food that does not perish (Lectionary 17–21). Mark concludes our summer of self-examination, questioning whether we value human tradition more than God’s ancient commandments (August 29, Lectionary 22).

Binary choices also abound in our first readings, leading to these questions: Will we see beyond our hopes for a righteous ruler so we can gaze upon the Lord of hosts? Can we be trusted with the knowledge of both good and evil? Can a small twig defy logic and grow into a large tree? Will we despair or patiently hope in the midst of tragedy? Are we a nation of rebels who refuse to listen to God? Will God’s justice lay desolate the world’s high places? Who are the prophets who rebuke shepherds that divide and scatter? Who are the Elishas who do not faint but trust God to feed the hungry masses? Can we trust in what God provides for us and not be tempted by the food of empire? Can we take comfort that even a great prophet is tempted in the wilderness to give up and squander his freedom? How does Wisdom’s feast help us grow up and walk in the way of insight? Will we trust the goodness of God’s commands?

Most of summer’s second readings come from Paul’s letters, beginning with the baptismal “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15, Trinity Sunday). Paul assures us that “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, Lectionary 10). It’s hidden faith, not outward appearances, that gives life (Lectionary 11), and though we have sorrow, we can also rejoice (Lectionary 12). This leads us to give away our abundance to the needy (Lectionary 13) and, on the Fourth of July, boast not in our strength but in our weakness, which glorifies the indwelling Christ (Lectionary 14). We then begin our seven-week journey through Ephesians (Lectionary 15–21), beginning with a vision of the risen Christ, in whom God gathers all things. Ephesians has a catechetical style, making it suitable for an in-depth summer Bible study or as the primary reading for a midweek liturgy. (During this time, one could observe Mary, Mother of Our Lord, on August 15. There will still be much of John’s bread of life discourse and Ephesians to chew on before and after.) Like the first wind of fall, there is an abrupt shift to James on the last Sunday of the summer (Lectionary 22). Lest we get lost in Ephesians’ beautiful rhetoric, plain-speaking James points us toward a pure religion that cares for widows and orphans. After a long summer of discipleship, there is much work to do!

Intercessory Prayer

When we arrive at the time after Pentecost, the resurrection has shattered our conceptions of what is possible, the Holy Spirit has brought unimaginable abilities into the church (speaking many languages!), and by celebrating the holy Trinity we begin a long season of learning how to be followers of Christ Jesus.

The readings remind us of the power of God at work in the world and the need humans have for God’s steadfast love. Among the many images, they give us Nicodemus being born again, Adam and Eve bringing down curses from God for disobedience, Jesus defining the church as much larger than his tribe, the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus stilling the storm, his healing and forgiving, God calling a prophet, Jesus sending out disciples, John the Baptist’s murder, Amos’s plumb line, Jesus teaching and feeding, and finally Jesus as the true bread, bread of life, living bread. A command at the end of the summer admonishes us to obey God’s laws and not human tradition.

The trajectory of images is a means by which to locate the point or theme of this season. The readings are a rehearsal of our lives as God’s people. They jump through time, settle on one character after another, remind us of our disobedient origins and our ignorance of the meaning of God’s word. We are creatures wholly dependent on God for everything. No wonder we come to prayer, needing to intercede for creation itself, all creatures, friends and strangers; for those who are ill, imprisoned, despised and shunned, left out; and for ourselves.

Some of the same questions a preacher asks when constructing a sermon can be used to construct the intercessions: In each reading, what shows us our need for God? (In other words, how do human beings fail?) What shows us God’s continual aid, comfort, and guidance? Ask how Jesus is present in the readings. These questions help unearth assumptions about who God is and who we are.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid in the intercessions:

  •  using the word “if” in terms of God’s ability to act for good; this can come through to listeners as if God “might” be able to do something when, in fact, “nothing [is] impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
  •  speaking as if the people in the assembly are only those who have plenty; forgetting that the assembly may also include people who are poor or struggling.
  •  speaking as if all the people present are adults; children are also worshipers and have their own thanks to give and their own needs for God and God’s people to address.
  •  referring to the parts of creation as “resources,” which suggests that they—trees, water, plants—were created only for human beings to exploit; we don’t care for “resources,” but for the air and specific bodies of water, soil, amoebas, and elephants.
  •  referring to concern for the well-being of “trees” rather than oaks and elms, cedars and junipers; likewise, name not “animals” but specific creatures like eagles, foxes, and raccoons.
  •  focusing on one arena of current concern to the neglect of others; we need to pray for towns as well as nations, those who are justly and unjustly treated, our friends and our enemies.
  •  using vague and “churchy” words such as grace, claim, faithful, heaven, newness of life, calling, and others that long-time Christians may find comfortable but that may be unclear or ambiguous to people who have recently begun to participate in worship.

Assembly Song

Summer months bring changes in worship attendance. Some communities experience lower numbers during the summertime, while others experience an uptick. Know your patterns, and plan for the people you might expect. If smaller numbers make your space feel uncomfortably empty, think of ways you might encourage worshipers to sit closer together to maximize assembly singing. A good rule of thumb is that if you sit no farther than five feet away from the next person you can hear them sing, and they can hear you, and you encourage one another. If attendance is higher in the summer months, ensure that all have ready access to hymnals and printed worship aids. Coach ushers and regular attendees to assist latecomers in finding a seat when your room looks uncomfortably full.

If your congregation does not have a choir during the summer months, consider adding a pick-up choir that rehearses prior to the worship service. This choir may or may not share an anthem, but could provide solid leadership for psalms and assembly song, and could be instrumental in helping teach any new music during worship. Summer choir wouldn’t need to be offered every week. Be sure to publicize the invitation broadly, both inside and outside the congregation. It could also be a good and fun way not only to recruit future choir members but also to engage guests who worship with you in the summer months.

Some musicians plan vacations during the summer. This provides an opportunity to be creative in worship planning. Is there a young musician learning piano or another instrument who might be a capable substitute? With coaching and encouragement, this might be a great first experience leading song and serving as primary musician for a worship service. Recruit early, and plan to spend ample time with this person so they have confidence in their ability and a good experience leading. Another idea is to lead singing unaccompanied. Check out the website Music that Makes Community for a set of resources and song suggestions. Singing in Community: Paperless Music for Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2017) is a great collection of short pieces intended to be taught orally that provide great options for worship planners.

Decide what sort of liturgical music might be best during the summer months. Is this the time to learn a new setting? Is this a good time to return to something more familiar? If you haven’t used ELW Setting Ten in a while, consider it because each portion is based on a familiar hymn tune. Or consider creating your own setting using hymns for each portion. When you find something that works well, celebrate! If something doesn’t work as well, feel free to adapt.

Recurring themes in the summer readings relate to planting, growing, feeding, healing. In agricultural areas, harvest can occur in the summer months. Consider hymns and songs that relate to these themes. For example, “For the fruit of all creation” (ELW 679) makes a great offering song.

Some congregations introduce a “hymn of the month,” and others repeat the same sending song for a season. Repeating something weekly helps us learn it really well, and perhaps even memorize the text. How might a “theme hymn” emphasize points from a sermon series? Would this work in your setting as a summertime practice?

August 15 is the day of Mary, Mother of Our Lord. In consultation with other worship planners, might you sing one of the settings of the Magnificat this day? Perhaps this day might even include one or two Christmas hymns as a way of breaking up the summer heat!

Worship Space

Summer often marks a distinct shift in the ministry patterns of churches as children are out of school and many people may be out of town or, on the other hand, visiting in the area. Will your congregation grow or shrink? Instead of seeing these changes as limitations, how might the rhythm of life in the summer present opportunities for you to gather in ways that would not be possible at other times of the year? If you have the ability to rearrange your seats, do so in a way that brings people closer together so a sense of community is maintained during the summer months.

The lectionary readings for summer begin with a number of natural images, like the garden of Eden, Ezekiel’s cedar, and the mustard seed parable. The lectionary continues in the Gospel of Mark to depict the way Jesus brings healing and life while breaking the barriers that divide people from each other and from God. These themes could be visually represented in a way that embraces the already/not yet nature of the kingdom of God. For instance, if you have access to fallen tree branches, you could create a natural display of dead branches juxtaposed with fresh flowers or greenery to show God’s kingdom breaking through. The flowers could be rotated throughout the summer, depending on what is seasonal in your region. Does your church have a garden or a gardener in its midst who would be energized by providing flowers for the worship space week by week?

The gospel readings for the second half of the summer dive into John 6 and Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life. These passages are rife with imagery that can be brought into the worship space. Do you have the ability to bake bread in your church so that the smell of bread could waft through the worship space? Might you be able to display or use breads that are important to your local community? If your area cultivates a particular grain, consider displaying that local crop as a backdrop for worship. Stalks of wheat or barley or any local grain would make a beautiful decoration for a communion table. Baskets of grain may be placed in the worship space where people can see and touch the seeds. Encourage children and youth to draw pictures or create art of what “bread of life” means to them. Display their art in a prominent place where the whole community can see it.

The festival of Mary, Mother of Our Lord falls on a Sunday this year (August 15). Although many churches celebrate mothers in May, the festival commemorating Mary might bring a new perspective to the gift of mothering. Hang portraits of mothers (both spiritual and familial) in or around your worship space. Make use of images of Mary in whatever media you have available to you.

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 elca.org so that travelers can research churches in the places they are visiting.
  •  If you are planning 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, etc.
  •  Find 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 2021 date and planning resources). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day.

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From sundaysandseasons.com.

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