Seasonal

Preparing for Autumn (Year C)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2019, Year C, copyright © 2018 Augsburg Fortress.

Compassion and concern set the stage for the life of Jesus’ disciples, but how compassion and concern look in the life of a Christian community is not always easy to discern. Paying attention for even one day will reveal that the needs of the world can often overwhelm the capacity and resources of any Christian community, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Over time, being overwhelmed has the potential to calcify a Christian community, hardening them to the possibility of recognizing Christ in neighbors and strangers (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

Renewed Compassion and Concern
Although autumn starts with a bang—the pews are often fuller, the singing is more robust, faith formation programs are up and running—fatigue likely sets in between September and October. Once refreshed by summer, the intensity of fall settles in and it can seem overwhelming. It’s not just what’s happening at church; it’s also what’s happening everywhere else. Practices, meetings, and work and family commitments crowd in around people, causing weariness. If you listen long enough, is it possible to hear this in the worshiping assembly as the robust singing in September becomes softer, more subdued, in October?

Do the disciples in Luke’s gospel experience a similar fatigue? You can’t necessarily hear it in the disciples’ voices; in several of the gospel readings for this season, the voices of Jesus’ disciples are almost entirely silent. Are they out of breath? In one instance in which we hear a brief word from the disciples, their engagement with Jesus sounds frazzled, fatigued. And if they are fatigued, then no doubt they are also anxious and afraid. As the gospel readings reveal, discipleship is a contact sport—with Jesus and with the world, all the while in the presence of the promised Spirit—and it’s not an easy one at that. The promise that energizes discipleship is not its ease, yet in all things, Jesus never leaves them. Following Jesus is often difficult because of where Jesus leads or what Jesus asks the disciples to do, or because the picture the disciples had of what was supposed to happen is not the way things are unfolding, or because they are plain out of breath. Yet in this struggle the disciples are not abandoned. Jesus is with them. Jesus is with us.

The promise that Jesus never leaves us can seem to grow faint against the experience of life; God’s presence is difficult to discern. Apart from the word preached and sacraments administered, where Christ comes to us in a way that we can see, hear, take hold of and taste, there are only glimpses. When those glimpses fade, fatigue can take its place. When the congregation has moved from the heightened energy of September into October, do your leaders notice any fatigue in the assembly? Are you hearing breathless singing, breathless confessing? What about commitments to ministry projects, education, or fellowship events? Do those called upon to lead and be involved have the energy they require?

Toward the middle of this season, we will come to the story of the lost coin and sheep (Luke 15:1-10). Both reveal how Jesus finds us where we are at. This is no small feat. The pictures Luke paints of a shepherd searching for one sheep and of a woman searching for one lost coin seem ludicrous. Yet, to Jesus, everyone is important, everyone is worthy. The Pharisees and scribes don’t understand this wide welcome. Their measure is the law; Jesus’ measure is mercy.

Prayer and Healing
As Jesus shares these parables of generous mercy, he invites us to share the fullness of our lives with him—including our fatigue, anxiety, and fears. In the first letter addressed to Timothy, we are urged “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone” (2:1). In worship and at other church gatherings, how do you make space for the community to pray, to express all that is going on with them? The widow described in Luke’s gospel kept coming with her persistent prayers (18:1-8). Some could suggest that telling Jesus how things really are with us will somehow cause Jesus to turn away. Yet in this season, we hear exactly the opposite: compassion and concern, love and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, healing and new life find us where we are. We don’t need to be afraid or anxious about Jesus’ response. Jesus’ response to us—as with his life, death, and resurrection—is set to the key of mercy. The community finds its breath once again in this good news.

October 18 is the festival of Luke, Evangelist. In addition to being identified as the writer of Luke-Acts, he was identified as a physician. For that reason, some congregations plan a service of healing in mid-October. A service of healing is provided in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (pp. 276–78) and can take place after the hymn of the day. Another possibility would be to have healing stations available at communion. These stations for healing prayers can include anointing with oil. Healing prayer is an experimental form in that it can happen in different ways and is often shaped by the context of the assembly and those gathered in it.

Although these times for healing prayer can be intensely personal, one pastor in a community noticed that the longer this practice was in place, the more extended the circle of prayer. Prayers for oneself extended to prayer for others. Eventually, the people who would come forward would ask for healing for people they’d never met but who have experienced some sort of brokenness in their lives. They would pray for nations at war with each other or nations in conflict with themselves based on religious, racial, or other forms of difference. The prayers that were offered were simple. Often those asking for prayer would come up alone, but it has also been the case that they have brought others with them to pray, to stand alongside them or pray with them.

In autumn and at all times, we pray for creation. Some congregations will hold a pet or animal blessing near the commemoration of Francis of Assisi (October 4). This can be a time to widen our circle of care to those animal friends who bless our lives. Autumn and harvesttime can also bring renewed attention to your current ministries of creation care or spark new ones. Consider singing “For the healing of creation” (SP 12b) as a way to center these ministries.

In Luke’s gospel, we do well to remember not only the individual ways in which sin and brokenness invade the lives of individuals but also the way structural sin impacts the individual and whole community, and the earth. Preaching into these realities in the midst of the assembly and the wider community in which the assembly exists means preaching good news that is at once individual and corporate. As in prayer and healing, faithful preaching extends the message of good news from self to other to the whole world.

Music renews our prayer and healing. Sometimes this happens by singing hymns very familiar, those words known by heart because they have lived inside of us for years. Communal song can surround healing and prayer rites. Since folks will be walking to healing stations or have extended time in prayer, repetitive, meditative refrains can be beneficial. Consider sung responses to prayer as well as spoken ones. In addition to selections in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (such as “Jesus, remember me,” #616, or “Hear our prayer,” #178), consider the resource Singing Our Prayer (Augsburg Fortress, 2010). Another option for music and healing is the seasonal rite “Prayer Around the Cross: Beside Still Waters.” This healing service based on Psalm 23 has a reflective tone. The service can be found on sundaysandseasons.com as well as in Holden Prayer Around the Cross: Handbook to the Liturgy (Augsburg Fortress, 2009). What other activities and actions can be called forth from a deeper attention to prayer and healing? Consider:
• Identify images in the Bible for prayer and healing. Seek out an artist who can paint or draw these images on canvases that you can display throughout your worship space or in other parts of the building. (Perhaps the artists are children who have particular images in their heads about health and healing.)
• Invite medical personnel to provide things like blood pressure screenings or basic health coaching. Parish nurses can be excellent resources.
• Research transportation needs in your congregation and community as they relate to medical care. Could your congregation provide assistance to those who need it?
• Invite a music therapist to explore how music aids in healing. How could this connect to your musical life as a congregation?
• Ask a spiritual director to share about prayer practices that can benefit individuals and communities.
• Invite a congregational consultant (ask for help from your synod staff) to facilitate the health and vitality of your congregation as a system.
Paying attention to the wider community is a key aspect in worship planning for this season. As full schedules and numerous commitments call out for our attention, how can worship in autumn be a time of renewal, a place where we preach, sing, and enact the compassion and mercy of God? Notice areas of fatigue in your community and in what specific areas there is need for healing and wholeness. How might the assembly be sent forth renewed to live out their baptismal callings of service and care in Jesus’ name?
Seasonal Checklist
• Notify others if you’re returning to a school-year worship schedule and adding education hours back to the calendar. Update your website and church voice mail and notify other places (i.e., local newspapers) that advertise your worship times. If you have a Facebook page, invite a young person to create a meme and post it the week after Labor Day (when most congregations change schedules).
• If you intend to have a pet blessing in late September or early October, get the word out now. This is an ideal opportunity for community outreach.
• If you will hold a service of healing, be sure to announce it in advance. If this is new to the congregation, consider more expanded teaching, such as a newsletter article or educational event.
• 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.
• If you intend to honor other occasions of blessing (a back-to-school blessing or blessing of workers on Labor/Labour Day weekend), advertise now.
• Some congregations present Bibles to young readers at the start of Sunday school. If that is part of your tradition, or one you’d like to start, make sure Bibles are ordered, delivered, and inscribed, and that parents and baptismal sponsors have been notified and invited. The seasonal rites section offers ideas for this presentation, including having parents present Bibles to the children.
• Reintroduce confession and forgiveness if this has been omitted during the summer months.
• Use the Kyrie or the hymn of praise (“Glory to God”), or a hymn equivalent.
• On Reformation Day, use the Nicene Creed; use the Apostles’ Creed for other Sundays in these months.

From sundaysandseasons.com.

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