Seasonal

Preparing for Summer (Year C)

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

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).

In the story of Pentecost, the author of Luke-Acts gives focus and frame to the lives of Jesus’ disciples. While there’s no telling to whom the disciples will be sent, the ways in which the disciples will bear witness to the good news of Jesus, or how the disciples will be empowered, equipped, and surprised as they follow where Jesus leads, the Spirit’s presence and power will be with them. When the Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy,” as Martin Luther says, Jesus’ disciples are crucified and raised, shaped and shaken for relationship with the wider world in ways that are authentic and vulnerable (ELW, p. 1162). Jesus’ disciples embody what Pope Francis describes as a community that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).

Compassion and Concern

Luke’s story of Jesus brings the disciples face-to-face with brokenness, hurt, and economic disparity. Luke’s narrative reveals Jesus at the margins of society so that people hidden are seen and people silenced are heard. They witness Jesus healing a man plagued by demons (Luke 8:26-39), hear the story of the Samaritan, the outsider who shows mercy (10:25-37), and the women Mary and Martha, also outsiders to whom Jesus draws near (10:38-42). Disciples are sent by the Spirit into the margins with Jesus, to see and listen, to encounter and understand, to pay attention to the stories of others. In these encounters, their own understanding of God’s love, healing, and mercy are broadened and challenged.

If Luke is concerned with showing the Spirit leading Jesus’ disciples into deeper compassion and connection with the poor, broken, hurt, hidden, and silenced, it is perhaps not such a stretch to imagine how sin might reveal itself in this narrative. While turning away from God and missing the mark embody the ancient understanding of sin, Luke expands what this looks like to include its social, economic, and structural dimensions. There is little doubt that in Luke’s story of Jesus, and thus Luke’s understanding of discipleship, sin against God is sin against neighbor. The disciples are invited into the margins to speak up alongside voices of those whose marginalization has signaled not only their own bondage but the captivity of the rest of the world as well. The forms of sin Jesus and the disciples encounter are less individual than they are communal in Luke’s gospel. The forms of communal sin the disciples are exposed to not only tear at the fabric between God and the community; they also divide the community itself. (See, for example, Lectionary 20 and Jesus’ hard words about family relationships.)

Healing, then, becomes Luke’s way of illustrating the impact of the ministry of Jesus and the disciples for the life of the world. While it is important to lift up the ways that Jesus provides healing of body, mind, and spirit, this healing also has structural, political, social, and economic dimensions (note the gospel texts this summer focused on wealth and its impact on human community). The life of discipleship opens the door to an encounter with the whole world; compassion and concern are as much for speaking out against structures that create food instability and homelessness as they are caring for individuals who are hungry and homeless.

Reflection and Connection

Compassion and concern result from paying attention. Paying attention happens when, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, room is made for disciples to reflect on the world around them. Such reflection, then, falls to us as twenty-first-century disciples. Summer is both the very best time and the most difficult time to invite people into sustained reflection. During a season when schedules tend to free up and the opportunity to breathe more deeply presents itself, there is often more room than at any other time of the year for this kind of engagement.

At the same time, vacations, unstructured time with family and friends, and other pursuits make an invitation into more intentional discipleship a challenge. Even discipleship as a word itself might seem daunting. As a result, many congregations suspend most programs that promote deeper, more sustained reflection and work, especially in the summer months. Bible studies tend to simmer on the back burner; women’s groups meet less often, and choirs take a break from rehearsals. Youth attend camps or go on mission trips, but their presence in the life of the assembly generally fades in the summer. Attendance for the weekly gathering around word and sacrament declines. Yet in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine, in the word preached and songs sung, Jesus is there.

Nonetheless, what if this summer we are more intentional about making room for reflection? What if we are bolder in our invitation to pay attention? What if we are more intentional in creating space for an authentic encounter with the wider world? What if compassion and concern are our focus and frame for our life together this summer? What actions could support this intention? Consider the following:

  •  Getting to know better the specific needs of your community and making a list of nonprofit organizations working toward those needs. A list of resource people in the wider community can help your congregation think about how to reach out in compassion and concern around specific issues.
  •  Could you invite one or two organizations into the assembly’s worship and fellowship to share about what they are doing on behalf of the marginalized in the community?
  •  To build on a presentation from a community organization, include information in bulletins, screens, and in online or printed newsletters that alerts the congregation to things happening beyond the walls of the congregation and how they could be involved.
  •  Perhaps spend the summer focusing on one concern in the wider community. Hold congregational studies and develop specific action steps to involve the whole congregation.
  •  Could worship be held at the site of the focused concern (for example, at a food pantry if local food insecurity is the concern)? Could this be followed up with small group reflection and conversation?
  •  Designate the weekly offering for the community concern.

In the season of summer, when the air is often warm, humid, and dry, and people sometimes disconnect from our church community, the texts for this season flood us with opportunities to engage and encounter. Washed anew in our baptisms, we attend to the things that need our compassion and concern in our congregation and community.

Music and Prayer

Music and prayer practices can also connect us in compassion and concern to the community and wider world. In its music, your assembly might gather around songs that come from other parts of the world, other traditions, maybe even traditions that are not necessarily Christian. Interweaving these newer songs with those well known by the community can assure them that you embrace both the familiar and new in worship. When learning new hymns and songs, you might invite the congregation to sing in a different language, with clear instruction given. While some assemblies hear the lessons from Pentecost in different languages, how often does your assembly attempt songs not in your community’s native language(s)? If this practice is new to you or something you’ve done for years, consider enriching singing the new song with teaching about it. This allows the congregation to pay better attention to what is being sung and learn about the song’s original context. Knowing the song’s story can help the congregation embrace its newness. Consider inviting someone for whom the song is part of their tradition to join your local musicians in teaching and leading these new songs.

In addition to considering what we sing, congregations should consider making room for silence and reflection, not only in the beginning or at the end of worship but interspersed throughout the service. While some congregations might encourage a moment of silence between the reading of the gospel and the sermon, or after the sermon and the start of the hymn of the day, consider other ways silence can further the summer mission of more attentive reflection:

  •  What places in your worship service could benefit from more generous silence? Around the corporate confession of sins, before or after the Lord’s Prayer, or at the benediction? In place of spoken announcements, could this time be reserved for silent reflection? Could children be helped into this practice as part of a children’s sermon?
  •  Invite a spiritual director to speak to your congregation about silence and the spiritual life.
  •  Have the congregation take a reflective walking tour of your community. Invite them to pay attention to what they notice. Then invite them to ask God what this means for the congregation’s life together.

The congregation’s attention to compassion and concern would naturally be a part of both communal and personal prayer. Pay attention to the prayers of intercession: are they attentive not only to the needs of those in your community but to the needs of the whole world as well? Perhaps the congregation can provide a book in which people could write prayer concerns as they arrive for worship. (Or maybe someone would offer to listen to prayer concerns and then write them into the book so the presider and assisting minister could read them.) Also consider a time in the intercessions where those of all ages could be invited to offer specific prayer concerns. Could the young (and any who like to draw) be encouraged to draw their prayer concerns for the world?

Seasonal Checklist

  •  If your worship times change for summer, be sure that all the relevant places are updated: websites, social media, newspaper listings, answering machine messages, outdoor signs, and internal publications such as a newsletter.
  •  Develop language for public resources (bulletins, online presence, newsletter) that conveys compassion and concern for the larger community. If you are lifting up specific community ministries and organizations in worship, be sure to integrate them into your public witness.
  •  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 help 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.
  •  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—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 for summer.
  •  Summer is the time to 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 2019 date). Begin organizing service projects and advertise the schedule for the day. See elca.org for resources.

From sundaysandseasons.com.

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