The Sundays after Pentecost can seem to drag on and on at times. Throughout the long summer, we are asked to maintain our enthusiasm for faith and for worship. This is where we learn again that our faith journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Sure, we’ve heard that before and maybe even could say we know it. But what does it mean?
The first thing it means is that we won’t get too far in our discipleship journey on enthusiasm alone. There will be times when we’ve hit a dry spell, or when we find ourselves in a desert. And as the examples in our chosen texts for the next four weeks show us, grumbling and fear will be ever around us and even within us at times. Enthusiasm wanes and emotions come and go. It takes discipline to sustain the pace as we walk our faith journey. It takes commitment and the will to keep putting one foot in front of another.
This is not, however, a self-generated discipline, though the self is involved. But the other truth before us is that we are not alone as we continue along our discipleship path. First of all, there is the ever present Spirit of God who sustains and enlivens us the more we seek God in our daily lives, as we proceed on the long haul of faith. God is with us. Secondly, there is a community of faith that encourages us, mentors us, learns with us and even from us at times. We are in relationship with the church in the long haul. Indeed, we might argue that the only way we can make it for the long haul is together. There’s a saying that sums it up: “if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” We are in community as we journey, especially for the long haul.
Week 1: The Burden of the Day
God provides. It seems clear that this is one of the messages from our texts this week. But it would also be clear that God provides for our needs in unusual and sometimes confusing ways. Whether it is manna and quail in the desert or a surprisingly generous but perhaps somewhat unfair payment for labor, God provides in ways that give us pause and, hopefully, make us think.
We also discover, when we look at the stories as well as our own lives, that God works in partnership to meet needs. Effort is required to gather the manna that forms each morning and to capture the quail that roost in the evening. Labor in the vineyard is a part of the covenant made with God as we claim the joy of belonging to the kin-dom. We aren’t passive recipients of God’s grace, but engaged in the process of discovery and acceptance. God provides, we gather, and we share. We are weeks past Labor Day in the US, but we can celebrate the efforts of the church to gather and share God’s bounty within the body and with the wider community as well. What manna ministry can we celebrate this week as we worship together?
Week 2: Quarreled & Tested
How do we deal with conflict in the church? Certainly not by pointing fingers and calling folks out during worship. But worship can be the place where we remember under whose authority we stand. It can be a reminder of the common mission we claim and the shared commitment that we have to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is a reminder that we sometimes need to move ourselves off the center so that place can be claimed by the Lord we serve. It can be a time of reorienting, of finding what we share so that we can look at the conflict with a little bit of distance and objectivity.
Week 3: Fruit of the Kingdom
How do we view the commandments? We honor them; we treasure them; we wish there was more obedience to them in the world out there. But do we see them as descriptive of our lives? Rather than seeing them as normative to everyone, what if we decided to see them as something we chose to be the guide for our lives? And what if we wanted to move from beyond the letter of this law into the spirit, what might that look like? Maybe the worship team could prepare cards with the commandments on them to hand out in worship. But instead of “thou shall” and “thou shalt not,” you translate the words as “You are…” Then the law becomes a reminder of who we are. You are the people who have one God. You are the people who respect boundaries. You are the people who value worship and giving honor to God. These become, not commandments from the outside, but descriptions of our inner intentions and experience. “You are …”
Week 4: Stiff-Necked People
The theme this week might seem harsh. It might also lead us to point fingers at those out there or over there who are stiff-necked. Rarely will we realize that we are the ones in need of a neck massage. Perhaps worship this week begins with confession. We ask forgiveness for being a part of the problem instead of the means to the solution for our broken world. We might even go off after other gods – gods of nation or of self rather than the God we are called to worship. We are some of those who make light of the invitation at times; we are those who attend but don’t bring our wedding garment, don’t enter into the spirit of the call to discipleship. We are often halfhearted at best. So, let worship be our opportunity to reengage, to recommit to the journey of discipleship.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.