Planning - Trinity Sunday/Peace with Justice Sunday
Fresco from St. Peter and Paul Church, Biella, Italy. 15th Century.
Used by permission. CC BY-SA 2.5.
This kind of portrayal of three identical figures with the Son in the center, Father to the left (at the Son's right hand!)
and Spirit to the right was fairly common in the late middle ages.
It was one way to portray the unity of God with no confusion of persons, and it also modeled Jesus' statement,
"If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31.
Wisdom speaks and understanding raises her voice to remind all of her presence with God in and through all creation.
Psalm Response: Psalm 8 (UMH 743).
Two musical responses based on hymns. With Response 1, use Tone 3 in E-flat major. With Response 2, use Tone 2 in C minor.
The character of our life in our Triune God: We are reconciled to God through Jesus and we boast in the sufferings of this age because they lead us to hope in God's love poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit.
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Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, declaring to the disciples all the truth that is his from the Father.
It’s another “United Methodist Multiple Emphases Sunday!” Today we share Trinity Sunday with all Christians in the western tradition. United Methodists also celebrate Peace and Justice Sunday. And in the United States, tomorrow is Memorial Day.
Above all, and at the guiding center of worship where you are, today is Trinity Sunday, the first of the two “bookends” for the Season after Pentecost (the other is either All Saints or, more typically, Christ the King, depending on when you start Advent). On these bookend Sundays, all the readings are chosen to relate to one another.
During the Season after Pentecost in Year C, except for the bookend dates (including today), the readings do not relate to one another. Instead, they are offered in three separate streams of semicontinuous readings in prophets, epistles, and Luke.
Today, however, the readings are related and themed around the celebration of the Triune nature of God.
In a way, this “bookend Sunday” is also a “culmination Sunday.” During Advent we lived in the expectation that the Father will send the Son again just as the Father sent the Son in the conception and birth of Jesus long ago. From Christmastide through Lent, we witnessed the ministry of the Son among us, until his execution. And from Easter through Pentecost, we celebrated the resurrection of the Son and the church, his body, continuing his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So while we always confess (or should always confess!) our Triune God in worship, this is a day to do so with particular gusto! And be sure to celebrate Holy Communion on this major feast day! Consider using the new "Great Thanksgiving for Trinity Sunday,"which uses “God of Wonders” and the readings for today.
Today is also Peace with Justice Sunday on the United Methodist Program Calendar. This is a Special Sunday with a special offering. Half of the offering collected stays in each annual conference to support conference-based peace and justice ministries. Half is forwarded to the General Council on Finance and Administration, where it becomes a fund used by the General Board of Church and Society to support grant requests for peace and justice ministries across the global church.
It is also the day before Memorial Day weekend in the United States. For the most part, Memorial Day itself is kept on Monday, not Sunday, and usually as a civil celebration in a public venue rather than a congregational one. Consider adding prayers for those who have died in war during the past year as part of your prayers of the people this Sunday. If you desire to have a service dedicated to Memorial Day, consider doing so at a time other than Sunday morning, and perhaps at a cemetery (or a “traveling” service at several local cemeteries where veterans are buried) rather than as the centerpiece of “regular” worship this Trinity Sunday.
The Season after Pentecost begins in earnest next week. See Worship Planning for the Season after Pentecost, Year C for lectionary-based and other series starters to get your worship planning team “up and running” for the months ahead.
Remember and remind your planning team that starting after Trinity Sunday, the lectionary readings no longer relate to one another, other than the Psalm to the Old Testament, except for All Saints and Christ the King Sunday. If you or they need a little more prompting not to look for connections between texts where none are intended, you might share “A Gentle Reminder” with them.
May and early June are “graduation season” in many places. See our Graduation and Baccalaureate Resources for helps and suggestions.
June 16 is Father’s Day and the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. For the Season after Pentecost, GBOD advocates developing sermon series using one stream of the lectionary texts (Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings are not related during this season) or another theme. Attend to Father’s Day during worship in relationship either around the texts for the day or the thematic series you have chosen.
June 19 is also known as Juneteenth, the oldest known African-American worship celebration, commemorating the date in 1865 the last of the former slaves (in Galveston, Texas) was notified of the end of the Civil War and their freedom guaranteed in The Emancipation Proclamation.
June and July often mark transition points for pastors and congregations receiving new appointments. Whenever the final day for your current leadership comes, consider using Holy Communion for the End of An Appointment from the Open Source Liturgy Project, and send your comments about how this worked for your worshiping community to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are receiving a deacon, consider For the Celebration of the Appointment of a Deacon. And for persons who are retiring, consider Order of Service with Colleagues Retiring.
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No images can do justice to the breadth and depth of the love, grace, and power of our Triune God revealed in our texts for today. Wisdom active from before creation (Proverbs), Reconciler whose power drives us into places of suffering with hope (Romans), Truth declared by the Spirit revealing all the Father has given the Son to share (John )— all of these come with a lushness that goes far beyond the static symbols, icons, and paintings Christian art has typically used to portray the Trinity.
Today is a day to move more fully into that very lushness, into the depths of the mystery of our life in God, Three in One and One in Three.
It is not a day for philosophical speculation or for trying to figure out what may seem to be a mathematical conundrum.
It is a day for living into the poetry the Scriptures have offered us, for being re-minded of the multidimensionality of this God who is One, yet known to us as Father, Son, Spirit, as Way, Truth, Life, as Mother, Child, Breath, as Reconciler, Companion, Hope-Giver, and so much more.
There is a Greek word that has been used to describe something of the life of Divine Co-Unity we worship: “perichoresis” (perry-COR-ee-sis). The word literally means “dancing around” or “dancing in a circle.” Christian theologians have used it since the third century to describe the dance of the Eternal-Three-in-One, each distinct yet interpenetrating the other, each pouring out grace and love to the other in the dance. It is into this eternal dance of the Eternal Trinity that we have been invited. So consider how today may be a dancing day with our Triune God!
If you have choreographers who could get your worshiping community up and dancing a simple three-step in threes, bring them on!
If you have artists in your congregation who could create new art or soundscapes — whether in paint or ink or clay or midi or drums or pixels — to illustrate today's texts, commission them!
And since we worship the Triune God always, and not only on this Sunday, consider how you can use whatever the artists create or the choreographers teach throughout the coming year, a reminder that we are always surrounded and invited into the Dance of this Divine Community.
Proverbs begs to be read by a confident female voice, especially verses 4 and 22-31, where Wisdom speaks. If you have access to a projector and good images (such as those available without royalties from NASA.gov’s Visible Earth Project) consider beginning the reading in darkness, illuminated only by projected images of the earth, ocean depths, springs, mountains, fields, hills, and soil. Move back into the darkness, as verses 22-26 are read. Then shift the images to pictures of the night sky or galaxies, and keep them persistent, then add images of the sky at day and shorelines for the ocean, then a pull-back view of a continent (verses 27-29). Then send your reader dancing with joy, or bring in a female dancer to "rejoice before the Lord because the Lord delights in her” during the reading of verses 30 and 31.
If you've done anything like the above, do not rush into the next reading. Invite people to contemplate the mystery of the Trinity in what they've just seen and heard. Then sing the Psalm, or pray it (do not reduce this to a mere reading or “call to worship” today!), with the rapt sense of its composer's wondering "How majestic is your name! Who are we that you should be mindful of us?"
Romans begins to answer that question. We are those who, despite all our wonder and rapture and delight in God's creation, have put ourselves at odds with God and this creation and need the reconciliation God freely offers us in Jesus Christ. Images of brokenness restored and resolving into brilliant light might accompany the reading of verses 1-2. We have reason to boast in that light because it is our hope and our inheritance in Jesus Christ.
And our boasting is not only in the by and by, but even, Paul reminds, in the here and now of our sufferings and the sufferings of others we enter. If there is music or sound accompanying the imagery of the bright light, sustain that same music to accompany images of human suffering, personal or corporate, individual or national, private trial or public tragedy that your congregation knows well. We are accompanied even in such sufferings, and accompanied in such a way that hope only grows stronger, and boasting more deep and real. Conclude with images of "pouring light" to accompany verse 5.
And again, allow no rushing into the next hymn or the reading of the gospel. Give these images and words time to sink in, to pour over and through the people, so they have an opportunity to experience our Triune God as profoundly in this path of sin, reconciliation, glory, suffering and spiritual power.
The first words of John's gospel may seem like an anticlimax. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." Use no imagery or soundscapes here. If possible, use no sound amplification. Let the words offered, words describing the inner life of our Triune God, speak for themselves with a clear, unadorned human voice. This really is no anticlimax, but an invitation to go deeper still, an invitation issuing from the very Being of God as the Spirit offers us even in these moments, and indeed in every moment we pay attention, the words of Jesus given him by the Father, the very truth we need to hear. The mechanics of the Godhead, if you will, conspire to keep drawing us in and leading us on so we can be active partners in the fulfilling of our Triune God's mission for the world.
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Embodying the Word: The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed has been the most regularly confessed creed in Sunday Christian worship since its development in the late fourth century. It was indeed THE creed for the Mass, East and West, and has retained that place in much of Protestant Christianity as well. The Apostles Creed, while important, is understood to be the creed for baptism — a beginning point. In the Nicene Creed, the church more fully confesses its faith in our Triune God.
John Wesley deleted the article on the Creeds from the Church of England's 39 Articles when he developed the Articles of Religion for the Methodists in North America. He also deleted the Nicene Creed from the services he sent over for use by the Methodists, using instead the Apostles Creed. We know something of why he did the former: He did not want the new American church to be beholden to creeds that could be used to divide people more than to unite them in common cause with Christ. Why he eliminated the Nicene Creed altogether, however, remains unknown.
The United Methodist Hymnal in a small way reclaims the primary role of the Nicene Creed for the confessional life of our church by placing it first among the Affirmations of Faith (#880). If your congregation does not ordinarily use the Nicene Creed in worship, Trinity Sunday is an excellent day to do so.
But do not simply read it. Help your congregation confess it. Lead the reading enthusiastically, boldly. Encourage your congregation to do the same. Help them to hear the power of the mystery they confess.
And having so confessed, pray, confess sin and make peace with God and neighbor, and feast at Christ's heavenly banquet he offers us at his Table.
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Today's Texts and Peace with Justice Sunday
The Christian understanding of peace (Shalom) and justice (Mishpat) is grounded in the Trinitarian nature of God. God as Three-in-One, as our readings reveal today, is alive, active, vibrant, ever-creating, ever-reconciling, and ever driving us toward truth. We cannot possibly “capture” the liveliness of that peace or the life-giving mercy of that justice in any human agenda. God cannot be so reduced.
Instead, it is the very Triune life of God that inspires all we do, in myriad ways, to embody peace with justice in the world around us. We start with God, God’s power, God’s mercy, God wisdom, God’s life. We start with that bold humility made possible through the Divine Mystery we especially worship and adore this day. Buoyed by the very life of God, we never lose hope in the face of sufferings caused by war, conflict and injustice, but, as Paul reminds in Romans, find ourselves more than able to endure, build character and abound in hope that never disappoints.
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Worship planners may be tempted to avoid the fullness of the mystery of the Trinity on this day out of a concern about taxing the minds and imaginations of the people. Resist that temptation! The texts for today, if read and presented and preached and prayed well, can blow your minds. Let them! This is a day for ecstatic praise.
The liturgy and ritual of the church are designed to help your congregation enter and rejoice in the mystery and dance of the Eternal Three-in-One. Through use of the Word and Table pattern as outlined in the Hymnal and Book of Worship, we gather and praise the Father (first person of the Trinity), remember and proclaim the liberating work of the Son (second person of the Trinity), and invoke the Holy Spirit (third person of the Trinity). This way of worship is dynamic, biblical, and faithful to the historic and ecumenical church.
This week would be a good time to help the congregation recognize the transition Christians are making from the Great Fifty Days of Easter to the Season after Pentecost and Ordinary Time with an article in the bulletin or church newsletter. See page 409 of The United Methodist Book of Worship.
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Greeting BOW 391 or 411 (Trinity)
Opening Prayer BOW 511, For God's Reign (Peace with Justice)
Canticle UMH 80, "Canticle of the Holy Trinity" (Trinity)
Canticle UMH 112, "Canticle of Wisdom" (Proverbs)
Litany BOW 495, For the Church and World (Peace with Justice)
Affirmation of Faith UMH 880, Nicene Creed (Trinity)
If you use one of the creeds, you will find basic information on each version in The Worship Resources of The United Methodist Hymnal, pages 199-200.
Prayer UMH 456, For Courage to Do Justice (Peace with Justice)
Prayer BOW 412 (Trinity)
Prayers BOW 515-519, 526-527 (Peace with Justice)
Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Botswana, Zimbabwe
Response BOW 178, "Amen, Praise the Father" (Trinity)
Response BOW 193, "Prayer for Wisdom" (Proverbs)
Doxology BOW 180, "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow" (Trinity)
Great Thanksgiving (Communion): almost all ecumenical eucharistic prayers are Trinitarian in shape and content.
Closing Prayer UMH 76, Trinity Sunday (Trinity)
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According to this passage, Woman Wisdom was present during the process of creation as a full participant. Her work pleased the creator, and she "delighted in the human race."
On Trinity Sunday we tend to focus on God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here is an opportunity to bring a female person into our understanding of God, for here God’s Spirit is Woman Wisdom.
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What images of God are most meaningful to the people in your congregation?
Why is the creative dimension of God’s nature expressed by a feminine image?
How can incorporating this vision of God into our preaching on Trinity Sunday help our congregations to expand their concept of God in three persons?
Recently, I was talking with a colleague about a situation in her church that sounded all too familiar. A family in her congregation is going through a terrible time, subjected to incredible suffering as they desperately searched for a way to extend the life of their gravely ill child. Individuals in the church have been praying for a miracle. As a result, the family was not able to engage the possibility that the child they love so much might die. The only hope they can cling to is the possibility that if they pray with enough faith, God might work a miracle and save them from the ultimate suffering of losing their child. I can’t imagine being in that situation, nor can I say what I might do if I had to face that kind of loss. So far in this life I have been spared that particular form of suffering.
In the meantime, I lost a friend to death -- not a close friend, but a woman I admired very much. She was not a particularly religious woman, but her life was a great example of hope and faith and peace in the face of death. She was a dedicated registered nurse who specialized in cancer treatments. So it seemed particularly cruel to me when she was diagnosed about a year ago with an aggressive and difficult-to- treat form of cancer .
She did all she could to fight her disease; but when the inevitable time came when she had to face the fact that no more could be done, she went home. She was given four months; she made it just over two. But in those two months, she spent every moment she could living her life as fully and normally as possible and doing all the things she loved to do in the company of her family and friends.
My grandmother used to say,"Enjoy the good times because the bad times will surely return." It is true. We all go through periods of suffering.
Some people’s lives seem to be marked by way more suffering than seems fair, while others seem to live a charmed existence. But the fact is, all human beings suffer.
Paul says, in his letter to Rome, that we ought to try to take our suffering and turn it into hope. Not that we should suffer for suffering’s sake; rather, suffering offers an opportunity for growth in faith. The formula he gives is simple: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope never disappoints us because hope comes from God.
We aren’t saved from suffering by our righteousness. We are justified by grace through faith, and faith comes through finding peace in God. I think my friend had found peace with God; and that peace gave her endurance, which produced character, which gave her hope to the very last breath. I know she is resting now in a place of eternal peace and joy.
I hope that the family who is suffering so greatly now can find a way to be at peace in God no matter what happens.
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Pastors who are transitioning to a new appointment, read this!
Perhaps it is serendipitous that this reading comes up in the lectionary on the last Sunday in May. In the United Methodist Church, this is the time of year when pastors who are moving are winding up their time with the congregation they are leaving and preparing for service in a new place. The long farewell speech Jesus gives to his disciples over these three chapters in John’s gospel can provide pastors an opportunity to say some important parting words.
The reading for today comes toward the end of this speech. Jesus has told his disciples how it is going to be difficult for them after he is gone.
They will be persecuted just as he was.
The world will hate them.
They will be thrown out of the synagogues.
They will suffer, and some might even be killed.
Their hearts are filled with sorrow at the prospect of his leaving.
But then he says something very interesting. He says that it is to their advantage that he go away. To their ADVANTAGE that he leave them? I’m sure they really couldn’t see it. But nevertheless, he was speaking the truth. It was to their advantage that he leave.
Why? Well, as he puts it, it was in order to make room for the Spirit to come to them. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will be with them always, he says.
The Spirit of Truth that abided in Jesus will come to them and will continue to comfort them and teach them and empower them, even after Jesus is no longer physically with them.
His leaving is not even going to be the end point of his teaching because the Spirit of truth will always be there to guide them. This spirit is the Spirit of God, and God will never leave them.
The Spirit of Truth came to the disciples at Pentecost. And the Spirit of Truth has come to all of those who have been followers of Christ throughout the generations. The Spirit of Truth comes whenever two or more are gathered in his name. The Spirit of Truth is present whenever we try to live and love in the name of Jesus Christ. The Spirit is here whenever we proclaim the Scriptures and wrestle together to discern what they mean for our lives.
No matter how easy or difficult an appointment has been, the Spirit of Truth is spoken in every relationship between a pastor and her or his congregation. It is the Spirit of Christ, who brings pastors and congregations together and enables them to be one in his magnificent Spirit in spite of their differences.
The Spirit of Truth is not in the pastor alone. The Spirit resides in the gathered body, and is revealed in the dialogue that happens in the community. And the Spirit of Truth does NOT leave when there is a pastoral change, because it isn’t the senior pastor, or the associate pastor, or the interim pastor, or the music pastor, or the youth pastor, or, in fact, ANY pastor, who is the leader of the congregation.
The leader of every congregation is Jesus Christ. And Christ promises that he will NEVER leave us.
Christ will always be with us. He is and always will be the leader of every congregation, and his Spirit will come and speak the next phase of Truth for every gathered body through the words of the newly appointed pastor and through the dialogue that a church will have with that person.
If you are leaving, you need to say very clearly that the church will go on without you. The church is not built around you, no matter how good the appointment has been.
The pastor of the church is NOT its leader. He or she is NOT the head of the church. Christ is and always will be the head of every church.
And the same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth spoken in Jesus Christ, the VERY SAME SPIRIT that came to the disciples all those years ago andto all the generations since, all the way down to this time and place, will STAY in the congregation no matter who the pastor is. Christ will continue to guide them and BE with them always.
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