Sample 11 Days Plan for an Ecumenical Celebration
ECUMENICAL DAY OF WORSHIP
(DIFFERENT FAITH COMMUNITIES WORSHIPING TOGETHER)
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Tyrone P. Jones, IV, Guest Lectionary Commentator
Pastor, Messiah Baptist Church, Bridgeport, CT
Lection - Micah 4:1-4 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v. 1) In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, (v. 2) and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (v. 3) He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; (v. 4) but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
Ecumenism (ecumenical) is based on the Greek word “oikoumene” from its Greek root oikos meaning both “house” and “world.” The meaning of this word in the African American faith tradition is “a great gathering of the community at-large for one cause.” It is not uncommon for African American churches of various denominations and even different faith communities to worship together especially if particular themes are lifted or certain holidays are being celebrated.
Ecumenical worship services help us discover the universal nature of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. They also assist in opening our eyes to a broader view of what the Divine means to another faith tradition and/or denomination. In essence, ecumenical worship fosters an engagement between us and persons with whom we would not normally associate due to theological and cultural differences. Ultimately, such services can prepare people of faith to be unified, and to face our idiosyncrasies and the barriers that divide us. By coming together, congregations and groups can witness distinct differences and experiences that add multiple layers and textures to worship.
There are ecumenical worship services held throughout the United States, particularly during Holy Week services, Good Friday services, World Day of Prayer and World AIDS Day.
(For more information on such services please consult www.worldaidscampaign.org/en/Key-events/World-AIDS-Day/2008/Ecumenical-Worship-Service and The National Day of Prayer Service at www.ndptf.org.)
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: Micah 4:1-4
Part One: The Contemporary Contexts of the Interpreter
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often quoted former Yale Divinity School Dean Liston Pope who said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”1 Even as I am writing this commentary, I cannot help but think just how separate we still are forty years after the death of Dr. King when it comes to worship in America. I do understand that a lot of this is due to sectarian beliefs and the separation of the races, but when I read Micah 4:1-4, it becomes apparent that this is not what the One who created all of us intended. I believe that if we can stand in line together to wait for the latest iPhone or iPod, certainly we can worship together and put aside our denominational, cultural and ethnic differences.
Micah 4:1 tells us that God’s house on the mountain is exalted above the hills. The hills represent differences and dogma, but the mountain only takes into account the escalation to the divine. I am a Baptist pastor, and I have had many opportunities to worship with people from other denominations. As I recall, there were more similarities than differences.
Part Two: Biblical Commentary
The Prophet Micah’s career spanned a quarter of the eighth century BCE. Micah prophesied during the reigns of three Judahite kings: Jotham (742-735), Ahaz (735-715), and Hezekiah (715-687 BCE). Micah was concerned with the ethical issues that faced Judah. He declared that the sins of Judah would lead to punishment with God using the Assyrians as the instrument of judgment. Micah delivers a scathing oracle to Jerusalem in Micah chapter 3:9-12. In his oracle, he focuses on the crimes of the corrupt officials, both political and religious, whom Micah attacks because they have exploited the people. The priest, prophets and judges were found to be self-serving and corrupt in all their ways.
In contrast to the bitter oracle against Jerusalem, Micah, in chapter 4:1-4, lifts the major theological theme of peace in this text. This passage examines four critical areas of peace that are essential in light of the foretold judgment. In verse one, there is universal peace from God, and in verse two there is the peace through fellowship and relational power. In verse three, there is peace that comes through transition and transformation, and in verse four there is peace that comes as a result of safety and security. Although the word peace is not stated specifically in the passage, it is easily inferred due to the transitional expressions of the text, that move the people to gather under the direction of the Creator to experience what cannot be manifested without the presence, power and promises of the Creator.
In verse one, universal peace is heard in the descriptive language of God’s house residing on the highest mountain raised above the hills. The prophet with poetic license paints an image of lofty heights and tranquil calm that is above the noise of the present condition of Judah’s transgressions. In addition to the defining imagery, there is the universal centrality of God’s peace. Notice the hills pale in comparison to the mountain of the Lord’s house. God’s house is lifted as a central location in the world for all to recognize. The word “mountain” in Hebrew (har) is used symbolically to indicate a great world power. The word “hill” in Hebrew (gib’ah) is used to indicate a smaller world power. This means that the kingdom of the Creator of the Universe is more powerful than any other kingdom in the world. Thus, when we come together to worship this Creator it lifts our minds and hearts above the mundane focuses of our small world-views.
In verse two, peace is experienced through fellowship and intentional relational power. The nations come to a central place to fellowship. This is reminiscent of the gathering of the people as they go back to Jerusalem for the celebration of High Holy Days. Three times a year, people from all regions would make a pilgrimage back to the Holy City of Jerusalem for the major feast days of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (or Sukkot).
Today, churches in many different states organize collaborative worship services around themes that unite them. Micah describes a need for the people to prepare to come again in the future and gather together not only to celebrate but to become empowered through instruction. The reason why Judah became so corrupt and self-serving was because they forgot to walk in ways of God. God’s peace will be universal in its influence, but there must be a flow or movement of the people to come together in fellowship so that they are empowered. The psalmist said it best, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”(Psalm 133:1).
In verse three, there is evidence of peace through transition and transformation. The transition is due to the declarative words of God, “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away....” This statement is for those nations who find it difficult to transition and give peace a chance. God informs them that there is no need for warfare. As we consider the importance of ecumenical worship, we must approach worship committed to peace. When this happens, the term warfare transitions and is transformed to welfare—the welfare of the world—the same world about which God is so concerned. Although God is involved as the arbitrator of peace, the transformation comes through the action of changing weapons into positive working tools (swords become plowshares). It takes an open heart to change, and it takes an open mind to act on the change. The end result of the text tells us that this is possible, but the reality is that we still have difficulty transitioning, transforming and changing ammunition that divides so that we can build alliances that unite us.
In verse four, the text shows that peace comes through the assurance of safety and security. Through God’s declaration of peace, the nations and their callous cruel intentions of the past are disarmed. This verse tells us that there is now nothing to fear. There is nothing to fear when it comes to worshiping with people of various denominations and faith traditions. The text also speaks of vines and fig trees under which people can sit. When relationships with persons from different denominations and faith communities are nurtured and attended to as a good botanist would attend to vines and figs these relationships will produce something so wonderful and powerful that we can all be covered by it and fellowship one with another under it.
This passage gives us hope for lasting peace and security to come. We can celebrate now in preparation for that day. We can come together now and worship despite our differences. So let the Pentecostal worship in peace with the Methodist, and let the Episcopalian worship in peace with the Baptist. Let the Jew worship in peace with the Muslim, and let the Protestant worship in peace with the Catholic. Let all denominations and faith communities come together and worship under the umbrella of divine peace.
The descriptive details of this passage include:
Sounds: The nations speaking (v.2); hammering of plowshares into pruning hooks (v.3); the voice of the Lord of Host (v.4);
Sights: The mountain and the hills (v.1); the streams of people (v.1); swords turned into plowshares and spears turned into pruning hooks (v.3); vines and fig trees (v.4);
Smells: Mountain air and dusty roads (v.1); heated metals (v.3); the odor of vines and fig trees (v.4); and
Textures: Jagged and rocky mountain peaks (v. 1); and cold, sharp metal tools (v. 3).
III. Recommendations for Clergy
- Read about the Three Models of Ecumenical Worship in the Marquand Reader at Yale Divinity School 2007 at www.yale.edu/ism/marquand/documents/091707MarquandReader.pdf.
- Join or get more information from your local Council of Churches and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance or Fellowship in your area.
- Please download the “Sample 11 Days Plan for an Ecumenical Celebration.” It contains numerous ideas on planning an ecumenical service.
1. Marty, Martin E. Modern American Religion. Vol. 3 Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996. p. 388.
Sample 11 Days Plan for an Ecumenical Celebration