The Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Gemba Stone, largest stone of Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan.
Used by permission. CC BY-SA 3.0
Such large stones were commonly used as cornerstones in ancient architecture worldwide
to anchor and shore up the smaller stones used in the foundations of large buildings.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Stephen sees and proclaims Jesus at God's right hand. The crowd sees stones. Stephen's boldness and forgiveness are remembered. All but one name from the crowd is forgotten.
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 (UMH 764).
For singing 764, use Response 1 with the cantor or congregation singing the psalm to Tone 4 in A minor, or with Response 2 sing the psalm to Tone 3 in E-flat major.
1 Peter 2:2-10.
Christ is the cornerstone, and we are living stones, a royal priesthood, God's own people, called to proclaim God's mighty acts in Christ, including our own deliverance from darkness to light.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If we see him, we have seen God. If we follow in his way, we participate in the works of God.
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Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter Season. Easter Season is a time to ground both the newly baptized and the whole congregation in basic Christian doctrine and to lead a process to help persons discern, claim, prepare for and commit to their ministries in the world (not just or even primarily the congregation). The doctrinal focus is “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” The ministry focus is “Proclaim the Mighty Acts of Christ.”
Heritage Sunday programming for 2014 focuses on the legacy of Thomas Coke, first Superintendent (later called Bishop) of the Methodist Episcopal Church. 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of his death, an occasion for a variety of celebrations in England and Wales and across the worldwide Methodist/Wesleyan family this May. Heritage Sunday is also an occasion to celebrate Aldersgate Day, when that day does not fall on a Sunday.
Change the World Weekend is an initiative to engage congregations in hands-on ministry in their local communities and support global mission priorities at the same time. Registration and additional information about this emphasis are available at the link above.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. and Christian Home Month also continue.
Next Sunday, May 25, some U.S. congregations may choose to include worship elements relating to the U.S. civil holiday, Memorial Day, which falls on Monday, May 26.
The following Thursday, May 29, is the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, 40 days after his resurrection. This was one of only three non-Sunday observances John Wesley retained in the Anglican calendar for use by Methodists in America. The other two were Good Friday and Christmas Day. Most United Methodists are likely to celebrate it on the following Sunday, June 1.
June to September
June 8 Pentecost
June 15 Trinity Sunday, Father's Day and Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 19 Juneteenth
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
Back to School Resources
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Atmospherics: Christ as Cornerstone, Way, Truth and Life
The doctrinal focus is “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” The ministry focus is “Proclaim the Mighty Acts of Christ.”
This week the two focuses are more distributed across the texts, rather than more or less confined to one or two of them.
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Doctrinal Focus: Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
We hear Stephen confess this in Acts 7. “Behold! I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (v. 56). I Peter, speaking of Jesus, quotes Isaiah 28:16 “Behold, I place a stone in Zion, a chosen, precious cornerstone, and whoever believes upon it shall not be ashamed” (v. 6). And we have Jesus himself saying of himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one approaches the Father except through me.”
Jesus is our foundation.
He is our authority, because he stands at the right hand of the Father (Acts).
As the integrity of a building’s structure depends on its cornerstone, the structure of the community called church, depends on him.
Jesus uniquely is the way to God, the truth of God, and the life of God. And he offers all three freely and abundantly, that God may be accessed through him fully.
Jesus is the sure foundation.
We have none other.
We United Methodists are fond of quoting John Wesley, Jakob Albrecht, Phillip Otterbein or Martin Boehm to support our particular views of “what Jesus meant” or what the church teaches (or should teach). But none of these men, nor their and our female and male counterparts then or now, is our foundation. Jesus is our foundation. He sets the baseline. Others, such as Otterbein or Albrecht or Boehm or Wesley (or Hamilton or Slaughter or … you get the point) may help some of us build upon it in ways that seem most coherent and sustainable to us. But Jesus is the foundation. Everything else is what we’ve built in response to Jesus and in community with one another over time, whether week, months, years, decades, or centuries.
What does it mean for us to assert, with Stephen, I Peter and John’s gospel, that Jesus is the foundation? And why is it important we do so?
It is Jesus who uniquely calls us to be his disciples. It is Jesus whose ministry announced, embodied and through the church (and beyond it) continues to embody the kingdom of God in the world. It is Jesus whose execution freed the world from captivity to sin and death and whose resurrection and ascension displays that deliverance for all to see. It is Jesus who stands at the right hand of God, as Stephen saw and generations of Christians have proclaimed in creeds and confessions of faith. It is Jesus, coming again in glory, who will judge the living and the dead and inaugurate new creation. His way is the way. His truth is the truth. His life defines the nature of life itself. And his way, truth and life uniquely lead us to fullness of salvation and life in God. Everything depends on him.
This may seem blindingly obvious for a Christian worshiping community. But this is the day in this Eastertide when we underline what may seem obvious, so no one can miss it. Neither our ideas, nor ideals, nor ideologies are to direct our lives: Only Jesus himself, as the Holy Spirit reveals him and as he lives and moves among us as his body.
Given what I see in the quality of discourse in which many United Methodists and other Christians are engaged, I have to conclude it is not always blindingly obvious, even among our leadership, that Jesus is our foundation. Make no mistake: Jesus is the foundation. But is he functioning that way in our lives as United Methodists, in our places of work, or school, or leisure, or marketplace? Do we recognize only Jesus as foundation in our congregations, conferences, and church-supported ministries? Is Jesus functioning as the foundation of your own life?
In Your Planning Team
I concluded the comments above with a set of questions I hope your team will have considered before meeting.
But when you meet, there’s a different set of questions I hope you will discuss. I think it is not blindingly obvious that Jesus is the foundation of our lives. But I’d also wager he actually is in ways we as congregations and even as a denomination simply may not have noticed or called attention to.
To get at that, the questions need some reframing. The questions to ask (and discuss) in team aren’t about whether Jesus is foundation (which may predispose us toward negative responses), but how he actually does function as foundation in our own lives and the lives of people around us.
With that in mind, the questions are:
1. Tell a story about a time when Jesus has been a cornerstone in your life, or the life of someone else you know, holding everything together.
2. Tell a story about a time when Jesus has shown you the way, or you (or someone you know) has been able to show others the way of Jesus because Jesus has shown you (or the other person) the way.
3. Tell a story about a time when Jesus has set the standard for truth for you, or someone you know, or when you (or someone else) has been able to stand for or abide in the truth Jesus reveals whether in adverse or “normal” circumstances.
4. Tell a story about a time when Jesus has been life for you, or someone you know, or when you have been able to offer life to others because of Jesus.
Today is a day to make the bold assertion that Jesus is the foundation, to ask the tough questions about whether he functions that way in our lives as fully as he could or should, and then give voice to what may have been a voiceless or unnoticed witness all around you to the living reality of Jesus as cornerstone, way, truth and life.
If you can make these moves in worship today, you will have done what Christian doctrine and sound mystagogy do best: declared the truth, called for truthful living, and given witness to the ways this truth operates constantly in the lives of followers of Jesus.
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Ministry Focus: Proclaim the Mighty Acts of Christ
I Peter 2:9 is often cited to make the case that Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (NRSV). I Peter does say all of that about the baptized, and all of it is important and true. What many have left off, however, is the rest of the verse, “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous life.” We have been made all of these things—chosen, priesthood, holy, God’s own people—so that we may proclaim, through all these things, the mighty acts of Christ.
I Peter makes clear here that proclaiming the mighty acts of Christ is part of the purpose of our being made Christians in the first place. The Holy Spirit builds us into this spiritual house, this holy priesthood (2:5) not simply to do nice things for us or give us some new status, but so that will become proclaimers, all of us, of all Christ has done. If he is indeed precious to us, we simply will proclaim his mighty acts.
We see Stephen doing just that in the opening and closing verses of today’s reading from Acts 7. In verse 56, he declares Christ’s ascension and eternal reign with God. And in verse 60, he proclaims God’s power to forgive even blatant acts of violence as he asks God to forgive those who are about to stone him.
We may object, “But Stephen was special, ordained as one of the first deacons, right? It was his job to proclaim the mighty deeds of Christ in this way, right?” Well, first, let’s remember the circumstances that led to Stephen’s ordination, and in particular the qualifications persons need to have to be considered ordainable to this office. Acts 6:3 sets the criteria used for the first group of deacons ordained by the apostles in Jerusalem. They needed to be Hellenistic Jews (certainly not a necessary qualification in other places!), “of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (NRSV). So Stephen was chosen because he was already a person who had proven himself in these areas. In other words, he wasn’t proclaiming Christ because it was his job. He was chosen for his job in part because, filled with the Spirit as he was, he was proclaiming Christ! He was not made special by his ordination. He was ordained because he was already something special, or rather a particularly intense case of what all Christians would likely seek to be—of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.
I Peter seems to presume that all the baptized would proclaim Christ’s mighty acts. Indeed, if they understood themselves to be part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, how could they not do so?
Today in the U.S., at least, there appears to be a widespread assumption that Christians are expected to live Christlike lives but not necessarily proclaim Christ in any verbal way. We might leave the proclamation or any sort of verbal witness to the mighty works of Christ in our own lives or in the world to religious experts—evangelists, deacons, pastors, or theologians.
While such an assumption is widespread and often supported by the fact that it may be primarily deacons, evangelists, pastors and theologians who declare the mighty acts of Christ, would it be therefore reasonable to say that only such persons thus embody what it means to be the “chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people” to which I Peter refers? Has the lay/clergy, or perhaps more to the point, “professional/amateur” Christian divide become so pronounced that we no longer have a culture that actively encourages, supports and challenges every one of the baptized to proclaim Christ’s mighty works in words as well as in deeds?
The ministry point of these texts on these days is to say if we have lost such a culture, it is high time to reclaim and rebuild it. Truly, the mighty works of Christ are not understandable as such unless people point them out with their words. Put a bit more boldly, our capacity to offer ministry in Christ’s name, wherever we do that, depends intimately on our commitment and capacity to proclaim his mighty deeds.
So what are those mighty deeds, and how are we to proclaim them?
I Peter 2:9-10 already points to part of the answer. The mighty acts in question there are those by which Christ “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” They are part of the fact that we who were no people are now God’s people, that we who had received no mercy now receive it all the time. Christians who have a story they can tell about their lives have a testimony to share about at least one of these means of God’s deliverance in their lives. We all have a story to tell about some deliverance from ignorance to knowledge, or from bondage in sin to freedom from that sin, or from isolation to community in the body of Christ, or from the difference between the harsh and unforgiving patterns of life in the world to forgiveness freely offered and exchanged in the body of Christ. These are specifically idenitified by I Peter as some of the mighty deeds of Christ we have been brought into his body, the church, so we can proclaim them abroad.
We also proclaim him by following him, by doing the works he did, and even greater than these (John 14:12). In John’s gospel, those works are works of deliverance, not condemnation, of suffering, not inflicting suffering, of rising and raising from the dead, not sending people to their graves. Water becomes wine. A Samaritan woman receives living water and shares it with all in her village. A man lame for 38 years is healed. A crowd of thousands is fed with the lunch of a small boy. A blind man is given sight for the first time. A man dead for four days is raised. Jesus himself is brutally executed and rises from the dead. This is the way, truth and life of Jesus, and these, among others, are his works, his mighty acts.
And we are remade in Christ to proclaim them, too.
In Your Planning Team
Unless the culture of proclamation of the mighty acts of Christ has become entirely absent among all of the people of your congregation, there is a strong chance you do not have to rebuild it entirely from scratch. You may find it alive and well particularly (though not exclusively) among older members, persons of all ages from non-Anglo, non-Western European cultures, and persons now in your congregations but raised or with experience in more evangelical or Pentecostal traditions.
So before you plan this service and the follow-up processes for the coming week(s) to help strengthen or reintroduce such a culture of proclamation in your congregation, go yourself and send members of your team to interview persons in your congregation who already give verbal witness to the mighty acts of Christ as a matter of course, embedded in their normal conversations. Have interviewers thank them for their witness and learn who and what formed these folks to make proclamation of the mighty acts of Christ such a normal part of their interactions with others.
When you gather to do the planning, then, have team members share what they learned from those they interviewed. What they learned will give you not only a sense of the “how,” but more importantly a sense of the “who”—who might be involved beyond just these folks in spreading this “culture of proclamation” more widely in your congregation.
As you think about worship this day built around this ministry focus, you needn’t try to create the whole culture in one service. Think introduction, not conclusion. Lead folks to see the power of it in the ministries of those who are already well formed by it. Sing hymns and songs that boldly declare Christ’s mighty acts of salvation on both a cosmic and a personal scale. Use a bold creed or confession of faith today (suggestions below). And be sure to have created several age-appropriate channels for follow up during the coming week so those who become eager to take the next step (especially the newly baptized) are given some concrete ways to do so.
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Embodying the Word: Confessions of Faith for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
If your congregation has fallen away from using creeds or confessions of faith in worship, or simply never adopted the practice for a particular service, the Easter Season is a good time to reclaim or start. Week after week the scriptures boldly declare the resurrection of Jesus. Why shouldn’t the body of Christ respond with an equally bold declaration?
The key is to declare them boldly. No mere reading. No muttering. The creeds and confessions of faith are there for the whole worshiping community to proclaim aloud, with confidence and joy!
The Nicene Creed, UMH 880 (John, doctrinal focus)
The World Methodist Social Affirmation, UMH 886 (I Peter, ministry focus)
Affirmation from I Timothy, UMH 889 (Acts, doctrinal focus and ministry focus)
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- UMH, page 6 (seasonal)
- BOW 381 (John)
- BOW 383 (Acts)
- BOW 456 (1 Peter)
- BOW 449 or 457 (Psalm)
- BOW 456 (1 Peter)
BOW 464 or 393
Concerns and Prayers
- UMH 535, A Refuge amid Distraction (Acts, Psalm)
- BOW 163-164, For an Untimely or Tragic Death (Acts, Psalm)
- BOW 399, Week 5 (Easter)
- BOW 512, For Guidance (Psalm)
- BOW 495, Litany for the Church and for the World
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Malawi, Zambia
- BOW 74-75 (Acts, John)
- BOW 66-67 (seasonal)
- BOW 563
- BOW 561
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