Planning - The Fifth Sunday of Easter
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
An angel sends Philip, deacon and evangelist, to "hop on board" the chariot of an Ethiopian official puzzling over the meaning of Isaiah 53. Philip re-reads it through the story of the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. The man is baptized and will become a "road evangelist" in his own right.
Psalm 22:25-31 (UMH 752).
The "turnaround" verses of this psalm of profound lament were chosen as the response to the first lesson because of verse 27: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." However you lead the congregation to perform this psalm, make this verse the emphasis. If using the hymnal setting, use response 2 and verses 25-31. If sung, use Response 2 with Tone 2 in D minor.
1 John 4:7-21.
The deep heartbeat of life in the Risen Lord -- Abide in love; abide in the Spirit given to all who confess Jesus as Son of God; abide in God and you will above in love; love one another.
Abide in Christ, the true vine, and you will bear much fruit, and even more as the Father prunes you. Bear no fruit, because you are not abiding in Christ, and you may expect to be cut off and cast away. The Father's will isn't to cast you away, but that you abide in Christ and bear much fruit.
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Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Last week, we focused on the authority of the Risen Jesus. This week, we focus on what it means to live as his community of Resurrection in the world.
May is Christian Home Month. Christian Family Week, May 7-13, begins tomorrow.
May is also Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
May 13 (Easter 6) is Festival of the Christian Home/Mother's Day.
On the Christian Calendar, May 20 is Ascension Sunday. (May 17 is Ascension Day). On the denominational calendar, it is also Heritage Sunday. (See additional resources on www.umcdiscipleship.org.). May 24 is Aldersgate Day.
May 27 is Pentecost, the culmination of the Great 50 Days of Eastertide. Consider offering a commissioning service this day for persons who have spent Eastertide discovering their spiritual gifts and callings and are ready now to claim and begin their ministries in Jesus' name. Here's a resource for just such a service: "Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ's Name."
May 28 is the civic celebration of Memorial Day in the United States.
The texts for today offer two distinctive directions that life in the Risen Lord sends us: wide and deep. The Risen Lord sends us far and wide, like Philip, to meet the official from Ethiopia to take the gospel even wider. The same One calls us to "go deep," abiding more and more in him, as the branch abides in the vine.
Part of the purpose of this season of Eastertide is to prepare people, especially the newly baptized, to discover their spiritual gifts and claim their callings as ministers in Christ's name. Today's readings are a reminder of how far-reaching these gifts and callings are for all of us who "serve as Christ's representatives in the world" (Baptismal Covenant I).
Where do the folks making such a journey in your faith community most need to hear a word of encouragement or prodding today?
Do they seem to be good at "going out there," but not yet deep enough in their practices of abiding in Christ to produce "fruit that will endure"? Then you might continue to encourage their going out with Acts, while calling them to deeper abiding with I John and John.
Or are they more inwardly focused, good at the abiding, but not so good at the going? You might consider how to help them listen for the proddings to which their practices of abiding in Christ must inevitably lead them -- to the obedience of also "going out."
Or perhaps both need equal prodding or equal encouragement.
Wideand deep. Deepand wide. Breathe in. Breathe out. Diastole. Systole. Always, always both.
Discerning matters like these about your worshiping community is part of why you have a worship planning team. Discuss deeply, listen well, and trust the Spirit to guide your conversations.
Whether you lead with "abiding" or "going," "deep" or "wide," the message of the gospel today is the ultimate goal: "that you may bear much fruit, fruit that will endure."
So who bears much fruit that endures where you are? Where does discipleship not only begin, but grow, flourish, and multiply?
Note the question is not "Which congregation has the largest or fastest-growing attendance?" but "Where are you seeing the multiplication of followers of Jesus and signs of God's reign happening most? How are people who are part of this movement abiding in Jesus? What practices are helping them grow personally and in mission? Where and to what sorts of places do they understand themselves to be sent?"
Send your worship planning team wide -- to talk with these people -- and then let their conversations go deep -- to discover what makes them tick. Draw on your team's conversations with these people, as well as your own, as you discern the design of worship space, the art or imagery you may seek to be part of it, the soundscapes you employ, the music you sing, the ways you pray, and the spirit with which you will seek to gather the community around the Lord's Table this Sunday.
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You and other planners may be thinking and feeling that it is difficult to sustain the sense of Easter. So what should you do? One word: "modulate!" It doesn't have to be one long crescendo from Easter to Pentecost! Let the readings guide the planning of worship. Let the intensity rise and fall with the mood of the readings and the tone of congregational engagement with the world. These weeks and this Sunday are times for the congregation to experience the risen Lord and Resurrection life in its many dimensions: shock at the empty grave, wanting to believe (with Thomas), following the Good Shepherd and listening to his voice, and abiding in the Vine.
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Greeting: UMBOW, 381 (John)
Greeting: UMBOW, 411 (1 John)
Greeting: UMBOW, 451 (Psalm)
Opening Prayer: UMBOW, 392 (Acts), UMBOW, 437 (Mother's Day/Christian Home)
Prayer: United Methodist Hymnal, 401, "For Holiness of Heart" (1 John)
Prayer at the Birth of a Child: UMH 146
Call to Baptism: UMBOW, 173, "Come, Be Baptized" (Acts)
Baptism Response: UMBOW, 174, "Baptismal Prayer" (Acts)
Baptism Response: UMBOW, 175, "God Claims You" (Acts)
Prayer: UMBOW, 541, "For Those Who Are Unemployed" (John)
Prayer of Intercession: UMBOW, 399, Week 5 (Easter)
Prayer of Intercession: UMBOW, 438-439 (Mother's Day)
The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan
Prayer of Thanksgiving: UMBOW, 553 (John)
Great Thanksgiving: UMBOW, 66-67
or A New Great Thanksgiving for Eastertide
Here is a specific suggestion for the gospel lesson from The Faith We Sing.
The Faith We Sing, 2076, "O Blessed Spring" (John) This hymn makes explicit reference to Christ the Vine and offers a progressive commentary on the journey of life for every person. Invite people to find their "location" in this hymn and to be open to thinking about how their relationship to Christ is significant for them. You may want to give people a moment to offer a prayer or make a note of what the Vine asks of them at this point in life. Use the hymn before or after the sermon.