Detail: Mary Magdalene and Emmaus from the Easter Mosaic of the Cathedral Basilica
of Saint Louis, MO. CC BY-SA 4.0.
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
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
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 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 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 abide 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.
On the Fifth Sunday of Easter the doctrinal focus is “Constant Communion: Abiding in Christ.” The ministry focus is on cultivating seekers. Formational group leaders should use this week to check in with group members about how they “attend upon all the ordinances of God,” 3rd General Rule), what they’re learning as a result, and offer accountability and support to attend upon all of them more faithfully going forward.
Now-May 24 Easter Season
All Month: Asian-Pacific-American Heritage Month
Christian Home Month
May 10 Mother's Day (USA)/Festival of the Christian Home
May 14/17 Ascension Day/Sunday
May 24 Pentecost
Heritage Sunday/Aldersgate Day
May 25 Memorial Day (USA)
May 31 Trinity Sunday
Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 21 Father's Day (USA)
June 24-28 Youth 2015
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
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. This is the ministry focus. The same One calls us to “go deep,” abiding more and more in him, as the branch abides in the vine. This is today’s doctrinal focus.
Wide—and deep. Deep—and wide. Breathe in. Breathe out. Diastole. Systole. Always, always both are essential in the life of disciples of Jesus Christ.
Doctrinal Focus Constant Communion: Abiding in Christ
Last week, we focused on the nature of the authority of Christ. This week, we focus on the invitation of Christ to abide in him.
To abide in Christ is to place our home in him. Wherever he is, there we are. Wherever he goes, there we go with him. The action of abiding in Christ is indeed a practical, ongoing spiritual exercise that may involve a variety of practices. These practices were taught during Lent, at least in formational groups. Today is a day to reinforce what these practices are in worship and, for the coming week, especially to check in on those in the ongoing Easter formational groups to see how they are doing with, as the Wesleys put it, “attending upon all the ordinances of God.”
There are two doctrinal elements to focus on in worship today. One is the necessity of continuing to abide in Christ. Baptism cleanses us from sin and puts us into Christ and into his body, the church, but it does not guarantee we will stay there by itself. Jesus is quite clear in the reading from John’s gospel for today. “You have already been cleansed,” he tells his disciples (John 15:3, NRSV). But now we need to abide, and keep abiding if we wish to have the life begun in us at baptism to flourish and us to grow, rather than wither, die, and then, as Jesus puts it rather starkly, “be thrown into the fire and burned” (verse 6, NRSV).
This call to abide in Christ constantly is not simply for us to experience closeness with God, though that may happen. Ultimately, as Jesus says in verse 8, the call to abide is made so that, like branches in a grapevine, we may bear much fruit. Apart from Jesus, we do not bear his fruit, the fruit of his love (I John) in the world. Abiding in him, constantly, we can and do.
So what does it mean, concretely, to abide constantly in Christ? The Wesleys were committed to helping Methodists do this very thing that they may bear the fruit of growing into perfection in love in this life. Drawing from their Anglican emphasis on using the means of grace, the Wesleys enumerated specific practices among these that all Methodists were encouraged, challenged, and held accountable to keep through their class meetings. While the list was not intended to be exhaustive, it was intended for all Methodists to learn how to keep at least all of these. They are:
- The public worship of God;
- The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded;
- The Supper of the Lord;
- Family and private prayer;
- Searching the Scriptures;
- Fasting or abstinence.
Methodists were given the opportunity to practice these six “ordinances of God” across the different venues of their meeting as Methodists. The public worship of God referred specifically to participation in worship in local congregations, Anglican or otherwise. The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded occurred for Methodists in congregations, in society meetings, and -- at times -- in class meetings, as well as, in some places, through field preaching. The Supper of the Lord happened for Methodists primarily in Anglican or other congregations on Sunday mornings, though also occasionally in chapel meetings Wesley sometimes held (though never as part of society meetings, class meetings or field preaching). Mr Wesley was adamant that Methodists participate in celebrating it constantly, as often as possible. Family and private prayer would happen in homes. Searching the Scriptures might happen at homes or in class meetings. And fasting or abstinence was a personal practice.
Today is a good day to remind the congregation not only to abide in Christ, but what these core practices are that enable us to do that very thing in a variety of ways, held accountable by a variety of venues of assembling ourselves together. That there are “ordinances of God,” all of which we are called to “attend upon,” and how they can be or are being practiced now, is solid doctrinal content no growing Christian can be without—and all may benefit from being reminded of regularly.
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In Your Planning Team
To abide in Christ as branches abide in a vine calls for a high level of personal commitment and attention to Christ in our personal, family, daily and corporate lives as Christians. We do not add Christ to our lives as one thing among many. Rather, he adds us to his, and calls us to stay connected to him fully as he desires to be fully connected to us. And, he has given us, in the church, and particularly as those in the Wesleyan tradition, multiple ways to stay connected.
Not all of these ways happen in gathered worship, but several do. Gathered worship itself is one of them. Here the Scriptures are both read and expounded. And here we also celebrate around the Table of the Lord.
Today the expounding of the Scriptures reminds and calls worshipers to “attend upon all the ordinances of God.” Not just some of them, when they feel like it. All of them, constantly, in an ongoing way, for life. At least, if we are attending to the call of Jesus to abide in him as the branches in the vine.
It is likely that most gathering today do not attend upon all the ordinances of God with the regularity and commitment implied by “abiding in Christ.” It’s important to name that it is an expectation of United Methodists, at least, that we do so. Naming the expectation as an expectation may feel uncomfortable to some, but it is not an act of condemnation. Nor should the approach this service takes move in a condemning direction of those who do not yet do so. Rather, the aim in your planning should be to encourage and inspire abiding in Christ through all of these means through song, Scripture, sermon, testimony, and celebration at the Table.
Testimony and song may be the strongest components in a strategy for such inspiration through this service today. Sing about abiding in Christ. In addition to the hymns listed on our site, consider also the nineteenth-century revival classic, “I Am the Vine” (for a recording of this sung in a United Methodist congregation, click here).
And send your team members to gather testimonies about how people have experienced abiding in Christ as they have attended upon each and all of the ordinances of God named in the General Rules.
Think about structuring the service to intersperse singing, testimony, and Scripture as the teaching for today rather than a longer formal sermon. And give ample opportunity for folks to reflect on and commit to how they will “up their game” in practicing each one, and how they’ll seek to be held accountable for doing so.
Above all as you plan and teach in this service today, remember the end game. The end game is not just to get people improving their personal piety. Rather, it’s to help disciples of Jesus become fruitful in helping others become fruitful disciples of Jesus themselves.
Ministry Focus: Cultivating Seekers
In our doctrinal focus, we move deep into relationship with Jesus Christ this week. In our ministry focus, we remember he calls us to move wide, well beyond our existing circles of relationships (though not forsaking them!) to bring those who may be seeking into fruitful discipleship to Jesus Christ themselves.
This is the heartbeat of the story of the deacon/evangelist Phillip and a Jewish Ethiopian official traveling southwest through a desert road toward Gaza (Acts 8:26). There are at least three “widening” moves here. One is a move out of Jerusalem itself, spurred on by the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The second is the move to come alongside the chariot of an Ethiopian official and join it (8:29). The Ethiopian official was Jewish, else he would have had no access to a scroll of Isaiah. So while this was a move outside of Philip’s locale, it was not a move outside his own household of faith. Rather, it was a move that, in turn, would widen the reach of the gospel as this official, it is understood, after his baptism, would become instrumental in spreading the gospel into Ethiopia.
And this, in our text this week, was only the first incident in an even greater widening that followed, as Philip then “found himself” at Azotus (north of Gaza, where the road on which he met the Ethiopian official was heading) and began a preaching tour northward to Caesarea in Samaria. Widening, widening was Philip’s path, and this time going beyond the bounds of his own people.
Philip is lifted up for us in Scripture, particularly in Easter Season, not as an extraordinary hero of the faith, but as a model of how the Spirit’s work of connecting people to Christ calls us, as Christ’s disciples, not only to go deep with Christ, but go wide, led by Christ.
Specifically, we are called and challenged to expand our social networks, the people with whom we interact and in interacting proclaim the gospel and call others to discipleship, beyond whatever circles we have already established.
Widening our social networks is critical business for Christians. C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler, in the course of research on reaching the non-churched just over twenty years ago, discovered then something we may particularly need to heed now, and be ready to teach to disciples of all ages. They discovered that the longer people had been part of a church, the fewer non-churched people they knew. And, in general, few non-churched people had very many (if any) churched people as active parts of their social networks. The result was that in terms of social networks, many churched people lived in a different world entirely than non-churched people.
We see today the longer-term effects of what was already a prevalent phenomenon twenty years ago in the US, and that some would suggest the rise of social media, as we have them, may only have made worse. More and more of us are retreating into ever smaller social circles, approaching the level of echo chambers of “folks like us.”
The Facebook newsfeed systems actually foster this outcome. It keeps track of who you are viewing most often, then gives you more of their feeds and less of those who seem “outside your most active sphere,” i.e., people who may not be like you. One has to be quite diligent on Facebook to keep venturing outward, and make a point of it in what one chooses to “like” and where one chooses to comment to overcome the effects of an algorithm set up to create such echo chambers.
Facebook does not do this to be malevolent. It does this in a way to emulate how most people would normally prefer to interact if they were interacting “in real life.” We really do prefer to interact with people more like us, by nature. The good thing may be Facebook actually gets us to interact with more people from more different places overall, or at least feel like we are doing so, than we might be able to or willing to physical interactions.
Still, the discipleship to Jesus means we are called us far beyond “people like us,” in both the virtual world and the physical world, so that the reign of God might bear good fruit everywhere among all people, including people not where we are and not much like us at all. And that call is first of all a physical and a personal call, to keep working to expand our social networks to all kinds of people everywhere rather than allowing them to fill up with folks mostly like us.
Our ministries as disciples of Jesus and the gifts and calling the Spirit has given us drive us, like they drove Philip, if we are listening, to “Draw the circle wide” and then “wider still.”
In Your Planning Team
Today’s ministry focus could come across as a tired re-iteration of advice to “get beyond your comfort zones.” (For me, at least, that is tired and even annoying.)
The point is not really to get beyond our comfort zones. The point is a call to expand our social networks, and keep working at expanding them, so that the gospel bears fruit for all kinds of people everywhere we are, everywhere we go, and everywhere the Spirit drives us.
A counterpoint is if we don’t do this, we see the results pretty plainly—massive decline in participation in worship and Christian community.
But that counterpoint is not the place to focus today, any more than just telling people to get beyond their comfort zones is ultimately in any way helpful.
What is needed is (a) to help your congregation, especially new Christians, see how their own social networks are expanding or contracting and( b) to encourage them to keep expanding them to reach and come to disciple others who are not like them.
In addition to the hymns suggested in connection with Acts 7, you may also wish to consider “Draw the Circle Wide” (Worship & Song 3154) and “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (UMH 121) as ways to help your congregation confess the value of widening their social networks grounded in the ever-widening gyre of God’s saving love.
And discuss in your planning team how each of you, personally, is doing at widening your social networks. Remember this isn’t talking about how many people you friend on Facebook or connect with via Twitter or Instagram or SnapChat. Following on last week’s ministry emphasis, it’s about what kind of people you are actively seeking to invest your life in. Try to discover in this conversation what seems to make it more likely that you will expand your social networks, and what seems to contribute to your actually narrowing them. See what the factors that contribute to expansion suggest to you about songs and hymns you might sing, prayers you might offer, and even, if you’re up for it, your own stories of growth and failure at expanding your own networks, and especially expanding them for the sake of God’s kingdom bearing fruit through you.
Share these success stories, and be frank about your own failings. This will help your congregation become inspired by the fact that while we may have periods of failure, even if it’s simply because we haven’t actually tried to succeed, (i.e., we’ve sort of let our social networks happen, rather than seeking to expand them for the sake of the gospel), it is not only possible but a great thing to be on the success side of this practice more often than not.
One more thing. Be realistic about this. The sociological, anthropological, historical, and even neurological studies are uniform in their conclusion that we can have a “face to face” level of relationship—which is the primary level of relationship where disciples can be discipled—with at most 150 people at a time in our lives. As a team, you may want to watch this video by Robin Dunbar to get a grasp on this.
So in being asked to expand our social networks, we are not being asked to expand them infinitely, because we simply cannot do that. There is this fairly hard limit. And yes, this means at some point to add a few more, and especially those rather different from us, may require us, individually, to subtract a few from our “active” attention to make room for others. But as we each add to the diversity of our active social networks, we’re actually enabling more people to become more linked in more ways, not less, even if individually we’re giving less attention to some because we’re giving more to others.
And remember, and remind your people, that this isn’t just about us and our own skills at building networks. This is important to remember. We’re not the architects, and because we’ve surrendered our lives to Jesus, we aren’t supposed to be. The Holy Spirit does the work of showing us whom to add and where to go to do it, as we abide in Christ and, like Philip, become attentive to the Spirit’s voice and direction.
So in addition to singing about wideness and widening, and giving attention to how we do (or don’t) widen our own social networks, be sure to give plenty of attention to the work of the Spirit in all of this in song, prayer, and confession of faith today.
Greeting: BOW, 381 (John)
Greeting: BOW, 411 (1 John)
Greeting: BOW 451 (5/6 down, “In the midst of the congregation” Psalm)
Opening Prayer: BOW, 392 (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 401, "For Holiness of Heart" (1 John)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Prayer at the Birth of a Child: UMH 146
Call to Baptism: BOW, 173, "Come, Be Baptized" (Acts)
Baptism Response: BOW, 174, "Baptismal Prayer" (Acts)
Baptism Response: TFWS, 2249, "God Claims You" (Acts)
Prayer: BOW, 541, "For Those Who Are Unemployed" (John)
Prayer of Intercession: BOW, 399, Week 5 (Easter)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan