Planning -- The Fourth Sunday of Easter
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
- Suggestions from Worship & Song
The signs of a Christian community, alive in the Spirit: abiding in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, sharing all they have, and being diligent about the breaking of bread and the prayers. Result of such a community? Not just growth, but multiplication!
Psalm 23 (United Methodist Hymnal, 754, 136, 137, 138; The Faith We Sing, 2058; Worship & Song, 3031, 3096, 3106).
If you use the Psalter version (UMH 754), use Response 2 singing the psalm to Tone 1 in E-flat major. If you use the King James Version (UMH 137), use Response 2 singing the psalm to Tone 1 in E-flat major.
1 Peter 2:19-25.
Another sign of the being a community of the Risen Jesus: our capacity to suffer unjustly and bless God as we endure it.
More signs: Like the Good Shepherd, we call others to safe pasture, protect them from harm, and offer life abundant through him who calls us disciples and friends.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Liturgical calendar: Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year this Sunday features Psalm 23 and part of the "Good Shepherd" text from John 10.
Pentecost, the final Sunday of Easter, is June 12. While we have been reading from Peter's Pentecost sermon during Eastertide, this is the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. It is also a day for baptism, confirmation, and commissioning persons for their ministries.
Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is June 19. While our singing, praying and liturgical texts consistently recognize and praise God as Three in One, this is the day for celebrating and exploring this mystery most fully.
May 22 is Heritage Sunday, the date closest to "Aldersgate Day" (May 24, 1738) when John Wesley's heart was, as he recounts it, "strangely warmed" while attending a meeting of a Moravian Society (not congregational worship, but a separate meeting designed for Bible Study, teaching, exhortation and accountability). The General Commission on Archives and History provides the resources to observe the day. The focus of this commemoration in 2011 is "Engaging in Ministry with the Poor: Our Heritage."
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The common theme among the texts for this Sunday is "Signs of Faithful Discipleship." Keep that larger theme in mind as you design the worship space for today, asking yourself (and others in your congregation and community) where you see such signs in your midst today -- or perhaps opportunities you may have, but have not yet taken, to display such signs.
Acts 2 is the finale of the Pentecost sermon. One might note that the finale of the sermon itself was last week. But the real "end," the real point of a sermon is not its words, but how people live in response to them. Today we see multiple signs of a vital response to this sermon. These were not signs of vital congregations (at this point, there were zero congregations!) but rather signs of the Holy Spirit at work among believers, transforming their lives in every way imaginable.
So where are these signs in your midst?
- "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers." Where are the devoted students not just of Scripture, but of the way of life of Jesus in your midst -- people who have clearly devoted their lives to learning how to live his way? Who is devoted to encountering Christ in the breaking of the bread? Where are the prayer warriors? (Note: Early Methodists were doing all these things!)
- "Awe came upon people because of the signs being performed by apostles." Who are the apostles among you --- those who clearly understand themselves as sent (apostle means one who is sent) to live in the name and under the authority of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit? What are these people doing that shakes folks up and changes expectations about how real their reality is?
- "People were sharing everything they had, selling their possessions, and giving the proceeds to people in need." Where is this divine flow that causes the poor to be blessed happening around you? Where is it flowing freely? Where are there cataracts in the stream?
- "Every day they were gathering in the temple, breaking bread from house to house, and sharing in the prayers." Got any 24/7 Christian religious community happening where you are? What are your congregation and other Christian groups you are part of learning from these folks? What might you learn?
I Peter offers another sign, one that seems on the surface to be incongruous with those in Acts, but is actually critical to them. How much and how well are you suffering, especially unjustly? Christians in the U.S. often experience a pain-free Christianity. Not so in most of the world, and certainly not so where Christianity is multiplying the fastest (China and the Global South). Not so in another country in Southeast Asia, where United Methodists have 70 congregations but are not considered a "legitimate church." Sometimes they find their pastors and members threatened, arrested, and tortured. By 2050, some missiologists estimate that China will have the highest number of Christians of any nation on the planet, the vast majority of these "underground." The Global South already has at least twice the number of Christians as the Global North. Today we pray for two of Global South countries, Malawi and Zambia, in the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle.
Who is suffering unjustly where you are? How are you supporting one another, not simply to end this suffering or hope it goes away, but also to endure it in the name and power of Christ?
John 10 and Psalm 23 are full of images of sheep and shepherds. In this year's reading, Jesus does not call himself the Good Shepherd. He describes how a shepherd calls his sheep and how the sheep know the shepherd's voice and follow it, but not the voice of others. At this point in the story, however, his disciples do not yet understand. So he begins to make it plain, to move from story to metaphor. Oddly, the metaphor might have been more concrete.
Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep."
One of the people on a team of shepherds had "gate duty." This person would literally stand in the gate and function as the gate to make sure the sheep, all the sheep (they counted them!), and only sheep, got in or out of the sheepfold safely. The "gate" was thus, literally, a gatekeeper.
The term "gatekeeper" seems to have largely negative connotations in both the church and the wider culture in the U.S. today. "Gatekeeping" is often described as a primarily negative function. Gatekeepers are looked upon as power brokers intent on "defending their turf." Leaders, administrators, and finance officers are often labeled "gatekeepers" (if not also bean-counters!), and the term is rarely a compliment. Administrative and financial concerns are often framed as being at odds with "real ministry."
Jesus is the gate. Jesus is a gatekeeper, letting sheep, all the sheep, and only sheep, in and out of the fold. He shows us how we, his body, are to help people come in, go out, and find safe pasture as his disciples, counted, cared for, and kept safe from the world's many predators.
The signs of a healthy, vital community of the Risen Jesus in this text are loving and effective gatekeeping.
If your planning team decides to focus on this text today, you may need to find a way to reframe or even rehabilitate the idea of gatekeeping as an essential part of the life of your worshiping community. A hint: start positive. Start from examples of effective gatekeeping in your worshiping community or the wider community. As you tell their stories, or invite them to tell their own (or present an interview instead of a story!), don't use the "g" word right away. Get the good word out first, and let it do its work to help folks see and feel how valuable gatekeeping is -- the gatekeeping Jesus does for us, and the gatekeeping we are thus called and empowered to do with one another and for others in his name. And consider very carefully whether it helps to use any obvious images of gates or gatekeeping in the worship time until after such stories have gotten out as part of worship this day.
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Embodying the Word: Confessions of Faith for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
If your congregation has fallen away from using creeds or confessions of faith in worship, or if it 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!
Psalm 23 is usually something we pray or sing. Today it could easily function as something we confess in response to the word proclaimed, especially if you have focused on the gospel reading.
A Modern Affirmation (UMH 885) would be a fitting confession if you are focusing on Acts.
The World Methodist Social Affirmation (UMH 886) resonates with the images of suffering found in I Peter.
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- Mood: It is still Easter, but the texts today lead us in green pastures and dark, shadowed valleys. Where do these texts intersect you and your "flock"? Are the saints eating their food (eucharistic food?) with glad and generous hearts and having the good will of the people? or with contentious and lazy faith and having little impact on the community? Has the Lenten fast brought them back to the shepherd and guardian of their souls? If not, what is the word that God would speak to them? How could worship today invite them to attend to the wounds that convict and heal them? Note how the gospel reading admits that disciples don't always understand what Jesus is saying to them. Do not hesitate to find better ways to say again what is crucial.
- Music: How many ways can you sing the twenty-third psalm? A lot! Relish the opportunity and plan well with your music leaders. A caution: keep to the order and sense of Word and Table rather than turn this into a Psalm 23 Sunday. Use of the varied settings of this favorite should serve the liturgy as a whole.
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- BOW 450 (John)
- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
And also with you.
The good shepherd calls us by name and leads us.
We follow him because we know his voice.
- BOW 393 (John)
- BOW 466 (Acts)
- BOW 396 (Psalm, John)
- BOW 399, Week 4 (Psalm, John)
- BOW 518 (Acts)
- BOW 519 (Acts)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Malawi and Zambia.
Unison Reading of Psalm 23
BOW 145 (Psalm)
Poem or Hymn
UMH 342 (Tune: ST. PETERSBURG, 153) "Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin" (Psalm, John, Heritage Sunday)
- BOW 66-67
- UMH Word and Table II, p. 13-14: inserting the following at the asterisks
first *:You created us in love and made covenant
to be to us a shepherd
restoring our souls and leading us in paths of righteousness.
When we rebelled and went astray, you did not desert us.
You sent the prophets to call us back to you.
When we were in exile, you returned us to the land of promise.
second *:He called his disciples,
proclaimed your reign of love and justice,
ate with the lost,
suffered death upon the cross,
and made himself known to us in the breaking of bread.
third *:By anointing of the Spirit
you prompt us to follow his voice and
lead us to live your abundance in a needy and wayward world.
Dismissal with Blessing
- BOW 186, "An Indian Blessing" (Psalm)
- Deacon or assisting minister: BOW 559 or
Go forth to love and serve God and your neighbor in all that you do!
Elder: BOW 561 or 565
BOW 565 (Acts)
For some very useful additional resources for this day see Blair Gilmer Meek's Season of Ash and Fire.
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Worship & Song is a new collection of musical and worship resources from The United Methodist Publishing House with the assistance of staff from Discipleship Ministries. It is available in multiple kinds of editions, both print and electronic, and online at the hwww.worshipandsong.com. As we did for The Faith We Sing when it was first released, we will provide suggestions for music and worship resources from this collection as relevant for the season or Scriptures.
3152, "Welcome." Few if any direct references, but captures the spirit of mutual care and worship of this text in an appealing, contemporary tune.
3031, "God Leads Us Along." A favorite 19th century gospel song that claims the church's experience of God as shepherd.
3106. "Your Grace Is Enough." A new, contemporary text and tune that could be used as the major part of a time of intercessory prayer.
3096, "Gentle Shepherd." Bill Gaither's classic chorus for use before and/or after the reading of the gospel lesson.