Planning - Sixth Sunday of Easter
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
- Suggestions from Worship & Song
Paul spends time in Athens, learning the culture, then defends his teaching by preaching at Mars Hill.
Psalm 66:8-20 (UMH 790)
Despite persecution and difficulty, the people of God continue to offer themselves with thankful sacrifice, wherever they are. If you use the sung response, sing the psalm to Tone 1 in C major.
1 Peter 3:13-22.
Christ suffered and died for all people in all times and everywhere. Christians, wherever they are, are to be ready to give an account for the hope that is in them.
Jesus says he will give the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with and in his disciples forever, wherever they go.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Liturgical calendar: Easter continues. North American Protestants may still be habituated to make Easter a day that comes and goes, but the heart of Easter the risen Lord doesn't go away. He is risen. He shows himself alive and then returns to the Father so that he can send us the Spirit. Ascension is coming this Thursday. Pentecost is coming in two weeks. "I will not leave you orphaned," says Jesus. "I am coming to you."
And so he did, and so he does. The Spirit is in our midst whenever we worship, enlivening Word, Font, and Table. Today is a good day to call particular attention to all three perhaps a day for reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant as well as celebration at the Table of the Lord.
Today's gospel provides a perfect opportunity to set up the celebration of the Ascension of Christ either this coming Thursday (see below) or next Sunday.
The Ascension of the Lord officially Thursday, June 2, ten days before Pentecost, and forty days after Easter. This is one of only three days not occurring on a Sunday in the 1662 Anglican Calendar for which John Wesley retained specific texts and prayers in the 1784 Prayer Book for Methodists in America. (The others are Good Friday and Christmas Day).
The texts for Ascension Day/Sunday provide several lenses for celebrating and living the reality of the ascension of Jesus. The act of Ascension (Jesus literally rising into the sky) is less important than what it signifies his enthronement, his being exalted to the right hand of the Father, and his authority in heaven and on earth.
Like the Resurrection, the Ascension of Christ is not primarily a historical proposition we investigate to prove or disprove, but instead an article of our faith in God's history with us and our history as God's people. It is affirmed in all the ecumenical creeds on a par with the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. "He ascended into heaven affirms the core Christian conviction of the fullness of Christ's reign now and in the age to come. See UMBOW 401-404 for additional Ascension-related resources.
Since Ascension Day always falls on a weekday (always on Thursday), many of our congregations transfer the readings and the celebration of this day to the following Sunday (June 5, Seventh Sunday of Easter). Worship Planning, Preaching and Music Helps on this site are provided for both Ascension and Easter 7 on that Sunday.
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.
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The common thread binding this week's text might be phrased something like "The Mission Field is Always Everywhere." From the intellectual capital of the Western world (Athens), to newly baptized Christians getting their "marching orders" in Palestine and Rome (I Peter), to the disciples with Jesus in Jerusalem being told they will receive the Holy Spirit who will go with them wherever they go, all the readings are clear on this point. Wherever we go, the Spirit has preceded us and goes with us. There is always something to proclaim, some way to articulate the reality of the world made new in God's kingdom whose King is the Risen One, Jesus Christ. The Spirit gives such proclamation to us, always. Will we be faithful to speak and embody what the Spirit gives?
The mission field is always everywhere for us, all around us. Recognizing the opportunities to speak and embody what the Spirit gives may begin by finding a connection with the language and key symbols of whatever culture we find surrounding us, wherever we are. That is exactly what Acts shows Paul doing in his address on Mars Hill, a rocky hill that was the site of the high court for civil and criminal cases in Athens. It was a regular assembly place to discuss law, philosophy and religion, as well, and was in full view of the Acropolis (see photo above), the highest hill in Athens and home to the largest temples to many gods in the region.
Before Paul offered his address here, though, he had spent time elsewhere in Athens. Whenever he entered a new place, the first place Paul tended to seek out was a synagogue where he would seek to proclaim the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:17). There was added urgency for Paul to find his Jewish counterparts here, as the level of idolatry in Athens left him deeply disturbed.
But he didn't stay within his "comfort zone." He went on to decry idolatry and proclaim the resurrection of Christ in the marketplace (the Agora), debating with several philosophers there, and learning more about the culture in the process.
It was after having done this for a while that he was eventually taken to the Areopagus to explain his religious views more fully. Remember, the Areopagus was the site of a court. The threat in being taken here was that he might be taken to court, forthwith, if he failed to offer a satisfactory defense for his proclamation.
Paul used his surroundings there artfully. He could point across to the Acropolis to speak of how religious the people there were. And he could point over to an altar to "an unknown god" (Theos Agnostos) on Mars Hill itself as a warrant to proclaim to them who this unknown god was, using some of their own poetry to do so as well. Paul's address here was a brilliant use of local culture and rhetoric, something he could not have begun to do had he not taken time to understand the culture before he was "forced" to offer his defense.
Note this: Paul's first move was simply not to "accept" the culture in which he found himself. It was his repulsion to a key feature of that culture that drove him more deeply into it first with his Jewish sisters and brothers, and then with the culture at large, more or less. Note, too, the rhetorical play Acts has on this "intellectual capital of the world." Luke refers to the Areopagus as the place where people are always eager to talk about whatever the latest thing might be (which is to say, a culture with an addiction to ephemeral!). Paul reminds the Athenians, straight out, that while "God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now God commands all people everywhere to repent" (vs. 30); i.e., quit being so ignorant! Resurrection they could not compute, but idolatry (abomination and foolishness!) they had swallowed whole.
What is there so out of sync in the cultures and communities surrounding the people of your worshiping community that folks there may be inspired to refuse to keep quiet and begin instead to engage, with the missional and rhetorical artistry of Paul? Ask your worship planning team to start conversations with folks in your worshiping community about this, and see what they find. Don't assume you know yourself or in your team meeting. Go ask! Then use images or soundscapes or whatever fits what you've learned and heard based on what they suggested themselves as you read or unpack this reading.
Note too, though, that Paul's approach was not merely oppositional. Instead, he used what he found objectionable as a means to discover possible points of contact, deep symbols and values that could be "trans-valued" for the sake of God's mission. They valued their intellectual heritage, their religious broadmindedness and their pluralism. Paul read those signs about the culture as the culture understood them itself, and spoke to them at the Areopagus in a way that reflected both a measure of respect for their values and showed how those values and symbols could be held and read very differently through the lens of the God who made all things and raised Jesus from the dead.
Athens was all about rhetoric. So the most persuasive possible form in which to engage in that culture was via rhetoric, a skill that Paul had clearly mastered.
So as you're thinking and asking about points of opposition, think and ask, too, about the deep values of the surrounding culture and ways your congregation (and others in the area!) are already using these to communicate the truth of the gospel, or how they might.
And reflect carefully, too, about what the most valued form of communication is where you are. Is it rhetoric? (Rap, texting, blogging and Twitter are all particularly powerful forms of rhetoric in some places!) Is it video? (Is your worshiping community or the folks among whom they communicate most frequently full of YouTube uploaders?) Is it storytelling? Is it something else?
Or maybe it's even two or more different things? Perhaps the "lingua franca" of your worshiping community is hymnody or storytelling, while for those with whom they communicate most regularly, it may be texting. Use what works for them to inspire them in worship today. Then use that inspiration as a means to motivate them to learn how to use whatever communicates best for others.
I Peter continues to challenge newly baptized Christians, with the whole church, to live out the enormity of the mission before us. "Always," Peter says, "be ready to make your defense for the hope that is in you" from day one, forward. Always. Not occasionally. Not when we feel like it. Always.
Always, that is, when someone asks us, or more accurately, requires us to testify. Apparently, that was not an uncommon occurrence among the Christians who were circulating this letter in the earliest centuries of the faith. Christians lived out a radical hopefulness and in a way so distinctive from the surrounding culture that the questions would come, and not always in a friendly or tolerant way. Even so, the defense Peter expected Christians to offer was to be with gentleness and reverence for the inquisitor.
Are there Christians in your worshiping community whose way of life, grounded in the hope that is in Christ crucified and risen, ends up attracting questions from those around them? Are you open to learning from them? What can they tell you about how to live in the way of Christ. so that you, too, and your whole worshiping community, may invite such questions? How can they teach you and others to respond as they do with gentleness and reverence?
Keep in mind that Peter's word here is to all the newly baptized, not just to a select special few. All of us are called to be saints, to experience entire sanctification. All of us are called to be made perfect in love in this life, as John Wesley would remind us. All of us in baptism have appealed to God to have such a conscience as this through Jesus Christ-- raised, ascended, Lord of all.
Peter reminds us here that we really must overcome our fear of evangelism, and let go all the baggage and negative stereotypes we may have inherited or experienced. And we must do that without letting go the reason we have good news in the first place the resurrection of the crucified one who, as Peter reminds, preached even to the spirits in prison in Hell, liberating all of them who believed from the power of eternal death. This is not the story of a wrathful God out to keep us in Hell's thrall, but a righteous God out to deliver all the unrighteous from the devastation and destruction we may experience in this life and what lies beyond it. Hell is truly at work all around us. The good news is God's kingdom is, too, that Christ is victorious, even in his death, and offers to all who will follow him the fruits of his own victory, and the power to overcome fear, sin and death, even and perhaps especially when we are being persecuted for having such hope in Christ. Hell claims to have the final word. Christ harrowed Hell, and hallows all who follow in his way.
And that gives us courage and even joy as we walk into all the places the earth considers Hell and see, and offer, signs of Heaven, God's kingdom.
If in I Peter, the courage to be missionaries in God's mission field always and everywhere is grounded in our baptism into Jesus, in John we learn from Jesus that God's mission into which we are called is empowered by the Holy Spirit, sent by God at Christ's request to be with us always and everywhere. It is through the Spirit that we will see Christ active in the world around us, and through the Spirit that we will continue to obey his commandments. This is why at Holy Communion we pray, with all Christians, that the Holy Spirit may come upon the bread and wine to make it for us the body and blood of Christ for it is in the Spirit and by the Spirit that we see and experience Christ with us. And it is by the Spirit that we know Christ in God, and ourselves in Christ, and him in us (verse 20). And it is as we continue not only to abide in Christ's presence, but also to obey his will, that the Spirit reveals more of Christ to us, in us, around us, and through us to the world.
Close-bound by the Spirit to Christ, we continue to follow, to have and to share Christ's commandments among those with whom we live, and to keep Christ's commandments wherever we are. Close-bound by the Spirit to Christ, we continue his mission wherever we are.
Many of us have experienced talk of the Holy Spirit and being "close to Christ" divorced from active engagement with God's mission in the world around us. Spirituality is often presented as being somehow at odds with practical action, or even with "real life." Yet the witness of our own heritage as Methodists, as well as of the greater Christian tradition, is that it is precisely those who are the most "spiritual," the most in touch with the breath of the Spirit, who are the most actively engaged in the practical acts of witnessing to God's present transformation of the real world in Christ.
Who are the spiritually active; that is. those who have deep spiritual lives and are actively engaged in the life of the community around them where you serve? What testimonies do they have to share? What images and soundscapes help remind your congregation not only of these people, but of the same calling for their own lives to be deeply obedient to Christ in the Spirit, not only privately, but in the surrounding community, neighborhood, and world?
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Embodying the Word: Confessions of Faith for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Affirmation from Romans 8 (UMH 887)
Affirmation from I Corinthians 15 (UMH 888)
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- Holy Communion: It is Easter. Every Sunday is a little Easter. Celebrate the Lord's Supper with joy and attentiveness to the risen Lord present in Word and Table. Use "The Great Thanksgiving for Easter Day or Season" (United Methodist Book of Worship, 66-67).
- A Season for Baptisms: Not just Easter Sunday, but all the Sundays of Easter can be celebrations of the baptismal covenant. The readings from I Peter throughout this season strongly reinforce this role. If you have persons who were unable to receive baptism at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday morning, do not hesitate to baptize them on one of these later Sundays. And so look at these weeks not only as "mystagogy" for those already baptized (unwrapping the mysteries for the newly initiated), but also as primary catechesis for the Christian life for those still awaiting new birth by water and the Spirit.
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- BOW 390 (John)
- BOW 198 or 200, "May the Warm Winds of Heaven" (John)
BOW 464 (1 Peter)
Concerns and Prayers
- BOW 397 (1 Peter)
- BOW 545 For Those Who Suffer (1 Peter )
- UMH 255 (Acts)
- BOW 399 Week 6 (Easter)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland
BOW 66-67 (Easter season)
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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 www.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.
3153, "O God, in Whom We Live," begins with words from the poem Paul cites in today's reading from Acts 17, and continues as a prayerful paraphrase of his sermon to a new tune. It would be a splendid response to the reading of the first lesson today. Since the tune will be unfamiliar, consider asking the choir or praise team to sing the first verse, then have the congregation join on subsequent verses.
3073, "We'll Walk His Way," is a simple, fun, and intricately rhythmic, four-part, South African chorus that would make a great "wrap-around" for the reading of I Peter today. Definitely plan to teach at least the rhythmic pattern of this before the service begins, so the congregation will "walk" through this song rather than stumble when they sing it!
3147, "Built on a Rock," is a new arrangement of a classic, eighteenth-century Danish text and tune. It can work with either the reading from I Peter (especially the reference to the font in verse 5 since I Peter is a baptismal sermon!) or Jesus' statement in John that he does not leave us orphans, but comes to us to establish us in the Spirit. Note a typographical error in the first editions of verse 2: It should read, "Surely, in temples made with hands Almighty God is NOT dwelling" (not, "now dwelling!).
3185, "Send Us Your Spirit, O Lord." This recent text and tune by Dan Schutte, though perhaps originally intended for evening prayer, also makes a great response or closing hymn if the service today focuses on Christ's promise in the gospel reading to send the Spirit.
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