Sixth Sunday of Easter/Festival of the Christian Home (UMC)/Mother's Day (USA)
Detail 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)
The Spirit pours upon Cornelius and his household while Peter is in the middle of speaking, even before they are baptized. Peter recognizes it's time to baptize them and consider them kindred in Christ.
Psalm 98 (UMH 818).
The Psalm continues the overflow of praise described in the first lesson. Sing it! Celebrate with it! Enter into the joy of God's salvation and invite the whole creation to join you! If you use a choir anthem for this psalm, let the choir lead the congregation instead of the choir having all the words and music for themselves.
1 John 5:1-6.
Verses 1-5 naturally go together in a "string of pearls" that connects faith, overcoming the world, obedience, and loving God through a deep relationship of trust in Jesus Christ. Verse 6 begins a different "string" (bringing together water, blood, testimony, and life in Jesus Christ — or we might say, baptism, Eucharist, witness, and discipleship) that next week's lection addresses more fully.
Jesus reminds his disciples who have become, over time, his friends, that they did not choose him; he chose them and appointed them to go and bear much fruit.
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter the doctrinal focus is “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” The ministry focus is on learning to hear and obey promptings of the Holy Spirit. Formational group leaders check in with group members during the week about how they are discerning and following up on promptings of the Spirit and plan to give time to reporting how folks experienced this during the next group time.
Today is also Mother’s Day in the US and Festival of the Christian Home across the United Methodist connection. Special days or Sundays are intended to be additional emphases for worship, not its focus. Keep the Easter Season focus, while also including other elements that relate to the special day or Sunday. In most instances, other venues are better for observing the focus of the special day or Sunday, such as a breakfast or luncheon program. Consider including a listing of mothers in your congregation and community, and invite the congregation to pray for them in unison, by name, during the intercessions. Consider, also, a brief act of blessing for mothers, such as The United Methodist Book of Worship, 437, or the litany of prayer for mothers on 438.
Ascension Day is this coming Thursday (May 14). This was one of the non-Sunday feast Days John Wesley retained from the Anglican calendar for use by American Methodists (along with Christmas Day and Good Friday). This signals its importance for Wesley and the early Methodists. "Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise" (UMH 312) is but one of a good number of hymns Charles Wesley wrote to celebrate the Ascension of Christ, not including those published in his collection, Hymns for Ascension-Day (1761). Whether you celebrate it this coming Thursday or the following Sunday, be sure to celebrate it!
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
Atmospherics Overall: "Obey and Bear Fruit, My Friends"
Last week’s readings focused on how we were called to go wide and deep. This week, the focus is not on us. It’s on the Spirit pouring out when the Spirit is ready (Acts; on Jesus choosing us, not on us choosing him (John); and on God giving commandments that we are to keep (I John). The point is that we do not so much do our Triune God’s mission ourselves. Instead, we join it, already in progress, and on the terms our Loving God, Risen Christ and Sovereign Holy Spirit sent before us.
“Obey and bear fruit, my friends,” summarizes the underlying teaching that unites our three readings and both our doctrinal and ministry foci today. That opening word“obey” and the command (not the option) to “bear fruit” may make these readings a bit of a tough sell to modern Western Christians formed within Western individualistic, democratic, and consumeristic cultures. A lot of us, especially in the Global North and West, are fine with the notion of a God who is powerful enough and free enough to do whatever that God wants to do. We may be “classical liberals” at heart, believing deeply in free will and free agency in this way, as long as the freedom of one does not impinge on the freedoms of another. In other words, we have no problem with God doing whatever God wants to do. But we may have grave difficulty with the notion that God’s authority directly impinges on and defines our own.
This may be part of the reason discipleship is increasingly difficult in our cultures. To become a disciple to Jesus is to become apprenticed to him as our master—in all things. To be baptized into the name of the Triune God is to swear submission and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. If we understand his Lordship to refer simply to “mightiness,” and therefore his capacity to act as victorious Risen Savior, but then conceive of our relationship to him as our voluntary agreement to “come along” with him on our schedules as we feel like it, we have not yet understood or made the commitment to discipleship that Jesus calls us to. We have missed core doctrine and have swerved dangerously from the mission to which he has called us.
Today’s texts are clear. The Spirit moves, and followers of Jesus do what the Spirit says do (Acts). Jesus calls, and calls only those whom He chooses to call, and abide in his love as we keep his commandments and bear fruit (John). Those who are born of God are those who obey God’s commandments (I John). Believing “into” Jesus means putting our whole trust and reliance on him and following where he leads.
Whichever focus you build around today, keep this point clear. We are called to bear fruit, fruit that will last. But we can only bear fruit as we abide in Christ (last week) and keep his commandments (this week), following where the Spirit leads.
Doctrinal Focus: The Work of the Holy Spirit
If your congregation is like many in the Global North and West, you may have a lot of teaching or retraining to do about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit is generally far more focused upon in the East (Orthodoxy) and, thanks to the growth of Pentecostalism, particularly in the Global South. In the West and North, however, the Spirit is rarely taught about (except perhaps at Pentecost). Much less, as the Nicene Creed reminds, are we likely to “worship and glorify” the Spirit “with the Father and the Son,” except, perhaps, in singing the Doxology or the final line of some hymn texts. Indeed, it might be argued that many Christians in the West and Global North, particularly among Protestants, have become functional Binitarians (Father and Son) or even Unitarians (Father or Son) rather than Trinitarians in our theological understanding. William Blake, critiquing John Milton’s theology, wrote, “in Milton, the Father is Destiny, the Son a Ratio of the five senses, & the Holy Ghost a vacuum!” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell EPUB edition, p. 3).
The Holy Spirit is hardly “vacuum” in today’s reading from Acts. Instead, the Holy Spirit acts with sovereignty and precision to change the course of the lives of people in the household of a Gentile God-fearer named Cornelius. The Spirit “fell” upon “all who heard the word” (verse 44) in the middle of Peter’s address to them, before he had finished, including the Gentiles among them (45). Those with Peter who witnessed this address were astounded by what the Spirit had done, though Peter had come to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Spirit in the world (45). What they were seeing was no “Spirit of Gentleness” but rather the powerful witness of even Gentiles speaking in tongues, giving ecstatic praise to God (46). Peter then called for them to be baptized because it was evident they had received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit just as Peter and his companions themselves had (47). And after their baptisms, Cornelius and his companions asked for Peter to stay among them for a few days (48), apparently to build on the community they had experienced in the outpouring of the Spirit and to figure out what to do now that this had happened.
The Spirit acts, bearing witness to the Word. Astounding as this particular “outburst” of the Holy Spirit was to those who first witnessed it, we see across the Book of Acts and into the present day countless witnesses to the Spirit working in similarly powerful ways.
This is the Holy Spirit, sovereign, wild, and free. And this is the work of the Spirit, igniting such ecstasy in the encounter that regular speech at times is turned to ineffable praise, and then gathering those who had received the outpouring into community to continue to grow in what has been begun in them.
In Your Planning Team
Ask members of your planning team to share how they identify and talk about the work of the Holy Spirit, or if they do. For this conversation, it’s fine if they have little or nothing to say. The point here is to elicit honest responses, not theological treatises. This may give all of you some kind of baseline measurement of the awareness of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in your wider congregation.
When you are working on a doctrinal focus, the idea is never simply to articulate “the correct teaching,” but always to try to move people from wherever they now find themselves toward the embrace of the truth. As our reading from I John reminds, “The Spirit is the truth” (I John 5:6). In other words, your role isn’t to convince others about the Spirit, but to point them to the reality of the Spirit, trusting the Spirit to do the actual “heavy lifting.” The Holy Spirit is quite good at that!
Where more direct confessions of the work of the Spirit may be involved in worship today may be in songs, hymns, confessions of faith, and testimonies.
So consider beginning worship with powerful music of praise from or inspired by Psalm 98. Begin with praise for God’s victory, faithfulness, and justice, joining the whole of creation this psalm describes as you do. Consider an opening worship set of “How Great Is Our God,” “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” and “You Are Good” (Worship&Song, 3003, 3010, 3014).Then move into one or more songs or hymns that specifically give thanks for the person and work of the Holy Spirit both before and after reading the first lesson from Acts. In response to the reading from I John, find a hymn or song your congregation knows well that focuses on the Holy Spirit as truth. Then read the gospel.
Though your preaching today will likely not focus fully on the gospel, remember the gospel provides the underlying theme of our obedience as critical to bearing fruit— and that bearing fruit, fruit that will last, is the aim of the work of the Holy Spirit among us.
Assuming you will also celebrate Holy Communion today, you may point out (before, not during!) where the Great Thanksgiving alludes also to the specific action of the Holy Spirit we seek at the Lord’s Table—an action not only of transforming bread and wine, but through these transformed gifts, also transforming us, every time we eat and drink there. And that transformation is not simply individualistic. It is corporate, active, and even cosmic.
“Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
“By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”
“A Service of Word and Table I,” Copyright © 1972, The Methodist Publishing House;
Copyright © 1980, 1985, 1989, 1992 UMPH.
You may also wish to look at the ways the Spirit is called upon at baptism, especially for those who have been newly baptized this year or who have recently affirmed or reaffirmed the baptismal covenant for themselves.
“Pour out your Holy Spirit,
to bless this gift of water and those who receive it,
to wash away their sin
and clothe them in righteousness
throughout their lives,
that, dying and being raised with Christ,
they may share in his final victory.”
The Services of the Baptismal Covenant of The United Methodist Church as Revised to Align with the 2008 Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions,"
Copyright ©1976, 1980, 1985, 1989, 2009 The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.
Ministry Focus: Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Spirit
The doctrinal focus today addresses the who and the what: Who the Holy Spirit is and what kinds of things the Holy Spirit does. The ministry focus addresses how we respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
So what are “promptings of the Holy Spirit?” “Prompting” is a word we use to capture the multiple ways the Holy Spirit communicates with us to lead and direct us. Sometimes this seems to be an audible voice, or at least a coherent form of words we hear in our heads. Sometimes it comes as a feeling (good or bad) about what we are about to do that gives us an almost unconscious sense of what our next step should or shouldn’t be. Sometimes it comes through the guidance of others when we seek their counsel, or when they simply give it. Sometimes what comes to us scares us, and we may be apprehensive to follow. And sometimes what the Spirit prompts leads us to experience great joy.
The common factor across these very diverse experiences is we come to know them as the direction and leadership of God. They are not merely projections of our own desires or fears. They are the communication of the God who is out to save us, to sanctify us, to enable us to bear much lasting fruit, and, ultimately, to renew all things in Christ.
The promptings of the Spirit are not hard to discern. The question is whether we seek to discern them. Our cultures, especially in the Global North and West, tell us to “follow our bliss” or “do what will make you happy.” Even when they teach some degree of a duty to altruism, they may do so from the angle that “this is what will make you happiest.”
The work of the Holy Spirit, however, is not about making us feel happy or happier. It is instead about truly making us happy by making us holy, restoring in our lives, down to our synapses, the fullness of the image of God in which humanity was originally created. So when we sense a prompting of some kind, the filter we must use in discerning how to respond to it is not “Will this make us feel happy” but “Will this make us more holy?” Sometimes the two coincide. Sometimes they do not.
When we come to know the prompting is something likely to make us more holy, the response we are to offer is one of faithful obedience.
We see how Peter models this obedience in the reading from Acts. The Spirit has acted, powerfully, even in astounding ways in the lives of the members of the Gentile household of Cornelius. He sees what the Spirit is already doing, and follows suit by immediately offering baptism to these persons, and then staying a few days longer to help establish them further in what has just happened among them.
In I John, the call to obedience is omnipresent. That we love God is shown by our habitual obedience to God’s commands, including the command to love one another. And that habitual obedience generates in and through us the capacity to “overcome the world.” And what is involved in loving God is more than a feeling. It is a commitment to Jesus as Christ and Son of God. Obeying the promptings we receive from the Spirit enables us to fulfill all the commandments of God.
The reading from John’s gospel brings it all home. We are called to obey Christ’s commandment to love one another as he has loved his own disciples (15:12). He loved his own disciples by fully investing his life in them, in their enlightenment about the ways of the kingdom of God now in their midst, and in their own growth in holiness (15:13). He loved them by discipling them so they could disciple others and thus become a channel by which others would disciple others and holiness would flourish among an ever-growing number of people across the earth.
Then note this often skipped verse: “You are my friends if you should continue to do what I command you” (15:14). The status of friendship with Christ is not a given. It is conditional. It is conditional, as we have seen already, on continuing to abide in Christ as the branches abide in the vine. It is conditional as we see here on continuing to obey Christ’s commandments, especially his commandment to love one another as he has loved his own disciples, investing his whole life in their formation so that they could do the same for others and bear much lasting fruit (15:16).
And the Holy Spirit continues to prompt us, in multiple ways, both to obey and to be able to bear much lasting fruit by investing ourselves in discipling others.
If the prompting is from the Holy Spirit, whatever it may be will make us more holy, and in so doing make us more able to bear enduring fruit in others that can bear enduring fruit in yet others.
In Your Planning Team
The emphasis of planning around the ministry focus should be on how the promptings of the Spirit are discerned and what happens when we do (or do not) obey them.
Sometimes we experience and follow the promptings of the Spirit sporadically, as it were, particularly when we are relatively new to life in Jesus Christ or coming back after a period of walking another way. You’ll want to gather some of these stories, and perhaps sing a hymn that reflects this sort of “time to time” experience.
But don’t stop with the occasional. Focus as much or more on gathering the stories of those whose “long obedience in the same direction” (paragraph 188 in the link), in this case to the promptings of the Spirit toward holiness of heart and life and the growth of others in the same has produced lasting fruit in the lives of others who then have then persevered and passed this on to others, becoming “mothers in discipling” if you will (though do not limit the testimonies to women or mothers!).
So discuss in your team whom you may need to interview, or who may be ready to tell a story, about both sporadic and long obedience to the promptings of the Spirit. The aim is to enable people in your congregation to hear from living witnesses at various stages of this journey, from the sporadic to the long, with the long as the goal toward which we are all heading so that the lasting fruit being borne in us may also be borne in others.
Call to Worship: UMBOW, 181, "Introit: Sing to the Lord a New Song" (Psalm)
Greeting: UMH 818, verse 2 (Psalm)
Greeting: UMBOW, 382 (John)
Opening Prayer: United Methodist Hymnal, 335, "An Invitation to the Holy Spirit" (Acts)
Opening Prayer: UMBOW, 394 (1 John)
Opening Prayer: UMBOW 347 (Mother’s Day)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Litany: UMBOW 495, "Litany for the Church and for the World"
Prayer of Intercession: UMBOW, 399, Week 6 (Easter)
Prayer of Intercession: UMBOW 438 (Mother’s Day)
Prayer of Thanksgiving: UMBOW, 397 (1 John)
Prayer: United Methodist Hymnal, 481. "The Prayer of Saint Francis" (1 John, John)
Prayer: UMBOW, 518, "For Others" (1 John, John)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Kenya, Tanzania
Canticle: United Methodist Hymnal, 646, "Canticle of Love" (John, Mother’s Day)
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Great Thanksgiving for Easter Season: UMBOW, 66-67 or Great Thanksgiving for Eastertide
Act of Sending
Deacon: People of God, go forth.
Go, following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Go to grow in holiness of heart and life.
Go to invest your lives in others that they may become holy and faithful disciples of Jesus.
Go to give living witness to the love of our Creator, the salvation found in Jesus, and the signs, everywhere, of the Spirit drawing all toward holiness.
Benediction: UMBOW, 218, "Benediction for Pentecost" (Acts)