Planning - The Sixth Sunday of Easter/Mother's Day (U.S.)
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
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.
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Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. A common theme of today's texts is "The Risen One Calls the Shots." At first glance, this may seem to be nearly a repeat of "The Authority of the Risen One" from two weeks ago. The difference is before we were focusing on the nature of the Risen Christ's authority. This week, while also picking up on the "wide and deep" nature of our calling from last week, we focus more intensely on the authority the Risen One in action.
May is Christian Home Month. Christian Family Week, May 7-13, ends today.
Today is also Festival of the Christian Home/Mother's Day.
May is also Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
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.
Atmospherics Overall: "The Risen One Calls the Shots"
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), Jesus choosing us and not we him (John), and God giving commandments that we are to keep (I John). The point is that we do not so much do God's mission ourselves. Instead, we join it, already in progress, and solely on the terms of our Risen Lord.
Discern in your worship planning team which of these texts may be most likely to give your worshiping community the best entre into understanding God's sovereignty in directing God's mission with us.
Recognize that today's theme may not be an "easy sell." 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. Well, so 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 so 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 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.
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.
The Risen Lord calls the shots.
So consider beginning worship with powerful music in praise to God from or inspired by Psalm 98. Begin by praising 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). Clap hands like the floods. Sing for joy like the hills. Such is the praise and power of our Risen Lord. Take time to exalt our God with songs of joy.
Start here, with such praise, but do not stop here, as if our praise were the same as our ongoing obedience. Musically and in other ways, choose elements in worship that reflect our call to obedience to Jesus.
Atmospherics: The Readings
In the larger Cornelius story in Acts, God challenges Peter again and again to get his vision of God's activity out of the "little boxes" Peter had prepared. God wasn't self-limited by kosher law, and God didn't want Peter to be, either. But more than this, God wasn't self-limited to proclaim the gospel only to fully initiated Jewish people.
In this week's reading, God blows up Peter's boxes, pouring out the Spirit on Cornelius (a non-initiated Roman centurion) and his household before Peter gets the chance to finish preaching, much less hear the desire of these people to be baptized. If your faith community or others in the community have stories of God acting out ahead of your plans and expectations for mission or ministry, this may be the text to start with to get at what it means that it is the Risen One, and not us, who calls the shots and so what obedience to the Spirit may look like.
In John's gospel we have Jesus stating plainly words that often get overlooked: "You did not choose me. I chose you" (John 15:16). We overlook them perhaps in part out of an aversion to doctrines such as predestination (which is not the point here). Or we overlook them because we want to focus on the words just before these: "I have called you friends."
In our "Western, liberal, egalitarian, and democratic" cultural biases, we often miss the point Jesus is making here. We think, almost by autopilot, "Oh, we're all friends with Jesus, automatically!" That isn't what he said. Jesus instead say he would now call these people who had been his disciples for several years his friends. Why could they be friends, and no longer servants, only now? Because by now he had taken the time (three years!) to teach them everything they needed to know to continue to fulfill his mission in his name. Jesus calls such experienced followers friends -- after their three years of experience with him precisely as his servant-disciples.
And he calls them friends. They did not get to decide for themselves that they were his friends.
"You did not choose me; I chose you."
How does this reality take shape among the people of your worshiping community?
If we are honest about our experience, we may admit we do not generally choose our own paths in this life. The paths choose us. "The paths" represent ways of life in which people have invested and for which they regularly seek new recruits. They are very often pursuing us, wooing us to follow them long before we're even aware of it. We think we choose them. But they chose us, first.
Jesus chooses his disciples for a different path, one that is bent on incarnating God's way in the world and bearing enduring fruit. He trains his disciples in the will and ways of "the Father" (verse 15). His training course is participation in God's mission with him -- with him always leading the way -- and his disciples obeying his direction, his commandments. If recognizing that Jesus chooses us rather than the reverse is either the leading edge or the deepest need of your congregation, perhaps you would start your worship design process with John.
The reading from I John for this week sounds a lot like the readings for the past two weeks. If worship has not deeply explored the I John readings yet, perhaps today is an opportunity to do that. Simply reading this text straight, as simple as its words are, may become a bit of a hypnotic experience, leaving its truths hard to hear or understand. Or it may just leave those who try to follow the reading asking themselves, "Huh?"
This is because I John invites contemplative reflection rather than a "straight through" reading. The very simplicity of its words and the lulling effect of its syntax call the reader/hearer to slow down and spend more time with it.
Do not fight this. Go with it.
Allow the reading/performance of this text to be a time for slowing down.
Consider reading it slowly, deliberately, lights a bit dimmed and a warm, ambient soundscape if you can manage it.
And remember as you read it that verses 1-5 are one unit, and verse 6 starts another one -- one that you will pick up next week if you use the readings for Easter 7 rather than Ascension Sunday. So consider putting a deliberate pause, perhaps even a short musical interlude, between verses 1-5 and verse 6 so each can be heard, felt, and reflected upon in its own integrity.
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Today is also Mother's Day in the U.S. Plan to draw some attention to this in worship today, but not to let it override the Scriptures or the theme for the day. 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 a litany of prayer for mothers, such as UMBOW 438.
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Call to Worship: UMBOW, 181, "Introit: Sing to the Lord a New Song" (Psalm)
Greeting: UMBOW, 303 (Psalm)
Greeting: UMBOW, 382 (John)
Greeting: Psalm 98:1: "O sing to the Lord a new song . . ."
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)
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)
The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Malawi, Zambia
Canticle: United Methodist Hymnal, 646, "Canticle of Love" (John, Mother's Day)
Great Thanksgiving for Easter Season: UMBOW, 66-67
or A New Great Thanksgiving for Eastertide
Benediction: UMBOW, 218, "Benediction for Pentecost" (Acts)
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