Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

We are in this funny season of Easter, after we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday, and while we await the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there are few passages that tell of any significant events among the disciples between the two events.  We already read the passage from Luke about the two traveling to Emmaus; we read a few weeks ago the story of the disciples in John’s Gospel after the Resurrection that did not believe.  There are other stories that do not come up this year in the lectionary, such as Jesus appearing along the shore while the disciples go back to fishing and then inviting them to breakfast in the last chapter of John.  Instead, we end up reading passages in the Gospel of John of Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples before his death, and passages in Acts that take place long after the day of Pentecost but tell us of the early church, not only how the early believers came together but their great proclamations of faith, such as Peter’s pronouncement of Jesus as the Messiah before the crowd after Pentecost, and Stephen’s proclaimed vision before his own execution.

So in this Sunday’s lessons, we read of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel, the promise that Jesus would not leave the disciples alone, that for those who keep the commandments, there is living hope, even if it is unseen.  And then in Acts, we read of Paul’s speech before the crowd in Athens, his proclamation of a known God, though invisible, while the crowds worship a visible statue of an unknown god.  We know that God is with us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, and we know that God continues to be present in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

But as we are in this in-between time in church seasons, we are reminded more fully of the in-between time that we as Christians, as the Church, exist in now.  We are working to build the kingdom on earth but it is not fully realized yet.  Christ has come into our lives but is coming again in a new way.  How do we experience God now?  What does it mean for us who follow Christ now, in this in-between time?

The Psalm and the passage from 1 Peter compliment each other in speaking of having faith despite suffering.  Again, as I have mentioned before, we need to tread carefully with the letters of Peter, for many of the passages have been taken out of context in the past to demean and oppress women and uphold slavery and slaveholders.  I have heard preachers take these very passages and dictate that God desires suffering for those who are faithful.  Not so!  It is clear that if you are going to suffer, do so for a good cause rather than for evil.  And we all understand suffering differently.  It is all too easy among human beings to play the game of “I have it worse than you.”  Sometimes we look abroad and see the sufferings of others in the world–from the ruined cities of Japan after the tsunami to starving children in Africa, families dying of HIV/AIDS in Central America and children missing limbs after bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and think “how can anyone here ever complain about their lives?”  But we all go through times of suffering.  We all go through times when we may verge on saying, “Why me, God?  Why me?  Why this?  Why now?”  We may go as far as to cry out to God.  We may suffer from chronic pain or illness, or the loss of a loved one.  We may suffer financially and lose our home that we have worked so hard to own.  We may suffer from depression or mental illness.  Suffering is suffering.  It is unpleasant.  It can be downright painful.

Sometimes as people of faith we even suffer when we do the right thing.  When we stand up for those who have faced injustice we may face persecution ourselves.  We have all heard of churches who have faced challenges from the very communities they serve when they open their doors to the homeless, to the mentally ill, to the alcoholics and those overcoming drug abuse.  We have heard of pastors run out of their congregations for calling upon the church to be welcoming of all people.  We have heard of congregations and church organizations that have faced public persecution for failing to comply with popular political views.  Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC, faced numerous threats recently via phone calls and emails after President Obama attended services there and a TV talk show host denounced the church.

1 Peter tells us that even if “we suffer for doing what is right, we are blessed.  Do not fear, and do not be intimidated,” (vs.14).  As we wait for the coming of God’s reign on earth, for Christ to come into our lives in a new way, we do not passively wait, but we actively work to build up the kingdom of God.  We work for justice, for peace, to be living hope in a world that often seems full of darkness and despair.

As it is Memorial Day weekend in the United States, many congregations will pause and remember those who have passed on in service to our country.  It is also a time to renew commitments to peace work and to community-building.  As I have been reminded lately, our country is divided, but we can only grow together one step at a time.  What can we do to work together to work for peace and to build up the kingdom of God on our street corner, in our neighborhood, in our community?  Let us remember those who have given their lives in the past, in the name of our country, and also for those who have worked for peace, for community-building, for the church.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 66 and the hymn “All Creatures Of Our God and King”):
(sung response is the Alleluia from the final line of All Creatures Of Our God and King)
Leader: Make a joyful noise to God all the earth!
People: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Sing the glory of God’s name, give to God glorious praise!
People: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Say to God, “How awesome our your deeds! All the earth worships you!”
People: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Everyone sings praises to God, everyone sings praises to God’s name!
People: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Come and see what God is doing as we worship together.
People: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Prayer of Confession:

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, we sing these great proclamations, but we confess at times we do not sing with our hearts.  At times our words fall short and are meaningless.  We do not follow Your Way and commandments but seek proof and evidence.  We fail to step aside to see the poor and needy around us and continue on our narrow way, helping only ourselves and failing to seek Your wisdom and insight.  Forgive us of our foolish ways and guide us to the right paths, remembering Your wisdom and grace, so that we might fill our hearts and sing with the joy that comes from knowing You in our lives.  In the name of Christ, our companion on life’s journey, we pray.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:

Morning by morning new mercies we see.  Day by day, we know that God is continuing to do a new thing in our lives, to call us to the path of righteousness, to lead us beside the still waters.  We are renewed and restored, forgiven and reconciled.  Let us share the Good News.  Amen.

Prayer:

God of Remembrance, we gather this morning in worship, in prayer, and in fellowship of heart and mind.  We remember the traditions of our ancestors that have been passed down to us that we participate in this morning: our traditions of hymn-singing, sharing through our gifts and tithes, lifting up one another in prayer, reading the ancient Scriptures and proclaiming Your Living Story in word and deed.  We celebrate the great Meal of Remembrance at Communion.  We participate in Your Living Memory, remembering those of the church who have gone before us, who participate at the great banquet that You invite us to.

We remember on this day all men and women who have served our country, and we remember around the world our brothers and sisters of different nations, cultures and languages.  We remember that we are united as Your family, though at times we have been at war with each other.  We remember that in Christ we are one.  We remember and give thanks for all who have served their country, and for all who have worked for peace.  May we continue to work to build the kingdom of God here on earth, and carry forward the memories of those who have gone before us, until that New Day.  Amen.

 

Hymn suggestions:

“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” rings in tune with the scriptures today, especially the passage from Acts, and I have used it in one of the prayers above.  As it is Memorial Day weekend in the US, I also suggest the hymns “This Is My Song (A Song of Peace)” and “O God Our Help In Ages Past.”

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