Worship Resources for April 21, 2024—Fourth Sunday of Easter, Earth Sunday

A note on Rev-o-lution:

As I shared in previous posts, I will stop posting new weekly content on Pentecost (May 19, 2024). I have been posting on this site for over 13 years, and almost seventeen years counting my old Blogger site.

Thank you for your support of Rev-o-lution over all these years. It has meant a lot to me that my resources are useful to local pastors and that I have been able to provide them for free. But all things come to an end and there are other people blogging on the lectionary currently, with fresher words than mine. Thank you for all your kind words over the last few weeks.

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Narrative Lectionary: Church at Thessalonica, Acts 17:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (Mark 13:9-11)

The selection in Acts is a continuation of the same story from last Sunday. Peter and John, after healing a man who used to beg at the temple gate, and after speaking to the people at Solomon’s Portico on the east side of the temple after that miracle, were arrested and held until the next day. They came before the high priest and his family and questioned them about the healing miracle. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke to all assembled, recognizing that he and John were arrested because they did something good. He answered their question about the power behind the miracle: the man who used to beg stood before them was healed by the name of Jesus Christ, the one crucified and now raised from the dead. Peter concluded with quoting Psalm 118:22, which Jesus quoted when he was questioned in the temple, and Peter declared salvation is found in no other name.

The shepherd’s psalm of Psalm 23 has long been attributed to David and understood as a song of comfort in the face of death. God is the shepherd who leads the faithful, the sheep, to safety and security, restoring those who are downtrodden. Even in the face of death (the valley of the shadow), the shepherd comforts the sheep, their rod and staff are there for protection and assurance. Switching metaphors, the psalmist understands God as the one who justifies those who have been wronged, preparing a banquet table and anointing the faithful before their enemies. The psalm concludes with a blessing of goodness and mercy for all the life of the faithful, and that they will live with God forever. This psalm might also be used for Earth Sunday, in thinking of the Good Shepherd and how God cares for all of creation and provides for us good, green spaces and still, clean water.

This section of 1 John 3:16-24 echoes John 15:12-13, that one who loves lays down their life for their friends. There is no greater love than this, for Christ laid down his life for us. Love must be lived out, to meet the needs of others. Lived-out love is greater than words. Our hearts will let us know when we’ve let down one another, but God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. God will forgive us and restore us to the work of loving one another. For the commandment that the faithful must obey is to believe in Jesus Christ, and to love one another.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd in John 10:11-18, the one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand runs away when the wolf comes, but the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep and knows them. The Good Shepherd knows there are sheep not of this fold but will bring them together (alluding to Gentiles). In John’s account, no one has the power to take Jesus’ life—only Jesus has the power to give it up, and Jesus does so by laying down his life for all, so that life may be taken up again.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the church in Thessalonica. In Acts 17:1-9, Luke gives the account of Paul and Silas arriving in Thessalonica and speaking in a synagogue there, taking three weeks (three Sabbath days) to argue and explain his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Some Greeks, especially women in leadership, began to also listen to Paul and Silas. Some of the leaders went to arrest Paul and Silas, but couldn’t find them. Instead, they took Jason into custody, who had been Paul and Silas’ host. The accusation from the leaders was that Paul and Silas were trying to get people to worship another king (other than Caesar) named Jesus, but the city officials took bail from Jason and others and let them go.

Paul’s own words share greetings to the church in Thessalonica and how the church responded to him in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. This letter is considered by scholars to be the earliest letter of Paul, therefore, the oldest part of the New Testament. The church in Thessalonica had a special place in Paul’s heart because of how they took on the message of Christ that Paul shared with them, and they became an example to believers in the surrounding areas. The believers nearby heard how the Thessalonians turned away from idols and began to worship the living and true God, and wait for the return of Christ.

In the supplementary verses of Mark 13:9-11, Jesus foretells that the apostles will face persecution and be turned over to the local authorities. They will be beaten and abused, but they are not to worry about being put on trial—God will be with them, and will speak through them, as they proclaim the gospel.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, our Cornerstone, the one who watches over us and who is our foundation in faith. Jesus has shown us all the Way, the Truth, and the Life—to love one another as he has loved us. There is no greater love than this. Jesus has laid down his life for us, and calls us to listen to his voice and follow him. The ways of the world humanity has made will lead us astray. The ways of this world are power and greed. The ways of this world can buy out the hired hand, but no one can pay the price that Jesus paid.

On this Earth Sunday, we look at all that God has provided us, the sheep of God’s hand, and that God is the Good Shepherd. God cares for us as a shepherd cares for their sheep—providing all the good things of the earth for us. We are called upon to care for the earth the way God has cared for us, and to love one another as God has loved us. We love one another by making sure there is enough for everyone, by not overusing the good earth’s resources and ensuring clean water and enough food for future generations.

Call to Worship
The call of Christ is this:
Love one another.
The law and the prophets teach this:
Love one another.
The world calls us to fulfill our desires;
Christ commands us to love one another.
We do this best not in word or speech,
But in truth and action.
Beloved, let us love one another,
For Christ first loved us.
Come, worship God, who is Love.

Prayer of Invocation
Creator God, we give You thanks for all You have provided us: the good green earth, the crisp, clear waters, the bright, clean air. You have made everything for us and all of creation. Guide us in this time of worship to have full and grateful hearts, to be generous in remembering all You have done for us and given to us. May we give back of what we have received in word, service, and deed. May we be good stewards of all You’ve given us, and be filled in this space with Your holy presence. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Gentle Shepherd, we confess we have gone astray. We have followed the hired hands. We have listened to the silver tongues that have promised us wealth and power. We have ignored the needs of our fellow sheep and certainly the sheep that know Your voice in far-off places. Call us back from the paths that lead to ruin. Call us back to Your green pastures and still waters. Journey with us in the valley of the shadow of death, steering us away from the dead-ends of this world’s many paths, and instead into the way that leads to life in You. In the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (1 John 3:21-24)
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey God’s commandments and do what pleases God. And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ has commanded us. All who obey God’s commandments abide in God, and God abides in them. And by this we know that God abides in us, by the Spirit that Christ has given us.

Beloved, know that You are God’s precious child. God loves you madly. When you seek forgiveness from God, know that You are forgiven. Know the ways in which you have wronged others; seek forgiveness, and work to repair and restore. Forgive those who have done the same things as you. Know Christ’s love is here to mend you, to make you new, for you are a new creation in Christ. Everything old has passed away; everything has become new. Go in peace. Amen.

Loving One, we know that Your promise of resurrection is always around us, in the leaves and seeds falling to death, and bulbs and shoots sprouting into life. You gave us this awe-inspiring earth and entrusted it to our care. Remind us to put Your love first and foremost, a love that seeks to bless and build and create rather than break down and destroy. Call us into accountability for care of Your beautiful earth and for all our neighbors, including all the creatures and plants of the wondrous world. Help us to pause now and then in amazement of all You have made, and all You continue to do, and lead us in ways to participate in care of Your creation. For You are our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

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