Worship Resources for April 25th, 2021—Fourth Sunday of Easter

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

Narrative Lectionary: Ethiopian Eunuch Baptized, Acts 8:26-39 (Luke 24:44-47)

The selection in Acts is a continuation of the same story from the previous week. 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 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 Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Philip was told by an angel to go south of Jerusalem, and on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met a court official of the queen of Ethiopia, who was a eunuch. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home, reading from the prophet Isaiah. There were non-Jews who believed there was one God, and who read and studied the scriptures. Non-Jews were allowed to worship in the outer court of the temple, but not all were able to convert. A eunuch would have been prevented by tradition. Instead, Philip explained the passage of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:7-8 and interpreted it through the lens of Jesus. When they found water near the road, the eunuch asked Philip what was preventing him from being baptized, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch was one of the first converts, and church tradition holds he was the first missionary to Africa.

Luke 24:44-47 contains Luke’s account of Jesus explaining that the proclamation of what he has done must be shared with all nations. Jesus, in this passage, also interpreted the scriptures, especially the prophets, to the disciples, specifically the passages about suffering.

For the Narrative Lectionary, we must know that Jewish tradition has long interpreted the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah as referring to the people of Israel and their suffering in exile. Early Christians, who were Jewish, resonated with those passages because of what they had witnessed Jesus experience in his death on the cross. We can hold both interpretations as Christians, in our struggle to understand Jesus’ suffering, as the people of Israel were challenged to find meaning in their suffering, as long as we do not erase the experience of Israel.

The teaching of Christ to lay down one’s life for another is the greatest act of love: to set aside our own desires to meet the needs of others. 1 John 3 teaches us we cannot be faithful to Christ if we do not meet the needs of others who are suffering. The love from Christ is meant to be an example in how we love one another. Our faith is lived out, “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). Jesus’ love for us not only saves us in his laying down his life and dying for us, but in that it transforms us to do the same for others. If it doesn’t transform us, then it is meaningless.

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,
But 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 Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we fail to love one another, because we love the things of this world more. We love having possessions, because they make us feel valued. The more possessions we have, the more we feel safe and secure. We worry that we will not have enough, while others go hungry and homeless. Forgive us for being possessed by our possessions. Forgive us for turning to wealth instead of love. Call us back into Your commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we live this out, we know there will be enough for everyone, for You have provided an abundant Earth for us all. Call us into mutual love, understanding, and care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
When our hearts condemn us for failing to love one another, we remember that God is greater than our hearts. God knows us, and loves us still, and forgives us for our shortcomings. You are forgiven. Extend that same grace and forgiveness to others. You are loved, so share this love with one another. You have no condemnation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
God of Love, we mistake many things in this world for love. We still worship idols, believing that having more is a symbol of blessing and love. We envy the wealthy, believing they have all happiness. We look to those who are famous, believing if they take notice of us, it is love. Call us into the truth of love: the heartbreaking work to make sure one another’s needs are met. For if we all lay down our lives for one another, not a one will be forgotten and left out. If we all love one another, all needs can be cared for. If we all love one another, we know Your love is present with us. Fill us with Your love and call us into this work of mutual care and understanding. Amen.

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