Worship Resources for May 7, 2023—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Narrative Lectionary: Gospel as Salvation, Romans 1:1-17 (Matthew 9:10-13)

On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary continues its series of the first reading from Acts, this time of Stephen’s martyrdom in 7:55-60. Stephen, after his arrest, responded to the charges by sharing how God had delivered the people throughout history and sent prophets to them, but the people of God had rejected God’s prophets and had not kept God’s commandments. The council was enraged against Stephen, but it was when Stephen beheld a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God and proclaimed it to them, the council rushed him out of the city, refusing to listen to him (they covered their ears), and stoned him. Stephen prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit, and that the Lord wouldn’t hold this sin against the crowd, right before he died at their hands.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 is a prayer of help and trust in God. The psalmist calls upon God to rescue and deliver them, but also prays for God to grant them strength and salvation. They know God is the one who protects them, and the psalmist commits their spirit to God, knowing that whatever happens, God is with them. In verses 15-16, the psalmist puts their trust in God, praying for God to deliver them from their enemies, that they might be saved in God’s steadfast love.

The Epistle readings continue in 1 Peter, backing up to 2:2-10 (before last week’s reading). The writer uses the metaphor of spiritual milk, as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 3:2, but this time it is a positive metaphor: for new believers, they need to desire what will nourish and satisfy so they can grow in faith. Quoting Psalm 34:8, the writer calls upon the faithful to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The writer then switches metaphors to that of a living stone. Quoting Psalm 118:22, they are the stone rejected by the world. Jesus also quoted this scripture in referring to himself, but now the writer uses it for the believers, now chosen by God to be the foundation of the church in their day. These believers, mostly Gentile, now have an identity in Christ as a people, the temple of God here on earth.

John 14:1-14 contains the beginning of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples before his arrest and death. Jesus shares how he is going ahead of the disciples to prepare a place for them, but the disciples are still thinking physically rather than spiritually, and they do not understand what he is talking about. Jesus, speaking directly to the disciples in response to Thomas’s question about knowing the way, explains that for them, he is the way, the truth, and the life—there is no other way to know God. Philip then tells Jesus if he just shows them God the Father, that would be enough. Jesus replies with, “Don’t you know me?” Jesus has shown them that he and God the Father are one. Jesus calls on them to believe in him, to know that he is going to the Father but that Jesus will answer their prayers, so that God the Father’s glory will be made known. While we may want to move away from gendered language for God, Jesus uses the term Father to show the intimate relationship he has with God, as God’s beloved One. The disciples have not understood the Messiah in this way before, as being the Son of God.

The Narrative Lectionary for the remainder of this season of Easter moves to the mission of Paul. In Romans 1:1-17, Paul introduces himself to the church in Rome, a church made up of Gentile and Jewish believers in Jesus. Though a previous emperor had expelled the Jewish people from Rome, Emperor Nero had allowed them to return. Anti-Jewish sentiment existed among the Gentile population, even among Gentile believers in Jesus. Paul wrote to them to share that while he had not visited them yet, he wanted to preach the Gospel to them and that they can mutually build up one another. God’s salvation was revealed first to those who are Jewish, but also to those who are Greek. The theme of Paul’s letter can be summed up as this: Both Jewish and Gentile believers are saved by faith.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him, and Matthew invited Jesus to eat at his house along with other tax collectors and sinners. Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus’s disciples why Jesus would eat with those people, but Jesus replied to them that those who are sick need a doctor, not those who are well. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners. For those who do not believe themselves in need of a relationship with God or do not see themselves as separated from God, they will not understand Jesus’s message, but for all those who desire to know God more deeply, they will listen to Jesus’s call on their life.

How do we remain faithful to Christ’s call on our life, even when we do not fully understand? How do we remain faithful when we are uncertain about the future, or the struggles of today? Jesus taught the disciples that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What that means has been debated over the years, but it is clear that to those who trust Jesus, there is no other way. Jesus calls us to this new, different life, and we follow. We love one another and live into Christ’s reign on earth, even though we still wait for it to fully arrive. We believe that sin, death, and hell do not have the final word. While some have the certainty of heaven and what heaven might look like, others may simply have the hope of resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). This is our way. This is our truth. And this is our life.

Call to Worship (John 14:1-3; 13:34; 14:6; 13:35)
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe in Jesus Christ the Son.
For God has prepared something new for us,
The reign of Christ that we have glimpsed here and now.
For this is Christ’s commandment,
That we love one another.
Christ has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
For everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples,
If we have love for one another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Parental God, You love us as Your children, but as children we have not always listened to You. We fail to heed Your warnings and hear Your call to turn back. We make mistakes, and fall down, and struggle to learn. Nonetheless, Your love for us through Jesus Christ Your Holy One reminds us that love can lift us up, love can restore us, and love can heal us, teach us, and guide us to live in Your ways. Call us back to Your way, Your truth, and Your life, by loving one another, for this is the commandment that all others fall under: may we love one another. In this love, may our faith grow that You make all things new, and restore all things, even us. Amen.

Jesus never gave up on the disciples, even though they betrayed him, denied him, doubted him, argued who was the greatest, tried to call down hellfire and brimstone in a fit of anger, and didn’t believe their sisters who told them repeatedly that he had risen. Jesus doesn’t give up on you, either, when you struggle in your faith, say things you regret, and fail to trust others. So get up. Dust off your knees, wipe your eyes, and know that Christ loves you so much. You are precious to God, despite any flaws or shortcomings. God loves you madly and wants you to be part of Christ’s reign on earth. Join in the fun and the heartache. Love one another, forgive one another, and take up the challenge to live into Christ’s way, truth, and life. Share the good news. Amen.

God of Oneness, through our ancestors Sarah and Abraham and Hagar, You showed yourself to be the same God no matter where our ancestors wandered, no matter where they called home. You showed yourself to be the One who knew their pain and suffering under oppression, their loneliness in exile, and the One who helped restore our ancestors when they returned home. Through Jesus, we know Your oneness in a new way, a oneness with us that outlasts the grave and transcends the world that we know. Your Oneness was revealed to the early followers of Jesus as they recognized themselves as Your body in Christ, regardless of their culture or ethnicity or gender, or any other way of dividing. You are One. You bring us together and bind us as One people. In all the divisions of the world that we know, may we be united by Your love, across gender, orientation, race, culture, economic status, language, politics—may we recognize Your face in each other and strive to be Your people, Your body, Your love to one another. Amen.

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