Worship Resources for April 23, 2023—Third Sunday of Easter, Earth Day Weekend

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Narrative Lectionary: Peter’s Vision, Acts 10:1-17, 34-48 (Matthew 9:36-37)

The first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary concludes Peter’s declaration on the Day of Pentecost with Acts 2:14a, 36-41. In this portion, Peter states that God made Jesus Lord and Messiah, whose crucifixion all of Jerusalem witnessed and knew about. Those gathered asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Using the term “brothers” indicates that they honored and recognized Peter and the disciples and were convinced by their message. Peter called upon them to repent and be baptized so they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter assured them the promise was for everyone who believed, and on that day about three thousand persons were added to the followers of Jesus.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 is a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The psalmist was near death, but God saved them, and they love God because God has heard their pleas. The psalmist asks what they can give back to God for all God has done for them? They can fulfill their promises and keep all their vows, call upon God’s name and serve God faithfully, as their own mother served God. They know God is the one who brings liberation. The psalmist will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, upholding their promises to God before the congregation in the temple.

The Epistle reading continues the series in this Easter season in 1 Peter. In 1:17-23, the author writes of the believers with the metaphor of exile, one the Jewish followers of Jesus certainly knew from their own scriptures and history, but one in which all the followers of Jesus could understand. They were not part of Judaism anymore and were certainly not part of the empirical religion. They were waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s reign to come, and the author uses another metaphor of ransom, that through the blood of Jesus’s sacrifice they now belong to God. They are no longer part of the old pagan ways of their parents and ancestors but are part of the beloved family of Christ. Through Jesus, they have come to trust God who gave his only Son for them, and in obedience to God’s love, they also love one another, for they need each other as ones set apart, ones living in a sort of exile from the world around them.

Luke 24:13-35 contains the story of Jesus’s resurrection appearance to two of Jesus’s followers on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus were perplexed because some of the women who traveled with the followers of Jesus found the tomb empty, and claimed to have received a message from angels that Christ had risen. They come across another traveler on the road to Emmaus away from Jerusalem and tell this traveler all they experienced. This traveler, in turn, explained the Scriptures to them, and how they explained the Messiah and that these things must take place. Cleopas and the other urge the traveler to stay with them, and it was as they sat down to the table and the stranger took bread, broke it and blessed it before them that they finally recognized it was Jesus. He vanished from their sight. Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem quickly, to share their experience of the risen Christ, who had also appeared to Simon Peter at this point, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Peter’s vision of inclusion in Acts 10:1-17, 34-48. Verses 34-43 were part of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on Easter Sunday. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion stationed in Caesarea who was a God-fearer, what Gentiles were called who had come to believe in one God, the same God that their Jewish neighbors believed in, but had not converted to Judaism. An angel told Cornelius to go to Simon Peter, who was staying with Simon the tanner. While Cornelius was on his way, Peter had a vision himself, of a large tablecloth descending from heaven with all sorts of food, those considered clean and unclean by the dietary restrictions of Judaism. A voice told him to eat, but Peter refused, because he had never eaten anything ritually impure. However, the voice told him to never call unclean what God had made clean. This happened three times before the tablecloth returned to heaven. Peter wondered what the vision meant, and then Cornelius came to see him. Cornelius explained his own encounter with an angel, and Peter recognized that God had shown him a new truth: there was no one considered impure by God. There was no one who could not be included in Christ’s reign who loved Jesus Christ. This was the message: Christ had died for all people. Christ rose from the dead and commanded the disciples to preach to all people. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all those gathered, Jews and Gentiles. Peter then had Cornelius and all with him baptized.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:36-37, when crowds had gathered near Jesus, and he had compassion for them. He saw them like sheep without a shepherd and called his disciples to pray for more servants of God to serve the people.

In this Easter season we are preparing for Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit. While we look around our world for signs of resurrection, of new life, we cannot help but see signs of the Holy Spirit at work. Every time the disciples, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, went to proclaim the Gospel, they found people who were outcasts longing to belong. They were unsure how to welcome them, but the Holy Spirit did the work. They saw the risen Christ when they showed hospitality and broke bread together. They experienced the Holy Spirit in the transformation of lives, in the baptisms of those who repented and gave their life over to Christ. They experienced the Holy Spirit at work in the inclusion of Gentile believers who believed in the same God and shared in the same gifts of the Holy Spirit, even though they were not Jewish. In everything good, in everything life-transforming, in everything compassionate and kind, in everything merciful—they found God was the one at work. So may we experience the Risen Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our world, in the here and now.

Call to Worship (from Philippians 4:8-9)
Whatever is true, whatever is holy,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is worthy of praise,
Keep your hearts and minds on these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received,
And the God of peace will be with us.
May we come to this time of worship,
Focusing our hearts and minds on God
So we may live into the world practicing God’s love, grace, and mercy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Author of Salvation, we confess that You keep drawing the circle wider, but we keep trying to cut corners. You remind us throughout Scripture to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the meek—all the most vulnerable among us—but we have given far too much concern to the wealthy and powerful among us. We have showed favoritism to those who have things we want, instead of favoritism to those whom You always take notice of and whom You have commanded us to care for. Forgive us for rewriting Your commandments to fit our own desires. Forgive us for cutting out people You have called us to welcome. Call us into a greater hospitality. Call us into a greater humility. Guide us into Your way of love for one another, in which we become last of all and servant of all—not to be walked all over, but to know that when we meet the needs of others around us, our own needs are met. In the name of Christ, who came to us humble as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again, we pray all things. Amen.

God’s love knows no limits, no boundaries. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and so we ought to not limit our love for one another. Love and forgive others for the same things that you continue to do. Strive to live into God’s ways of compassion and kindness, even to those who do not deserve it, and remember how much God loves you. Go and share the good news, knowing you are forgiven, redeemed, and restored. Amen.

A Prayer for Earth Day weekend
Creator of the Earth, we thank You and praise You for all Your wondrous works in the universe, and for this special planet we call Earth. We know from the scriptures that everything You made is good: all light and darkness, all water and earth, everything that lives in the sea and all birds and insects that fly in the air. Every creature on this planet You have breathed life into and given purpose. Even us, O God, You made in Your image to care for the earth and all creation as You care for us. We thank You and praise You for this sacred responsibility. Forgive us, O God, for all the times we have taken Your earth for granted. Forgive us for misusing Your resources for our own material, temporary gain. Forgive us for not heeding Your very first commandment to us, which was to be fruitful, to care for the earth in our fruitfulness, to have dominion over the earth the way You have dominion over us. Call us into accountability, to repair what we have broken and destroyed, to turn back to Your first commandment and to love this beautiful planet You made for us, the only one that is our home. We trust in You, our Maker and Shaper of Who We Are and of All Things to Come, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

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