Worship Resources for May 2nd, 2021—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Narrative Lectionary: Council at Jerusalem, Acts 15:1-18 (Luke 2:29-32)

The reading from Acts beginning the Revised Common Lectionary is the same as last week’s selection from the Narrative Lectionary about the Ethiopian Eunuch. 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.

(As I shared last week: 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 end portion of Psalm 22, a prayer for help, turns to praise in verses 25-31. God has remained faithful despite the hardships the psalmist has faced, and the psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, vowing to declare God’s goodness before the congregation. God is the one who has dominion over all the nations, over the earth. Even the dead are part of God’s congregation of praise, and those living shall live for God, even the generations yet to come.

The writer of 1 John declares that God is love in 1 John 4:7-21. If you know love, you know God, and if you do not love, you do not know God. God’s love was revealed through God’s Son, and he has called us to love one another. No one has seen God, but we know God through the love we have for one another—that is how God is made known to us. We love because God first loved us. “Fear has to do with punishment” the writer declares, but love casts away fear. There is no fear in love. Note that this is not the same use of “fear” as often in used in the term “fear of God,” for that word fear in the Hebrew scriptures might be better translated as “trembling awe.” Instead, perfect love from God as known through Jesus is not about a fear of hell or punishment, but instead mirroring the image of God’s love in us. If we do not love our neighbors, we do not love God, for this is God’s commandment through Christ. If we cannot love those we have seen (or known by other senses), we cannot love God whom we have never seen.

Jesus uses the example of being a vine and we are the vine branches in John 15:1-8. God is the vine-grower, and through Christ we are called to bear fruit. We cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in the true vine, which is Jesus. Branches that do not bear fruit are useless. We must live out our faith, otherwise, we are useless branches.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Council in Jerusalem as told by Luke in Acts 15:1-18; however, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a different account of the event. Luke’s account in Acts gives a more favorable view to Peter of what happened in the controversy surrounding whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas came bringing good news of conversions of Gentiles, but some of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem believed that the Gentiles must fulfill the law of Moses. Peter describes this action as placing a yoke upon the Gentiles backs that neither they nor their ancestors were able to fulfill (vs. 10), and that it is Christ who saves, not the actions of people. James agrees with Peter in that the fulfillment of scripture is to include the Gentiles as they are, remembering Simeon, who gave a blessing for Jesus in Luke 2:32. This contrasts with Paul’s version of events in Galatians 2, that Peter used to eat with the Gentile believers, but once James and others came from the church in Jerusalem, he stopped, and would not eat with Gentiles. Paul calls out Peter’s actions in Galatians.

The blessing of Simeon in Luke 2:29-32 foretells that Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” James reminded the Christians gathered at the Jerusalem Council of this blessing during their question of how to welcome in the Gentile converts.

Love calls us away from drawing borders and building walls, to erasing lines and building bridges. Loving one another calls us to see the burdens we have placed on others that excludes them: the burdens of racism, sexism, ableism, the burdens of homophobia and transphobia. Perfect love casts out fear, and the love we know of God calls us to grow beyond what we have known ourselves. When we grow, we bear fruit. When we include others, we extend the love of God beyond what we have experienced. For God is love, and we cannot love God unless we grow and expand our love for one another.

Call to Worship (from 1 John 4:7-8, 11-12)
Beloved, let us love one another,
Because love is from God;
Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
We also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another,
God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.
Come, worship God, who is love,
And follow Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, we confess that we have not loved as we ought. We have used love as if it was to be hoarded rather than shared freely. We have set limits on something that not ought to have borders. We have guarded how we love others instead of sharing Your grace. Forgive us for not loving as You have first loved us—without condition. Forgive us for determining who is and who is not worthy of love, when You are Love. Forgive us for not following the example of our Savior, who became last of all and servant of all, who laid down his life for us all in the name of love. Call us into Your way, that by caring for the most vulnerable, we care for all. By loving those who are different than us, we love ourselves best. By sharing in this love, we reflect Your image in us. In the name of Jesus Christ, who came to us in the name of love, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
The steadfast love of God endures forever. There is no limit to God’s grace. You are God’s beloved. You are forgiven and restored. Love one another deeply as God has loved you, and you will know the peace of Christ in your hearts. Amen.

Prayer
Author of Life, You have written love into the beginning of our stories. You have written love into the blood that flows in our veins, into our very DNA, for we are made in Your image and You are love. We have strayed from the story You intended for us, so help us find our way back. Open our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to seek Your wisdom and to grow beyond what we know. Open our lives to recognize that Your Beloved Community is beyond the people of our family unit, beyond our friends and neighbors and churches, but the whole world. Help us to live into ways that sustain and nourish this planet and all Your children, and remind us that You are the Author of our lives, in whom we find our beginning and ending. Amen.

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