Revised Common Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
May 14, 2017
Lessons: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people respond to the divine mercy we have been shown by living fruitful and faithful lives and by sharing God’s abundance and love with others.
Key Scripture: Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:10
Do you remember what life was like before you became a Christian? For Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and other liturgically minded Christians this question may seem like a weird one. For example, in my Lutheran tradition infants are baptized and incorporated into the faith community, and decision theology is not a part of the equation. You’ll often hear someone describe him or herself as a “cradle Lutheran,” or Lutheran from birth.
I did not grow up Lutheran, so I do remember distinctly my “entry point” into the Christian faith. I was a nervous sixth grader looking out from a baptistery and wondering if I really knew what this was all about. Looking back, I honestly can’t say that I understood a whole lot more than an infant brought by her parents to the waters of baptism. One minute I wasn’t something, and the next minute I was — a baptized Christian and a dripping wet disciple. It was all about God and not about me, that’s for sure.
Even if one is not an active and regular churchgoer, the idea of not being affiliated with a particular faith tradition can feel foreign. “I’m Lutheran (or Methodist, or Anglican, or UCC, or Baptist, or Presbyterian),” or however you fill in the blank — this is a way we identify ourselves and find affiliation and belonging to the One who is oh-so-much-bigger than we. If asked, we may say “I go to Trinity Lutheran,” or “I attend Westminster Presbyterian,” or “My people have always gone to St. Stephen’s.” We are God’s people of various brands and varieties, and we rely on such labels to make sense of a vast world and complex reality.
Whoa! Back up a minute. We can’t explain away our labels and identity that easily. Just what does it really mean to be God’s people? In today’s world how do we explain ourselves to people who see what we do as weird, antiquated, or inaccessible? These are questions we need to ask one another frequently and ponder well. Yes, we have received mercy, and yes, we belong to God, but now what?
Turning to this week’s epistle reading, when the letter was written to leaders of far-flung Christian communities in Asia Minor, it was tough to be a Christian. It was risky, involved bucking the prevailing culture, and required sacrifice and commitment. Being a Christian is still a countercultural proposition, but thanks to freedom of religion and life in a Western democracy, we Christians face more risk walking across a busy intersection than we do warming a church pew. More commitment is required of Rotarians and country club members in most cases, and there is often more urgency to get home for Sunday afternoon football than to share the good news and engage in ministry.
I know. That is not the case in every community, but sadly it is the case in too many. The question for Christians today is this one: How do we communicate the amazing gift we have now — that we are God’s people, wrapped in mercy, grace, and love? As preachers, teachers and leaders, we also need to think about how we might help our communities to see just how special we are because of God’s naming and claiming us in baptism. If we can communicate this message effectively in a way that resonates with the wounded yet beautiful lives of the people we encounter, then that tiny spark of recognition and joy will ignite a true passion for evangelism — for sharing what has been given to us through no merit of our own with every person possible. This is the “now” in which we live.
We’re not dealing with rocket science or quantum physics here, folks. It’s both much simpler and infinitely more complex. We are dealing with the Divine, with the Creator of all that was, is, and is to come. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be more exciting than anything Disney can offer, more comforting than homemade mac and cheese, and more challenging than a climb up Mt. Everest. What a wonder! What a WAY!
Whether you focus on the 1 Peter lesson or on the gospel (John 14:1-14), please give careful thought to how you will point to Christ as the model and the way to this present and abundant life. What we do is by the grace of God; this life into which we have been invited and into which we invite others is nothing short of amazing. Peace to you and blessings on your preaching and teaching.
Give thanks in worship today for the gift of baptism. Consider, too, how you might encourage worshipers to contemplate who they “once were” versus what they “now are.” What does this mean in the life of the congregation? What is your “once upon a time” narrative? Maybe the narrative goes something like this: Once we were a church of 2,000 members, but now we are a congregation of only 550 members. Or, we once sponsored missionaries in four countries, but now we’ve stopped sponsorships completely. It’s natural for people to look at the negative or loss narrative before seeing the good. Think about how you can adjust that perspective. For example: Once we had a lot more members on the books, but now we have many more active disciples. Or, once we were afraid to reach out into our community, but now we have an after-school tutoring program, an eldercare transportation network, and a laundry ministry. Make sure to consistently reference 1 Peter 2:10: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” and John 14:14: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” We are not alone. God loves us, Christ goes before us, and the Holy Spirit equips and journeys with us.
Talk about what it means to be a living stone. Use the example of a cheerleader pyramid. Each person must carefully support his or her part of the formation. If one person falters, the entire group is at risk. As living stones we have an unfaltering cornerstone in Jesus; our challenge is model ourselves after the cornerstone so that we build the strongest faith community possible. Ask youth how a strong faith community might benefit them in their daily discipleship walk. Ask what’s missing and where the support system is lacking. Listen closely to their answers. You may just find some instructive information for strengthening your program.
Consider talking with children about how we grow as Christians. We start simply, being fed milk — just like a newborn infant — and we progress to a variety of wonderful foods. You might invite a mother with her baby to join you so the children can see the infant being fed milk or formula from a bottle. Contrast that with a basket of colorful fruits, vegetables, bread, juice, and other good things to eat. Explain to children that just as infants cannot eat a whole piece of fruit, we, too grow into our faith. You could also use a progression of jeans or shirts ranging from infant to adult sizing.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lessons from 1 Peter and John remind us that we are God’s people and that we need but ask in Jesus’ name for God’s help and guidance. We can truly do amazing works and ministry that bring glory to our Lord. In fact, stewardship is not something that we “control” or “manage” but rather is our grateful response to God’s abundance and mercy. How can we NOT be God’s generous and faithful people in response to such a generous and faithful God?
Stewardship at Home
Everyone loves to be chosen — for the team, for the award, for a promotion, to win a prize. In life, however, we may be passed over more often than chosen for such good things. As Christians, we do well to remember that we ARE chosen. We are chosen by God, beloved, and we have become God’s own people.
Who in your life seems to be overlooked more often than chosen? How might you share a little bit of attention, care, and the love of Christ with that person (or people)? In gratitude for all that God has done for you, how can you in turn “give that forward” to someone else? It doesn’t have to be something grand or expensive (but it can be!). It could be as simple as a handwritten note of appreciation, or paying for the order of the person behind you in the grocery or fast food line. It could be spending time with someone who is lonely. The possibilities are endless when it comes to sharing God’s goodness, mercy, and love.
Photos: Keoni Cabral, Sharron Blezard, and Divine in the Daily, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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