Narrative Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year Three
May 14, 2017
Lessons: Acts 15:1-18, Luke 2:29-32
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people work together in congregations, with wider church bodies, and through creative collaboration to be good stewards, to ensure good order, and to extend welcome and hospitality to all people.
Key Scripture: Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:10-11
Late spring and summer mark the gatherings of many church judicatory business gatherings. Our synod’s annual assembly is held the first weekend of June, and all 235 congregations have the opportunity to send voting members to discern and vote on important actions including mission direction and mission spending, and various resolutions and memorials, while also enjoying opportunities for worship, fellowship, and learning. Being the “church geek” that I am, I look forward all year to attending our synod’s assembly.
It’s enjoyable to see how the Body of Christ working together on a larger scale can do so much more together than we could ever do alone. It’s encouraging to hear stories of mission and ministry from across the nine central Pennsylvania counties and 235 congregations that make up our synod. Worship is particularly wonderful when that many folks lift their voices in song and praise, and this event provides opportunity for me to see people I seldom encounter the rest of the year. I leave encouraged, energized, and filled with new ideas to help share God’s love and mercy with the world.
I could even go so far as to say that every single minute of synod assembly is joyous, happy, and truly copacetic. Yet, that would not be true. Some years we have to address and debate incredibly tough and often divisive issues ranging from drafts of denominational social statements to fair compensation and benefits, to our own synodical welcome statement or questions about the sacraments. It can get tedious and become heated; however, when we stay focused and grounded, remember to love our neighbor, and cover the dialogue with prayer things seem to work out. Sometimes people are hurt, not everyone gets what they had wanted or hoped for, and the process serves as painful reminder of our human brokenness, but at the end of the day we try to remain together and realize that we can serve Christ without agreement on every single thing.
There’s a lesson here—both in this modern-day illustration and in our lectionary lesson for this Sunday. We Christians are not meant to act in a vacuum. We do better when we find ways to work together and hold one another mutually accountable for what it means to be Christ’s body here on earth (or at least our particular version of it) and how we are called to steward resources and share the Good News. Our governing bodies, confessions, creeds, and constitutions help keep us faithful to God’s word and work in the world—at least when we’re at our best.
There are issues of scriptural interpretation and doctrine about which we may all never agree. The key is to remain in relationship, to tell the stories of what God is doing in, with, through, and even in spite of us, and to let love be the lens through which we view one another. We can prayerfully agree to let God work out the rest in Kairos time.
In this week’s lesson from Acts, the issue at hand is circumcision. Some Christians were telling the Gentile Christians that they must be circumcised to keep the Law of Moses and be part of the communion. Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others did not agree that this was necessary for salvation and faith, but instead of fighting back and fanning the flames of dissension, they go to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders. Along the way, they continue their ministry and share stories of faith, particularly that of the conversion of the Gentiles, which leads to much rejoicing. The meeting in Jerusalem sounds like it could have rivaled any of our modern day denominational gatherings, but in the end, after thorough discussion and deliberation, the apostles and elders agreed that circumcision is not a requirement for Gentile Christians.
Was everyone happy? I suspect not. Dissension in the church has been a part of our journey since the very beginning. Even so, we keep on prayerfully and faithfully following Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. When the going gets tough in your congregation, within your judicatory body, or at the denominational level, do not lose heart. Lift your eyes and look for a way forward. Return to this story. Give thanks for leaders, who thought imperfect, heed God’s call to serve. Pray for one another, love one another, and work as one body to move forward in faith, hope, and love.
Note: This weekend representatives of the 145 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation are gathered in Windhoek, Namibia (May 10-16, 2017) for the Twelfth annual LWF Assembly with the theme of “Liberated by God’s Grace.” To see how this diverse gathering addresses various topics and makes decisions, visit the website here for more information. Watch livestreams here.
Today is a good day to give thanks for your congregation’s leadership. Why not invite those who serve on your church council (or equivalent body in your denomination) to come forward for a blessing and laying on of hands during a prayer for servant leaders. Consider having a chain of hands that connects all who are in the pews so that the entire congregation is connected. Pray, too, for your judicatory and denominational leaders, that they may work together under the Holy Spirit’s guidance for wise decision-making and faithful leadership. Pray that God will continue to raise up leaders from your congregation—both for faithful lay leadership and for ordained ministers.
Invite a representative from your local or regional judicatory church body to come and speak with your youth about the wider church and how decisions are made. You might also invite your council president or executive committee to speak about leadership at the congregational level. Make sure that your youth know what avenues are available for them to serve in congregational and higher church leadership positions. Encourage youth leadership and invite your youth to consider serving as they feel God calling them to do so.
What Really Matters vs. Adiaphora
On nine pieces of cardstock, print the letters to spell “adiaphora.” You can make these as colorful or creative as you wish. On five pieces of cardstock, print the letters to spell “Jesus.” Invite the children to try to spell a word using the nine letters that form “adiaphora.” They are certainly not likely to have encountered this word. Write the word on another sheet of paper and then invite them to arrange the cards to spell “adiaphora.” Tell them that the word basically means that which is not essential or neutral. It’s a big, big word. People don’t even agree about what “adiaphora” really means. Give an easy example or two like the color of the carpet or whether we should worship at 9:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. It can be REALLY confusing to determine what is simply “adiaphora” and what it absolutely essential to our life together as Christians. Let’s look at another word that can help us.
Spread out the five cards that spell “Jesus.” Some of the children should be able to rearrange the letters easily. How does Jesus help us determine what is essential and what is “adiaphora” or nonessential? We can’t call Jesus on the phone to ask him?
Show the children a Bible. Tell them that we can learn a lot by what the writers of the Bible say that Jesus taught and how he acted. Does Jesus tell us what color carpet to have? No! He doesn’t talk about carpet choice at all. Jesus is crystal clear on some things though, like the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus also tells us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:38). Jesus tells us to gather for worship, he teaches us to pray, he expects us to serve others, to study scripture, and to be generous.
Sometimes we get upset about the small things that may seem really important to us but that don’t seem to have been so important to Jesus. How do we decide when we disagree? Paul and Barnabas and others in our lesson today went to Jerusalem to talk to the wisest and most trusted leaders they knew. They studied, shared, and decided what was essential and what was not essential about their question. This is why we have wise leaders in our church and why we work together instead of alone. Most of all, we study scripture, pray, and listen for God’s guidance. Finish with a short prayer for church leaders, for wisdom and discernment, and for God to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Note: I realize this is a gross oversimplification of a theological term, but it’s a fun word to say and ponder, and it makes a good point for this week’s lesson.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Our lesson today reminds us that good order in the church is an important part of both faithful leadership and faithful stewardship. We are to hold one another accountable for important decisions in our ministries and mission as God’s church in a particular location and wider church body, just as those first Christians modeled. How are you helping to model good order and faithful discernment and leadership in decisions that affect God’s people and creation?
Stewardship at Home
Expressing gratitude is an important act of stewardship. This week write notes, emails, or even deliver a small gift (flowers, plant, cookies, coffee, etc.) to those who serve in leadership capacities in your congregation. Write an email or note to your judicatory leaders and staff, and/or your denomination’s leaders, thanking them for their partnership in ministry and leadership of the wider church. If you don’t know their names, this is a good time to learn so that you can remember them in prayer regularly.
Photos: Cary Bass-Deschenes and Rob Blezard, Creative Commons; (c) Alx – Fotolia. Thanks!
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