Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
May 18, 2014
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. John 14:13-14
(This is the second of a three-part Easter season stewardship reflection series that examines God’s promises revealed in the gospel portion of the Lectionary readings for the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Sundays of Easter. Simply stated, the first is Jesus’ promise of abundant life. The second promises that we will see God revealed in Jesus and that our bold prayers will be answered. The final promise is that God loves us and desires relationship. These three promises help to anchor and inform what it means to be a steward of all of life, of all the goodness and grace of God.)
In this part of his third and final discourse in John’s gospel, Jesus addresses his disciples in preparation for what is to come (the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension). They are having a tough time “getting it.” Thomas asks for clarity of direction, and Philip seeks a concrete image of the Father, perhaps for visual reassurance of that which is to come. Jesus explains that in him they have seen God, particularly through his works and message.
And then Jesus makes a bold two-part promise: that those who believe in him will do the works he does, indeed greater works in his absence. And if we ask anything in his name, he will do it. This promise requires action and purpose. It assumes that we will be about the work of ushering the reign of God into this present age, not that we’ll simply present a wish list to satisfy our own desires, or even the more altruistic (perhaps) hopes for our worshiping communities.
To be a steward of this promise implies that we will fully invest ourselves in passing on the faith, in sharing the story, and in continuing the work of Christ. In doing so we align our wills to Christ’s will, and as his body visible today we boldly carry his message to the world. At least that’s what we do as faithful stewards of God’s promises to humankind. Even our prayers become stewardship prayers when we so align our will, asking for that in which “the father may be glorified in the Son.”
How do we teach such an approach to prayer? A good place to start is with questions. What does your community need to lift in prayer, asking so that God may be glorified in Christ? What needs does your congregation have in order to be better able to serve one another and your community? What are you doing as the Body of Christ constantly to align yourselves with God’s will? Do themes or threads emerge in your communal discernment? If so, commit them to a period of prayer. Chances are you will find direction, energy, and focus in this process.
When we wonder how to pray and for what to pray, we can cling to our Lord’s promise in this passage. Of course, there’s no guarantee of crystalline clarity. Like the disciples, we can be just as dense and miss the mark. But have no fear; God is always near. When we have trouble seeing the Creator of the universe at work, we are reminded that in Christ we see God the Father. When we question how and where we see Jesus at work in the world, we need look no further than the Church. We, imperfect sinner/saints, are Christ’s hands, feet, heart, and eyes right here and now. This truth makes us bold to pray and even bolder to steward and share the good news of Christ with our world.
Bold to Pray: How bold is your community in its prayers? Is the approach to prayer one of “playing it safe” and “keeping it organized and simple”? All prayer is heard by God, but could you invite people to pray boldly for your congregation? Could you ask them to think of one bold prayer to hold in their hearts and on their lips both corporately and individually? Maybe its for a new ministry. Perhaps its for the safety and well-being of the neighbors who live around your congregation. It could even be that God would stir up and do a new thing among you.
Consider making a “Bold to Pray” bulletin board or keep a notebook somewhere accessible and invite worshipers to inscribe their bold prayers in this place. Periodically collect and pray these prayers in the assembly.
The first lesson today from Acts recounts the stoning of Stephen. It’s a difficult lesson, but it’s one worthy of a serious discussion. After all, we learn that Saul (later to become Paul, missionary to the Gentiles), and we hear Stephen praying for his enemies. Most Christians will likely never be martyred for their faith by stoning, but there are many, many examples of persecution of Christians around the world even today. Jesus, in preventing the woman caught in adultery from being stoned, invites anyone without sin to cast the first stone. And yet, the stonings continued. Are there modern day equivalents of stoning? How can someone truly forgive those who persecute or kill them? Could we? Would we?
Invite youth to pray for an “enemy” for 40 days. For a visual, give each youth 40 stones and two cloth bags. Have them take a stone from one bag each day and hold it while they pray for that person–asking for God to care for them, to do good for them, and to change not only the enemy’s heart but the heart of the one who prays, as well. At the end of 40 days, the stones will have moved from one bag to another. In most cases there will have been movement of the heart, too. If the enemy has not changed, the one who prays likely has changed. After the experiment ask the youth to discuss what it was like for them to faithfully do this. Encourage them through social media posts or other updates depending on your regular communication practices. Make sure that you include the youth in your own prayers during these 40 days, and be sure that you pray for someone, too, so that you can share in the experience.
“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.” So says the writer of 1 Peter in chapter two, verse 10. Written to early Christians in a rapidly spreading movement, the epistle lesson for today is part of a letter to help people understand and articulate their faith. To help the children understand this passage, make a two-sided poster that’s at least 8 x 10 inches. On one side print the word “ONCE” and on the other side print the word “BUT.” Begin by playing with some simple comparisons such as these (flipping the card when appropriate:
“ONCE you were little, tiny babies…BUT now you are big boys and girls.”
“ONCE you drank from a bottle…BUT now you drink from a cup.”
“ONCE you crawled…BUT now you walk.”
“ONCE your parents went to school…BUT now they work and rear a family.”
Tell the children that the writer of this letter was using comparisons to help people understand their faith. Tell them that you can do the same thing today. Try some out and then see if the children can come up with comparisons.
“ONCE you had not been baptized…BUT now you are!”
“ONCE you did not know how to pray…BUT now you can pray the Lord’s Prayer.”
“ONCE you couldn’t read any of the Bible…BUT now you can read and even memorize some verses.”
Finish with the comparisons in verse 10, and then remind the children that ALWAYS you are God’s people…Christians or little Christs. Close with a simple prayer.
Photos: Charles Clegg, crystalina, and James Emery, Creative Commons