Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 12, 2015
With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33
There’s a lot of talk among church folk about mission starts, congregational renewal, reaching the “nones” and being the church in new ways for the sake of a swiftly changing world. Programs, approaches, and plans abound in print and in cyberspace to address every phase of the process, whether it be gathering a new worshiping community or rebooting and refreshing a tired congregation. In short, there’s a lot of good stuff out there, and it can be tough to know where to begin.
If your head starts to swim at the thought of diving into new waters, why not simply begin at the beginning? At the beginning of the church, that is. The first disciples were no more ready for prime-time discipleship and church planting than we are today. In fact, if you take a look at the gospel lesson for this Sunday, those hardy souls are still locked away in the upper room trying to figure out what’s just happened. And then along comes Jesus with a jolt of hope, an infusion of Spirit-life breath, and a peace that passes all understanding.
The writer tells us that this is just a glimpse, that Jesus did other signs to strengthen and equip his disciples, but that the recorded witness is for our benefit. These words are handed down so that we might believe and have life abundant.
It worked. We know the rest of the story. Once the first followers left that locked room, they got down to business spreading good news and living in the light of God’s amazing grace and plenty. They had everything they needed, and they were willing to share with others. The reading from Acts this week charts the basic course of their movement-making. It wasn’t a program available for immediate download to your hard drive. It wasn’t a prepackaged plan for only $49.95. It was (and is) a life afire to tell the story of our Lord and to be “of one heart and soul” holding all things in common so that the needs of the people are met.
Jesus’ simple guide for an abundant life in faithful community has been working well for more than two millennia. It’s easy to contextualize, simple to follow, and provides proven results. When the principles practiced by the first century disciples are faithfully and fully implemented, the results are, well, abundant. You can tell when a congregation or worshiping community is working from this first century model; there’s a real sense of common purpose, a generosity of spirit and resources, a desire to dig deeply into scripture and participate regularly in worship, intentional and ongoing faith formation, an open door and a hearty welcome, a spirit of mission and service–all of which are covered liberally with prayer and praise. You’ll find modern echoes of these principles in the work of UMC Bishop Robert Schnase (The Five Practices) and ELCA Pastor Mike Foss (Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing World), among others.
So if these principles are so fool-proof and sure, why aren’t we seeing more growth in our communities? Why isn’t the good news spreading like wildfire today in the United States and other western nations? Those are good questions, ones we should ask and ponder. Perhaps it has something to do with commitment and focus. Jesus demands 100 percent. He wants all of us–not just an hour a week or a place in the pew for festival worship, and not just a few dollars in an offering plate or service on a boring committee.
This is Good News we’re talking about–life changing, world healing, and saving news with eternal promises. It’s not the latest fad or trend. It’s real, and we have to be real about it. Pentecost is not that far away, friends. It’s time to get ready. Read and reread this week’s lessons. They all have something to say about practices and principles that will not just refresh and renew a congregation but that also will form disciples and radically alter the world (think in-breaking of the reign of God).
Who’s interested in a revival? I know Jesus is! Blessings on your preaching and teaching this week.
“One bread, one body…” may be a familiar hymn sung in your congregation. If not, check out the lyrics here. Consider adding a new verse this week based on the reading from Acts. How about this: Of one heart and soul/No one has need/within….
Invite worshipers to look for ways to hold the work, the life, and the resources of the congregation in common. What might we share? Tasks? Prayers? Vulnerability? Resources? How might this first century church practice be re-visioned and updated for today?
Talk about the reading from 1 John, particularly the words from verses 8-9 that are part of the Order for Confession and Forgiveness in many churches. This is a rich text that talks about evangelism (telling the story), about living in joy and harmony and in fellowship with one another, and about living in the light of truth. Invite youth to craft an image or piece of art that reflects their ideas about walking in the light.
We Need an “I” Witness!
Sometimes seeing really is believing. Sometimes we just have to see for ourselves. We need to be an “eyewitness” to an event to really proclaim it real. We can’t be “eyewitnesses” to Jesus’ resurrection because we weren’t there more than 2000 years ago. But we can be “I” witnesses to the faith. The gospel writer this weeks tells us that the signs written in the gospel are to help us believe so that we can believe and have life in Christ. That means we can become “I” witnesses to share our faith with others. When we say the creed each week we are being “I” witnesses to our faith. When we take communion we are being “I” witnesses to Jesus’ presence among us. When we tell others what God has done for us, we are being “I” witnesses so that others can hear about God. Jesus tells his disciples in this week’s reading that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Give each child a small sign that with John 20:29b written on it. Below that write I am an “I” Witness. God gives me faith. Invite the children to hold up their sign every time they hear the word “God” or “Jesus” or “believe” in worship. Finish with a simple prayer for each child to remember he or she is dearly loved by God and equipped to be an “I” Witness.
(Photos: Mary Constance, Incredulita di San Tommaso (1602), and Robin, Creative Commons)