Narrative Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year Three
And Now for Something Completely Different
Lessons: Acts 6:1–7:2a, 44-60 and Luke 23:33-34a, 46
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people see both the brokenness and beauty the beloved community and seek to be better stewards of God’s abundance and intent for Christ’s Body and this blessed earth.
Key Scripture: Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1
Wait! What? You mean the early church wasn’t the picture perfect image of brotherly and sisterly love we like to think it was? What about all of that holding everything in common and spending days together in worship, fellowship, and service? You mean the first Christians weren’t perfect models of what Jesus followers are supposed to be either?
Shock and amazement! It is easy to be caught up in the post-Pentecost event fervor, to cling to the parts of Luke’s story of the early church that are happy, bright, and hopeful. After all, most good church folk would rather sing “Kumbaya” than a dirge. We want to think of ourselves as welcoming, like a family, and happy all the time instead of fallen (yet redeemed) fallible folk in fierce need of Jesus. We all like a good story that leads to a happy ending, right?
So what are we to make of the excerpt we are given for this week’s preaching and teaching? First, I think it reminds us both of what we can be as the church and also what threatens to stand in the way of that possibility. This dose of reality that Luke offers us is both humbling hopeful: Sure we have all sorts of ways to mess up in the process of following Jesus and stewarding the mysteries and message of the Gospel, but because God is in control we also are able to accomplish great things through Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.
The story for this week opens with a disagreement about how some folks are being neglected. The leaders come up with a solution that seems reasonable, but true to the ways of the Holy Spirit, they quickly find out that they are not in control of the outcome. God has other ideas, and leads one faithful follower named Stephen into prophetic service and witness. If that was the end of the story, we could all go home with a hopeful smile and a big helping of nostalgia for what we assume happens with the rest of the story.
Unfortunately, what we learn next is that sometimes when God calls someone into greater service and witness that can also lead to sacrifice—bigtime sacrifice. Stephen ends up losing his life for the sake of the Gospel after stirring up a ruckus amongst the other leaders.
Sure, being called by God and responding to that call, may not lead us to a stoning—at least not with physical stones—but it can lead us to a verbal or emotional pelting. Taking a prophetic stand as a follower of Jesus can lead to difficulty, alienation, or tough choices. It’s not an easy or cozy walk if one is truly faithful to Christ’s call to serve and love, but we do have the assurance that we don’t go it alone. We can also take courage in the sure and certain knowledge that God can use the most unlikely folk to do divine will, and that we don’t have to worry so much about the end game. God’s got that covered. Remember who was holding Stephen’s coat as he was being murdered? Yes, that right, Saul. We know how his life would work out. Once God gets hold of you, resistance is, well, futile. You might as well go ahead and get in the game and be all in.
What do we do and should we do as members of this imperfect yet dearly beloved community called the church? What does it mean to be “all in” today? What might it look like to do something new and completely different for the sake of the Good News? These are good questions that we need to ponder and not skirt around. Yes, it would be much easier to keep on being who we’ve “always been” and doing things the way we’ve “always done them,” but that isn’t how God tends to work. Jesus is risen and is loose in this world doing a new thing. Let’s be about that vision of the early church we like to recall. Let’s make sure no one has need, no one goes hungry, that everyone has a place at the table, and that we gather with joy to praise God and share life. In short, let’s prayerfully BE that vision of the Body of Christ that we can be by the grace of God and the work of the Spirit.
Give each worshiper a small stone when they come into the worship space. When it is time for the corporate prayers leave space for worshipers to think about something the stone represents that they have either done to hurt someone or that might be hurtful. Make a space for worshipers to say aloud or silently what that “something” is if they would like to lay it down and leave it behind. Set aside a place at the foot of a wooden cross or in a basket for people to leave their stones. If someone is not ready to lay down that stone, assure them that this is fine. Invite them to take their stone with them and bring it back when they are ready to lay it down.
What does it mean to stand up for your faith? Would you be willing to suffer alienation, rebuttal, or worse to be true to what you believe and to follow Jesus? Invite each youth to research the story of a modern martyr to share with others. You might choose from the ten 20th century martyrs commemorated at Westminster Abbey.
Think about the story of Stephen? Who are you in the story? Where do you see yourself? With Stephen? With the other church elders? With Saul?
Everyone has a job to do as followers of Jesus. Tell children how the early church changed the way they were organized to make sure that all of the people who needed to be taken care of had their needs met. Today we also try to change to meet people’s needs. Introduce the children to members of the church council and various committees. Have them stand and share a brief summary of what they do. Keep adding groups until the entire congregation stands. (Note: You may have to be creative here and add people who pray for the congregation, people who volunteer in the community, etc.) The important point to make is that all of us have something important to do to help the church do Christ’s work in the world. Be sure to include all of the children in the important work. Help them to see that they matter and that they, too, can take part in helping others see and experience Jesus.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church was always perfect? Because the Body of Christ is made up of human beings, we will always fall short; however, we keep on trying by the grace of God and through the help of the Holy Spirit to do what Christ is calling us to do. The early church gives us a good model of stewardship for which to strive but also a reality check of how we can mess things up. Our goal is to keep our eyes on Jesus and to discern together what God is calling us to do right here with the abundance we are tasked with stewarding.
Stewardship at Home
If you had a nickel for every time you messed something up, do you think you would save much money? Consider adding an “Oops” jar to your counter or table. Every time you make a mistake, say a simple prayer of forgiveness and gratitude that God is a God of second chances. In fact God never gives up on us. At the end of the week (or month), count up your coins and give them to a ministry that matters or use them for a Noisy Offering. Not only will you have been thoughtful about your mistakes, you will also be doing something to benefit others. It’s a win/win situation!
Photos: Ted, Trinity, and Don Ragal, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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