Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 29, 2018
Lessons: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people, as stewards of the good news, are ready to share, teach, and be in relationship with all whom God puts in their path.
Key Scripture: Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) Acts 8:26
Every Sunday the liturgy of the congregation I serve concludes with a sending that has the assisting minister saying something like this: “Go in peace. Share the good news!” The congregation dutifully responds “Thanks be to God. We will!” Then folks pass by the worship leaders, shaking hands and sharing a few words before heading to the parish hall for coffee hour or straight out the door and back into life as usual. Most people will not, as Philip does, encounter an angel of the Lord telling them to get up and go somewhere for a chance encounter to share the gospel.
What if, however, the Holy Spirit leads and guides us into chance encounters more often than we realize? Ever thought about how many opportunities you might be missing because you’re not tuned into the divine communication frequency or are simply too busy to see the obvious? Granted, chasing down cars on the highway in front of your church building is probably not a good idea; Philip wasn’t clocking 55 miles per hour when he was running alongside the Ethiopian’s chariot on the road to Gaza.
Is there a time when you’ve struck up a conversation with a stranger, perhaps someone waiting in line at the store or at the train station or airport? Maybe you would have rather been reading that book you brought along, but some internal urge goaded you into introducing yourself or asking a question. We never know exactly who God is putting in our path, do we?
I was exhausted when I settled into my seat on the plane on a recent flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia. It would have been so much easier to close my eyes and rest, but the young man next to me seemed nervous about the flight, so I initiated some small talk. By the time the plane landed at our destination, we had learned a lot about each other’s lives and faith journeys. I’m hoping he walked away at the gate feeling affirmed in his own discipleship walk and vocational discernment. I know my life was enriched by our conversation. I will probably never see him again, but who knows what impact our conversations have with one another?
We can choose to go through life encased in our own little bubbles of self-preservation and comfort, or we can take the risk to be vulnerable and open with others whom we encounter in our daily travels. Even if you never break open your Bible or quote a verse of scripture, the sermon of your kindness, your interest, and your story may preach with lasting impact on someone else’s life.
Philip was only following God’s leading when he chanced upon the Ethiopian returning from worship in Jerusalem. He asked the right question, and he followed through when this unnamed official of the queen invited him to ride along and explain scripture to him. Best yet, when this stranger asked what would prevent him from being baptized, Philip went with him into the water, and a new member was grafted into Christ’s body. The chance encounter was soon over with both Philip and the Ethiopian going their respective ways.
This, dearly beloved, is how the gospel spreads—one conversation and one relationship at a time. The good news of Jesus is passed on in our vulnerability and willingness to step out of our comfort zones, when we make time to talk and listen. It isn’t rocket science, this practice of evangelism. No, it’s about being real, about listening for God’s still small voice and sensing the Spirit’s subtle nudges, and about celebrating and affirming the humanity, dignity, and worth of every person we encounter. Go ahead; listen. God is calling you, sending you, and equipping you to share the most amazing story ever told.
Love is a verb, but it’s one that can be pretty tough to put into practice—especially when it comes to conversing with strangers and breaking out of our comfort zones. Why not have people break into pairs or small groups today to share a blessing and a prayer that each person will be able to walk in love, share love, and live the embodied love of Jesus every day.
Consider inviting congregants to share where they have seen God’s love at work in the world this week. Or, how have they chosen the path of love over other options in their daily life this week?
Take a good look at this week’s gospel lesson. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? How are we grafted onto the vine? What does the fruit we produce look like? If you live near a vineyard, consider a trip there to talk to someone who cultivates and tends the vines.
Loving Others is not Optional
Love is not optional according to today’s epistle lesson. We are told that if we love God, then we must love our brothers and sisters. Sometimes loving people can be difficult. Ask the children if they ever have a hard time loving their siblings. It’s tough to love your little brother when he tears up your favorite Lego creation. It’s tough to love your big sister when she makes fun of you. It’s not easy to love our parents when they won’t let us do what we want to do when we want to do it. But is this the kind of love that the writer is talking about? It’s more than getting mad about something not going our way or being upset over a temporary action.
The kind of love here is BIG love—loving our neighbors just like we love God, honoring them as God’s beloved, too. We may not like someone’s actions or approve of the way they behave, but we remember that Jesus loves them, and we try to see a little bit of Jesus in them, too.
Invite the children to try to separate “like” from “love” by saying “I do not like how you are treating me, but Jesus loves you anyway, and so do I.” Finish with a simple prayer for hearts that love and minds and eyes that are open to see Jesus in others.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Yes, stewardship is all about radical generosity, but sometimes it involves being generous with our time and open to encounters with those whom God puts in our path. You may not be told to chase after a chariot, but chances are you’ll run into someone who could use some friendly conversation and a smile.
Stewardship at Home
This week look for opportunities to have a conversation with others. Ask the clerk at the store how her day is going. Have a chat with your Uber driver. Check in with the barista at your local coffee house. Call a friend you haven’t talked with in a while. Sit with someone new at lunch. At the end of the week take a look back at the number of contacts you’ve had. Pray that God will continue to use you to build relationships and spread love and the gospel everywhere you go.
Here’s a look back at our 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/05/cultivating-generous-disciples/
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/04/abiding-in-love/
Photos: Katrina Montivagrant, Manu Manohar, Alex Holyoake, and S. Reechers, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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