Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 2, 2021
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 learn to abide in Christ, wherein they learn to love like Christ and to enact good change in the church, their own lives, and the world.
Key Scripture: We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
One of my favorite memes that occasionally makes the rounds of social media is this one:
The Bible is clear: Moabites are bad. They were not to be allowed to dwell among God’s people (Dt. 23). But then comes the story of “Ruth the Moabite,” which challenges the prejudice against Moabites.
The Bible is clear: People from Uz are evil (Jer. 25). But then comes the story of Job, a man from Uz who was “the most blameless man on earth.”
The Bible is clear: No foreigners or eunuchs allowed (Dt. 23). But then comes the story of the African eunuch welcomed into the church (Acts 8).
The Bible is clear: God’s people hated Samaritans. But then Jesus tells a story that shows not all Samaritans are bad.
The story may begin with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity, but the Spirit moves God’s people towards openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, and affirmation.
A colleague noted how appropriate the content of this meme is for this week’s lesson from Acts 8 (thanks, June!). I completely agree. Yet, I’d like to take the notion wider, to include the gospel lesson and epistle from 1 John. From these three lessons we learn that abiding in Christ helps us learn to love, and that teaching helps us enact good change—in the church, in our own lives, and in the world. Let’s look at it as a formula for faith: Abide + Love = Good Change. If we give the Holy Spirit a little wiggle room in our lives, we just might be amazed by how we find ourselves changing and, in turn, changing the church and the world. Heaven knows, we don’t need more of the same as we emerge from the relative safety of our COVID cocoons.
The gospel and the lessons from Acts and 1 John are all familiar, and beloved, excerpts of scripture that point us to a new way of being and doing church and living in the world as followers of the Christ. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a connection between all three as I see this year, but it is a powerful one indeed.
We begin by abiding in Christ, by being grafted into God’s family and dwelling deeply in the reality of Christ’s love and mercy and fruitfulness. Cut flowers or forced branches usually don’t last too long, but disciples who abide in the Christ find they suddenly begin to bear fruit in the most amazing and unexpected ways. The mark of this fruit is the love we share, the kind of non-optional love that we learn about in the lesson from 1 John 4:7-21. Verse 13 reminds us “By this [love] we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
This love of our sisters and brothers is not optional; it is a commandment. We are compelled to love, to love beyond borders, prejudice, affiliations, race, creed, or sexual orientation. In short, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Just how might this play out? The lesson from Acts provides the perfect illustration. A eunuch is traveling from Jerusalem where he has gone to worship—very likely unwelcome—and God’s angel compels Philip to go to him. Together they study scripture, and the eunuch asks what is to prevent him from being baptized when water is right by them. Philip could have come up with all kinds of excuses, but that’s not what God has commanded him (and us) to do. Philip is faithful and baptizes the unnamed eunuch, welcoming him into God’s family with full inclusion. I wonder how this might play out today? What would you do? Why not consider this simple formula: Abide + love = Good change? You must might be surprised at the results!
Consider using “All Belong Here,” a lovely and powerful song by The Many for contemporary worship.
Here’s another one from The Many, “Love is Here,” that would work well this week:
I usually don’t use the same artists for all of the hymn options, but this week, it feels right. Check out this possible sending song from The Many entitled “Rise Up”:
What does radical love look like? Invite your youth to give examples they have heard about, seen, or experienced where the kind of radical love talked about in this week’s epistle lesson is the rule rather than the exception. How can they live into a life of radical love? What would it look like? How might it change their lives, your church, the world?
This week’s focus verse is 1 John 4:19– We love because he first loved us.
Oh how simple it sounds! We love because Jesus first loved us. But love can be messy and complicated. It can hurt and wound, and it can be truly difficult to love others. The thing is, the author of this epistle says that love is not optional. We are commanded to do it. So how does that work? Fortunately, when we stay deeply connected to Jesus we are given the power to love—power to love even those we don’t think that we can or should love. Just look at how God stretched Philip’s faith today by putting him in contact with a soul that most of Philip’s friends and colleagues would have considered unclean and unworthy. Philip learned that God sees otherwise, and that is a very good thing. God sees deeply within each one of us, right to the heart of the matter. And that’s where love is found and where it grows and where good things happen. Trust Jesus to help you love, even when it seems so very difficult.
Dear Lord (Dear Lord),
Thank you for loving us (Thank you for loving us). Thank you for teaching us how to love (Thank you for teaching us how to love) and for commanding us to love (and for commanding us to love). We want to be connected to you (We want to be connected to you) so that we may learn to love (so that we may learn to love). And let all God’s children say…AMEN!
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Loving others in Christ’s name is truly an act of stewardship. It isn’t always easy, but this is what God expects of us. Thank you for learning to abide in Christ and love others as God commands.
Stewardship at Home
Sometimes choosing to love is the tougher option. This week consider watching the 2016 film Loving, about the love story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a mixed-race couple during an era of deep segregation and hatred. Truly love conquers all, in this film all the way to the Supreme Court so that the Lovings and other couples could love freely and without fear. Watch the film now on Netflix. Here’s a link to previews and interviews: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4669986/?ref_=vp_back
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/04/get-up-and-go/
2015 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/04/abiding-in-love/
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