Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 18, 2021
Lessons: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people bear witness to the love of Christ in a broken and distraught world.
Key Scripture: You are witnesses of these things. – Luke 24:48
This week’s lessons provide a fine lens through which to focus on the power of witness. Bearing witness to the Christ at work in the world is something that Christians have been called to do since the women bore witness at the empty tomb. Just what does it mean to bear witness in a world in which so much runs counter to the teachings of Jesus? Each of this week’s lessons provides its own unique entry point for preaching and teaching. Our job as hearers of the word is to open our hearts and minds, or better yet to allow the Christ to open our hearts and minds to myriad possibilities. Here are a few ways you might frame a sermon or discussion using each of this week’s four lessons.
Acts 3:12-19: This is one of those passages that has long bothered me because it is often preached or taught in ways that smack of anti-Semitism. One way to avoid that is to use the good old fill-in-the-blank method right from the get-go in verse 12. Instead of the word “Israelites” insert another group of people, say North American Christians or Christian Nationalists, or whatever works best in your context. Just that one small shift may be enough to jolt worshipers out of their comfort zones to hear the words of Peter afresh. Consider the many ways we still “kill Jesus” today in the form of our fellow humans in which the presence of Christ is reflected. What about the Black and brown bodies whose lives are so often discounted and killed as a result of systemic racism (America’s original sin, according to author Jim Wallis)? How about the way we treat immigrants, despite how scripture tells us we should treat the foreigner in or midst? And, of course, how about the way we kill the Christ by trying to reduce him to our own comfortable version of a messiah? Yes, we all stand in need of repentance (3:19) because none of us is exempt from sin, ignorance, and willfulness. In receiving forgiveness, we turn our hearts and minds aright and bear faithful witness, even if it means moving beyond our comfort zones.
Psalm 4: This psalm is a wonderful dialogue between the poet and God. The poet calls for God to hear the prayer and be gracious. God responds, “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies” (4:2). The instructions from the Lord are clear: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” What are the results of being in right relationship with God? According to the poet, a glad heart and peaceful sleep accompany those who love and serve the Lord.
1 John 3:1-7: This passage contains amazing good news; we are named and claimed as Children of God, right along with Christians across all time and space. We may not understand everything about how God works and what the Christ is up to in the world, but all will all be revealed at the right time. Our job in the meantime is to love God, dwell in the Christ, and bear faithful witness to this beautiful broken world of another way of living and being—one that is life-giving, life-affirming, and loving for ALL people, indeed for all of creation. We live in holy tension between the now and the not yet, but we can be secure in our witness that God in Christ Jesus holds this world together and is turning it aright.
Luke 24:36b-48: (Note: Do check our archives, links provided below, for additional treatments of this gospel lesson.) Being a faithful witness is not necessarily an easy thing to do, as this passage makes clear. Even though Jesus’ first disciples receive his peace and signs that this is truly the Christ (the wounds on his hands and feet, the fact that he consumes food, because ghosts don’t eat) and they respond with joy, while “disbelieving and still wondering.” No, the first witnesses weren’t perfect, just as we aren’t today. However, the Christ is with us to open our mind to scripture—today done in community, through personal study, group interactions, sermons, and teaching. Through holy encounters with one another, for we all bear the presence of the Christ, we become faithful witnesses, able to share the good news, welcome strangers, gather at Christ’s table with those on the margins, and to spread the love of Christ in all of our daily interactions. It’s a tough order to be sure, but with God nothing is impossible, even bearing the Christ for others to encounter such wonderful love, mercy, and grace. There is power in faithful witness. Let us pray for that power and begin to use it to repair the breaches that mar and scar our siblings and the beauty of creation.
Invite worshipers to ponder where they have seen the Christ at work in the world. These stories form a witness, and often quite a powerful one. One practice a colleague of mine started with the congregation she served was to invite congregants to share their God sightings for the week. This practice quickly became a powerful and well-loved part of worship, equipping God’s people to share their faith and to pay attention to the world around them.
Another practice to invite worshipers to participate in is bearing witness in the world to injustice and suffering. As Dr. Cornel West so aptly says: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” Where do we who are Jesus followers need to show up and bear witness today? Wherever and whenever Black and brown bodies are discounted and harmed? At the intersection of the school to prison pipeline? Where human trafficking takes place? Where those experiencing homelessness gather? The list could easily become quite long, but the point is that we must do a better job of showing up and bearing witness both to injustice and to the love of Christ that compels us to love God and neighbor.
If you have a contemporary worship service, consider this worship song:
What does it mean to your youth to bear witness to the Christ story and to the living and loving presence of Christ in the world today? Sometimes it’s tough enough for teens to make it through the day with the pressures, bullying, and challenges they face. Just how can they bear witness to the love, mercy, and grace of Christ? How can they bear effective witness to the injustice in the world around them?
We all need a little (or a lot of, really) help from our friends, so consider pairing youth with willing adult prayer partners who have undergone background checks and are aware of your congregation’s child protection policies. Youth may be a little shy about inviting someone to be a prayer partner, so you may want to prayerfully invite adults and match them with your youth. They would need to commit to pray for their partner every day, to meet with them once a month or so to check in, to be willing to answer questions of faith, and to attend their youth prayer partner’s school events (music, drama, sports) and/or send periodic notes of encouragement. We all need mentors and guides who are trustworthy and faithful. Make sure that potential adult prayer partners know what they are getting into, the time commitment, and expectations. Do the same for youth so that they will understand the level of commitment their prayer partner has willingly committed to invest.
This week’s focus verse is Psalm 4:8 – I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
How many of you ever have bad dreams or trouble sleeping? It’s not unusual at all, but it’s sure not a lot of fun. (Allow the children to share their stories.) This verse (Psalm 4:8) is good to memorize and remember every night before you go to sleep. Remember, you are not alone. In addition to family, you also have God with you all the time.
Martin Luther recognized the need for people to feel safe and secure when they went to sleep every night so he wrote this nighttime prayer. Let’s say it together!
In the name of the Father, the Son+, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I thank you (I thank you), my heavenly Father, (my heavenly Father) through Jesus Christ (through Jesus Christ), your dear Son, (your dear Son), that you have graciously kept me this day (that you have graciously kept me this day). And I pray that you would forgive me (And I pray that you would forgive me) all my sins where I have done wrong (all my sins where I have done wrong), and graciously keep me this night (and graciously keep me this night). For into your hands (For into your hands) I commend myself, my body, my soul, and all things (I commend myself, my body, my soul, and all things). Let your holy angel be with me (Let your holy angel be with me), that the evil foe (that the evil foe) may have no power over me (may have no power over me). And let all God’s children say Amen (Amen)!
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Part of stewarding the mysteries of faith is bearing witness. Today we give thanks for the many ways in which our congregation bears witness to the pain, the suffering, and the needs of this world. Through your generous gifts of time, talent, and resources you are making a difference. Thank you!
Stewardship at Home
“God wants me to be part of something larger than myself, something holy, something that matters to all of creation.” —Darryl W. Stephens, Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom
This week consider reading Darryl W. Stephens new book Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom. Better yet, gather a group of friends and use this excellent study guide from the United Methodist Women to inform your study. The book can be purchased for as little as $5.95 (Kindle) or $10 print.
If you have children at home consider teaching them how to write a letter to an elected official about an issue that concerns them. Click here for an excellent guide to help you do just that!
2018 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2018/04/a-mind-opening-experience/
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2021, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.