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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources, Fifth Sunday of Easter

Year C, Colour = White or Gold


Fifth Sunday of Easter

Introduction

What is a Christian? If you had to define what a Christian person was, how would you do it. Would they believe certain creeds, worship in particular ways, or would they have a certain spiritual model or belief system?

It is a fascinating question and one which Jesus tackles in our reading today from John's Gospel. Jesus makes it clear that Christianity is not to be identified by a particular set of beliefs, a body of doctrines, membership of a certain church or denomination, or adherence to the Bible. A Christian is fundamentally identified by love. Loyalty to our church, knowledge of scripture, religious devotion, all of this is incidental to the importance of being loving people. What we do and how we behave must be clearly identified as loving if we are honest in claiming to walk the Christian path. A Christian is recognised not by their creed but by their ability to reflect the love of God in their life.

 

Opening Verse of Scripture   Galatians Chapter 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

 

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Common Worship

Risen Christ, your wounds declare your love for the world and the wonder of your risen life: give us compassion and courage to risk ourselves for those we serve, to the glory of God the Father. Common Worship  

Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life: grant us so to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth and to share his risen life; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. Methodist Worship

Loving and eternal God, through the resurrection of your Son, help us to face the future with courage and assurance, knowing that nothing in life of death can ever part us from your love for us in Jesus Christ our Saviour; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen  Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading   Acts 11 v 1 – 18

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him and said, You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them. Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' This happened three times, and then it was pulled up to heaven again. Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God? When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life. 

Second Reading  Revelation Chapter 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
 

Gospel Reading   John 13:31-35

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


Post Communion Prayer

Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: grant us to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth, and to share his risen life; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen


Commentary

Reinhold Niebuhr, was asked if he could name the time and place of his salvation, his answer was "2,000 years ago on a dusty hill named Golgotha outside Jerusalem's wall." The point is clear, it was then that Jesus gave to us the most visible demonstration of God’s enduring love for humankind. Christians believe that God took human form and died for his creation, bringing forgiveness even to those who drove nails through his flesh and pronouncing ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. It was an act of supreme divinity and shows that God’s love transcends all barriers and is not restricted even towards those who hate and murder the most beautiful example of human life which has ever been lived. It is for this reason that we can say that love is fashioned in the shape of the cross. It shows to us that the embrace of God stretches to all of humankind.

This lesson was not understood immediately by the first Christians and we see this in our reading from Acts today. At first the community who followed Jesus were conscientious Jews who followed the Bible, our Old Testament. It restricted their membership to those were born and ritually inducted into Judaism. Early believers in Jesus therefore needed to be circumcised, to eat kosher, they needed to be good Jews. Then there was a transformation in which some of these first believers realised that God’s embrace extended far wider than they had understood. This Revelation came to Peter after he had a vision of God telling him to eat meat which was specifically forbidden in Leviticus as being unclean. Peter believed that he had learned from God that nothing he had created was unclean. Immediately following this world changing revelation Peter was invited to Caesarea to the home of the centurion Cornelius, a Roman—not a Jew. It was a truly momentous occasion, Peter tells Cornelius that it was against the Jewish law for him to associate with a gentile like Cornelius. Previously Jews like him believed that God commanded them to keep away from impure or unclean people. However Peter now realised that this was wrong, there was no such thing as unclean people. God did not make impure or unclean. In the words of Peter

‘I now realise that God does not show favouritism, but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’ (Acts 10:34).

Ever since this early revelation the Christian church has been open to gentiles. However progress has not been easy and from the outset there was controversy amongst the apostles themselves over this openness, just as we have often struggled to be as open as Peter. We have at times fallen back and considered that God really did make some people less pure than others, the racial prejudice of the church is a good example. It is a sad fact that Peter himself even after this revelation subsequently lacked courage when confronted by James and the believers from Jerusalem. We read in Galatians 2:12 that the Apostle Paul publicly rebuked Peter for bowing to pressure to reject the gentile outsiders. Paul was furious that Peter and his friends withdrew from fellowship with the gentile believers and Paul tells us that the reason Peter did so was because he was ‘afraid.’

We know that subsequently Peter learned his lesson, but it is a lesson which all of us need to learn again and again. We must all be prepared to risk the criticism of others and stand up for what we know to be right. Peter knew that the scriptures which we now call the Old Testament had to be revised in the light of the news laws which came from the cross of Jesus. If Jesus could forgive those who butchered him, then a new world was a being created in which God welcomes every person from any nation. No longer could people be divided into clean and unclean. Perhaps we should all this week ask ourselves, ‘who do I think of as impure or unclean. How have I distorted the all embracing, sacrificial love of God? If we seek to live in the love of God, we are not in a position to impose requirements that keep out those whom God’s love includes. Charles Royden

 

Meditation

Love is what love does

What is a Christian? If you had to define what a Christian person was, how would you do it. Would they believe certain creeds, worship in particular ways, or would they have a certain spiritual model or belief system?

It is a fascinating question and one which Jesus tackles in our reading today from John's Gospel. Jesus makes it clear that Christianity is not to be identified by a particular set of beliefs, a body of doctrines, membership of a certain church or denomination, or adherence to the Bible. A Christian is fundamentally identified by love. Loyalty to our church, knowledge of scripture, religious devotion, all of this is incidental to the importance of being loving people. What we do and how we behave must be clearly identified as loving if we are honest in claiming to walk the Christian path. A Christian is recognised not by their creed but by their ability to reflect the love of God in their life.

In a sense this is obvious, but the next big question is this 'What is love?'

Christians seem destined ever to confuse and sometimes substitute the externals of religion for authentic loving living.

We can be very busy doing charity work, offer our services to the church, and still be pretty unloving people. This is true of all of us, we can be ministers in God's church and still not have allowed God's love to penetrate us to the extent that we are able to reflect that love to others. Sadly we are surrounded by much talk about love which is confusing and which frequently thinks of love in romantic or sentimental terms. We read about love, we hear songs about love, we watch television programmes about love and very often the image of love which is presented is confused or downright wrong.

So how can we know what love is? How can we be spared from lives which are wrecked by an allusive search after love? If we want to know love, then the place to start is in the life of Jesus. He teaches us and shows us practically what real love is. Jesus is a living model of true love, for each of us to use as a means of developing our own loving lives.

There are some straightforward things which we can say about Jesus love

  • Jesus showed love by giving attention to others and their needs

  • Jesus showed love by serving others in caring ways

  • Jesus showed love by offering unconditional acceptance and forgiveness

The love of Jesus is not about fine preaching or sentimental feelings. For Jesus, love is what love does.

 

Hymns

 

  1. All hail the power
  2. A new commandment
  3. Make me a channel
  4. Where the love of Christ Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos, see below
  5. God is our strength and refuge
  6. Come let us sing of a wonderful love
  7. Love Divine
  8. All creatures of our God and king
  9. Brother, sister, let me serve you

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Keep me safe in your arms, O Lord, for then I have nothing to fear. Let me rely on you in all things and deliver me from all that imperils my salvation. Guard me in the hour of danger and in the hour of success. Grant that I may always believe in you, love you and serve you, and bring me at your bidding into the presence of your glory; through Christ our Lord. Amen John Henry Newman, 1801-1890

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who brought forth from the root of Jesse a Messiah for all the tribes of the earth; grant us faith and humility so to stand in awe of your purpose, that at the last all the branches of the tree of life may be grafted in, and all those whom you have chosen may rejoice together in your love. Amen

O Lord, support us all the day long of our lives, until the shades lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation, grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith. Amen

Direct, O God, with your own living wisdom, our schools, universities and seats of knowledge, learning and wisdom, that they may more and more unveil the wondrous ways of your Kingdom and draw all to worship and adore your ongoing work of wondrous creation. Amen

God, who through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the victory, give you joy and peace in your faith; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen

Additional Resources

 

Commentary

How wide is the love of God? Who is saved? If we look at today's readings then we can see that there is a pattern which can be found in the Bible which gives us an understanding of human salvation which gradually widens, until all people are included. Salvation is available for all. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is defending himself against the Church in Jerusalem because he has baptised Gentiles and so has admitted them as members of the Church. The story of Cornelius, according to Acts 10, had marked a watershed in the life of the early Christian community. Before that, the members of the young Church had believed that belief in Jesus was simply one form of the Jewish faith, of which there were several forms or versions available at that time. Peter believed that God had told him that gentiles should also be admitted to the faith. A little later, of course, Paul came on the scene and took an even more radical view of the implications for the whole human race on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Church accepted Peter's account and the community gave thanks for God's ever-widening mercy, in that gentiles were to be admitted to full fellowship of Christ's Church.

The Bible, therefore, marks the early stages of this development in Christian understanding, and also provides us with some means of establishing criteria by which we can work out what is compatible with faith in Jesus Christ. Here we can see the beginnings of the development of God's purpose of human salvation. It started through the chosen people of Israel, continued through the Church, through all people who responded, sometimes in unknown and hidden ways, to the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.

If we look at Psalm 148, then we find that the psalmist is calling upon the whole of creation to give thanks for the glory of God, especially in God's commitment to the chosen people of Israel in ensuring that they came through their difficulties to glory after all their suffering. If we read Revelation chapter 21, then the image of 'a new heaven and a new earth' is one of a totally newly created world, in which there is nothing to cause harm and there is nothing to get in the way of us establishing a harmonious relationship with God. Here we have an image of God as being 'all in all', and all the world being in harmony with God, once the in-human and anti-human forces have been destroyed.

The same idea is to be found in today's Gospel reading from John 13. Here, Jesus' exclamation, 'Now the Son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him', comes after the gentiles have approached the disciples to see if they could meet with Jesus. If we think about the Christian message, what does come through is a pressure, a desire, to unite the whole of humanity, so that everyone is pulling in the same direction - or to use a phrase currently in common phrase 'singing from the same hymn sheet'. Perhaps this idea is significant because it can also be found in Jesus' 'new commandment' which is that his disciples should love one another. The unity, which Jesus Christ desires and which is central to the Christian message and so to Christian preaching, is that we should be obedient to his message and should live as he lived - in love. The glory of Jesus Christ is the love of people for one another. If we can do that, then we are showing that we have incorporated His Spirit within us.

Commentary

 

Jesus Logo

The originator and completer of life

The voice from the throne declares, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End’. There is a wonderful symmetry between the first and last book in the bible. In Genesis we are told that God created heaven and earth, in Revelation we hear of a new heaven and a New Earth. In Genesis the sun, moon and starts are called into being, in Revelation we are told that the Holy city has no need of the sun or moon because the glory of God lights it up. Genesis describes a paradise lost, Revelation a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning of the devil, man illicitly eating from the tree of life then fleeing and hiding from God. Revelation describes the devil bound, intimate communion between God and His people, and access restored to the tree of life.

The language of apocalyptic writing like the books of Daniel and Revelation is richly symbolic and sometimes complex to understand as it often needs to be interpreted at many different levels. This is made even more complex in the book of Revelation as it contains many repetitions and double repetitions, parallel passages and cross references to the same theme in different sections of the book. But the central message is as relevant now as it ever was and reveals the unchanging realities on which our faith is based. God promises to be with His people for ever, protecting them and saving them from evil. This theme was the foundation of the Israelite faith. It is personified in Jesus in the New Testament who declares as the Easter risen Christ ‘I am with you always; yes, even to the end of time.’ John wrote the Book of Revelation for Jewish readers who were clearly familiar with the Hebrew culture, language and alphabet. In Jewish thinking, a reference to the first and last letters of an alphabet (aleph and tau in Hebrew) was regarded as including all the intermediate letters, and represented totality or entirety. The Jews in their ancient commentaries on the Old Testament said that Adam transgressed the whole law from aleph to tau. Abraham, by contrast, observed the whole law from aleph to tau. The Jews also believed that when God brings blessing upon Israel, He does so abundantly, from aleph to tau. When used of God and Christ therefore, the first and last letters of the alphabet express eternality and omnipotence. Christ's claim to be the Alpha and the Omega reflects the statements of the Old Testament and is an affirmation that He is the all-powerful One of eternity past and eternity future. 

For these early Jewish and Gentile Christians, and indeed for suffering Christians down the ages, Revelation is therefore an epic of Christian hope, the victory song of a persecuted church as Christ completes His task. A book filled with hope for Jewish and Gentile believers alike. A hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His sovereign rule over the political and social events occurring around the world.

Revelation is also a book filled with instructions to believers on how to live out their faith, as fallen the world slips into moral darkness and includes warnings to unbelievers that the Day of Judgment is coming for all who refuse to bow their hearts to Jesus as King of kings. Those who are faithful to Jesus have nothing to fear; we may all suffer a little for a while but ultimately, as the glorious finale of Revelation makes clear, good will over come evil, God has triumphed over Satan and all his schemes and through Him, so will we. The sacrifice of the Lamb has won the victory, whatever trials the church and its people undergo in the interim; its confidence in God’s faithfulness remains unshaken. The Lord will come soon and bring to completion that which He started when He first hovered over the Genesis waters.   Sam Cappleman

Prayer

We know, Lord, that throughout our lives each of us will experience problems and difficulties. Give us courage and strength at those times and prevent us then from looking only at ourselves. Keep our vision wide so that, even in times of difficulty, we may still be of help to others. Help us not to be bitter towards people or situations, but empower us to take the initiative and break the cycle of hatred, bitterness, and evil actions. Help us to transform the difficulties that come our way into opportunities for personal growth and service of others. Amen.

Lord, God of peace, we thank you for the hopes, the efforts and the achievements which your Spirit of peace has inspired in our days - stirring up love where there was hate, sympathy where there was suspicion, care where there was indifference. Open our minds and our hearts even more to the specific demands which love for others makes upon us, so that we may be more truly makers of peace. Remember, God of mercies, those who are oppressed, those who are suffering and dying for the birth of a world in which all people will be more truly a single human family. May your kingdom come for all people of every race and language - your kingdom of justice, of peace, of love, and may all the earth be filled with your glory. We make our prayer through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Meditation

In 1935 two men in New York began to support each other to stay sober "Alcoholics Anonymous".- or "A.A.", as it is

often known - has small group meetings in many towns each week. Those who feel they have a drink problem are welcome to attend group meetings, where everyone is anonymous. No one is ever charged money to attend. Members encourage and support one another to live a day at a time. A.A. has "12 Steps for Recovery" from alcoholism. Some people who don't have alcohol problems still find A.A.'s 12 "Steps for Recovery" to be a good guide when times are difficult. Read the '12 Steps' and see which ones are meaningful to you.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We'll use as our prayer today some words used every day by A.A. members. This prayer is often said together at their group meetings.

Let us pray:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

 

Meditation

We cannot call dirrty what God has made clean

 

Hymns

  1. Let all the world
  2. For I'm building a people
  3. Praise the Lord
  4. Jesus shall reign
  5. Go forth and tell
  6. Hail thou once despised Jesus
  7. Father we Love you
  8. He that is in us
  9. A New commandment
  10. Hail to the Lord’s anointed
  11. Love Divine

Where the love of Christ unites us,
there God is found.
Where we meet as love invites us,
there God is found.
Let us come with jubilation
to the God of our salvation;
love enlivens all creation:
there God is found.

Where we meet without division,
there God is found,
free from anger and derision,
there God is found.
Let all bitter feuds be ended,
strife resolved and foes befriended,
pride and fear by love transcended:
there God is found.

Where the blessèd live for ever,
there God is found;
bonds of love no pain can sever,
there God is found.
Christ in glory,
we implore you,
let us with the saints adore you,
love resplendent flows before you;
there God is found.

Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos