Thursday, May 22, 2014

Good Lifts Us Up -- Alternative Lectionary for Easter 7/Ascension Sunday

The Easter Journey is coming to an end.  Over the course of seven Sundays we have contemplated the ongoing presence of Jesus.  But as the Gospel reading reminds us -- it is time for Jesus to complete his journey.  It is time for his ascension.  John doesn't have an ascension story like that found in Luke/Acts, but he is clear about there being both presence and absence, and we should not be afraid.  In these texts  chosen by David Ackerman for his alternative Beyond the Lectionarywe explore images of rescue (Jeremiah) and ultimate glory (Revelation).  John on the other hand seems to be a bit coy about his plans -- at least among those not ready to head his message.  The question then for us -- are we ready to receive the message, or we live in denial -- as was true for the advisers of King Zedekiah?  


Easter 7/Ascension Sunday

“God Lifts Us Up”

Call to Worship:  Psalm 142

One:  With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my vice I make supplication to the Lord.  I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.  When my spirit is faint, you know my way.

Many:  In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.  Look on my right hand and see – there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

One:  I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”  Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low.

Many:  Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.  Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name.  The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

Gathering Prayer:  We come today, God, filled with hope and expectation.  Life has beaten us down, but we look to you now to raise us up.  Be with us, we pray.

Confession:  Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you by our thoughts, words, and deeds.  We have spun inward and gotten ourselves stuck in pits of despair.  The depth of our hopelessness is too much for us.  So now we turn to you and look to you for grace.  Raise us up, God, when we cannot deliver ourselves.

Assurance:  God raises us from every pit of desolation and death.  God lets go of the wrongs of yesterday and leads us into a life that is full of the kind of joy that nothing on earth can ever take away.  Let us live, then, as people who truly count our blessings and are genuinely thankful for God’s deliverance.

Scriptures:      Jeremiah 38:1-13 – “Ebedmelech and Jeremiah”
Revelation 21:15-21 – “The New Jerusalem”
John 7:32-36 – “Going to the One Who Sent Me”

Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you think is significant about the fact that a castrated African servant is the hero of today’s story from Jeremiah 38?  Have you ever felt like you were cast into a miry pit and an unlikely hero came to your defense?  What was that like for you?  Did it change the way that you thought about people?
  •   What do you think is significant about how the author of Revelation 21 describes the dimensions of the New Jerusalem?  What might the twelve jewels, gates, and pearls represent?  What do you think a first-century person would have thought of these images?  How would you describe heaven?
  •  Often in John, people don’t get Jesus’ points, but the author wants his readers to get them.  What do you think Jesus is talking about in chapter 7?  Is his departure something sad (because his followers will miss him) or is it something good (because it gives us hope)?
  •  Depression may be described as the feeling of being in a pit from which there is no evident escape.  Can God raise us out of that?  Can God use people like Ebedmelech to lift us up?  How about Jesus?

Prayer of Thanksgiving:  God, we thank you that we share in your Easter victory and in the new life that you give us through our risen Savior, Jesus.

Benediction:  God sends us out with a message of resurrection that says that no pit can keep us from God’s grace, mercy, and love.  Let us therefore go out to share this message with a world that longs to be found by God!  Amen.

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