God Includes All -- Alternate Lections for Epiphany (David Ackerman)

A new year is at hand.  We find ourselves thinking about the future -- what will 2014 be like.  What is required of us?  In this set of lections, David Ackerman, in Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary, offers us an opportunity to trust in the Lord, consider the boundaries of the community, and discern the center.  Each text in its own way invites us to consider God's gracious offer of inclusion.  May the New Year be one in which we both experience and share in a new way that welcome God has shown us in Christ.


Epiphany/New Year’s Day

“God Includes All”

Note:  If desired, these texts may be used in place of the readings for Christmas 2.

Call to Worship:  Isaiah 56:3-5 NRSV

One:  Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”

Many:  For thus says the Lord:  To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

Gathering Prayer:  God, we thank you for showing yourself to the world in the person of Jesus.  As we come together to worship you this day, may we see you for who you are.

Confession:  Though you reveal yourself to us time and time again, God, we look away from you and fail to trust you.  We build up walls of exclusion to give us the illusion of comfort and safety, and all the while we wall you out of our lives.  Have mercy on us, and forgive us.  Change us, so that we may come to know you as you are, not as we want you to be.

Assurance:  God breaks through every barrier to inclusion and offers us grace and love in abundance.  Let us live, then, as faithful people who are genuinely thankful for all that God has done for us.

Scriptures:      Proverbs 3:5-8 – “Trust in God”
Acts 15:1-21 – “The Jerusalem Council”
John 7:25-31 – “Is Jesus the Messiah?”

Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.

Reflection Questions:

·         As a new calendar year dawns, how hard is it to resolve to “trust in God with all your heart,” as advised in Proverbs 3?  What keeps you from trusting God?

·         How does Isaiah 56 offer a word of hope to people who were once excluded from fellowship?  What groups of people today might be in the same social position as the eunuchs of Isaiah 56?

·         What is the primary issue at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15?  Who are the main figures and what do they think about the issue?  How did they resolve the controversy?  How might their process of coming to a resolution be a model for Christian churches today?

·         In what ways do you think the Jerusalem Council’s decision applies to issues of inclusivity today?  Who are the “Gentiles” in today’s church and how, as a church, might we welcome them in?  What might it cost us to do so?  Is it worth it?

·         In John 7, there is great debate about who Jesus is.  Are there similar debates in Christian churches today?  Who is Jesus for you?

·         How do you handle controversies in your church and life?  Do you see conflict primarily as a source of pain or growth (or both)?  Is it worth it to stand up and risk ridicule for the sake of the inclusion of “outsiders” in the church (and in our society)?

Prayer of Thanksgiving:  God, you have shown yourself to us this day, and for the gift of this revelation, we offer you thanks and praise.

Benediction:  We are witnesses of the good news that God has welcomed us into the family of faith.  Let us go out into the world and share that same message of welcome and love with others.  Amen.


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