May 2019 Lectionary Preview
April 5, 2019 by Greg Allen-Pickett
Editor's note: Each month, we publish a lectionary preview, asking the writer to focus on stewardship. Our thanks to Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett of First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Nebraska, for penning the lectionary preview for May.
The lectionary does an interesting thing in the Sundays following Easter. It replaces the Old Testament readings with a series of readings that detail the beginnings of the early church from the Book of Acts. This shift provides the pastor an opportunity to create a narrative telling the story of the early church and it can lend itself to a fun and thoughtful sermon series that touches on themes of stewardship as we chart the growth of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles.
The sermon series could be entitled “Astonishing God!” You could use a comic book or superhero motif with the words “Astonishing God!” in an action bubble like the “Pow!” you see in the old Batman television shows.
The theme for the series is that God does some astonishing things through the disciples and through us, and we are called to an astonishing response. The resurrection kicks off a series of astonishing and unexpected events that lead to rapid growth of the early church, and some remarkable miracles along the way. If we can see that God is at work throgh these events, and connect that work to our own faith journey, then we can be inspired to respond in astonishing ways and with astonishing generosity.
The Second Sunday of Easter falls on April 28 with the suggested lectionary reading of Acts 5:27-32. It offers us a glimpse into “Peter 2.0.” We all know that Peter got so scared during Holy Week that he denied Christ three times; this was clearly a low point in his faith journey. But we serve an astonishing God who gives us all second chances and can work through each of us to turn our faith and our lives around. Here in Acts 5, despite Christ’s death on the cross and the fear that Peter felt, through the power of God, he has had an astonishing turn around. Now Peter is actively and openly witnessing to God and teaching in Jesus’ name. He is confronted by the authorities, and he has the courage and audacity to stand up to them despite his earlier fears. No one in the US church in the 21st century faces the kind of persecution that Peter faced following Christ’s death and resurrection, and yet how often do we so boldly share our faith? Peter’s example can inspire courageous generosity of time, talent and treasure in our congregations. If Peter can have this much of a turnaround and God can use him, imagine what God can do with us if we approached our faith with the same energy as Peter.
The Third Sunday of Easter falls on May 5 with the suggested lectionary reading of Acts 9:1-20. The story provides us another example of an astonishing act of God: the conversion of Saul. This story shows that God can even work through everyone, even those who have worked against the church. Saul’s conversion is powerful in and of itself, but the work of Ananias in this story also provides a powerful witness to following God’s commands even when it is challenging. Invite your congregation to visualize this conversation between God and Ananias. You could even do this as a “reader’s theater.” Below is the text from The Message:
Narrator: There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. God spoke to him in a vision:
Ananias: “Yes, Master?”
God: “Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He’s there praying. He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again.”
Ananias: “Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us.”
God: “Don’t argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews. And now I’m about to show him what he’s in for—the hard suffering that goes with this job.”
Narrator: So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said:
Ananias: “Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Narrator: No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes—he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized, and sat down with them to a hearty meal.
Oftentimes Saul becomes the focus of this passage. However the two primary actors are God and Ananias. God works through Ananias, and despite his reservations, Ananias is faithful to what God asks of him, and God does astonishing things through Ananias. The preacher could ask the congregation, “How is God working through you? How is God calling you to share your faith, time, talent and treasures? Despite your reservations, are you being faithful in how you respond? How might God do astonishing things through you if you are faithful?”
The fourth Sunday of Easter falls on May 12 with the suggested lectionary reading of Acts 9:36-43. There is no question that the resurrection of Tabitha by Peter is an astonishing story. A wonderful detail in this story is right there in the first verse of the pericope, 9:36: “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha… She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Tabitha was faithful and following her call to follow God, just like all of us are called to good works and acts of charity, called to steward our resources and our lives to reflect God’s love for us and the world. Tabitha’s faith, and her good works and charity, likely helped bring others in the early church to a faith in Jesus Christ. By sharing good works and acts of charity, we can also point others to Christ. And then we read that God uses the resurrection of Tabitha as a sign to bring others to believe. We serve an astonishing God who provokes us to astonishing acts of good works and charity, which help draw others to God.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter falls on May 19 with the suggested lectionary reading of Acts 11:1-18. This is the astonishing story of the message of God’s love and grace being extended to the Gentiles. It is hard for us to grasp just how astonishing this story is. We have the benefit of Paul’s letters that tell us there is now no Jew or Gentile, Slave or Greek, Male or Female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul hadn’t written those letters yet. At this point in Acts, this Jesus movement was still limited primarily to Jews, so Peter’s vision of the unclean becoming clean and the unworthy becoming worthy is astounding. Every person we meet is a recipient of God’s love and grace, no matter where they come from or what their background is. And that includes all of us, no matter how unworthy we may feel. The only response to that love and grace is a life of gratitude. Our gratitude for God accepting all of us, demonstrated through this astonishing story, should be lived out in generosity.
The sixth Sunday of Easter falls on May 26 with the suggested lectionary reading of Acts 16:9-15. It is the story of the conversion of Lydia and her family, and the subsequent radical hospitality that she provides to Paul and the disciples. This story lends itself beautifully to reflecting on stewardship; Lydia’s very first act of faith after her conversion and baptism is to share generously with Paul and the disciples. A natural manifestation of our faith is generosity and hospitality. Oftentimes recent converts have the most profound faith as we see with Lydia and her family. If we have the humility to learn from them, our own faith can grow. We all need to have the humility and courage to follow Lydia’s example; may our faith inspire us to acts of radical hospitality and generosity.
Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett is Pastor and Head of Staff of First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Nebraska. He is a native of Flagstaff, Arizona, where he was an active member of Federated Community Church. Greg is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and he also holds an Master of Divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Greg has worked in small, medium, and large churches and also worked at the PC(USA) denominational offices in Louisville as the general manager of Presbyterian World Mission.