22 May, 6th Sunday of Easter

A downloadable version of this page is available for anyone who would like to save or print it out.

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Minister of St Margaret's Community Church, Dunfermline and Moderator Designate of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, for his thoughts on the sixth Sunday of Easter.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

It provides liturgical material that can be used for worship in all settings. Our writers are asked to share their approaches to creating and delivering this material to equip leaders with a greater confidence and ability to reflect on their own worship practice and experience and encourage them to consider how this material might be adapted for their own context.

We would encourage continual reflection on the changing patterns of worship and spiritual practice that are emerging from disruption and how this might help identify pathways towards development and worship renewal.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

The theme of my whole service would revolve around the encounter in John 5:1-9.

The encounter has at its heart the words of our Lord, "Do you want to get well?" – a profound question that encourages us to think about a response on a number of different levels.

Why would Jesus ask this question, given this is unique to His encounters in the gospels? What does this tell us about the disabled man, his attitude and circumstances?

Try and feel your way into the passage by reading it several times; then imagine yourself there, either as Jesus, the man or a member of the crowd witnessing this event. What is it that jumps out at you?

Imagine your response to Jesus if, when asked this question, you are suffering from an immediate, life-threatening illness. Remember, you have not approached Him, but He, as in this passage, approaches you – how would you respond?

Now imagine, that you have been living with a debilitating illness for many years – maybe even decades – and a stranger comes along and asks the question Jesus does – again, how might you respond?

There is no doubt that people who had encounters with Jesus ended up with changed lives – this being true even in the case of His opponents. Do we really want an encounter with Jesus? What impact will this have on our lives?

Acts 16:9-15

The passage begins with a call through a vision. Visions were seen as part of how God communicated – has this disappeared from our spiritual experience? Evidence of this is re-emerging on a significant scale in the Middle East and North Africa, where there are many stories of people ‘meeting Jesus' in visions. Is this a matter of expectation or culture?

Philippi was a Roman colony – a settlement for veteran Roman soldiers.

Paul's normal practice was to go to the local synagogue: a synagogue would only be established if there were at least 10 men – this does not seem to be the case here, but there appears to be a place where it was known that women met to pray.

Lydia is the main character and Acts throws up for us a beautiful cameo of the gospel – her conversion to Christianity is described in the NLT : "as she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart." Conversion to faith is clearly seen as first and foremost a Divine act, followed by a human response.

Psalm 67

A prayer of confident thanksgiving.

Verse 1 very obviously resonates with Numbers 6:24 and following.

There is a strong desire for harmony throughout this short psalm – something that the Psalmist desires to see embracing the whole world. As I am writing, we enter the 20th day of conflict in Ukraine and this makes the aspirations of this psalm so apt for the Church at prayer – however, we must not forget the significant other conflicts throughout the world when we use this psalm as a basis for prayer. "God's face", is a strong metaphor for God's presence and is associated both with life and majesty.

The Psalmist wants Israel to be a source of blessing for the world and of course in new covenant terms we desire the same for the Church. In this sense the psalm is inherently missional in its aspirations; a psalm with a strong sense of intercession for the salvation of the world.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

The New Jerusalem is now at the heart of John's vision – it might be fair to say that this vision is strongly influenced by Ezekiel. One possible significant difference is that in verse 10 there is simply a reference to "Jerusalem" and not "New Jerusalem" – though this may not be important.

The great, high mountain has a reflection of Psalm 48:1-2 and Isaiah 2:3.

What is missing from this new, great city in John's vision?... a Temple! There is no restored temple, nor is there the need for one, because God is the temple – is this a reflection of what John records Jesus as saying in John 4:23?

In chapter 22 verse 5 we are told that there will be no more night – the metaphor encourages the reader to realise the safety and security of the city whose gates are always open with nothing to fear.

John 14:23-29

On His final night with the disciples, Jesus promises them the gift of the Spirit. Here the gulf between Creator and creature is bridged. The Spirit is the abiding presence of the triune God in the life and experience of the Church. However, Jesus does create what we might call conditional responses before people will be given the gift of the Spirit: we have to love Him; and do what He says.

How do we know we love Him? We do what He says! Love is not descriptive of an emotional feeling towards someone, but an obedient action! Jesus reminds His disciples of the origin of His teaching as coming from the Father – something He does frequently throughout the Gospels. The role of the Spirit is to affirm to and in us the authenticity and origin of the words of Jesus – for those of us who were not there to hear Jesus speak, the Spirit convinces us of the truth of what we hear in the Gospels.

John 5:1-9

This is the "Third Sign" in John's Gospel – the first being the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) and the second, the healing of the official's son (John 4:43-54). Secondary to the story is that the healing takes place on the Sabbath – this makes Jesus' opponents more determined to somehow get rid of Him. The feast / festival is not named – presumably because it is of little or no significance to the story.

Archaeologists identify the pool concerned as being located in the north of Jerusalem.

The latter part of verse 3 and the whole of verse 4 are omitted by the ESV, NIV, NLT, CEV, whereas JB Phillips and the AV versions among others include the part about the angel of the Lord stirring the waters. It might be helpful to explain that the reason for this is that this insertion is not found in the earliest texts. Nothing in the passage describes why Jesus came to the pool unless He was there because He knew people might need healing. Why did He choose this particular person? For 38 years this man may have made a good living as a beggar. The man is interesting – he is not particularly interested in healing initially, was he trying to get Jesus into trouble (v15)? "Get up" – verse 8, is the same word that Jesus will use in verses 28-29 about His call to people on the final day of resurrection.

The conflict over the Sabbath is interesting – was Jesus deliberately instigating a confrontation? There is nothing in Exodus 20:8-11 to suggest that the man was doing anything wrong by carrying the mat. This is one of the 39 categories of ‘tradition' rather than ‘law' that had evolved. Jesus perhaps wants to confront this anomaly. It is worth noting that the opponents of Jesus are so taken by the breach of the Sabbath that they seem to have missed the glory of the healing.

Sermon ideas

It is a short passage in John 5 – read the story again, asking people to close their eyes and imagine themselves there and witnessing this event.

With the average age expectation for a male who lived into adulthood being between 53-55, it is worth reflecting on how long this person has been in this condition – since childhood, teenage years, always? The answer to this has a significant impact on the ‘why' of the question Jesus asks.

Reflect on the difference between people who came to Jesus with very immediate, desperate needs, and people who had lived with life-long debilitating illnesses – what is the difference? Is it possible that people live with something for so long that it creates their identity – often to the extent that they cannot conceive of themselves without that identity-defining illness?

There is a great deal of superstition surrounding The Pool – notice that Jesus does not address this but gets right to the heart of the matter. Emphasise the question Jesus asks. Ask people to see in that question that Jesus always gives us a choice – often waiting for the word of invitation/affirmation/faith.

Invite people to imagine Jesus reaching out to them and asking the question, "Do you really want to……" Ask them to fill in the blank. What vital thing needs changing that they must affirm, and Jesus offers to help us with? Could it be forgiveness? Might it be a changed relationship, attitude, habit? Do they really want to change?

Ultimately Jesus asks us all the following question: "Do you really want to follow me?"

This is not something that is a once and for all event, but a daily question governing every area of our lives. Is there still an appetite within us to answer that question with integrity?

Prayers

It is my conviction that worship ought to begin with prayer, but you may wish to choose to sing first and follow with prayer.

Call to worship

Worship Leader: The Peace of Christ be with us all
Invitation to Worship: Let us Worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Prayer of approach

We humble ourselves in Your living presence,
holy, merciful all-knowing Father.

We rest in Your presence
gracious Jesus, Saviour, Lord and Creator of all that is.

We seek Your wisdom, guidance, presence and hope,
Holy Spirit, Keeper of the Church.

Three but One, perfect in all things,
we approach You in the mystery of Your being,
seeking to offer You our worship, thanksgiving and praise.

Come, through Your Spirit to heal, inspire and renew us.
In the name of Christ Jesus. Amen

Prayer of confession

In Your perfect love You lay down Your life for us
Forgive us our sins and have mercy on us

We have sinned in our thoughts and imaginations
Forgive us our sins and have mercy on us

We have allowed our emotions to lead us astray
Forgive us our sins and have mercy on us

We have permitted our actions to be living contradictions of Your will
Forgive us our sins and have mercy on us

Receive our penitence and transform it into repentance.

Prayer of intercession

We continue, as we have just sung, for our needy selves and our needy world.
Where there is discord in our nation and beyond, help us to be light and healing.

As Jesus was bold and confident in reaching out to others in their need,
help Your Church to shine, to be healing hands and voices.

For those who hurt and grieve,
help us to bring comfort and hope, friendship and peace.

For those suffering in poverty whether in this land or beyond,
open our hearts to everything in our power to make a difference.

Where there is division within the Church and between Churches,
humble us so that we might seek reconciliation and peace.
For all present in this place, who need a touch of grace from Jesus,
draw us to Him in confidence.

For those situations in the world today – [name them here]
where only You can make a difference,
act in powerful ways.

And all this and the unspoken words of our hearts and minds,
we offer in faith and expectation,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen

Benediction

May the mind of the Father inspire and renew us.
May the Word of Life invigorate us with new faith and hope.
May the Spirit breathe fresh vision into expectant hearts.
And, may the grace and the mercy, the peace and the love
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with and within us,
this day and evermore.

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 461 – "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds"
  • CH4 528 – "Make me a channel of your peace"
  • CH4 721 – "We lay our broken world"
  • CH4 577 – "Christ be beside me"
  • "The Lord's my Shepherd" – Stuart Townend

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.