Mission as Submission to the Trinity - Fifth Sunday of Easter - Psalm 31, Acts 7

A worship service for the fifth Sunday of the Easter season based on Psalm 31 and Acts 7--the story of the death of Stephen, demonstrating both the developmental and dynamic aspects of the early church.

Worship Service
Also in this Series

Eastertide Series

This is a series continuing the songs and themes of Easter’s victory during the fifty days of Eastertide that lead up to Pentecost

Theme of the Service

The worldwide mission of the Christian church is a message of submission to the Trinity.

In the weeks following Easter, various stories from Scripture give us insight into the effect of the gospel message in the world. As we know from the book of Acts, the beginnings of the early church were both dynamic and developmental. The story that this service focuses on is the death of Stephen, a story that illustrates both of these qualities. We embrace the story as the first narrative of one who is martyred for the sake of the gospel, but is that all that we should take from this story? The passage describes a "submission to the alternative message of the Trinity." The key verses are 55-56, where we see references to all three persons of the Trinity. The story is a "hinge" passage that describes Jesus as Lord over the whole world and in many respects is a turning point for the gospel message to be brought to all nations.

WE GATHER IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Prelude [see music notes]

The Welcome and Call to Worship

*Song: "Alleluia! Alleluia!" PsH 387

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

*Mutual Greeting

*Song: "Lord God Almighty" RN 40, SNC 9

WE ARE RENEWED IN GOD'S GRACE

The Call to Confession

Prayer of Confession
If, at times, we deny you, God forgive.
When the risks of discipleship are high,
and we are nowhere to be found:
God forgive.
When we wash our hands of responsibility:
God forgive.
When we cast our lot with powerful oppressors
and seek to buy freedom with silver:
God forgive.
When fear keeps us from witnessing to your truth,
or prejudice keeps us from believing it:
God forgive.
In the bright light of Easter morning, O God,
our sin is exposed,
and your grace is revealed.
Tender God,
raise us in your love so that, with joy,
we may witness to your awesome deeds,
in the name of Jesus, the risen one. Amen.
(TWS, p. 637)

The Assurance of God's Pardon

Guide for Grateful Living: The Reading of the Law

*Song: "Take My Life That It May Be" PsH 289, RN 150, SFL 74

GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS WORD

The Prayer for Illumination

The Old Testament Reading: Psalm 31
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

The New Testament Reading: Acts 7:54-8:1a
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: "Mission as Submission to the Trinity"

*Song: "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" PH 460, PsH 504, RL 619, TH 103, TWC 3, UMH 79

*Our Profession of Faith: The Apostles' Creed [spoken in unison]

The Prayers of the People

Offertory [see music notes]

WE GO OUT IN RENEWED FAITH

*Song: "Go to the World!" SNC 294

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

Postlude [see music notes]

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. The story of Stephen is remembered because of his martyrdom. The introduction to this message could address this obvious aspect of the story—talk about the history of martyrs in our tradition. How honorable it was to die for Christ in the early church! For references on being a martyr in the early church look up "The Epistles of Ignatius" (for the sake of time, you might want to focus on the letter to the Romans or Magnesians). Various qualities of martyrs illustrate the depths people will go to for their faith. A key to transitioning into the message is prompting the congregation to think about why one is willing to be martyred (which Ignatius also writes about).
  2. You might want to work through the passage in a backwards direction. Focus first on a person's desire to submit. Looking at verses 59-60, see how Stephen's submission to Jesus parallels Jesus' submission to God on the cross. Look at Jesus' quote from Psalm 31; think through how this psalm of lament fits the two acts of submission by Stephen and Jesus.
  3. Next, look at how this act of submission was counter-cultural (verses 57-58), even in the days of the early church. Then look at how submission to a higher authority is counter-cultural today.
  4. Finally, look at verses 55-56, Stephen's denouement of his covenant renewal speech of Acts 7 (covenant theology at its finest). The closing tie would be to demonstrate how the three aspects of this Trinitarian recording are the basis for the Gentile mission. (The Trinitarian statement also ties in the first two movements of the message.)

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. The song "Lord God Almighty" is a dialogue between the people and God. Consider having a soloist or the choir sing the verses and the congregation sing the refrain to highlight the dialogue. In the refrain we ask the Lord to take our lives and teach us to love. The song following the confession and assurance ("Take My Life That It May Be") is a hymn that continues in this sense of submission. This hymn text lists aspects of our lives and offers them in Christ's service. Together these songs form a frame around the confession and assurance.

2. "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" is a classic text of the church sung throughout the centuries. It is an extended doxology that gives a broad picture of the saints on earth and in heaven, the angels, the prophets, and even the white-robed martyrs singing their praise to the triune God. Consider using John Ferguson's powerful concertato for SATB voices, congregation, organ, and brass (GIA Publications, G-3167).

3. Following are some instrumental music resources for the service based on some of the hymns selected for the congregation's singing.

EBENEZER/TON-Y-BOTEL ["Alleluia! Alleluia!"]
Organ:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-847 [1992].
  • Hildebrand, Kevin. Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ, vol. 3. Concordia 97-7052 [2004] (E-M).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 3. SMP KK278 [1983] (adaptable to piano, E).

Piano:

  • Medema, Ken. Sanctuary. Genevox 4181-16 [1989] (M).
  • Shackley, Larry. Celtic Hymn Settings for Piano. Hope 8117 [2001] (E-M).
  • Wilhelmi, Teresa. Hymns . . . Light Jazz Style. Word 301 0136 315 [1997] (E-M).

Handbells:

  • McChesney, Kevin. Once to Every Man and Nation. Alfred 18556 [1999] (3-5 octaves, level 3).

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-847 [1992].

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Cherwien, David. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

ENGELBERG ["Go to the World"]
Organ:

  • Callahan, Charles. Voluntary on Engelberg . Morningstar MSM-10-702 [1990] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David (1999). Augsburg Organ Library – Easter. Augsburg 11-11075 [2000] (D).
  • Cherwien, David. Gotta Toccata. Augsburg 11-11008 [1999] (D).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 1. AMSI OR1 [1980] (E-M).
  • Hobby, Robert A. Three Hymns of Praise, set 2. Morningstar MSM-10-757 [1994] (E-M).
  • Powell, Robert J. Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart. Augsburg 11-10478 [1994] (E-M).
  • Wood, Dale. Preludes and Postludes, vol. 3. Augsburg 11-9320 [1974] (E-M).

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Wasson, Laura E. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

GROSSER GOTT ["Holy God, We Praise Your Name"]
Organ:

  • Bish, Diane. The Diane Bish Organ Book, vol. 1. Fred Bock B-G0548 [1980] (E-M).
  • Burkhardt, Michael. Praise and Thanksgiving, set 4. Morningstar MSM-10-754 [1991] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. Hymn Preludes for the Pentecost Season. Concordia 97-5517 [1979] (E-M).
  • Hobby, Robert A. Three Hymns of Praise, set 5. Morningstar MSM-10-760 [1998] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (D).
  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 8. Concordia 97-5342 [1979] (D).
  • Peeters, Flor. 30 Chorale Preludes, set 3. Peters 6025 [1950].

Handbells:

  • Wiltse, Carl. Holy God, We Praise Your Name. Stained Glass SGM-136 (4 octaves [3-4 octaves hand chimes], level 4).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. Eastertide, the "Great Fifty Days" that lead up to Pentecost, is a season for the ongoing celebration of Easter. The opening song, "Alleluia! Alleluia!" helps us proclaim the meaning of Christ's resurrection. The final stanza is also a vigorous doxology to the triune majesty.
  2. The mutual greeting is an extension of God's blessing. To do this we might suggest an Eastertide greeting such as "Alleluia, Christ is risen !" and a response of "The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!"
  3. The Apostles' Creed ties the Trinitarian message of Acts 7:54-8:1a to the church's profession of faith.

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