Easter 4 – April 25

The Psalmist Prays
Service Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2021

Acts 4:5-12 • Psalm 23 • 1 John 3:16-24 • John 10:11-18

Since Congregations are returning to “in-person” services at different paces, Worship Ways for will be edited for online use. “Rubrics” for virtual services will be noted in red; take and adapt as you need!

Call to Worship

Leader should speak the lines of the people, along with the Leader’s lines
Leader:          With grace flowing, the poet sings the opening lines of the famous prayer,
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
We hear the Psalmist’s contentment
and wonder about our own.
Leader:          Settled on the ground, with grass tickling their toes,
the psalmist rests,
“God makes me lie down in green pastures.
She leads me beside still waters.
She restores my soul.”
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
We hear their deep need for rest
and wonder about our own.
Leader:          With a deep sigh, the psalmist declares,
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me.
You prepare a table before me. You anoint me. My cup overflows.
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
We recognize their bold courage
and wonder about our own.
Leader:          Remembering God’s faithfulness, the psalmist finds words
to carry with them,
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
We hear their faithful trust
and wonder about our own.
Leader:          Holy Spirit of Rest and Renewal,
in this time of worship inspire us with words both ancient and new
so that we may find the words that connect us to You.
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
Amen and amen.

Prayer for Pardon

Holy One, we hear the comforting ancient poetry  of the psalmist
but wonder, is it true?
Will you really provide for what we need?
Will you bring us to a place of rest?
Will you protect us from enemies, even when they share our dinner table?
We confess that rather than being only filled with holy wonder,
we are also filled with skepticism at the ancient words.
We can quickly tally up the times
we didn’t feel provided for or protected from danger.
We count the times we could not catch a break when we desperately needed it.
So Holy One, shepherd our busy minds back to the here and now,
help our spirits forgive the grudges we hold,
and invite us to experience You as truly present.
In these moments of quiet, offer us rest for a moment.  

Silence; leave space for people to breathe deeply and notice themselves in relation to what is around them.

Assurance of Grace

Leader:          Beloved People of God, there is wisdom in our questions, but God is steadfast. God’s presence is unwavering
and will accompany us through every terrifying valley.
God’s spirit is unshakeable and will sit with us
even in the presence of formidable foes.
God’s love is relentless
and will offer us goodness and mercy all the days of our life.
People:        Speaking out loud, but muted
Amen and amen.

Scripture, Sermon, Prayers of the People

Notes for the worship planners in 2021:

Consider a simple message or even an interactive Bible Study that engages people with the Scriptures for today.

Alternatively, use this time to give the congregation permission and space for the spiritual discipline of recasting Psalm 23 into their own prayerful words. Your congregation may benefit from the reminder that the Psalms are the prayer book of our ancestors in faith. They are meant to be sung, recited, pondered, and read. They are meant to speak honestly about the experience of people. They are meant to convey intimacy with God. Some are prayerful pleadings for God to act. Some are simply are prayerful reflections on how grief was transformed into trust, fear was transformed into faith, joy shared, contentment cultivated, and praise unrelentingly released. All of them are prayers meant to speak to experience and to give people words to pray when we need the voice of experience and wisdom, or somewhere outside ourselves to turn.

Because the psalms are also a source of inspiration for how to speak honestly about our own experiences and prayers, invite your congregation to rewrite Psalm 23 into their own prayer words. Offer them the following directions:

  • Read the psalm one phrase at a time. Write down the meaning of each phrase in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Go on to the next phrase, until you’ve worked through it all.
  • When you are finished, read the whole passage that you interpreted.
  • Allow yourself to experience any thoughts or feelings that come up during this time, trusting there is wisdom to be gleaned from them and Spirit at work.

Give the congregation 5-10 minutes to write. Playing background music for the time will help set the tone but silence can be an equally powerful opportunity to allow people to rest and listen deeply to the Spirit within. After the time for that practice, invite folk to copy and paste their versions of Psalm 23 using Zoom Chat or Facebook Live; invite folks to celebrate and honor the wisdom in the congregation.

For the Prayers of the People, you might use a bidding prayer (“God, we pray today for those who are sick, including ….”) and encourage folk to type in their prayers using Zoom chat or Facebook Live; allow for more time in silence for those prayers to be typed and read. Consider a collective response at the end of each bidding prayer.

A caution regarding Prayers of the People online: Folks gathered in-person for worship often recount a lot of detail in their prayers concerning other members or family (“Elderly Name, living alone, experiencing isolation…”). In a private, in-person gathering, this information may be safe, but online, it can expose vulnerable people to harm since we can’t control who will join the gathering or access it later online. Invite those gathered online to be careful in the information they offer during prayers. For example, encourage them to follow a form such as “For First name only, in need of healing” or“For First name only, comfort in grief”. Then, encourage people to contact the pastor directly with news or further details regarding those in need of pastoral care.

Invitation to the Offering

Like a shepherd tending to those in their care,
God has offered us rest and renewal,
protection and mercy,
love and nourishment.
In response, we are invited to give a portion of our time, energy, gifts, and prayers
so that others in this world may experience the same.

Prayer of Dedication

Loving God,
bless these gifts and all the ways in which we give.
May each of our gifts be a part of co-creating
and tending to the love, safety, belonging, and dignity
You envision for the world. Amen.

Benediction

As you depart from this place, go with courage and go with trust
that the God who created you is also the One who will sustain you
and the One who will show you the way.
Until we meet again,
may you be filled with curiosity, wonder, and openness to God’s tender leading.
Amen and amen.

Service for Easter 4 is written by the Rev. Ellis Arnold.  Now serving as one of the Associate Conference Ministers for the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences of the UCC, Ellis’s energy gets channeled into collaboration with congregations and people of faith who are striving to transform not just the three feet around them, but also their communities and the world into a more just, generous, liberated place.

Copyright 2021  Justice and Local Church Ministries, Faith INFO Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved. 

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