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Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 22.25-31; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8

Explore & respond

Ways of engaging different ages, spiritual styles and learning preferences

Adult & All Age

Sermon ideas

Ideas for sermon preparation on Acts 8.26-40, Psalm 22.25-31, 1 John 4.7-21, John 15.1-8

See also  PostScript - Comments, prayers, questions and discussion on the week's news.

  • The reading from Acts shows how the gospel is spreading as Philip moves his focus of activity from Samaria to south of Jerusalem. This is certainly not a seamless progression – just before today’s events is the stoning of Stephen, to which Saul assents.
  • The Ethiopian is a traveller from a far-off land, a pious man prohibited from entering the Temple courtyards as a Gentile, and unable to become a Jew because he is a eunuch. Philip helps him make the connection between Isaiah’s suffering servant and the crucified and resurrected Christ. The key exchange between these two is this: ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ and ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’ How best might the Church of today continue Philip’s indispensable work of being a connection or bridge between different worldviews?

  •   You could sum up this week’s epistle reading – and perhaps the whole Christian faith – in a very simple, almost syllogistic set of phrases: God loves us, we can love God, we can love each other. The simplicity only underlines the difficulties of achieving this from a human perspective. However, the passage also puts some pragmatic flesh on abstract bones: God showed his love by the death of Jesus as sacrifice for human sin, and it is only by loving (and by implication, caring for) our brothers and sisters that we can show that we love God. Our response therefore is not a disembodied love of God, but a real-world, hard-work love. Church communities, full of different human beings, are a kind of testing ground for such love – and often it’s far from easy.

  • We should not be lulled into any false sense of comfort by this agrarian imagery of vines and grapes. These metaphors echo references in the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 5; Jeremiah 12; Ezekiel 19; Hosea 10; Amos 5) where Israel as the vineyard is uprooted in God’s anger. Here, in John’s Gospel, is the culmination of this series as Jesus himself takes the place of Israel as the true vine. This opens the challenge or opportunity to engage with texts that culturally may be problematic for us now.

  • This passage from John’s Gospel is uncomfortable for the Church. If we take a more communal reading rather than an individual one in terms of pruning, we might ask of all those activities we think of as essential: What is really bearing fruit? How are they helping us to abide in God? How are they showing to others God’s love?

 

You may also find this week's All-age conversation useful.

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All-age conversation

 A way for leaders to help all ages explore the reading.

Read Acts 8.32-33. As the Ethiopian asks Philip, what is it all about? Or, rather, who is it about? How might you have answered? What Philip did not do was suggest he read a book, or send him to someone else (‘go and ask the vicar’). He sat down with him and talked with him about Jesus. How can we relate the words that the Ethiopian read to the story of Jesus? What do you think Philip told the man about Jesus that led him to ask for baptism?

All this happened not long after the time of Jesus. We know that Christianity spread to Ethiopia very early on. Perhaps this was where it began, with this conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian traveller. We don’t know, but it is a reminder that our witness to others is always important, and always effective in God’s hands. How might we witness to the love of God today? Is it best done with words or deeds? If you were asked about your faith by a stranger – or a friend, for that matter – would you give up some time to respond?

How many of us are thinking: ‘If only we had the time!’? The answer to that may come in today’s Gospel reading about pruning. Are our lives too busy with the wrong things? Are there things we need to get rid of in order that what is left can grow stronger? What do you think?

You may also find this week's Sermon ideas useful.

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Active worship

Activities based on John 15.1-8

A simple worship activity for all ages

Give balls of coloured wool to people at the furthest edges of the congregation.

Ask those people to hold onto the loose end and pass the ball towards the middle of the church. Ask the person who receives the ball to keep hold of the thread and again to pass the ball on towards the middle. When all the balls are together at the centre, ask several people who do not yet have hold of a thread to bring the balls towards the front of the worship space, weaving them together loosely as they do so. Place the balls at the front – e.g. on the Communion table. Invite everyone to consider how, through the threads, they are all interconnected to each other and – represented by the balls on the table – to God. Keep a short time of silence, and then sing ‘Bind us together’, or another suitable song.
E S

Pruning the vine

Working in small groups, ask each person to share what events in their church life take up the most time and effort. Are they all ‘fruitful’? When everyone has had a chance to speak, ask the groups to discuss together what elements of church life might be ‘pruned’ in order for other ‘branches’ to grow.

Invite feedback and see if there are any common threads. Are there some ideas that your church could take forward?
 W E A

Feeding the vine  

Divide the congregation into two or more age-related groups (at its simplest: children and adults). Ask each group to make a list of ‘things that friends and/or family do that make you feel loved’. Bring the groups together to compare answers – are they the same? Encourage everyone to say something positive and affirming to someone sitting near them who is from a different age group.
W E

Growing the vine  

Give everyone a veined leaf. Invite people to look closely at the veins, and in particular, at how the ends of the veins are thin and delicate. They are so fragile. Invite everyone to think about people who may be like these veins – at the edges of society, with only thin and fragile connections to other people. What might your church take on as a new ministry to others, to make and strengthen connections, particularly with people that no one else connects with?
W A

Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles 

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Drama: Phil and the Gent

A rhyming drama, involving two narrators, about Philip and the Ethiopian.

Cast
This involves 2 narrators, who simply read the alternate verses; and 4 to 8 people who respond to them.

Group begin by facing away from the audience, standing in a line and leaning on each other. The narrators stand either end of the line.


Script

Narrator 1: Once upon a time there way a guy called Phil
(Turn smartly)

Who lived round the corner and just up the hill.
(Point over shoulders with thumbs. Look up stage left)

He worked very hard – coz it was his job
(All dig)

To look after the widows – give ‘em all a few bob.
(Reach into pockets. Pull out money)

Narrator 2: Coz the guys at the top, called James, John and Pete
(Salute, stand to attention. 3 figures step forward)

Had better things to do than make ends meet.
(3 figures scratch heads, look dumb)

But Phil had the brains, and the ‘A’ levels too,
(All tap side of forehead. Lick finger and chalk up ‘1’)

So he’d dish out the bread and the gladiator stew.
(Some butter bread. Others ladle soup)

Narrator 1: Then one morn while Phil was on his way
(Turn and step)

With his lunch and his calculator like any other day,
(Some bite a sandwich. Others use a calculator)

He turned round the corner and met a guy in white –
(Turn back to face audience, look surprised)

With wings and halo and it gave him quite a fright!
(All pose as angels. Flap wings. Angelic smiles)

Narrator 2: Our Phil wasn’t used to early morning shocks,
(Jump back in horror)

His hair stood on end and he dropped his sandwich box!
(One group hold up air. Others look at floor)

The Angel in white said: ‘I’ve got a job for you.’
(Mouth these words, while pointing to the audience)

Phil said: ‘But I’m busy, and I think I’m catching flu!’
(Shake heads, back away, and sneeze)

The Angel said: ‘It’s Gaza – that’s where you’ve got to go.’
(Point emphatically off stage)

‘But there’s a rail strike,’ Phil replied, ‘And we’re miles from Heathrow.’
(Form a picket line. Look off into distance)

Narrator 1: The Angel wasn’t bothered, he just took Phil away
(Shrug. Place right hand on throat, and pull)

And Phil landed in the desert, it just wasn’t his day.
(Jump as if landing. Kick ground angrily)

Then came a carriage, with a really posh gent;
(Watch carriage zoom past. Look posh)

Phil thought he’d hitch a lift, so over he went.
(Hold out thumb)

Narrator 2: Now the guy in the bus was very well bred.
(Said with a posh accent)
(Tighten up tie)

Went to public school, took his hols in the med.
(Read books. Laze in sun, drink)

Had plenty of friends, and servants to match.
(Pat each other on back. All bow)

But with his high living there seemed to be a catch.
(Look uncertain and shrug)

Narrator 1: Coz he still wasn’t happy, and he weren’t satisfied
(Look miserable and bored)

So he was reading the Bible, to see what was inside.
(Look surprised)

But though he pondered long, and studied the Word,
(Group look deep in thought. Look down at book)

It weren’t like nothing else he’d ever heard.
(Scratch head. Look perplexed)

Narrator 2: So just as the carriage pulled up by the side
(Pull on oversize handbrake)

He saw old Phil out thumbing for a ride;
(Stick out thumb)

So he asked him on board, he offered him a lift;
(Beckon with finger)

And when Phil saw the Bible he soon got the drift.
(Look deliberately; then tap side of nose, knowingly)

Narrator 1: ‘D’ya know what you’re reading?’ Asked our old Phil.
(Tap hand with finger)

‘One doesn’t,’ said the gent, ‘But one hopes one soon will.’ (Posh voice)
(Stand in a royal stance; one hand behind back, the other out front)

‘Sure,’ said Phil, ‘I’m the man in the know.’
(Tap chest with thumb confidently)

‘And while we have a chat we can go to Heathrow?’
(Point off stage)

Narrator 2: So Phil and the gent had a natter on the way
(In twos, turn and make mouths with hands as if nattering to each other)

And Phil told him all about what Jesus had to say.
(One hand points upwards, other opens wide with shock)

How he suffered and died, and hung on a tree;
(One person becomes Christ. Two others crucify. Others mourn)

Then rose from the dead for everyone to see.
(Christ figure steps forward – ALIVE! Others are amazed)

Narrator 1: ‘What does one do now?’ Asked the city gent.
(All assume Stan Laurel poses scratching the top of their head)

So Phil told him to believe, and asked him to repent.
(Point to imaginary Bible. Bow head in repentance)

And just at the mo. they were passing by some water;
(Point at water)

So the Gent got baptised coz he reckoned that he oughta.
(In twos, one pick up a bucket and tip over the other person)

Narrator 2: The gent was overjoyed, and forgot he was so posh,
(Look ecstatic, then realise and look embarrassed)

Jumped in the river and had himself a wash.
(Step as if to dive into river)

And when he came up with his sins all clean,
(Wipe face and stand upright)

Our friend Phil was nowhere to be seen.
(Look round, shocked)

Narrator 1: Now if you’re wondering what this story’s all about
(Nod, puzzled)

What we’re trying to say is: ‘Just Watch Out!’
(Mouth these words)

Be ready for the Lord to take you where he will,
(Hands on throats)

Even if you’re busy, like our old mate Phil.
(All dig)

Narrator 2: Coz the Spirit’s hard at work, just waiting for us all
(Stop digging. Look up. Dig twice as fast)

To listen to his voice and follow up his call.
(Hand on ear. Watch something zoom past)

No excuse will do, coz the Lord wants us in his work,
(Shake heads. Each point to themselves)

And just like Phil – he can use any burk.
(Nod and point to persons next to them)

Narrator 1: It isn’t how good you are that helps him make his choice,
(Try and look good)

It’s the ones who are ready and will listen to his voice.
(Turn smartly. Hand on ear)

So watch out for the angels, coz they’re all working still.
(Flap wings, smile)

And the Lord wants you to go – just like our mate Phil.
(Point to audience, look offstage)


These resources were first published in 2003

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  • What did you last prune – and when?
  • What might God want to prune in your life?
  • How might our community become more fruitful?

Children & Young People

Explore & respond with children

Do, Make, Pray and Sing activities based on John 15.1-8

Choose from these ideas to help the children make connections between the Bible reading and their lives

Do

Water challenge   5 mins   W E

A fun activity to emphasise being connected with Jesus

You will need: hair bands, two glasses of water with straws, two birthday candles, each in a blob of plasticine, matches.

  • Ask for two volunteers and make sure long hair is tied back.
  • Place the two glasses on a table, one at each end. Stick the candles some distance apart in the middle and light them.
  • Explain that the aim of the game is to drink all the water in their glass through the straw, but also to try and blow out their opponent’s candle. They can only drink while their candle is lit, and as soon as it goes out they must wait until it’s relit by a leader before they can continue drinking.
  • Afterwards, explain that just as you cannot drink the water if your candle is blown out, neither can you ‘bear fruit’ without being connected to Jesus.

Rope walk   10 mins W E

Play a game to symbolise staying connected to each other

You will need: a length of rope.

  • Show the children the rope and explain that it represents the vine that Jesus was talking about. Invite them to hold onto the rope. Lead them on a journey, adding some obstacles, if appropriate.
  • Afterwards, reflect that being connected to Jesus is like being attached to an invisible rope. We can’t see it while we are at home, at school or out playing, but it we know it’s there and that it links us all together.

 

Make

A folding stick heart   10 mins   S A

A reminder to love and support each other

You will need: lolly sticks, sticky tape, scissors, pencils, felt tips.

  • Give each child four lolly sticks. Show them how to attach the sticks so they fold into a concertina: lay them all down next to each other; tape sticks one and two together, using a small piece of tape, top and bottom. Then tape sticks three and four together, separately. Now turn both pairs over and tape sticks two and three together.
  • Invite the children to decorate their sticks: on one side, draw a big heart that crosses all the sticks, and on the other side write: ‘Let’s stick together!’
  • They can take their folding hearts home as a reminder of being connected to each other, and an encouragement to show love to each other in practical ways.

Fruitful trees   10 mins   W E S

Explore the meaning of bearing good fruit

You will need: tree shapes (template), one per child, pencils, coloured crayons, a potted herb.

  • Give each child a tree shape. Talk together about what kind of things Jesus meant by ‘bearing fruit’, e.g. being kind, generous (see Galatians 5.22-23).
  • Invite the children to draw some fruit on their tree and write down some practical examples in the leaves.
  • Show them the herb and its roots. What kind of roots do we need to bear good fruit? Invite the children to write down some ideas among the roots of their tree, e.g. praying, reading Bible stories, going to church.
  • The children can finish by lightly shading their trees, so the words remain visible.

 

Pray

Prayerful painting   5 mins   W S A

Paint a prayer card

You will need: fruit bowl (template), photocopied onto white card, one card per child, coloured poster paint, brushes, hand wipes.

  • Give everyone a fruit bowl card. Explain that if we stay connected to Jesus, he will produce fruit in our lives, and the picture will remind us of this. Read the Bible verse together.
  • Invite the children to paint the fruit in their fruit bowl, thinking about being connected to Jesus and showing that in the way they live. You could play the song ‘He Lives in You’ from The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride [U].

Additional prayers

Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles 

Sing

Key to abbreviations for hymn book titles

Under 5s      God Loves Me, Doug Horley on Lovely Jubbly;
                     Five little fruit jumping on the bed (Adapt rhyme ‘Five little monkeys jumping on the bed’).

Under 12s    Let’s Make God Happy, Doug Horley on Doug Horley’s Top 50 Awesome Action Songs;
                     I’ve Got Peace Like a River, Cedarmont Kids on Sunday School Songs

12+               Abide With Me, Matt Redman on Abide With Me Live;                   
                     Build Your Kingdom Here, Rend Collective on Build Your Kingdom Here: A Rend Collective Mixtape CD Disc 1 Track 8

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