I Peter 3:13-22
St. John 14:15-21
BACKGROUND: The Missionary Journeys of Paul
The first reading for Sunday tells of an incident during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (49-52) and his sermon in Athens. These journeys, there were three of them, lasted from 46 through 58, and comprise the most active features of Paul’s life. They were fundamental in pointing the early church away from a Palestinian existence and into a robust Imperial world, where the faith of the apostles would be buffeted about by the lively theological talk of the empire. The push is up into Asia Minor, then Greece, and finally Rome. The work, however, is really concentrated in Asia Minor and Greece, and it is from this new base that nascent Christianity is to form around its new gentile members. In a way, Paul, exhibits what had been going on in the Jewish community for years in the Diaspora. The events of the 6th Century BCE, and the Babylonian Captivity pushed the Jewish community into Egypt, but also in later years into other parts of the Roman Empire. This provided a fertile seedbed for Paul, a community of people who understood the roots of his message. He did not stop there, however, as the first reading attests.
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, `To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-- though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,
`For we too are his offspring.'
Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
Although Paul is the speaker, it is likely that the words are actually Luke’s, providing an introduction, three sections, and a conclusion. The format, if not the content, is similar in nature to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Paul however is speaking to a totally different audience. He acknowledges the devoutness of his Greek audience and proclaims faith in one God. His proclamation is not the preaching of the apostles, but rather a pointed message to the Greeks, about this one God: creator, not myth; present, not removed; intimately related to humankind. At this point, Luke/Paul makes his real pitch, about the God who judges the individual at the end of time, which judgment is accomplished by the one raised by God – Jesus Christ. Luke/Paul uses his knowledge of Greek philosophy and religious life to tailor his message for his Greek hearers. Unlike Peter, who appeals to the audience’s knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul uses the experience of his unique audience to proclaim Christ.
Breaking open Acts:
- What would your words be to a non-believer? How would you describe your faith?
- What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “the unknown God”?
- What are the hallmarks of faith in the neighbors that live next to you?
Psalm 66:7-18, Jubilate deo
Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
and will pay you my vows, *
which I promised with my lips
and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts
with the smoke of rams; *
I will give you oxen and goats.
Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
and I will tell you what he has done for me.
I called out to him with my mouth, *
and his praise was on my tongue.
If I had found evil in my heart, *
the Lord would not have heard me;
But in truth God has heard me; *
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, *
nor withheld his love from me.
|Poussin - The Red Sea|
It is unfortunate that the lectionary begins the Psalter for today without the benefit of verse six, which gives us the context of this psalm. “He turned the sea to dry land/the torrent they crossed on foot. There we rejoiced in him.” (Alter)
The thanksgivings that rush through this psalm flow from this remembrance of the deliverance at the Red Sea and the subsequent journey of forty years in the wilderness (see verse 10, “You tested us…” At verse 13 things change. Suddenly we are in the first person singular, and the context includes the temple in Jerusalem. Some commentators think that the later part of the psalm (verses 13 and onward) was attached to an earlier and older psalm. The concluding verses are replete with references to worship and prayer – the products of a thankful heart, introduced in the initial verses of the psalm. The locus for such thanksgivings is the temple with its altar, sacrifices, and liturgy.
Breaking open Psalm 66:
1. For what are you thankful?
2. How do you express that thanksgiving in worship?
I Peter 3:13-22
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
After a long appeal about how to live a Christian life, Peter suddenly turns to the reality of persecution. If Peter is indeed the author of this book, then it must have come immediately prior to the persecutions under Nero (64 CE). What persecutions, then. In Matthew we get a sense of the persecutions of Christians at the hands of both family and neighbor who chose not to see Jesus as the Messiah. Here too, it is not the official persecutions of the state, which Peter addresses, but rather the simple hatred exerted toward Christians by their pagan neighbors. In the face of this, Peter urges his readers to simply live a good life and to be informed by the suffering of Jesus. The final verses serve to inform on the true nature of baptism (a baptism that set these people apart from the neighbors around them). The earlier mentions of Noah, and the implied salvation from a watery death, give the baptismal context that Peter wishes to point out to his readers. Now they have a new “contract”, a new agreement that allows them to live with a good conscience in a relationship with the God who does not condemn them.
Breaking open I Peter:
- Do you, have you ever had to stand up for your faith?
- Are Christians persecuted in this age?
Saint John 14:15-21
Jesus said to his disciples, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
"I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."
Here Jesus holds discourse with his disciples and makes promises to them. There is almost a legal air to the discussion Jesus holds. The Advocate (the paraclete, the mediator) becomes a third presence of mediation and conciliation for those who believe. Jesus comments on his coming departure, but is quick to note that some one else will be providing support and life to those who follow him. The powerful legal notions are coupled with family images as well. “I will not leave you orphaned” would be a stark image in those days. Implicit in the image of the orphan are ideas of death, and illness. Orphans were not the victims of intentional abandonment, but rather were orphaned due to the vagaries of life and survival. This is not to be the life of those who follow Jesus. Help and succor will always be at hand.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How does the Holy Spirit stand next to you?
- What does it mean when we call the Holy Spirit “the advocate”?
- What is the power of Jesus’ image when calling us orphaned at his leaving?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.