The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2 May 2010

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
Saint John 10:22-30

The Sundays of Easter are suspended between two great liturgical feasts: The Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Day, and the Day of Pentecost.  One serves as a culmination of the Passion Cycle, and the other serves as a beginning to a season of the Holy Spirit.  The readings during Eastertide prepare us for this transition, with Jesus looking ahead to the gift he will give to sustain the community after his departure.  All of the readings this morning prepare us for the gift of the Spirit and the new horizons to which she will lead us.  See if you can see what the signs of the coming Spirit are.

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

This is a pivotal text in Acts in that it prepares Peter, and the reader, for all of the changes that are about to made in the Church’s outreach to non-Jews.  One needs to understand the background of the dietary laws of Judaism, and you may want to look at Leviticus 11 to see how these laws are described in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Luke was not a Jew and is writing for a Gentile audience. Thus he goes to some lengths to describe the existential dilemma in which Peter finds himself.  The other interesting aspect to this text is its theology around baptism, where Luke describes the necessity of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and the differentiation from the baptism of John the Baptist.  Even at this late date, Luke finds it necessary to “suppress” John, and to lift up Christ. 

Breaking open Acts
1.    Why does Peter object to eating the food shown to him?
2.    What changes his mind?
3.    What have you forbidden yourself because you think that God forbids it?
4.    Have you not formed relationships with others because you have been forbidden from doing so by tradition, the past, or by the influence of others?

Psalm 148 Laudate dominum

Praise the LORD from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.

Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.

Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD; *
for he commanded, and they were created.

He made them stand fast for ever and ever; *
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;

Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;

Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;

Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD, * for his Name only is exalted,
his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

This is one of the six psalms of praise (Hallel) that close the collection of psalms.  In order to understand the psalmist’s frame of reference it is necessary for us to keep in mind the first creation story (Genesis 1:12:3).  In the psalm the author rehearses each of the creation “days” or events as a cause for praise of God.  Thus we have a descending order of praise from the highest heaven to human kind.  A couple of notes on the text: The “angels” (poorly translated here) are not the winged creatures of popular note but rather the “messengers” of God’s will.  Also of note is the comment on the “waters above the heavens” which are kept in place by the “firmament” a fixed hemi-sphere above the earth.  It is here that the Genesis story is influenced by its Canaanite counterparts, in which the act of creation is seen as a triumph by God over the sea monsters.  God is the bringer of order.  The psalm requests the praise of God from all of the cosmos, and pictures God enthroned upon the praises of God’s creative work.

Breaking open Psalm 148
1.     Does the psalm track the “days of Creation”?
2.     What does the psalmist mean by “Praise him, sun and moon”?
3.     Is there anyone excluded from the praise of God in this psalm?

Revelation 21:1-6

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

In this vision, the Seer sees a new heaven and a new earth.  This is the promise of the Church renewed by the Spirit.  Indeed all of creation is renewed, and like the psalm for today, the whole cosmos speaks of the Creator’s work.  Of special interest is the phrase, “the sea was no more.”  The battle between chaos and order (the sea monsters vs. Yahweh) is finished. In this metaphor, the veritable home of chaos doesn’t exist any longer.  The Church is pictured either as a bride ready to greet her husband (Christ) or as a city (the new Jerusalem) a community gathered around the Temple (the Lamb).  In this new creation, heaven and earth are brought together, for God dwells with mortals.  The Seer recites the events that speak to the new messianic time just as Isaiah, and Jesus had done.  Tears are gone, death is gone, pain is no more; signs of the new time.  In spite of the fact that the sea is no more, water still does exist: the spring of the water of life (baptism).

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. Read Isaiah 35:5-7 and Luke 7:18-23, what are the signs of the messiah?  How does John talk about them in Revelation?
  2. Is the earth being renewed today?  How?
  3. Are you being renewed in the Spirit?  How?

Saint John 13:31-35

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

This conversation, pictured at the Last Supper, gives Jesus opportunity to instruct the disciples on what is to come.  The succeeding several chapters then comprise a rabbinic instruction to the disciples about the meaning of the Passion Cycle that will follow.  Foundational, however, are two concepts.  The first is that Jesus will need to leave, “I am with you only a little longer.”  They need to prepare for a life and ministry without him.  This is where the second concept comes in as a foundation to their continuing ministry.  Simply put, Jesus wants this new community to be known for the love that it has for one another.  If we read Acts properly, we can see how this love is a sign to so many about the difference of this Christian group.  Here, in preparation, Jesus makes the first steps.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1.  When you hear “love” in the Christian context, what does it mean to you?
  2.  How do Christians manifest love in the church?  In the world?
  3.  Does your faith allow you to love yourself?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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