The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 16 May 2010

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
Saint John 17:20-26

This is the last Sunday of Easter, and the Sunday that follows the Ascension of Our Lord.  The readings are anticipatory of the coming Sunday, the Day of Pentecost.  Look for the following as you read these lessons: the role of water and of baptism, mentions of the Spirit, and how Jesus is pictured (and how God is depicted as well) in the readings. 

Acts 16:16-34

With Paul and Silas, we came to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony, and, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

In this rather amazing reading we see further evidence of Luke’s guising Paul in the acts of Jesus and Peter.  There is an exorcism, and a condemnation of the exploitation of the woman who had been possessed.  In these faint words, Paul continues to see and position women in a new way in the emerging church.  The woman, in her divination, replicates the situation where demons knew who Jesus was, and spoke aloud of his status (Luke 4:31-37).  Here the woman plainly declares who Paul and Silas are, and whom they represent.  Like Peter, before him (Acts 12:1-9), Paul is released from prison.  In this story, the prisoner is attracted to Paul’s message, and is baptized along with his household.  Oddly enough, we hear nothing more about the young woman, but Luke makes his intentions clear.  In both the story of Lydia and of the prison-keeper, Luke indicates the wide appeal, across broad social strata, of the Gospel of Jesus.

Breaking open Acts
1.    What are your thoughts about how the young woman was treated by Paul?  By her handlers?
2.    When it says that the household was baptized, whom would that include?
3.    Why does Luke want Peter and Paul to do the same things that Jesus does in his ministry?

Psalm 97 Dominus regnavit

The LORD is King;
let the earth rejoice; *
let the multitude of the isles be glad.

Clouds and darkness are round about him, *
righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

A fire goes before him *
and burns up his enemies on every side.

His lightnings light up the world; *
the earth sees it and is afraid.

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, *
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

The heavens declare his righteousness, *
and all the peoples see his glory.

Confounded be all who worship carved images
and delight in false gods! *
Bow down before him, all you gods.

Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, *
because of your judgments, O LORD.

For you are the LORD,
most high over all the earth; *
you are exalted far above all gods.

The LORD loves those who hate evil; *
he preserves the lives of his saints
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

Light has sprung up for the righteous, *
and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, *
and give thanks to his holy Name.

This is another in a series of psalms that celebrate the kingship of God.  In the ancient near east, these “institutions” were closely aligned, and the role of king and priest was often interchangeable.  It is not surprising that the psalmist uses the imagery of his Canaanite neighbors to talk about the rule of G-d.  Clouds, fog, and fire accompany God in this psalm in a situation similar to Israel’s release from Egypt where a “pillar of fire” accompanied them, or when the people knew the presence of God in the Tabernacle through the appearance of a “cloud of glory”.  Also of interest is verse seven where the Hebrew is translated as “false gods”.  Actually the phrase would be better translated as “ungods”, for in the following phrase we realize that these gods exist, but not with the power invested in the one G-d.  The theology that surrounds the “company of heaven” develops over the course of time from a monotheism in which the God of Israel is pre-eminent among the many gods, to a later development in which God is the only God.  This psalm does not display the universalism that has been seen in other psalms.  Here it is the God of Israel that reigns, and it is the cities and towns along with the faithful who dwell in them that are the beneficiaries of God’s munificence. 

Breaking open Psalm 97
1.     Other psalms such as this one celebrate God’s acts of creation.  What acts of God does this psalmist celebrate?
2.     How does creation react to the presence of God?
3.     How does God treat the saints?

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

At the end of the visions I, John, heard these words:
"See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

The framers of the lectionary have curtailed the final message of Revelation 22 by leaving out some rather unfriendly verses.  The effort is to proclaim the final promises of this book by highlighting Jesus as beginning and the ending of all things.  The elided verses exclude sorcerers and such, and curse those who might “add anything” to these visions.  The result is a reading that invites any to wash their robes, and to receive the water of life.  The reading functions as an introduction to the following Sunday, The Day of Pentecost, in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Of special interest are all the Hebrew references that pepper this final blessing: the tree of life, the root of David, and the descendent of David.  One wonders if these were meaningful phrases at this time, and whether the Pauline program of evangelizing synagogues had yet gifted the church with a significant Jewish population.  The promises, however, are decidedly Christian, offering hope to a people (I am coming soon) that were earnestly waiting for and end to a period of oppression and persecution.

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. What comes to your mind with the prayer, “Come.”?
  2. Who is to come?
  3. What comes to your mind with the Advent prayer of “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”?

Saint John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

In this Gospel reading, Jesus prays to the Father at the end of a lengthy discourse to the disciples.  The following chapter (18) finds Jesus going across the Kidron valley, and to Gethsemane and on to the Passion Narrative.  This parting discourse, however, ends with an intimate prayer of Jesus to the Father, with the disciples as knowing eavesdroppers.  This is the so-called “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus.  Many of the phrases are heard for their benefit, and for ours as well.  This prayer anticipates the state of things following the resurrection – a time with the blessing of the spirit, and the hoped for unity of the church.  In a sense, this passage mirrors some of the evangelists thoughts expressed in the Prologue (chapter 1) especially the phrase, “the world does not know you.”  This prayer completes the prologue and the earthly ministry.  From this point on both Jesus and John will point to a different kind of presence of God among humankind.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1.  What are your thoughts on Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the Church?
  2.  Jesus says that the world does not know him.  What do you know of Jesus?
  3.  What other unity is implied in the prayer, other than church unity?

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

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


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