The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9 May 2010

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5
Saint John 5:1-9

The reading from Acts for today makes us aware of the travels of Saint Paul, as he worked to bring the Gospel to gentiles living outside of Palestine.  There were several journeys, at least five to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter, and James, to discuss how the early church was to receive the new converts.  In addition there are what were called the three “Missionary Journeys” in which Paul initiated and then later visited the congregations that he founded in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy.  The reading from Acts is from the second of these missionary journeys.

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.

As noted in the background above, this reading takes place during the initial stages of Paul’s second missionary journey.  Like Peter (remember, Luke first has Peter replicate some of the acts of Jesus, and then has Paul do the same thing) Paul has a vision – and the subject is the same thing: the mission to the gentiles.  Not that Paul needs any convincing at this point.  It is interesting to look at his technique, however.  Going to the river, where there was a “place of prayer” (i.e. synagogue) Paul preaches to either Jews, or gentiles who were “believers”.  This method of going to synagogues to preach had been largely successful for Paul, although it had its risks.  What is even more interesting in this story is that the worshipers are largely women, led; it would seem by a woman named Lydia.  In her book on women in Acts, Ivone Richter Reimer argues that Lydia was the president of this synagogue.  From the text we can determine other attributes of Lydia – she was a business woman (a dealer in purple cloth – a luxury item) and she owned a home and had a household (slaves or servants).  Paul’s approach is both conservative (seeking out Jews) and innovative (reaching out to not only gentiles, but women as well).

Breaking open Acts
1.    How is Paul’s vision similar to Peter’s?  How is it different?
2.    When does Paul meet the women at the “Place of Prayer”?
3.    How do we know that Lydia accepted Paul’s message?

Psalm 67 Deus misereatur

May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

The ascription for this psalm notes that it is for the “lead player, on stringed instruments, a song”.  Although the initial verse asks for a blessing and mirrors the Aaronic Benediction (“may his face shine upon us” v. 2), the following verses have celebration at their heart.  It may have been a liturgical song, perhaps one of thanksgiving at the harvest (see verse 7 “the earth (literally “the land”) gives its yield”.  However there is a more global context to the psalm as well (“Nations acclaim you, O God”, and “all the ends of the earth fear (God)”). 

Breaking open Psalm 148
1.     Is the God who is praised here Israel’s national God, or something more than that?
2.     What might the psalm be referring to when it describes God’s “saving health”?

Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

The verses immediately prior to this reading comprised last Sunday’s epistle and spoke of a “new heaven and earth”.  What the Seer shows us in this vision is a new vision of the city.  Other cities have been named in these chapters, namely an implicit Rome (home of the Roman Emperor – the beast?) and a very explicit Babylon – the locus of sin, corruption, and misery.  Such realities would be well known to the readers of these verses, living as an underclass in the largely cosmopolitan cities of Asia Minor.  That the vision should see the City as renewed is a remarkable and startling scene.  Look at the renewed city as the Seer sees it:  there is no temple – God is the temple, there is neither sun or moon – the Lamb provides the light, and in a scene similar to Isaiah 6, the nations and kings of the earth come to this place to do homage.  The gates are not shut – the city is secure, and it is a place filled with the righteous people of God.  There is the water of life, and in a kind of anti-Eden, or better yet, a renewed Eden, there are the twelve trees with the twelve kinds of fruit.  The city is a place of healing.  Also of interest is the placement of the scene – the Seer being taken to the top of a high mountain.  This is reminiscent of Jesus’ temptation, when Satan takes him to a high place to see “all the nations of the earth”.  The new Jerusalem trumps Satan’s temptation.

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. How would have the initial readers of this passage found hope in these words?
  2. Is there any way that we are called upon to take these verses literally?
  3. From whence comes this “new Jerusalem”?

Saint John 5:1-9

After Jesus healed the son of the official in Capernaum, there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids-- blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

Immediately after John’s Prologue (a hymn to the Logos – the Word, and a retelling of the creation story) the evangelist launches into what is called the Book of Signs, miracles that give indication as to Jesus’ true purpose and mission.  These signs begin with the wedding at Cana, and today’s reading, a healing at Bethesda, follows in that revelation.  In retelling this story, John calls to the reader’s mind the signs of the messianic age by noting those who lay in wait at the Pool hoping for healing: blind, lame, and the paralyzed.  For Isaiah, and for Jesus, such were the signs of the messianic period – when the “healing of the nations” (see Psalm 67, above) was evident to those who needed it. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1.  How does Jesus know that this man wishes to be healed?
  2.  On what day of the week is this healing accomplished?
  3.  Why does John mention this?

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.


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