The Sixth Sunday of Easter - 13 May 2012
I John 5:1-6
St. John 15:9-17
Background: The Holy Spirit
This Spirit of God is an active presence in the Creation Narrative, where she “broods over the face of the deep,” and is also present in a great deal of the psalter where the Spirit is the actual breath of life. Psalm 104:29-30 puts it well:
When you hide your face, they panic.
Take away their breath, they perish
and return to the dust.m
Send forth your spirit, they are created
and you renew the face of the earth.
As the language about the relationship between the Father and the Son developed in the Pauline letters, and later in the evangelists, the notions of the Trinity began to be discussed, only to become a topic of disagreement that is settled in the Nicene Creed, and then unsettled in the seventh century CE with the discussions about the filioque (that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) a phrase added in the West but repudiated in the East. It is an argument that has everything to do with the inadequacy of the Latin vocabulary to translate the theological insights of the East’s Greek. John sees the Spirit active in the forgiveness of sins, the Church, and Baptism (cf. John 20). In the churches that flow out of the Reformation, the work of the Spirit is also seen in the sanctification of the individual.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
These verses document the beginning of the missionary effort outside of Palestine amongst the Gentiles. In a way this scene is a parallel of the scene in Jerusalem on Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out upon the apostles, and the gift of tongues is present among them. Here we have the same thing, as the God-fearers (Jews who had accepted Judaism) are astonished (a code word in Luke for belief) that the Spirit is given to both Jew and Gentile. What is interesting is that we see the early language about baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. The gift of the Spirit here precedes the baptism, while in later developments the two will be combined into a single action.
Breaking open Acts:
- In what ways have you been astonished by Jesus?
- Where and when were you baptized?
- Do you remember anything about it?
Psalm 98 Cantate Domino
Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to
the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
Although the psalmist declares this to be “a new song”, it, like Psalm 96, is a reweaving of older elements into a new composition. In the second verse there is mention of a victory, and we wonder whether or not this is a general “victory” over the enemies of Israel, or something else. More than likely, this is a very ancient near eastern victory over the chaos and darkness, as in the first chapter of Genesis. This cosmic nature is evident in the further verses which are more global in character. The string and wind orchestra which are mentioned in verse 6 along with the human voices in verse 5 soon give way to a larger orchestra of seas, rivers, and hills, all of which sing before the Lord. It is the world he judges in righteousness, not just the kingdom of Israel and Judah.
Breaking open Psalm 98
- Does your life in Christ have a “new song”? What is it like?
- What victories has God given you?
- What defeats have you overcome?
1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
The author continues his discussion on the relationship of faith and love. John argues that we know the love of God in keeping the commandments. Here we ought to keep in mind the great summary of the Law – Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love is found in the commandments through this relationship with both God, neighbor, and self. John then focuses in on the love of Jesus and his relationship to this world by referencing both his baptism in the Jordan, and his death on the cross – This is the one who came by water and blood. What binds this all together is the Spirit who breathes this truth into our hearts.
Breaking open I John
- Who is your neighbor, and how do you love him or her?
- How do you love yourself?
- How do you love God?
Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
If it is love that binds the Father and the Son into a relationship, it is also that same love that is offered to humankind as a place within which humans can relate to both the Father and the Son. John sees Jesus as the model of this love that binds us to God and neighbor. It is actions that describe and evidence this love. There is an interesting vocabulary that embraces this thought: love, lay down one’s life, friends, made known to you, choose and I will choose, you are appointed, bear fruit. John wants to convince us of our Easter duty – the duty to love.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What are the important commandments to you?
- How have you “laid down your life” for someone else?
- How do you bear fruit?
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.