The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - 5 May 2013
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
St. John 14:23-29
St. John 5:1-9
Background: The Program in Acts
We find the first statement of purpose in the initial verses of Luke (Luke and Acts comprising one work):
“Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”
Whether or not we know who Theophilus (Lover-of-God) was might be important, but is not necessary. Perhaps he was a Roman official, a recent convert, or a gentile believer. If Luke is about what Jesus did, Acts is about what the followers do. Several points of purpose have been suggested for Acts: An Apology, a document authenticating of the apostolic kerygma (proclamation), a letter meant to offer practical support to the gentile church functioning in the Roman Empire, or an work that has no political agendum. Any might be possible and any combination is possible.
As an Apology we might take as evidence Acts 19:37, where an appeal is made to the non-offensive behavior of the Christian community. There are other appeals in the work, and Luke mentions Roman officials that are neutral toward Christianity, and a few that are a member of the community. Some commentators feel that Luke is attempting to support Christians who are seeking a sense of concord toward official Rome. Paul, a Roman citizen (although Paula Gooder disagrees with this) is pictured in some sense as having no problems with Rome – rather having problems with the church at Jerusalem.
Once the apostolic kerygma was proclaimed, Luke may have felt the necessity to authenticate the message especially in the context of Roman life. The date of Luke/Acts is important here. If Luke/Acts was written after the Council of Jamnia (ca. 90 CE), then such legitimization would be necessary as the Christian community was no longer considered a part of Judaism, but rather as new sect. There are several instances in Acts where Luke gives examples of Romans who convert (cf. Acts 10:1-11:18) (see also Last Sunday’s First Reading). Perhaps the intent of Luke is two-fold in authenticating the faith of these Christians as well as authenticating the teachings of Paul.
That the early Christians should need a Practicum in living out their new life is evidenced not only in the letters of Paul, but also in the materials in Acts. For all the hopes that are seen in the apologetic view of the work there is also the reality that the Roman Imperium and culture represented a clear threat to the Christian movement. Not Paul’s entire message was received with tolerance or equanimity. Luke’s take is that the individual Christian is to see Jesus as kyrios (Lord) and soter (Savior) and not the Emperor or King as had been done in the past. Christ is Lord (read Authority) that guides life (cf. Acts 5:29). Such apolitical attachments to Jesus would soon be seen as political, and Acts may seek to prepare the Christian community for such trials.
Finally, it may be that Luke has no political agendum at all, that he is primarily concerned with proclaiming Christ. A good example of this can be seen in Acts 4:20, and 5:29-32.
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.
Here is an example of the “we sections” that have been mentioned in the previous Background sections of this blog. Luke writes as a companion of Paul, or, as some have cautioned, this may represent a different tradition that Luke has incorporated into his account. Regardless, in this section Paul has a similar vision as does Peter on the housetop in Joppa. The travelogue narrative has many parallel examples in Greek literature, and it may be that Luke borrows this style as he comments on the trip from Troas to Philippi. Here we see the initial work, which will result in a thriving community at Philippi and give cause to the Pauline letter to the community. Here we meet Lydia, a believer and a businesswoman. If you are interested in further material on Lydia and other women in Acts you may wish to consult Ivoni Richter Riemer’s Women in the Acts of the Apostles. Her contention is that Lydia was president of the synagogue that met at the river, was a person of substance (“stay at my home”), and a person of influence.
Breaking open Acts:
- What is your image of women during the first century CE?
- How does Lydia fit into your image?
- Have you ever had “a call” similar to the one that Paul had? Whom were you called to serve?
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.
This is a thanksgiving psalm that is connected to a harvest festival. The initial phrase, and the final phrase echo the Aaronic blessing (cf. Numbers 6:24-26). There are three sections to the psalm (2, 4, and 6) the first two of which are completed by a common refrain, “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you!” The final section is completed by a prayer asking for God’s benediction, and a prayer that all might stand in awe of him. The first section is concerned with “your saving ways”, the Law of God. The second section focuses on the cosmic nature of God’s justice and righteousness. The hope of the psalmist is that the graciousness of God in Israel’s harvest will be a sign to the nations of the earth.
Breaking open Psalm 67
- How are “God’s saving ways” a source of joy for you?
- Do you think that God dispenses justice and righteousness equally? How are you a part of God’s justice?
- How is your abundance a sign of grace to others?
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.
From the top of high mountain (think – The Temptation of Jesus, the Mount of Transfiguration, and indeed the hillock of Calvary) an angel “in the spirit” shows the Divine the new Jerusalem. The succeeding verses then describe the realities of this heavenly kingdom. This is a spiritualization of the theological points. There is no need of a temple for the ubiquity of Christ negates its need. In a similar manner there is no need of “light” for the Lamb is the Lamp (a fortunate English pun). The place is one of ultimate protection – “its gates will never be shut.” The old Hebraic symbols, oddly enough, still obtain here – “Nothing unclean will enter it” for all have been made clean.
Again, as we saw in Revelation 7:17, we are shown the “river of the water of life”, a phrase along with the succeeding verses that makes us aware of a renewed Eden. Here the twelve kinds of fruit, and the medicinal threes/leaves provide for a renewed humanity as well. The result of these gifts is praise, and unlike the “sign of the beast” their foreheads are signed with the name of the Lamb. I am reminded here of a visit to the museum in Ephesus where many of the statues of gods, goddesses, and ordinary citizens had the cross chiseled into their foreheads by the Christian community there. My Muslim guide was perplexed by this and asked for an explanation. These verses helped. In an interesting restatement of one of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:8) John sees the new Israel as a completion of Jesus’ vision of blessedness, and of a people who, unlike Moses and Israel, can now look at God.
Breaking open Revelation:
- When did you first look down upon creation from a mountain top? What was it like? What did you see?
- What does John mean by the phrase “the new Jerusalem”?
- What does the water “of the river of life” mean to you?
St. John 14:23-29
Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
Who is this Judas? There are several candidates – The brother of Jesus (cf. Mark 6:3), or the Jude mentioned in Luke 6:16, most likely it is Thomas, according to a Syriac version of John 11:16, or in the Gospel of Thomas, where the name “Judas” is added. Jesus riffs on the theme of Immanuel, God-with-us, as he points out not only his presence and word, but the presence of the Father as well.
This Gospel presages the coming of the Holy Spirit, here “Advocate”, who will serve as a teacher and a “reminder.” Jesus greets them with peace, but not in the manner of the world, where it is a casual greeting. Here Jesus gives them the gift of spiritual peace, firm in the righteousness given by God. Further verses prepare the disciples for an absence, and thus the appropriateness of a spiritual gift of peace and presence. Jesus prepares them with signs of both absence and presence, seeing in them the realities of the follower and the ones who will be sent as apostles.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How is the peace that Jesus gives different from the world’s peace?
- Where have you seen that peace in your life?
- Is Jesus absent or present for you?
St. 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.
What precedes this reading is the confrontation with the Samaritan woman, and a second sign at Cana – a healing. In today’s reading there will be a healing on a Sabbath, which creates its own problems. The lectionary, however, does not lead us down that path but focuses on the healing itself. The medical condition of the man would have created its own problems in that society (“did this man sin, or did his parents?”) Popular usage had connected this pool, which was fed by a tunnel from outside the walls with water with healing. As the supply “bubbled up” many thought that the disturbance of the water healed. The one who had lain there awaiting “a disturbance in the water” makes known a power that is beyond the supposed power of water or place. It is the unspoken nature of his faith, made known when he does what Jesus asks of him. No angel, no water, nothing other than hearing the healing word. John notes that this was done on a Sabbath day, and we are to see the significance of that day in which the word was read in the synagogue, and is witnessed in the healing of this man.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Do you await miracles? Why?
- Where do you go for healing – for spiritual healing?
- How has your faith healed you?
- Which of these two Gospels is best for this Sunday? Why?
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.