The Seventh Sunday of Easter - 12 May 2013

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


Background: The Feast of the Ascension II

This is one liturgical feast about which has grown some sense of confusion, born of the realities of modern life.  It is not the only one, however.  The Epiphany of Our Lord seems to be walking a similar path.  Both of these days are finding themselves assigned in certain Roman Catholic provinces, and in the practice of some Lutheran and Episcopal churches, to the Sunday following the Sixth Sunday of Easter.  It seems as though the triumphant theme is popular, but the actual practice of observing the weekday is not.  It would be interesting to see how many parishes will ignore these readings for this day and substitute the readings for last Thursday.  What seems disappointing in these modern arrangement is the loss of the geometry of the Paschal season: 40 (days of Lent) 50 (days of Easter) 40 (days to the Ascension).  It is not only religious observances that have been harmed by this modern sensibility: Presidents’ Day and other national holidays are moved to the Mondays of their weeks.  To me it’s a sad loss

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.

We seem to have a set of incidents that elaborate on the theology of Luke/Acts, and that also demonstrate the power of God who’s Gospel that Paul and Silas proclaim.  Layered over this is Luke placing Paul in the role of Jesus, as he demands that the spirit of divination be removed from this young slave woman.  Again, I would commend to you Ivoni Richter Reimer’s discussion of this pericope in her work, Women in the Acts of the Apostles.  The language that described Paul’s reaction (very much annoyed) unfairly turns our attention to her behavior, but later his exorcism of this young woman redeems her.  The misuse of this woman almost slides by us, as the issue becomes one of Paul and Silas’ behaviors in this Roman colony.  Despite the fact that Judaism was a licit religion in the Roman Empire, it was illegal for Romans to adopt Jewish customs – hence the men’s legal complaint.  Would that there had been a deeper discussion on the use of this woman by her owners. 

The final section is called by some commentators “a folk tale”, but one that is illustrative of Paul’s technique – faithful compliance to both local custom and the Gospel.  One wonders if the jailer’s comment is more tongue-in-check which is then answered by the seriousness of Paul’s response (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ).  Perhaps this tale does more than demonstrate a powerful God, but also the power of the message and the Word as well.  “(They) were baptized without delay.”

Breaking open Acts:

1.     How do you think Paul treated women?
2.     What should the Christian message about women be?
3.     How good are you at proclaiming that?

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.

The choice of this psalm for this day is full of the resonance of Ascension, but let us not go there too quickly.  In this series of psalms all gathered around psalm 97, there is a repetition of the theme of God’s kingship and supremacy.  The image is that God sits amongst all the gods and rules over them.  Similar themes around found in Job and other psalms.  The question then might be, is this the repetition of an older attitude, or is it the prevailing attitude.  In Psalm 96, the psalmist acknowledges the celestial court, but calls them “ungods”.  This psalmist does the same in verse 7 where this translation calls them “false gods”.  The gods that this psalmist describes are not worthy of worship.

Of special interest is verse 11 (Light has sprung up for the righteous), whose beauty is a bit dulled by the translation of the Hebrew, which has an agricultural sense to it.  “Light is sown for the just.”  The fire that goes before God in verse 3 has now become the fruit-light of God’s justice.

Breaking open Psalm 97
1.       Who are the gods of our time?  What are their names?
2.       Does God rule over them?
3.       How are they “ungods”?

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.

It might best if we ground ourselves in a quotation from Numbers (24:17a) in order to get our bearings in this final reading from Revelation. 

I see him, though not now;
I observe him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a scepter* shall rise from Israel,

This “morning star” (A star shall advance) seen by the ancients as a symbol of authority and domination, can be a starting point for all the claims made here by the Divine.  The speaker wants John to know that the truths of the claims are self-evident, “my reward is with me.’  So many images are piled one upon the other that it is difficult to know exactly the point.  Supreme among these images are those of David and the Morning Star, the ancient reality upon which Jesus stands.  These verses are really about kingship and what it is that flows from a righteous kingship.  Give that mindset, the attributes mentioned have a greater context of justice and righteousness:  the right to live in the city, to be clothed (baptized) to live by the tree of life, to be washed and to drink of the water of life.  These simple expectations of human life are here elevated as expectations of righteousness.

Breaking open Revelation:

1.               What positive images about David can be applied to Jesus?
2.               What does it mean to you when Jesus says that he is “the Alpha and the Omega”?
3.               What are the works of God in your life?

St. 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."

There is, in the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, a sense of time, and of the on-going nature of the work of the Apostles that will result in a people of faith.  “I ask on behalf of those who will believe in me.”  John should have had a good sense of this, written when it probably was, (ca. 90 CE).  The point here underscores the necessity of the apostolic mission, of the proclamation of the kerygma.  The Jesus of John sees this work as effecting a unity and community that extends not only amongst humankind, but also with God, the “Righteous Father.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What kind of unity do you think Jesus was talking about?
  2. How might that unity be made real today?
  3. How is God a “righteous Father?” 

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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