The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 6 May 2018

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
I John 5:9-17
St. John 15:9-17

Background: Water and Baptism

I have the bowl in which I was baptized. My father, a Lutheran pastor, baptized me in an emergency baptism; I was a so-called blue baby and there were fears that I might not live. I have the bowl – it is quite small, but there was sufficiency of water, intent, and Word. I think it’s important to remember the role that water plays in the salvation history given us in the Scriptures. There are the primeval rivers in Eden, and there is the Flood – the image Luther used in his Flutgebet[1].In his book, Being Christian, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Rowan Williams reminds us of the symbolic aspects of the baptismal waters. 

“At the very beginning of creation, the book of Genesis tells us, there was watery chaos. And over that watery chaos there was, depending on how you read the Hebrew, the Holy Spirit hovering or a great wind blowing (or perhaps one is a sort of metaphor for the other). First there is chaos, and then there is the wind of God’s Spirit; and out of the watery chaos comes the world.”[2]

The chaos of water was not only present at the beginning of creation, ordered by the God who spoke it into order, it was also present as a reminder of death in the Hebrew Scriptures. The water that we sprinkle over newborns, or over adults is far from harmful. Perhaps that is why we really ought to reconsider emersion as the best means for helping people that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you doubt the power of this practice, go to any Orthodox Baptism and you will see the power of the action. 

First Reading: Acts 10:44-48

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.

In the background I mention, and quote Rowan Williams on the chaos that is ordered by the breath that is the Spirit. We meet that same Spirit again in this pericope that recalls the Baptism of Cornelius. The gift of the Spirit, Luke/Acts reminds us, is not only the gift to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. If we think about it, and mind ourselves in the text from Genesis, we realize that the gift of the Spirit is a gift to the whole creation. In this text we realize that the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter’s sermon, and perhaps that is a notion that we might want to concentrate and meditate on – the Holy Spirit as an interruption. Peter’s speech (literally, his words) are given over to new words, “for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” Here the Spirit comes first, and then the water. It was the practice of a predecessor of mine to place a fully charged ewer of water at the Baptismal Font every Sunday. It was a message that if the Spirit moved you, we were prepared to receive you – a good message and symbol. So here the Spirit moves the Gentiles, and Peter orders the Baptism.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. How has the Spirit interrupted your life?
  2. What new language or words do you have to describe your faith?
  3. Whom have you spoken to about what you believe?

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.
10    In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

New words in the first reading, and a new song in the Responsorial Psalm. Oddly enough the psalm is a pastiche of familiar phrases from other psalms now formed into a new song. Perhaps this connection with the new words of the First Reading are the reason that the Lectionary provides for this psalm with this collection of readings. There is a double vision here that not only recalls God’s relationship with Israel, “(God) remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,” but also God’s witness and relationship with all the nations. This psalm is about telling, about showing forth this relationship with God has with the created. The language is formed not only by familiar words, but by the noise of instruments, music and shouts. Indeed, creation itself, both sea and lands, speak of the goodness of God.

Breaking open Psalm 98:
  1. Is it just music that speaks to you of God? What else?
  2. How do you best communicate God to others?
  3. What does nature say to you about God?

Second Reading: I 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 a commentary on the love of God known to us through various means. Here we are given the example of family, parent and child. This love is seen in how we treat others, how we follow the commandments. To this familiar commentary on love, the author adds a reference to both baptism and the cross, “This is the one who came by water and blood.” Is it the water and blood pouring from his side, or might it also be the water that signaled his own baptism as well? The Spirit is here, in this love, in the baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Breaking open I John:
  1. How are you a parent in the image of God?
  2. How are you a child in the image of God?
  3. How are you a family in the image of God?

The Gospel: St. John 15:9-17

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.”

When we think of the Holy Trinity we are baffled sometimes, and we struggle for a language to know the nature of God. Here, Jesus teaches us a lesson about God, and the relationship and community that is God. “As the Father has loved me…”leads us into the relationship that Jesus has with the Father and that expounds upon God’s very nature. It becomes a way of knowing God not only in our minds but in our actions as well. “Love one another as I have loved you.” There are so many roles pointed out in this text: servant, master, friend, chosen, appointed. Which will inform our way of living? How will we become friends with the world, so that it might know the friendship of God? Thomas à Kempis states it well.

“Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity — adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.”[3]

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Who is/was the love of your life?
  2. How does that love inform your living?
  3. Where is love in your faith?

Question: How are we interrupted by the Spirit?

Interruption 1:         Baptismal life takes us from the world and then puts us back in.

Interruption 2:         The Spirit reshapes our Family, our Community.

Interruption 3:         Whom has the Spirit led to our doors, our table?

Interruption 4:         How are we ready to baptize those the Spirit has called?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Almighty eternal God, Who according to Your righteous judgment condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, and in Your great mercy preserved believing Noah and his family, and Who drowned hardhearted Pharoah with all his host in the Red Sea and led Your people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of Your baptism, and Who through the baptism of Your dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, has consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through the same Your groundless mercy, that You will graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in the Spirit, so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and of which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Your name at all times, fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life according to Your promise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
[2]     Williams, R. (2014), Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, page 2.
[3]     Thomas à Kempis, Imitatio Christi


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