The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 19 May 2019

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
St. John 13:31-35

Background: Rationale for Jewish Dietary Laws.

I am indebted to an article by Professor P. B. Hutt, published in the winter of 1994, entitled, “The Jewish Dietary Laws and their Foundations.”[1]Of special interest in the article are his enumeration of various points of rationale for such restrictions. The first is hygiene and is the most common of the arguments for the dietary system. Maimonides (1135-1204) argued that the restricted foods were unwholesome. He notes the living conditions and habits of a pig for example, and notes that no wholesome food could come from such an environment. The forbidden lobsters and crabs are given a similar fate – living their life at the bottom of lakes, seas, and streams. 

The second reason is the symbolism of the restriction. We might wonder however what the symbolism of dietary laws might indicate. The argument here is that certain animals symbolize wholeness, purity, and indeed, holiness, while others do not. This idea is seen in the requirements for priestly service, which required a similar kind of purity and wholeness of the human beings called into service. Those taking the nazirite vow had a similar expectation.

A third notion is social association. If indeed, the people of Israel were chosen by God as a special people, then their food choices had to mirror that separation. The special character of Israelites not only required certain life choices, but also indicated to others that these people were indeed separate and chosen.

The fourth argument is one of moral freedom. Professor Hutt describes this argument thus, “that the underlying aim of kashrutis to teach man to master his emotions and desires, thereby leading to complete moral autonomy.”[2]Here the human desire for food and sustenance is moderated by discipline so that ethical choices might be made. Not boing a kid in its mother’s milk might be to the point here. This might form the fifth argument based on ethics. 
The sixth argument that the professor posits is that of mysticism. The argument here is that such laws, which extend beyond kushrat, move us into the area of moral discipline. Some of the mystics argue that restricted foods damage the human soul. 

Professor Hutt forms his catalogue of reasons for dietary restrictions from the viewpoint of an orthodox Jew. In that light we can begin to understand his arguments. There is one, however, not mentioned by him, that may have influenced the ancient laws, and that is the economics of food production and consumption. Pigs do not eat in the field, but rather eat what humans eat. It is a very expensive meat. The same might apply to shellfish, which were not readily available to the hill country. Faith, however, makes us look in a different direction entirely.

First Reading: First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

The question here is one of purity and cleanliness. To understand it better it would be good if you take some time to read the 10thChapter of Acts, where we read of not only Cornelius vision, but Peter’s as well. In the 11thChapter, in which we find our pericope, Luke has Peter retell his vision, but in a matter that makes us certain as to what Peter wants us to understand from his vision. There are questions on the part of Jews who follow Christ as to the purity of the Gentiles who have asked Peter to come and visit them. Peter reminds them that they are asking the wrong question. Yes, they are Gentiles, but what you think of them needs to challenged and changed. It is a question for our own time as well, as we consider certain peoples “unclean” or “unworthy”. Peter’s comment is quite telling, “Who was I that I could hinder God?” 

What is interesting here is the workings of the Holy Spirit. She, it seems, is at work not only in the hearts and minds of the Gentiles called to Christ, but also in the hearts and minds of believers who have not fully thought through what God calls us to in Christ. It is not our judgment that obtains here. It matters not what we think about other people, but rather how God regards them and receives them. This is a lesson for our time.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. Who were depicted to you as unclean?
  2. What is still unclean to you?
  3. How have you learned to respect and accept people different from you?

Psalm 148 Laudate Dominum

Praise the Lord from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.
     Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.
     Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.
     Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.
     Let them praise the Name of the Lord; *
for he commanded, and they were created.
     He made them stand fast for ever and ever; *
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.
     Praise the Lord from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;
     Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;
     Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;
10    Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
11    Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;
12    Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
13    Let them praise the Name of the Lord, *
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendor is over earth and heaven.
14    He has raised up strength for his people
and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

In the first reading we see the narrow vision of certain minds. In this psalm we are given a cosmic view of the praise rendered to God by all of creation. The second verse continues the hierarchy of praise and mentions “angels” in our translation. It is better rendered as “armies” and “hosts”. Our modern vision of angels (the wings, the putti, etc.) limit the effect that these hosts of God have in the world. In verse three the psalmist begins a rehearsal of the days of creation: son, moon, stars, heavens, and waters above the heavens, followed by the creatures of the sea and land creatures as well. The real intent of this rehearsal is found in verse 6, “he made them stand fast for ever and ever.” It is the order and intent of the Creator that we praise. All things are held in check, especially those “sea monsters and all deeps,” a reference to the primeval battle that God wages over chaos. Just as in the medieval German Totentanzwe end up with the rulers of the earth, and in a manner, Adam and Eve, “young men and maidens.” All of this is brought together in the praise of Israel, “his people”, noted in verse 14 of the psalm. The work of a faithful and loyal people is the praise of God.

Breaking open Psalm 148:
  1. What does nature tell you about God?
  2. How does nature praise God?
  3. Do you have an obligation to praise God?


Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also, he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

We encountered the battle and conflict of God and the primordial chaos in the psalm for this day. We encounter it again here. John sees a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The ancient battle is over, “and the sea was no more.” God is victorious and in triumph. Perhaps the ancient sea monster is Satan who is both released and defeated in 20:7-10. The defeat reprises the ancient myth seen in many Ancient Near Eastern myths such as the Enuma Elish, or even Job 40:25-41:26. God is the beginning and the end here, Alpha and Omega.

Even Jerusalem itself is made new, for it is its own kind of monster – the city that kills the prophets, the city that Jesus sets his face toward and enters resolutely. The vision sees a city that is truly faithful, that worships God with all its peoples. Like Luke, John’s intent is to include all peoples with his hint of a Baptism that includes, cleanses, and revivifies all.

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. What in heaven or earth is new for you?
  2. What would you like to see in your life in a new way?
  3. How are you made new in your faith?

The Gospel: St. John 13:31-35

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Now we are in the upper room, and Jesus spends time instructing his disciples on what is to come. The betrayer has left, so the drama of the narrative is about to begin with his departure. It is a lesson on glory, but one like they have never heard before. Glory will be found in the most unlikely of places, on a cross and in a tomb. God will be active in that glory, and the disciples need to be prepared to perceive it. There is one last lesson, however, a lesson about living. It centers on love and the unity that it imparts. The depths of that love they will see in what is to follow. The challenge after is to learn to live in that love and to effect that love with others.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Whom in your life do you truly love?
  2. Who is that truly loves you?
  3. Who is difficult to love?

Central Idea:               Purity

First Stage:                  What is clean and what is unclean? (Acts 10)

Second Stage:             The Stranger in need (Acts 11)

Third Stage:                A new creation (Psalm and Second Lesson)

Final State:                  The purity of love (Cornelius’ Baptism, Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[2]      Ibid, page 13


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