The Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9 May 2021
1 John 5:1-6
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.
Speaking in tongues is not unique to the Christian experience as it was a common notion in the classical world. The thought was that divine beings were capable of languages different from the language that humans spoke. Such speech is also tied to the experience of prophetic ecstatic speech. The Greek philosopher Iamblichus saw a connection between such speech in tongues and prophetic speech, likening it to possession by a divine spirit. Not all classical philosophers honored such speech. Celsus saw it as “meaningless and nonsensical.”
The church fathers are mostly mute about such practices with only a comment by Irenaeus, and Tertullian. By the 12th century, Bernard of Clairvaux said that the transformed lives of Christians was a greater miracle.
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.
The first reading is an account of the baptism of Cornelius. What is interesting to us is first of all the baptism of Gentiles, but also the role of the Holy Spirit in this Baptism. Apparently the Spirit anticipates the baptism by anointing them with power and with tongues. It makes for an argument that Peter makes clear with his words, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” Peter’s powerful sermon, which precedes this event, is a convincing speech to the Gentiles, so much so that the Spirit enters the situation with her power and words.
The argument is not only convincing to the Gentiles, but the argument and example of the Spirit allows the believers who witness the scene are astounded (Luke’s code word for “believe”). Later on these gifts, tongues and prophecy will be seen by Paul as “gifts of the Spirit.” (See I Corinthians 12:4-11). From the rooftop vision in Joppa to the household of Cornelius, Peter has taken a remarkable journey.
Breaking open Acts:
1. What does “speaking in tongues” or “prophecy” mean to you?
2. What power has the Holy Spirit given to you?
3. Whom does the Spirit include in her invitation to join the family that you have yet to realize?
Psalm 98 Cantate Domino
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
3 The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
4 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.
5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6 Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
9 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.
Just as in Psalm 96, we have the same simple introduction to a new composition which is assembled from elements from other psalms and writing. The sub text in this psalm is of a military nature, God has gotten the victory with the strength of God’s right hand and holy arm. The verses that follow give us a clue as to the enemy that God has conquered. It is not a human enemy, for the wide sweep of the nations and earth indicate something more cosmic. It is perhaps God’s victory over the void and chaos at creation. The wide spectrum of God’s victory indicates the inclusion of many peoples in God’s reign, but the chosen ones are mentioned and not forgotten. Earth itself becomes the instrument of this new song, “Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it.” The rivers are mentioned as well, clapping their hands, and the hills singing their song. All the earth praises the God who rules over all.
Breaking open Psalm 98
1. What is your favorite hymn?
2. Why? What words or music move you?
3. How is this music a comfort to you?
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.
These verses from First John describe for us a new humanity modeled by Jesus the Christ. What we notice as well in this reading is the description of relationship, not only that of the Father and the Son, but among ourselves and with God as well. The love we have for God extends to all of the family. There is an interesting thought: “whatever is born of God conquers the world.” In this day and age, and during this time of pandemic the notion of conquering the world seems almost ludicrous. Perhaps however, if we could conquer the suffering and difficulties that our neighbors face, we would have brought God’s love to bear in the lives of others.
The “one who came by water and blood” reminds me of Baptism and Eucharist, both connecting us to the God who loves us. Baptism is not an over-the-shoulder glance into our past, but is rather an on-going maturation in our relationship with self, God, and neighbor. The Eucharist feeds such progress. In the midst of all this the Spirit whispers in our ear – reminding us of the truth of the Story.
Breaking open I John:
1. Take some time and meditate on being “born of God.”
2. What did you discover about yourself?
3. What truth does the Spirit speak to you?
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.”
This reading is from the second part of the Farewell Discourse (15:1-16:4a). Jesus talks about the community that is the church by revealing the relationship he has with the Father. It is an interesting follow-on of the second reading for this morning. Last week we saw the community of the church in the image of the vine and the branches. Today it is the relationship that is found and abides in mutual love. The example that Jesus gives about the love that he has for those who follow in his company is the love that the Father has toward him. This, then, ought to be the hallmark of the relationships that we have in the church – a love modeled by God and extended to others.
It is one thing to be in a community bound by love, but there is more. The challenge is to remain in that community, that love. The individualism of our culture influences our preaching to emphasize the personal relationship we have with Jesus in the Trinity. This, however, misses the mark. The goal is to see, and continue in that communal relationship (born in Baptism) that we have with God and with one another.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. What are your relationships modeled on?
2. Is there a relationship that you especially admire?
3. What are its attributes?
General idea: Bound together
Idea 1: Bound together in the Spirit (First Reading)
Idea 2: Bound together in joy (Psalm)
Idea 3: Bound together in love (Second Reading)
Idea 4: Bound together in God.
Questions and comments copyright © 2021, Michael T. Hiller