Lectionary, Easter 6, Year B

I.Theme –   A Community characterized by love

"The Endless Road"  –   Margret Hofheinz-Doring (1971)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

First Reading – Acts 10:44-48
Psalm – Psalm 98 Page 727, BCP
Epistle –1 John 5:1-6
Gospel – John 15:9-17 

Today’s readings urge believers to come together in a community characterized by love. In his sermon, Peter tells Cornelius of God’s work in Jesus Christ, thus opening the doors of the Church to Gentiles. The author of 1 John describes Jesus as God’s love for us, and calls us to embrace one another in that love. In the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they have been chosen to love one another; in this they will find perfect joy.

The great commandment, love God and your neighbor, transforms everything we do.  While we cannot describe the specifics of love, because love is always highly situational and concrete, a commitment to loving actions and attitudes is at the heart of our relationship with God and all creation.   Love embeds us in the fabric of relatedness, opening us to the creative energy of the universe and enabling us to become channels to others of the divine energy we have received. 

Acts 10:44-48 This missionary speech in today’s reading marks an important turning point in the outreach of the early Church. Many Jewish Christians feared and resisted the possible inclusion of Gentiles, but Luke makes clear that Peter himself (even before Paul) began the mission to the Gentiles under the direction of the Holy Spirit. 

Cornelius was a “God-fearing” Roman, one who worshiped God but had not adopted all of the Jewish religious practices. Cornelius receives the sacrament of baptism, but not before he and his gathered household receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This event marks a new Pentecost. The circle of Christian faith has now broadened to include the inhabitants of “the ends of the earth” (1:8). The Spirit first came to Jews (2:1-4), then to the despised Samaritans (8:14-17), and now to the Gentiles. 

Psalm 98 This psalm is closely related to Psalm 96. Its original setting may have been the enthronement festival of Yahweh, celebrated each year at the New Year’s feast of Tabernacles. In later times the psalm was interpreted to herald the lord’s final coming. It presents the lord, in faithfulness to the covenant, acting in history for the salvation of God’s people.

1 John 5:1-6 The writing of 1 John seems to have been occasioned by a schism in the community due to heresy, specifically the denial of Jesus’ humanity. The central theme of 1 John is that “God is love” (4:8). The significance of this statement is explored through repeated meditation that interweaves theology and ethics. Those who make the early baptismal confession, “Jesus is the Christ,” have assented to a pattern for their behavior. As God’s children, Christians are to love God and one another and to obey the commandments. Through trust in Jesus, the Christian may overcome the world.

John 15:9-17 Believers are to love one another with a love characterized by self-sacrifice. Thus while Christians are still "servants" (v. 15, literally “slaves”) of Christ in terms of ministry (see 12:26; 13:14-16), they are "friends" (v. 15) of Christ in terms of intimacy with God. In and through this relationship Christians are appointed to "bear fruit" (v. 16).

II. Summary

First Reading –    Acts 10:44-48

In the Acts passage, the Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles, reflecting the democracy of revelation and salvation God intends for this first century emerging church and for Christianity’s emergence in our postmodern world. Peter’s reticence about eating unclean foods is overcome by God’s persistent quest for the salvation of the whole earth. Nothing and no one is unclean and beyond the scope of God’s saving love. Opening the doors of membership to Gentiles requires revising – indeed, breaking – religious laws that the Jewish people had lived by for centuries. Peter resists – seeking, like the persecuting Saul prior to his encounter with the Risen Christ – to be faithful to the “old ways. But, new life is emerging. Old doctrines and practices must give way to new visions and behaviors. The Spirit is always iconoclastic, embracing otherness, as reflective of God’s love for all creation.  

Psalm –  Psalm 98 Page 727, BCP 

This triumphant hymn may well have been used in the temple ritual for the Jewish New Year when Israel celebrated the enthronement of God as sovereign of the world. Scholars thus regard it, together with Pss. 47, 93, 96, 97 and 99, as a group designated as “Psalms of Enthronement.” All of them envision Yahweh seated on a heavenly throne exercising dominion over all of creation.

The imagery may have derived from a similar Babylonian religious tradition which enthroned their god Marduk at the beginning of each year. The idea of Yahweh’s kingship was a common theme among OT authors. Israel’s monarch ruled as Yahweh’s anointed representative. In post-exilic times, after the monarchy had disappeared and Israel suffered subjection to foreign domination, the concept of Yahweh as sovereign filled a deep spiritual need. It provided Israel with a distinctive national identity enabling them to survive as a people despite their political subjugation.

The prophetic influence of Second Isaiah can be seen in this psalm. It has even been suggested that the psalm originated in Babylon inspired by the coming of Cyrus, the Mede, to overthrow the Babylonian dynasty. Faith interpreted this as a divine victory (vss. 1b-2) and an expression of Yahweh’s love and faithfulness to Israel (vs. 3).

The psalmist summoned not only Yahweh’s special people, Israel, but the whole earth and all of nature to join in the praise of divine sovereignty. As in all cultures, music from both stringed and brass instruments had a prominent place in the celebration (vss. 5-6). One wonders if the phrase “a joyful noise” referred to a cacophony rather than melodious sounds. References to sounds of nature – the roaring of waves on the seashore or sudden floods in dry wadis; and the moan of wind whistling through the hills – vividly reflect the psalmist’s powers of observation and imagination that these too sing their praise to Yahweh. No believer in purely natural religion, the psalmist is also aware of the role the sovereign played in rendering justice. To him Yahweh is the just judge whose decisions are equitable for all people (vs. 9).

Epistle –    1 John 5:1-6

The words of I John proclaim the “metaphysics of love” in which our love for God and one another widens to embrace all creation, human and non-human. Belief is more than intellectual assent to abstract propositions. Belief involves a loving relationship with a living God. Belief can kill or cure, but divine love embodied in acts of compassion and companionship is unambiguously life–giving. It is the welcome embrace that heals the sick and raises the spiritually dead.

Gospel –   John 15:9-17 

John’s Gospel continues the spirit of vines and branches from last week’s readings. We grow in energy and creativity through our commitments to love one another. Love opens the floodgates of divine energy to flow from us to others. Laying down our lives for each other, then, is not a sacrifice but an expansion and growing of our authentic selfhood. Our willingness to go beyond self-interest opens us to the larger selfhood of Christ, whose love identifies with all creation. This is the foundation of peace, according to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, in which our self-concern is identified with the well-being of larger and larger circles of reality. Delivered from the prison of the small self, we encounter and bring forth the divine in every situation.

This is good news for seekers and finders alike. A “metaphysics of love” can shape your daily life – it can open you to your relationship with all creation and inspire you to balance appropriate self-interest with sacrificial and loving care for others. A church that is connected to the vine, and that promotes love and inclusion, will placard a new vision of Christianity, inviting people to try the way of Christ again- for the first time.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First ReadingActs 10:44-48

PsalmPsalm 9 

Epistle  – 1 John 5:1-6 

Gospel  – John 15:9-17 

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