Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Day of Pentecost B Readings & Commentaries

The Day of Pentecost:  Whitsunday (B)

1st Reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon.  He was known for his vivid dreams, one of which is our first reading today.  Ezekiel is taken in this dream to a valley littered with dry bones, a metaphor for Israel’s life under the oppressive Babylonian Empire.  “Can these bones live?” is the question of Israel’s reality in exile.  Do we have a future?  The story keeps us in suspense for a bit, but the definitive answer is, “Yes.”  God will provide a future, despite the present reality.  The “breath” is an important aspect on this day of what invigorates the dry bones.  The word for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are the same word in Hebrew.

37:1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LordThus says the Lord God to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:  Thus says the Lord God Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Or this

1st Reading:  Acts 2:1-21
Our first reading is the story of the Spirit’s manifestation on the Day of Pentecost.  Pentecost was a major Jewish festival which occurred 50 days after Passover.  It is also known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The Holy Spirit’s falling on everyone is a different phenomenon than the Spirit’s falling on individuals in the Hebrew Scriptures (and usually for a set period of time). Peter’s speech includes an extended quote from the prophet Joel (2:28-32).

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
Psalm 104 as a whole is a hymn to God as creator and sustainer of all life. Our portion today concludes the psalm with a reference to God’s taming of the sea (seen by ancient peoples as the source of chaos represented here by the sea monster “Leviathan,” which is God’s plaything). It also includes a reference to the Spirit of God.  “Breath” in verse 30 and “Spirit” in verse 31 are the same Hebrew word ruaḥ.

25  Lord, how manifold are your works! *
                 in wisdom you have made them all;
                 the earth is full of your creatures.
26  Yonder is the great and wide sea
      with its living things too many to number, *
                 creatures both small and great.
27  There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, *
                 which you have made for the sport of it.
28  All of them look to you *
                 to give them their food in due season.
29  You give it to them; they gather it; *
                 you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
30  You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
                 you take away their breath,
                 and they die and return to their dust.
31  You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
                 and so you renew the face of the earth.
32  May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; *
                 may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
33  He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
                 he touches the mountains and they smoke.
34  I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; *
                 I will praise my God while I have my being.
35  May these words of mine please him; *
                 I will rejoice in the Lord.  [37b] Hallelujah!

2nd Reading:  Acts 2:1-21 (see above)

Or this

2nd Reading:  Romans 8:22-27
Romans chapter eight is Paul’s great proclamation of Life in the Spirit. Paul asserts what the story of Pentecost proclaims, that the Spirit of God dwells in all believers (8:9). That Spirit prays in us, even when we have no words. More than this, Paul says, in what is a stunning theology of the creation, the creation itself groans to be set free, as we do, who are part of that creation. The Spirit is, in one sense, a way of speaking about the intimacy we share with God, as God’s adopted daughters and sons rather than slaves (see also 8:15).

8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Gospel Reading:  John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Our Gospel reading today contains three out of the four predictions by Jesus of the coming of the Spirit in John’s Gospel.  Jesus calls the Spirit, “the Advocate,” a judicial term.  The Spirit will plead our cause, testify on our behalf.  And the Spirit will prove the world wrong “about sin and righteousness and judgment.”  The world only knows punishment for sin.  God has responded with forgiveness.  And finally, the Spirit will lead the followers of Jesus into all truth, a saying in which Jesus clearly teaches that there is more to be learned in every generation of believers.

15:26 Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. 4b I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Easter 6B Readings & Commentaries

Christ the Friend

I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 10:44-48
Our first reading is the end of a longer story that begins with the Apostle Peter having a dream in which he is commanded to eat unclean animals (10:9). He refuses, but a voice tells him that he should not call unclean what God has called clean.  He is then visited by some Gentiles who ask him to visit them and bring the gospel to them (10:17).  He takes the dream as a sign that he is to do so.  His visit results in the passage that follows, which is a major turning point for the followers of Jesus.  Gentiles are to be included in the new movement.  They, too, are the People of God.

10:44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 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, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm 98
“Sing to the Lord a new song!”  This psalm celebrates God’s ability to do a “new thing” and the people’s expectation that such is the way of God.  We worship a God who is an active ruler of creation rather than a passive one.  In one sense, God never changes:  he remembers his “mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel.”  But he is also an expansive God who will judge the whole world and all its peoples with equity.

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 of 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.

2nd Reading:  1 John 5:1-6
Our second reading continues a major theme of this letter which we have been reading this Eastertide: that the Love of God and love of one another is inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other.  The writer then goes on to talk about how this love “conquers the world.”  “The world” to John means everything that is hostile to God. Note the entrance of the Spirit, who Jesus promised in John’s Gospel, will lead us into all truth (16:13).

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 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.

Gospel Reading:  John 15:9-17
Across the three-year cycle of readings, this Sixth Sunday of Easter presents the “new commandment” of Jesus:  “love one another as I have loved you.”  In today’s passage, Jesus begins by declaring the source of his love, the Father’s love for him.  Jesus “abides” in the Father’s love, so Jesus’ disciples “abide” in his love.  “Abide is an important word in John’s Gospel, signifying a deep unity which cannot be broken.  It is, therefore, utterly reliable, and it is that reliability that brings us joy in spite of what the world has to offer us.  This love manifests itself in two other ways.  First, it erases the master/slave relationship.  Jesus us calls us friends (and the implication is that we so ought to call one another).  Second, out of this unconditional love will grow fruit, “fruit that will last.”  The chief “fruit that will last” is an open and trusting relationship with God.

15:9 Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services or for group study is given, provided this attribution remains.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Easter 5B Readings & Commentaries

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40
The Philip in this story was one of the first seven deacons ordained by the apostles (6:1-6).  Today’s story shows that their ministry involved more than “waiting on tables,” as described in chapter 6.  It was also evangelism.  One of the significances about the story is that it involves not only someone who was a Gentile (albeit probably a “god-fearer”—someone interested in and friendly toward Judaism), but also a eunuch, cut off from the Law because of his deformity (Deuteronomy 23:1).  It is the first fulfillment in the Book of Acts of Jesus’ command that the Gospel be preached to “all nations.”  It also follows a prophecy of Isaiah (56:3).  The quote from Isaiah (53:7-8) is from the well-known Fourth Servant Song.

8:26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Psalm 22:24-30
As a whole, Psalm 22 is a prayer of one who has felt abandoned by God.  It is a psalm used much during Holy Week, and Jesus’ cry from the cross in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew come from its beginning, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Today we are reading the end of the psalm, in which the author experiences a reconciliation with God and a re-integration into the community of faith.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
            I will perform my vows in the presence of those who
                            worship him.
25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
     and those who seek the Lord shall praise him; *
            “May your heart live for ever!”
26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to
                            the Lord, *
            and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
            he rules over the nations.
28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down
                            in worship; *
            all who go down to the dust fall before him.
29 My soul shall live for him;
     my descendants will serve him; *
            they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
            the saving deeds that he has done.

2nd Reading:  1 John 4:7-21
God’s love and the command that we emulate that love is central to John’s writings.  John goes so far as to say simply but profoundly, “God is love.”  This is primarily revealed in the sending of the Son.  God’s love enables all other love, so that if we do not love another we cannot love God. God’s love is so strong it trumps the fear of God (the fear of judgment). We can have confidence to stand before God at the end of our earthly days. God loved and still loves us first, but our response is required:  the love of our sisters and brothers.

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel Reading:  John 15:1-8
John’s Gospel contains several “I am” statements in which Jesus uses clear imagery to describe himself and his purpose.  They are John’s version of the parables found in the other Gospels.  These “I am” statements often use imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel as God’s chosen vine is a frequent image (see Isaiah 5:1-7 and Ezekiel 19:10-14).  “Abide” is an important word for John as well; it occurs eleven times in his Gospel.  It describes the mutuality of the love between Jesus and his followers.

15:1 Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services and study is given, provided this attribution remains.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Easter 4B Readings & Commentaries

This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image. 

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 4:5-12
This reading occurs following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and John (3:1-11) and Peter’s subsequent sermon (3:12-26).  They have been imprisoned overnight (4:1-4) and are now questioned by the religious authorities.  The question put to them about authority is not so much about the healing as it is about their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter, as he so often does in the early chapters of Acts, speaks and uses a well-known text:  Psalm 118:22.  To say that “there is salvation in no one else” is to say that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection has released fresh energy to restore human life and, indeed, the world.

4:5 The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Psalm 23
This most beloved of psalms, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “invites us into a world of deep trust and lean desire.”  By “lean desire” he means that the trust we put in the Lord who is the shepherd is a trust that focuses and simplifies our needs.  This is a psalm not only of protection, but also of perspective.

1   The Lord is my shepherd; *
            I shall not be in want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures *
            and leads me beside still waters.
3   He revives my soul *
            and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4   Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
     I shall fear no evil; *
            for you are with me;
            your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5   You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                            who trouble me; *
            you have anointed my head with oil,
            and my cup is running over.
6   Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                            of my life,
            and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

2nd Reading:  1 John 3:16-24
In this passage the writer picks up themes we know well from John’s Gospel:  life laid down, love for one another, knowing that we are from the truth, and Jesus’ abiding in us.  Perhaps a development of John’s Gospel is the notion of love abiding in us “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  It is certainly consistent with John’s Gospel, however, that the truth is not primarily something you know, but something you do.

3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel Reading:  John 10:11-18
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and each year of the three-year lectionary cycle we read a portion of John chapter 10, which uses that beloved image.  This middle portion of the chapter is the most well-known.  Jesus makes it clear: “I am the Good Shepherd.”  The judgment on “hired hands” echoes Ezekiel 34, a passage critical of “false shepherds” in Israel.  The true shepherd is the one who gives his life.  He is also the one with whom we have true intimacy.  We are known and so we know, a simple sentiment but profound in its implications.  Then there are the “other sheep.” Who are they? No one really knows, although there are many theories.  It certainly allows us to leave open the door that Peter in the reading from Acts seems to close.

10:11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services or congregational studyis given, provided this attribution remains.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Easter 3B Readings & Commentaries

1st Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 3:12-19
Our first reading is a portion of the apostle Peter’s second sermon in the Book of Acts (3:12-26). It was given to the crowd that had witnessed the healing of a lame man (3:1-11). He implores his listeners to change their minds (repent) about Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name (and by the power of God working through him) this lame man has been healed. Because of Peter’s pointed criticism of his fellow Jews, this passage has in the past been a source of anti-Judaism. It is too simplistic, however, to say that “the Jews” killed Jesus and anti-Judaism has no place among Christians.

3:12 Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. 17 And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

Psalm 4
Today’s psalm is a personal plea for deliverance, spoken in confidence and trust in God’s goodness.  Self-discipline is required:  not allowing anger to take hold and offering the appointed sacrifices.  The word “tremble” in verse four literally means “be angry.”

1   Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
            you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
            have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2   “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
            how long will you worship dumb idols
            and run after false gods?”
3   Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; *
            when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4   Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
            speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5   Offer the appointed sacrifices *
            and put your trust in the Lord.
6   Many are saying,
     “Oh, that we might see better times!” *
            Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7   You have put gladness in my heart, *
            more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8   I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
           for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

2nd Reading:  1 John 3:1-7
Our second reading begins with an assurance about the present (we are God’s children now) and the promise of the future (we will see him as he is). It continues with an idealized understanding of the believer’s relationship to sin. The author seems to be saying that you cannot sin and be a believer, although at the beginning of the letter he has said that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1:8).  We find this same dynamic in the Rite of Baptism.  We renounce all sinful desires (BCP, p. 302) but then promise that whenever we sin we will repent and return (p. 304).  It is constant attention to the truth about ourselves, the desire to change, and the act of changing, with God’s grace, that is important here.

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 24:36b-48
As our Gospel reading begins, the disciples are together, having just heard two reports of encounters with the risen Jesus—one from Cleopas (the “road to Emmaus” story—24:13-35) and one from Peter (24:12 & 34). Now Jesus appears to them all. His greeting is significant to those who have betrayed and abandoned him, “Peace be with you.”  It is a message of forgiveness.  He then proves he is not a ghost. He still bears the wounds of his crucifixion and eats a piece of fish. Once he establishes his identity, he “opens their minds” and commissions them as witnesses and messengers of his message of forgiveness, to be proclaimed to all nations.  One of the important underlying messages of Luke’s resurrection stories is that the risen Jesus becomes the interpreter of Scripture for the new community that follows him.

24:36b Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.