Monday, May 29, 2017

Day of Pentecost A Readings & Commentaries

First ReadingActs 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).

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 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? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 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.’”

Or this

First Reading:  Numbers 11:24-30
Wandering in the wilderness after the escape from Egypt, the people begin to complain. They are given the gift of manna, but it is not enough. They want meat, and Moses complains to God about the burden of leadership, which he alone bears. God’s answer is to create a larger circle of responsibility, seventy elders who are given a share of the spirit that rests on Moses.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s Spirit is given only to certain people and for certain tasks. The prophesying by the two in the camp is troubling to Moses’ aides, but he is simply relieved to have help and utters the desire that all God’s people shared this spirit.

11:24 Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

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 O 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!

Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Paul has begun chapter 12 introducing some teaching about “spiritual gifts.” There clearly was a problem with the Corinthian community about the nature of these gifts, and whether or not there was a hierarchy of gifts (and, therefore, of the people who had them). Paul is adamant that all are given gifts by the same Spirit and for the purpose of building up the church, which is one body. He recalls their baptisms, which erased the distinctions between them.

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 \ To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Second ReadingActs 2:1-21 (see above)

Gospel Reading:  John 7:37-39
Jesus is in Jerusalem with his disciples for the autumn Feast of Booths (Sukkot), commemorating the wandering in the wilderness. Part of this week-long festival was the carrying of water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, a remembrance of the water that flowed from the rock (Numbers 20:2-13). Jesus uses that image to proclaim himself as that very water, living and giving life. The quote in verse 38 has an unknown origin (there is a general sense of it in Isaiah 44:3, 58:11, and Proverbs 18:4).

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Or this

Gospel Reading:  John 20:19-23
John’s version of the gift of the Holy Spirit is very different from Luke’s in the Acts of the Apostles. It happens on Easter evening, in the context of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples. He comes in peace to those who had abandoned him, and gives them a gift in a way that is supposed to remind us of Genesis 1:1-2 when God’s breath first calls the creation into being (remembering that “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are the same word in Hebrew). He also leaves them with the power of forgiveness. The power to “retain” may not be so much a power as a warning. Withholding forgiveness is a serious matter given the imperative of the Gospel to forgive.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

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. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Easter 7A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 1:6-14
Today’s first reading begins with Luke’s account of the Ascension of Jesus. The disciples still do not understand the nature of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. They still expect an earthly kingdom. If these are their expectations, Jesus disappoints. Instead, they are called to witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in his absence. Jesus then leaves them and they do as he commanded, await the coming of the Spirit in Jerusalem.

1:6  When the apostles had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
Our psalm is a plea to God to “rise up” and exercise his power and authority. The psalmist has a view of God as not always attentive, like the rain. Many of the psalms contain this anxiety. Nevertheless, God comes in majestic power to order the creation and make good on his covenant with the people.

1     Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
                let those who hate him flee before him.
2     Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
                as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at
                                                    the presence of God.
3     But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
                let them also be merry and joyful.
4     Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
        exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
                Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
5     Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
                God in his holy habitation!
6     God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners
                                                    into freedom; *
                but the rebels shall live in dry places.
7     O God, when you went forth before your people, *
                when you marched through the wilderness,
8     The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
        at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
                at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9     You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
                you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10   Your people found their home in it; *
                in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
33   Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
                sing praises to the Lord.
34   He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
                he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.
35   Ascribe power to God; *
                his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies.
36   How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
                the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
                Blessed be God!

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
We have been reading through this letter throughout Eastertide. A primary theme is reiterated here: the Christian response to suffering for being followers of Jesus. This kind of suffering should be accepted and borne with joy and humility. The anxiety caused by suffering should be cast on God who is the one who restores, supports, strengthens and establishes us.

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading:  John 17:1-11
Our Gospel reading is from chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, the end of Jesus’ long teaching following the Last Supper. It is often referred to as “the high priestly prayer,” because it is Jesus’ intercession for his followers, particularly that they might remain one, even in the midst of the confusion and doubt he knows will occur in his absence. Overall, a great theme of John’s Gospel is expressed:  knowing/believing in Jesus is eternal life itself.

17:1 Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

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, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 6A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 17:22-31
Our first reading this morning is Paul’s sermon to a group of Athenians, a fine example of taking the context of the listeners and working from it to the gospel. Paul is also playing into a debate among Greek philosophers, many of whom had begun to reject the traditional gods of Greek mythology, hence the altar to “an unknown god.” The quote “in him we live and move and have our being,” is probably a quote from the 6th century b.c. philosopher Epimenides, and “and we too are his offspring,” from the 3rd century b.c. author Aratus of Soli. These quotes show Paul was very knowledgeable of Greek philosophy, in which he had probably been well schooled while a young man.

17:22 Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:7-18
Psalm 66 as a whole is a poem of praise and thanksgiving clearly centered around the Exodus event (as all Israel’s praise and thanks ultimately is). The reference is strongest in the beginning of the psalm, but also in vv. 7-11. There follows and integration of personal promises to this praise and thanks, and also an invitation for “all peoples” to join in.

7      Bless our God, you peoples; *
                make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8      Who holds our souls in life, *
        and will not allow our feet to slip.
9      For you, O God, have proved us; *
                you have tried us just as silver is tried.
10   You brought us into the snare; *
                you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11   You let enemies ride over our heads;
        we went through fire and water; *
                but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
12   I will enter your house with burnt-offerings
        and will pay you my vows, *
                which I promised with my lips
                and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
13   I will offer you sacrifices of fat beasts with the smoke of rams; *
                I will give you oxen and goats.
14   Come and listen, all you who fear God, *
                and I will tell you what he has done for me.
15   I called out to him with my mouth, *
                and his praise was on my tongue.
16   If I had found evil in my heart, *
                the Lord would not have heard me;
17   But in truth God has heard me; *
                he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
18   Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, *
                nor withheld his love from me.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 3:13-22
Our Eastertide readings from the First Letter of Peter continue with this passage that repeats many of the themes from the reading two weeks ago, particularly Peter’s emphasis on suffering for the good in union with Christ. In one sense, the entire letter is an attempt to understand suffering in the context of Christian faith. This reading has another importance—to articulate that part of the Apostles’ Creed—“he descended to the dead.” It answers the question of what happened to Jesus during the three days between his death and resurrection, but also the status of those who had died prior to the resurrection. The answer is that Christ “descended to the dead” to preach to those imprisoned there and bring them into the company of the resurrected.

3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel Reading:  John 14:15-21
Our Gospel reading follows on that of last Sunday. The promise of sending the Holy Spirit (here, “the Advocate” and the “Spirit of truth”) is bracketed by the command to love and obedience.  Lest “obedience” be taken as a new form of legalism, the promise is of an “Advocate” (a legal term), which may be a deliberate counter to one of the terms for the Devil, the “Accuser.”  We will not be abandoned as orphans, but remain related to God as daughter and sons.

14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

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, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Easter 5A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 7:55-60
In our first reading, the Deacon Stephen is stoned to death by a crowd which has been angered by his words spoken immediately before this reading in which he says that Moses himself foresaw the coming of Jesus the Messiah and that Jesus was murdered just as the ancestors of his listeners murdered many of the prophets before him.  The witness Saul is the later Paul, here still a persecutor of the followers of Jesus.  The parallels in Stephen’s death to the death of Jesus are deliberate, particularly his two prayers at the end of the reading.  Stephen becomes the first martyr among followers of Jesus.

7:55 Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Our psalm works well as a response to the first reading in that the writer is under profound threat from enemies.  He responds with trust and confidence in God’s loving purposes. In Luke’s Gospel, the first half of verse 5, comes from the lips of Jesus on the cross.

1   In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
     let me never be put to shame; *
            deliver me in your righteousness.
2   Incline your ear to me; *
            make haste to deliver me.
3   Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
     for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
            for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4   Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
            for you are my tower of strength.
5   Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
            for you have redeemed me,
            O Lord, O God of truth.
15  My times are in your hand; *
            rescue me from the hands of my enemies,
            and from those who persecute me.
16  Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
            and in your loving-kindness save me.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10
Our second reading continues our readings from the First Letter of Peter during Eastertide.  There is much use of Hebrew Scripture images in this passage.  “Taste that the Lord is good” is an image from psalm 34 (v. 8).  There is then a quote from Psalm 118:22 (in both v. 4 and v. 7). The quote in verse 6 is Isaiah 28:16 and verse 8 Isaiah 8:14-15. The imagery of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood…” is from the prophet Hosea (2:23) and the book of Exodus (19:6).  It is clear from the last line that Peter is speaking primarily to Gentiles who were once “not a people” in the eyes of God. There may be elements of an early Christian hymn in this passage.

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The Holy Gospel:  John 14:1-14
This passage begins Jesus’ long farewell speech to his disciples (continuing through chapter 17). It follows the scene of the supper at which Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and gives the “new commandment” to love one another as he has loved them.  He now prepares them for his departure:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He promises an eternal place for them with him (hence this passage is a frequent funeral reading). For many Christians this passage is somewhat troubling in its seemingly exclusive claims:  “No one comes to the Father except through me.” All that one can say with any certainty is that this claim was clearly important to the community of John (it is contained only in this Gospel). There are many other indications that John’s community was under a great deal of stress, feeling threatened by “outsiders.” In that context, such a claim is not surprising, even if many contemporary Christians want to bring a significant amount of nuance to it.  One must also be careful with Jesus’ promise to answer prayer. This is not a promise to do whatever we ask. The asking must be “in Jesus’ name,” that is, in relationship with him.

14:1 Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

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, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Easter 4A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
Today’s reading begins with a loose “they.” The verse before says that the result of Peter’s sermon after the Pentecost event, had the effect of three thousand people joining the believers.  It is this “they” whose life together is described below. It is an ideal community of generosity and faith, where the good of all is highly valued.  Note the dual reference to the Eucharist, which had clearly already become an important part of the community’s life. Questions about this passage concerning whether or not this way of life together made the first believers “communists” or “socialists” ask modern-day questions of an ancient text. The point is the profoundly different way of life this represented in the midst of Empire:  a way of life where all took care of one another in a spirit of “glad and generous hearts.”

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23
The well-known and beloved Psalm 23 is a psalm of profound orientation in the goodness and companionship of God.  God, like a good shepherd, intends the well-being of his people, the sheep, doing for them what they cannot do for themselves.

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.

The Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:19-25
Our second reading this morning is a troubling passage given its context.  Verse 18 addresses the verses that follow it to household slaves.  The good of the passage can only be in the fact that slaves are to be examples for the entire household of God.  Yet one cannot excuse the capitulation to unjust relationship.  Slavery at the time of the early church was considered a part of the natural order, as it was, shamefully, for centuries of the church’s life.  The last line of the reading pairs it with this morning’s Gospel.  The word “guardian” could also be translated “bishop” (it is the Greek word from which comes our word “episcopal.”

2:19 It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

The Holy Gospel:  John 10:1-10
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel with its imagery of Jesus as, first, gate for the sheep into the protection of the sheepfold, and then (immediately following this passage) the Good Shepherd. The image of Shepherd was long used as a title for the kings of Israel and Judah, and, also, for God, as in our psalm (see also, Ezekiel 34:1-10 and Isaiah 40:10-11).

10:1 Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

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, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for study groups is given, provided this attribution remains.