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