Archive for the '1 John' Category

For June 23, 2013: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The apocryphal books of Esdras or Ezra appear to prophesy the Messiah early in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed after Jesus died. Whatever the history, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion stirringly depicts the heavenly honor that awaits all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!”

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches the life of faith: we are to love one another. John also reminds us of the cost—whether, like Saint Alban, we lay down our lives all at once or whether we lay them down minute by minute and day by day.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:34-42

“‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life  for my sake will find it.’”

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, on the outskirts of modern London, at a time when the penalty under Roman law for confessing Christianity was death. Where the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD, the Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, and one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD while some others suggest 251 to 259 AD.

Tradition says that Alban was British and a soldier in the Roman army. Since Roman legions recruited locally, both may be true, though his living in a house rather than a barracks means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban was moved to shelter a fugitive Christian priest. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity just before the authorities closed in. After facilitating the priest’s escape by changing clothes with him, Alban was haled before the Roman governor. Neither threats nor flogging could induce Alban to sacrifice to the Roman gods, whose efficacy he disparaged, so the exasperated governor ordered him beheaded. En route to the execution site, a hill outside Verulamium, the waters of the river Ver parted to let Alban and his executioners cross; at the top of the hill Alban prayed for water and a spring rose up. His executioner then threw down his sword and declared himself also Christian. A substitute executioner beheaded Alban and the first executioner, only to have his eyes fall out.

Alban’s reply when the governor demanded his name—“My parents called me Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God who made all things”—remains part of prayers at the church that was built over the site of his execution, St Alban’s Cathedral in St Alban’s, UK.

As England’s first martyr and our patron, St Alban is a hero, and his story is a myth in the fullest and best sense. The word myth is commonly used of something that is entirely untrue.  Among scholars, however, a myth is a story that explains how something in the world came to be and also sheds light on how humans either are or ought to be: it may not be factual, but it is assuredly true. The myths of St Alban vary in details, but all show a man accepting the faith and defending it at the cost of his life. We of the 21st century face few enemies of the Church who can order us executed. We are, however, in a world that makes us choose whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is as heroic as Alban’s; more often it is a matter of deciding whether, in this minute, to open a door in love or close it in fear.

May the love of Christ and the example of St Alban always embolden us to choose love and life for Christ.

For June 24, 2012: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The books of Esdras or Ezra present themselves as prophecies of the Messiah from far back in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed in Latin several centuries after Jesus died. In any case, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion is a stirringly mystical account of the honor that awaits in heaven for all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra rapturously described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches out the path we are to take as followers: the path of loving one another. The letter also reminds us of the cost—whether, like Saint Alban, we lay down our lives all at once or whether we lay them down minute by minute and day by day.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:34-42

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, outside London, two to three centuries after the birth of Christ. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD. The Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, though one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD and some others suggest 251-259 AD; these are times when Roman edicts made Christianity punishable by death.

Tradition says that Alban was British and a soldier in the Roman army. Since Roman legions recruited locally, both may be true, though his living in a house means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban took into his home a Christian priest who was on the run. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity. As the authorities closed in, Alban changed clothes with the priest so the priest could escape. Alban was haled before the Roman governor, who may have been a son of the emperor Septimius Severus and who was certainly irate to find that the priest had gotten away. Neither threats nor flogging could induce Alban to sacrifice to the Roman gods, whose efficacy he disparaged, so the exasperated governor ordered him beheaded. En route to the execution site, a hill outside Verulamium, the waters of the river Ver parted to let Alban and his executioners cross; at the top of the hill Alban prayed for water and a spring rose up. His executioner then threw down his sword and declared himself also Christian. A substitute executioner beheaded Alban and the first executioner, only to have his eyes fall out.

Alban’s reply when the governor demanded his name—“My parents called me Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God who made all things”—remains part of prayers at the church that was built over the site of his execution, St Alban’s Cathedral in St Albans, UK.

As England’s first martyr and our patron, St Alban is a hero, and his story is a myth in the fullest and best sense. The word myth is commonly used of something that is entirely untrue.  Among scholars, however, a myth is a story that explains how something in the world came to be and also sheds light on how humans either are or ought to be: it may not be factual, but it is assuredly true. The myths of St Alban vary in details, but all show a man accepting the faith and defending it at the cost of his life. We of the 21st century face few enemies of the Church who can order us executed. We are, however in a world that makes us choose, day by day and sometimes minute by minute, whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is big and heroic; more often it is a matter of deciding whether to spend this minute opening doors in love or closing doors in fear. May the love of Christ and the example of St Alban always embolden us to choose love and life for Christ.

For May 20, 2012: 7 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Today’s reading from the book of Acts returns to the time right after Jesus ascended to heaven. As the disciples turn their gazes from heaven back to earth, Peter reminds them of a bit of unfinished business: the defection of Judas leaves eleven apostles, but the prophecies specify twelve apostles, one for each of the tribes of Israel.

 

The Epistle            1 John 5:9-13

The last few weeks’ readings from the first letter of John laid out evidence for Jesus as both God and human. The concluding verses underline the point: God gave us eternal life through the death of the human and divine Son of God.

 

Further thoughts

The word apostle comes ultimately from the Greek verb apostellein ‘to send out’. The original twelve apostles—Peter, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot—were the ones that Jesus chose to send out to preach and heal in his name. The name itself might be a linguistic innovation of the early Christian community, according to the Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible, but the concept wasn’t new: from the Hebrew root shlch that means ‘send’ comes shlicha ‘emissary’, and in the ancient world, when it was impractical to wait for instructions from a far-off capital, the emissary of the ruler spoke as the king’s voice and wielded the ruler’s power. In effect, the emissary was the ruler.

When the ruler in question is the King of glory, the responsibility is so much the greater. The twelve were those in Jesus’ inner circle who were chosen to be his hands and feet and voice. Jesus’ long prayer in today’s gospel, on the night on which he was arrested, is in effect their commission to go be Jesus to the world. At the time, the twelve perceived this only dimly if at all. By the beginning of the book of Acts, however, they understood much more. It was therefore extremely important to the remaining apostles to replace Judas and to get the choice exactly right. Identifying suitable candidates and then choosing among them by lot allowed for both judgment and the action of the Holy Spirit.

Oddly, however, the choosing of Matthias is the last we hear of him in the Bible. We hear much more of Silas, Timothy, Barnabas, and of course Paul: the apostles who took the Word to the gentile world. We human beings can set criteria as much as we like, but the Holy Spirit tends to have other plans.

And, as Jesus promised and the letter of John suggests, the Holy Spirit’s plans for people to be Jesus—to be light and to bring God’s love to a tired, disheartened world—depend, day by day and minute by minute and heart by heart—on each and every one of us.

For Sunday, May 6, 2012: 5 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 8:26-40

The readings from Acts after Easter tell of the spread of the church by Israelites in Israel. Today’s reading broadens the scope: Philip (whose name is Greek), having just witnessed in Samaria, is sent by God to a highly placed Ethiopian eunuch (who is not only African but less than a man, and therefore someone who was not welcome at the Temple). Thus the Good News begins to come to the Gentiles.

The Response            Psalm 22:24-30

The Epistle            1 John 4:7-21

The first letter of John continues on the theme of love.  We are to love others because God commands it and because Jesus gives us that example, and because loving others is a way to thank God for loving us first. When we love God and our brothers and sisters fully, then we are no longer bound by fear before God.

The Gospel            John 15:1-8

Further thoughts

The passages from Acts and the first letter of John and the gospel of John speak to us of reaching out, belonging, and discipline. In the reading from Acts, Philip the somewhat marginalized Greek follows the Spirit’s prompting to go walk a wilderness road that heads south from Jerusalem into Africa. On this road he catches up with a chariot. We never learn the VIP passenger’s name, but we do learn details: he’s Ethiopian and a eunuch—that is, castrated, and probably as a boy so he wouldn’t develop a man’s build, beard, voice, and sex drive. Castration, by rendering him safe in the queen and court of Ethiopia, has opened doors for him: he can choose to journey hundreds of miles to Jerusalem to worship. But it has also definitely closed to him the door of the Temple. So he’s on his way home, and passing the time by reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip would discern this because, from the invention of writing up until at least the late sixth century AD, “to read” meant “to read out loud”. Philip responds to this foreign freak factotum neither by shutting his mouth in fear or respect nor by turning up his nose in revulsion or scorn. It reminds me of a wry and grateful line from Operating Instructions: of the church that lovingly welcomed her in spite of her substance abuse and, later, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy Anne Lamott remarks, “These people were so confused, they thought I was a child of God.” Even so.

As the first letter of John points out, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do, and our model in showing love is the love that God shows us by sending Jesus to bear our sins and be our brother. We testify to God’s love when we love one another: through loving one another we show the world what God is like, and through loving each other we show that we belong to God’s family. As God’s children we need not fear, and it is our love that will help us not have to hide from God.

The gospel also tells us that we belong and are to reach out, though it uses the imagery of the grapevine and adds an element of discipline. We can count on being shaped and sometimes even redirected by God, directly or through the people and influences with which we surround ourselves. It won’t always be fun, though the pruned branch not only survives but thrives. If we abide in Jesus—if we remain habitually belonging to Jesus—we will, like the branch, have the life of the vine flowing through us and making us fruitful.

For Sunday, April 29, 2012: 4 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 4:5-12

In last week’s reading from Acts, Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from birth. This act gets them arrested. Today we listen in as they testify before the religious authorities that the power that brings health is through the dead and risen Jesus.

 

The Epistle            1 John 3:16-24

The first letter of John addresses a church that was split into factions—as the church still is. Today’s passage explains what is behind the power of Jesus to heal, whether the body be that of a person or that of the church. It is love: love that digs deep to help those in whatever sort of need, and love through which we feel no need to hide from God.

 

Further thoughts

Several extraordinary claims are made in these passages, some implicitly and some explicitly. In Acts, Peter explains the healing of the lame man: it wasn’t, he says, human activity but healing through the name of Jesus Christ. Peter’s statement “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” has been used in history not merely to motivate believers to witness but also to entitle the authorities to compel belief. The word that is rendered as “salvation”, however, can (and possibly should) also be translated as “healing”, in which case the statement plausibly means that all healing flows through Jesus. This puts a different spin on Peter’s statement—and a spin that much better suits Jesus’ equally striking pronouncement, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also… So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

The letter of John taps into a related truth. Since the time of Adam and Eve and the fig leaves, human beings who are ashamed have hidden from others or from God—and our sense of shame often reflects the extent to which we feel we do not measure up to the expectations of faith or behavior that others have of us. Now none of us can measure up to the standards of God, ever; in John’s terms, our hearts condemn us. Our hearts are absolutely right—except that slinking off in shame separates us from the healing we need. John shows us that the way out of this impasse is to love in action. By moving to feed each other, heal each other, and welcome each other we give the love that allows those around us to give the love through which we can stand before God.

For April 15, 2012: 2 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 4:32-35

On Maundy Thursday Jesus gave a new commandment: that we should love one another. The reading from Acts today shows us a community living radically in love, and Psalm 133 picks up the theme: where true love is, blessings abound.

The Epistle            1 John 1:1-2:2

We begin reading from the letters of the apostle John, written by the end of the first century AD and most probably by the author of the gospel of John. The first letter responds to a split in the community by calling for fellowship that, like the fellowship in Acts, flows from and embodies God’s love.

Further thoughts

The readings appointed for the second Sunday in Easter use imagery that is concrete and earthly (and sometimes earthy) to drive home some crucial points.

The first of the readings chronologically is Psalm 133, with its vivid imagery comparing godly unity to an extravagant anointing. Bear in mind that, in the ancient world, olive oil was not merely something to cook with: it soothed chapped skin and fueled the only artificial lights there were, and having enough of it to perform all those functions and anoint in such quantity was a sign of abundant blessing.

The reading from Acts tells a similar story of the very early church: so full of love that nobody went hungry or had to worry about shelter. Those who had property or goods gave them freely; those who had time gave it freely; those who had need of money or goods or someone else’s time were able to receive freely. No one felt taken advantage of and no one felt condescended to. It was, in short, a classic honeymoon period, and the signs of love are tangible and unmistakable—and in a world that thirsts for love, incredibly attractive.

Honeymoon periods don’t tend to last. The first letter of John is written to a community that shows signs of falling out of love: some members refuse to seek fellowship, and some are teaching that Jesus came into the world solely as a spirit. Both groups are laboring under misunderstandings.

John corrects both misunderstandings, beginning with the second, by pointing to real, concrete, earthly evidence. He writes of “what we have looked at and touched with our hands”: that is, the real physical body in which Jesus really did die and really was resurrected is as much Jesus as is his spirit. As to fellowship, John tells us, it is visible proof that we really are walking in the light of Christ, because we’re neither snubbing others nor hiding from them. What’s more, walking in the light of Christ is a sign of being in fellowship: we learn to love as Christ does from the people in our lives who give us grace when we feel unlovable, who give us work when we feel unuseful, and who give us grief when we act insufferable.

And it is to fellowship that, like Thomas, we should come even—or especially—with our questions and our honest doubts.  Where Jesus comes, he always says, “Peace be with you.” That peace is not intended to squelch our doubts but to create space in which doubt and fear and difficult messages can be expressed safely. And that peace flows, like the oil over Aaron’s beard, from the love we learn to give.

For Nov. 6, 2011: All Saints’ Day, Year A

The Reading            Revelation 7:9-17

Last week we saw Joshua and the Israelites preparing to enter the Promised Land, and there were specific instructions and concrete descriptions. This week, for All Saints’ Day, we are with the apostle John seeing the revelation of God. It is no surprise that words fail John, who is trying to describe what we mortals cannot begin to comprehend. What is wondrously clear, though, is that, in Revelation, the way is open to all of God’s children.

 

The Epistle            1 John 3:1-3

The first letter of John brings back into this world the promise that Revelation gives—and the challenge: if we are God’s children here and now, how on earth do we live into that?

 

The Gospel                        Matthew 5:1-12

 

Further thoughts

The reading from Revelation makes the claim—which must have sounded very surprising, and perhaps still should—that the saints of God are countless and come from every people under heaven. The reading from the first letter of John makes an assertion that, if we follow it a little farther and take it seriously, is more mind-bending: that we are God’s children not because we’re Christian or even particularly good but simply and solely because God loves us.

In other words, lifestyle doesn’t lead to sainthood. Instead, sainthood leads to lifestyle. What can result from that shows exactly how a human family that functions as it should can model God’s family.

First and foremost: God our Daddy loves us whatever we do.

Second: choices still have consequences, and our own bad choices or someone else’s can lead to scars that we’ll bear for life—though through God’s love these scars can be redeemed and can lose their power to stunt us or those around us.

Third: as we learn and pray, and with the example of our big brother Jesus and the help of our brothers and sisters here on earth, we can grow into making the sorts of choices that please Daddy and help redeem this world.


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