Archive for the 'John' Category



For May 18, 2014: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Reading            Acts 7:55-60

Like Jesus, the martyr Stephen did wonders that transcended his apparent status and he spoke truth to power. His presumption brought him to a horrible death by stoning. The young man who watched the witnesses’ coats will have his own encounter with the risen Christ: we know him as the apostle Paul.

The Response            Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

In the worldview of Old Testament times, illness and trouble are taken as evidence of separation from God, though Jesus argued against this view in the healing of the man born blind. Psalm 31 both celebrates the Lord’s protection and begs for it, and it is verse 5 that Jesus quotes just before dying for us.

The Epistle            1 Peter 2:2-10

The first letter of Peter is written to new believers among people who are well used to being afflicted outsiders. Though they are slaves and the downtrodden, they are called to be the building blocks, wherever they are, of God’s house, and the call is supported by quotations from Psalms, Isaiah, and Hosea.

The Gospel            John 14:1-14

The gospel for the fifth Sunday of Easter comes from Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse”, after Judas has left to betray his Teacher. Jesus speaks to reassure the disciples: he will bring them where he is going; they may believe his words or his works; and they will do greater works in his name to the glory of the Father.

 

Ponderables

Stones and things that can be done with them figure in the readings for the fifth Sunday of Easter. In Acts, We read in Acts of Stephen being stoned to death for speaking words that the powerful did not want to hear. It is easy to excoriate the religious establishment for hardness of heart… but hardness of heart is endemic to all establishments, and we do well first to empty the stones in our own fists and pockets and speech and hearts.

Stone and rock take on quite different roles in the psalm and the epistle. The psalmist envisions the Lord as a stone fortress and a crag in the mountains in which to find shelter and safety from enemies. The epistle calls its audience and us—formerly nobodies of no account to God or anyone—to be the living building blocks of a house that is surely New Jerusalem, the city of God’s peace.

In the gospel, Jesus promises to prepare places in God’s abiding house—no mere mud-brick hovel—for those who believe in him. He asserts in verse 6 that he himself is the way to the Father. For two millennia the Christian establishment has taken this statement to license specific dogmas and rituals, but an alternative reading is possible: that Jesus himself, and loving as he does, is the way to our salvation and the world’s.

What if our hearts themselves are the stones that we throw? What if our hearts are the crags in which the Lord means to shelter the psalmist, the stones of which God’s proper house is built, and—far beyond creeds and rituals—the paving for all the world of the Way to life that is Jesus?

For May 11, 2014: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Reading            Acts 2:42-47

In last week’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaimed Jesus in Jerusalem and thousands of people repented and were baptized. This week’s reading continues the story: signs and wonders abound, believers live and worship together, and everyone gladly and generously sees to everyone else’s needs.

The Response            Psalm 23

Psalm 23 resonates as both the soul’s response to God’s goodness and a foretelling of Jesus’ faithfulness to and beyond death. The shepherd’s rod helped him defend sheep from wolves and lions; the staff or shepherd’s crook served to guide the sheep. Anointing is a sign of the Lord’s chosen one.

The Epistle            1 Peter 2:19-25

The second chapter of the first letter of Peter is addressed to slaves: people who were accustomed to being beaten by their masters. Christians of the day were mostly marginalized people who had no control over their circumstances—but they could choose how to respond, and the epistle holds up Jesus as example.

The Gospel            John 10:1-10

Jesus’ disciples would have known that the sheepfold mentioned in John 10:1-10 was a walled enclosure into which all the flocks of a village were herded in the evening for protection; a shepherd would stretch himself out in the opening so that, through the night, no one could get in without his knowledge.

 

Ponderables

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known in some traditions as Good Shepherd Sunday; three of the four scripture texts contain references to sheep or shepherding. Psalm 23, of course, has the soul shepherded by the Lord; 1 Peter 2:25 contrasts a people straying like sheep with a people returned to the shepherd; John 10:1-10 develops the somewhat puzzling metaphor of Jesus as gate to the sheepfold, and other verses in John 10 proclaim Jesus as shepherd.

The exception to the rule of sheep in the texts is the reading from Acts. Perhaps, however, it can be read as a consequence of the other three. Psalm 23’s shepherd guides to good pasture, through death and beyond, and blesses the soul in the face of enemies. The slaves in 1 Peter’s audience—who can expect to be beaten for little to no reason—are bidden to bear it without complaint because they have returned to the shepherd who blesses them. In John, Jesus the sheepfold gate protects and ultimately lays down his life for the sheep—but also empowers the sheep to have life abundantly. Acts 2:42-47, for its part, surely shows what happens when God’s flock follows God in love: goods suffice, but more importantly love abounds in those who are willing to change their hearts and follow.

What if Jesus the shepherd calls us to be not just his sheep but also his fellow shepherds? What if each Christian is a gate through which God’s lost sheep can be gathered in love?

For April 27, 2014: Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Reading            Acts 2:14a, 22-32

The second chapter of Acts opens with Pentecost: the Holy Spirit has just caused the disciples to speak in other languages. The shock this evokes in the crowds and the Holy Spirit impel Peter—the very person who had denied Jesus three times and then slunk off shamefaced into the night—to explain in a rousing speech.

The Response            Psalm 16

Peter paraphrased parts of Psalm 16 in his first sermon to the people of Judea. The psalm celebrates God’s goodness and protection in terms that remind us of Jesus’ suffering and his triumph. It is also reminiscent of Psalm 23: whatever difficulties may arise, our hope is in God, and it is well founded.

The Epistle            1 Peter 1:3-9

The first epistle of Peter is addressed to churches in and around Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey, for the most part—whose members were being persecuted in their local communities for beliefs that differed from those of their Jewish or pagan communities. The opening passage vividly calls believers to rejoice in the faith.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

This gospel passage spans a week. On the day on which Jesus was raised, he suddenly appears to the disciples in a locked room. They rejoice—except for Thomas, who isn’t there. A week later, Thomas is among the disciples when Jesus suddenly appears again.

 

Ponderables

For the weeks in Easter season, the first readings each Sunday come not from the Old Testament but from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the activity the disciples who followed Jesus in his earthly life as they live into the discipline he taught them and lead others to do the same. The first of these readings skips ahead in time to Pentecost. This reading is assigned to the second Sunday of Easter partly because it is Peter’s first public proclamation of the gospel; it also begins to introduce the concept (which, immediately following the Resurrection, the disciples had not yet assimilated) that the proper audience for the faith is all the world.

The first epistle of Peter, which will be read in church for the next several weeks, was probably not written by Peter himself: an illiterate Galilean fisherman would have known some Greek but not enough to compose the intricately structured sentences of 1 Peter 1:3-9. Whoever wrote it, it continues the themes of Jesus’ suffering and faith and our hope that are sounded in Acts and in Psalm 16.

Unsurprisingly, this week’s gospel reading and next week’s follow the disciples through the challenging early days following the Resurrection, as they struggle to make sense of what has happened. It is easy, with the hindsight of almost twenty-one centuries, to sneer at the skepticism of Thomas—but how many of us, believing ourselves badly let down by someone in whom we had reposed great hope, do exactly the same?

Again, however, the psalm tells us that God’s goodness is greater even than the very greatest heartbreak and disappointment. Given a world whose people almost cannot help but be skeptical of help, how can we as Christians live so as to make the case to them that Jesus is trustworthy and worth following?

For April 17, 2014: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

Exodus 12:1-14 gives instruction for a ritual meal—but unlike most ritual meals, it is to be eaten in haste by people who stand with one foot out the door ready to flee, and the blood from the lamb that is slain for the meal will mark the households to be spared when God executes judgment.

The Response            Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 gives thanks to the Lord for help, good things, and deliverance from bondage. “The cup of salvation” could be one of the four cups of the Seder or Passover feast; it could also be a symbol of the abundance of blessing.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The epistle written to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth passes on the words of Jesus at the first Last Supper: remember whenever you eat and drink, for the everyday stuff of bread and wine are the slain Lamb and God’s new promise of unconditional salvation.

The Gospel            John 13:1-17, 31b-35

En route to being betrayed to his own death, Jesus teaches us the truest way to be God: love and serve.

For April 16, 2014: Holy Wednesday, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

For the first evening of the Triduum—the holy ‘three days’ leading up to Easter—we begin with a lesson that is also read on Palm Sunday: the third of the “songs of the suffering servant”. Though abused, the nameless servant speaks encouragement, listens to teaching, and fears no shame because the Lord God will help.

The Response            Psalm 70

The brief but heartfelt Psalm 70 calls upon the Lord for help against those seek one’s life and who gloat when bad things happen to one.

The Epistle            Hebrews 12:1-3

This short reading is preceded In Hebrews by the list of persevering, believing heroes of the faith that it calls “a cloud of witnesses”. Our chief example, of course, is Jesus, who withstood the worst that people could deal out in order to win people for God.

The Gospel            John 13:21-32

The reading from the gospel of John tells part of the story of what Jesus endured: that people whom he loved and had taught would nevertheless be among those to betray and deny him.

For April 6, 2014: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            Ezekiel 37:1-14

As the book of Ezekiel tells it, God’s people were deported to Babylon in the sixth century before Christ for failing to uphold their part of the covenants. This familiar reading tells us, though, that there is help: no matter how dead we are and how we are dead, God is ready to breathe new life into our spirits and to bring us home.

The Response            Psalm 130

Some psalms are laments and some praises. Psalm 130 is a short and cogent summary of the human condition: when things are bad and even when I am bad, good God is on my side anyway, no matter what.

The Epistle            Romans 8:6-11

This passage from the epistle to the Romans carries forward the theme of the first reading. Through our own efforts we cannot please God and so we gain only death. Through Christ, however, we have the Spirit of God in us and so we have life.

The Gospel            John 11:1-45

In today’s gospel, Jesus knows he is already marked for death if he ventures anywhere near Jerusalem. He is also aware that, in Jewish belief of the time, the soul hovers near the body for three days. Nevertheless, he ventures to Bethany, and four days after Lazarus has died, to work a spectacular miracle.

For March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            1 Samuel 16:1-13

When the first king, of Israel, Saul, stopped being the Lord’s man, the Lord rejected him in favor of a new king. The reading from the first book of Samuel dwells on God’s criteria: what matters is not how someone looks or seems to fulfill the script, but what is in that person’s heart.

The Response            Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the familiar and heartening hymn to the goodness of the Lord, our leader. The shepherd’s rod helped him defend sheep from wolves and lions; the staff or shepherd’s crook served to guide the sheep. As with young David in the first reading, anointing is a sign of the Lord’s chosen one.

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:8-14

Whether or not the book of Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul or to the church he founded at Ephesus, the message certainly applies to the twenty-first-century as it did to the first: having been saved from the darkness of our hearts, we are to live as children of light.

The Gospel            John 9:1-41

The very long gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent of Year A relates the story of a man born blind. Jewish orthodoxy of the day held that people suffer because they or their parents have sinned. Jesus tells the disciples otherwise, and he heals the man.


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