Today in the Spirit: Easter 5A

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On Easter 5 Sunday the church continues down the path of presenting the teachings of Jesus Christ which make the most sense to his followers only after the Resurrection. Many of these are the I am statements found in John. Last week’s Gospel reading on Good Shepherd Sunday included two of these: I am the good shepherd and I am the door of the sheep. This week the assigned Gospel reading John 14:1-14 contains Jesus’ claim I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The appointed Collect has the church praying that we may “know” Jesus according to that great claim and so “follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory.” The OT reading Deuteronomy 6:20-25 contains one of the clearest statements in the Hebrew Scriptures that carefully doing the commandments (given to Israel at Sinai) will mean righteousness for the people of Israel. In the light of the other readings, rather than a contradiction, Christians will understand Jesus to be the fulfillment of the law and view the OT promise of YHWH to Israel extended to us. The alternative first reading in Acts 17:1-15 gives an account of Paul’s activity in Thessalonica and Berea preaching the resurrection, stirring up both belief and unbelief among the people in those cities. The appointed Psalm 66:1-12 is another psalm of praise for the Easter season celebrating God’s awesome deeds performed in the world. For the Epistle reading, we continue our Year A meditations in 1 Peter, this week with the apostle’s teaching in 1 Peter 2:1-12 that as the risen Jesus is a living stone, so too is his people, the church, a living stone, and a chosen race and a royal priesthood.  

The Collect

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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When Your Son Asks (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)

“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’

When your son asks, Moses says. It is not clear if Moses has in mind a particular ceremony during which the son will ask the question about the meaning of the law, as with the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:24f). It could be he just fully expects a son (or daughter) will ask the parents about why they follow YHWH the way they do–the bloody sacrifices, the drawn out festivals, the strict laws. As a parent and grandparent in twenty-first century America, that strikes me as a big When. I honestly cannot recall a time when my children asked me, “Why do we go to church on Sundays?”  Or, “why do we read the Bible?” Or, “why do we eat that little piece of bread and sip that wine in church?” Why are the children not asking? Are our kids not curious? We complain, “Oh, yes, this generation has their senses so dulled by video screens that they don’t wonder about anything.” But the truth is I don’t think years ago I was any more compelled to ask my parents about their faith than children are today. (Though I can’t be sure, I don’t believe my father and grandfather were that curious either). I wonder if I have the courage to ask if the lack of inquisitiveness on the part of the children might have to do with me: Am I consistent enough in my obedience to God and the practice of my faith to provoke the children to notice? And have I ever prompted them, ”Hey, why do you think we receive communion in church every Sunday?” Moses pictured the righteousness of Israel being passed down from generation to generation. The narrative which follows in the OT demonstrates, however, that that was a hollow dream. Our kids could be more curious. We as parents could be better at putting out an example that raises our children’s curiosity. Today, however, in the Spirit, I know I need (we need) a righteousness that comes from God himself, not my own faithfulness to obey. Thanks be to God who gives us Jesus as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6, the Gospel reading).

They Came There Too (Acts 17:1-15)

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds (10-13).

The Acts readings assigned in Easter 5A and Easter 6A take us to the activities of Paul and his team when he first enters Greece during his second missionary journey. The reading this week describes his turbulent ministry in the cities of Thessalonica and Berea. If you hear this reading before Psalm 66, you might imagine Paul himself to be the one singing, You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. The narrative of Paul’s ministry reminds us that gospel gains are always hard won. Anytime we give testimony to success in ministry it is with the disclaimer, our enemies came there too. Jesus’ teaching to the disciples as they first set out in ministry comes to mind: A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matthew 10:24-25). Today, Holy Spirit, in the manner of Paul and Silas, make me bold to carry on from one service opportunity to another in the face of opposition.

Give to Him Glorious Praise (Psalm 66:1-12)

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
    and sings praises to you;
    they sing praises to your name” (1-4).

It seems to me that we can identify in the psalms at least two types of praise; or, better, two fountains of the human psyche out of which the worship of God springs forth. Both are in evidence in our appointed psalm: First, is the praise arising out of a heavenly, all-encompassing universal vision of God. It is transcendent acclamation, outside human experience. So in the first part of Psalm 66 (vv. 1-7) the psalmist begins by calling out to all the earth (beyond his physical experience) to praise God who rules by his might forever (beyond human knowledge). Second, is the praise in response to earth-bound salvation, based inside human experience. So in the second (vv. 8-12) and third (vv. 13-20) parts of the psalm praise is offered for deliverance (national and personal) from enemies and answer to prayers. In the Easter season we join with the psalmist in both the praise that comes out of our imagination of God over all things and that which is motivated by God touching us in our experience. In our praise to Jesus Christ are both our sublime and concrete praise fully activated. Today, Holy Spirit, we surrender our imagination and memory, that which is unknown and known, to praising you, with the Father and the Son.

Pure Spiritual Milk (1 Peter 2:1-12)

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good (1-3).

Newborn infants crave pure milk naturally–they don’t have to be told. Peter must urge new Christians to long for the pure spiritual milk because it is never–thier having known the world–natural to do so. The desire is there for anyone who has tasted that the Lord is good (a Hebrew way of saying been personally converted to Jesus), but the sinful nature battles within us to leave off spiritual nourishment altogether for something more spicy and complex; and, failing that, spiritual enemies will tempt us to enter into “Christian” orientation that is not pure (see Hebrews 13:9-10). So be diligent in feeding yourself spiritually. Make sure what you are receiving is biblical teaching correctly divided, the sacraments rightly administered and fellowship free from gossip and waywardness. Today, in the Spirit, make some honest evaluation of your response to the apostolic command to long for the pure spiritual milk, ready to make changes as necessary.

I Am in the Father and the Father is in Me (John 14:1-14)

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 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 authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (8-14).

The confusion of Philip in this passage is understandable. Throughout his relationship with the Twelve, especially as it unfolds in John, Jesus has been heavily invested in demonstrating to them his own attitude of submission to the Father (see 4:34, 5:19, 6:37). As much as Jesus has taught equality with the Father he has also suggested differentiation. Such is the back-and-forth, seemingly contradictory, language around the mystery of the Trinity. So, yes, the disciples can be excused for not fully grasping it. And yet at this stage, in order to reassure them at the moment of his departure, Jesus will emphasize his oneness with the heavenly Father, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father, and then this extraordinary statement made in the form of a question, Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The Father God, the limitless One and Maker of all things, is in this Man standing before us? Urgently, Jesus presses the Twelve (and by extension all of us) to grasp the mystery. On a belief in the equality of the Father and the Son, the right ordering of our prayer life (whatever you ask in my name), and even the success of our mission from God in the world (As the Father has sent me, I am sending you 20:21) will depend. Thankfully, what comes next in John is our Lord’s teaching on the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. In that day (Resurrection Day? Pentecost Day? Both?) you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (14:20). Today, in the Spirit who takes from what is [Jesus] and makes it known to [us], we pray and labor under the banner of truth that the Father and the Son are one.   

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

May 1, 2023

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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