Today in the Spirit: Easter 6A

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Easter 6 Sunday every year is the last before Ascensiontide, the ten-day period between the remembrance of Jesus’ Ascension on the Thursday following this Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. Picking up on the language of John’s Gospel, which is our focus in the Easter season, the petition of the Collect is “for those who love you” (John’s way of designating believers) to receive ever increasing “love” for God, even to “loving [him] in all things and above all things.” This is a bold prayer for the church to reach the highest form of human love possible–possible only by grace through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The assigned Gospel reading out of John 15:1-11 features another I Am statement of Jesus: I am the vine; (and just to set the order straight) you are the branches. The OT reading Isaiah 41:17-20 picks up on the theme of dependence on God with a promise that the God of Israel will not forsake them and provide every help in the wilderness. The alternative reading in Acts 17:(16-21)22-34 brings us to the next stop of Paul in Greece on Paul’s second missionary journey–Athens, the center of pagan worship and philosophy, where he is given an opportunity to proclaim the good news to leading men and women of the city. The appointed Psalm 148 is a hymn of praise calling on all creation to worship YHWH as Creator and Savior. The assigned NT reading moves us forward in our dominical Year A sequential meditation in 1 Peter, this time in 1 Peter 3:8-18, where the apostle encourages the faithful to be unafraid to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

The Collect

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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I the God of Israel (Isaiah 41:17-20)

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Our OT passage this week is a word from YHWH addressed to the exiles of Israel in Babylon. It is set between two visions (1-16 and 21-29) of pagan nations standing before the One God in a courtroom setting, their useless idols their only advocates. Though it appears the exiles are poor and needy and worm Jacob (14) in their present condition, the content of the oracle is designed to give them comfort by revealing to them a true picture of reality behind the veil of physical life. Devotionally, we know the fulfillment of this vision of refreshment is not realized when the exiles returned to Israel. It is not even fulfilled completely for us, the new Israel, with the coming of Christ. But, praise the Lord, the risen Jesus in his person has supplied us with an even more tantalizing foretaste of the waters from the open rivers on the bare heights and the fruit of the trees put in the valley. He is the fulfillment of these promises from the Father God. So, as God’s exiles like Israel in this passage, while we wait for more to be sure, in Jesus we have received enough to keep us highly satisfied. Today, in the Spirit, we hear this prophecy to Israel delivered to us in our situations of need and yearning for more.  

This I Proclaim to You (Acts 17:(16-21)22-34)

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (18-23).

Take note of the boldness of Paul when he declares, What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. To this band of philosophers all so secure in their understanding of the world and proud of their place in society, Paul will dare to say, “I know something you don’t.” Now, yes, of course, we need to be humble as to our human limitations, admitting that we ourselves are broken sinners without answers to every question; but there comes a time when in the company of unbelieving family, friends and strangers we must be able to confess out loud that we know the way (and so can you). In that spirit Paul supplies us with those well-known words in Romans: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (1:16). We must be more unashamed of the gospel than we are “ashamed” in ourselves to proclaim it. Our unworthiness never disqualifies us from speaking the Good News to those who have not heard it. One verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn “O Thou Who Camest from Above” goes like this: “Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire to work and speak and think for thee. Still let me guard the holy fire and still stir up the gift in me.” Today, in the Spirit, inspired by the confidence of Paul to speak of that which he knows to those who do not know Jesus, let me put aside every demonic accusation that I hear seeking to keep me silent and say, “I know something–precious news–that you do not.”

Praise the Lord! (Psalm 148)

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word! (3-8).

Our psalm of praise assigned this week pictures a worship leader calling forth praise in the celestial heights (1-6) and the terrestrial depths (7-14), to everything and everyone in the created order. Now the question may arise, Who is this director presuming to wave his or her wand and call the universe to order? The psalms, it must be remembered, are the utterances of Spirit-inspired humanity. They are the songs of humans at their best, under the inspiration of the word of God. So, yes, this is a human being leading in heaven and earth. Is he Jesus, Son of Man? Yes, perhaps; or even one son or daughter of man who has been made into a little Jesus, saved, sanctified and ascended to a place near the heavenly throne room where everyone can see his or her glorious countenance. But who among human beings deserves such privilege? It’s the wrong question, born out of our desire to differentiate and rank one another, like the disciples when they discuss who among them is the greatest. This psalm’s worship leader is any one of us, or all of us, whom the Father and Jesus Christ have willed in love to be so lifted up. So today, inspired by the Holy Spirit, take up this universal call to praise God, and even imagine yourself with the audacity to lead the group.  

Finally All of You (1 Peter 3:8-18)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (8-12).

A couple of things to note about this passage: First, it is written under the influence of the specter of suffering to come. Peter, who is likely in Rome experiencing the birth pangs of persecution Christians in the whole empire may soon have to endure, shows no inclination whatsoever to counsel burying one’s faith in the face of trouble. The apostle in this letter is laying out spiritual strategy in an environment of war. Second, it is addressed to the whole group without exception. Peter wants nothing less than full cooperation from pantes (all of you) in the quest to have unity of mind, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. We need to resist the temptation of thinking, “Well, we don’t live in such bad times, so what’s the fuss?” Friends, we do live in a time of war. Every Christian of every age does. Even in what appear to be times of peace, the body of Christ is under siege by spiritual forces wreaking havoc against Christ in the heavenly realms, and against his body on earth through culture wars, political power struggles and temptations to lust after lesser things. There is no such thing as a ceasefire in spiritual warfare. The cooperation of the whole body is commanded by the Head. Today, Holy Spirit, we hear Peter’s admonitions to the church under siege as given to us, pante, all of us, and we seek your help.

As the Father Has Loved Me and I Have Loved You (John 15:1-11)

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (8-11).

You’ll notice that two times in this discourse of our Lord comes the command: Abide (or remain NIV). First, abide in me; then later abide in my love. Preceding each of these two commands are teaching points, as if to put forward the foundational facts needed for the empowerment to abide. Looking only at the second instance, Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. Is this not a two-fold program of lifelong Christian devotional study and application for every disciple, a course never really to be completed but of inestimable worth in undertaking it partly: 1) As the Father has loved me. Here we can plumb the depths of the Gospels and OT prophecy to see the extent of the love of God the Father has for God the Son: everything from the Father’s delight to send the Son for justice to the nations (Isaiah 62:1) to his compassion in sending ministering angels to the Son for help him in times of trouble (Matthew 4:11). 2) So have I loved you. The Greek verb egapesa (loved) is simple past but looks prophetically forward to include what comes later, Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. In every aspect of Christ’s saving ministry, from his birth in the world (a Savior has been born to you, Luke 2:11) to his session at the right hand of the Father (where he always lives to make intercession, Hebrews 7:25), Jesus has loved us, his disciples, including you and me. How then shall we obey those most sublime commands of Jesus, Abide in me and Abide in my love? Today, Holy Spirit, assist me in the careful consideration through the Scriptures of the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for his disciples, that I might be enabled to abide.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

May 8, 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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