Lectionary Reflections for May 13, 2012
Acts 10:44-48 (context Acts 10:1-23); Psalm 98; I John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
This Sunday’s readings continue the theme of connection and interdependence. They proclaim a “metaphysics of love” in which love characterizes God’s nature and the behavior of Jesus’ followers. The great commandment, love God and your neighbor, transforms everything we do. While we cannot describe the specifics of love, because love is always highly situational and concrete, a commitment to loving actions and attitudes is at the heart of our relationship with God and all creation. Love embeds us in the fabric of relatedness, opening us to the creative energy of the universe and enabling us to become channels to others of the divine energy we have received.
The Acts reading cannot be fully understood apart from its context. Accordingly, I suggest that your congregation expand the lectionary reading: Acts 10:1-23 be joined with v. 44-48 and read as a readers’ theatre or acted out to deepen its impact on the congregation.
In the Acts passage, the Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles, reflecting the democracy of revelation and salvation God intends for this first century emerging church and for Christianity’s emergence in our postmodern world. Peter’s reticence about eating unclean foods is overcome by God’s persistent quest for the salvation of the whole earth. Nothing and no one is unclean and beyond the scope of God’s saving love. Opening the doors of membership to Gentiles requires revising – indeed, breaking – religious laws that the Jewish people had lived by for centuries. Peter resists – seeking, like the persecuting Saul prior to his encounter with the Risen Christ – to be faithful to the “old ways. But, new life is emerging. Old doctrines and practices must give way to new visions and behaviors. The Spirit is always iconoclastic, embracing otherness, as reflective of God’s love for all creation.
Psalm 95 speaks of God’s all-embracing love and creativity. We sing a new song as testimony to new ways of understanding the scope of salvation. Salvation, as wholeness, embraces all humankind and extends to all creation. Psalm 95 is a critique as well as an invitation to Earth-care and to working for Shalom among the peoples of the Earth. While ethnicities and national borders remain important, Psalm 95 portrays a vision of the Whole Earth as a tapestry of human and non-human creatures, living in harmony and blessing one another.
The words of I John proclaim the “metaphysics of love” in which our love for God and one another widens to embrace all creation, human and non-human. Belief is more than intellectual assent to abstract propositions. Belief involves a loving relationship with a living God. Sadly, proposition-oriented faith has often subjugated love to orthodoxy, excommunicating and persecuting those who stand outside the faith community’s doctrinal norms. Belief can kill or cure, but divine love embodied in acts of compassion and companionship is unambiguously life–giving. It is the welcome embrace that heals the sick and raises the spiritually dead.
John’s Gospel continues the spirit of vines and branches from last week’s readings. We grow in energy and creativity through our commitments to love one another. Love opens the floodgates of divine energy to flow from us to others. Laying down our lives for each other, then, is not a sacrifice but an expansion and growing of our authentic selfhood. Our willingness to go beyond self-interest opens us to the larger selfhood of Christ, whose love identifies with all creation. This is the foundation of peace, according to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, in which our self-concern is identified with the well-being of larger and larger circles of reality. Delivered from the prison of the small self, we encounter and bring forth the divine in every situation.
This is good news for seekers and finders alike. A “metaphysics of love” can shape your daily life – it can open you to your relationship with all creation and inspire you to balance appropriate self-interest with sacrificial and loving care for others. A church that is connected to the vine, and that promotes love and inclusion, will placard a new vision of Christianity, inviting people to try the way of Christ again- for the first time.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.