The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Adventurous Lectionary – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2013

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29

The motto of the United Church of Christ is “God is still speaking” and this is the heart of today’s lectionary readings. Christ is alive, death and tomb cannot thwart the good news of salvation. Christ is not localized or limited in impact. This good news is for everyone – woman and man, Gentile and Jew, stranger and friend.

The historical reading from Acts describes Paul’s first days in Philippi. Led there by a mystical experience, a vision of a man beckoning him to come to Macedonia, Paul arrives at the city and proceeds to go where he hopes to find kindred spirits, to the riverside where he encounters and worships with the women gathered there. Paul’s first stop is open air worship, not a traditional religious site. In the spirit of today’s emergent and emerging Christians, Paul goes to where the people are and does not wait for people to come to him. Contrary to some critiques of Paul’s relationship to women, in this passage, Paul address women as authentic learners and equals, whose faith does not need to be mediated by husbands, parents, or male relatives. Moreover, Lydia is clearly a leader in the church at Philippi.  She has the audacity to invite Paul to stay with her (her family and husband are not mentioned) and they have the audacity to accept a woman’s bold invitation.

The Acts reading reminds us that God’s providence lures us beyond the familiar and invites us to push the boundaries of community norms to embody God’s life-transforming good news.  Everything we do is mission, even what appears to be internal.  Everything we do should shine Christ’s light for the glory of God and the well-being of our brothers and sisters.

Psalm 67 is an extended prayer of blessing and gratitude.  You can almost hear the Psalmist shout, “Hallelujah, we’ve been blessed,” as he (or she) reflects on all the gifts of life.  You can taste and see God’s goodness in the words of this Psalm.  God’s blessing, however, is not restricted to the righteous; all nations participate in God’s abundant life.  God’s blessings touch all creation, not just a favored few.

The words of Revelation describe the story teller’s experience of being “in the Spirit.”  His mystical experience awakens him to God’s vision of the future, the horizon toward which God’s providence is leading all humankind and we might add creation.  Frightening darkness is no more; the world is bathed in healing light.  Divine light illumines all.  God seeks the healing of the nations: the Messianic vision of swords into plowshares, justice rolling down like waters, and the temple as a house for all peoples is the polestar that lures us forward.  People no longer need to seek God solely in religious institutions (churches, temples, and mosques).  God’s light encompasses all things; sacred and secular are one holy reality, a thin place transparent.

Revelation reminds us that living in God’s presence is a matter of vision and intention.  If God is omnipresent and omni-active, the all places are potential theophanies; we simply aren’t aware that we are on holy ground.  For those who see holiness in all things, the tasks of life may not change, but our attitudes and vision do, investing all things with a sacramental character.  As the Zen Buddhists assert, “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water; after enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”

The reading from John 21 describes a dynamic divine-human call and response, in which God’s presence in our lives and the world is partly determined by our receptivity.  God will make God’s home with those who are open to divine wisdom.  The rest are not abandoned by God, but diminish God’s ability to shape their lives by turning away from God’s call.  God’s presence in our lives is relational, not unilateral.  God takes initiative, but works in relationship to our agency.  God stands at the door and knocks and brings joy and courage to those who answer.

The Johannine passage is intended to give assurance to a young and persecuted community.  God’s Spirit will guide and inspire them.  Despite the conflicts of life – and they are unavoidable for the young community – God is with us.  Jesus gives his “peace” to his followers.  This peace emerges from a sense of God’s nearness and an experience of the Spirit’s illumination.  Peace enlivens the soul and widens our sense of self beyond the fragile and defensive self to embrace the Spirit of God moving in all things.  The fearful self, worried about its survival, gives way to a self that sees all things in God, including its individual unfolding, and God in all things.  We remain mortal and finite, but our mortality is no longer demoralizing; our mortality is embraced in our relationship to a trustworthy and faithful God.

A note on John 5:19, the alternative passage for this week:  The key question for preacher and congregant alike is “Do you want to be made well?”  The man at the pool’s initial response is ambiguous.  Rather than opening his heart and mind to the healing available right in front of him, he focuses on why he has not been healed.  While his explanation may be accurate, it does not move him forward spiritually. He sees only one avenue for healing, when Jesus’ path to wholeness confronts him in the present moment.  Perhaps, there were other healing options available to him all along, but he fixated on only one media of healing.

Despite the man’s ambivalence, Jesus persists.  He virtually commands the man to stand up and walk.  The man still has agency and can remain seated.  But, he says “yes” breaking the cycle of illness and passivity.  He takes a great risk.  After four decades, there is no guarantee that he will ever stand up, but he rises up and walks, first spiritually and then in the holistic nature of life, physically.

The good news of God’s realm breaks through all our self-imposed barriers.  It invites us to think big and pray for great things and act to bring our vision to life.  It challenges us to take chances, like the man at the pool risking falling on our faces, so we can stand up on our own, claiming our freedom and agency in light of God’s vision for our lives and the world.

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  • Bill Thomas

    Thank you for these thoughts, as always: your contributions always enliven my sermon preparation. One thought about the John 5 to share with you: I was once with a bunch of students extemporising drama around Bible readings, & one pair had this one. The Jesus character asked “Do you want to get well?” & the other replied as per the text. Jesus then said “Come here & say that!” & the paralytic found herself on her feet beginning to speak, but drying up for sheer joy… Wish I’d had a video camera (tho’ it was the early 80′s!)