Reading Ramblings – May 25, 2014

Date:  Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014

Texts: Acts 17:16-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

 

Context: The readings for today emphasize the spread of the resurrection account beyond Jewish circles.  Paul’s preaching in Athens is the cornerstone, the application of the Spirit of Truth promised in the Gospel reading from John (the Spirit and Truth the world cannot accept).  The psalm points all people to praise God who has rescued his people—from literal slavery in Egypt, and now from literal slavery to sin and death.  Peter’s letter also what Paul demonstrates—we should be ready to give an account for our hope, not fearfully, but in a spirit of joy and expectation.

Acts 17:16-31— Paul speaks to the pagan crowds in Athens.  Here, in the center of Greek philosophy and thought, Paul proclaims a most unlikely message—that a resurrected man is the Son of God who will be the judge of the world.  In the face of logic and reason, Paul offers a simple, personal testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.  This is his  hope, after all.  The hope that the resurrected Jesus promises salvation to those who believe, even as He holds judgment for those who refuse this message.  We cannot only reason with people to share the Gospel—we must actually share the Gospel!  We must proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected and leave the Holy Spirit to do what He will in and through the Word. 

Psalm 66:8-20— Our praise of God is predicated not on what we hope He will do for us, but rather on what He has already done for us.  He has rescued us from the slavery of sin as surely as He rescued his people from physical slavery in Egypt.  Our hope in God is not based on whim or fancy, but on events in human history and experience.  This is the source of our hope –  the empty tomb that we are to proclaim despite how unbelievable it sounds.  This is the source of our joy and worship. 

1 Peter 3:13-22 — Peter continues to speak about the reality of suffering, and the greater reality of our new life in Christ which prompts us and equips us to speak of our hope in Jesus.  Our words are to be gracious and loving, as are our actions and attitudes to those around us. 

This passage concludes with a brief reference to Jesus’ activity prior to his revealed resurrection—that He went to the realm of the dead to proclaim his victory there.  This is the verse which we confess in the Creeds by saying “He descended into hell.” 

John 14:15-21— Love of Jesus is demonstrated in obedience to his directives, just as Jesus was obedient to the directives of God the Father.  While our culture may like to redefine love to suit any number of special interests, Scripture grounds love in obedience to God.  Anything contrary to God’s will cannot be love, regardless of how we might intend it to be such. 

We need help to maintain this truth though, and so Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to his disciples.  The Holy Spirit provides us with strength and wisdom (after bringing us faith itself!) so that we might bear witness to the Truth in our world, even as our world will resist and reject that Truth. 

We take comfort in the fact that God is very much with us—God the Father who sustains us through His creation, God the Son who intercedes for us before the Father, and God the Holy Spirit within us, guiding, encouraging, strengthening, enlightening.  We are never alone.  Our suffering is never beyond the notice or concern of our God.  Our joy is heightened knowing that our joy is grounded in forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. 

All of which finds practical expression in obedience.  We are not to give ourselves over to behavior contrary to the will of God.  How could we desert the will of the God who has saved us?  How could we ever claim his will to be bad or in error?  We may not always like obedience, but that is because we prize our momentary pleasure above the true joy found in obedience. 

We obey out of love and gratitude, because we confess that obedience is the best and right thing.  Obedience does not earn us God’s greater favor or love, He has given us his love completely through his Son.  More importantly, obedience (or disobedience) is not always the best barometer of our spiritual health.  Someone who does not seem to sin—at least in public and obvious ways—is not necessarily stronger in their faith than the one who struggles and fails over and over again.   God knows our heart, and it is in the heart where the battle of obedience is primarily waged, where the Holy Spirit battles against the remnants of our sinful flesh and habits. 

 

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