Reading Ramblings – June 1, 2014

Date:  Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 1, 2014

Texts: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 68:1-10; 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Context: This is the final Sunday of Easter, but also comes after the Ascension, observed the previous Thursday.  As such, the first reading picks up immediately following Jesus’ ascension, describing how the Church continued (began) to function as they awaited the Lord’s return.  The psalm continues in a past tense praise of God’s works.  The readings from 1 Peter continue to emphasize patience and endurance and the Christian life lived out in waiting for the Lord’s return.  Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 is very appropriate for the Church who awaits his return. 

Acts 1:12-26— Christ has appeared to his followers over a period of weeks, but now He has left them with explicit instructions to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever they thought this would mean, it was clear that He expected them to function, indeed to leave Jerusalem to bring the good news throughout the world.  Immediately we see a shift from simply existing in fear and isolation, to making plans and arrangements.  They have been twelve disciples, they will be twelve again.  They leave room for God’s input by casting lots rather than just arbitrarily appointing someone. In doing so, they now wait expectantly on the Lord’s timing to send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them to their next duties.

Psalm 68:1-10— The first three verses of this Psalm are expectant, reflecting a waiting upon the Lord.  In the Lord’s time his enemies will be dispersed and the wicked will perish, resulting in faithful followers of God offering praise in thanksgiving for their deliverance from these troublesome elements.  The next three verses exhort us to praise God for his protection, the way He cares for his people even as their enemies, the wicked, remain present.  The final four verses of the selected reading emphasize the Lord’s power.  He can indeed look after his people and protect them.  We are indeed wise to trust in his provision and ultimate deliverance!

1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11 — Peter has been exhorting his hearers to endurance and trust in God, to doing the right thing even when it brings them condemnation and suffering, and this continues in today’s reading.  Moreover, suffering is not to be equated with guilt, as though God’s people somehow deserve what they might have to endure.  They suffer secure in the knowledge that they will be vindicated by their Lord, just as Jesus was vindicated in his resurrection.  As such, God’s people should turn their minds to ensuring they are living out their faith.  Our focus is not on suffering, but on what we are called to do in any given moment or circumstance.  We remain humble, we do not worry, we resist temptation, and we keep our eyes on the vindication that will be ours one day as well!

John 17:1-11— Jesus begins his final prayer by asking for God the Father to bestow on him the glory that his obedience conveyed to the Father.  His duty was to grant eternal life by revealing the Father in his obedience, and those who acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) and the Father who sent him to indeed receive eternal life. 

Jesus has revealed the Father to the inner circle of followers, the Twelve Apostles.  They in turn have learned obedience from watching and listening to Jesus, witnessing his own obedience.  Their obedience is obviously imperfect, and will continue to be shown as such in the coming hours.  But they have been taught, and have begun to follow.  Not only have they followed and learned obedience, they have received Jesus’ words, words which He in turn received from the Father.   The Word of God has God the Father as the source—He does not speak separately from God the Father, but is the very voice of God the Father made flesh. 

It is these that Jesus is praying for.  His disciples.  His inner circle.  His friends.  The ones He has called to follow him, knowing full well it will cost them everything, including their lives.  While Jesus has come so that all might be saved, He prays specifically here for his friends and followers, through whom that message of salvation will come.  He prays for their protection, as well as for their unity.  In the hours of horror that will follow, though they will be physically scattered, He prays for their unity of faith and trust.  In the months and years that will follow his resurrection and ascension, He prays for their unity of obedience and purpose. 

This prayer is still vital today.  Scholars may debate if we can reasonably extend Jesus’ words in this specific moment to apply to his believers everywhere still today, but the spirit of those words certainly does.  We are called to unity in him.  And while Christians may disagree doctrinally, it is important for us to confess and affirm wherever possible that the core details we are united in, and these core details are enumerated historically in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. 

We are divided doctrinally in how we make sense of certain aspects of Scripture, but we are united in many others.  While we should not pretend that differences don’t exist, we should find ways to affirm our unity in the faith, even if our practice is driven by different interpretations and understandings.  We may not be able to worship together in good faith, but we should stand by one another outside of worship, affirming that the body of Christ is still united, is still protected, and will stand together—even in the midst of our differences. 

We are certainly still in need of our Lord’s protection and prayer, and we are assured that we have it, even in the midst of suffering or persecution.  We have it because of our Lord’s love for us, every bit as much love as His love for his disciples.  This should embolden us to do good as Peter exhorts us to, knowing that it would be insane to be persecuted for doing good, but that even if we were to be so persecuted, our vindication will ultimately come from our Lord.  The world may laugh at us know for our efforts at obedience, at not only hearing but living out the Word of God.  But one day the Truth will be known.  Until that time, we pray that as many as possible—even those who laugh or mock or persecute—will receive that same Truth, and that in that Truth they will have life along with us!

 

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