Reading Ramblings – April 24, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016

Texts: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 5:1-9

Context: The readings for this morning explore the widening implications of the resurrection. It was assumed that the benefits of Jesus’ resurrection might be limited – at least initially – to the Jews. However in very short order it is made clear that the Holy Spirit is drawing to faith people of diverse backgrounds. This would have been a source of not just confusion but revulsion for the faithful Jewish disciples of Jesus. Though they sought to maintain their place in Jewish society while proclaiming the resurrection, welcoming non-Jews into fellowship – including eating together – would put them squarely at odds with Jewish ritual law. What would happen? Would the disciples reject the Gentile converts, limit the work of God’s Holy Spirit, seek to maintain their Jewish status as a people set apart, or acknowledge the miraculous and terrifying work of God the Father in drawing all of humanity to himself by the Holy Spirit through faith in his resurrected Son?

Acts 11:1-18 – The events of Chapter 10 have come to the attention of the other apostles and leaders of the growing Christian community in Jerusalem. There are those who are quick to criticize Peter for his fellowship with Gentiles, a serious source of offense to any faithful Jew. We are quick to lose sight of the seriousness of the situation. Eating and drinking with non-Jews is not some minor issue, but rather a serious breach of Jewish law and frankly, a source of revulsion. Would we sit down and eat with someone who was serving us dog? Or horse? Perhaps this begins to get at the revulsion caused to some by Peter’s experience in the house of Cornelius.

What is at stake is much larger – will the Christian community welcome non-Jews? Under what conditions? This will be an issue that plagues the early Church not just through the book of Acts, but throughout the missionary work of the early Church. Despite the overwhelming weight of tradition and custom and preference among the Jews, the early Church is moved by the clear presence and work of the Holy Spirit to acknowledge that following Jewish rituals and customs and being Jewish is not a necessity for being a follower of Christ.

Psalm 148 – I think it’s kind of cheating to assign this psalm twice in four weeks! I’m not sure if this is an error, laziness, or there is a greater point being made in having this psalm twice during the season of Easter. In light of the other readings for today, the universality of praise is what strikes me about this psalm. We tend to think of only God’s people praising him, yet this psalm exhorts all of creation to praise. This includes what we tend to think of as inanimate objects (sun and moon), animals, as well as all levels of human society. Truly, all creation will give praise to God on the day of Christ’s return. Some may do so grudgingly, but none will be able to stand apart from that great groundswell of praise to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Revelation 21:1-7 – In Christ, all things are made new. Heaven and earth are made new, reconciled and brought back into proper relationship as they were in Genesis 1 & 2. But no longer are there distinctions among people. All the various ways that we distinguish ourselves from one another, that we set up as divisions and separations, all these things pale and disappear in the light of our unity in Christ. Does this mean that we will be indistinguishable from one another? It’s hard to imagine this, as I tend to think of the diverse ethnicities of creation as part of God’s creative imagination. I like to think they will remain, but they will no longer be sources of division and separation. Rather, we will be in perfect unity, harmony, and peace under the protective presence of God the Father. As such there will be no pain, no suffering, no tears, no loss. This offer is made unilaterally by God the Father to any and all who place their faith and trust in God the Son. It is that faith that constitutes the conquering of v.7. The one who clings to the promises of God is the one who will receive the promises of God.

John 5:1-9 – It seems a shame to have only such a small section of this chapter for our reading! We know nothing about the paralyzed man other than that he has been in this condition for a long time. Not necessarily all his life, but certainly a long time. We would presume that he was a Jew, but John doesn’t bother to tell us that. What matters is not this man’s background, but the healing and restoring power of Jesus. Presumably there are plenty of others there at the pool also in need of healing. Was this man there the longest of them all? We aren’t told.

Also, depending on the translation you’re using, your Bible may omit the last part of verse 3 and all of verse 4. Certain later manuscripts include the following text: waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had Our earliest versions of this text don’t have this section in them and many translations therefore omit it.

Healing is hoped for, but healing that is unpredictable and subject to constraints such as the need for assistance to reach the water. But Jesus offers healing without any constraints, without any sort of requirement. This healing is based on who Jesus is and what He is doing, rather than on the man himself. The man need only to stand when he is commanded. The healing is full and complete, the man’s strength is complete and immediate. It is not simply that his paralysis has been removed, he has been restored to the state prior to his paralysis.

The good gifts of God are available to anyone who will receive them. Sometimes this will make us uncomfortable, as we presume that some people will not be offered these gifts. Some people we’d rather remained outside of the purview of the Holy Spirit’s power, so confident are we that they will never receive the Holy Spirit, never allow their lives to be changed and transformed. But the reality is that nobody is safe from the Holy Spirit. No heart is completely guarded against him, no mind fully immune to the whisperings that offer faith.

So sure are we of this that we are sometimes quick to criticize brothers or sisters in the faith who associate with those we deem beyond God’s call. We worry about inappropriateness. We worry about what others will think. We worry that we will be considered less faithful for being willing to love these people. Such thoughts are always contrary to the work of the Holy Spirit, always based in our short-sightedness, in our sinful lack of understanding, sometimes in our sinful enmity, pride, or hatred. There is nobody that God has given up on, nobody that Jesus did not die for, nobody who is not offered forgiveness and grace and eternity through faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.


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