Reading Ramblings – April 29, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4:1-11; John 15:1-8

Context: Listening seems to be a dying art. Without a doubt people have always been more inclined to speak rather than to listen, but it was once considered a social grace to temper this with a willingness (feigned if necessary) to listen. The readings for today emphasize the importance of listening. We need to listen to those around us for clues and indicators as to how best to share our faith in Jesus Christ in a way that is both helpful and loving (Acts 8). We need to listen to those purporting to know and love God to be sure that what they say is consistent with the witness to Jesus of Nazareth as both the Son of God and the Son of Mary/Eve. And of course we most need to listen to what God says to us, whether through his creation (Psalm 150) or through his Son (John 15). If we are not listening, what do we really have to say that is either helpful or truthful?

Acts 8:26-40 – We continue with readings from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to see the continued effects of the resurrection in the lives of those closest to Jesus. The good news of Jesus resurrected from the dead as vindication of his identity and purpose as the incarnate Son of God continues to be preached. From the beginning it has been preached to people from a variety of places and backgrounds (Acts 2:1-13). Here we see yet another foreigner – albeit a foreigner who worships the one true God – struggling to understand the word of God in Scripture. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Philip seizes upon this as an opportunity. He hears the eunuch’s dilemma and is willing to engage with him on that topic, rather than changing the topic to something else. In a culture where listening continues to decline in respect, one of the greatest signs of love Christians can offer is to truly listen and hear another person, and then to respond to what has been expressed rather than trying to drive another agenda or topic into the picture. We can and should trust that God the Holy Spirit is willing and able to work in any and all of our interchanges with other people, whether we see that interchange as evangelistic or not. This is how we love our neighbors as ourselves – we listen to them and pray that God will direct our conversations towards his glory and the mutual blessing of all those speaking and hearing.

Psalm 150 – A raucous, rowdy call to praise and worship of God the creator. A call to praise God in as many different ways and means as God has gifted us with. Is this an exhaustive list of the appropriate instruments of praise (there are some who might claim this!)? Hardly! Rather it reads as a spur to creativity! Can you conceive of a way to praise God, whether through electric guitar or Gregorian chanting, through polka music (I know a congregation who does this!) or through guitars or an organ? God is to be praised! This is the point and purpose, the reason for which we were created, that we might praise God for and in and as his marvelous creation!

1 John 4:1-11 – Listening is hard work, but essential work. If we don’t listen, we’re apt to hear what we expect or want to hear rather than what is actually being said. And contrary to the popular self-improvement or self-image or self-validation or tolerance mantras of today, not everything said is either good or helpful or true, either for the person(s) saying it or the person(s) hearing it. Those Christians (and others) who demand that Christians not judge, not evaluate others as some sort of cardinal sin would do well to listen to the Apostle John in this passage. Just like St. Paul, he calls and warns his hearers and readers to do exactly what so many Christians think is unkind or unloving – judge. Evaluate. Listen. Hear. Decide. We are limited in our ability to perceive truth, but we can determine the basics. It is possible that St. John is dealing with the early appearance of what will later be called docetism – a heretical idea that Jesus was not truly the incarnate Son of God, but rather that He simply pretended to be truly human and physical. The name is based on the Greek word for seeming or appearing, and implies that what is seen is not true reality, or that what is seen is mistaken in its essence. Perhaps St. John is dealing with early instances of this in Christian communities (the term is first identified in a late 2nd century letter from Bishop Serapion of Antioch, but of course there might have been earlier references that have been lost to history). St. John’s point is that the essence of the Gospel – that Jesus of Nazareth is also the Messiah and the divine Son of God – cannot be compromised or tweaked. It is the reality experienced firsthand by John and the other apostles, and anyone who would prefer to alter that reality to suit their predisposed philosophical or theological preferences is not faithful in so doing and is actually speaking contrary to the Holy Spirit of God (regardless of their self-identified motivations). John furthermore exhorts Christians to practice love amongst themselves. If we are unable to love our brothers and sisters with whom we will share eternity, how can we truly say that we love our neighbor?

John 15:1-8 – It isn’t all about you and Jesus. It’s just about Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no you. Not really. Not in the most important of way – the eternal relationship with the God who created and died and rose again for you. Either you are connected with this God through faith and trust and obedience to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, or you have cut yourself off from the only source of life. You are either alive in Christ or not. And what makes us alive is not our personal piety or the approbations of those around us, but whether we have heard or the saving Word of God, the Word made flesh that dwelt among us (John 1:14). To hear and receive that Word is life. Anything else is not life, no matter how much we may like it or prefer it or wish it to be true. John’s strong warnings and admonitions in 1 John 4 stem from the very straightforward word of Jesus himself. Truth is truth. It is real and objective and not subject to our redefinition or our renegotiation of terms and conditions. We either receive truth as it is and in doing so, receive all of the attendant blessings that this reality confers, or we live outside that truth. And just as in every other aspect of our lives, when we try to create a reality that does not match the objective truth of reality around us, we are liable to hurt ourselves. If we say that the fire is not hot and will not burn us and that we can create and summon our own reality to this effect simply by wishing or thinking it so, we are going to get burned. Perhaps just a little or perhaps tremendously, corresponding to the amount of faith and trust and confidence we place in the lie rather than the truth. So it should not surprise us that in trusting our entire selves to the reality and truth of the Son of God, we benefit tremendously, eternally! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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