Reading Ramblings – May 6, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 6, 2018

Texts: Acts 10:34-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

Context: We continue our exploration of the effects of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a little awkward to be reading from Acts and events that happen after the Ascension and Pentecost, without having dealt with those events yet. But thematically we are emphasizing the power of the Word of God – the Word made flesh who dwelt among us as well as the continued speaking of that Word by Jesus’ followers. Life-changing power comes from the Word of God. Peter speaks the Word and Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who hear and receive the Word also gain divine power in the struggle to both identify sin (last week’s reading from 1 John) as well as to resist sin. And what does abiding in the Word like branches to the vine (last week’s reading from John 15) look like? Jesus says it looks like obedience. Like the struggle and desire to be obedient to the Word and to take comfort in the Word made flesh.

Acts 10:34-48 – It is truly fascinating, this encounter between Peter and Cornelius. While Cornelius is certainly not some hedonistic pagan (10:1-2), neither is he a Jew. Peter, in obedience to the visionary Word of God he received in 10:9-23 is able to actually sit down with this man and his household. And what does Peter choose to say? He doesn’t begin with a condemnation of this man or his life, or exhort him to receive circumcision and fully convert to Judaism. He doesn’t talk about how wonderful he, Peter, is in coming to spend time with someone no other Jew would want to be seen associating closely with. The content of Peter’s message is praise to God that accurately summarizes God’s intent as expressed through Scripture for all of humanity (vs.34-35). And then he moves on to summarize the key events of Jesus’ life and ministry. Peter acknowledges that Cornelius has some knowledge of these things already, so Peter builds on what is there rather than denigrating Cornelius and trying to start from scratch in his proclamation. Peter simply talks about Jesus and the events that Peter and the other Apostles witnessed. And as the Word is spoken, the Holy Spirit is present and at work and Cornelius and everyone else listening received faith. Peter is stunned by this (vs. 44-46) but doesn’t let that keep him from following the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Psalm 98 – Like Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, this psalm praises the works of God, things that are not only objectively impressive (creation, etc.) but rather subjectively impressive (salvation). God is never to be worshiped as some distant and uninvolved creative force (deism) but rather as the deeply personal Creator who remains committed to his rebellious and wayward creation with the goal of saving us from ourselves. It is this personal and involved nature of God that elicits true worship and praise in every form and from every direction possible. And lest we rely too heavily on our rationalistic conceptions, even nature is capable of and therefore exalted to praise God. What an amazing day it will be when our Lord returns and we watch in amazement as the seas and rivers and mountains lift up praise to their creator just as we will!

1 John 5:1-8 – John continues his explanation of what love for God means, and in doing so, elaborates on Jesus’ summary of the Commandments (Matthew 22:38-39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). Love seems straightforward enough, or perhaps it once did. Now we are presented with regular proclamations and reinterpretations about what constitutes love of neighbor and what doesn’t. Currently the basic formula is that to love your neighbor you need to completely affirm them in whatever it is they think or feel or do. Unless of course those things are bad or criminal, but those definitions are changing constantly and therefore complicated to say the least. John, echoing Jesus in the gospel reading this morning, understands that love of neighbor can in no way deviate from obedience to God. God the Creator alone knows what is best for each person, and therefore is uniquely equipped to tell us how to love our neighbor. If we want to love our neighbor in a way that contradicts how God has told us to be, then we aren’t really loving our neighbor, no matter if that’s our goal or if that’s how they perceive it. Love cannot be separated from obedience not to the fluctuating ideas and standards of the world but to God’s Word alone.

John 15:9-17 – We continue reading some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the Last Supper. The themes between 1 John and the Gospel are obvious. Further, Peter demonstrates obedience towards Jesus’ Great Commission in his interactions with Cornelius, despite tremendous cultural and cultic pressure to act otherwise. Abiding in Christ must mean obedience to him. And obedience to God will naturally result in love to our neighbor, love even that could lead us to sacrifice ourselves for them. Jesus presumes that this obedience is done willingly, not grudgingly. A servant or slave obeys out of the requirements of duty, but a friend or a family member obeys out of love for the master, out of a shared recognition of the true goodness and rightness of what is being commanded.

This is what God the Father does in God the Son, Jesus the Christ. He reconciles us to himself, and creates not slaves who chafe under his rule, but rather joyfully seek to obey him and in so doing expres love towards him and towards all of his creation. Certainly there will be times when obedience is difficult and we will struggle with it. Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, but He abided in the love of God the Father by committing himself to obedience, whatever that might mean for him. Likewise, despite our moments of doubt or fear or even irritation or anger, we are to constantly train and shape our thinking and speaking and doing to obedience to what God commands.

This is an active process, not something that simply magically appears in the lives of believers. We have an enemy whom we can expect to frustrate us and complicate things for us, who will use all of the weapons at his disposal to divert our eyes from Christ and therefore from obedience. But our Lord is stronger and greater, and we trust in his protection to shield us and restore our focus on him whenever we waver. The empty tomb is the evidence that Jesus has overcome the world and all temptation, all sin, and even death itself, and therefore can promise to us – and we can trust him! – that He will enable us to overcome these things as well. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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