Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
Narrative Lectionary: God’s Love Poured Out, Romans (3:28-30), 5:1-11 (Matthew 11:28-30)
Continuing in Acts this season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary turns to Paul’s speech to the people of Athens in 17:22-31. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, had left Thessalonica in 17:10 for nearby Beroea where they were received more warmly by the Jewish community there, but the leaders from Thessalonica showed up and stirred up trouble, and Paul was sent to Athens. While Paul waited for Silas and Timothy to arrive, Paul noticed all the statues to idols in the city. Athens was a religious center, as Paul went to the synagogue to debate with other Jewish people and the marketplace to debate with Greek philosophers. But Paul was distressed over the idols. Paul then went and stood in front of Ares Hill (Mars Hill) and addressed the people of Athens on their religiousness, including the statue to the unknown god, and declared that the Creator who made everything of heaven and earth is a known God. This is the God who made all people from one ancestor. Paul then quoted the philosopher poets Epimenides and Aratus and showed that God has been made known through other traditions, but God called all people to repent, for the world will be “judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Paul also stated that this man, Jesus, gave assurance to everyone by raising him from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Athenian women followed him and became believers.
Psalm 66:8-20 is a portion of a song of gratitude. This second part of the song is framed by blessings and praise to God who has heard the psalmist’s prayer. The psalmist acknowledges the hardships the people have faced, but God has continually delivered them, through water and fire, out of burdens and traps, and into a safer place. In verses 13-15, the psalmist makes commitments of worship, sacrifice, offerings, and vows—all to demonstrate faithfulness on behalf of the singer. Verses 16-19 share the psalmist’s experience of crying out to God, and how God listened. The psalmist encourages others to be faithful in seeking God, for God has not rejected the psalmist’s prayer.
The Epistle reading continues in 1 Peter with 3:13-22. The author writes of doing good despite suffering, encouraging others to be faithful and honest, to keep their conscience clear. Christ himself suffered and was innocent, and so suffering is part of life for the faithful (though God does not desire suffering). The author comments that it is better, if one must suffer, to suffer for doing good rather than evil. The writer uses the image of Noah and the ark as a metaphor for baptism. In the midst of the flood, Noah and his family were saved. They survived. They started anew. The writer of 1 Peter uses this as an image of baptism: we are made new, despite our suffering.
The Gospel lesson continues with part of Jesus’s final discourse in John 14:15-21, moving to what will come next for the disciples. Jesus reminds them of the commandment to love one another, and that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to be with them forever. Only the faithful will know this Spirit of Truth because the world does not know the Spirit. Jesus knew he would die, but the disciples did not understand he would rise and be with them again, and because he lived, they also would live. The disciples would know that Jesus and God the Father not only abide in each other but abide in all believers. The fullness of Jesus will be revealed to those who love him, and so they must love one another.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its theme on Paul in Romans. In 3:28-30, Paul argues that a person is justified by faith. God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, because God is one and there is no other God. In 5:1-11 (which was the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the 3rd Sunday in Lent on March 12), Paul writes that because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.
In the supplementary verses of Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the disciples to give over their burdens to him, to be faithful to God by learning from Jesus and to take his yoke upon themselves. In our suffering, we know we can go to Christ, and know that we will find assurance and comfort.
Love is the way. Jesus said it to his disciples long ago that if they loved him, they would obey his commandments, and his commandment is to love. We know the work of God through the love of one another. In the midst of our struggles and suffering in this world, we know that we cannot make it alone. It is the love of others that encourages us and keeps us going. In faithfulness to God, we love one another as God’s children. The world teaches us to put ourselves first and our own desires, but Jesus teaches us that when we love one another, we meet each other’s needs. We recognize that God, who dwells in Christ, also dwells in us. When we love one another, we share that indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit gifts us with the ways we can share that love. Christ came for all and died for all. It is a message to be shared with the world through love. Far too often Christians have failed and have instead judged others, laid upon heavy burdens, and caused other’s suffering instead of relieving it. But we still have hope. We know God’s love has transformed our lives through Jesus Christ. God’s love can transform this world, if we live into it.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 66:16, 19-20)
Come and hear, all you in awe of God,
and I will tell what God has done for me.
Truly God has listened;
God has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God, because God has not rejected my prayer;
God has not removed God’s steadfast love from me.
Come and worship, all you in awe of God,
Let us tell the story of God’s love together.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we have followed idols that distract us from You. The idol of wealth. The idol of notoriety. The idol of busy-ness. The idol of worldly success. All the things we wish we had more of, or that we have paid far too much attention to. Help us to let go of these idols, to remove them from our lives. Help us to counter these idols. For wealth, remind us of Your generous and abundant love. For notoriety, remind us that You know our inmost thoughts and the hairs on our head, more than anyone else could ever know us. For busy-ness, remind us to practice Sabbath rest. For worldly success, remind us that our treasure is in You, and in the hearts of one another. May we leave the idols of this world behind and instead live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” John 14:21
If we love one another, we must forgive one another.
If we love ourselves, we will seek forgiveness and restoration.
If we love God, we will seek to serve God in the world.
Know this, that you are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well-pleased. Go forth into the world sharing God’s love, grace, forgiveness, healing, and restoration, and may God’s peace be with you. Amen.
Spirit of Truth, You have promised us that we will not be left alone, that we will not be orphaned. On this day that can be both joyous and difficult, we are reminded that we are Your children, that You are our God, our Creator, our Parent, Mother/Father, the Source of our Being. You are the only one who will never leave us or forsake us. No matter what has happened to us or will happen, You are with us every moment. You are Trustworthy and True. We know that in You is all love and light and hope. May we hold Your promise tenderly on days that are difficult and know that You are alive in us. May we love one another and share Your grace and peace, on this day and all days. Amen.