Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
Narrative Lectionary: Partnership in the Gospel, Philippians 1:1-18a (Luke 9:46-48)
In Acts 16:9-15, Paul and some of his companions (including the author of Luke) beheld a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help. When they came to Macedonia, they arrived in Philippi, a Roman city, and found that some of the Gentile women were gathering to pray at the river. This group were probably among the “God-fearers,” Gentiles who believed there was only one God but had not converted to Judaism. Lydia, a merchant dealing in purple cloth, was one of those women, and she invited Paul and others to her home, to baptize everyone in her household, and to stay with her. Lydia is often understood in church tradition to be the founder of the church in Philippi.
Psalm 67 is a prayer of blessing: a blessing from God to the people, and a call for the people to bless God. The psalmist prays that God’s ways might be known throughout all people, and that all people, all nations, would turn to God in praise. God is the one who judges all people and all nations, and God has provided for all people. The psalmist knows that all the fruits of the earth, the increase of the harvest—all they see, feel, and experience is due to God’s abundance, so the people in turn ought to bless and revere God.
John of Patmos beholds a vision of the heavenly city of Jerusalem in Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5. In this vision of the holy city that comes down from the clouds, there is no temple, because God is already present there. There is no sun or moon, because the Lamb is the light of the city. The gates of the city will never be shut, and all kings, peoples and nations will be drawn to its light. The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God, through the middle of the street, and on either side of the river is the tree of life. This tree produces twelve kinds of fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. Those who worship and serve God, the faithful, are known to God, and God’s name is on their foreheads. The vision concludes with the image of no more night, and all the light needed comes from God and from the Lamb, who will reign forever. The importance of this vision is the idea that the fulfillment of God’s desire for us is a return to what was promised in Eden: God dwells with us, all our needs are met with God, and nothing will separate us from God.
The first selection for the Gospel lesson is John 14:23-29, in which Jesus prepares the disciples for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. As part of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples in John’s account, Jesus reminds the disciples that if they love him, they keep his commandments, and that the commandments come not from him but from God Above who sent him. Jesus has taught the disciples while he was among them, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus taught them. Jesus teaches the disciples that though he is leaving, he leaves them with his peace—a peace that is not from the world, but a true peace from him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.” Jesus knows he will be leaving them soon, and though it is impossible to prepare for it, Jesus assures the disciples that he will return (his resurrection), and they will believe.
The alternative Gospel lesson is John 5:1-9, which was part of the Narrative Lectionary back on February 6th. Jesus returned to Jerusalem for a festival (in John’s account he goes to Jerusalem on multiple occasions; in the synoptic gospels he only enters Jerusalem once before his death). Near the Sheep Gate on the city wall, there was a pool called Bethsaida where those who were sick and disabled gathered. Jesus spoke to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, and asked him if he wanted to be made well. He told Jesus that there was no one who could put him in the water when it was stirred up and that others went ahead of him (some later versions of John’s account have additional verses explaining why people believed in the healing property of the water when it was stirred). Jesus instead told him to stand up, pick up his mat and walk. It happened to be on a Sabbath day.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s letter to the Philippians in 1:1-18a. Paul wrote to the church while he was in prison, writing in gratitude for their partnership with him in sharing the Gospel. Paul began by praying that their love would overflow and that they would be filled with knowledge and insight to discern what is truly important. Even though Paul was imprisoned, he knew that the Gospel message was still being shared, and perhaps his imprisonment inspired more people to come to faith in Christ. Paul rejoices that Christ is proclaimed from love, and even though there are some who proclaim the Gospel for their own selfish gain, Paul does not care, because the Gospel is being proclaimed nonetheless.
The companion verses for the Narrative Lectionary are Luke 9:46-48, where some of the disciples are arguing who is the greatest among themselves. Jesus took a child, sat the child by his side, and taught the disciples that whoever welcomes a child welcomes him, that the least is the greatest. It does not matter their worldly measures of success; what matters is how they welcome and love one another.
So much of how we live in this world is through the lens of this world: measures of wealth and notoriety become measures of success. We have to have more stuff, more money, more of everything and anything. We do not want to be forgotten when we die, so we work for these empty measures that can never be satisfied. Jesus reminds us that if we love him, we keep his commandments. In the stories of disability and healing, we must remember that in Jesus’ time, if one was disabled, they could not work, they could only beg. Healing not the same as curing—healing and wholeness is restoration of all of us, disabled and temporarily abled, as part of God’s beloved community together. Paul reminds the church in Philippi, begun by Lydia long ago, that the world’s goods and the world’s gains do not matter, only the sharing of the Good News in Jesus Christ—because it is proclaimed out of love. The measures of our world are based on wealth and notoriety, on a fear of losing out and being forgotten. The measure of God’s beloved community is love: if you love Christ, we keep Christ’s commandments. If we love God, we love one another.
Call to Worship (Psalm 67:2-5)
May Your way may be known upon earth,
Your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for You judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise You.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Love, we confess that we have shortchanged the word love for a fleeting feeling, something that does not require obligation. We say we love everyone but then gossip and slander. We seek power and wealth over others, putting our desires above other’s needs. We determine who is worthy of help and who is not based on our judgments and not on Your love. We have not loved others as You have loved us. We have failed to follow Your commandment. Loving God, forgive us of our selfishness and foolishness. Remind us of how helpless we are without You and without one another. Call us back into the ways of Your generous and abundant love, to seek to serve one another, especially the ones we might find unlovable. Grant us Your mercy and grace to repent and seek to restore what we have broken. Call us into the hard work of reparation and restoration. In the name of Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for all of us, we pray. Amen.
Great is God’s faithfulness, and God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Know this: you are more precious than gold and silver. You are the apple of God’s eye. God loves you madly. Love calls us into accountability, to seek forgiveness and healing and restoration. Go into the world, share the good news of God’s love, and roll up your sleeves and get to work preparing the beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Come, Holy Spirit. Overwhelm us and fulfill us, inspire us and guide us in Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Renew our hearts, open our minds, reenergize our spirits to seek You around us and to know You are within us. The terrible news of the world continues to drag us down, but You lift us up on the wings of eagles. Your Holy Spirit catches us at the first breath of dawn and does not let us go. Help us, Holy Movement, when we feel stagnant and stuck in despair, drowning in the losses of this world. Breathe new life in us and remind us that You are the One who truly makes all things new. Amen.