Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Narrative Lectionary: Living by Faith, Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 (Luke 18:9-14)
Following Peter’s bold declaration that God shows no partiality in the preceding pages, after meeting Cornelius the Centurion, the Jewish followers of Jesus were amazed at the Holy Spirit working through Gentile believers in Acts 10:44-48. The Holy Spirit showed Peter and others that there ought to be no prevention of baptizing anyone with the Holy Spirit, and Peter orders them to be baptized. Baptism becomes the symbol of conversion of faith, not circumcision, in the account of the early church in Acts.
Psalm 98 is a song of praise after battle. The people have survived and are victorious, and the psalmist invokes images of the Exodus. All of creation sings praises to God, and the psalmist calls upon the people to make music to God with their instruments and voices, and creation to clap with the floods and for the hills to sing. God is the one who judges the earth, and the people with equity.
The writer of 1 John reminds the reader/listener that they are children of God and that they are called to love one another. The love of God is to live out the commandments of God, for God is love, and faith conquers the world. The writer alludes to a sort of trinity of birth: water, blood, and Spirit. The waters of birth and baptism, the blood of birth and sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of who Jesus is, the Son of God.
In Jesus’ final discourse to the disciples in John 15:9-17, Jesus leaves them with his commandment: that they love one another. Our joy is complete because God’s joy is in us when we love one another. If we love one another, we are Christ’s friends. We are no longer called servants because we willfully fulfill the commandments. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another, and that love is exemplified in Jesus. Jesus chose the disciples, and chooses us, and appoints us to bear fruit in this world by loving one another.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Paul’s own testimony in Galatians 1:13-17 and 2:11-21. Paul shared his experience of the Son of God being revealed to him when he was trying to destroy the church. In his own words, he was “far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” Paul understood this revelation of Jesus as a call by God to proclaim Chris to the Gentiles. Skipping ahead to 2:11, Paul wrote about the hypocrisy he experienced. He himself was a Jew and was appalled that Cephas (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles but stopped after members from the Jerusalem church sent by James came to visit, keeping up a tradition of separating themselves from Gentiles who were considered unclean under the law. This is not the true Gospel that Paul knew through Jesus Christ. In Paul’s view, if the law was enough for salvation, Christ died for nothing, for justification comes through faith in Christ.
Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed out loud, using his prayer as a time to boast of everything he had done and compared himself to others, that he was better than even the tax collector. The tax collector, however, beat his chest and simply prayed for God to have mercy on him. Jesus declared the tax collector, in his humility, went home justified more than the Pharisee in his boasting.
Any religious tradition can turn into an insider’s club. While in Christian scriptures we read of Jesus and Paul calling out those who adhered to the law in ways that were restrictive of others, Christians have done the same thing. We have been concerned about church membership instead of inviting others into the life of Christ. We have created hurdles to becoming a member of the beloved community instead of recognizing that everyone is a child of God. When the Ethiopian Eunuch declares, “Look, there is water! What is to prevent me from becoming baptized?” those of us inside church life might ask, “What are we doing to prevent others from joining into the life Christ has promised?” When those with Peter were amazed that Gentile believers had the Holy Spirit, Peter ordered the Gentile believers to be baptized. If the Spirit is present, who are we to try to stop God?
Call to Worship (from John 15:9-12)
As God our Parent has loved us, so Christ has loved you;
Abide in Christ’s love.
If you keep Christ’s commandments,
We will abide in Christ’s love.
Christ said these things to us so that God’s joy may be in you,
And that our joy may be complete.
This is Christ’s commandment:
That we love one another as Christ has loved us.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Breaks Open, we confess that we have closed in, boarded up, and cut ourselves off from others. We have made churches into boxes that only allow certain people in, all while stating that we welcome everyone. We’ve placed requirements on people who need help, that they prove it to us first, that they show us their need, their vulnerability, while we hold the power. Forgive us, O God, for we might not recognize Jesus if he came to us. Forgive us, O God, for not being open to the power of the Spirit that blows through windows and doors. Forgive us, O God, for hardening our hearts. Open unto us Your love and forgiveness. Break open our hardened hearts to receive one another graciously. Break us open, O God, to Your ways, made known to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our God is the God of dawn, the God of breaking open, the God of the empty tomb. Our God continues to do a new thing that springs forth—can you not perceive it? You are made new. You are loved. You are forgiven. Go and share the good news, that God is making all things new.
Parent God, You are the one Jesus called Abba. You are the one who has nurtured and cared for us as a good parent. You call us as midwifes to aid what You are bringing forth. Mother, Father, Parent, Abba: Your love knows no bounds, and we are all Your children. We thank You and praise You, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help us to grow in Your love, to live out Your commandment through the Son to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to continue to hold holy Your image in all of us, which is love. Amen.