Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Sermon at Athens, Acts 17:16-31 (John 1:16-18)
The Revised Common Lectionary continues to use selections from Acts for the first reading during the season of Easter. In Acts 11, Peter is questioned by some of the other early Christian leaders for eating with Gentiles. Verse 2 refers to “the circumcised believers criticized him,” yet at that time almost all the believers would have been Jewish. We must remember we are reading an account of events written perhaps 40-60 years after they occurred, from a time when Gentiles had already been included in some places and were a greater number than at the time of these events. These stories were needed to portray a universal message out of their roots in Judaism. Peter shared his vision that he beheld in chapter 10, how he was told that he must not call profane what God has made clean. Peter spoke of how the angel had sent him to the centurion’s home, and that the Holy Spirit came upon him as he spoke to this man and his household. If this Gentile soldier and his household believed in the same Jesus Christ and it was the same Holy Spirit, how could Peter hinder God? Then the other Christian leaders didn’t know what to say at first, except then they praised God for giving the Good News to the Gentiles.
Psalm 148 is a song of praise from all of creation to God. The psalmist calls all the heavenly beings, the celestial objects, everything God created above the earth to praise God. Then the psalmist turns to the earth: sea monsters and creatures from the birth of creation, all the meteorological elements, the earth itself, all animals and plants and birds of the air. Next, the psalmist calls upon the people: all rulers, kings and princes, young and old, women and men and all people, to praise God. God is above all, creator of all, and is the advocate for the people. The psalmist concludes by praising the faithful, the people of Israel closest to God, and all praise God.
John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21:1-6. The first heaven and earth have passed away, the sea is no more. Then John witnesses the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and the division of heaven and earth is no more as God’s home is now among humanity. All people are God’s peoples, and God will be their God. John recalls the vision of Isaiah in 26:6-9, where God will wipe away all our tears, and there will be no more death and pain. John turns in his vision to the one seated on the throne, who declares they are making all things new (Isaiah 43:19). God is the Alpha and the Omega, Beginning and End, as John uses this phrase three times in this letter. Jesus is the water of the wellspring of eternal life, an image used in the gospel according to John.
In John 13:31-35, Jesus speaks of being glorified as God has been glorified in him. Jesus calls the disciples, “little children,” a phrase also used by the writer of the letters of John, and tells them that he is about to leave them, and where he is going, they cannot come. However, Jesus has given them a new commandment that they love one another, just as he has loved them. By this, everyone will know they are Jesus’ disciples.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul’s sermon at Athens in Acts 17:16-31. Before, Paul was debating with leaders of Jewish institutions, but in Athens he found arguments with both Jewish and Gentile religious and philosophical leaders and was disturbed by the number of statues he found to idols. The Athenians seemed interested in hearing him only because he brought a new perspective; not because they believed it, but because if it was new, it was exciting and fashionable. So, Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and preached to them, turning their own rhetoric on them: “I see you are extremely religious in every way” for they even had a statute to an unknown god! Paul proclaims there is one God who made heaven and earth and God does not reside in statues. God gives everything life and from one ancestor made all people. Paul used their own poetic verses to describe the one God, and if they are indeed God’s children, then God is the heavenly parent. The unknown God is known by those who understand that God is calling all people to repent, because the world will be judged by the one God has chosen, who has been raised from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Greeks who heard him believed.
The accompanying verses for the Narrative Lectionary, John 1:16-18, speak of how no one has ever seen God, but the Son, close to God’s heart, has made God known to us. The law was given through Moses, and grace and truth through Jesus Christ.
We all fall into the ways of this world: the latest trends, popular fashion, gossip—who is in and who is out. Peter dealt with division in the early church based on traditional understanding of who belonged and who did not. The first followers of Jesus were Jewish. Their understanding of who they were as God’s people was in the identity of being Jewish, even if they followed Jesus. However, Peter discovered the work of the same Holy Spirit among Gentiles as it was among Jewish followers of Jesus, so how could he exclude Gentiles in the church? Paul proclaimed to the Greeks that in all their searching and philosophizing, looking for something new and exciting—the God who made them all was made known to them, and this was more important than the statues they built or the latest trend of belief. Jesus, however, told the disciples he was leaving them with one new thing: a new commandment, to love one another. The ways of the world distract us, but the way of Christ, the way of love—it leads us to eternity, a new heaven and a new earth, where mourning and death are no more. The ways of this world lead to dead ends; the way of Christ, the way of love, leads to life.
Call to Worship
We gather here to follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is the new commandment:
That we love one another as Christ loved us.
By this we are known as Christ’s disciples:
That we have love for one another.
Come, worship God, and follow Jesus,
Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we live in a world You did not intend for us. You crafted a beautiful earth full of life; we created a world of wealth and power, stripping Your earth of its bountiful resources. You created us all and called us good; we built walls and ways of dividing others by race and gender, sexual orientation and politics and economics. You made a vast universe full of mystery and wonder, and we made redlining and institutionalized racism, policies that take from those who have little to give to those who have more. You called us to be fruitful and multiply but did not call us to restrict and judge and cause harm to others. Call all into accountability when we have failed to seek You and instead have sought power and dominance. Call us back to Your ways, to the earth You created for us, and remind us of Your intention for us to care for the earth and for all of creation in the best way possible, through the love You gave for us. For You laid down your life for us, and called us to lay down our lives for one another. We have failed, O God, and put our own wealth and selfish gain above others. Call us back to You, to Your way of love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (Romans 8:38-39)
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You are made in God’s image. You are beloved by God. Christ laid down his life for you, for all of us, and in Christ you have new life. You are loved and restored and forgiven. Go and share the good news, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The psalmist declares, “Where can we go from Your spirit? Where can we flee from Your presence?” O God, You are always with us, even when it is hard to take notice. When the world is falling apart, You are carrying us through. Your love sustains us and is known through the love of others. Remind us when things are most difficult to carry on in love, because it is our mutual love that helps us survive. Call us to become living hope for one another, because we cannot carry it all by ourselves. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.