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Easter 5, Cycle C (2016)

What God’s love does to us. The focus on Justification by Grace and love manifested in Providence in Creation leads to consideration of its implications for Sanctification and living the Christian life.

Psalm 148
This is a hymn calling on all created things (including animals, trees, and mountains) to praise [halal] Yahweh. There are obvious ecological implications. God is said to have created by decree [choq] (v. 5). He has fixed the creatures’ bounds which cannot pass away (v. 6).

“Horn” [qeren] in verse 14 refers to God’s strength and power. The praise afforded by nature reminds us that it does not stand on its own and that it remains dependent on God and his guidance. A strong doctrine of Providence is affirmed.

Application: This psalm will lead to sermons on Creation and how its goodness drives all that is to praise God (Sanctification).

Acts 11:1-18
It is good to be reminded that this book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8). In this lesson Peter offers a defense of the practice of baptizing Gentiles. According to Luke, Peter was the first to convert a Gentile (ch. 10).

The apostles and many of the faithful in Judea had heard that Gentiles had accepted God’s word (v. 1). So when Peter went to Jerusalem, conservative Jewish Christians criticized him (vv. 2-3). Peter responds, contending that while staying in Joppa (a town west of Jerusalem) he had a vision, seeing a large sheet coming down from heaven (vv. 4-5). He saw four-footed animals, reptiles, birds, and heard a voice telling him to kill and eat the animals (vv. 6-7). Peter claims to have reneged, for he claims to have never eaten anything unclean (v. 8). A second time the voice spoke, claiming that what God has made must not be deemed profane (v. 10). This is reported to have happened a third time and all the elements of the vision returned to heaven (v. 10). At that moment, Peter reports, three men sent from the Mediterranean seaport town of Caesarea arrived at the house in which the vision occurred (v. 11). He reports that the Spirit [pneuma] told him to accompany them and not make a distinction between the Jews and them (apparently Gentiles) (v. 12a). Accompanied by six men, they go to Caesarea and enter a man’s house who had seen an angel telling him to summon Simon who would give him a message that would save [sozo, keep safe] his household (vv. 12b-14).

Peter proceeds to recount how when he began to speak to the man and his household the Holy Spirit fell on them as he had on the Jewish Christians (v. 15). Then he remembered the word of Christ regarding how the faithful would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (v. 16). Addressing the assembly of the apostles and the faithful, Peter asks how could he hinder God since the Gentiles had received the same gift that the Jewish Christians received (v. 17). Hearing this, the apostles and other Jewish Christians proclaim that God has also given to Gentiles the repentance [metanoia, change of mind] that leads to life [zoe] (v. 18).

Application: The lesson invites sermons proclaiming God’s wonderful goodness, taking ordinary flawed people and turning them into ministers to all. Justification by Grace and the spontaneity of Sanctification are emphasized. Attention might be given to how since its inception the gospel has been an antidote to lack of openness to the other and the stranger (Social Ethics).

Revelation 21:1-6
Once again we focus on the last book of the Bible, an apochryphal document written in the last part of the first century expressing hope for salvation after a world-ending new creation. Although parts of the book may predate the fall of Jerusalem, it is likely that it achieved its final form during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD) who is said to have persecuted Christians for refusing to address him as lord and god. Written by John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), whose identity is not clear despite the tradition’s identification of him with the disciple, the book’s Semitic Greek style suggests that its author was Jewish. It is the report of seven (the mystical Hebrew number for fullness) dreams. It relies heavily on eschatological images of the book of Daniel and other Old Testament texts (see 1:7 [cf. Daniel 7:3]; 1:12-16 [cf. Daniel 10:5-9]).

The text portrays a vision of the new creation (predicted by Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). The New Jerusalem coming from heaven is described as a bride [numphe] (vv. 1-2). (Perhaps this is a reference to the Church [Galatians 4:26].) Hymns of praise paraphrasing Ezekiel 37:27 and Isaiah 25:8; 35:10 follow (vv. 3-4). They convey God’s presence and the overcoming of all evil and mourning he brings. All things are made new (v. 5). As beginning and end, God gives the water of life [zoe] (v. 6).

Application: This lesson gives rise to sermon proclaiming the Eschatological vision as a comfort to us and to the universe in dealing problems in the present. Providence is also a related theme.

John 13:31-35
Again we note that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

The lesson is the closing of John’s account of the Last Supper. After the identification of Judas as his betrayer (vv. 18-20), Jesus leaves the room of the Supper. John has Jesus launch into his “Farewell Discourse,” which is unique to this gospel. He notes that now the Son of Man [huios tou anthopou] has been glorified [doxazo] and God glorified in him (vv. 31b-32). In a previous analysis of the gospel we noted the gospel of John’s unique understanding of this title. The author seems to understand the title in a Gnostic way, that is as a designation for the pre-existent one who became man and must be exalted again, though combined with the earliest Christian meaning of letting Jesus be understood as Messiah, an apocalyptic figure who at the end of time will come down from heaven and hold judgment (Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 37; Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 49). Jesus then adds that he will only be with the disciples a little longer. They cannot go with him (v. 33). He gives them a new commandment [entole kainos] — to love one another as he has loved them (v. 34). By this everyone will know who his disciples [mathetes, trained ones] are (v. 35).

Application: A sermon on this text should clarify the new commandment to love one another as Christ loves (Sanctification), elaborating on how such love is not something we do but a spontaneous response to God’s overwhelming love that will triumph (Justification by Grace and Eschatology).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen