Friday, April 25, 2008

A Look at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (April 27, 2008)

[Each week, I take at least one "pass" at the appointed Bible lessons for the following Sunday. I do this to help my own preparation for preaching and worship. But I also do it to help the folks of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to get ready for Sunday morning. Because I almost always use the lessons of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) associated with the Church Year, used by most Christians each week, I hope that others will find these passes helpful too.]

The Bible Lessons:
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

The Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you hold together all things in heaven and on earth. In your great mercy receive the prayers of all your children, and give to all the world the Spirit of your truth and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

1. This Sunday will be the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the next to last Sunday of the Easter season. Ascension Day, which remembers the return of thr risen Jesus to heaven, is this coming Thursday. May 11 will bring the Festival of Pentecost, when the promised Holy Spirit came to believers, just as Jesus promised. This Sunday's Gospel lesson records one of the times when Jesus made this promise.

2. I used to wonder why passages from Jesus' Farewell Discourse (see here and here) were appointed for the Easter season. After all, Jesus spoke the words in last week's, this week's, and next week's Gospel lessons just before He was arrested and crucified. Why would we look at these lessons on three of the Sundays in a season especially devoted to recalling Jesus' resurrection?

The answer is simple, I think: Jesus, as He spoke these words, was physically leaving His first followers. His death would bring about their separation from Him. His words, especially those in this Sunday's Gospel lesson, were meant to assure the disciples that He would not leave them "orphaned." He would send His Spirit to those who trust in Him.

Today, as we live without the physical presence of the risen Jesus, we could feel "orphaned." But the words in Sunday's Gospel lesson assure us that we are not alone.

3. The lesson from Acts is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It recounts what happened when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens to share the message of new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ. As a pious Jew who believed in one true God of the universe, the God he believed to be definitively revealed in Jesus, Paul would have been revolted by the way in which the Greeks worshiped many gods.

Instead, he accepted the Athenians where they were spiritually and, commenting on a statue devoted to an "unknown God," told them about this unknown deity.

It's a great example of sensitive Christian witnessing. Without condescension, but with a firm commitment to Jesus Christ, Paul met the Athenians at the intersection of his story, the Athenians' story, and God's story.

4. The psalm is a bold declaration that God refines our faith by taking us through adversity.

Today, we're called to trust an invisible God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In a reflection on Genesis 28:5, when Isaac sent his son Jacob away, Martin Luther discussed the patience this cultivated in the younger man:
Jacob waited many years for the promised blessing...

This is a wonderful example that shows us how God works. He requires us to trust his word and his promises even when the opposite of those promises is happening to us. Jacob had the promised blessing, but he had to hold onto it by faith and not doubt what he couldn't see...[This] example teaches us to live by faith. We should believe God when he promises to love and protect us, take care of us, and listen to us, even though we might not see it happening...

We must learn to depend on the visible Word of our invisible and incredible God...This is difficult for us because we are used to things we can touch, see, or feel. We have to learn to let go of what we can experience only with our senses and live according to what is invisible.
Fortunately, as we take the leap of faith into God's arms, we have the promises of a Savior Who, promises of life forever with God and of God's presence with us always. Jesus seals those promises with His death and resurrection.

5. The passage from First Peter, written to churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), is a reminder that following Jesus is no guarantee that our lives will go smoothly. People may reject us for our faith in Christ. We may even suffer for it. But, Peter reminds us, our hope is for a life with God that not even death will be able to destroy.

I love Peter's words in verses 15b-16:
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
The Good News we claim in Jesus Christ is authenticated when our witness is loving, devoid of condescension like Paul's witness in Athens.

For more, go here.

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