Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter 6 May 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 5 Textweek

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I thought I’d start off with a question: do the readings that we hear week by week make any difference to our being? Week by week we have three readings, we hear them within the context of worship; do they make a difference to who we are? Do they provide a reference point for the orientation of the week ahead, and if they do, do they provide a reference point and an orientation for your future, for where you are going?

It’s good to consider what we do use as our reference points: what it is that does make a difference in life. The SNP have a majority in the Scottish parliament, France has just gone to the polls, John Howard and Kevin Rudd are tossing IR policies as if they were flipping pancakes, the West Coast Eagles won their last game, Valentino Rossi has got pole position in his next race, Simon and Melissa were married here yesterday. ‘Tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are’ - it’s a wonderful piece of wisdom from one of the church fathers - tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are. The readings that we have from Holy Scripture, read in the context of the Eucharist, to one theologian and commentator, are the word of God as voiced in the moment.

There’s a wonderful debate in theological circles as to what is the word of God. We’ve all come across those Bible thumpers that hold up Bibles and say, ‘Here it is! Here it is!’ What one would argue is, no it isn’t, no it isn’t, not at all, until, until it is proclaimed in the moment, spoken and given voice to: that’s when it becomes the word of God. How the word is then heard is then very much up to each and every one of us and it’s in our hearing, in our receiving that we might find an attentiveness that takes us by surprise.

The three readings today I think provide plenty of scope for confusion and so for inattentiveness. If we just hear them in the way that Bart Simpson hears Homer – ‘I can hear the noise, but I actually don’t hear anything but the noise’. But if we go beyond that, then there’s always something to be discovered there, I believe for each of us and in the present. But quite often the readings themselves go almost straight to our off-button.

The first reading today from Acts is about the unfolding of Easter. All right, I can hold that in my head, but then comes the second reading. Classically, it’s understood as apocalyptic, so it’s about the end of time. Okay, so I’ve got the unfolding of Easter and the end time – I’m actually starting to lose interest already. Then along comes the Gospel and the Gospel takes us back pre-Easter to a scene at the Last Supper – this is Maundy Thursday. It can look like I’m being pulled in all different directions - voices from three different and distinct ages, all seeking to be heard and realised in the present moment. The word of God, voiced in the present moment and in every moment, is the voice of creation, and so as we listen to the readings we should be listening for creative reference points. Do these readings from distinct ages and different places, different times - do they have a word of creation that will come together for me in the present?

The first reading is about the realisation of inclusion. It’s played out in the contrast between the apostles or the believers and the Gentiles, God’s chosen and those God didn’t choose. It’s played out between Peter, who’s out in the field at this point, and the Jerusalem church, those actually seeking to create a sense of Christianity within the Jewish faith. It’s played out between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, and it begins with a question: ‘why did you go with the uncircumcised and eat with them?’ The question does make sense – we can translate the question to the whys in our life, to the boundaries that we draw, that are drawn for us, to the rules that we follow, to the norms that we not just subscribe to but are complicit in creating. The first reading then goes on and there’s an insight: 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' The short reading shook the foundations of the church – the Hebrew church and the emerging Christian church. It was about realising inclusion, the fact that creation was made by God and it was good and that we must not profane what was created and made good. If we hear this reading, then we too should find that our foundations are shaken, just as the foundations of the church were shaken when they found that Peter had been eating with those who were unclean.

The second reading is stunningly bad news for beach-lovers - the sea will be no more. It says in verse 1: ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.’ If we recall from Genesis, when these readings were written, they were written, and as we write, as we speak, so we draw on who we are. The writers here would have had deep within, the scriptures of the Old Testament. In Genesis it’s the breath of God moving over the waters that is the activity of creation. The new heavens and new earth are those that emerge from the watery chaos, and it says in verse 3, ‘I heard in a loud voice, "See, the home of God is among mortals.” And if we go a bit further to verse 5, there’s another quote that begins with "See, I am making all things new." The reading provides a reference point, it seeks to turn us toward a divine future, not at the end of time but in each and every tomorrow. Look for and see a new heaven and a new earth; see the home of God among mortals. Two thousand years the Christian church has been faithfully sitting and waiting, either for it to disappear into heaven or for heaven in the Second Coming to come back again. If the Christian church continues as it is, it’ll have another two thousand years of sitting and waiting, and another. ‘See, the home of God is among mortals’: heaven is a place on earth.

The third reading then speaks of the glorification of Christ: humanity revealed in the divine. And it speaks of our hope, our desire, and it speaks of our claim each time we echo the words, ‘We are the body of Christ’. Verses 34 and 35 spell out quite plainly how we will be known. Remember, tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are: “By this everyone will know you, they will know who you are, if you have love one for another.” This is the reference point of creative activity out of which tomorrow is made real. The divine tomorrow will be actualised in our relationship, our love for one another.

Three readings, unrelated, written in different times, speaking about different times, and yet they speak into our present moment; they provide us with the opportunity to identify reference points, reference points which will enable us to say and to choose a path that we will walk from here: the realisation of inclusion and the shaking of our foundations, the divine future, knowing that heaven is a place on earth and the knowing of ourselves, the creative activity in which we will find ourselves in our love for one another.

May your word live in us and bear much fruit to your Glory, Amen.
Peter Humphris