Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, April 15th, 2018

In most congregations, this is a joyful season.  We are still shouting "Alleluia!" and "Hallelujah!" as we celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the grave.  Our hymns are joyful and upbeat.  Our readings and sermons proclaim the good news and wonder what happens now that Christ has risen.  The congregation I serve also uses this time to celebrate the planting season and ask for the Lord's blessing on this year's grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers.

This year, however, there is a note of sadness within the celebration.  On two occasions since Easter Sunday, the congregation I serve has gathered to commend one of the congregation's members into the hands of God following the members' respective deaths.  In the midst of our celebrations, we also grieve the loss of these two members from our families and from our shared community.

Both the celebration and the grieving are on my mind as I look over the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday.  Below, you can see how these things influence how I read the chosen readings for this Sunday.  After each reading, you will find my thoughts in italics.  If something in the readings or in my reflections grabs your attention and/or leads you to ask a question, I invite you to share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Acts 3:12 - 19

12[Peter] addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
  17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

We do not get the entire story in Acts 3.  We do not hear the encounter between the man who was “lame from birth” and Peter and John.  What we get is Peter’s comments to those who witnessed the miracle.  The man was healed “on the basis of faith in His name” (New American Standard Bible translating the Greek preposition ‘epi’) and restored to perfect health.  We can think of our future resurrection as having the same outcome: we will be raised from dead and decayed or dead and completely consumed/absorbed by the Earth to perfect health (physical, mental, emotional).  Peter also testifies that Jesus is the Messiah and references the prophecies that the Messiah must suffer to answer the (non-asked) question of how Jesus could be the Messiah if he had died on the Cross.  The reading cuts Peter off in mid-sentence; perhaps we can extend the reading to verse 21 so that we also hear Peter’s proclamation of Jesus’ future return and how Jesus’ death and resurrection does more than just wiping out our sin.

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
 2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
 3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.
 4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
 5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
 6 There are many who say, "O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!"
 7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
 8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.

I don’t get much from Psalm 4, though I recognize that verse 7’s claim that the Lord has “put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine abound” may speak to the farmers of this community.

1 John 3:1 - 7

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
  4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

The first paragraph of the 1 John 3 reading is an Easter reading (the second is a works-righteousness reading).  We are children of God NOW, not later, because we are baptized (my extension of the thought). When Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will (be raised from the dead like Jesus was and, with our newly-restored bodies, we will) see him as he is.

Luke 24:36b - 48

36bJesus himself stood among [the disciples] and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
  44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”

The Gospel reading is Luke’s account of the first post-resurrection meeting between Jesus and the disciples; we heard John’s account of this meeting last Sunday.  While John focused on the blessing Jesus gave to the disciples, Luke focuses on Jesus’ efforts to prove that he is not a ghost.  Jesus asks for food and eats in their presence to prove that he is present in bodily form.  He then reviews the OT prophecies that he has fulfilled through his death and resurrection.

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