Acts 15, 1-2 and 22-29
- Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers. The first time I hear it, I imagine a team of visiting preachers building up the faith
of the local church. Then, when I get beyond the arcane translation, what I find
are emissaries imposing rules of behavior on others.
- That explains the next verse, There arose no little dissension
and debate by Paul and Barnabas. The understated language betrays deep-seated
differences in the early church. Circumcision
according to the Mosaic practice was a bedrock issue for Jews. The matters
that bother our church’s authority today are relatively trivial by comparison.
- I have always been attracted by this episode in which the church tried to resolve disputes over what
we might call “sacramental signs.” A few years ago I wrote a drama
about the church of Antioch
and the ways it dealt with the emissaries’ message. What impresses me most
about this episode is the way the parties sought to reconcile their understandings of the faith tradition in the spirit of
Jesus. Let me remember that everyone mentioned in the passage is a follower of
- The intervening twenty verses describe the deliberations of
the apostles and elders, what some have called the ‘Council of Jerusalem.’
I only have the final decision of the meeting and the way it was conveyed to the world.
Under the details I hear, I am alert to the way each of the factions listened to the other and sought an outcome that
would not frustrate a new bedrock issue: the Spirit that was so obviously at work. I
notice some clues in the concluding verses.
- The apostles and presbyters,
in agreement with the whole church.
Here is common agreement. It must have been difficult for lifelong Jews
to say this, for there had never been such a major concession in the past for converts to Judaism. Could they have known what was coming in later centuries?
- We have with one accord
decided to choose representatives.
Luke underlines the spirit of unity at every opportunity.
- Our beloved Barnabas
and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name. Neither came to the faith in Jerusalem,
but both are welcome there. I notice the generosity of Jerusalem’s recognition, and I am sure it was made sincerely.
- Not to place on you
any burden beyond these necessities.
This is a compromise that is not subject to negotiation. I will read the
prohibitions carefully, with a personal sense of their importance to Jewish sensitivities, and my listeners may come to understand
- Climax: It is the decision
of the holy Spirit and of us. What confidence!
- Message for our assembly: What can we do today to further such
union, upon which the Lord so strongly insisted?
- I will challenge myself: To declare the events as if I understood
their importance for the future spread of the gospel among Gentiles such as ourselves.
2. Revelation 21, 10-14 and 22-23
- An angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain. I lift my voice in keeping with the heights to which we are climbing. Through me, the congregation will climb to view the holy city Jerusalem from above.
- As the city is coming down out of heaven from God I imitate
the slow descent until a soft landing. I report its brilliance, gleaming with the splendor of God, radiant like a precious stone. I
recount its key features, a massive, high wall with twelve gates. The view is complete in all four directions, with details such as twelve
courses of stones as its foundation. Twelve, of course, refers to the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and that means the whole church in all its missionary
activity through the world.
- I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God
almighty and the Lamb. Like Paul, we are now seeing face to face. Whatever our earthly point of reference – the Temple Mount, St. Peter’s, Mecca, a national capitol – we have advanced to a new world where
‘God has made the victory.’
- Central point: The final vision in Revelation recalls Isaiah’s visions
of Jerusalem, the historic dwelling place of Israel’s
God, admired by the surrounding nations. This is a larger city, in which Jews
and Gentiles alike live together under God.
- The message for our assembly: Do we build only earthly fortunes for ourselves and our children, or do we dream of greater
things that everyone on earth will share?
- I will challenge myself: To find the language of a visionary, recounting things that are more real to me than the world
events reported by our media. But let me remember that I am talking about our
home, and I can be subdued about that.
John 14, 23-29
- Whoever loves me will keep my word. We listen to some of the assuring words of Jesus as he is about to leave his disciples. What he means is that he doesn’t really leave them; that is the point of this entire Gospel chapter.
- I will find words of parting: Peace I leave you. I will also find words of union and abiding: We will come to you
and make our abode with you.
- Jesus is leaving them, but he is not leaving them alone. Let
me keep in mind someone I greatly admire from the religious or secular sphere who has just died. Can I continue to be inspired by her words, or his actions?
- My peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives. Will my listeners hear the difference? Jesus’ way of peace is not easy going, but it brings permanence.
- Central theme: Here are the tools, as it were, for a disciple who wants to remain with Jesus. Keep my word (love one another), learn from the Advocate, the holy Spirit, Do not be troubled, and
- Message for our assembly: Do we really want to be close to Jesus?
Will we keep his word? Is he alive, or is he only a personage who rose
from the dead long ago?
- I will challenge myself: To speak deliberately with calm assurance, addressing the confidence of the assembly.
From Word to Eucharist: Do
we cherish our union in Christ, amid all our movements and ministry specialties? Do
we hear the urgings of the Spirit in the assembly? Let us pray for this as we
approach the table of the Eucharist.