Acts 10, 25-26, 34-35 and 44-48
- Peter, a Jew who was the principal witness to the risen Christ, meets the Roman officer Cornelius. But the reading simply says: When Peter entered, Cornelius met him. I can stretch out the name ‘Cornelius’ and perhaps my listeners will remember why he played
such an important part in the growth of the church.
- The passage is clipped severely, omitting all of Cornelius’ words and most of Peter’s message. The church will listen most carefully today to the presence of the Spirit among the
gentiles, noting all that happened while Peter was still speaking these things.
- The Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
If I speak these words normally, as if the Spirit could not surprise us, what message am I conveying to the church
- On the one hand the Spirit acts. But on the other, we
must be alert to the presence of the Spirit. It came then and comes today when
we do not expect it. The circumcised believers were astounded, unable
to deny what they saw and heard. They could hear them speaking in tongues
and glorifying God.
- And now – in a time in which we continue to deny the Body of Christ to those who have gluten
intolerance – what can we learn? They were uncircumcised, ineligible as
we would say, yet they received the Holy Spirit even as we have. Who would
deny them the water for baptizing, when the Spirit was so manifest?
- Peter dared to say what everyone else could not deny, to call a play that was not yet recorded in the
playbook. On whose authority? The
name of Jesus Christ, who had given him the power to bind and loose.
- Climax: The words of Peter, which we hear at other times during
the year: Whoever fears the Lord and acts uprightly is acceptable. The
words give advance approval to all that follows.
- Message for our assembly: We who have descended from the European
churches maintain a respectful silence when we listen to the word. It was not
always so. Will this event from the ancient Middle East remain a curious postscript
for us, or a genuine, honored response to God’s presence among us? The
ancients knew the answer!
- I will challenge myself: To bring alive the work of the Spirit for
I John 4, 7-10
- I once read these words on the day of my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.
I used a strong, declaring voice then, and I will always use one.
- First the apostle says it positively: Everyone who loves – is begotten by God and knows God. I will pause there because I want everyone listening to know that our acts of love identify us with God
and lead us to God.
- Then comes the opposite point. Whoever is without love – does
not know God. Again I pause because I touch upon the key to our lives. All these other motivations for which we have found such noble excuses, such as ambition,
hate, lust, self-esteem, do not lead us to God. When I say it I have in mind
one of those endless pits into which the ‘Star Wars’ villains fall.
- For God is love. I have rehearsed this phrase so
often, and usually place my emphasis on ‘love’ because love is something we have experienced every waking hour,
both by giving and receiving.
- In case I ask how a God would love us, the apostle has an answer. It
was revealed to us. God sent his only Son into the world – so that we might
have life through him. I pause again because I want to show that God’s
action leads to our life, results in our life, can only be understood in relation to our life.
- Finally, one more qualifier. God’s love comes first and informs
ours. He loved us and sent his son.
In this whole reading I want to say that we should learn to love from the love God has for us, that we should gauge
the level of our love from the immenseness of God’s love.
- Climax: God is love! A daring phrase for philosophers but the best
short way to describe God in relation to us. And what could God be if not in
relation to us!
- The message for our assembly: God is not one option among many. This is
the way it is! Let us line up our lives accordingly, let us love one another.
- I will challenge myself: To make the entire passage memorable, controversial, inescapable for my listeners.
John 15, 9-17
- John speaks once again about love. He compares it to the love of God for
Jesus: As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
- In case we did not get the point of the first two readings, God works in the community and the community
is to reveal God to the world. Love one another as I have loved you. We do not go to God alone, but in company of each other. I read the passage as a call to the entire church.
- There are many memorable phrases, especially this: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life
for one’s friends. The official attempt at inclusion will not win any
popularity contest with the traditional version. I think it could have been made
more literary. Anyway, I feel no obligation to call attention to those ‘one’s’
as I read.
- That my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
I won’t pause but I will declare the first half of the sentence and let the second half help to define the first
half. The joy of the risen Christ is deeper than any joy we have experienced
in our family and social life. This is what we should expect and demand of our
life in the church: to cultivate and spread such joy among each other.
- It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you to go. As an adult faith leader I will remind myself of the source of my calling, and as a reader I will remind
the congregation how they ultimately came to the church.
- Climax: I have called you friends.
- Message for our assembly: We know the commandments. Now here is the first
of them all for those who follow the Lord.
- I will challenge myself: To read each sentence with meaning, as if I am reminding everyone of an indispensable part
of our life together.