Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A

The last Sunday of Advent makes a transition from anticipation of God’s restoration to confidence that this restoration is actually under way. The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, presents the birth of an unnamed child as a sign that God will redeem Israel. While the prophecy is cast within its own historical period, later readers of Matthew’s Gospel found in it a picture of God’s deliverance that validated their own experience of Jesus. Although Psalm 80 is set in circumstances of national defeat, its tone of confidence suitably underscores Advent’s theme of patient expectation. Paul’s greeting to communities of believers identifies Jesus as son of David and sees in Jesus’ resurrection his appointment as the Son of God.

The First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-16
A Sign of Deliverance

In the first of today’s readings, the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz, face a profound threat from two kings to their north, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel. In the midst of the political crisis, Ahaz refuses to receive Isaiah’s word, perhaps in fear of its implications. Isaiah nevertheless declares that word, a sign of deliverance from the immediate threat. The promise is set within the span of time marked by a pregnancy and the newborn’s weaning. The fulfillment of that promised deliverance will confirm for the king and people what the child’s name declares, that “God is with us.” The Gospel according to Matthew, which serves as today’s Gospel reading, invokes the promise to suggest that Jesus’ birth accords with God’s faithful pattern of deliverance.

The Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, be it as deep as Sheol or stretching high above.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, so that I do not test the Lord.”

So Isaiah said, “Listen, then, House of David: Is it not enough for you to exasperate people, that you exasperate my God, too? Therefore, my Lord indeed will give you a sign. Here—this young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him, ‘Immanuel.’ He will eat soft cheese and honey, even know how to reject evil and choose good; before the lad knows how to reject evil and choose good, the land that you loathe because of its two kings will be abandoned.”

The Psalm
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
A Lament over the Destruction of the Kingdom of Israel

The psalmist bemoans the Israelites’ loss sovereignty over their land, with special reference to the Northern Kingdom (including the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh), which was conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. In the Psalms, the one at God’s right hand (see, e.g., Psalm 80:17; Psalm 110:1) is the Israelite king. Here the king is the Davidic messiah, whom God has assigned to restore Israelite sovereignty. In some Christian interpretations, verses such as those of Psalm 80:17 have been understood to refer to Jesus, whose use of “son of man” to refer to himself can resonate with a literal reading of the Hebrew idiom in the verse: “…on the son of man you made strong for yourself.” Routinely in biblical Hebrew and early Judaism, however, the term “son of man” means, simply, “a person.” Thus, as a psalm of Israel, this psalm pleads specifically for the renewal of the Kingdom of Israel.

To the conductor, according to “lilies,” a testimony of Asaph, an accompanied psalm.
  1. Shepherd of Israel—listen!—
         leading Joseph like a flock,
         astride the cherubim,
    unveil your splendor,
  2.      before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
    Awaken your might,
         and come as deliverance for us!
  3. God, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  4. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, for how long will you remain angry at your people’s prayer?
  5. You have fed them the bread of weeping,
         and made them drink a full measure of tears.
  6. You have made us an object of reproach to our neighbors,
         and our enemies snicker to themselves.
  7. God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  1. Let your hand be on the one at your right hand,
         on the one you made strong for yourself.
  2. We shall not turn away from you;
         give us life so we might call upon your name.
  3. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

The Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
God’s Victory Proclamation of the Anointed Lord Jesus

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a lengthy and unusual salutation. Having not yet visited Rome, he introduces himself and asserts his authority as a called Apostle. This assertion establishes his right to address the Roman believers and to communicate God’s victory proclamation—the gospel concerning Jesus. This salutation includes an early creedal confession, which originated in a Jesus-believing Jewish community. Paul emphasizes the scriptural grounding of Jesus’ identity, as one descended from David and announced by the prophets. He then adapts the creed with his own additions in order to articulate his particular view of God’s proclamation concerning Jesus as the appointed Son of God, which is itself an echo of the combined sonship and kingship language found in the Psalms, e.g., in Psalm 2. Paul extends grace and peace to the believers from both Jesus the Anointed and God, whom he calls “father,” invoking the father’s particular role within the Roman household.

Paul, called Apostle, a servant of Jesus the Anointed, having been set apart for God’s victory proclamation, which God announced beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning God’s Son, who was:
          born David’s descendant according to the flesh,
          appointed Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness—
                    through resurrection of the dead.
          This is the Anointed Jesus, our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to accomplish faithful obedience on behalf of God’s name among all the nations; among those you too are called to belong to Jesus the Anointed.

To all of God’s beloved who are in Rome, called and holy: Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Anointed Lord Jesus.

The Gospel
Matthew 1:18-25
The Birth of Jesus

In recounting Jesus’ birth, the Gospel according to Matthew characteristically refers to texts from Israel’s Bible. The Gospel, thereby, describes the birth in accord with expectations about God’s faithful deliverance that the prophet Isaiah has portrayed. Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted in this reading from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew, used the birth of a child to a young woman to assure Israel in perilous times that “God is with us.” As the Gospel applies the prophecy to Mary’s pregnancy, it assures Matthew’s community again that “God is with us.” An angel also directs Joseph to name the child “Jesus,” which means that God “shall save.”

The Anointed Jesus’ birth happened in this way: when his mother, Mary, was promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by divine action. Her husband, Joseph, who was decent and did not wish to disgrace her, considered releasing her from the marriage privately. But as he pondered what to do, look: the Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, because what is conceived in her is from divine action. She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, since he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to accord with what was said by the Lord through the prophet who said, “Look: the young woman will become pregnant and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel (which is, translated, ‘God is with us’).” Joseph was raised from sleep and did as the Lord’s messenger directed him: he took his wife and did not know her until she bore a son. And he named him “Jesus.”

Third Sunday of Advent – Year A

Among all the seasons of the liturgical year of the church, Advent is the most focused on the future, when God’s vindication of the people of God will come to fruition. This theme, emerging from Israelite expectations of divine restoration, animates Isaiah 35:1-10. That passage is set in the Babylonian eExile but looks forward to a divine rescue of the people of Israel, celebrated by a definitive change of natural as well as social conditions. Although God’s gracious action is to culminate in the future, divine mercy is already evident in God’s help of those who are oppressed (Psalm 146:5-10) and those who rely humbly on divine support (Luke 1:46b-55). Their faith looks forward to its consummation, however, in a final, future judgment (James 5:7-10); Matthew 11:2-7 portrays John the Baptist as the classic New Testament bearer of this perspective.

The First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-10
The Joy of Return and Restoration

This reading from the book of Isaiah celebrates with vivid imagery the transformation of a forbidding wasteland into a royal road for the people of Israel to return from exile in Babylon. Earth and its elements, animal life and its savagery, fear and paralysis, foolishness and confusion—all of these evaporate together with the grief and groaning of the people. As God opens the way for return and restoration, all creation is renewed and joins in Israel’s jubilation.

  1. The wilderness and desert will rejoice;
         the wasteland will celebrate and blossom like a crocus.
  2. It will indeed blossom and celebrate, with a most celebratory shout.
         The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the honor of Carmel and Sharon;
         they will see the glory of the Lord and the honor of our God.
  3. Strengthen the weak hands; steady the staggering knees.
  4. Say to the trembling-hearted, “Be strong! Fear not!
         Here is your God—
              vindication draws near, God’s fulfillment—
         God draws near to save you.”
  5.      Thus blind eyes will be made clear and deaf ears will be made to hear.
  6.      Thus the lame like a ram will bound and the tongue of the mute will resound.
              Indeed, water will erupt in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
  7.      Parched earth will become a pool and thirsty ground, springs;
              the haunt of jackals, an oasis; and grassland, a stand of reeds.
  8. There will be a high road there, that is, a way;
         it will be called the Way of the Holy One.
         Nothing that defiles will pass along it; it is God’s.
         Treading it, even fools will not go astray.
  9. No lion will be there and beasts will not intrude on it.
         Nothing will be found there, but the redeemed will march along.
  10. Those the Lord has rescued will return;
         they will come to Zion with a shout, crowned with perpetual joy.
    Exultation and joy will arrive, as grief and groaning fly away.

The Psalm
Psalm 146:5-10
God Protects the Righteous and Needy

God, who created the world, continues to support all in that world who need and deserve divine help: the oppressed as well as the hungry, orphans, and widows. These are classes of people who, lacking a human support network, have a special claim upon God for protection. The psalm’s conclusion reflects the hope that the good brought about by God’s reign will be eternal.

  1. Joyous is one whose help is the God of Jacob,
         whose hope is the Lord, their God—
  2.      creator of heaven and earth,
              the sea, and all that is in them;
         who stays forever reliable:
  3.           doing justice for the oppressed,
              giving bread to the hungry—the Lord frees the imprisoned!
  4. The Lord gives sight to the blind;
         the Lord straightens up those who are bent over;
         the Lord loves the righteous.
  5. The Lord protects outsiders;
         orphans and widows the Lord supports,
         but contorts the path of the wicked.
  6. The Lord will rule forever,
         your God, Zion, through every generation.
    Hallelujah!

or Luke 1:46b-55
Mary’s Song

Luke’s Gospel attributes this hymn, the “Magnificat,” to Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the time of her meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). Its title derives from the Latin equivalent of the verb “exalt” in the first line. Anticipating the significance of her child’s birth and her own role, Mary articulates the themes of God’s exaltation of the lowly and rejection of human arrogance. These themes echo those of the Hannah’s song, which she sang to celebrate bringing the prophet Samuel into the world (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Thus, the Magnificat appears in the New Testament as a continuation of the psalms and prophecy of the Scriptures of Israel.

  1. Mary said:
  2. 46b. “My soul exalts the Lord,
  1.      and my spirit exults in God my savior,
  2. since God esteemed me, God’s servant, in humble condition.
         So that, look: from this moment all generations will consider me favored,
  3. because the One who is powerful has done great things for me.
         Indeed, God’s name is holy,
  4. and God’s mercy is for generations and generations
         among those who fear God,
  5. who has acted with a mighty arm:
         scattering the arrogant in their hearts’ purpose,
  6. taking down the powerful from thrones,
         and exalting the humble;
  7. who has filled up the hungry with good
         and dispatched the rich away empty.
  8. God supported Israel as a child, keeping mercy in mind,
  9.      just as God spoke to our ancestors,
         to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed forever.”

The Second Reading
James 5:7-10
A Call for Unity and Patience while Waiting on the Lord’s Arrival

The letter of James offers a view of an early community of Jews who believed in Jesus as God’s Anointed (Messiah). These Jews experienced the social tensions and divisions in Jerusalem in the decades prior to the First Jewish War with Rome. They remained committed simultaneously to the covenanting God of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple, and faith in Jesus. Through various struggles and suffering, their vibrant expectation of Jesus’ return provided them with the strength and patience to maintain their unity in faith.

Be patient, beloved friends, until the Lord’s arrival for judgment. Notice how the farmer waits to receive the best fruit from the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rain. You also, be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s arrival has drawn near. Friends, do not complain against one another, so that you may not be judged. Even now, the judge is already standing at the door. Friends, imitate the example of the patient suffering of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The Gospel
Matthew 11:2-11
John the Immerser and Jesus

John the Immerser plays a key role in the readings of Advent, as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. But John’s question to Jesus from prison (where he had been sent by Herod Antipas) makes it clear that John does not fully understand Jesus’ identity. Jesus answers the question by alluding to a series of passages aggregated from the book of Isaiah. He then provides an assessment of John’s significance, adapting a quote from Malachi 3:1. John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. He is the “messenger” who will prepare God’s way, and yet Jesus still sees him as being a person more of this world (that is, “woman-born”) than of the kingdom of heaven that is to come. In that new realm, even the least gifted will have greater insight than John has now.

From prison John heard the deeds of the Anointed, and through his students he sent a message to Jesus. He said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:
          Blind people see again and the lame walk,
          people with skin disease are purified and the deaf hear,
          the dead are raised and the poor are given news of victory.
          And whoever does not take offense at me is favored.”

While they were going back Jesus started to speak about John to the crowds:

“What did you go out into the wilderness expecting to see? A reed shaken by wind? Then what did you go out to see? A man attired in luxurious clothes? Look: those in royal palaces wear luxurious clothes! So why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he concerning whom it is written, ‘Look: I dispatch my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, there has not been raised among woman-born anyone greater than John the Immerser! But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is!”

Second Sunday of Advent – Year A

Advent’s emphasis on the finality of the judgment Jesus will bring at the end of time is paired with the idea that his role was deeply embedded in the Scriptures of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10) relates to the “root of Jesse,” the father of King David, who is linked directly to Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16). As “David’s son” (a designation applied to Jesus in the Gospels), Jesus takes on the royal dignity and prerogatives of judgment assigned to kings in the Hebrew Bible. The use of Psalm 72 within the Lectionary endorses this royal identity. At the same time, Paul insists in Romans that Jesus’ coming as the anointed descendant of David extends his rule beyond Israel to gentiles on the basis of his mercy (Romans 15:4-13). Through the prophecy of John the Baptist, Matthew takes the perspective of the end of all time, presenting Jesus as the sole arbiter of what God will preserve and what God will destroy.

The First Reading
Isaiah 11:1-10
A Vision of a Renewed Davidic Monarchy

Isaiah looks forward to the renewed monarchy of Israel, ruled by a descendant of David (that is, a shoot from Jesse, David’s father). The vision is idyllic, as the prophet envisages a completely peaceable kingdom under an ideal ruler. In this realm even wild beasts live in harmony with one another and with human beings.

  1. Then a shoot will emerge from Jesse’s stock; a sprout from his roots will blossom.
  2. The spirit of the Lord will settle on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
         a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
  3. He will breathe it in through fear of the Lord,
         so that he shall not render judgment by what appears before his eyes, nor convict on the basis
         of what falls on his ears,
  4. but he will judge poor people by means of what is right and render a verdict on behalf of
         common folk through fairness.
         He will thump the ground with the rod of his mouth and destroy evil by the breath of his lips.
  5. Righteousness will gird his hips; faithfulness will be his weapons-belt.
  6. A wolf will dwell with a lamb and a leopard will take its rest alongside a goat;
         calf and lion will grow fat together, and a small child will lead them.
  7. Cow and bear will become friendly, so that their offspring rest together.
         A lion will eat hay like cattle [8] and an infant will play over the nest of a cobra;
         a toddler will stretch out its hand over the opening of a viper’s den.
  1. Neither evil nor destruction will be done on all my sacred mountain,
         for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.
  2. In that day, nations will seek out Jesse’s root,
         standing as a national symbol,
         and his capital will be glorious.

The Psalm
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
A Prayer for the Righteous Monarch

The psalmist prays for God’s help in teaching the dynastic king to rule justly, in particular so that he will judge fairly the cases of the poor and powerless. The image in verse 7 of the blossoming of the righteous reflects the lectionary context of this reading, immediately following Isaiah 11, the first verse of which refers to the blossoming of Jesse’s roots. The final verses of this reading, 18-19, are separate from the rest of Psalm 72. Their statement of God’s power and glory provides an overall conclusion to the collection of poems that comprise Psalms 42-72.

Of Solomon.
  1. God, to the monarch dispense your justice,
         and to the monarchy, your righteousness.
  2. May the monarch judge your people in righteousness,
         and the powerless in justice.
  3. May the mountains bear peace for the people,
         and the hills, in righteousness.
  4. May the monarch bring justice to the powerless among the people,
         deliverance to the poor,
         and crush any bully.
  5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
         and then before the moon, for generations on end.
  6. May the monarch be like rain falling upon a fresh-cut field,
         like showers irrigating the land.
  7. In these days, may the righteous blossom,
         and peace, in abundance until the moon is no more.
  1. Blessed is the Lord, God, the God of Israel,
         who alone does wonders.
  2. And blessed be his glorious name forever.
         May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.
         Amen and Amen.

The Second Reading
Romans 15:4-13
God’s Faithfulness to Israel through the Inclusion of the Gentiles

The Apostle Paul exhorts those believers gathering in various Roman houses to accept one another based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of them. Through a collection of Hebrew Scriptures, Paul argues that God receives gentiles alongside Israel, God’s people. These verses repeatedly demonstrate the inclusion of the gentiles with Israel (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10). Further, the Isaiah citation situates the Anointed Jesus within Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the arrival and reign of the root of Jesse.

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that through both the continuing support and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. And so, may the God of this continuing support and encouragement give to you the same respect for one another as is in keeping with the Anointed Jesus, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed.

Therefore, accept one another just as the Anointed also accepted you for the glory of God. For I assert that the Anointed came as a servant to the circumcised on behalf of God’s truthfulness in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and on behalf of mercy in order that the gentiles might glorify God. As it is written,
          “On account of this, I will proclaim you among the gentiles,
          and to your name I will sing praise.”
And again it says,
          “Gentiles, rejoice with God’s peoples!”
And again,
          “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
          and let all the peoples praise God!”
And again Isaiah says,
          “The root of Jesse will come,
          the one who rises to rule the gentiles.
          In God, the gentiles will hope.”
And so, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in this hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

The Gospel
Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist’s Prophecy of Jesus

The Gospels present John the Baptist as Jesus’ precursor, whom Matthew identifies with the voice prophesied in Isaiah as preparing God’s way (Isaiah 40:3). John’s dress and location, as well as his call to repentance, are reminiscent of the portrayal of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1-2). In the setting of Matthew’s community, John’s preaching is pointed vehemently against the Pharisees and the priestly group known as Zadokites, despite the legitimately high regard for them within Judaism. By the time the Gospel was written, they and the teachers of the Matthean church were irreconcilably opposed to one another. When John the Baptist in this Gospel proclaims Jesus’ coming, the point is not simply that Jesus will come in John’s time, but that at the end of time Jesus will exercise final judgment.

In those days John the immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has approached.” He is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: “Voice of one calling in the wilderness—‘Prepare the Lord’s way, make God’s paths straight.’” John wore clothing from camel’s hair with a skin strap around his hips, and his diet was locusts and field-honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surroundings of the Jordan went out to him; while declaring their sins they were immersed by him in the river Jordan. Yet when he saw many of the Pharisees and Zadokites coming for immersion, he said to them, “Nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So, produce fruit worthy of repentance! Do not presume to say among yourselves, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already put to the root of the trees, so every tree not producing good fruit is chopped down and thrown into fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is stronger than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand, and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his grain into the storehouse. Yet the useless husks he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.”

First Sunday of Advent – Year A

Advent begins the liturgical year of the church. The season’s focus is on the future; the Latin term adventus refers to what is coming from the unknown that always lies ahead in human experience. The First Sunday’s readings epitomize this focus by reaching their climax in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Here the condition of humanity at the time of Noah’s Flood is compared to its present condition, which awaits judgment by Jesus as the Son of Man. Paul’s charge to the Romans reminds his readers that the light that comes to illuminate all things at the end of time is present already as an imperative of ethical transformation. Special consideration is accorded the Scriptures of Israel during Advent, because they articulate promises which Jesus and the New Testament insist are in the process of being realized. Isaiah, in a classic passage of prophecy, envisions universal peace and a gathering of all nations at Mount Zion. The celebration of Jerusalem in Psalm 122 within this cycle of readings conveys a sense of a glorious past as prelude to the final glory of the future.

The First Reading
Isaiah 2:1-5
A Promise of Justice and Peace

Isaiah’s vision is set at the end of a critical period of time, “after these days.” Following chapter 1 with its strong assertion of God’s judgment against injustice, it offers assurance of God’s ultimate reign. The vision shows humanity gathering at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the region of Judah, to learn God’s ways as the revealed guide for their conduct. It promises that divine justice, rendered by God among all peoples, will abolish war and even the weapons of war.

  1. The promise that Isaiah ben Amotz saw with regard to Judah and Jerusalem—
  2. It shall be after these days:
         The mountain of the Lord’s Temple shall be established first among the mountains,
              exalted above the hills.
         All the nations shall stream to it.
  3. And many peoples will go and say:
         “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain,
              to the Temple of the God of Jacob.
         God will instruct us from God’s own ways,
              so that we will walk in those paths.”
         For instruction stems from Zion,
              the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
  4. The Lord shall sit as judge among the nations,
              rendering justice for many peoples.
         They will pound their swords into plow-blades
              and their spears into pruning shears.
         Nation will not raise the sword against nation;
              they will no longer even give war a thought.
  5. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the Lord’s light!

The Psalm
Psalm 122
A Pilgrim’s Ode to Jerusalem

Expressing great joy at having reached Jerusalem, a pilgrim praises the city as a spiritual center (the location of God’s Temple) and national home (the seat of the throne of David). The psalm dates from after the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE), which had seen the Temple destroyed and Jerusalem devastated. It reflects the deep and continuing Jewish connection to God’s chosen city, especially the joy brought by Jerusalem’s having been rebuilt and restored to splendor.

A Song of Ascents, of David.
  1. I rejoiced when they said to me,
         “Let us go to the Temple of the Lord!”
  2. Our feet were standing within your gates, Jerusalem:
  3. Jerusalem, built up, as a city united all together;
  4. the city to which the tribes went up as pilgrims—
         the tribes of Yah!—
    a witness for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
  5. For there sat the thrones of judgment,
         the thrones of the House of David.
  6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
         May those who love you, Jerusalem, find well-being.
  7. May there be peace on your ramparts,
         well-being in your royal halls.
  8. For the sake of my family and friends,
         I do pray for your peace.
  9. For the sake of the Temple of the Lord, our God,
         I seek your welfare.

The Second Reading
Romans 13:11-14

Admonition to Moral Alertness in Anticipation of the Lord’s Arrival
After citing hymnic material known in the Roman house churches, the Apostle Paul offers moral instruction that builds upon the hymn’s outlook on final salvation and judgment. Paul challenges his listeners to live according to the new age that has dawned with the heightened expectation that their salvation is soon to arrive.

Know the significance of this time—
          “The hour has already come for you to wake from sleep:
          Even now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
          The night is about over, the day draws near.
          So then, let us put aside the works of darkness,
          and wrap ourselves in the weapons of light.”
As in the daytime, let us conduct ourselves properly, not in partying and drunkenness, not in immoralities and indecency, not in bitter conflict and jealousy. Instead, wrap yourself in the Anointed Lord Jesus and do not encourage the flesh’s inclination to lust.

The Gospel
Matthew 24:36-44
The Unexpected Coming of the Son of Man

Advent readings point to the future as the time when God’s reign will at last be fulfilled. Still, these readings insist that God does not operate according to any schedule that people can know. Matthew’s presentation of this teaching expands on this point by comparing the present to the condition of humanity just prior to Noah’s Flood. Because people cannot know God’s timetable, one must live as though judgment is imminent, attending to God’s works and ways in the present. The passage closes with a call for such preparation.

“Concerning that day and hour,” [Jesus said to his committed students], “no one knows, neither the messengers of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Exactly as the days of Noah were, so will be the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment. As in those days before the flood people simply went about eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and they were oblivious till the flood came and took everyone—so the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment will be. Then there will be two in the field: one taken away and one left. Two grinding at the mill: one taken away and one left. Be alert, then, because you do not know on which day your Lord comes! But this you do know: a householder who had known the nightwatch in which the thief was coming would have stayed alert and would not have permitted the home to be broken into! For this reason, prepare yourselves: the Son of Man comes at an hour you cannot discern.”

Day of Pentecost – Year C

Pentecost, meaning fifty days, is the name in Greek for the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in the Hebrew Bible. It occurs seven weeks after the beginning of Passover, on the fiftieth day. With consistently covenantal associations, Pentecost came to be seen among Jesus’ followers as the seal of his continuing, risen presence with them in the form of the divine Spirit that he sent to them. The reading from Genesis (11:1-9) refers to God’s division of human speech into different languages, while the passage from Acts stresses the Spirit’s renewal of mutual understanding among all peoples. The passage in Acts (2:1-21) is the most famous of the readings appointed for the day, but the Gospel reading (John 14:8-17 [25-27]) stresses the continuing empowerment of the Spirit in the actions and teaching of Jesus’ followers. Paul views the coming of the Spirit as realized in baptism (Romans 8:14-17), while Psalm 104 articulates the theology that God’s Spirit animates the whole of creation. 

The First Reading
Acts 2:1–21
The Coming of the Spirit on Pentecost

The Apostle RockPeterreminds gentile believers of their inclusion into the family of God by way of adoption through the receiving of the Spirit. With this reminder, Rock seeks to encourage believers to see their current suffering in light of the glory to come.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly from heaven came a sound like a forceful, rushing wind that filled the entire house where everyone was gathered. And dividing tongues like fire appeared to them, and they rested upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance to them. Now there were residing in Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, the crowd gathered and was confused, because each one was hearing the others speaking in his own language. They were both bewildered and astonished asking, “Look! Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? How are we hearing—each one of us—our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and those living in Mesopotamia, Judea, and also Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visiting Romans, both Judeans and also proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. We all hear them speaking in our own languages about the mighty works of God!” All were astonished and bewildered, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others mocked, “They are full of sweet wine.” Rock—Peter—standing with the Eleven raised his voice and addressed them: “People of Judea and all those living in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and pay attention to my words. For these people are not drunk as you are assuming, for it is only the third hour in the day, but this is what had been foretold through the prophet Joel. It will be in the last days, God declares—‘I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young will see visions and your old will dream dreams. Even upon my male servants and female servants in the last days I will pour out from my Spirit, and they will prophesy. And I will give wonders in the heavens above and signs upon the earth below—blood and fire, and column of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and magnificent day of the Lord comes. And it will be that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

or Genesis 11:1-9
The Tower of Babel

In the Tower of Babel story, human hubris is expressed in peoples’ attempts to make a name for themselves. The Israelite model is that God chooses people whose name God will make great (Abraham and his descendants; Genesis 12:1-3), and who in turn will honor and witness to God’s name. In response, God diminishes the perfection of creation by dividing humans into mutually unintelligible languages. Read in conjunction with the Tower of Babel narrative, Acts 2:1-21’s portrayal of people understanding each other across languages suggests that the availability to them of divine Spirit signals the world’s return to the perfect state God intended it to have at the time of creation. The Hebrew Bible’s story depicts the shattering of human cohesion in society. The book of Act’s story suggests that, through Jesus, the shattered social world is fully repaired.

The entire earth spoke one language and the same words. When they traveled from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. Now, they said to each other, “Let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” So they had bricks for stone and tar for mortar. They said, “Let’s build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to the sky, to make a name for ourselves, so that we do not become scattered across the face of the earth.” The Lord came down to see this city and the tower people had built. The Lord said, “If, as one people with one language, they have begun to do this, nothing they want to accomplish will be beyond their ability. Let us therefore go down and confuse their language so that no person will understand the other’s language.” So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the earth, and they ceased building this city. For this reason, it is called Babel, since there the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of all the earth.

The Psalm
Psalm 104:23-34, 35b
God, Who Created All Living Things

God’s Spirit animates the whole of creation, reflected in all aspects of nature.
_____

  1. A person goes out to labor,
         to work until evening.
  2. How many are your works, Lord!
         All of them you carried out with wisdom.
         The earth is full of your creations.
  3. There is the sea, vast and wide,
         swarming with unnumbered creatures,
         living things big and small.
  4. Ships traverse it,
         and Leviathan, which you created to play there.
  5. All of them turn to you for sustenance,
         to give them their food at the right time.
  6. You give it to them; they take it up;
         you open your hand; they are well satisfied.
  7. When you hide your face, they are terrified;
         when you make an end to their breath, they perish;
         to dust they return.
  8. When you extend your breath, they are created,
         and you renew the face of the earth.
  9. The Lord’s glory is forever;
         may the Lord rejoice in God’s creations,
  10. the one who stares at the earth and it trembles,
         who touches the mountains and they smoke.
  11. I shall sing to the Lord during my life,
         praise my God while I live.
  12. My contemplations will please God;
         I will rejoice in the Lord.
  13. 35b. Praise the Lord, my inner being!
  14.      Hallelujah!

The Second Reading
Romans 8:14–17
Heirs Along with the Anointed by Way of the Spirit

The Apostle Paul reminds gentile believers of their inclusion into the family of God by way of adoption through the receiving of the Spirit. With this reminder, Paul seeks to encourage believers to see their current suffering in light of the glory to come.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these very ones are the children of God. For you did not receive a spirit for slavery again resulting in fear, but you received the Spirit to become God’s sons and daughters, by virtue of which we cry out, “Abba, Father!” That Spirit is bearing witness together with our spirit that we are children of God. So, if children, then heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs along with the Anointed—if indeed we are suffering with him, it is so that we can also be glorified with him.

or Acts 2:1–21
The Coming of the Spirit on Pentecost

The Apostle RockPeterreminds gentile believers of their inclusion into the family of God by way of adoption through the receiving of the Spirit. With this reminder, Rock seeks to encourage believers to see their current suffering in light of the glory to come.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly from heaven came a sound like a forceful, rushing wind that filled the entire house where everyone was gathered. And dividing tongues like fire appeared to them, and they rested upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance to them. Now there were residing in Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, the crowd gathered and was confused, because each one was hearing the others speaking in his own language. They were both bewildered and astonished asking, “Look! Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? How are we hearing—each one of us—our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and those living in Mesopotamia, Judea, and also Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visiting Romans, both Judeans and also proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. We all hear them speaking in our own languages about the mighty works of God!” All were astonished and bewildered, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others mocked, “They are full of sweet wine.” Rock—Peter—standing with the Eleven raised his voice and addressed them: “People of Judea and all those living in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and pay attention to my words. For these people are not drunk as you are assuming, for it is only the third hour in the day, but this is what had been foretold through the prophet Joel. It will be in the last days, God declares—‘I will pour out from my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young will see visions and your old will dream dreams. Even upon my male servants and female servants in the last days I will pour out from my Spirit, and they will prophesy. And I will give wonders in the heavens above and signs upon the earth below—blood and fire, and column of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and magnificent day of the Lord comes. And it will be that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

The Gospel
John 14:8-17, [25-27]
Jesus’ Promise that God will send his Spirit as an Advocate

John conceives of the presence of God’s Spirit with Jesus’ followers as the living proof that Jesus and the Father are one. On that basis, Jesus could show who God truly is and could speak and act on the Father’s behalf. That power continues in the lives of Jesus’ students, because the Spirit sent by the Father enables them to act in even greater ways than Jesus did, and to teach the wisdom that he conveyed.

Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “How long have I been with you all and you do not know me, Philip? Who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The sayings that I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father who is in me does his deeds. Believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if not, believe because of these very deeds. Amen, amen, I say to you, the one who believes in me—that one will do the deeds that I do, and will do greater than these, because I proceed to the Father. And if anyone should ask something in my name, this I will do, so that the Father might be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commands, and I will appeal to the Father and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth—whom the world does not receive, because it does not perceive or know. You know, because Spirit remains with you and will be in you.”

[“I have spoken these things to you while with you, but the advocate, the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you. Peace I leave you, my peace I give you: not as the world gives do I give you. Your heart shall not be troubled nor afraid.”]

Seventh Sunday of Easter – Year C

As the season of Easter comes to a close, the themes of love and glory that John’s Gospel has stressed are brought together in the prayer which Jesus as High Priest offers as intercession on behalf of all believers. Jesus portrays love as the means by which he and the Father share their glory with the committed students. That relationship, defined by mutual glorification, also appears with a sense of finality in Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. In the Lectionary, Psalm 97 echoes the regal language used in the visionary passage from the Revelation. Acts 16:16-34 portrays the power that characterizes the apostolic church on the basis of Jesus’ authorization.

The First Reading
Acts 16:16–34
Paul and Silas’ Witness in Philippi

The power of God over unclean spirits is displayed in Philippi through Paul’s continued witness to the Anointed Jesus, through the deliverance of a spirit-possessed slave girl, and through the miraculous deliverance of Paul and Silas from prison.

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a young slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination, who brought much profit to her masters by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, “These men are servants of the highest God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!” She did this for many days. But Paul, being deeply troubled, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus the Anointed, come out from her!” And it left her that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit had left, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the town square before the city authorities. They stood them up before the magistrates and said, “These men are causing trouble in our city. They are Judeans, and they are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice as Romans!” The crowd then gathered in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and were giving orders to beat them with rods. After hitting them, they threw them into prison and commanded the jailer to keep them secure. The one who received the order took them into the inner prison and secured their feet in shackles. At about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing to God, and the prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake that caused the foundations of the prison to shake, and instantly all the doors opened and all the chains were thrown off. After the jailer woke up and saw the open doors of the prison, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, concluding that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice saying, “Do not harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer  called for lights and rushed in, and trembling he fell down before Paul and Silas. He then brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his household. And so he took them that very moment though it was night and washed their wounds, and immediately he and those with him were immersed for cleansing from sin. Then he brought them into his house and served food, and he rejoiced together with the entire household, having come to believe in God.

The Psalm
Psalm 97
God’s Justice Is Evidenced on Earth

God’s justice and power are reflected in a perfected world in which idolatry comes to an end, as all nations recognize the Lord’s singular might and glory.

  1. The Lord is king;
         let the earth rejoice!
         Let the many coastlands be glad!
  2. Clouds and storm clouds surround God;
         righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s Throne.
  3. Fire goes before God,
         scorching God’s adversaries all around.
  4. God’s lightening illumined the world;
         the earth saw and quaked.
  5. Before the Lord, mountains melted like wax,
         before the Master of all the earth.
  6. The heavens proclaimed God’s righteousness,
         and all the nations witnessed God’s glory.
  7. All who worship idols will be humiliated,
         those who boast of the gods.
         Bow down to him, all you gods!
  8. Zion heard and was glad;
         the daughters of Judah rejoiced,
         because of your just acts, Lord!
  9. For you, Lord, are Most High over all the earth,
         highly exalted over all the gods.
  10. Hate evil, all who love the Lord!
         He protects the lives of his pious ones.
         God rescues them from evil-doers.
  11. Light is sown for the righteous,
         and joy for the upright in heart.
  12. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous,
         giving thanks to God’s holy name.

The Second Reading
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
The Promise of Jesus’ Arrival

At its close, the book of Revelation states its purpose to be prophecy (compare Revelation 1:3). The author, John, appears personally, reinforcing the difference between angelic agents, who are not to be accorded worship (Revelation 22:8-9; see Revelation 19:10), and God, who is worthy of all worship. Unlike the scroll that was eaten (Revelation 10:4-11), this one is to remain unsealed and ready to be read, because its fulfillment is near. Jesus repeats his promise of the water of life (see Revelation 21:6), with the condition of necessary righteous action and also the warning that neither adding to nor subtracting from the words of the Revelation will be tolerated. These words of grace are humanity’s lifeline. They cannot be altered.

“Look—I, Jesus, am quickly arriving, and my reward is with me to give to each according to their deed! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the final purpose.” 

Those—martyrs—who wash their robes are favored, because they shall have the right to the tree of life and to enter by the gates into the city. 

“I, Jesus, have sent my messenger to witness these things to you concerning the congregations.
I am the root and race of David, the shining morning star.” 

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And whoever hears should say, “Come!” And whoever thirsts, who wishes to receive the water of life freely, should come.
The one who witnesses these things says, “Yes, I am quickly arriving.”
Amen—Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

The Gospel
John 17:20-26
“So that They Might Be One Just as We Are One”

The theme that Jesus and the Father are one—and that their intent is that Jesus’ followers might also be one with one another and with God—is a particular emphasis of John’s Gospel. By having Jesus speak this prayer prior to the Crucifixion, John portrays Jesus’ actions prior to his death as entirely consistent with the reality of his presence after the Resurrection.

“I do not appeal for the committed students only, but also for those who believe because of the students’ word about me, so that all might be one: just as you are in me, Father, and I in you, that they also might be in us, so the world will believe that you commissioned me. The majestic glory that you have given me, I have also given to them, so that they might be one just as we are one: I in them and you in me, so that they might be as one, a completed whole. Thus the world will know that you commissioned me and that you also love them just as you love me.” 

 

 

Ascension of the Lord – Year C

The texts for this festival present several images that express the church’s understanding that God establishes cosmic rule through the risen Anointed One. The Ascension is portrayed in two accounts, both presented by Luke: the Gospel (Luke 24:44-53) and the first reading (Acts 1:1-11). The Gospel depicts Jesus’ departure from his followers after he interprets Scripture, highlighting his identity as the Anointed. He also commands the students to remain in Jerusalem until divine power comes upon them for a global mission. The more familiar scene in Acts stresses that Jesus was physically taken up into heaven in a cloud, giving proof that he will return to earth in the same way. Ephesians 1:15-23, in another image, articulates a view of the church as the Anointed’s body, while he is its heavenly head. The majesty of divine rule is celebrated in Psalm 47, while Psalm 93 stresses the justice of God’s reign, reflected in the statement at the end of the psalm that “God’s testimony is certain.”

The First Reading
Acts 1:1–11
Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven

As Jesus departs by physically ascending into heaven, the Apostles are promised that he will return and that the holy Spirit will empower them to be witnesses in the world. Luke addresses his description to a kind of ideal reader, whom he names “Theophilus,” or “lover of God.”

Dear Theophilus: The first volume I wrote concerned what Jesus began to do and also to teach, until the day he was taken up after he gave instructions by the holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he chose. To them he also presented himself alive after his suffering by way of many convincing proofs, appearing to them for forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the Father’s promise, about which he said, “You heard from me, John was immersed with water but you will be immersed with the holy Spirit not many days from now.” So, those gathered together then asked him, “Master, are you now at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority, but you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in both Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and as far as the ends of the earth.

After he said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud carried him away out of their sight. And while they were staring toward heaven as he went—behold, two men in white clothing had been standing with them, and they said, “Galileans, why have you been standing staring toward heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”

The Psalm
Psalm 47
God Rules over All the Nations

In the context of its lectionary use, the psalm’s images of the majesty of God’s rule over all nations depict the power and rule of the Anointed Jesus, referred to in Acts as extending “as far as the ends of the earth.”

For the leader, of the sons of Korach, a song.
  1. All nations—clap your hands!
         Raise a shout to God with a ringing cry!
  2. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
         a great king over all the earth.
  3. God subdues nations under us,
         and peoples under our feet.
  4. God chose our inheritance for us,
         the pride of Jacob, God’s beloved.
         Selah!
  5. God has gone up on a shout of joy;
         the Lord, at the sound of a trumpet.
  6. Sing praises to God, sing praises.
         Sing praises to our God, sing praises.
  7. For God is king of all the earth.
         Sing praises to God with a psalm.
  8. God is king over the nations.
         God sits on God’s holy Throne.
  9. The princes of the nations gather,
         the people of the God of Abraham.
    For the shields of the earth are God’s,
         God is highly exalted.
or Psalm 93
God Is King over All Creation

This enthronement psalm evokes the permanence of God’s power and reign over all creation, depicted in God’s defeat of the powers of chaos, which are reflected in the image of the pounding waters of the sea.

  1. God reigns,
         robed in majesty.
    The Lord is robed,
         girded with might.
    God established creation;
         it will not be shaken.
  2. Your Throne is established from the beginning;
         you are eternal.
  3. The flood waters have lifted up, Lord;
         the flood waters have lifted their voices.
         The flood waters lift their pounding waves.
  4. Greater than the thunder of mighty water,
         more majestic than the waves of the sea,
         the Lord is majestic on high.
  5. Your testimony is most certain;
         holiness befits your house,
         Lord, for the length of days.

The Second Reading
Ephesians 1:15-23
A Prayer for the Church as Jesus’ Presence in the World

This reading encourages the church with a portrayal of Jesus’ exaltation to the heavens, which is the “reason” for the author’s thanksgiving at the outset of the prayer. The church is then reminded of its divine calling to be the full, continued presence of the Anointed in the world.

For this reason, and also because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers: May the God of our Lord Jesus the Anointed, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, enlightening the eyes of your heart so that you may know the hope of God’s call, the glorious abundance of God’s inheritance among the saints, and the exceeding greatness of God’s power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might. God worked in the Anointed, raising him from the dead and seating him at the heavenly place of honor far above all rule, authority, power, lordship, and every name invoked as an authority, not only in this age but also in the one to come. God placed everything in submission under him and gave him to be leader over all things for the church, which is his body, the full presence of the one who fills and completes all things.

The Gospel
Luke 24:44-53
Jesus’ Departure according to Luke’s Gospel

The final scene of Luke’s Gospel continues the theme developed in the Gospel’s narrative of Jesus’ encounter with two students who were traveling to Emmaus: the Scriptures of Israel attest the way of Jesus. Being in the presence of the Scriptures permits Jesus’ followers to be in his presence. He is so vividly with them that he can promise that God will clothe them with the power to witness the truth of Jesus, provided they wait in Jerusalem for the authorization to act as witnesses.

Jesus said to his followers, “These were my words that I spoke to you when I was still with you: that it was necessary for all the writings in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me to be fulfilled.” Then he opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “So it was written, that the Anointed will suffer and arise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for release of sins will be proclaimed to all the nations on the basis of his name—beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look—I am conferring the promise of my Father upon you, but you: Remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He led them out to Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. And it happened while he blessed them, he separated from them and was carried up into heaven. They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were constantly in the Temple blessing God.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year C

Vision is not a unique interest of books such as the book of Revelation, but also features in Acts 16:9-15 as Paul’s motivation to bring his ministry to Greece. In Psalm 67, Israel celebrates the praise of God by those outside its community. John 14:23-29, for its part, reinforces Jesus’ love commandment from last Sunday. It also links the commandment to the gift of Spirit and the capacity of Spirit to teach in a way that includes Jesus’ words. Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 continues from last week John of Patmos’ vision of the new Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem also provides a setting for this week’s alternative Gospel (John 5:1-9).

The First Reading
Acts 16:9–15
Paul’s Call to Macedonia

Following his sharp disagreement and subsequent break with Barnabas, Paul is set back on course by a vision of a man calling him to Macedonia. Paul concludes that God has called him to preach the gospel in Macedonia, and his witness to the gentiles accordingly spreads into Greece.

A vision came to Paul in the night: a man from Macedonia was standing and calling to him, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” So when he saw the vision, we all immediately sought to go to Macedonia, agreeing together that God had called us to proclaim the message to them. After setting sail from Troas, we went straight to Samothrace and came upon the city of Neapolis and from there we went to Philippi, a colony which was the most prominent city of Macedonia. We remained in that city some days. Now on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate beside the river where we understood there to be place of prayer, and we sat down and were speaking to the women who gathered. A woman named Lydia of the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple cloth and a worshiper of God, was listening, and the Lord opened her heart so that she was responsive to what Paul was saying. So she and her household were immersed for cleansing. Then she pressed us, “If you have considered me to be faithful to the Lord, then come into my house and stay.” And so she persuaded us.

The Psalm
Psalm 67
The Bounty of the Earth is Evidence of God’s Blessing

The Lectionary’s choice to read this psalm together with the First Reading in Acts 16 casts it as a foundation for Paul’s call to bring his ministry to Greece. It serves this purpose insofar as it calls upon all people, including those who are not of Israel, to praise God.

For the director, with stringed instruments, a psalm, a song.
  1. God be gracious to us and bless us;
         God’s face shine upon us.
         Selah
  2. So shall your way be known upon the earth,
         your saving power among all the nations.
  3. The peoples shall praise you, God;
         all the peoples shall praise you.
  4. The nations shall rejoice and give a joyful cry,
         for you judge the peoples equitably,
         and guide the nations upon the land.
         Selah
  5. The peoples shall praise you, God;
         all the peoples shall praise you.
  6. The land has yielded its produce;
         May God, our God, continue to bless us.
  7. May God bless us;
         all the ends of the earth shall revere God.

The Second Reading
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Worship and the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem

The heavenly city that John of Patmos sees needs no physical temple, because the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22). The dimensions of the new Jerusalem accommodate all the righteous, founded on stones that stand for the twelve Apostles (Revelation 21:14) and opening with gates that stand for the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12). Here the tree of life is available and sheds its blessing (Revelation 22:2), so that what was once prohibited to humanity (Genesis 3:22-24) becomes freely accessible.

He bore me up in Spirit on a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven, from God…. And I saw no temple in her, because the Lord God, the All-Ruling, is her temple, and the Lamb. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on her, since the glory of God provides her light, and her lamp is the Lamb. All the nations shall walk by her light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory to her. Her gates are not closed by day, and there will be no night there, so they will bear the glory and the honor of the nations to her. Anything unclean and anyone performing pollution and deceit shall not enter into her—only those written in the scroll of life of the Lamb.

And he showed me the river of living water, gleaming as crystal, which flows out from the Throne of God and the Lamb. In the midst of the city’s center, extending across the river, the tree of life makes twelve harvests, each yielding its own harvest, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. There shall no longer be a curse: God’s Throne and the Lamb will be in her, and his servants will attend him, and they shall see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There shall no longer be night, and they have no need of lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will provide them light, and they will rule forever.

The Gospel
John 14:23-29
The Promise of the Holy Spirit

As the community of John’s Gospel wrestled with their experience of Jesus’ death and absence, the words of the Gospel encourage faith that living in the reality that Jesus embodied makes Jesus present among them. That reality is included in Jesus’ teaching, his words, but also goes beyond them; thus the author could use both the singular “logos” (reality) and the plural “logous” (words) to convey their relationship. The idea that God is known in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—though fully developed only after the biblical period, appears here in a narrative form, as John seeks to undergird the community’s devotion to Israel’s God, its embrace of Jesus as Master, and its continuing experience of divine revelation and insight.

Jesus answered his student, “Anyone who loves me will embrace the reality that I embody; my Father shall love that person and we shall come and make a home with that person. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. Yet the reality that you see me embody is not mine alone, but also my Father’s, who sent me. I have spoken these things to you while with you: the Father will send the advocate in my name—the holy Spirit—who will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you. Peace I leave you, my peace I give you: not as the world gives do I give to you. Your heart shall not be troubled nor afraid. You heard that I said to you, ‘I depart, and come to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice because I make way to the Father, since the Father is greater than I. Now I have spoken to you before it happens, so that when it happens you can believe.”

or John 5:1-9
The Healing of a Person Unable to Walk

In John’s Gospel, the presence of a timeless reality embodied by Jesus renders history and sequence secondary. Throughout his ministry, Jesus moves seamlessly between an earthly present and a transcendent reality. So at this unnamed festival time in Jerusalem, the healing of the nations that is promised for the age to come becomes real in the life of one man.

After this there was a feast of the Judeans and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate, at a reservoir having five porticos—called in Aramaic Bethzatha—lay masses of those who were ill, blind, unable to walk, paralyzed. One man there had been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying and knew that he had been there a very long time. He said to him, “Do you want to become healthy?” The ill man answered him, “Master, I have no one to put me in the reservoir while the water is churning; so when I finally get there, another has gotten in before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take your stuff, and walk.” And at once the man became healthy and took his stuff and walked.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year C

John emphasizes Jesus’ eternal “glory”—his incorporation within the majesty of God. Jesus’ identification with God is so complete that even his coming death and departure is seen as glorification (John 13:31-35). The sign of that process on earth is the love he commands his followers to have for one another. The reading from Acts marks the momentous insight of Peter, guided by the Spirit, that even those outside the traditional definition of the people of God were to be included in the circle of Jesus’ followers. The cosmic range of God’s action, celebrated in Psalm 148, is to be imitated by the church, seen in a vision by John of Patmos as the “new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:1-6).

The First Reading
Acts 11:1-18
A Report by Rock—Peter—to the Believers in Jerusalem

After the immersion of Cornelius and his household, RockPeterreturns to Jerusalem and reports his experience to the Apostles and the rest of the believers. Rock’s experiences of his visions of God’s declaration of cleanliness and of the holy Spirit’s coming upon Cornelius and his household lead him to the astonishing conclusion that God was now including gentiles within the community of Jesus’ followers and granting them repentance.

The Apostles and the kindred followers who were in Judea heard that the gentiles also received the message of God. So when Rock—Peter—came up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision group criticized him, “You went among uncircumcised people and ate with them!” So Rock began to explain to them the sequence of events: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great linen cloth was coming down, being dropped down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. As I was looking at it, I saw four-footed animals, beasts, reptiles, and birds of the sky. I even heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise up, Rock; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing base or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ Then the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has declared clean, don’t you go on treating as base.’”

“This happened three times, then everything was drawn up again into heaven. Just then, three men arrived at the house where we were, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit said to me, ‘Don’t judge! Go with them!’ So, they went with me, as well as these six brothers, and we entered into the man’s house. He declared to us how he saw an angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Rock; he will proclaim a message to you by which you will be saved, you and your whole household.’ Then as I began to speak, the holy Spirit came upon them just as upon us in the beginning. I was reminded of the Master’s word, how he said, ‘John immersed in water, but you will be immersed in the holy Spirit.’ Therefore, if God gave the same gift to them as to us who believe in the Anointed Master Jesus, who am I to stand against God?” Now after hearing these things, they stopped criticizing and began to glorify God: “Then to the gentiles as well has God granted repentance resulting in eternal life!”

The Psalm
Psalm 148
All Creation Must Praise God, Lord of All Creation

The entire range of God’s cosmic creation owes God praise. This creation is what Peter saw in his vision of the great cloth that dropped down from heaven by its four corners and revealed four-footed animals, beasts, reptiles, and birds of the sky. The suggestion is that the church must imitate the praise called for in this psalm. Such praise leads God to empower his people, which the psalm expresses with the metaphor of their “horn” being exalted.

  1. Praise Yah!
    Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise God in the heights.
  2. Praise God, all God’s messengers;
         praise God, all divine armies.
  3. Praise God, sun and moon;
         praise God, all the stars of morning light.
  4. Praise God, you highest heavens,
         and you waters that are above the heavens.
  5. Let them praise the Lord’s name,
         for God commanded and they were created.
  6. God established them for eternity;
         God set their boundaries, which no one can violate.
  7. Praise God from the earth:
         the sea monsters and all the ocean depths,
  8.      fire and hail, snow and storm clouds,
         the raging wind fulfilling God’s will
  9. The mountains and all the hills,
         fruit trees and all cedars.
  10. Wild animals and all beasts,
         creeping things and winged birds.
  11. Kings of the earth and all peoples,
         princes and all the land’s rulers.
  12. Young men and also young women,
         the old along with the youth—
  13. Let them praise the Lord’s name,
         for God’s name alone is exalted.
    God’s majesty is upon the earth and heaven!
  14. God has raised a horn for God’s people;
         praise for all these faithful,
         for the people of Israel, the people who are close to God.
         Praise Yah!

The Second Reading
Revelation 21:1-6
Vision of a New Heaven and New Earth

John of Patmos sees a new heaven and new earth (in language inspired by Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22), which host the advent of a new Jerusalem. The city is adorned as a bride, and accommodates the people of God and offers the spring of the water of life (verse 6, also referenced in John 4:14), and evenin fulfillment of the promise in Revelation 2:6the tree of life (22:2), because this is the place of God’s servants alone.

I saw new heaven and new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had departed, and the sea was no more. And the holy city, new Jerusalem, I saw descending out of heaven, from God, prepared and adorned as a bride for her husband. I heard a great voice from the Throne:

“Look, the dwelling of God is with humanity,
and he will shelter with them,
and they will be his people—
and God himself will be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and there shall no longer be death or mourning
or outcry or pain, because the former things have departed.”

The one who sits upon the Throne said, “Look, I will make everything new.” He said:

“Write, because these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me:

“It has happened. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To one who thirsts, I will freely grant the fountain of the water of life.”

The Gospel
John 13:31-35
Jesus Commands to Love in his Absence

The community of John’s Gospel presents Jesus’ death and departure as a glorification. To prepare for Jesus’ absence from the committed disciples and the later community of John’s Gospel, he encourages them to continue acting as witnesses by loving one another. In this way, they can continue to experience Jesus’ presence in the community.

When he went outside, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. God will glorify him in himself, and will at once glorify him. Children, yet a little while I am with you: you will seek me, and just as I told the Judeans—‘Where I depart you are not able to come’—I tell you also now. A new command I give you, that you love one another: just as I loved you, you love one another. By this all shall know that you are my committed students, if you have love amongst yourselves.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year C

John’s Gospel has been known since the second century as “the spiritual Gospel.” One of the features that earns it that reputation is that John weaves the insights that stem from Jesus’ resurrection into the narrative account of Jesus’ activity, even before the Crucifixion. In this case, John 10:22-30 addresses the issue of the “sheep” of Jesus, the same group he expressed concern for last Sunday in the context of a Resurrection appearance. Their identity as gathered around the Lamb is portrayed in visionary terms in Revelation 7:9-17. That perspective gives new meaning to Psalm 23, which the Lectionary appoints for today. Last Sunday’s readings also introduce the focus on Peter in today’s reading—Acts 9:36-43—where he takes up a ministry of healing comparable to that of Jesus.

The First Reading
Acts 9:36–43
Continued Witness by Rock—Peter—through the Ministry of Healing

As the witness to Jesus continues in the book of Acts, RockPeteris called upon to help after the death of a committed student, named Tabitha. Parallel to Jesus’ healing ministry (Mark 5:35-43), Rock prays over Tabitha, and she returns to life. As the news of Tabitha’s healing spreads, many throughout the region of Joppa believe in the Lord.

In Joppa, there was a committed student named Tabitha, which when translated is Dorcas (“gazelle”). She was known for good works and charity to the poor. In those days she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Now since Lydda was near Joppa, when the students heard that Rock—Peter—was there, they sent two men to him, urging him, “Do not hesitate to come to us.” So Rock rose up and went with them. When he arrived, they took him into the upper room, and all the widows stood by him, crying and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas was making when she was with them. Then Rock pushed them all out. He went down on his knees and prayed while turning to the body; he said, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Rock, she sat up. He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the holy community along with the widows, he presented her alive. It then became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And so, he stayed some days with a certain Simon, a tanner.

The Psalm
Psalm 23
God Protects Us as a Shepherd in Dark Times

Psalm 23 portrays God as a shepherd who protects the flock even in the darkest times. The image of God as shepherd connects this passage to the reading from John, which is today’s Gospel, in which Jesus refers to his followers as sheep to whom, because they hear his voice, he gives eternal life. This psalm’s reference to the fearlessness of the psalmist, even when traversing “a valley as dark as death,” hints at the idea of escape from death.

  1. A song of David.
         The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
  2. God lies me down in grassy meadows;
         to still watering places, God guides me.
  3. God refreshes my soul.
         God directs me in the ways of righteousness,
         for the sake of God’s name.
  4. Even when I walk in a valley as dark as death,
         I fear no evil,
         for you are with me.
         Your rod and your staff comfort me.
  5. You prepare before me a table in the presence of my enemies.
         You have anointed my head with oil.
         My cup overflows.
  6. Yes! Goodness and kindness will pursue me,
         all the days of my life.
    And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
         for the length of my days.

The Second Reading
Revelation 7:9-17
Vision of Those Who Are Saved

In the sequence of the visions of John of Patmos, four angels are commanded to prevent all harm to God’s servants who are marked with a seal. The number of those sealed comes to 144,000:12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:4-8). A numberless host from the nations now supplements the 144,000, all of whom shout out with the heavenly court to praise the one seated on the Throne as well as the Lamb. Clothed in white robes, they are drawn close to the Throne and its shelter, having purified themselves in the blood of the Lamb.

After this I saw, and look—a massive throng that no one could number, from every nation: clans, peoples, and tongues. They stood before the Throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands. And they cried in a great voice:

“Redemption belongs to our God,
to the one seated upon the Throne
and to the Lamb.”

All the messengers stood around the Throne, as well as the elders and the four living animals, and they prostrated before the Throne and worshipped God:

“Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor and power
and strength belong to our God forever. Amen.”

One of the elders asked me, “Who are those clothed in white robes, and where do they come from?” I answer him, “My Master, you know.” He said:

“They come from the great tribulation;
they washed their robes
and whitened them in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before God’s Throne
and attend him day and night in his temple.
And the one who sits upon the Throne will shelter over them;
they will neither hunger nor thirst,
neither sun nor any burning will fall on them,
because the Lamb in the midst of the Throne
will shepherd them and guide them
to fountains of living water.
God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”

The Gospel
John 10:22-30
Jesus in Jerusalem at Hanukkah

The Renewal Feast—Hanukkah—in Jerusalem celebrated the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple after its defilement by foreign forces in the period of the Maccabees (164 BCE). John’s Gospel makes this celebration the occasion for a dispute between Jesus and other Jews. In this case, local Judeans question his status as the Anointed. Jesus answers, speaking of who truly is part of the flock that God is gathering out of the world. In the mysterious claim of being one with “the Father,” Jesus proclaims himself a renewed and restored temple, the place where people encounter God. Written after the year 70 CE, at a time when the Jerusalem Temple again lay in ruins so that no one could realistically seek God there, the Gospel undergirds the faith of an early Jesus community.

Then came the Renewal Feast in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple in the portico of Solomon. The Judeans circled him and said to him, “How long will you distress our soul? If you are the Anointed, tell us in public.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe! The deeds that I do in the name of my Father, they bear witness concerning me, but you do not believe, because you are not from my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me; I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will take them from my hand. My Father gave them to me; he is greater than all and no one is able to take from the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”