The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year A
ACTS 17:22-31 Paul's only recorded attempt to convert
pagan philosophers in Athens was not particularly successful. He argued
from the known, idols along the city streets, to the unknown, the God who
is the creator of all and now revealed in Jesus Christ. It was the
resurrection which so puzzled his audience. The apostle's address showed
an impressive knowledge of Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics.
Born in the Greek seaport city of Tarsus (now in southern Turkey), Paul
would have been thoroughly familiar with Hellenistic culture as well as
his own Jewish heritage.
PSALM 66:8-20 This is part of a thanksgiving liturgy for a
person of some wealth and stature presenting substantial offerings in the
temple. The impressive quantity of the sacrifices (verse 15) may have
resulted in the psalm being preserved.
1 PETER 3:13-22 Christian conduct under the threat of
persecution is the central focus of this passage. The example of Christ's
own suffering is held out as the model for the faithful to follow.
Scholars vigorously debate a more controversial aspect of the selection.
Verses 19 and 20 refer to a doctrine resulting from speculation common in
the late 1st and early 2nd centuries. Between the time of his death and
resurrection, Jesus was said to have preached to the dead. While we may
not accept this claim, we can believe that wherever we may be Christ has
power to save.
JOHN 14:15-21 This selection from "John's Departure
Discourse" quotes Jesus preparing the disciples for his departure. Love
and obedience to his commandments will be the means by which all his
followers will know his continuing presence.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:
ACTS 17:22-31 Paul's only recorded attempt to convert pagan philosophers
in Athens did not prove particularly successful. We should note, however,
that he did not provoke persecution as in so many other instances.
Typically, he argued from the known, idols along the city streets, to the
unknown, the God who is the creator of all and now revealed in Jesus
Christ. As a centre of learning with a great university to which
contemporary intellectuals flocked, Athens delighted in philosophical
debate in a purely academic spirit. It was the resurrection which so
puzzled this audience. How little the world has changed in 2,000 years!
The apostle's address showed an impressive knowledge of Greek philosophy.
But Paul was a true citizen of his time and place, as presumably also was
the author of Acts. Born in the Greek seaport city of Tarsus (now in
southern Turkey), Paul would have been as thoroughly familiar with
Hellenistic culture as with his own Jewish heritage. The previous verses
report that Paul’s debate with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers led to the
invitation to speak of “this new teaching” about Jesus and the
resurrection to a much larger audience in the Areopagus (vss. 16-21).
According to archeological and literary research, the Aeropagus was both
the name and the site of an ancient court set on a rocky hill near the
Acropolis where a council of nobles met in the open to adjudicate cases.
However, Paul does not appear to have been on trial before the court.
Some scholars doubt the historicity of the incident; others prefer its
genuine narrative quality. There is certainly room for debate. The
Jewish element of Paul’s message comes out in his description of God as
the creator and upholder of the universe (vs.24). On the other hand, the
same statement downplays the temple as the dwelling place of Yahweh, as if
the temple had already been destroyed in the Roman-Jewish war of 70 CE.
The next sentence discounts the making of idols and reiterates the
creation myth of the breath of God giving life to all being. Stoic
philosophy also shared the view of the unity of creation summarized in vs.
26. There may be a reference to the Wisdom of Solomon 13:6 in vs. 27, but
the main thrust of vss. 27-28 is pure Stoicism. The quotations may come
from different unnamed poets and could have been standard expressions of
One might well question whether Paul made these statements since they
differ so from his attitude to unredeemed human nature in 1 Cor. 15:47-
50. Would Paul the converted Pharisee have excused idolatry as do vss.
29-30? Yet is there not a clear reference to the Son of Man Christology
and eschatology of the Synoptic Gospels in vs. 32 when he reiterates that
the resurrection is proof of God’s intervention in human affairs with
salvific purpose? Assuming that the author of Acts was a Hellenistic Jew
of the Diaspora like Paul, would he not likely have been familiar with all
of this complex of ideas and myths current in the eastern Mediterranean
world at that time? In the end, however, Paul or Luke does bring the
sermon to the natural Christian focus on the resurrection, the essential
element of all apostolic preaching.
PSALM 66:8-20 This is part of a thanksgiving liturgy for a person of
some wealth and public stature presenting substantial offerings in the
temple. The impressive quantity of the sacrifices (verse 15) may have
resulted in the psalm being preserved. The psalmist offers his praise,
however, not only for what God had done for him, but as an example of
God’s saving help for all humankind. God’s purposeful actions and special
providence for Israel have an important place in the psalm, especially in
the early segment omitted from this reading. After citing the Exodus as
one instance for rejoicing (vs.6), the psalmist recalls the Exile and the
return from Babylon (vss. 8-12) as further evidence of God’s gracious acts
which call forth praise from God’s people.
The scene then shifts to the temple where the psalmist intends to make
substantial votive offerings (vss. 13-15). He summons all who revere God
to witness to God’s goodness with him (vs.16), then states his assumed
worthiness because God had listened to his prayer and his praise (vss. 17-
18). An appropriate doxology ends the psalm.
One notes the influence of the prophets in many of this psalm’s key
phrases. Quite apart from the moral character or wealth of the person
presenting generous gifts as tokens of gratitude, there is also a deep
belief in God as Lord of history. Indeed, the mighty acts of God on
Israel’s behalf as well as his own motivated the worshiper to make his
So what does this psalm say to us at the beginning of the 21st century?
Could it be that the offering of our wealth as individuals and as nations
for benefit of the homeless and persecuted refugees of our time, may also
be seen as our response in thanksgiving to the Lord of history?
1 PETER 3:13-22 Christian conduct under the threat of persecution is the
central focus of this passage. It falls neatly into two sections: vss.13-
17 and 18-22. The first deals specifically with the situation of those to
whom the letter is addressed. The second sets forth the example of
Christ's own suffering as the model for the faithful to follow.
From the time of Emperor Caligula less than a decade after the
resurrection of Jesus, until the reign of Constantine early in the 4th
century, Christians were never entirely safe from persecution. There were
always plenty of suspicious opponents ready to expose them or accuse them
falsely of all sorts of crimes. No matter when this passage was written,
the faithful must have identified with what it says: “You need only the
protection of good behavior and your loyalty to Christ, for he alone is
Not just the moral example of Christ, but his atoning sacrifice
reconciling believers to God and his resurrection to spiritual life form
the second theme of this passage. Scholars also vigorously debate a more
controversial aspect of the selection. Vss. 19-20 refer to a doctrine
resulting from speculation common in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.
Between the time of his death and resurrection, Jesus was said to have
preached to the dead.
We also have in vs. 20 an unusual reference to God waiting “patiently in
the time of Noah....” There are a few NT and OT precedents to which these
words may refer. For example, in Acts 2:27 Peter applied to Jesus the
words of Ps.16:10. In Luke 4:17-18 Luke quotes Jesus giving the mandate
for his ministry from Isaiah 61:1. Was the early church already
speculating about what happened to Jesus during the days after his death?
And what was the fate of those who had died before the gospel had been
Later in the 2nd century, the Apostle’s Creed included the clause which
many reject today, “He descended into hell.” During the Middle Ages “the
harrowing of hell” became a significant part of Christian theology.
Interpreted in today’s speech, that involved not only Christ’s descent,
but the defeat of the powers of evil and the release of its victims, just
as the above texts had suggested to fertile medieval imagination.
Perhaps even more significantly, vss. 20-21 link the myth of Noah and the
flood with baptism and the saving effect of that sacrament. The symbol of
the ark has been found in early Christian art as evidence for such
linkage. Reform Protestants may argue that this sounds very much like
baptismal regeneration. The moral and spiritual effect of baptism for the
new converts, however, seems closer to the meaning of the sentence. A new
life is possible because of Christ’s resurrection and his sovereignty with
God, the real meaning of the ascension.
While we may not accept all that this passage claims, we can believe that
wherever we may be our crucified, risen and sovereign Lord has power to
redeem us and reconcile us to God.
JOHN 14:15-21 This further selection from what scholars call "John's
Departure Discourse" quotes Jesus preparing the disciples for the future
when he will no longer be with them. Sentiment, if nothing else, demands
that we regard these as Jesus’ own words; but they have been filtered
through the prism of John’s mind and the six decade old tradition of the
The clue to this is the Greek word *parkletos,* translated variously as
“Advocate,” “Counselor,” and “Comforter”. It appears here, in vs. 26, in
16:7, and again only in 1 John 2:1. The word describes the role of the
Holy Spirit (vs. 17). The point being made, of course, is that instead of
having Jesus’ physical presence to guide their discipleship, they will
always have the Spirit as his personal indwelling presence. The Spirit’s
function is identical with that of Jesus himself.
The use of the personal pronoun indicates that by the end of the 1st
century when John wrote, the Spirit was already regarded as fully
personal. In *The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary* (III. 654. Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1962), G.W.H. Lampe says, “Indeed, the ‘paraclete’
passages of the Fourth Gospel mark the most highly developed thought in
the NT in respect to the personality of the Spirit of God.” The doctrine
of the Trinity was not far behind as the creedal statement and theological
interpretation of this spiritual reality (vs.20).
Perhaps vss. 18-19 contain the most astonishing claim of all in this
reading. It rings triumphantly across the gravesite of every believer
giving hope in the deepest shadows of death. The reference is to the
resurrection. However, it does not mean the physical resuscitation of the
mortal body, but resurrection of both Jesus and those who believer in him
to an entirely different life. Jesus’ reunion with his disciples is a
powerful motif through all the gospels and is most clearly stated here.
Bishop J.A.T.Robinson, of “God is dead” fame, wrote in an article on the
resurrection in *The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary* (IV.50.): “The
Resurrection means that Jesus is restored to his friends, never again to
be separated from them. (John 16:22).... The promise (of 14:19)
corresponds to the promise given to the disciples in Mark 16:7. And this
restoration is not a mere human reunion but a permanent divine indwelling.
(John 14:23; Matt. 28:20).... If the Resurrection means that Jesus
through the Spirit is to be with his disciples, it means equally that the
disciples are to be with Jesus, to share his risen life.” The rest of the
NT expresses the same truth just as forcefully, if in different words. (2
Cor. 4:14; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12; 3:1; Rom. 4:17; 6:3-8; 1 John 4:9; Acts
5:30-32; 13:37-38; 1 Peter 3:21; Rev. 7:9-17) How can we argue against
such weight of evidence that God’s intention for us is that being
spiritually alive, we too shall live with Christ here and hereafter?
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.