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Introduction To The Scripture For The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year C
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22 -22:5; John 15:23-29

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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 C


ACTS 16:9-15             This important transitions story marks the
beginning of what scholars call a series of eyewitness accounts in which
the pronouns switch from "they" to "we."  Luke himself was assumed to be
the man who appeared to Paul in the night.  The passage also marks the
beginning of the Christian mission in Europe.  Of all the congregations
Paul founded, he had warmest feelings for the Philippians, as his letter to
that community shows. 


PSALM 67                 This simple hymn of praise may well have been a
thanksgiving prayer after a successful harvest had brought relief from a
severe famine.  The untranslatable word, Selah, may have indicated a place
for cymbals to sound.  The psalm would have been sung antiphonally during
the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jewish thanksgiving festival.   


REVELATION 21:10,22 - 22:5    In John's closing vision, he sees God's holy
city of the redeemed, for which God and Christ provide eternal light and
life.  A vision by the prophet Ezekiel and the Garden of Eden provided Old
Testament models for the New Jerusalem.  All believers may share this
beatific vision made possible by the visible presence of God and Christ.
Note, however, that the whole scene takes place on earth which has been
spiritually transformed.


JOHN 14:23-29            In these words attributed to Jesus John summed up
the essential meaning of the Christ coming among us.  His promise to send
his Holy Spirit to dwell in, guide and strengthen his disciples is still
valid.  He is the ever present Lord available to everyone in all of life's
daily experiences.

************

ACTS 16:9-15   The story Luke is telling in Acts makes one of its important
transitions with this pericope.  Scholars call what follows a series of
eyewitness accounts in which the pronouns change from "they" to "we."  It
has often been questioned whether Luke himself was the man who appeared to
Paul in the night.  But debate about the source of the "We" passages has
generally concluded with Ramsay's thesis of 1896 that these came from the
author, whoever he was, of the two volumes, the Gospel of Luke and Acts.

All the eyewitness passages (16:9-18; 20:5-19; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16)
include extensive sea voyages.  This has prompted some analysts to suggest
that Luke had access to a travel diary, perhaps his own or that of some
other companion of Paul.  Secondly, the "we" passages, according to Brevard
Childs, bring a broader confirmation of the apostolic witness and provides
a sound basis for the material in the experience of a specific community.
Luke uses this distinct literary device, but let it serve the same
theological purpose of witnessing to the common faith tradition proclaimed
by all the apostles.  But it serves the testimony in a particular fashion
by bridging the gap between the original author and subsequent readers.
(See Childs, Brevard S. *The New Testament As Canon - An Introduction.*
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.)
     
Of all the congregations with which Paul was associated, he had warmest
feelings for the Philippians.  The intimacy of his letter to that community
makes that crystal clear.  Yet unlike his visits to the Jewish Diaspora in
Galatia, he did not find a synagogue in Philippi.  Was there no Jewish
community in that important Roman city or too few in number (only ten male
Jews were required) to form a synagogue?  What does Luke mean by
designating the location of the incident as "a place of prayer?"  Unable to
contact any Jews, had he been told that there was a small synagogue down by
the river?  Was Lydia a Gentile "worshipper of God" (vs. 14) in whose home
Paul made his headquarters?

The Greek word thus translated, *sebomenos* (= devout), appears several
times elsewhere in Acts along with "phoboumenos" (= God-fearing) describing
Gentiles who demonstrated sincere spiritual concerns. (cf. 10:2; 13:43, 50;
17:4, 17; 18:7).  It is also possible that "a certain woman named Lydia"
actually means "a woman from Lydia," an ancient kingdom which under Rome
became part of the province of Asia in which the prosperous city of
Thyatira was located.  If so, she may be identified with either Euodia or
Syntyche of Phil 4:2.  However we hypothesize about such minutiae, one
thing is certain: in this instance, Paul's testimony in Philippi marks the
beginning of the Christian mission in Europe of which we are the direct
heirs.

It all began with her baptism.  Note, however, how the pattern of the
gospel spreading to Europe parallels that of the whole apostolic ministry
described by Luke throughout Acts.  Paul preached to a gathered
congregation, this one chiefly made up of women, presumably friends of
Lydia and members of her household.  The Spirit "opened (Lydia's) heart to
listen eagerly to what was said by Paul" (vs. 14b).  She responded by
accepting baptism with all her household. 

Modern preachers often question the value of preaching.  How can a brief
sermon turn anyone back to God?  Who really listens anyway?  In our
present-day churches we are preaching to the converted for the most part.
But one never knows who might be seated there when the Spirit moves a
listening heart.  Even in a residence for the elderly or in a lively youth
group, someone might still come to know that she or he is loved by God is a
special way.  That person may have been baptized as an infant, but never
became fully conscious of what that meant until this moment when the Spirit
acts.  This is how evangelism works.  Our task is to proclaim the message
with the warmth and freshness of the springtime sun.  The Spirit brings it
to flower and fruit.


PSALM 67   This simple hymn of praise may well have been a thanksgiving
prayer after a successful harvest had brought relief from a severe famine.
(v.6)  It most likely found an appropriate place in the Feast of
Tabernacles (Succoth), better known as the Feast of Booths.  This feast was
most prominently observed after the Exile although, but had its roots in
traditional agricultural festivals of the Canaanite people.  Its
assimilation as part of the Israelite liturgy recalled the time of Israel's
wanderings in the wilderness. 

As a time for singing and dancing, this festival featured many liturgical
compositions which may also have included such Psalms as 113-118 and 136.
Considering how the Israelis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the
founding of modern Israel, we can easily imagine the unrestrained
celebrations in which this psalm may have had a significant part.
     
The untranslatable word, Selah, which occurs twice in the text, may have
indicated a place for cymbals to sound.  The superscription indicates that
stringed instruments were also used as accompaniment.  Human voices in
chorus, however, made the predominant music.  The psalm would have been
sung antiphonally. 

Another notable quality of this psalm is its missionary character drawn
from such sources as Deutero-Isaiah and Jonah.  God's goodness to Israel,
so visible in the abundant harvest, should be a revelation to all the world
of God's righteous ways in dealing with those who trust God.  Sad to say,
modern Israel's celebratory praise in being restored to nationhood has been
mitigated by almost constant wars of survival and pre-emptive aggression.


REVELATION 21:10,22 - 22:5   In John's closing vision, he sees the New
Jerusalem, God's holy city of the redeemed, for which God and Christ
provide eternal light and life.  New Testament authors generally used Old
Testament references to tell of how God's redemptive purpose would be
fulfilled through Christ.  The model for the New Jerusalem was a vision by
the prophet Ezekiel during Israel's exile in Babylon.  He too had a vision
of the ideal Jerusalem and the restored temple symbolizing the presence of
Yahweh dwelling among the chosen people (Ezek. 40:1 - 48:35).  The Garden
of Eden (Gen. 2:8-14) restored to its primordial state also lies behind
John's vision.  In John's imagination this beatific vision makes it
possible for all believers to witness constant presence of God and Christ. 
     
Quite rightly, the reading excludes the dimensions and description of the
holy city, for these are symbolic.  In fact, there is a double symbolism in
that the city is also a bride bejewelled for her wedding.  So conservative
an interpreter as evangelist Billy Graham has said that this passage does
no more than describe heaven as a beautiful place and cannot be taken
literally.  But this is not heaven which John envisions.  Note especially
where 21:10 places this eternal city of the redeemed.  Most conceptions of
the future life of the redeemed relocate earthbound creation and humanity
to some undefined place called "Heaven."  John does the very opposite: the
heavenly city comes down to earth.  There is but one meaning for this
statement.  As Professor George Caird has pointed out that Jerusalem can
never appear otherwise than coming down out of heaven.  However we may
quarrel over who has privileged rights to access or to own it, according to
scripture its very existence depends to the condescension of God and not to
any human construction.  The access to the presence of God is always a
matter of grace, not privilege, right or by means of accomplishment.

The absence of the temple also has considerable significance.  It
symbolizes two essential aspects of Jewish thought and religion.  One the
one hand, it clarified the distinction between the holy and the common, the
clean and the unclean.  The temple was holy in that it had been set aside
for the special service of God, separated from everyday, common use.  On
the other hand, the temple also represented the presence of God in the
midst of God's people and God's claim on the whole of the secular world.
The fact that in John's vision there is now no temple in the holy city
means that the divine presence is no longer confined to a sanctuary set
apart, but pervades the whole city and the world it represents.  Would that
we would realize this holy truth now.
     
Still more must be said about John's vision of the holy city.  The
disappearance of the old and the condescension of the new conveys a dynamic
redemptive message.  Into the holy city come the nations and kings of the
earth.  Those who once trampled the holy city under foot have now come with
willing tribute to adorn it.  As Caird wrote: "Nothing from the old order
which has value in the sight of God is debarred from entry into the new....
The treasure that men find laid up in heaven turns out to be the treasures
and the wealth of the nations, the best they have known and loved redeemed
of all imperfections and transfigured by the radiance of God....  Nowhere
in the New Testament do we find a more eloquent statement than this of the
all-embracing scope of Christ's redemptive work."  (G.B. Caird. *The
Revelation of St. John the Divine.* Black's New Testament Commentary.
London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966. p. 278-280.)


JOHN 14:23-29   We cannot tell if any of these words attributed to Jesus
were part of the remembered tradition of what he actually said.  John 
appears to have cobbled together several disjointed themes in this much
loved chapter of his Gospel.  The way in which the editors of the
lectionary have separated the various readings only serves to make the
problem worse.  In some ways, it makes the passage read like a catechism.
Of course, there is the possibility that something like that was the basis
for John's presentation here.  There seems to no reason to separate Judas'
question (vs. 22) from the answer Jesus gave (vss. 23-24), nor to isolate
that question and answer from the preceding segment about keeping the
commandments to receiving the Father's love. 

There is, however, some justification for the separation of the next
segment (vs.25ff) which the NRSV designates by a new paragraph. *The
Interpreter's Bible,* vol.8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1952,  p. 707-715)
seems to have done better by placing vss. 18-31 in three distinct sections:
vss. 18-24, "the threefold union;"  vss. 25-26, "the second Paraclete
saying;" (the first Paraclete saying is in vss. 15-17)  and vss. 27-31,
"peace, joy and security."  In many respects, all such distinctions are
speculative, for the original Greek text had no paragraphing or punctuation
whatsoever and was written in capital letters.  A glance at any Greek New
Testament will show how many small but possibly significant changes crept
into the manuscripts as they were copied through the centuries.

In this particular reading, John deals with the issue of the church living
in a hostile world without the visible presence of Christ.  He tells his
community through these words attributed to Jesus that obedience and love
are the conditions ruling the life of the church and therefore guaranteeing
the sense of Christ's living presence as God's representative.  He then
goes on to make an additional promise that the Holy Spirit will teach them
and bring to their remembrance all that Christ said to them.  Is John here
speaking about the Jesus' story he was then actually writing down for his
community?  And does he also refer to what Calvin many centuries later
would describe as "the inner testimony of the Spirit" enabling us to
interpret holy scripture? 

The final parting words John has Jesus speak have brought peace and
security to countless distressed Christians.  John obviously regarded the
trials his community might be facing as similar to that which Jesus himself
faced the night he was betrayed.  The closer he came to the cross, the
greater was Jesus' sense that his ultimate of security lay in loving
obedience to God's will.  This did not in any way remove him from the
consequences of what others like Judas, Caiaphas or Pilate would do.  This
was no facile counsel like "love God and do what you will," as Augustine
said five centuries later.  Rather, loving God and others in such critical
situations was the ultimate act of faith. For the disciples, for John's
community and for us, this is still so, as vs. 29 assures us. 

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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