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Introduction To The Scripture For The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Year C
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21, John 17:20-26

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 Seventh Sunday of Easter -  Year C


ACTS 16:16-34            With this double miracle story Luke makes the
point that in Paul's ministry, as in that of the other apostles, the
divinely empowered ministry of Jesus continued.  The miracle of casting out
a demon from the girl with the spirit of divination seems to have been a
distraction setting up the apostles' imprisonment.  Their release from
prison and the conversion of their jailer would serve to convince Luke's
Gentile audience of the authenticity of the Christian message.


PSALM 97                 This psalm is one of a group of psalms celebrating
the enthronement of God.  The others are Psalms 47, 93, 96, 98 and 99.


REVELATION 22:12-21      The passage repeats many earlier references that
point beyond the present to the second coming of Christ. That will be a
time of judgment (vss.12,14-15) when those who are faithful will be
admitted to the holy city and those who are impenitent will be excluded. 
The closing verses have a distinctive liturgical ring to them. They begin
with an invitation to communion from Jesus himself (vss.16-17) and end with
a prayer by the expectant church (vss.20b-21).


JOHN 17:20-26            This prayer almost certainly contains few if any
actual words of Jesus.  Rather, it is John's interpretation of what Jesus'
life, death and resurrection meant for the Christian community for which he
was writing late in the 1st century.  Summarizing the discourse which began
in chapter 13, as well as the whole gospel, it attempts to inspire and
encourage John's own community of disciples.

************
     
ACTS 16:16-34   With this double miracle story Luke makes the point that in
Paul's ministry, as in that of the other apostles, the divinely empowered
ministry of Jesus continued.  What we perceive in this story, however, may
not always be what the author intended.  Some particular points need to be
drawn from the details.

First, the miracle of casting out a demon from the girl with the spirit of
divination appear to have little or nothing to do with Paul's mission,
except as the basis for the charge laid against Paul and his companions.
The whole incident seems more as an inconvenient distraction than an object
of compassion.  Further, those who perpetrated this gross injustice had
only one motive: to avenge their monetary loss. (vs.19)  Finally, Paul and
Silas were charged as Jews, not as Christians.  They were accused of
"advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or
observe." (vs. 21)  Cultural differences had little significance in such a
cosmopolitan city as Philippi.  Obviously the spurious charge bore no
relation to their mission.  It served only as an excuse to arouse the
hostility of the local community against Jews who had recently been
expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius.  Anti-semitism may have been named
only in the late 19th century, but it existed nineteen centuries earlier.

The miraculous liberation of Paul and Silas from prison and the conversion
of their jailer would serve to convince Luke's Gentile audience of the
authenticity of the Christian message.  Yet there is more to the story than
the striking text which has generated so many evangelistic sermons: "What
must I do to be saved?.... Believe on the Lord Jesus...."  One might go so
far as to say that this exchange was no more than the opening gambit in the
jailer's conversion.  Vs.32 plainly informs us that more instruction
followed as Paul and Silas "spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who
were in his house."  In spite of the fact that baptism of the whole
household followed "that same hour ...without delay," this did not occur
without specific catechetical instruction.  These details leave no room for
an anti-intellectual attitude toward conversion.
     
The story also gives us an opportunity to identify and respond to an
important contemporary justice issue.  The idea of a mentally sick girl
being enslaved for profit sounds incredibly abusive to us.  But is it so
far from what we hear is happening on our own city streets?  To save money
governments have closed psychiatric wards and released patients be cared
for or to care for themselves through drug therapy.  In allowing this to
happen without public protest, are we not also perpetrating no less abuse?  

A new book by the renowned urban scholar, Jane Jacobs, *The Coming Dark
Age,* describes the growing number of homeless, helpless mentally ill and
addicted people living on Toronto streets as one of the signs of the city's
decline even though the city produces many billions in taxation for federal
and provincial governments while having too little to pay for essential
public services.


PSALM 97   This psalm is one of a group of psalms celebrating the
enthronement of God.  The others are Psalms 47, 93, 96, 98 and 99.  In many
respects, the vocabulary of all these psalms is similar.  This enthronement
celebration occurred at each Jewish New Year.  It acknowledged God's
awesome power, God's justice and God's absolute supremacy over all
creation. 
     
Jewish theology did not depend on abstractions.  Anthropomorphism -
defining the nature of God in terms of human characteristics - featured
much of the Jewish concept of divinity.  Perhaps it could not have been
otherwise.  The human mind abstracts from what it observes in the immediate
environment such symbols and metaphors it can use to describe in words what
is essentially indescribable.  Does God really reign from a throne
enveloped in "clouds and thick darkness?"  Of course not, but these images
enable this poet to convey the ideas of divine sovereignty, righteousness
and justice.  In fact, vss.2-5 actually describes a violent thunderstorm
raging over the mountains.  In vs.6 the storm has passed and glorious
sunlight reflects the divine glory for all to see.
     
In vss.7-9, the poet's vision shifts from nature to religious objects of
worship.  Unlike the Greeks and Romans who espoused many religions and
absorbed them in a syncretist fashion, Israel's prophets fought a
continuing battle against idolatry and false religion.  The psalmist shared
this prophetic faith.  He did not deny the existence of idols, but
unequivocally declared their worthlessness (vs.7) and Yahweh's sovereignty
over all (vs.9).  Hence there could be both hope for deliverance and
security for the faithful, righteous believer. (vss.10-12)


REVELATION 22:12-21   The immediately preceding passage (vss. 6-11)
indicated clearly that this reading formed part of the epilogue to the
book.  This segment breaks into the middle of John's testimony about his
conversation with the angelic messenger whose words John recounted after
being warned to worship God and not the messenger, as John had begun to do.
That warning brings to the fore a singularly important truth about
scripture: It is not the Bible, nor the words of the Bible, nor the one who
preaches the Bible message who is to be worshipped; but God alone, for God
alone is holy.
          
The passage repeats many earlier references and points beyond the present
to the second coming of Christ.  That will be a time of judgment (vss.12,
14-15) when those who are faithful will be admitted to the holy city and
those who are impenitent will be excluded.  Professor Caird believed that
John expounded a realized eschatology "in which the final coming of Christ
in judgment or reward is constantly anticipated in the crises of individual
and corporate life....  In the midst of the daily life of Smyrna and
Pergamum, Babylon and Jerusalem exist side by side.  Their citizens rub
shoulders in the streets of Sardis and Philadelphia.  The Conqueror of
Ephesus may see an open gate in heaven giving him the right to the tree of
life."  These were the communities to which John was writing.  So also the
eschatological judgment of the Book of Revelation applies in Halifax and
Victoria, Washington and Moscow.
     
The closing verses have a distinctive liturgical ring to them.  They begin
with an invitation to communion from Jesus himself (vss.16-17), move on to
a hortative warning and end with a prayer by the expectant church
(vss.20b-21).  The invitation is open to "whoever hears."  Those who hear
will also respond together with the antiphonal voices of the disciple
community, "Come!"
     
The words of warning that nothing should be added or excluded from the book
have a somewhat curious ring to them.  Did John intend that his book should
be read in the churches to which it was addressed?  One of the
characteristics of Jewish scripture was that its text should be regarded as
inviolate.  Everything written must be preserved intact. (Deut.4:2; 12:32)
Few of the New Testament authors, especially those who wrote letters, had
such an attitude toward their work.  The legacy of this view has not
hampered interpretation or commentary, but at the same time it has also led
to restrictive theological attitudes which place undue sanctity in the
words themselves rather than safeguard the message they communicate. 

John did not regard himself as the authority on which his book rested.  His
testimony is of Jesus, who is coming soon (vs.20) but who also continually
makes himself known to the gathered community in the breaking of bread and
prayer.  As Caird says, "he is using liturgical language to express what
transcends liturgy.  No one who has read his book can have any illusions
about what the prayer is asking.  It is a prayer that Christ will come to
win his faithful servant the victory which is both Calvary and Armageddon." 
(G.B. Caird. "The Revelation of St. John the Divine." Black's New Testament
Commentary. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966. p. 288)     


JOHN 17:20-26   This prayer almost certainly contains few if any actual
words of Jesus.  It does contain John's interpretation of what Jesus' life,
death and resurrection meant for the Christian community for which he was
writing in the last decade of the 1st century.  It also summarizes the
discourse which began in chapter 13 as well as much of the Gospel.
     
The whole prayer covers familiar themes: Jesus death and resurrection as
glorification; eternal life as knowing God through faith in Jesus, the
Christ/Messiah; the disciples as those chosen to represent Christ in and to
the world; the disciples' need to be sustained in their mission through the
truth they have received from Jesus and now are to share with the world.
          
In this passage, John's prayer attempts to inspire and encourage his own
community of disciples many years later.  Their faithfulness in a difficult
time will keep them in loving fellowship with each other, with Christ and
with God.  It will also enable them to accomplish their mission of making
the "glory" of Christ, the Son of God, known as well as maintain the
elusive spiritual unity the mission requires. 
     
This is still good news for us 1900 years later.  Alas, through subsequent
generations and probably in John's own time, the disciple community has
never achieved the level of faithfulness to which this prayer summons us.
Yet we must still make it our own prayer for our own community and our own
time.  For as this prayer bids: We must all be one, so the world may
believe. 

Exactly a century ago, in 1904, representatives of three Canadian Protestant
denominations, the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the Congregationalist
began serious discussions about uniting in a determined effort to meet the
challenges of a relatively young country rapidly expanding as immigrants
from Central Europe poured into urban areas and across the western
prairies.  Within a decade, the terms of union had been fully negotiated
and agreed upon before being interrupted by the fury of World War I.  It
took until 1924 for all the needed ecclesiastical and legal ratifications
to be completed.  On June 10, 1925, the first General Council of the United
Church of Canada met in Toronto, Ontario.  About one third of the
Presbyterians, chiefly in central and eastern Canada, withdrew and formed
another Presbyterian Church.  The United Church of Canada chose as its
defining motto the Latin words of John 17:21a *Ut Omnes Unum Sint.* ("That
all may be one.")

The past century has brought millions of immigrants from many other
cultures and religious traditions to this country.  This still remains our
hope and the goal toward which we press in a very much more complicated
world. 

                         
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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