- Acts 10:44-48 and Psalm 98
- 1John 5:1-6
- John 15:9-17
Full texts are available at the RCL web site.
These readings are from the RCL list and may vary slightly in denominational lectionaries.
The author of Luke-Acts spends considerable time (Acts 10:1-11:18) on the story of Christianity's first breakout from a strictly Jewish environment to embrace people of non-Jewish ethnicity. This move to include the "Gentiles" was to have a major impact on the subsequent development of Christianity and, in due course, on world history.
For the lectionary designers, the significance of this passage lies primarily in its reference to the Spirit. We read this text prior to Pentecost Sunday, but in Luke-Acts it represents something of a reprise of the Pentecost story. The imitation of Pentecost even extends to the phenomenon of speaking in tongues (glossolalia), although this time it is not Peter and the apostles but rather the audience who exhibit this sign.
It is possible that one of Luke's main purposes in this episode is to establish the credentials of 2C Christianity as a respectable religion in the eyes of the Roman elite. He seems to have been aware of the primitive Christian traditions of glossolalia which were well attested in 1 Corinthians, and may also have been familiar with it as a feature of contemporary Christian communities with a more "enthusiastic" style of spirituality. The Montanists, who thrived around the middle of the 2C and were to attract their most famous convert - Tertullian - soon after 200 CE, were presumably not the only Christian movement with such characteristics in Luke's time.
While Luke could neither deny nor ignore this enthusiast stream within Christianity at the time, he could tell the story in such a way that the various outbreaks of charismatic phenomena (and especially glossolalia) were domesticated and pressed into service as examples of Christian virtue and discipline:
- In the story of Pentecost (Acts 2) we find an apologia against charges of drunkenness: "these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. (Acts 2:15) Peter then proceeds to connect this ecstatic phenomenon with ancient oracles of the Jewish people, suggesting a divine providence at work in these bizarre events.
- In the story of Simon Magus (Acts 8) we find an apologia against charges of magic and charlatans: "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God." (Acts 8:20-21)
- In this week's episode at the home of Cornelius (Acts 10) we find an apologia against the cult of personality: "On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, 'Stand up; I am only a mortal.'" (Acts 10:25-26) In this case, Luke has prepared his reader for this dramatic shift beyond traditional ethnic and religious boundaries with a special revelation to validate the development.
- Finally, in the story of the Baptists at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6) we find an apologia against the followers of John the Baptist: "'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?' They replied, 'No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.' Then he said, 'Into what then were you baptized?' They answered, 'Into John's baptism.' Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.' On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied." (Acts 19:2-6)
In all these cases, we also see the clear exercise of apostolic authority and the willing acceptance of that authority by the wider community of believers. This would all have been very reassuring to a Roman readership for whom self-control and discipline were significant virtues.
Online resources re Glossolalia:
1 John 5
This brief passage continues some of the themes seen in earlier excerpts from 1 John, but with a particular focus on the physical reality of Jesus as a human being. Perhaps of special interest to the lectionary designers, there is also a reference to the definitive role of the Spirit:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. (1John 5:1–6 NRSV)
Gospel of John 15
This passage continues from and develops on last week's passage with its central imagery of the vine. In this case, the focus is more on the chosen status of the disciple. This choice draws them into a relationship of mutual affection and interdependence with Christ, just as his chosen status as the beloved Son had drawn him into a similar relationship with the Father.
Neither Christ nor the Christian can be properly characterized as servants of the other party in the relationship. Rather, both now stand in a different relation: Jesus is the "Son," while the disciples are "friends."
Obedience to the commandments, and especially to the obligation of love, lies at the heart of this special relationship. This love has no limits. The gift of self for the sake of the other extends even to death. In the context of that quality of love, true joy is to be found. In the context of such a relationship the Father withholds no good thing from those who seek it.
Such reflections are best read and appreciated as poetic expressions of the lived experience of these late 1C disciples of Jesus, rather than as memories of actual words spoken by Jesus.
It is worth pondering whether our own experiences of Christian community lead us to express ourselves in similar terms?
Is it not the case that every generation of Christians — including (and perhaps especially) the first generations — has developed a way of speaking about Christ that reflects their historical experience of being Christian in their own times and places?
The following pages in the Jesus Database are relevant to this week's readings:
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: