First Reading: Acts 17:22-31
22Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Psalm: Psalm 66:8-20
8Bless our God, you peoples;
let the sound of praise be heard.
9Our God has kept us among the living
and has not allowed our feet to slip.
10For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
11You brought us into the net;
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
12You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
13I will enter your house with burnt offerings
and will pay you my vows—
14those that I promised with my lips
and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.
15I will offer you burnt offerings of fatlings with the smoke of rams;
I will give you oxen and goats.
16Come and listen, all you who believe,
and I will tell you what God has done for me.
17I called out to God with my mouth,
and praised the Lord with my tongue.
18If I had cherished evil in my heart,
the Lord would not have heard me;
19but in truth God has heard me
and has attended to the sound of my prayer.
20Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer,
nor withheld unfailing love from me.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
13Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Gospel: John 14:15-21
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Today, to wet our thinking for the text, let us think of words that start with “A” that we might use to describe God. Please share for a moment.
Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
During our Easter Season we have traveled from the hallelujahs off Easter Sunday and shouts of “The Lord is Risen” to the testimonies of people who saw the risen Christ as they sheltered behind locked doors that evening – scared. We looked at testimonies from others who encountered Christ through the Word he opened to them after they left Jerusalem walking home to Emmaus, just overwhelmed by all the events that took place that day. We reflected on being his sheep and recognizing his voice as he calls. We were challenged last week not to just listen but to believe the voice of the risen Christ because he is God, is preparing a place for us, and because he has a perfect track record of doing good and going before us to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Today we come to another imperative. We not only listen and believe but we must also act on our beliefs. Faith is not just a brain rush and a hope but it is a way to live. Let us look at the text.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The foundation of our relationship with God is love, not fear of punishment. He deals with us not as an authority keeping track of our good and bad moments but as a parent with a beloved child. We love our kids when they have poopy diapers even if we hold our nose. We care about our friends even when they are angry with us. We pray for friends when they are not with us and are struggling. We rejoice whenever we get a love note and “keep the faith” when they are silent. Keeping God’s commandments is based on love and trust that this unseen deity loves us too.
The word “commandments” carries the connotation of law. In fact we call the 10 Commandments, The Law. We often think of them as holding up a mirror of perfection that drives us to acknowledge our need for God and that drives us to our knees crying for mercy. Today “The Man” is often portrayed, as an authority figure to be despised who has no empathy for the plight of a person’s situation. It is easy to think of God as “the man.” We just didn’t see that stop sign. We are planning to fix the broken light. Circumstances and the other guy drove us to do what we did. Please understand and have mercy!
I am guilty of thinking of God as an ultimate authority. My husband has encouraged me through the years to think in terms of guidelines and not rigid laws. The 10 Commandments are like the operation manual telling us how life works best. If we don’t kill by murder or hate, if we don’t spread lies or covet and if we honor God then life will flow much better. There will still be trials and problems but we will weather them better by turning to God and following his guidance. God’s guidelines are based on his love for us!
16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate”
Advocacy is a big word in our culture today. We march. We speak truth to power. We write letters and sign petitions. We want to believe our voice is heard. Others advocate through their actions. Bethany has a garden and provides a daycare for young children. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be not only with us but also in us. He is not off marching in Washington for fairer laws. The Holy Spirit lives in us, revealing truth to us to live our lives. But the Spirit is also an honest mirror that reflects through our conscience the truth about ourselves and where we need to change so we can be our better selves. The Holy Spirit interprets our prayers when we are so lost in a dilemma that we do not even know how to pray. That is advocacy with empathy! That is a love relationship and not just a popular cause that is being promoted. God cares and advocates for us.
18“I will not leave you orphaned”
One of the big words in our family is “adoption.” My husband was a war baby and adopted at two months. That defined his life as his new parents carried him to Kenya, East Africa. The abandonment of his birth mother and the adoption by his parents defined him! We adopted two abandoned Kenyan orphans and that defined their lives. It threw them into the confusion of a bicultural and biracial family and resulted in identity crises that many do not face. Jesus promises that he will never abandon his followers, his children. He did not promise us happy-ever-after. He has adopted us and we are his and that defines our future.
I would suspect that one of the hardest aspects of trials and problems is the sense of aloneness and the voice that says no one cares. That is the voice of the evil one who is “the father of lies.” Community, the body of Christ, is so important to all of us at all points in our life story. We pledge prayer and support to that baby being baptized. We witness vows of faith at confirmation. We rejoice at weddings, graduations, and grieve together at funerals. At those horrible moments like divorce or job loss or moving, we throw arms around each other and remind ourselves that we are not abandoned by God who walks with us into the unknown future.
I must ask us to pause for a brief moment and ponder if there is someone we know who is going through a transition that needs our support? Or, perhaps we have been reluctant to ask for the support we need for the trauma we are facing. If you are like me, a hug goes a long way to relieve those hard times and remind me of God’s presence even as the sunrise and sunset do.
”I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
I deliberately am choosing to use the word “adore” that starts with A. The word “love” has been cheapened by movies, by false promises of people who have betrayed us, and leaves a bit of a flat taste in my mouth. It is so easy to respond, yeah, God loves me as long as I obey, keep his commandments, but what about the days when I go to bed giving myself a big F for mouth in motion, forgetful memory of an important occasion or or or. My mind wonders how God can love me when I am such a failure. That, my friend, is worldly wisdom. We are in the Easter season and the cross is certainly a symbol of a world religion that rejected the messiah they were anticipating, of demanding crucifixion of the man who had healed and fed them, and the horrible humiliation of exposure to the crowds. To the world, Jesus got an F. In God’s wisdom that we do not understand, Jesus got an A at that moment that he showed his love, his adoration for his creation. He did not abandon and did more than adopt, he adored us enough to walk through death and open access to God. We say he died for our sins, that’s advocacy. Easter continues the truth with resurrection that speaks to our adoption and continued connection with him – not abandonment. Christianity speaks of a God who adores us even when we are not our better selves.
Jesus says that not only does he love us but he will also “reveal” himself to us. I’m going to call that A#4: Available. We do not have to be afraid that God is on a conference call with the angels in the Middle East or Ukraine/Russia, getting the latest news. Jesus says that in his love, he will reveal himself and be transparent.
I love those sappy DVDs about the mail order brides who travel from the East Coast to the lonely widower who needs someone to help with his children and “make a difference.” The two people gradually reveal themselves to each other and need turns into love and committed relationship. Part of that growing story is the willingness to open their hearts about their past pains and the willingness to be available to the future pains relationship involves. Jesus promises that God will reveal his reality to us and I think that means with all honesty. He lets us know what upsets him and what pleases him about the situations we get ourselves involved in. His love is not just a contract of commitment but also a relationship of availability.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
So where does that leave us today? It is Easter season and we know the Lord is raised. People saw him. He fulfilled the prophecy of Scripture. He is a Good Shepherd calling to us to follow him. He knows us by name and we can learn to recognize his voice. We can believe and trust him. We can walk the talk. God loves us and gives us commandments to show us how to have a good life. He is our Advocate, not Abandoning us but Adopting us, and he Adores us and is always Available. That’s a pretty good report card of A’s!! He walks with us through the tests that confront us this week. WOW!
Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”