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|Psalm 148||Revelation 21:1-6||John 1|
By Benjamin Cowan
The reading from Acts provides Peter’s testimony to the Jewish followers of Jesus what transpired in Acts 10—the first direct example of a large group of Gentiles receiving the baptism of the Spirit. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Peter is criticized for eating with uncircumcised people. Jewish custom viewed eating a meal as proper for those who were of equal status. People who were uncircumcised were viewed as unclean based upon the command of God to the children Israel (Genesis 17:10-14). Gentiles who were circumcised were allowed to participate in table-fellowship but those who were not circumcised were viewed as not being apart of the covenant of God. To address the concerns of his fellow Jewish believers, Peter appeals to divine authority via the vision he experienced of God telling Peter not to call what God has called clean, unclean. The repetition of the vision serves as confirmation of the message. Furthermore, Peter notes that the Gentiles received the same baptism of the Holy Spirit that the Jewish believers had received. Shock and awe came upon those who heard Peter’s story as they recognized that God had made Gentiles equal to themselves through the Holy Spirit, something that they had never conceived of as possible. This same story has played out throughout the history of the church; followers of Jesus are often shocked by whom God uses. In 1906, during the Azusa Street Revival, in a society that was divided by race and gender (still issues in our own time) white males testified in awe that they were receiving the “baptism of the Spirit” through the hands of black male, black women or white women. The cultural norms had been broken provoking awe in the audience. Today, the text asks us to consider, who do we consider to be the unclean? It also asks to consider what is God doing through them. The answer may shock us!
The short Westminster catechism opens with the following question, “What is the chief end of human beings?” It answers that the chief end of humanity is to worship God and to enjoy God’s presence. The confession captures the essence of what the psalmist is saying; however, the psalmist goes further. Whereas the confession focuses on human beings, the psalmist proclaims that everything in the cosmos is to praise God. The cosmos is to worship God and enjoy God’s presence! For the psalmist, God is the one the connects all living things together and inspires the yes to life. Thomas Oord notes in his book, The Nature of Love, that creation is God’s continuing act of love. The psalmist understands God as the source of love by giving life; because of this, everything that is, sentient and non-sentient, should praise the Lord!
The revelator looks upon a new world of peace. The current world, which has been subject to chaos (Luke 4:6), is seen as ending. A new world materializes were the powers of the demonic (symbolized by sea) have been wiped away. The new Jerusalem has come. The revelation of God is clear to all; all see the divine because God now dwells among humans. This results in the end of pain, disease, famine, sadness, and fear. In 1971, John Lennon envisioned something similar in his popular song “Imagine”. He sings, “You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.” Like the revelator, Lennon dreams of a world no longer divided by boundaries, possessions, religions, greed, hatred, etc. This passage encourages us to be bold and envision the world that Jesus lived, died, and believed in even when those around him did not share his belief. Jesus lived his life by dreaming, hoping, and advocating for a brighter future envisioned in this passage.
How can we see this new world? The passage in Acts pointed us to the presence of the Spirit as being able to reconcile conflicting groups (Gentiles and Jews). The psalmist wrote of the unity and connectedness of the creation to God and gives us a sense of cosmological equality. The revelator writes of a future world where peace and harmony is normative. In this gospel passage before Jesus’ death, Jesus reflects on how his life has worshiped God and summarizes his life into a commandment to his disciple. This commandment is to love like he loved (John 13:34-35). Consistent throughout all the gospels is how Jesus interacted and treated the outcast as family. The new world that we hope for is only actualized if we choose to do as Martin Luther King Jr., preached and lived. It is found in having the strength to love. The call is to put love in action. In the ancient world, intimating one’s teacher was viewed as the mark of a true disciple. Commitments were testified to by the action of the follower. Let us indeed imitate Jesus’ life of loving and being willing to sacrifice for the good of all humanity. If we do these things, then the world that Lennon and the revelator longed for can become a reality!