Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
Additional reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is available in Sermon Seeds Year C from The Pilgrim Press.
Worship resources for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C can be found at Worship Ways.
Note: We continue our special Mission 4/1 Earth series of preaching reflections on the lectionary texts for the Easter season, written by professors at our United Church of Christ seminaries. Weekly Seeds Bible studies for these weeks will be adapted from these reflections and available each week at http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/ (also by free email subscription).
Professor Ken Stone
Chicago Theological Seminary
In today's Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus speaks to his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, Jesus tells the disciples, will serve as a teacher after Jesus has gone (v. 26). Indeed, John's Gospel indicates that the teaching of the Spirit will expand upon the teaching of Jesus, which the immediate context of John 14 associates with love, peace, and the doing of God's word. According to John 16:12-13, the Spirit will even teach the disciples about matters yet to come that Jesus was not able to tell them, since the disciples weren't ready to hear such things during Jesus' life.
If the Spirit continues to teach after the time of Jesus, then we as Christians need to ask ourselves continually what the Spirit might be teaching us in new times and places. We need to be open to emphases that earlier generations of disciples weren't ready to hear. What is the Holy Spirit teaching us today?
Many Christians associate the Holy Spirit primarily with the redemption of humans. The redemption of the earth is not so frequently linked to the Spirit. In fact, if we look around at the damage that humans have caused to the earth, we may begin to suspect that too much emphasis on the Spirit has led Christians to an otherworldly faith. As we are only too aware, Christian "spirituality" has too often been associated with neglect of our environment and neglect of the bodily needs of humans and other living creatures. Such a faith ignores our existence as embodied creatures who share a fragile earth with other embodied creatures.
However, the Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, in his book The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, that the Spirit is actually "the divine energy of life animating the new creation of all things" (p. 9). The experience of this Spirit, in Moltmann's view, leads us beyond ourselves and our local congregations "to the rediscovery of the same Spirit in nature, in plants, in animals, and in the ecosystems of the earth." Thus Moltmann directly links "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" with "the community of creation" (p. 10). In the view of Moltmann and other theologians, the Spirit promised by Jesus will lead us toward a faith that is the very opposite of an otherworldly spirituality.
One of the places where Moltmann directs our attention in order to help us understand this Spirit better is the Hebrew Bible. There the Spirit takes the form of the ruach of God. This ruach – translated spirit, wind, or breath – is present from the beginning of creation, moving over the face of the waters that God must command in order to create our cosmos (Gen. 1:2). God sends forth this Spirit to create living creatures, and to renew the face of the soil or adamah (Ps. 104:30), the very same adamah from which humanity, adam, (Gen. 2:7), as well as all the other animals (Gen. 2:19), are created. Humans and animals have this same ruach within us. Indeed, we cannot live without it (Ps. 104:29; Eccles. 3:19-21); and when we die, the ruach returns to God who gave it to us, leaving behind only our dust (Eccles. 12:7). The Spirit is therefore associated in the Hebrew Bible with the same God of creation who calls the earth and all of its creatures good (Gen. 1:31), the God who blesses us by causing the earth to put forth its produce, as God does in this week's Psalm reading (Ps. 67:6). No wonder the earth itself is invoked when the Psalmist reminds us all to revere God (67:7). As another Psalm puts it, God's love extends to the heavens, God's faithfulness extends to the clouds, and God saves human and animal alike (Ps. 36:6)
In the light of these associations, we need to be open to the possibility, or rather the likelihood, that the Holy Spirit today is teaching us to love God's creation just as God does. Indeed, many churches appear to be responding to just such a teaching. The UCC's Mission 4/1 Earth is only one example of the ways in which churches of all persuasions – Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic – are beginning to acknowledge more consistently the importance and goodness of God's creation.
Yet our reading from John 14 also reminds us that it is not enough to love the earth, though that is a crucial first step. We also have to act on its behalf. As Jesus says to his disciples, "those who love me will keep my word" (14:23). If the Spirit promised by Jesus instills in us a recognition of God's concern for creation, we will become aware of our responsibility to take concrete steps to care for the earth and all of God's creatures. Our Spirit-driven Mission will truly be directed to all of creation, and not only to one another. In this context, keeping the word of Jesus and the Spirit may mean recycling, lowering our carbon emissions to reduce the impact of climate change, insuring habitat for other living creatures, protecting endangered species, lobbying on behalf of environmental regulations, and any number of other forms of creation-care that the disciples in Jesus' time could not have imagined. So this week, let us ask what steps can we take together as Jesus' disciples, inspired by the teaching of the Spirit of Life that Jesus promised to send, on behalf of God's earth and the community of creation.
Our guest writer this week for Mission 4/1 Earth:
Dr. Ken Stone is Professor of Bible, Culture, and Hermeneutics at Chicago Theological Seminary. A Lambda Literary Award winner, he focuses his research on the relationship between critical theory and biblical interpretation and matters of gender, sexuality, animals, and ecology. He holds a B.A. from Lee College, M. Div. from Church of God School of Theology, Th.M. from Harvard Divinity School, and M.A., Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make God's face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere God.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
"You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me." Jesus said to him, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
Liturgical notes on the Readings
In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:
First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel
The first two lessons are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.
The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.
A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.