Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 2, 2021
The theme of this reading (and maybe of all the readings today) is the word “unexpected.” One gets the impression that everything that happens in this reading from the Acts of the Apostles is unexpected and immediate. An angel of the Lord speaks unexpectedly to Philip and directs him down a road that leads from Jerusalem into Gaza (into wilderness). The spirit then unexpectedly compels Philip to approach a Gentile eunuch. This is unexpected on a couple of different levels: first, the eunuch is a eunuch and is considered by the culture to be sexually impure and thus unclean. A devout Jew would want to be attentive to his cleanliness and would avoid such persons. Second the eunuch is a Gentile and Jews and Gentiles do not really mix. Another unexpected development is the presence of the scroll. Scrolls were rare and expensive. Obviously this servant of the queen had financial means in order to be in this unexpected possession of a valuable document. A further expectation is the presence of water. They are traveling through the wilderness where water is not abundant. For water to present itself is an unexpected fortuitous event, and prompts the eunuch’s unexpected question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And finally, after this wonderful baptism, Philip is once again unexpectedly moved by the spirit which “snatches” him away and moves him to Azotus. So much of what happens to Philip is beyond his control. The spirit directs him. He obeys by following and doing the work appointed.
What unexpected movement of God’s spirit do you see in your life? Where are you challenged to approach and interact with those who might be outside the circle? What prevents us from offering God’s love and grace to those who might not be in our circle?
These verses are embedded in a psalm of lament. Psalm 22 begins with the words that Jesus subsequently uttered from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a psalm that cries of abandonment and of being cut off and rejected. These verses, however, speak of a time when all will flourish – when all will be fulfilled and satisfied. It is a psalm that speaks of the sole kingship of God and recognizes that all souls belong to God and that all are inclined to proclaim God’s saving deeds.
Sometimes when we are surrounded and overwhelmed by problems, we forget that the time is coming when all will flourish again. Our souls rest in God and when we feel abandoned and rejected, we are exhorted to remember the saving deeds that God has done for us in the past and to proclaim that this saving provision will manifest itself again. Take a moment to celebrate the presence of God in your life and all the things He has done for you.
1 John 4:7-21
Love. A Powerful word. Our presiding Bishop Michael Curry really believes in it and is leading us along love’s way. This epistle exhorts us to love one another because love is from God. If we read carefully through this epistle, here are the things we are taught about love:
· We are able to love one another because love is from God.
· Those who love are born of God and know God.
· God’s love is shown in the sending of His Son.
· This love is what should motivate us to love one another.
· If we love one another, love is perfected in us.
· Those who love God abide in Him.
· Love, perfected in us, empowers us to be bold in the world, just as Jesus was bold.
· There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear.
· The love of God is manifest in our love of brother and sister.
Most of us accept the idea that love is not so much a feeling as it is a decision and a behavior. It is not easy, and in fact, trying to do it can be messy and complicated. But, as Christians, we are called to proclaim and live it boldly, without fear. What would that look like for you?
Jesus asserts himself as the True Vine and the Father as the vine-grower. This is an important and challenging statement for those sections of humanity who like to function as if they are in control. We are not in charge of our own growth. The Father is. The only control we have is how closely we choose to abide in the vine – the True Vine. Those who grow grapes tell me that the branches that produce the most fruit are those who are closest to the vine. So it makes sense that, spiritually speaking, proximity to the True Vine is important. The author of this gospel uses the word “abide” countless times, so we should pay attention to its use. Abiding in the vine and having the vine abide in us is the only way to bear fruit. Apart from our connection to this vine, we can do nothing. An unexpected thing that happens as the result of this abiding is that the vine grower will sometimes choose to prune. He will prune us even as we are growing, so as to encourage more growth and the production of more fruit. And He will prune away that which is not producing fruit. Pruning sometimes can seem counter-intuitive but it is the vine-grower’s way of cleansing us and making room for abundant growth.
Excessive growth of various kinds can be overwhelming. Think of a cancer in your system that might grow unabatedly if it is not stopped. Pruning is essential. What in your own spiritual life needs pruning? What is preventing you from abiding close to the vine? Where are you trying to control your own spiritual growth and where can you submit more obediently to the attentions of the True Vinegrower?
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.