Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 9, 2021
The Holy Spirit is the one in charge here. Peter and the “circumcised believers” have no control over who receives this Spirit or who hears the word. The fact that Gentiles were “speaking in tongues and extolling God” was evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit and that this particular gift was not reserved exclusively for Jews. The Holy Spirit apparently does not put people into categories or discriminate against people who are different. Peter affirms this when he declares that the waters of Baptism should not be withheld from those upon whom the Spirit had fallen. In short, the Holy Spirit decides who is baptized and who is welcomed in.
We are not in control. We don’t get to decide who comes to Jesus and who doesn’t. The circumcised believers were astounded that the Holy Spirit was given so abundantly to the uncircumcised… those on the outside. In the minds of the circumcised, the uncircumcised were unclean – completely different from them and outside the circle. Who is outside your circle? Who is outside our circle? Who is so different from you that it would surprise you that God would include them in His circle of love?
Psalm 98 exhorts us to sing a new song, remembering how God has won for us many victories, and then connecting with Creation to notice how Creation sings. Find a quiet spot in nature and carefully reflect on these verses. What marvelous things has God done for you? What victories has He won in your life? How can you sing this joy? Then take a few moments to notice how all of Creation sings with joy to the Lord…the trees, the rivers, the flowers, the animals and wildlife. “Let the hills ring out with joy!”
1 John 5:1-6
Who among us does not want to be born of God? In order to be born of God, one must believe in Jesus Christ. Those who love God also love Jesus – those who love the parent also love the child. Evidence of loving God and His Child is obeying God’s commandments. The author of this epistle points out that the commandments are not burdensome and that adhering to them is a natural outgrowth of our love of God. In fact, the grace given to us to adhere to the commandments is evidence of Christ’s having conquered the world.
What is the world that confronts you that you would like to conquer? How can you cling to Christ so that you can cling to God? We are exhorted to be obedient to God’s commandments. For some of us, obedience is a challenging word. We don’t like the idea of having to be obedient to rules. We like to be in charge. And yet, God’s commandments are not burdensome. In fact, as He is the Creator and Designer of us as human beings, the commandments can be thought of as a kind of manual of instructions which should be followed in order to keep us in good working condition. The commandments are essentially this: Love God. Love your neighbor. Do this and you will live well.
In this Gospel, Jesus equates loving God and abiding in God with keeping God’s commandments. Jesus sums up the commandments by saying that we should love one another as He has loved us. That is to say, we should lay down our live for others as Christ laid down His life for us. In following God’s commandments, we open ourselves up to Christ’s invitation to become His friend and not a servant. Friendship with God bears fruit that is everlasting. Friendship with God means that we can ask God for things in prayer and those prayers will be listened to and answered. Friendship with God means that we are chosen. We are chosen and given a gift that enables us to love, and all of this is beyond our human control. All of this happens to us through God’s choice. All is motivated by God’s love. We are not left out.
As a beloved, chosen, child of God, how do you cultivate your friendship with God? What fruit has He appointed you to bear? How do you lay down your life for others? Can we start, even by just acknowledging to ourselves, that others are included in God’s love? I heard a fellow bishop preaching who exhorted his listeners: “Your first name is ‘beloved child of God.’ Act like it!” What would your actions look like if you truly believed that you are called “beloved child of God?”