6th Sunday of Easter

May 28, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 2: 
Psalm 98
Reading 3: 
Acts 10:44-48 or 1 John 5:1-6
Reading 4: 
John 15:9-17
By Bruce G. Epperly

Easter Weeks 3-6
In this lectionary guide, I have focused on an interpretation of the lectionary readings in light of the inclusive, dynamic, and relational theology and spirituality characteristic of process thought. For the most part, I have focused on the meaning of the text for our time and left the historical-critical analysis to the homilist’s own personal study. There are many fine scriptural commentaries available, including the New Interpreters Bible. I have sought not only to weave together the themes of each week, but to note the common thread which runs through the May readings.

As you reflect on these scriptures in your own spiritual formation and for the spiritual formation of others, may you and your congregation be filled with the spirit of Christ’s resurrection.

The tenth chapter of Acts could be described as the description of a "faith without fences." While it would not be expedient to read the whole chapter in worship, once again the presentation of the context of today’s lectionary reading is essential if the radical call of the inclusive gospel is to be proclaimed. Weaving together prayers, visions, and dreams, the Holy Adventure awakens the faith of a Gentile seeker and then expands the horizons of a ambivalent disciple. (Should the whole tenth chapter be read in worship, I would suggest a readers’ theatre, skit, or dramatic presentation.)

Imprisoned by his tradition’s beliefs in ethnic separateness, Peter is challenged by a heavenly voice, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." All persons are holy. Racial, ethnic, lifestyle barriers do not hinder the movements of God’s Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles. The winds of the Spirit blow where they will, creating not only a priesthood of believers but also a priesthood of receivers!

The Apostle Paul once proclaimed, "be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." To be faithful to God is to open to continuous reformation and transformation as the lure of God calls us beyond the familiar. In this context, the preacher may ask her or his congregation to reflect on questions such as: "What are the spiritual comfort zones that are being challenged in your life? Where does our church need to push the boundaries of its mission and hospitality in order to be faithful to the divine call?"

I John
The Epistle reading explores the power of belief to change our lives. While this passage can be read in the exclusivistic terms of those who do and do not belong to God’s family, I believe that the words "child" and "born of God" are best understood as personal affirmations of our experience of partnership with the Holy Adventure. To affirm the truths of faith is to be born into a new and lively world. Believers see and feel things that elude the unbeliever, for persons of faith have opened the door to the One who stands knocking. How different the world looks to those who see their neighbor as an icon for the Divine or who discover God’s aim working "in all things for the good," even if the external situation is filled with conflict or pain. It has been said that there are really only two kinds of persons in the world: those who are in God’s hands and know it; and those who are in God’s hands and do not know it! In knowing we are in God’s hands, we can claim our birthright as God’s beloved children and our vocation as partners in the divine transformation of our world.

We love God by keeping God’s commandments, and the primary commandment is love itself. In the ecology of love, we are constantly givers and receivers . Within the divine flow state, we receive the love of God and as we let God’s love flow forth to others in our own unique fashion, we also receive the love of God incarnate in them flowing back in return.

The divine commandments are not burdensome precisely because they reflect God’s aims for humankind and for our own lives as individuals. Living in harmony with our deepest nature and the deepest realities around us delivers us from fear and awakens us to thanksgiving. With Psalm 98, we can sing a new and joyful song as we experience the Holy Adventure bursting forth in all things - from the crying baby to the roaring see.

In aligning ourselves with the Divine Law in ourselves and in the world, we "overcome the world." The victory we achieve comes from the confidence that God is - like the sap from the vine flowing through the branches - working within our lives to bring forth abundance and joy even in challenging situations.

The Gospel reading continues the theme of "abiding" in God’s love. While God’s love constantly surrounds and permeates our lives, we experience the fullness of this abundant love when we allow it to flow through us toward others. Love opens the door to security, energy, and unity. When we awaken to God’s love in our lives, we become the "friends of God." Once again, this is neither an exclusive possession nor a mark of superiority. Tragically, many Christians block the flow of divine love by erecting theological barriers of "us" versus "them." In so doing, they forget that all good gifts, including our faith, have their ultimate origins in God’s grace. We all belong to the community of grace, even when we are unaware of it! Divine love breaks down every barrier. Within its circle, everyone can become our guide, inspiration, and support, including those who initially see themselves as strangers or enemies.

When Jesus calls us friends, he calls us to a new vocation. In the circle of divine friendship, we are called to be partners and co-creators, embodying the aims of the Holy Adventure in novel and surprising ways. The imitation of Christ is a call to adventure and creativity. As John Cobb notes, God is embodied in "the call forward" to new horizons of service and healing. The Divine Parent urges us toward freedom and adventure just as we urge our own children, if we are healthy parents, to venture forth beyond the safety of the known.

The preacher might invite her or his congregation to reflect on the divine challenge in its particular context. Where am I called to be a friend and partner of Jesus? Where is our church called to claim its co-creativity and partnership with the Savior?

Putting it all Together:
The lectionary readings weave together the themes of partnership, relationship, and hospitality. A "faith without fences" constantly pushes us beyond the security of personal and institutional comfort zones. It invites us to be a partner in God’s creative iconoclasm, breaking down barriers to friendship and community, and expanding the circle of divine love in unexpected ways. In claiming our partnership with the Holy Adventure, a new and lively world emerges. We discover that even when we take the risks necessary for personal and communal transformation, we are grounded in the security of the Divine Parent’s love.

The Easter readings abound in images of transformation, inclusion, and hospitality. Tempted to claim superiority to our faith or vision of reality, the Risen Christ reminds us that divine love encompasses all creation. Resurrection life is constantly flowing through us, expanding our horizons and healing our wounds. A faith without fences breaks down all that stands between us and the Divine Adventure that beckons us forward. As we open to our place as branches in the Divine Vine, new energies surges through our lives, creating wholeness and reconciliation with all creation.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.