Act 16:9 – 15
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.” 10 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.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district3 of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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.
We reflect on:
- Paul’s vision during the night and any experience that we might have had that we would describe in this way
- Paul, Silas and Timothy’s response to the vision and their journey to Macedonia and the significance of there being a place of prayer by the river
- Paul’s willingness, in response to the Spirit’s promptings, to go beyond the social norms of the time and begin a conversation with Lydia
- Lydia’s experience when Paul was speaking to her.
The Acts of the Apostles give us such profound insights into how the apostles and the believers gathered around them, responded to the Spirit of God in their lives. There is so much that we can learn from their experience to help us recognise how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and our community.
It was ironical that when I went to the ‘selection conference’, that was part of the process of discerning whether the church would accept my calling as a priest, that I failed one section because I spoke of some visions I had had. The psychologist, who later became an atheist, thought I was mentally unstable. What would he have said of St Paul?
In such a secular society as ours, we need to be people who have the courage to follow the prompting of God and yet the awareness and the astuteness, to not necessary claim that everything in our inner life, is from God.
The ‘Whole People of God’ has an interesting reflection upon this passage:
This passage reminds us that the Spirit of God is never limited by traditional sources of power in order to bring about change and transformation.
Prior to his conversion, Paul operated out of the imperial model of power, using violence when he deemed it necessary to maintain control and to reinforce the authority of religious/political leaders. As a result of his Damascus road experience, Paul discovered a power that systems of domination were simply unable to comprehend. Rather than change through coercion, the power made evident through the Spirit of God brought change through the simple act of listening.
Listening to the Spirit, Paul let go of his original plans and headed to Philippi in Macedonia. Philippi is named after the father of Alexander the Great, who brought Greek culture and language to the region through the power of military might. Macedonia is also the first known place to which this counter gospel of good news takes root in Europe, confronting the power of the sword with the Spirit’s power of listening.
Arriving in Philippi, Paul encounters a group of women at a riverside place of prayer, outside the city gate. In this place of deep listening, Paul ignores patriarchal norms by engaging in conversation with the women. Among the women is Lydia, a worshipper of God or God worshipper, a title given to Gentiles who were attracted to Jewish worship and scripture.
Lydia is an independent woman – “a dealer in purple fabric,” an extravagant material affordable to only the wealthiest. She is the head of her own household.
While with Paul, “God opens her heart to listen eagerly to what was said.” It would be a mistake to characterize the power of listening to the Spirit as a passive enterprise. On the contrary, we are told that after Lydia and her household are baptized, Lydia again takes charge, prevailing upon Paul and Silas to stay at her home. The transformative power of the Spirit has now established a foot hold in this Roman colony, developing a congregation that will remain a source of joy and support for Paul throughout his ministry.
Revelation 21:10 – 14; 21:22 – 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. 11 It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 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. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 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.
1 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 2 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. 3 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; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 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.
We reflect on:
- John’s experience of, in the spirit, being carried away
- John’s vision of the holy city (it is particularly important that we spend time meditating on the details of this vision).
- The 12 gates, the 12 angels, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles as the foundations of the walls
- the light of God that is beyond the light of the sun, the moon and the stars; the light we experience in the natural world, with our senses.
- The Lamb’s book of life
- the tree of life and its 12 kinds of fruit
- how we understand the references to: anything that is unclean, those who practice abominations or falsehoods, or those who are accursed.
- how one day we are to experience God face-to-face.
As stated previously, the Book of Revelation is both profound and complex and, as a consequence, easy to misinterpret. It is a book that we should prayerfully meditate upon so that we might be guided by it to discern God’s divine purpose in the unfolding story of creation.
It is a challenge to our normal human understanding, to hear of light that is not the light of the sun moon and the stars. At the beginning of creation, when God said let there be light, (Genesis 1:3), this was not the light of the sun moon and the stars. The sun moon and the stars were created on the 4th day of creation (being aware that the 4 days are not necessarily 4 days in terms of our understanding of time)
The people of Israel, had revealed to them in many and varied ways the light of God, the glory of God, what they called the Shekinah’. In Christ, God has revealed to us that his Word is the light and life of the world.
One of the roles that the Holy Spirit, spoken of by Jesus, in the Last Supper discourse, as recorded by John, of which today’s gospel is a part of, is to reveal the light of Christ to us.
In terms of the meditation on those who are excluded, see the commentary below on John’s gospel.
The ‘Whole People of God’s’ reflection on this passage aptly speaks of how the vision is central to the transforming power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit invites us into a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, a place for all people and all nations, whose lamp is not the violence of empire, but the sacrificial compassion of the Lamb.
John 14:15 – 29
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 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. 24 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.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.
We reflect on:
- how the Father and the Son dwell within us through the Holy Spirit.
- how because of our love of Christ, we keep his commandments, we keep his word.
- The significance of keeping Jesus ‘word’ and ‘words’.
- the significance of the role of the Holy Spirit in our understanding of Scripture. The Holy Spirit ‘will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you’. Some translations say that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus said and lead us into all truth.
- The significance of Jesus Ascension to the Father for us and all humanity
- how Satan, the ruler of this world, has no power over Jesus
- the significance of Jesus saying ‘rise, let us be on our way’.
Reading Scripture through a systematic process, usually presented in what is called a lectionary, is an ancient tradition of the church. It has great strengths but also some limitations. One of the limitations is a very human one and that is the amount of Scripture that can be included in the readings for any one Sunday. Given the limitations we place on the time we are prepared to give the worship, the length of the readings needs to be restricted. This is well illustrated in the Gospel readings for Years, A, B, C for the 5th and 6th Sunday of Easter.
Year A has as the gospel, for these 2 Sundays, as John 14:1 – 21. Year B has readings from John 15. Year C has readings from John 13 and for this Sunday, John 14:23 – 29
ideally, all of us would do well to read John chapters 12 to 17 and 20 to 21 over Eastertide.
John chapter 14 is the most important of all as it lays the foundations for the disciples relationship with Jesus in the time to come. This includes everyone who has come to know Jesus since his resurrection.
The chapter begins with (1-6)
- Jesus encouraging his disciples to trust in God and trust in him
- telling them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will then come and take them to himself
- that when Thomas asks how will they get there, Jesus replies by saying that he is the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father by him and ‘if you know me, you know my father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’.
the chapter then continues with (8-14)
- Philip asking Jesus to show them the Father
- Jesus replying ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’
- The consequences of the Father being in Jesus and Jesus going to the Father, who is greater than Jesus in a human sense, being, the disciples will do the works that Jesus did and greater.
There is a profound interplay in the discourse between Jesus speaking about seeing and knowing. But seeing is taken beyond the meaning of physical seeing. Seeing and knowing become synonymous.
In the verses, 15 – 22, the foundations for today’s gospel passage, which is also the summation of the chapter, are laid.
The verses from verse 15, outlined how the disciples will know God from now on. These are the foundation stones of how we know Christ. Knowing Christ is based on:
- loving Jesus and keeping his commandments (verse 15); keeping his word (verse 23), and through that love and obedience the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will be with them forever. (Verse 16) Although the world, that is the world of the senses, can neither see nor know the Holy Spirit, Jesus disciples will know the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit ‘abides with you, and he will be in you’. (Verse 17) Peter testifies to this relationship when preaching to the Gentiles in Acts 10:34 – 43, when speaking of what God has done for humanity through Christ, Peter says ‘but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead’.
Today’s gospel is both the reiteration and a development of these verses that precede it, as Jesus answers the question of Judas (not Iscariot) ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?’
The answer is simple in that by loving Jesus and keeping his word, the Word of life within us, which in turn leads us to obey his words (commandments, teachings), and he and the Father will dwell with within us and the Holy Spirit will explain his teachings and lead us into all truth.
We need never fear the times when God seems absent from us, for in fact, it is part of the dynamic of our relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is by Jesus going to the Father that we can experience the Holy Spirit. Jesus sums this dynamic up by saying ‘you heard me say to you, I’m going away and I’m coming to you’ (verse 28)
The chapter concludes with Jesus assuring the disciples as the chapter began to not let their hearts be troubled for he leaves with them and gives them his peace.
The chapter concluding with Jesus saying let us be on our way could be taken physically, which would then make John chapters 15 to 17 seem an elaboration of what happened the Last Supper; or be taken spiritually, in that what they have just heard from Jesus has changed the very being of his disciples and they are now in a new relationship with him.
Consistent with the interaction of Jesus speaking of both the present and future, this new relationship is both now and to come about through his death and resurrection.
This new relationship is introduced with the teaching that follows in John’s gospel, of the true vine and Jesus saying that his disciples are no longer servants but friends.
One of the consequences of this radical change of relationship is that just as, Satan, the ruler of this world has no power over Jesus; so Satan has no power over his disciples.
In summary, through Jesus death and resurrection and he being in the Father and the Father in him and Jesus going to the Father, his disciples will know God through God dwelling within them through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will explain the Scriptures and lead them into all truth.
The Scriptures guide us in our relationship with God in Christ, yet our relationship is ultimately based on God dwelling within us.
It is tragic that as the church has developed throughout the ages, that the primacy of the spiritual relationship with God that each disciple has, has not been given sufficient precedence. One of the consequences of this is that the church has divided over interpreting Scripture rather than giving greater emphasis to listing to the Spirit together.