SS Peter and Paul

The Readings

In the Acts, Luke is writing the remarkable account of the expansion of Christianity and the development of the church; and this is despite external opposition, even persecution, and their leaders’ inadequacies and failings. The story is built around the two different characters in the early church of Peter and Paul. Whereas Peter was a headstrong, simple Galilean Jewish fisherman who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry, Paul was a well educated Jew and Roman citizen living outside of the Jewish territory, who after a brief encounter with Jesus turned from antagonism to christians to be come an apostle to the Gentiles. The phrase “in those days” at the beginning of today’s reading, alludes to the time when the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the surrounding area expanded and even included followers of Jesus’ Way who were not Jews – they were Samaritans or even Gentiles. It was this expansion that began to cause disturbances in Jerusalem. Herod, the local ruler, wanted to keep the peace in order to retain favour within the Roman empire, and so began to arrest the Jewish Christian leaders who were the source of the trouble. So our reading concerns the imprisonment of Peter; it was during the feast of unleavened Bread – a sacred time in Jerusalem – so he would be executed after the Passover, as James had been earlier. The story of his escape was passed down by word of mouth – and with significant elaboration – that is what is related here by Luke. This is a good story illustrating how faith can lead us into difficulties and yet God can save us; and there is a delightful incident about Rhoda (in our language Rose) which follows our reading which you might like to read here.

 

The two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are together called the pastoral epistles. They may well date from about the year 100 AD at a time when the organisation of the body of Christians was developing and the difficulties of admitting Gentiles and the like were overcome. But at that time part of the difficulty was the distance in time since Jesus, and even since the time of the disciples who knew him. So these letters are about life and practice in this later church. But the letters do include some passages that seem most likely to come from Paul himself, and our reading today is from one of these sections. In the first paragraph Paul writes about himself in later life as he looks back on the devoted life that he has led and looks forward to his expected reward like that of all who work for the fullness of coming of Christ on earth. The second paragraph in the original begins with a “But” because the text tells of the loneliness and difficult situation of Paul – even being unsupported when taken to court – which explains the ‘but’ before our second paragraph. On this feast of Peter and Paul, this reading shows Paul as a saint in the sense of the word, someone that we would do well to emulate; we should be pouring out our lives for God’s work and confident that the Lord is with us even at difficult times and that we shall eventually get our reward.

Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah is told in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). But Matthew, which we read today, adds a commissioning of Peter to be a leader of the church. This may be because the churches for which Matthew is particularly writing had a special respect for Peter their founder and leader for a time. He is called a rock, which is what Peter means. Neverthe less he also was the most headstrong disciple who so often let Jesus down. This is why he is an admiral saint – someone we can look to emulate in some way because even when we mess things up we can be sorry, be forgiven and still go on to do good things. He was eventually executed for his faith in Rome. Catholics particularly view him as the first overall leader of the Church worldwide – a Pope.

See Jeffs Jottings on Angels

The Body and Blood of Christ

The first reading from Gensis (14:18-20) is an isolated anecdote in the story of Abraham, which may have indicated belief in a universal god outwith the race and descendants of Abraham.  There is also reference to this ‘king of the most high’ in psalm 110 celebrating the kingship of David over the Jews.   The idea of a god over all the people of the world and over all creation was used in the New Testament book called Hebrews (6:18-7:22) and applied to the priesthood of Jesus as understood by Christians.

The second reading is from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. (11:23-26).  This passage is about what Paul learnt from the early Christian community when he joined one group for a communal meal together.  We learn from the gospels, written later than this, that Jesus had shared in meals with friends and others who invited him – he was living the very best way a human can – sharing and befriending all.  This was how He just gave His life for others!  Not only were there those Jews who were annoyed by what He was doing and saying – upsetting their authority, but also many of His followers easily misunderstood him: some thought of Him as a potential leader against the occupying Romans, some in addition that He might be the longed-for leader who would raise the Jewish nation to great height in the world, bringing God’s plan for them (as they saw it) to completion.  It was these attitudes tht would lead to His death.  When Chrristian groups came together later, they wanted to emulate the life of Jesus.  Like all like-minded groups among both the Jewish world and the wider, so-called, pagan empire, the met together and had a meal.  At such meetings Paul learnt how the shared bread and wine were thught of as the life and death of Jesus both given for others.  He was now reminding the Corinthian Church of this, because they were somewhat missing the point of the shared meals.

The gospel comes from Luke: most of 9:11-17.   It is about the feeding of a huge crowd.  This is appropriate today so that we don’t think that Jesus’ last supper was the only time he thanked God and broke food with His ‘fans’ and friends.   More than the others, Luke tells of Jesus’ meals with all sorts of different persons: a banquet in the house of Levi with tax-collectors and sinners, dinner at Simon’s place including Pharisees and a ‘sinful’ woman, at the home of Martha and Mary and invited by Pharisees and lawyers.  Luke portrays Jesus as a friend of everyone, sharing Himself with them and showing them the love of God.  On this feast when we celebrate the ‘last supper’, we must not think of it as like a mass, but rather as a get-together giving thanks to God (which is what ‘blessing’ the bread and cup means) and showing His true self as living and willing to die for others – for all kinds of others.

See Jeffs Jottings on Corpus Christi (as it used to be called).  And a comment on last week’s sermon by Fr Benedict

Trinity Sunday C

The first reading is from the book of Proverbs (8:22-31), which is classed as wisdom literature. The section we have for today is a poem spoken by wisdom herself, Sophia in the Greek. The whole passage is chiefly about the presence of wisdom while God was creating. Among the nations surrounding the chosen people there were other collections of what may be called wisdom writing. Here she is an aspect of God before, during and even after the process of creation. In Christian circles this developed and Wisdom came to be identified eventually as one of the three that comprise God – the doctrine of the Trinity; but this took time and is still a mystery. Despite all this theology and doctrine we see in it, the reading is a quite delightful poem.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:1-5), the most structured of all his writings. He had had difficulties of various kinds in his life as a Christian, and here he tries to express what he has learnt from this. It is a suitable reading for Trinity Sunday because he explains something of the relationship of God to us Christians. It is through the presence of God in Christ with us in our humanity that we who are enabled to believe, realise our right relationship with God (which is what the word ‘justification’ means in Paul). He wants to ‘boast’ of this, but maybe being proud would be a more appropriate way of saying it. When a believer has hardship one is strengthened and builds up a great hope – if for nothing else, for a share in the glory of God; and this strength is the very Spirit of God within us bringing us a deep peace through it all. Thus our life is involved in the very threeness of God, through Christ and the Spirit.

The third reading is from John’s gospel (16:12-15) which is clear from its style. The words attributed to Jesus express both the unity of Father, Son and Spirit, and also the promise that the understanding of the significance of this threeness will develop through time. It can develop for us as individuals in different ways or areas of our lives; for some it might be in an intellectual way with the use of words and thoughts, but for others in a devotional way as they grow loving Jesus or experiencing His Spirit, and for some it might work out in their practical living like Jesus, living for others and with the energy of God’s Spirit. For the Church as a whole it developed the Creed with its faith in the Trinity, but this doctrine, will always be a mystery, although what is important is not so much any grasp of the meaning, as living out the practical implications of being spirited.

See Jeffs Jottings on the Trinity

Pentecost Sunday C

The first reading is Luke’s account of the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as a harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually into a celebration of the reception of the Law as part of their covenant with Him. The Greek word Pentecost which we use refers to the fiftieth day after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for this Christian feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes of the disciples, the women and all the brethren – 120 people – gathering together. In the references to wind and fire there are echoes of accounts in the Old Testament of God’s contact with His covenant people, especially through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19f) for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Luke writes that it celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, he says, “in different tongues.” According to the first letter to the Corinthians it seems some of them had been ‘speaking in tongues’ (called glossolalia) during worship gatherings (as some charismatics do to this day) but Luke has different languages in mind because he wants to make the point that the Good News is for the whole known world, hence his long (traditional) list of different places and peoples; this might be a sign of the reversal of the communal pride and godless aspirations in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11.

The second reading is from 1 Corinthians (12:3-7,12f) which opens with the basic fact that what makes a person a Christian and able to have Jesus as his Lord, is the gift of the Spirit. This Spirit can effect different people in different ways (many omitted in the reading). But variety does not cause the church to be broken up, but enables harmony to come from the different gifts people have. This is said because there were different views and different ways of expressing prayer and the following of Jesus. Paul wants them to see themselves as a body that needs different parts to make it what it is. We know from the beginning of this letter that there were groups in the church that differed in their understanding of what it was to be a follower of Christ. We should be guided by the Spirit that we have, but be careful to be in harmony with the body of believers.

The gospel is the same as that for the 2nd Sunday of Easter:-
The gospel passage (John 20:19-31, is the conclusion of this great gospel of John (chapter 21 reads as a later addition). Jesus comes to the weak and scared humans; He comes with renewed life, physical but also transcending the physical – the resurrected Christ. John always emphasised that Jesus is sent by God, is obedient to God’s will and empowered by God’s Spirit. Now Jesus passes to His followers this same commission; to bring deliverance to all who can accept it. This moment is like a new creation, with a renewed infusion of the Holy Spirit, as at the first creation. Then the gospel brings in the story of doubting Thomas – the sceptic who wants evidence but who makes a baptismal confession “My Lord and my God” when he sees Jesus; and the masterful conclusion which speaks to us all “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.

See Jeffs Jottings for the Feast of Pentecost

Easter 7 cycle C

The first reading (Acts 7:55-60) is Luke’s ending of the story of Stephen the first martyr in his story of the beginning of Christianity.  In chapter 6 he tells how the community of Christians in Jerusalem were. asked to choose seven helpers for the work of serving and extending the number of believers.  Luke then tells of Stephen who was one of the seven chosen by the people and commissioned by the apostles.  But it was not long before his preaching was opposed by some of the Jews accusing him of defaming holy Jewish leaders of the past etc.  Stephen is tried and sentenced to death.  Luke has him deliver a long speech and we listen to its ending in our reading.  He fogives those opposed to him., and Luke tells us that a young lad was guarding the clothes of those who stoned him to death – this was Saul better know later a Paul and by us as Saint Paul.

The second reading is extracts from the last chapter of the book of Revelations (22:12-20) omitting verses 15,18 and 19.  The writer has described the Glorious Future – the fullfillment of God’s plan for creation with the imagery of a New Jerusalem.  He uses ideas from the literture and hopes of the people of Israel found in what Christians call the Old Testament.  The future will be a home for all nations like a  New Jerusalem described here as a bride – it’s like a wedding feast that is coming soon (they thought).  it finishes with the prayer preserved in the very language of the early Jewish followers – maranatha – which is used sometimes in Christian worship in our own time; it can mean “Come Lord!” or “the Lord has come.”

In John’s gospel, a number of chapters are used to express what Jesus would pray for to His Father while still in this world but leading up to his final moments. Some think that because the period leading up to what we call Easter differed in length depending on the lunar calendar, different amount of this long section provided the reading for the liturgy that they had at that time. Today (17:20-26) it culminates with a prayer expressing Jesus’ great desire for the unity of all, of all followers; and this was a unity with each other, but brought about by the more important unity of believers within the very life of God, addressed by Jesus as Father. The characteristic of this unity can best be expressed as love.

See Jeff’s Jottings on the feast of the Oentecos.

Easter 6 cycle C

In the first reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) we hear of an important development in the early Church.  Jesus was a Jew, it was the God that the Jews believed in Who was the God of Jesus, and He and His Father were equally God.  It was this God who chose the Jews and gave them certain guidelines by which to live and to distinguish themselves; among other things the men were to be circumcised.  But now, with the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, many non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus and join His followers.  It seemed to most Jews that if Gentiles accepted their God, then the they should accept His requirements, including circumcision.  But this was not the view of Paul who had come to see following Jesus as a radically new phase in God’s plan of salvation – salvation for all.  It was because of the great increase in the number of Gentile converts that the issue became urgent and was taken to the centre for Christianity at the time in Jerusalem.  The reading omits verses 3-21 where Luke tells us how the matter was considered.  The reading we have takes up again with the letter that was sent accompanied by delegates to confirm the message – circumcision was not required of male Gentile converts. This gives us a hint of how Luke saw the development of centralized authority in the early Church.

The second reading as last week is from the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse (21:10-14, 22f).  It is a further description of the glorious completion of God’s creation in heaven; some verses which elaborate on the description are omitted from our reading .  It is a vision of a place somewhat in terms of the city of Jerusalem, which was a recognised symbol of God’s chosen people considered as a whole community; but this is the ideal, the heavenly Jerusalem.  It is seen as the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, the heavenly gathering of the twelve tribes.  But it is renewed since the work of Christ through his apostles who are spoken of as the foundations of this new Jerusalem.  It is a city that has entrances in all directions throughout the world; the six verses that follow our reading indicate its openness to all nations.  It is a city of light, a further symbolic word for all that is open and wonderful; it is a city with no need for a special temple where God may be found, a city suffused with God’s presence.  The whole description is a vision of what this world in which we live today is in process of becoming.

The gospel of John is a well-developed exposition of the life and death of Jesus and consequently often has a depth that we cannot easily plumb.  But this passage (14:23-29) chosen for the reading today is perhaps meaningful to us for two reasons.  Because of the celebration this week of the feast of the Ascension and also because in two weeks’ time we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  In the reading Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them and they will no more have Him to teach them in the way that he has up to now.  But the Holy Spirit will come to them once he has gone; they will be supported in their work as disciples by this Advocate who speaks now for Jesus just as Jesus spoke the words of the Father.  Those who live by these words will be loved by God.  The passage also is copied in the prayers used just before the Peace in our Sunday service ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’  The common Hebrew word shalom’ for peace has also the rich and deep meaning of fulfillment and completeness.

See Jeff’s Jottings on the feast of the Ascension.

Eater 5 cycle C

In the first reading (Acts 14:21-27), we hear of the last stages of what is, according to Luke, Paul’s first missionary journey. It was beset with difficulties and would have covered about 600 miles in two or three years, mostly travelling on foot together with Barnabas. If this wasn’t enough, he suffered rejection, abuse and even stoning in one place, though even worse would come on his next two journeys. On this first journey Paul really settled into his distinctive mission of attracting the Gentile listeners to become followers of Christ. He would address the Jews in their synagogue first, since he was well-educated in that religion and would be welcomed by them; but many of them couldn’t bring themselves to accept Jesus as the Messiah; and possibly many didn’t like the idea that Paul welcomed non-Jews to join as well, for Paul believed God was for all the human race as Luke tells us here in Acts.
The second reading is from the penultimate chapter of the last book of the New Testament in the Christian bible (Revelations 21:1-5). It is the final vision of John the author of this book. This picture is the ultimate revelation of how creation is fulfilled; the world that we presently inhabit is changed; and since the Christ event, we can already begin to participate consciously in this new and final replacement of our world. ‘New’ is the word, for it is ever surprising, fresh and remarkable; ‘Jerusalem’ is the symbol of God’s people together with Him; and there is no ‘sea,’ as the symbol of all that is fearful and monstrous. The daring image attributes to God both the attractive beauty and the overflowing rapture of the ‘bride’ in the presence of her man. And in the vision, as well as this warming spirit, there is the word of God making us aware of how things are but from our point of view in time, how it is already beginning to be – and it is our privilege to progress this work.
The gospel reading is from chapter 13 of the fourth gospel. The author tries to put into words what Jesus means to us, what his life on earth meant, what it is now when His work is coming to its completion, and most importantly what we, his disciples, have to do. This is the beginning of the final discourses of Jesus that occupy several chapters in John’s Gospel, probably used in Christian meetings prior to Easter (and could be spread over a different number of weeks depending on the time of Easter). The stress is on the love which we, His followers, should have for others.