Year B — The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 6, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 8:26-40 
We sometimes find good news in the strangest places.

Philip — deacon, evangelist, obedient follower of Christ — is sent on his way with an angel’s message on the road to Gaza. The text parenthetically notes that “this is a wilderness road.” Having recently traveled in that area, I can affirm that this is something of an understatement.

There doesn’t appear to be anybody or anything on this road; seemingly, it is the waste of a good church member to send Philip on a “mission” to such a godforsaken, barren place.

This, then, is the setup for the wonderful encounter between the Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Talk about outsiders! (Philip is, of course, a Greek — his partner in this episode is twice-marked as an African and “less than” a man.) 


But what they find as they search the scriptures together is “good news.” Both of these outsiders have been brought in to the life of God, in all its goodness, through Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t that still the bottom line for all of us? My birth doesn’t matter, my station in life doesn’t matter, my sexuality doesn’t matter, the color of my skin doesn’t matter — what matters is the life I am offered in Christ. It is God’s life, and receiving it is good news.

Psalm 22:25-31
This portion of Psalm 22 is a reminder that God’s purpose for the world is just that — God’s purpose for ALL the world.

Stop for a moment and think about what that means; what part of the world or its peoples seem to you to be far removed from the presence or purpose of God? How can we pray (and work) for the world to know God’s dominion?

1 John 4:7-21
Okay, I admit it; I am a long-time fan of Dumb and Dumber (you know, the movie with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.) 

Among the scenes in that classic piece of farce is the one where Lloyd and Harry play a game of “Tag, You’re It!” There are actually two occurrences of the guys playing “Tag” in the movie, and they serve to illustrate (in a wacky sort of way) the enduring bond of affection that the goofy protagonists share. After surviving a crisis that threatens to sever their relationship, they are still best buds in the end.

(Stay with me here…)

When I read the passage from 1 John again, I am struck by any number of important moments:

  • love comes from God
  • when we love, we mimic God
  • we actually “see” God when we see love in action
  • God has sent Jesus as the Savior of the world — an act of love
  • real love is never about fear

But the one moment that really stands out to me in my reading is what I would call the Divine “Tag, You’re It” moment, in v.10 — we did not love God, but rather God first loved us. God sent Jesus as an “atoning sacrifice” for our sins. 

Regardless of your theological take on atonement, it means that sin and its attendant threat of death has been taken care of — finished, kaput, removed, unplugged. God has preemptively and proactively given us life through Christ. All before we ever made any sort of move toward God. We didn’t start the game — God did.

Tag, you’re it!


John 15:1-8 
Dr. Chilton treats the image of the vine and the vinegrower in his sermon below (and does it very well, of course!)

I am struck by the power of Christ’s words here; in fact, Jesus says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (v.3)

There is a key relationship between our “abiding in Christ” as the source of our life, and Christ’s words “abiding in us.”

What does it mean for busy, time-starved, 21st-century disciples of Jesus to allow his words to “abide” in us?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“I am the true vine, and my father is the vinegrower.” John 15:1

My subject today is Holy Heliotropism or Divine Radiation and Human Transformation or The Ministry of Plant Rotation

Let me explain.

There are two women in my life: my mother and my wife. Both are inveterate gardeners in the English mold that I call “out messing in the yard”. My earliest memories are of my mother dragging her hose around the house to water her various bushes and flowers.

My sons tell me that their main memories of their pre-school days are of their mother, with sun-hat and gloves and little plastic gardening wagon, puttering around the yard. 

I am not a gardener, but I have paid attention to their gardening; in particular to the methodology of plant rotation.

Some plants are tied to stakes to force them to grow in a certain way: pea vines and rose bushes and tomato plants and certain other flowers and vegetables. 

Other plants are planted in pots and are rotated in the sun, and grow in the direction of the light. They are shaped by being pulled toward the light. Their growth in a certain direction is not forced, it is encouraged. This growing in the direction of the sun is called heliotropism.

Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. (John 15:5) God is our vinegrower, the gardener of our souls. Here’s a question: What method has our vinegrower chosen to use in shaping our lives into a Christlike shape? Are we forced into a particular direction or are we drawn to the light of God’s love?
Conformity seems to be the world’s way. Conformity to the world eventually becomes what the Prayer of Confession in the Lutheran liturgy calls “bondage to sin.”
To be conformed to the world is to be staked out on the altar of popularity or acceptability, to lose your soul in the effort to go along to get along, to live a life in imitation of what others think you should be and should do.
You will live, but you will not be free; far from it, you will find yourself a slave to the will and the way of the world.

On the other hand, God’s way is the way of heliotropism, of inviting us to be transformed by being bathed in the light of God’s love — by daily turning our faces toward the source of life and love itself.

Martin Luther said that in sin, the human will becomes bent, turns away from God and in on itself.

In their powerful little book on the Lord’s Prayer, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon make reference to this when they say, “The Lord’s Prayer is a lifelong act of bending our lives toward God in the way that God has offered.”
In the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” we sing about this bending toward God in the lines:
 
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
Henry J. van Dyke
One of the great dangers of the church is that we sometimes try to make other folks conform to our ideas of what they ought to be doing if they are “true Christians.”
We attempt to tie them to the stake of our preconceived ideas of how they should respond to the Gospel and we are disappointed when they resist and pull away.

We are called instead to a ministry of heliotropism. We are called to shine the light of Christ in such a way that others will be drawn to it and will begin to conform their lives to it. That is all.

Most of us, if we think about it, can figure out who those persons, those assistant vinegrowers, were for us.
We can look back over our lives and see the people who lived out the Gospel, who acted in a Christlike manner in such a way that we wanted to be like them, wanted to be the sort of person, the kind of Christian, they were.
That is who we are called to be. Assistant vinegrowers, exposing people to the bright sun of God’s love in Christ.
Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Fifth Sunday of Easter

  1. Thanks for a new and hopeful way of thinking of this familiar passage. I really like the image of heliotropism with the light of Christ. Definitely something to ponder this week.

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