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Introduction To The Scripture For The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; I Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year A


ACTS 17:22-31  			Paul's only recorded attempt to convert 
pagan philosophers in Athens was not particularly successful.  He argued 
from the known, idols along the city streets, to the unknown, the God who 
is the creator of all and now revealed in Jesus Christ.  It was the 
resurrection which so puzzled his audience.  The apostle's address showed 
an impressive knowledge of Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics.  
Born in the Greek seaport city of Tarsus (now in southern Turkey), Paul 
would have been thoroughly familiar with Hellenistic culture as well as 
his own Jewish heritage.


PSALM 66:8-20			This is part of a thanksgiving liturgy for a 
person of some wealth and stature presenting substantial offerings in the 
temple.  The impressive quantity of the sacrifices (verse 15) may have 
resulted in the psalm being preserved.


1 PETER 3:13-22  		Christian conduct under the threat of 
persecution is the central focus of this passage.  The example of Christ's 
own suffering is held out as the model for the faithful to follow.  
Scholars vigorously debate a more controversial aspect of the selection.  
Verses 19 and 20 refer to a doctrine resulting from speculation common in 
the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.  Between the time of his death and 
resurrection, Jesus was said to have preached to the dead.  While we may 
not accept this claim, we can believe that wherever we may be Christ has 
power to save.


JOHN 14:15-21			This selection from "John's Departure 
Discourse" quotes Jesus preparing the disciples for his departure.  Love 
and obedience to his commandments will be the means by which all his 
followers will know his continuing presence.  


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

ACTS 17:22-31   Paul's only recorded attempt to convert pagan philosophers 
in Athens did not prove particularly successful.  We should note, however, 
that he did not provoke persecution as in so many other instances.  
Typically, he argued from the known, idols along the city streets, to the 
unknown, the God who is the creator of all and now revealed in Jesus 
Christ.  As a centre of learning with a great university to which 
contemporary intellectuals flocked, Athens delighted in philosophical 
debate in a purely academic spirit.  It was the resurrection which so 
puzzled this audience.  How little the world has changed in 2,000 years!

The apostle's address showed an impressive knowledge of Greek philosophy.  
But Paul was a true citizen of his time and place, as presumably also was 
the author of Acts.  Born in the Greek seaport city of Tarsus (now in 
southern Turkey), Paul would have been as thoroughly familiar with 
Hellenistic culture as with his own Jewish heritage.  The previous verses 
report that Paul’s debate with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers led to the 
invitation to speak of “this new teaching” about Jesus and the 
resurrection to a much larger audience in the Areopagus (vss. 16-21).  
According to archeological and literary research, the Aeropagus was both 
the name and the site of an ancient court set on a rocky hill near the 
Acropolis where a council of nobles met in the open to adjudicate cases.  
However, Paul does not appear to have been on trial before the court.

Some scholars doubt the historicity of the incident; others prefer its 
genuine narrative quality.  There is certainly room for debate.  The 
Jewish element of Paul’s message comes out in his description of God as 
the creator and upholder of the universe (vs.24).  On the other hand, the 
same statement downplays the temple as the dwelling place of Yahweh, as if 
the temple had already been destroyed in the Roman-Jewish war of 70 CE.  
The next sentence discounts the making of idols and reiterates the 
creation myth of the breath of God giving life to all being.  Stoic 
philosophy also shared the view of the unity of creation summarized in vs. 
26.  There may be a reference to the Wisdom of Solomon 13:6 in vs. 27, but 
the main thrust of vss.   27-28 is pure Stoicism.  The quotations may come 
from different unnamed poets and could have been standard expressions of 
that philosophy.  

One might well question whether Paul made these statements since they 
differ so from his attitude to unredeemed human nature in 1 Cor.  15:47-
50.  Would Paul the converted Pharisee have excused idolatry as do vss.   
29-30? Yet is there not a clear reference to the Son of Man Christology 
and eschatology of the Synoptic Gospels in vs. 32 when he reiterates that 
the resurrection is proof of God’s intervention in human affairs with 
salvific purpose?  Assuming that the author of Acts was a Hellenistic Jew 
of the Diaspora like Paul, would he not likely have been familiar with all 
of this complex of ideas and myths current in the eastern Mediterranean 
world at that time? In the end, however, Paul or Luke does bring the 
sermon to the natural Christian focus on the resurrection, the essential 
element of all apostolic preaching.


PSALM 66:8-20   This is part of a thanksgiving liturgy for a person of 
some wealth and public stature presenting substantial offerings in the 
temple.  The impressive quantity of the sacrifices (verse 15) may have 
resulted in the psalm being preserved.  The psalmist offers his praise, 
however, not only for what God had done for him, but as an example of 
God’s saving help for all humankind.  God’s purposeful actions and special 
providence for Israel have an important place in the psalm, especially in 
the early segment omitted from this reading.  After citing the Exodus as 
one instance for rejoicing (vs.6), the psalmist recalls the Exile and the 
return from Babylon (vss. 8-12) as further evidence of God’s gracious acts 
which call forth praise from God’s people.  

The scene then shifts to the temple where the psalmist intends to make 
substantial votive offerings (vss. 13-15).  He summons all who revere God 
to witness to God’s goodness with him (vs.16), then states his assumed 
worthiness because God had listened to his prayer and his praise (vss. 17-
18).  An appropriate doxology ends the psalm.

One notes the influence of the prophets in many of this psalm’s key 
phrases.  Quite apart from the moral character or wealth of the person 
presenting generous gifts as tokens of gratitude, there is also a deep 
belief in God as Lord of history.  Indeed, the mighty acts of God on 
Israel’s behalf as well as his own motivated the worshiper to make his 
offering.

So what does this psalm say to us at the beginning of the 21st century? 
Could it be that the offering of our wealth as individuals and as nations 
for benefit of the homeless and persecuted refugees of our time, may also 
be seen as our response in thanksgiving to the Lord of history?


1 PETER 3:13-22   Christian conduct under the threat of persecution is the 
central focus of this passage.  It falls neatly into two sections: vss.13-
17 and 18-22.  The first deals specifically with the situation of those to 
whom the letter is addressed.  The second sets forth the example of 
Christ's own suffering as the model for the faithful to follow.
	
From the time of Emperor Caligula less than a decade after the 
resurrection of Jesus, until the reign of Constantine early in the 4th 
century, Christians were never entirely safe from persecution.  There were 
always plenty of suspicious opponents ready to expose them or accuse them 
falsely of all sorts of crimes.  No matter when this passage was written, 
the faithful must have identified with what it says: “You need only the 
protection of good behavior and your loyalty to Christ, for he alone is 
Lord.”

Not just the moral example of Christ, but his atoning sacrifice 
reconciling believers to God and his resurrection to spiritual life form 
the second theme of this passage.  Scholars also vigorously debate a more 
controversial aspect of the selection.  Vss. 19-20 refer to a doctrine 
resulting from speculation common in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.  
Between the time of his death and resurrection, Jesus was said to have 
preached to the dead.  

We also have in vs. 20 an unusual reference to God waiting “patiently in 
the time of Noah....”  There are a few NT and OT precedents to which these 
words may refer.  For example, in Acts 2:27 Peter applied to Jesus the 
words of Ps.16:10.  In Luke 4:17-18 Luke quotes Jesus giving the mandate 
for his ministry from Isaiah 61:1.  Was the early church already 
speculating about what happened to Jesus during the days after his death? 
And what was the fate of those who had died before the gospel had been 
preached? 

Later in the 2nd century, the Apostle’s Creed included the clause which 
many reject today, “He descended into hell.”  During the Middle Ages “the 
harrowing of hell” became a significant part of Christian theology.  
Interpreted in today’s speech, that involved not only Christ’s descent, 
but the defeat of the powers of evil and the release of its victims, just 
as the above texts had suggested to fertile medieval imagination.

Perhaps even more significantly, vss. 20-21 link the myth of Noah and the 
flood with baptism and the saving effect of that sacrament.  The symbol of 
the ark has been found in early Christian art as evidence for such 
linkage.  Reform Protestants may argue that this sounds very much like 
baptismal regeneration.  The moral and spiritual effect of baptism for the 
new converts, however, seems closer to the meaning of the sentence.  A new 
life is possible because of Christ’s resurrection and his sovereignty with 
God, the real meaning of the ascension.

While we may not accept all that this passage claims, we can believe that 
wherever we may be our crucified, risen and sovereign Lord has power to 
redeem us and reconcile us to God.


JOHN 14:15-21   This further selection from what scholars call "John's 
Departure Discourse" quotes Jesus preparing the disciples for the future 
when he will no longer be with them.  Sentiment, if nothing else, demands 
that we regard these as Jesus’ own words; but they have been filtered 
through the prism of John’s mind and the six decade old tradition of the 
apostolic church.  

The clue to this is the Greek word *parkletos,* translated variously as 
“Advocate,” “Counselor,” and “Comforter”.  It appears here, in vs. 26, in 
16:7, and again only in 1 John 2:1.  The word describes the role of the 
Holy Spirit (vs. 17).  The point being made, of course, is that instead of 
having Jesus’ physical presence to guide their discipleship, they will 
always have the Spirit as his personal indwelling presence.  The Spirit’s 
function is identical with that of Jesus himself.

The use of the personal pronoun indicates that by the end of the 1st 
century when John wrote, the Spirit was already regarded as fully 
personal.  In *The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary* (III.  654.  Nashville: 
Abingdon Press, 1962), G.W.H.  Lampe says, “Indeed, the ‘paraclete’ 
passages of the Fourth Gospel mark the most highly developed thought in 
the NT in respect to the personality of the Spirit of God.”  The doctrine 
of the Trinity was not far behind as the creedal statement and theological 
interpretation of this spiritual reality (vs.20).

Perhaps vss.   18-19 contain the most astonishing claim of all in this 
reading.  It rings triumphantly across the gravesite of every believer 
giving hope in the deepest shadows of death.  The reference is to the 
resurrection.  However, it does not mean the physical resuscitation of the 
mortal body, but resurrection of both Jesus and those who believer in him 
to an entirely different life.  Jesus’ reunion with his disciples is a 
powerful motif through all the gospels and is most clearly stated here.  

Bishop J.A.T.Robinson, of “God is dead” fame, wrote in an article on the 
resurrection in *The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary* (IV.50.): “The 
Resurrection means that Jesus is restored to his friends, never again to 
be separated from them.  (John 16:22)....  The promise (of 14:19) 
corresponds to the promise given to the disciples in Mark 16:7.  And this 
restoration is not a mere human reunion but a permanent divine indwelling.  
(John 14:23; Matt. 28:20)....  If the Resurrection means that Jesus 
through the Spirit is to be with his disciples, it means equally that the 
disciples are to be with Jesus, to share his risen life.”  The rest of the 
NT expresses the same truth just as forcefully, if in different words.  (2 
Cor. 4:14; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12; 3:1; Rom. 4:17; 6:3-8; 1 John 4:9; Acts 
5:30-32; 13:37-38; 1 Peter 3:21; Rev. 7:9-17)  How can we argue against 
such weight of evidence that God’s intention for us is that being 
spiritually alive, we too shall live with Christ here and hereafter?
 
                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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