First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at  . 

Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, May 25, 2014

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Readings: Acts 17: 22-31, Psalm 66:8 -20, 1 Peter 3 : 13 -22, John 14: 15


Thanks to Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 2, pgs 472- 495

As I read the readings this morning in preparation for Sunday's service the first thought that came to me is that there is a common theme running throughout the first three readings; the importance of witnessing in words to our faith in Christ.

In Acts we read of St. Paul speaking to a council in Athens. A lot has changed in Paul's life since last Sunday when we read of how he had approved of Stephen's death. Now he is bravely proclaiming the truth of Jesus' resurrection.

Paul has paid close attention to the life and culture of the Athenians and in talking about Jesus he starts where they are. He uses language and thought patterns they can connect to and appreciate. But he does not change or minimize his convictions about Jesus.  He is deeply concerned by the Athenians worship of idols and points to God as “the one in whom we move and live and have our being”. I love this phrase Paul uses and a good sermon might explore what it means that God is the one in whom we move and live and have our being.  

This passage from Acts is often pointed to when considering how we should engage a culture which has many idols and does not share our convictions about God. It points to the need for us to be engaged in our larger culture and to listen and to respond in meaningful ways to our listeners. But Paul never shrank from what he considered to be true about Jesus. Indeed if we were to read on we would see that some people, maybe most of the people, laughed at him when he spoke about the resurrection,but some others came to faith. Paul offered a determined and adaptive witness; a model for us to keep in mind.

The primary theme of our Epistle reading is suffering, how to endure suffering as followers of Christ based on God's first love for us shown in the suffering of Christ and gifted to us in our baptism. But in this conversation there is a wonderful calling to us to give witness to our faith even in the midst of suffering. I think  one of the reasons we are timid to speak of our faith is because there are so many examples of people doing this in hurtful or demeaning or embarrassing ways that we do not want to be like this. So the advice from Peter speaks to this," Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. A good sermon might flesh out what this kind of witness would look like.

Our Psalm is a heartfelt prayer that both incorporates prayer of praise for what God has done for the people, the Exodus from Egypt and release from the wilderness into the promised land, and a personal act of thanksgiving from one person for what God has done for him; just as God has been faithful and shown steadfast love to the nation so He has done so with me.

A sermon might look at how the Psalm can move us to view the wilderness and promised land as metaphors for interior experiences for us and how the psalmists prayers are often and can be our heartfelt prayers as we address wilderness or homecoming within ourselves. To continue with the theme of witnessing, we hear the psalmist say ' Come and hear all you who fear God and I will tell you what he has done for me".

Our Gospel reading for Sunday does not explicitly carry on with the theme I have identified in the first three readings. (Although not in our reading for Sunday, when Jesus speaks of the Advocate later on in John's Gospel, He does speak of how the advocate is the Spirit of Truth, enabling and moving us to testify about the truth of Jesus.) It reflects the fact that soon we will be marking our Lord's ascension and the emptiness his leaving will create for His followers. In response Jesus speaks of the Advocate that God the Father will give to them. This is the Spirit who will abide with us. We will not be orphaned as Christ through the Spirit will be in us.  The coming of the Spirit also anticipates Pentecost Sunday which is also soon upon us. The medium if you will of this ongoing relationship and intimacy with God is love. Keeping Jesus' commands is a way of loving Him and in this context one will know the Father's love.

When I read this text the first thought that came to my mind was our Lord washing the disciples feet, as this was the way he showed His love for them and was the model set for us to follow in loving others. So I really believe that in addition to speaking words of testimony we offer testimony to our faith and relationship with God by loving those around us and throughout the world with humility and as a servant. Perhaps this is the best way we can be like Paul who engaged the culture around him.

Just some quick first thoughts and as always I am keen to hear what your impressions of the readings are. What would you say in Sunday's sermon?