Bible Study: 5 Easter (B)

May 3, 2015

Michael Toy, Princeton Theological Seminary

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.” (John 15:1)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Acts 8:26-40

This story from Luke/Acts stars Philip, one of the seven deacons chosen earlier, in Acts 6:5. Philip has just come from Samaria, where he preached the gospel with joyous reception. Now we find Philip on a road in the wilderness where he teaches the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Through Philip, the gospel message is being spread to all people, not just to Jews or even the surrounding nations.

The gospel message is the proclamation of God’s kingdom here on earth. In this story, the gospel is being spread to the physical nations of the globe. This story about the global spread of the gospel offers an opportunity for introspection as well. What corners of your own life need the proclamation of the gospel? Is the Good News about Jesus evident in your finances, work-life balance, attitude and health?

The Ethiopian eunuch humbly and poignantly asks Philip how he can understand the scriptures unless someone explains it. Whom do you seek when you find something in scripture that you do not understand?

In this passage, the Spirit instructs Philip to join the Ethiopian; how does God lead you to proclaim the message of Jesus today?

Psalm 22:24-30

Psalm 22 is an individual lament psalm beginning with the heart-wrenching cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But like all lament psalms, the ending glorifies God, acknowledges God’s omnipotence, sovereignty over the earth, and the universality of the worship of God. God’s far-reaching glory extends from the great assembly to the poor to all the ends of the earth. Verse 28 makes the claim that even those who have died will bow down and worship God. The glory of God also extends into eternity; those who are not born yet shall hear of God’s saving deeds.

The worship of God in this passage is corporate and communal. The worship takes place in the assembly, in families and with all of humanity.

Remember that this psalm began with an individual lament. How does this move from an individual lament to corporate worship serve as a pattern of worship? When have you had individual struggles and found that your worshipping community was a consolation? Conversely, how can the worshipping community be sensitive to the grief and laments of individual members?

1 John 4:7-21

The author of 1 John, in this passage, beautifully describes the relationship between God and God’s beloved. Within this description is a carefully constructed argument that ends with the exhortation for those who love God to love their sisters and brothers. Certainly, it feels good to know that the God of the universe, the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient God loves each of us. But equally important in this passage is the imperative to share this love that we have received. For this author, to be God’s beloved means that one shares that love. On one hand, unconditional love expects nothing in return. How then can the author make the claim that knowing the love of God means we ought to love one another? While abiding in God’s love sounds wonderful on paper, life happens and God’s love is the farthest thing from our hearts and minds. What does it mean to truly abide in the love of God? How can you remind yourself of this throughout the toils and busy-ness of life?

While this passage denounces fear, when we love and care for one another, we often worry and fear for a beloved’s well being. How is the fear that has to do with punishment different from the fear that has to do with caring for another person?

John 15:1-8

This is a difficult passage to swallow, for on a first reading, the message is one of warning and judgment. All those who fail to abide in Jesus will be thrown away, gathered and burned. On one hand, the rhetoric of judgment is a great reminder of the importance to abide in Christ. But on the other hand, the judgment and burning does not seem concordant with many conceptions of a God of love.

At the end of the passage, in verse 8, Jesus teaches, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” In this passage there is no mention of God being glorified by the burning of withered branches. On the contrary, God is glorified when people bear much fruit. And in these lectionary readings, we see that the gospel of love and its fruit is spread throughout the world, through all time and to all souls.

1 John tells us that sharing love starts with our brothers and sisters, those immediately surrounding us. In the story from Acts, Philip has left Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and is now bearing witness to Christ to all the ends of the earth. Finally, the psalm claims that God extends outside the boundaries of the assembly, beyond economic boundaries, past national borders, and even breaks down the barrier of death. “All who go down to the dust fall before him” (Psalm 22:26). What are the implications of this claim that the love of God is extended even to the dead?

All will worship God. Triumph belongs to the loving God, the one who leaves no boundary uncrossed and no person unreached. What hope does this bring to us as we contemplate God’s victory?

One of the perennial questions Christians must confront is this: If God is all powerful and God’s will is always accomplished, what then does it matter if I proclaim God’s kingdom? In the wake of the Easter celebration, the gospel reading compels each Christian to ask herself and himself: In what ways do I currently bear fruit of the resurrected Christ?

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