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The Sixth Sunday of Easter (5/22/2022)

Ps. 67; Acts 16:9-15; Rev. 21:9-14, 21-27; John 5:1-9 (alt.)

Women, [A] vision appeared to Paul …: a man of Macedonia was urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So, setting sail from Troas we made voyage … to Philippi … And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together (vv. 11a, 12a, 13).

St. Paul was continuing missionary efforts in Asia, intending to travel north …; but the “Spirit of Jesus” did not allow it. In a vision Paul saw “a man of Macedonia” summoning him westward for help. Paul pivoted, taking the gospel into Europe, to Philippi.

In sending Paul to this center of Hellenistic and Roman culture the HS was changing the face of parochial Israel centered on Jerusalem for becoming the universal NT church in the world. Paul’s new travel direction would prove seismic; making the church truly catholic.

Later in his Letter to The Romans, Paul Apostle to The Gentiles posits his mission assumptions, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14b, c, 15a [RSV]).

Paul’s mission into Europe created something of a “Catch 22” situation. Preaching is not the work of street-corner itinerants; rather it proclaims and teaches within the precincts of God’s gathered people.

St. Paul describes himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5). In Asia Paul would have more readily located a synagogue in which to preach, a “minyan”, consisting minimally of ten male heads of household. In Philippi, Paul did not find a “minyan”; but a gathering of believing women near a riverside in prayer, desiring to hear God’s word.

Presumably this was the “help” requested from the “Macedonian man vision”. Paul seated himself among the women, the authoritative posture of a Jewish teacher; and preached Christ.

Where were the men; where was Lydia’s husband, if she had one? Well, they were nowhere found to hear God’s word for open hearts (Acts 16:14b). Lydia, upon coming to faith by Paul’s preaching was baptized with her household.

Lydia, like Paul, was a woman out of Asia, a trader in purple dye affording a measure of wealth. She invited Paul to abide in her house where by word and Baptism Paul established in the west, a congregation, no longer a male defined “minyan”.

Still, the Church does not invite women into her gospel Office of word and sacrament; gospel Service is from male to female, proxy for Christ with his Bride (Gen. 3:16b). Rather faith and Baptism (Acts 16:15) does away with outward distinctions: Jew/Gentile, circumcised/uncircumcised, male/female, young/old; all are one in Christ abiding as Bride, (Rev. 21:9); and pictured by Paul in Lydia’s household.

Lydia’s household was unexpected for church expansion into the world. When God does something new, he publishes it by his word; thus, Paul’s rhetorical query, “how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14b, c, 15a [RSV]).

Once the word opens hearts to faith and Baptism in the HS, something cataclysmic and disorienting occurs, Judgment! Either one receives Christ’s atonement for sin apart from our works; or one refuses leading of the Spirit, preferring old ways, continuing either secular life, or adopting a form of religion with only the appearance of Christianity.

It is no coincidence that many of the church’s initial converts were scribes and Pharisee’s who imported Mosaic law into the “grace and truth” of the NT, a mentality we see among “broader Christendom’s” heterodoxies.

Movement out of the old into newness enhances a sense of abandon. Something like that occurred in today’s Gospel. Jesus offered an invalid a new Way. The man had languished thirty-eight years by the Bethesda’s Sheep Gate pool in which temple lambs were cleansed for temple sacrifice.

Tradition allowed that if an infirmed person entered the sheep pool when an angel “troubled” the water; healing would occur. Jesus approached the man and asked, “Do you will to become whole?” (Jn. 5:6b). Jesus spoke of “wholeness” beyond the physical.

Still the invalid man thinks in old categories, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool …” But Jesus speaking of the new creation commanded, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk” (v. 7). The man was unexpectedly moved from his old situation, into the new coming.

It is hard to leave old, familiar ways; in restoring the man, Jesus caused crisis all around. It was Sabbath; yet Jesus instructed the man to ignore the stricture against work on the day. The man could have walked without carrying his pallet; but in being made whole he recognized Jesus, one greater than Moses had spoken, and obeyed a new commandment.

The man having received his desire not only for healing but wholeness was immediately conflicted; by joining Jesus’ command, he implicitly recognized Him as Lord of the Sabbath. Willful violation of the Sabbath law meant excommunication from the synagogue; and outside the church’s communion there is no salvation, true as well in the NT.

It seemed that the man’s choice for wholeness, had taken him from malady’s frying pan into the fire of synagogue condemnation; another “Catch 22” situation from which there was no apparent way out. Religious authorities challenged the man, “It is Sabbath, and [the Law] does not allow you to carry your pallet” (v. 10).

Crisis always requires response; obedience to Jesus’ word and way, or compliance with the old “minyan” and temple authority. The former invalid obeyed Jesus, and so with Lydia and the women of Philippi, is icon of new Israel attending to life in the NT church.

Where was Jesus; he evaporated as quickly as the angel of troubled waters? The man must have felt abandoned; he didn’t even know Jesus’ name. After 38 years, at his old stand, the man, without a guide, was headed in a new and unexpected direction.

But Jesus searched out the man, finding him in the temple; warning, “See, you have become whole! Sin no longer, that nothing worse happens to you” (v. 14). It is the same for us; by Bethesda’s water of God’s wholeness; we are ingathered priests and kings to reflect his glory, his righteousness, and holiness in the new heaven and new earth Rev. 21:11).

From time to time we find ourselves flirting or even mired in old ways, not only our sinful flesh but as well in the erroneous doctrines of men compromising the pure gospel. In this world the church by gospel wholeness continues to engage one crisis to another, requiring faith’s on-going response aligned to Jesus’ word and call to repentance.

This is the Way of the cross, taking up pallets on which our sinful flesh was lain; and following Jesus to his cross. On occasion we step out of Christ’s sacrificial Way, returning to old ways; such is the allure of lying poolside.

Last Sunday the Apostles, on hearing of Jesus’ impending departure, experienced a sense of abandon. Jesus reassured them, and us, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth …” (Jn. 16:13). Therefore, continue listening to the Spirit’s Voice for open hearts who keeps you in the Way to our Father, the Gatekeeper of sheep (10:3). Amen.


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