19May Thursday in the Fourth Week of Easter

Acts 13:13ff. Paul’s summary of Israel’s history, up to the time of Christ.

John 13:16ff. Whoever receives one whom I send receives me – for I know whom I have chosen.

History: God at Work

Today’s readings trace a line of continuity  from eternity to earth and right through Israel’s history upon planet earth, into the life of the church. Jesus comes from the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but in his very person. He IS that message, drawn from the heart and intense life of the Godhead;  therefore, Jesus is the great I AM. This title, I AM, not only identifies him with the eternal Godhead, but  also shows Jesus involved in the long history of Israel. God had revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as the mysterious I AM (Ex 3:14).

“I am who I am, always there with you”, such is the sacred divine name in an extended, descriptive form. Put into the third person, it reads: “He who is always with you.” As such, it was received in the Hebrew form of YHWH, or Yahweh. Thus God revealed himself to Moses: the one who will always be with his people. This presence and merciful, strong interaction with the lives of his people determine who God is, for us: He is what we are in our questions and answers, hopes and struggles and occasional victories. This sacred name is accepted by Jesus as his own: “that… you may believe that I AM.” Jesus absorbed into himself the entire history of Israel, and when he was born of the virgin Mary, this entire history became incarnate, flesh and blood, in Jesus.

While preaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (different city from the Antioch in Acts 11:19), Paul reviews many of the great moments of Israel’s history, with special attention to Moses, David and John the Baptist. The line of continuity then extended firmly from the Godhead, to earth, from the Patriarchs and Moses to David, from David to John the Baptist, from John the Baptist to “the one who comes after me whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten.”

Within this very observable line, from God to Jesus all through Israel’s long history, some very evident disruptions leap forward, and new settlements occur. Israel is persecuted and oppressed with hard labor in Egypt. The land of promise was delayed for the forty years while they wandered almost aimlessly in the desert and then it had to be acquired by conquest and by a long period of taking root. Saul was rejected as king; and when Jesus appeared, the Davidic dynasty had disappeared from history. This series of up’s and down’s, of rejection and rehabilitation, continues front stage with Jesus. One of his own disciples betrayed him. Jesus stated: “He who partook of bread with me has raised his heel against me.”

Immediately after announcing his betrayal, Jesus added: “I tell you this now before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may know that I AM.

Disruption, even violent change of plans, cut across the line of continuity from God to earth and from the early moments of Israel’s history till Jesus appeared, and even within the life of Jesus such explosions marked the very presence of God: “that… you may believe that I AM.” At first, such interruptions would seem to be the work of the devil. Certainly Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot is attributed to his possession by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet, if we remember that God’s plans are mysterious and beyond our total comprehension, that at crucial moments God takes over and brings us to decisions, attitudes and insights, to heights of wisdom and depths of strength, then it is not difficult to realize how we will suddenly move in ways never anticipated ahead of time. Or circumstances will converge in ways that leave us breathless. Maybe like Jesus, we feel betrayed by forces beyond our control.

At such moments God’s providence is reaching its fulfillment. There can be no doubt that God is in control. We ourselves have lost control! It is not that we are totally passive. Like Paul at Pisidian Antioch, we need to turn to the Scriptures. And with the example of Paul we turn to the congregation at prayer. Jesus shows us how to turn one’s thoughts to God and to share these perceptions with others. And as we live in this community or family setting, the lines of continuity return. We realize that God has sent his servants into our lives; that God has directed all the events. We believe and are at peace.

First Reading: Acts 13:13-25

Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, aying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: “”You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”

Gospel: John 13:16-20

Truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”