postmodern preaching

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B

  • Acts of the Apostles 10:44-48

In the majestic narrative of Luke-Acts, the appearance of the Holy Spirit always marks a pivotal turn in the story.  As the testimony to the life/death/resurrection of Jesus spread to non-Jews through the preaching of Peter and others, so “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard.”  The validity of their conversion and inclusion in the community of believers through baptism cannot be denied, Peter insists.

  • Psalm 98

The psalmist honors God’s “kindness and faithfulness to the house of Israel,” but also invites “all the earth” to celebrate God’s “great victory [ over chaos?} and God’s bounty/generosity/Gift.

  • I John 5:1-6

“Victory” over personal and community anxieties comes “through faith that Jesus is the Christ” and by following his “commands,” the author of this first letter attributed to John explains.  And Jesus’ commands are fulfilled in love of others by those who have already discovered they are loved by God.

  • John 15:9-17

Jesus equates his love of us with the Father’s love of him!  And, in John’s continuing paean to the power of love, Jesus’ love of us is sustained/nurtured/flourishes when we keep his commandment, just as he obeyed the Father. And, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved you.  The result is “joy” and camaraderie.  But notice: this whole sequence is set in motion by a singular, out-of-the-blue initiative– “You did choose me, but I chose you!”  Now, we are to be he “fruit” of God’s initiative through love of others.

In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes that while Peter was still conveying the good news about Jesus, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all….”  The psalmist acknowledges God’s original and special relationship with the House of Israel, but then invites every citizen of every nation to participate in recognizing and then praising God as the source of our “gifted” status.  From these readings, we are reminded that  Gods gift-giving is expansive, indeed inclusive of every person who exists or has existed!  But in John’s gospel, Jesus makes a singular statement: “You did not choose me, I chose you.”  God’s gifts are given to any and all indiscriminately, but each person makes the decision to receive them as her or his personal “call.”

The writings of Jean-Louis Chretien have been described as a unique amalgamation of philosophy, theology and poetry.  In The Call and the Response, Chretien explores the human experience of “call.”  He begins with a general observation and then moves to biblical descriptions.  “When we start to answer the call, we have already answered; when we embrace it as a call, it has already embraced us.” (p.12)  One consequence of accepting the call is to be destabilized and then be re-made.  “In calling me, the call does not leave me intact: it surges only by opening a space in me to be heard, and therefore, by shattering something of what I was before I felt myself to be called.”  (p.48)  How do we experience this call?  Chretien cites St. Hugh of Victor: “God’s word appeared visibly to us once wrapped in human form, and now each day the very same word comes to us under the cover of a human voice.”  And then Chretien  continues in his own words: “the call is direct, since it reaches me without substitute, yet it is not immediate, since it reaches me always through and by means of the world, by means of the events that unfold and the voice  of other human beings.” (Ibid)  Once an individual accepts himself or herself as one who has been chosen/called, it results spontaneously in certain actions of compassion/justice.  “Every instant elects whoever listens in it to the invitation extended to him by God.  Nor is it simply a matter of accepting, as in a sort of  amor fati.  To sanctify the divine name is to struggle against letting it be profaned: more than not, it is addressed to us under the opposite appearance….”  He continues, “When a man is victimized and humiliated, the divine name of glory is humiliated, and to assist that man back up is to sanctify this same name.  The injustice that we witness profanes the divine name of justice, and to fight against injustice is to hear the voice of the Word aggrieved in the event.  To answer the voice of events is to speak, but also to act, by letting ourselves be transformed by it.” (p.69)

Luke tells us that those who heard Peter’ words on this particular occasion were visited by the Holy Spirit and, in turn, became witnesses themselves. They had new identities, a new vocabulary, a new story to tell and a new set of orders.  “When we start to answer the call… it has already embraced us.”   Their lives had been “shattered” and re-made; surely an appropriate time for the appearance of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts as any!

However, John’s gospel reminds us of two crucial corollaries.  First, the call and response always is experienced as personal: “You did not choose me, I chose you.”  Secondly, a peculiar and specific kind of “fruit” always appears– the power of love in all its personal, communal and social manifestations; to cite Chretien’s language again: “to assist the man back up” who has been “victimized and humiliated.” 

The pattern in the gospels and the rest of the Second Testament is clear, consistent and distinct: testimony is accepted one person at a time as a call, specifically God’s call to me, personally; it will be mitigated through experiences in my life;  and it always has the same result– compassion and the passion for justice.

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