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May 7, 2023

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Yes we are still in the Easter season,

it lasts fifty days,

and while we start out heavily focused

on the resurrection and the immediate aftermath,

as we get further into the season

our attention turns more

to the history of the early church,

notice that instead of a reading from the Hebrew Bible

for our first reading,

we have readings from Acts,

the history book of the New Testament

that follows the disciples of Jesus,

as with help from the Holy Spirit

they figure out how to continue the mission

that Jesus has given them:

that upon receiving the power of the Holy Spirit

they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria,

and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

In Acts we hear how

The Spirit blows them out from behind locked doors at Pentecost,

Peter preaches a sermon

that causes 3,000 to be baptized

and last week we heard how the community

was always together learning, praying, breaking bread,

sharing all their resources,

and having the good will of all the people,

and that sounded pretty good.

But that idyllic life does not last

(nor did Jesus expect it to last)

after some very public healing

Peter and John attract the attention of the council

who arrest them

but can’t find a way to punish them,

within the community

a couple sells some property

but hold back some of the money,

and when confronted lie about it

and fall down dead

-Acts 5 that’s a fun text for a stewardship sermon-

but even with all this going on

the community continues to grow,

and with growth comes new challenges,

as the community grows

the Greek speaking believers

complain that the Hebrew speaking believers

are neglecting their widows in the daily distribution of the bread

and the apostles realize

that they need help,

they need people to take over the distribution of bread

so that they can concentrate on the word and prayer,

so the community appoints seven people

who the apostles pray over and lay hands on

(in church words they ordain them)

and they give over charge of the service to them.

They are called Deacons

and we still have deacons in our church,

while Pastors are called to the ministry of word and sacrament,

deacons are called to the ministry of word and service,

and the very first of these deacons

was a man named Stephen

whose story the lectionary focuses on today.

He’s a man filled with the holy spirit,

he does great wonders and signs among the people

and like Peter and John

attracts the attention of some who want to stop him,

so they arrest him,

and Stephen gives them an impassioned speech

taking them all the way back to the call of Abraham

and telling the story as it leads to Jesus

“When they heard these things,

they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.”

and then we heard in our first reading

how Stephen the first deacon

also became the first martyr,

one who was killed for his faith in Jesus.

Stephen’s story parallels Jesus’ own story

and in fact Jesus had told the disciples all along to expect this,

that they will need to deny themselves

and take up their own crosses to follow him,

doesn’t sound very appealing does it

Of course there’s much more to it than that,

an intimate relationship with God,

forgiveness of sins,

life everlasting

to name just a few things,

but following Jesus can cause us some trepidation,

which is why we hear Jesus in our gospel for today

reassuring the disciples,

“do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

and promises that he goes ahead

to prepare a place for them

“so that where I am, there you may be also.”

this sounds great but seems to confuse the disciples even more,

‘wait how do we get to this place that we don’t know?’ Thomas asks

kicking off a lecture from Jesus on the nature of God,

if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the father Jesus tells them,

I am in the father and the father is in me,

where I am the father is,

which if you can get past that philosophical language is great

but still the question remains,

where is Jesus

and where is this place that he is preparing?

To answer this we have to harken all the way back

to the prologue of John’s gospel

that says: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God,

and here’s the key:

the word became flesh and lived among us,

the Greek here is more picturesque,

what we translate as “lived”

is more literally to tent, or pitch a tent.

The Word doesn’t just live among us,

it sets up camp right in the middle of us

right next to us.

The place Jesus goes to prepare

is the path through life and even death,

all the places we will go.

Jesus-God living with us

goes ahead of us in life,

through the good times yes

but also and especially the times of suffering,

even the grave.

Jesus’ presence and preparation

doesn’t mean these tough times are not going to happen,

it means that when they do

we will not be alone,

just as Stephen was not alone

as he was killed for his faith.

Which is why in response to Thomas’s question

about knowing the way

Jesus replies “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you know me, you will know my father also.”

To know Jesus is to know the father,

to know Jesus is to know this truth

the creator of the universe

has come so that we may have life and have it abundantly,

here and in life everlasting.

Which is good news

and super confusing,

just this week at text study

I gained a clearer understanding

of what this means when one of the other pastors was talking,

Jesus himself says if you don’t believe this teaching

then at least look to the results,

the works themselves,

those done by Jesus and his followers,

like Peter and John and Stephen,

and like the moments in our own lives

when we’ve experienced the Holy.

Perhaps that’s where we need to start

And Jesus will go with us as we continue along

Even as he has prepared the way for us.

Faith is a living thing

and as a living thing

we can expect with the right nurturing that it will grow,

Peter in his first letter

talks about the community as newborns seeking nourishment

so that they may grow into salvation,

and he speaks of the community

as something that is alive and growing

be living stones he tells them

building materials that can change and adapt over time

that find their stability in Jesus the cornerstone,

the stone that orients all the others

let yourselves be built into a community like this Peter says,

a community that uses stones to build rather than to trip up or even kill others.

And yes the world,

Which is used to stones staying still

That uses stones to divide

To build walls to keep some in and some out

Will react negatively to a community of living stones

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The light which shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome,

The light which prepares the way for us

So that we might have life and have it abundantly. Amen

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