Sunday, May 10, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Acts 7:55-60 The martyrdom of Stephen
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10 God’s people chosen to proclaim God’s mighty acts
John 14:1-14 Christ the way, truth, and life
Title: The Way to Truth for Living Stones
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Last week we were sheep. This week we are stones. I don’t know about you, but I’m more drawn to the sheep image than to the picture of your typical stone. Although these days, perhaps we feel more akin to the sedentary stone than to the scurrying sheep.
To make matters worse, or better put, to make it more of a challenge for coaxing us into our stoney identity, we have blessed Stephen making an appearance in the first reading. A hero in the early church. One of the first deacons who the apostles called and committed to working in the soup kitchens and food pantries that were the first ministries of those first believers. He is one of those who would be out there even today, serving at food distribution centers as families in need of food assistance skyrockets in these days of pandemic. And for this deacon who is a shining example of living the resurrected life that is ours in Christ Jesus, this young man is met with stones that were used as deadly weapons. Because, after preaching the truth about Jesus, he is dragged out and stoned to death. Yes, that is what stones in our hands look like: inflicting pain, doling out death, crushing hopes and dreams. And while we may not use stones like granite and marble in such a manner today, we do hurl boulders mined from our sinfulness and our twisted history with labels such as: racism, sexism, homophobia, economic oppression, resource pillaging, environmental plundering. And the innocent bodies killed by society’s continued stoning are lying on a suburban street in Georgia, on a city street in Chicago or New York, a dusty street in Palestine, in a ravaged rain forest in Brazil, in a sweatshop in any number of countries, in our for-profit prisons, at our walled borders. When we see just what stones can do in our hands, human hands, sinful hands, it is no wonder that we do not want to claim our stoney identity. And whether we are the active throwers, the passive stones being thrown, or even the guy watching the coats on the sidelines, we are part of the destructive activity of stones in our hands.
I think back to that haunting climax of Shirley Jackson’s short story THE LOTTERY. Everyone in the town participated because that was just the way it was. That was the tradition. Everyone collected up their stones. Everyone threw. No one stopped to ask: Why?
But we are here, listening for a word of deliverance, of hope, of guidance. Striving to leave behind the stone pits of our making and of our systems’ perpetuating. We are gathered at the font, sitting at our Lord’s table, joining with Thomas and Philip, asking, pleading for Jesus to show us the way, show us the God who will save us from ourselves, hoping that God does not leave us to our shocking stoney selves and our slaughtering stone-throwing ways.
And Jesus answers their requests. Perhaps it wasn’t quite the answer they were looking for. Jesus didn’t articulate it quite as clearly and succinctly as they had hoped. But he did give us the answer that they needed, that we need.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus affirms that he is the way forward from our self-centered, fear-filled, anxiety-ridden selves that will pick up a stone at the first sign of trouble or threat. He is the way, not a destination reached in this life, not a place that we go to so as to escape this world and its challenges. Jesus is the way. The life that he has won for us, that is ours in baptism, is a journey on which he walks with us, leads us, guides us, comforts us, strengthens us, sustains us. Though the psalmist speaks of refuges and strongholds, they still know to ask God to lead and guide on the blessed journey.
That early Jesus movement, of which Stephen was a part, was known as the Way. They had no church constitutions, they did not develop strategic plans. They held on to what Jesus had taught. And as he himself says to them: If the words didn’t convince them, maybe the actions will. And of course, those early members of The Way were the witnesses of that greatest of actions: the resurrection.
Jesus, as the way, was clear. Each step to take on that way? Okay, not so much. So, the gift of the Holy Spirit was sent to continue to lead and guide. And the Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide us in the way that is Jesus. A way of loving, even enemies, of showing mercy to all, of offering forgiveness, even in the face of persecution, bringing peace wherever we go. As God’s living stones, let us not be part of a wall that blocks others from Jesus, but rather let us be part of the paving stones that contribute to the path that leads the way to the Way, who is Jesus.
And the first steps on that way that leads to perfect truth, is for us to tell the truth about ourselves. We cannot embrace the truth that Jesus is and that Jesus invites us into without first owning our truth. We have to empty those slaughtering stones with which we have filled our pockets. All those -isms that I mentioned before. Those that make us wince when they pierce our denial. Make us weep when we admit our participation. There is no holding onto one or two stones for safe keeping. As we are told at the font, we are dead to sin. There is no life in those fears and those lies, in those hurling stones. They are dead in us and they cause death when we insist on making use of them.
As scripture confirms: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the TRUTH is not in us.
In Wednesday’s e-letter, in anticipation of Mothers’ Day, I shared some writings from another who lived in isolation, Julian of Norwich. Her inspired and inspiring writings explore and expand our Mothering God. On this topic of truth-telling that enables us to run to Christ’s truth, she writes:
But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But when our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. So, he wants us to act as a meek child, saying: My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself filthy and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it right except with your help and grace.
I cannot…except with your help and grace. And that is the truth that Christ who is the way brings, so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. And so, in Christ, we are living stones. In baptism, we are built into the one who is the true cornerstone. (Though rejected by humanity…)
Though rejected by humanity, this cornerstone is the beginning of new life for the world. And we are invited to be fused into this new work in Christ. We who had lost our way, run from the truth, surrendered real life. Now we are God’s, following in the way of Christ, proclaiming the truth of Christ, sharing the life of Christ.
And as Jesus teaches at the beginning of this morning’s Gospel reading, when God through Christ Jesus builds for us, it is a structure that has room for all and that will last forever. So, do not be afraid, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, walk faithfully in the way of Christ, run with grace to his truth, and fly in the freedom of his life. And if you cannot believe these words, then see and believe in God’s actions for…
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,