Fifth Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to worship
On this fifth Sunday of Easter, we continue to rejoice that Christ is risen. May our hearts rise in worship, and our lives rise to the challenge of sharing the good news.
First Reading Acts 7:55-60 (this must be used as either the first or second reading)
As the first Christian martyr, Stephen believed in Jesus and told others. He followed his Lord’s example by praying for his executioners; stoned to death, he was sure of eternal life.
Second Reading 1 Peter 2:2-10
If those who believe in Jesus thirst to follow him more closely and share the good news with others, they will discover him to be a precious stone, the cornerstone of their lives and not a stone to trip them up.
Gospel John 14:1-14
On the eve of his death, Jesus assures his disciples that he is the way to the Father. If they believe this truth and follow his example in this life, they will follow him also to the next.
HOMILY “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
On the eve of his death, Jesus assures his disciples that he is the way to the Father. If they believe this truth and follow his example in this life, they will follow him also to the next. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. A surreal image, taken from our first reading, which offers us hope and encouragement as we ourselves experience extraordinary times.
So, what does it mean, in the middle of a global pandemic, to see the glory of God? Our opening reading this morning, taken from Acts of the Apostles, contains a remarkable account of the Deacon Stephen, who when faced with real personal adversity, mirroring the actions of Jesus as he hung upon the Cross, digs deep within his soul to musters a remarkable resilience, which has the capability of combating those genuine emotions, that over the course of our lives we all come to experience, feelings of fear, anger, confusion, despair and resentment, and as such finds that inner strength to re-channel his energy as he focuses his attention not upon his own plight, but rather upon those around him. This, more than anything else is simply a prime of example of God’s conditional glory in action.
Now, thankfully this kind of tangible divine glory, is not, as we all know, some farfetched naïve concept that we only find nesting in the ancient pages of scripture. For, as a result of God gracious blessing, throughout the history of humanity there are points of pure divine grace, as people feel moved to place the growth and wellbeing of others far beyond any concerns for their own safety. There are, of course, lots of examples that may automatically spring to mind as we think of those moments, when as our friends in the Orthodox Church say the vail between Heaven and earth becomes remarkably thin. We could, for instance, think about what was happening seventy-five years ago, this week, when all across Europe, former political divisions and thirst of power where put to one
side, as nations came together in solidarity to mark the many the sacrifices on all sides that others had made which ultimately led to arrival of Victory in Europe. And, then if we fast forward to our presence time, what has this current lockdown taught us about the dangers of being too self-sufficient, striving to be autonomous individually who are Masters of our own destiny. Whereas in reality, is not the case that we ALL need the love, support and co-operation of others, for social cohesion to truly flourish. Which is what makes self – isolation such a heavy burden for each one of us to carry, for regardless as to where we are on our journey of faith, by our very nature God created us to interact, to be creatures that organically help others blossom and reach their full potential.
Now, the honour and responsibility of being able to publicly share and unpack the Word of God, is not something that I take likely, especially as St. Francis de Sales, once said, the test of a preacher, is not that their congregation, leave and say, ‘ Oh what a lovely sermon’, but rather that they go away, saying to themselves, ‘I really must do something after hearing those words.’ And so, what can we do right now within our own homes, to provide that time and space for God’s glory to shine? This is certain not an easy directive to obey, as families members or often indifferent and sometimes hostile to our relationship with God and so the idyllic image of shared quality times together in prayer, is simply not be viable option. However, through the grace of God, we must not lose heart, for as Stephen and Jesus both knew, there is nothing to prevent us from lifting those around us up to the Lord in prayer.
There again, as we know the truth of the matter is Christianity, is not confined to merely helping our nearest and dearest to find salvation, it also requires us in each and every generation to discover afresh how the Holy Spirit is charging us to become transparent vehicles through which others may encounter God’s glory and have their forever transformed. Which, no matter how strong our faith is can be a deeply challenging requests for us to engage with.
All of which is why our second reading this morning, a letter attributed to St Peter is so comforting as it beautifully captures the essence of what in means to be a follower of God’s Risen Son. For as Christians we belong to an eternal family, inclusivity and reassuringly described as a royal priesthood of believers. Grant, we are not called to the same task, nevertheless, if we remember that the word Priest derides from a Latin term used to depict a bridgebuilder, we can hopefully feel empowered and confidence in this sense of shared unity. Something that is future emphases by the vivid picture vivid language. God, according to this text clearly does not want us to be a collection of perfectly formed identical bricks. No, he desires his kingdom here on earth to be made up of living stones that has been shaped and weathered by the rough and tumble realities of life. Normal, everyday men and women, young and old, just like you and me, who are not fixated upon their own personal saviour, but simply a community who have ridden those darkness moments in life and come out of the other side a wiser and stronger to bath in God’s marvellous light.
We maybe compacted in the size of our congregation, but we should never feel deflated. For as the former American president, Harry Truman, once said: ‘It is amazing what a small group of people can achieve especially when none of them care who takes the credit’. So yes, we live in times of challenge, but by working together for the Greater Common Good, we can only dream how many people will witness God glory in their lives.