7th May 2023
That first Easter the risen Jesus who was seen and heard and touched was the ultimate sign of the resurrection. Now some 2000 years later what are the signs we might look for to confirm the ongoing validity of the resurrection? What signs of new or renewed life do we see that point to the power, the glory of God?
Today’s psalm reminds us that in God we can find our refuge when life seems set against us. In our relationship with God we can find strength that offers solidity and ensuring support. This is the God of our salvation, the God of mercy and love. How and/ or where do we find this God? In our churches, in our communities, in our homes?
At what point do we realise that we are part of that community, that place, that home, that makes the living God a risen reality? When over the last weeks we have read in the Book of Acts of the new community of Christians that was growing larger by the day, eat and worshipping together, sharing their wealth with each other, we were witnessing the resurrection, the new life being nurtured in the follower of Jesus. This community – nascent church – was a place of refuge and security for the believers. It enabled people like Stephen to stand up for what he – for what they all – believed. It gave them the confidence that they were God’s children, that God was with them in this life and the next, and that in neither had they anything to fear.
As described in the Letter of Peter this was a church, a spiritual dwelling, built in the sure corner stone that was Jesus. And on that corner stone, the followers of Jesus, the first Christians, were its walls: living stones. And now in the 21st century we are the current generation of living stones that create the spiritual dwellings, the communities, where the risen Christ is to be found. We are called to be the places of safety and refuge in what feels like an increasingly conflicted world.
Today’s readings tell us both that Jesus is the corner stone on which we have been established, and that Jesus as ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ is the means – the route map, the philosophy, the blue print – by which we can be built into the church.
For the early church of the Book of Acts, the church being built needs the capacity to confront other religious groups who were unwilling to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. They needed people who could preach to the crowds and talk to the authorities on this issue. They needed people who were willing to be arrested and even executed for the cause. They also needed people who could lead the church, both in terms of resolving disputes and ensuring a fair distribution of resources to meet people’s daily needs, as well as those who could lead in terms of worship, teaching and discipleship. They needed people who could explore new strands of theology relevant to the changing circumstances in which they lived, and in this capacity they needed people who could peer into the future and see what lay ahead and what the challenges might be. In all this, they guidance came from their relationship with Jesus.
As living stones of the 21st century church, here in the UK, we need to be confront various issues including the climate crisis, the cost of living crisis, the lack of integrity and responsibility shown by the government, the refugee and asylum crisis, the bio-diversity crisis, the lack of global justice and the failure of rich countries to help the poorer ones – to name a few.
Do we as a church have people who can talk to the authorities and to the wider public on these issues? Do we have people who are sufficiently well versed in the sciences and in the art of rhetoric? Do we have people who were willing to be arrested and imprisoned for these causes? Do we have leaders administer communities sympathetically, leaders who can ensure a fair distribution of resources to meet people’s daily needs? Do we have leaders who can lead in terms of worship, teaching and discipleship such that they reflect the crisis of the current age? Do we have people who can explore new strands of theology relevant to the changing circumstances in which we live? Do we have people who can peer into the future and see what lies ahead and what the challenges might be.
In all this, can we seek guidance from our relationship with Jesus?
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.
5 Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me,
O Lord, O God of truth.
15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.
1 Peter 2:2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner”,
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
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 marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “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. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”