We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Easter 5, year A

I.Theme –   Mystical experiences from  Stephen and the Apostles about the truth and revelation of God and the foundation of the building, the church.

 "I am the Road, the Truth and Life" – Vasakyrkan, Gothenburg, Sweden

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

First reading – Acts 7:55-60
Psalm – Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 Page 622, BCP
Epistle –1 Peter 2:2-10
Gospel – John 14:1-14 

Today’s readings portray mystical and unitive experiences come from the challenges of life. Mysticism often provides us with a greater perspective that liberates us from self-centeredness and defensiveness, thus enabling us to live compassionately.

In the course of his inquisition and martyrdom, in the First Reading Stephen has a vision of God.  It enables him to experience his death fearlessly and compassionately. Like Jesus before him, he faces persecution with forgiveness, recognizing from his larger spiritual perspective than the utter ignorance  of his persecutors. Their actions are based on a wrong perception of reality; they experience grace as threat and resurrection as destructive of their religious tradition, rather than pathways that will lead to a transformation and expansion of their faith. Perhaps someday, Stephen’s persecutors, including Paul, who watches the stoning with a sense of approval, will experience the living Christ and truly know God’s nature. Stephen’s own forgiveness, based on his mystical experience, may create a ripple effect, opening the door to new possibilities for divine action in his persecutors’ lives.

The Psalmist gains courage through a larger perspective. Threats are  all around, danger abounds, but the Psalmist proclaims “my times are in your hand.” The gift of a larger spiritual perspective enables him to experience God’s love shining upon him.

The author of I Peter reminds his listeners to feast on spiritual soul food. They have tasted the goodness of God, and from that nurture, they are able to be “built into a spiritual house.” Growing in spirit enables us to become a royal priesthood, living by life-giving values and sharing good news by our words and actions. This spiritual priesthood is not set apart as better than others, but given the call to healing and transformation, of not only sharing good news but becoming good news to the world.

John 14:1-14 begins with metaphor to a house – In God’s realm there are many dwelling places; Jesus as the Christ prepares a place for us – a future and a hope we can rely on – that enables us to experience eternal life in the here and now. We can face persecution, aging, and death because of our faith in God’s everlasting love. The trials we face now are part of a larger adventure of growing with God.

The passage becomes complicated by the words “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Perhaps, Jesus is saying, “I am providing a way. It’s not up to you to decide who’s in and who’s out. Look at my life and you will see the heart of God. You will see God’s love for the lost and broken. Don’t place a wall where I have placed a bridge. Don’t decide the scope of salvation, and exclude those I love.” God’s way addresses us in many ways – just as there are many mansions – and we would do well to be generous rather than stingy about the scope of salvation.

Then, Jesus describes his own unitive experience with God. Just look at Jesus and you will see the heart of God: God is in me, and I am in God.The unity of God and Jesus is a unity of vision and aim, an alignment of spirit that releases divine energies in our world.

The passage concludes with the promise that we can align ourselves with God, and then do greater things than we can imagine. What could these greater things be? Given the vision of Jesus’ life presented in the gospels, we could do greater acts of hospitality, spiritual nurture, and healing. We have powers we can’t imagine that can be released when we align ourselves with Christ’s way, letting Christ be the center of our experiences and letting God’s vision guide us moment by moment.

We are always on holy ground. We all can be mystics in our own unique ways, seeing deeply into the universe, and we can have powers to heal and embrace through our relationship with God, individually and as congregations.

II. Summary

First Reading – Acts 7:55-60

The stoning of Stephen emphasizes that he had a vision of the risen Lord.

As the community around Christ grew, the need for leaders in addition to the apostles was recognized (6:1), so seven were chosen to attend to social-service and administrative functions (“daily distribution of food”), of whom Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6:5), was one. He “did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8), and as his defence when brought before a sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy shows (7:2-53), he was a great teacher as well. He foresaw that Jesus would “change the customs” (6:14), especially that the Temple would no longer be the center of worship – God can be worshipped anywhere. He has accused all Israel, both present generations and past, of obstinate resistance to God’s commands; he has stated that God repeatedly sent prophets to correct their ways, but they rejected, persecuted (and murdered) these prophets “who foretold the coming of the Righteous One” (7:52) – for which God punished them by ending the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and by exiling them. They have now betrayed and murdered “the Son of Man” (7:56), Jesus.

Now he receives confirmation of his insights through a vision of Jesus exalted at God’s “right hand”. But the mob purposely avoids listening to him: they cover their ears (7:57). Victims were dragged out of the city (7:58) and pushed over a ledge, to be crushed and buried by heavy stones hurled down upon them. “The witnesses” were legally required to cast the first stones. Stephen’s words (7:59-60) echo those of Jesus on the cross: he intercedes for his murderers as Jesus did. We meet “Saul” (v. 58, Paul) for the first time: 8:1a says “And Saul approved of their killing him”. With the stoning of Stephen, animosity to the Church in Jerusalem reaches its peak. In Chapter 8, spreading of the good news to non-Jewish areas begins. 

Psalm – Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

Illness, persecution and separation from God were seen as allied concepts; all three involved losing face, “shame”.

The psalmist prays that God, ultimate rectitude (“righteousness”) and reliability (“rock”, vv. 2-3, “fortress”), will show him his ways (or perhaps the psalmist recalls a past time.) He feels as though a “net” (v. 4) waits to ensnare him – either of death, or of his enemies. Jesus quoted v. 5 just before he died: into your care I commit my very being: an expression of supreme confidence.

God has made the psalmist whole, restored him to union with God. The psalmist protests his innocence (v. 6): I deserve your protection, for I am loyal to you. God has restored him to stable life (vv. 7-8). He tells of his afflictions in vv. 9-13. In the ancient Near East, people believed that the milestones of life, especially birth and death, were in the hands of the god(s). In v. 15a, the psalmist acknowledges that his destiny depends on God. May God be present in him (v. 16a); may he restore him to godly living. The psalm ends with the psalmist praising God for his love, for returning him to his favour, for preservation of the faithful, and for punishment of evildoers.

Epistle – 1 Peter 2:2-10

It seems that the first readers were recent converts to the faith, “newborn infants”. If they have had a genuine conversion experience (“tasted …”, v. 3), may they enjoy God’s nourishment (“spiritual milk”, v. 2) as an aid to growing into the salvation Christ brought us.

In vv. 4-5, the author uses two metaphors for believers:

-as living stones making up God’s building, “spiritual house”, and

-as a “priesthood” dedicated to God (“holy”) presenting lives of faith and love (“sacrifices”) to him on behalf of all humans.

Christ is the “living stone”, the cornerstone, the foundation of the building, the Church.

The author then shows that Psalms, Isaiah and Hosea foretell this building image of Christ, Christians and the Church (vv. 6-8). In v. 7, Christ is the “stone”; he is rejected by the community’s pagan persecutors but to us he is of great value (“precious”). Their rejection was ordained by God before time (“as they were destined …”, v. 8). In v. 9, the terms used of Christians are all from the Old Testament – where they refer to Israel. The Church, the new Israel, is “chosen” by God to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection (“mighty acts [of God]”); it is God who chose the new Christians for conversion from paganism, “out of darkness into … light”. In baptism, they have come from having no relationship to God (“not a people”, v. 10) to being “God’s people”, to receiving God’s gift of “mercy”. 

Gospel – John 14:1-14

During the second half of the Easter season the major lectionaries draw heavily on John’s Gospel, and especially on the so-called Farewell Discourse in 13:31 to 17:26. As we draw closer to Pentecost during the second half of Easter, themes relating to the Spirit will displace stories of appearances by the risen Lord and the empty tomb. The Spirit was the continuing presence of the risen One in their midst.

There are many questions about Jesus leaving them from the disciples. The disciples’ questions in 14:1-9 are meant, in John’s narrative flow, to represent our questions

The disciples are confused. Last week they heard the shepherd you have been following is opening a door you cannot enter is confusing, dismaying. In light of Judas’ departure to betray Jesus, who will be the shepherd who knows the names of his sheep, who protects, and who provides what is needed? What will happen next? There also may have been persecution of the community

So 14:1 can suggest that the disciples’ hearts ought not to be troubled -believe in God! believe in me (14:1)! Belief, here, includes believing that Jesus claims to represent God, but it also means trust. There’s a place for you!

He talks destination first where he can prepare a place for them. The place Jesus talks about is not a physical place “up in the sky” but a "place" in God’s family — a "place" where one can be related to and remain with the Father as closely as Jesus, the Son, does. ). The focus is not details of a place but quality of a relationship, which lasts.

Both Thomas and Philip are troubled – they are still thinking physical place – “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus moves away from talk about going away and returning (verses 3 and 4), to again asking them to trust (or believe) that he and the Father are one.

His response in V6 is Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Vv. 6-11 stress the connection between Jesus and "the Father". Ten times in these verses father is used.

It expresses who he is and who we are to become in relation to him. Jesus defines God for his disciples;

It is not claiming that Jesus points to the way, but that he, himself, is the way (and the truth and the life). This only makes sense if we see the focus on the relationship. The verses which follow make that clear (14:7 and 9-11). Jesus is not claiming any of this independently of God, but rather saying that they should ‘believe in God’ as they have seen God in Jesus. ). The challenge is to recognize God in Jesus, in his words and deeds.

To see Jesus is to see the Father. And they have seen Jesus’ face, heard his voice, and even more importantly, have seen what he did, his works. It should be enough. To know Jesus is to know the Father.

It is one of seven "I am" sayings in John’s Gospel. They were directed at a network of house churches struggling with opposition to their faith at the end of the first century.

"I am the Way" has its roots in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, especially the Book of Proverbs.

Throughout the Book of Proverbs, various images are used for wisdom: a path or way, light, precious treasure, a fountain of life, and food for the journey. Jesus’ "I am" sayings attribute these benefits of following wisdom’s path to following Jesus: I am the Bread of life, 6:35; I am the Light of the world, 8:12; I am the Gate for the Sheep, 10:7; I am the Good Shepherd, 10:11; I am the Resurrection and the Life, 11:25; I am the True Vine, 15:1.

Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs is often described as "the Way. The purpose of this "way" is the formation of an interior disposition (2:1ff, 10; (3:1, 3, 5; 4:4, 21, 23; 6:21; 7:3). This path is viewed as a gift of the guiding presence of God

Jesus himself is a gift from the very heart of God whose teachings guide us and whose Presence sustains and challenges us. We continue, throughout our lives, to ask and ask again the basic questions of "Am I on the right track in life?" and "How can I know God in my life?" The answer Jesus gives is both simple and profound: "I am the Way.

Sometimes maybe we need Jesus to chide us—to tell us we are not making the progress in the faith that we could be. Jesus’ chiding, corrective style in this passage serves a purpose in shaping our discipleship. He is reminding his disciples then and now of what, in the recesses of our spirit, we already know to be true, but continually allow to slip away when we come face to face with sorrow and adversity.

Vv. 10-11 shifts the focus from Jesus as revelation of God to the disciples acceptance of it through faith.

Vv. 12-14 have a new emphasis that parallels what went before. As Jesus’ work was God’s work, so the works of the believers is Jesus’ work. We share in the revealing work of Jesus to point to the Father.

How are our works greater than Jesus’? Ours come after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.! The focus is not bigger miracles, but bigger mission, because he will send them equipped with the Spirit to speak of God’s reality to people far beyond Galilee and Judea. Jesus sees his departure as making this explosion possible. . On commission (14:15), equipped by the Spirit (14:16-17), they will go out to do greater things.

Vv. 13-14 indicate that our works, are really Jesus actions in response to our asking. Perhaps two limiting factors to our asking. (1) Our requests are "in Jesus’ name," meaning asking for what Jesus would want — which may not be the same as we would want. (2) Our requests are answered with Jesus’ promise: "I will do it" Would we be willing to suffer as Christ did ?

Additional questions this week

"How can we know the way to God?" and "How are we to see God?"

Questions to Challenge Us

"Will you lay down your life for me?" (13:38) I am the Way.

"If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (14:2) I am the Way.

"Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?" (14:9) I am the Way.

"How can you say, show us the Father?" (14:9) I am the Way.

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" (14:10) I am the Way.

Promises We Can Count On:

"In my Father’s house are many dwelling places" (14:2). I am the Way.

"I go to prepare a place for you" (14:3). I am the Way.

"I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also" (14:3). I am the Way.

"If you know me, you will know my Father also" (14:7). I am the Way.

"From now on you do know him and have seen him" (14:7). I am the Way.

"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9). I am the Way.

"The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works" (14:10). I am the Way.

"The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (14:12). I am the Way.

"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (14:13). I am the Way.

Commands Rooted in These Promises

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me" (14:10). I am the Way.

"Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (14:11). I am the Way.

In summary , the disciples’ distress and confusion about Jesus’ fate becomes a paradigm for confusion and distress in our own experience. While John employs the individual disciples to enhance the drama, its message is simple and telling. Trust that God is the way Jesus told us and demonstrated to us.  

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First ReadingActs 7:55-60

PsalmPsalm 31:1-5, 15-16 

Epistle  – 1 Peter 2:2-10 

Gospel  – John 14:1-14