Fifth Sunday of Easter Lessons and Brief Meditation

FIRST READING:  Acts 7:55-60
Last Sunday’s (Acts 2:42-47) summary account of the life and the work of the early Church was so pleasant and positive – love flowed within the faith community and also from it, and there was so much joy and gladness and enthusiasm and explosive growth. But this Sunday’s verses lift up the reality of risk involved in having faith and giving public witness to it. Stephen was one of seven men chosen by the apostles in those early days of the Church to help assure that the hungry were fed. But he did more than distribute food… he started to preach God’s word to others. His listeners rejected the message of Jesus and killed the messenger Stephen. Being human is hard; being a Christian can bring its own additional challenges and dangers. But Stephen was able to find peace and even the desire to forgive as he faced hatred, violence, and murder. It seems that God can transform our darkest hours… and even the approaching shadow of death… into hope, mercy, love, compassion, and even peace. Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian faith. A young man named Saul served as the coat attendant and enjoyed the stoning; but later he would have a conversion experience and become the great missionary Paul; and, later still, he would courageously face his own execution for the sake of Jesus. Lord, grant me the courage to choose love and compassion in my present circumstances.

SECOND READING: 1 Peter 2:2-10
Using the image of a cornerstone (Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16, as well as a parable about wicked tenants that Jesus told, found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the author asserts that we Christians are like living stones connected together and dependent on Christ. Then he describes Christians, in several other ways, as being “chosen”, “royal”, and “holy”. Our mission together – and not as solitary followers – is to represent, in word and deed, God’s mighty acts of mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. God builds this house of all of us, and Christ is the cornerstone. We belong to each other, we belong to God, and we share the privilege, the obedience, and the service we have through Christ. Will we claim and embrace and live into our new identity? 

GOSPEL READING:   John 14:1-14
Last Sunday we heard Psalm 23, so familiar to many, so often read at funerals for comfort and encouragement. This Sunday we hear another familiar and frequent funeral passage: “Let not your hearts be troubled… in my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” About to leave his disciples, soon to be betrayed and condemned and crucified, Jesus encourages his disciples and promises that he will go ahead of them and prepare a place for them. What do you think? Is the “dwelling place” of which Jesus speaks a place for us after we die, or does it include our life in the present? How is Jesus our way, our truth, and our life?

A BRIEF MEDITATION
Just where are we going? In our personal trek from womb to tomb, there are so many paths we might take. Far too many persons just wander mindlessly, follow the well-worn paths of the crowd, or become fascinated with short cuts and the fast track… but experience teaches us that those aimless paths are just a series of wrong turns and those easy paths often lead to dead ends. But there is another way. And we already know it. God’s steadfast love in Christ still guides us. God’s Holy Spirit sustains and strengthens us. If you don’t want to get lost, choose Jesus Christ as “the way” and keep at it. In Jesus, the human journey becomes intentional, compassionate, and meaningful – a pilgrimage toward holiness, toward God, toward real life. And ultimately, as Jesus assures us, we are “going home”, for God has a place for us.

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