Many Rooms - sermon May 10, 2020

Sunday May 10,2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60 ~ Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 ~ 1 Peter 2:2-10 ~ John 14:1-14

Sermon, Carmen Retzlaff, New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, Texas

Acts 7:55-60

7:55 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.

7:56 "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

7:58 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.

7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

7:60 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

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

1 Peter 2:2-10

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-

2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2:4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and

2:5 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.

2:6 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."

2:7 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,"

2:8 and "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.

2:9 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 marvelous light.

2:10 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.

John 14:1-14

14:1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

14:2 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?

14:3 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.

14:4 And you know the way to the place where I am going."

14:5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

14:7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

14:8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."

14:9 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'?

14:10 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.

14:11 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.

14:12 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.

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

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The readings today end with this Gospel from John; the good news is this reassurance from Jesus: “I am going to prepare a place for you.”

But our readings for this fifth Sunday in Easter begin with the story the stoning of Stephen, the first of Jesus’ followers to be martyred. We begin our Sunday with stones. An angry mob, surrounding a peaceful prophet, stoning him for proclaiming a different reality.

I remember when this pandemic began, and people started distancing. And tensions were high about who was distancing soon enough, and who was going out too soon, or who was being too cautious and ruining things by canceling. We had to step back, and believe in each other. We had to believe that everyone was making the best decisions they could with the information they had — and in their own unique situations. Some people had to work because we needed them, some were already behind on rent, some parents had children with immune issues and needed to shelter quickly, some parents had children with special needs and they needed support and services. You couldn’t tell from looking what a person’s reasons or decision-making were: we can’t see into each other’s hearts.

In Stephen’s stoning, the mob was threatened by their way of life being criticized or questioned: it made them so anxious and frightened they going in picking up and hurling stones. Some, like Saul, approved and supported, but didn’t dirty their hands. Some bystanders probably disapproved, but didn’t say anything, let it happen.

As we return to new ways of life, we will need to work hard not to criticize and jump to conclusions. We will have to work out our faith - it will feel like work and exercise to refrain from judgement. But Jesus promises in this John passage that we can do it, because he did. He gave people the benefit of the doubt, over and over.

14:12 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.

We will do even greater works! Wow! We can do this. We can assume the person who doesn’t leave enough distance is doing the best he or she can: they might be slower to understand, they might be distracted by something terrible happening in their lives. We will have to assume that businesses we think opened too soon or too late did the best they could. That government officials and others making recommendations did the best they could with the information they had and the needs of their people. This won’t be easy. But we can do it, because Jesus did. Jesus invited the unworthy to his table, he gave second and 900th chances. And he said we could, too.

After we heard about the stoning of Stephen in Acts chapter 7 (which you can read if you don’t do Facebook - where our readers will read it), we hear the Psalmist say in Psalm 31: “You are indeed my rock.” God is our rock, our protection. Not a rock thrown, but a rock behind which to find shelter. A strong rock. Our judgements are stones thrown, and when stones are hurled at us by the world, God is our boulder, our rock wall, to stand in the way of harm. And then, we hear in first Peter, chapter 2, that Jesus is a stone, the cornerstone. The one the builders rejected has become the foundation of the new temple, the church. God is our shield, Christ is our foundation. We can do this. We can re-start life again. And we can be kind.

It is going to be hard, but so important. We are coming out of this frayed and frazzled and wounded. We have lost people and relationships and jobs and income and important events, and more. We have lost so much certainty. Everyone is going to be raw. We are going to have to be so careful with each other. We are going to have to forgive more than ever before, more easily, more often. And Jesus says we can, because he did. Because as Peter said, we are a royal priesthood because we have received mercy.

We are going to be disappointed that things aren’t like they were, and some of us will express that with anger, lashing out. And we will have to forgive each other that, too. And try to remember that the other person is raw and tender too, and has lost things, too. And is doing the best they can. The gospel promise in John is that “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.” Room for all of us. Room for those who forget their mask. Room for those who are angry and refuse to wear one. Room for the child who forgets not to hug, room for the child who can’t ever hug again. Room for the parents who forget hand sanitizer or those who insist on hand sanitizer every 10 minutes. Room for the church leaders who decide to wait to have communion, room for the pastors who serve it too soon.

Jesus went before us on earth to show us how to do the hardest things: be gracious and forgive. And he said we could do the things he did. And then he went before us to his Father’s many-roomed house to prepare a room for us, because there is room there for everyone. And when we pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for the spirit to help us practice that, making room, giving space, welcoming all.


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