May 18, 2014
“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?” (John 14:2)
For the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we hear or read the five verses that are the culmination of Stephen’s ministry and his life. Luke’s description is shocking and disturbing, and amazing, especially when read within the entirety of Stephen’s story. Take a few moments to read it all, starting with Acts 6:1 and continuing through 8:3. How does this change your understanding of Stephen’s death?
How does it change your understanding of Paul? According to Luke Timothy Johnson, in his “Sacra Pagina” series commentary on Acts (Liturgical Press, 1992), the witnesses’ laying of their cloaks at Saul’s feet indicates their “recognition of Paul as a leader of those opposed to Stephen” (p. 140). Verse 8:1 says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”
“But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.” All I can imagine here is of a group of men putting their fingers in their ears and vehemently going, “la-la-la-la-la-la,” as people – not just children – do when they want to make it clear that they do not want to hear the words, when they do not want the ideas getting through. This gesture is comical at best and annoyingly childish at worst. For Stephen, it signaled his death.
At what times in your life have you done this, either physically or metaphorically? What effect might it have had on your hearing what the Spirit is trying to say to you? What effect might it have had on those who were trying to speak to you?
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
A pair of jugglers with fake French accents, were always my favorite performers at a Renaissance festival near Pittsburgh. One was the tall, smart straight man, and the other was the goofy, short jokester. At one point in the routine, the straight man uses an analogy that goes right over the jokester’s head; the jokester goes for the literal interpretation. This annoys the straight man, who explains that it was a metaphor, to which the jokester replies, “I never met a phor I didn’t like.” I laughed at the corny joke the first time, the tenth time, and still chuckle at the memory of it. Obviously, it still enters my head when encountering metaphors within a text, as in today’s psalm. Metaphors allow for such expression in human narrative, both through humor and through seriousness.
What are the metaphors in these verses from the psalm? Reflect on each one, and take a few minutes to draw a picture of each. How do you, as a Christian living in the 21st century, relate to God through these metaphors? Which speaks to you personally? Why?
What metaphor or metaphors do you prefer for your relationship with God? Why?
1 Peter 2:2-10
“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.”
What words come to mind when you attempt to describe a stone? Is “living” the first? The second? How far down the list? What is your list? Hard? Cold? Smooth? Rough?
How do we, as biological creatures, fit into Peter’s metaphor of living stones? What does it mean to be a “living stone”? How are we to imitate Christ, who is the living cornerstone of our faith, in this way? How can we be built into a spiritual house?
As you consider how to respond, keep these ideas in mind. According to Donald P. Senior, in the “Sacra Pagina” series commentary on Peter (Liturgical Press, 2003), lithos (Greek for “stone”) may mean a common stone, but more frequently connotes “a dressed or specially cut stone suitable for building.” In addition, the Greek word oikos not only translates as “house,” but also as “household”; in other words, the people within the house.
How do we feel when we say farewell to a friend, or when he or she says farewell to us? Someone with whom you have been living in close community for say, two or three years? How do you feel with the realization that you will not hear this person’s voice on a daily basis any longer, nor will his or her simple physical presence have a place in your daily routine? Is this not what the disciples felt? Can’t you hear it as the disciples ask their questions? “What will we do without you here?”
“Serve God, love me, and mend,
This is not the end,
Live un-bruised, we are friends”
These are lyrics from a popular Mumford & Sons song, “Sigh No More,” which embodies well today’s gospel lesson, echoing Jesus’ response to the anguish of his disciples.
Today we experience part of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples; all that it means for Peter, Philip, Thomas and the others – and for Christians today. Scholars and theologians have long debated the meaning of Jesus’ words, such as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and whether John’s work teaches “realized eschatology” (the end has come in the person of Jesus) or “future eschatology” (the end will come at a future time). Both are important theological concepts; however, as I prepare to graduate from a community so important in my life and spiritual growth, it is the saying of farewell between teacher and disciples, between friends, that calls out to me from this reading. The end is now and not now, as we all move into the future.
What calls out to you in today’s gospel? How do you, as a Christian, find hope and celebration in endings?