The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 14 May 2017

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

Background: The Diaconate

“Through the dust” is what the Greek word di├íkonos means. It is indicative of several roles, such as servant, person-in-waiting, minister, or messenger. The “through the dust” meaning indicates the business that might take a messenger/minister through the roads and highways, doing a master’s bidding. In the sixth chapter of Acts we have the account of the choice of deacons and the work that they were given to do. In addition to Stephen, the Bible also mentions the work of a deacon (male form) Phoebe. Deacons are found as an ordained order in the Roman, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is enjoying a slow resurgence in Lutheran Churches. The chief liturgical duties of the deacon are to proclaim the Gospel, set the table and assist at the table at mass, and dismissing the people at the end of the liturgy. Primary duties also include work with the marginalized – the poor, sick, hungry, and imprisoned. Some deacons are transitional, an initial ordination prior to being priested. Other deacons choose this as a permanent status.

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

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.

This episode follows Stephen’s extensive sermon delivered in the preceding verses to this pericope. The reaction to the sermon was one of fury, and visible anger, “and they ground their teeth at him.” What follows this is a vision, a gift of the Holy Spirit, in which Stephen again expresses what he believes to be true about Jesus, standing at the right hand of God. For this Stephen is stoned by the Sanhedrin. His vision of Jesus as the Messiah does not sit well with the council. The members cover their ears giving a visual clue to what others have said about them, blind and deaf to the good news. The incidentals of Stephen’s death in some ways mirror those of our Lord’s. This is a device that Luke uses in Acts when he has, now Stephen, and Peter and Paul reenact scenes from the life of Jesus.

Breaking open Acts:
1.          In what ways is Stephen’s vision a creed?
2.          What deacons have you known in the Church?
3.         What were the outstanding parts of their ministry?

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 In te, Domine, speravi

     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,
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."

The author of this psalm has freely quoted not only standard lines from other psalms but also from Jonah and Jeremiah as well. He is using standard and familiar language to express his supplication. Several images are used to picture the relationship of God with the suppliant. God bends down. God is a castle. God is a cleft in the rock. Each of these protective images expands on the relationship that God has with the one in need, and offers reasons why the author should commend his spirit into God’s hands.

Breaking open the Psalm 31:
1.         What language from hymns do you use in your prayers?
2.         What words do you find soothing and helpful?
3.        How does God protect you?

The Second Reading: I 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 marvelous 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.

The initial image that the author uses is that of the newborn child, and how they are nurtured and nourished. In the household of faith, it is its members who grow in maturity and adulthood in their life in Christ. Suddenly, the metaphor changes from the family to the house – as a building. Quotations from Isaiah (8:14, 18:16), and Hosea (1:6-9) underscore this connection and tie Jesus’ experience not only with the prophets of old but with the Christians addressed in the letter. Here they become God’s very own people, a regal and priestly people. The gift that is given is not merely status, but mercy itself.

Breaking open I Peter
  1. Where are you an infant in your faith?
  2. Where are you an adult?
  3. How do you move between the two?

The Gospel: Saint John 14:1-14

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.”

In the previous pericope, John 13:31-38, Jesus explains to the disciples that he must depart from them. In the Last Discourse, which begins with our pericope this morning, Jesus explains and answers questions about this departure. The discourse begins with words of assurance and continuance. Jesus will be with them, and they with Jesus, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Thomas presses for more, even now. And Jesus answers with a revelation that he is “the way”, the way of truth, and the way of life itself. And in a manner reminiscent of his self-description as the gate to the sheepfold (see last Sunday) Jesus describes himself as the gateway and approach to the Father.

Philip moves the discussion even further, asking Jesus to make the Father known to them. What follows is Jesus’ assertion that he and the Father are one. What Jesus prepares the disciples for is the recognition of him in God raising him from death to glory. This will be helpful in the coming scenes in upper rooms, and on the beach in Galilee.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How is Jesus “the way” in your life?
2.     How has Jesus made God known to you?
3.    How do you share that with others?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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