May 7, 2023
Fifth Sunday of Easter
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship. Would you like to bring cookies or treats? Sign up sheet is in Calvin Hall.
· Session will meet briefly today at 10:45 in Pastor’s Office.
· Please see bulletin insert for items needed for Senior Hospitality Center.
· Find the address for Rich and Lois Lewis posted on the bulletin board.
· Please sign up for the Ladies Lunch Bunch for Wed. May 10— Homer’s Deli at 11:30!
JoAnn Grimm who struggles with health problems.
Arlene Pawlik who is recovering from a broken leg.
Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
The Word of God calls to us, inviting us, “Taste and know that the Lord is good.”
We gather to proclaim, Christ, the living stone,
Rejected by humans, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.
May we, too, strive to be living stones, built into a spiritual house,
A royal people who proclaim the mighty acts of our Savior.
We are called out of darkness and into the marvelous light. Praise to our Lord,
Lord God. You call for us to believe and to know that there are many dwelling places in your house. Christ promises to prepare a place for us and to bring us to you. Help us to claim this promise and to rejoice in you, the Way and the Truth and the Life. Amen.
*HYMN All Creatures of Our God and King (verses 1-3, 6) #455
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION (from Psalm 31:2)
Incline your ear, and rescue us, O Lord. Be our Rock of Refuge, our Strong Fortress of Salvation. Let us come to this time of prayer that we might unburden our souls to seek the redemption of our God. Please join with me in our prayer of Confession.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
How we stutter and pause when someone challenges our faith in you, O Lord! We don’t like being seen as simpletons or as zealots. We don’t like it when people shake their heads at us. So we stay silent. We don’t speak our faith. We are afraid. Forgive us for our hesitancy and cowardice. Forgive us for pushing aside your assurance that you are the way and the truth and the life. Forgive us for not recognizing you as you stand right beside us. Help us, Lord, to offer our very selves into your care and to your glory. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Our times are in God’s hands. He delivers us from our enemies-- even when that enemy is from within our own hearts! God saves us in his steadfast love. Let us accept the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice and be glad. Amen.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Precious Lord. With your words of truth and life, may our spirits be replenished this day. Help us to hear your love and to feel your care. Show us the way to you, that we might live your grace into our needy world. Amen.
Acts 7 : 55-60
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
John 14: 1-14
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
SERMON Jesus Is The Way!
My grandpa has what we all called “selective hearing.” Maybe you know the condition? He was really quite deaf, even with hearing aids, but he could read lips and he got by. But when Grandma asked him to take out the garbage or bring in groceries from the car, he just didn’t hear. BUT, if there was a discussion, even in the other room about going to get ice cream at the Dairy Freeze, he was on it with his shoes tied and the car keys in his hand!
I think there’s some of that selective hearing going on in our world today. It’s pretty easy to tune out mundane things or even things that we just don’t agree with. It’s not that we are ignoring requests or other unsettling news. It’s that we concentrate on an activity or event such that those other things get pushed aside, or maybe we push it aside because it just doesn’t ring true. But when we hear something like, “Ice cream, anyone?” OR “Let’s talk about a raise,” or even, “that pretty girl from last night’s party asked for your phone number!” Well, that commands our attention!
Some of the people of Jerusalem were not only concentrating on something else, but at least according to Luke’s account regarding Stephen’s death, they are actively covering their ears against hearing what this follower of Jesus had to say. He wanted to tell them why Jesus was “the Way.” He wanted them to know that truth and life were the gifts that Jesus could offer. He wanted to explain that throughout their scriptures, Jesus was always predicted, and he had come to them, but they had killed him on a cross. They didn’t want to hear it. In fact, those words totally enraged them such that they stoned him to death for blasphemy.
Now here’s my question. If his words were so ridiculous, so bizarre, so out in left field, why were they so threatened? Why did they need to silence him, even to the point of death?
I mean, after all, when we hear someone talking about being abducted by aliens to be poked and prodded and tested, do we feel threatened? Do we need to cover our ears? Do we need to silence that person at all costs? NO. Stephen was silenced because his words about Jesus suggested a whole new understanding of God, and therefore of life as they knew it.
Now in case you missed that Sunday School class, Stephen was one of seven men who were selected to make sure that all of those in that first church were cared for and served equally. He was what we call a deacon. He was a church officer who serves God’s people, as well as those out in the community. Stephen, however went beyond preparing food or setting up communion or driving people to the doctor. Here’s what we hear about him, “Stephen, full of grace and power did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belong to the synagogue of the Freedmen and others stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.”
Stephen told them the story of their faith. From Abraham to Isaac and Jacob to Moses, he retold their story, but in his telling he emphasized the many ways in which the people consistently rejected God’s word. He reminded them how they had turned aside from God’s prophets and ignored God’s Holy Spirit. “That’s what you’re doing now,” he said. “You are rejecting Jesus Christ whom God sent to us and who died for our sins.”
It was too much. They couldn’t hear more. They covered their ears and took him to the city gate where they stoned him to death. But not before Stephen was able to proclaim, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right side of God.”
He died a martyr’s death. He died offering to God his spirit and saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Just like Jesus asked God to forgive those who nailed him to the cross, Stephen sought the redemption of those tossing the stones.
What Stephen’s story illustrates, at least to me, is that we are a people who often fail to hear the voice of God’s Holy Spirit in our midst. Not only that, we don’t like to be challenged in our current understandings.
So what does it mean when Jesus tells his disciples that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house? Are we talking heaven when we die? What does it mean that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life? What does it mean when Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him?
For so many, these things spell out a road map to heaven. For them it means that Jesus is the only pathway to eternal life. You’ve probably heard it suggested that you friend who is Jewish or Muslim or even atheist is doomed! That’s what many of us were taught. But I wonder if the Holy Spirit is trying to offer us something a bit more subtle, something that invites us to a new way of thinking and of living in our world.
To begin with Jesus’ words here come at a time of high anxiety for the disciples. Jesus has washed the feet of his friends, something usually done by the lowliest of servants. He tells them that they’re not going to understand his actions until later. Peter would have refused, but Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.” Confusing! He tells them that one of them will betray him and even indicates that it will be Judas, “Go quickly to do what you are going to do.” He says to them “Little Children, I am with you only a little longer….Where I am going you cannot come.” And finally, when Peter declares he’s going too, Jesus tells him, “Before the cock crows, you will have denied my three times.”
Is it any wonder they are upset and anxious? In our reading for today Jesus, their friend and teacher, is trying to calm them and reassure them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” We’ve taken that to mean heaven. This is probably the most commonly used scripture in funerals. But here’s another way to see it. In God’s design of our world, there are many different dwelling places. Jesus is going to one in which the disciples cannot go, but he will still be with us. We all reside in our Father’s house—just in different sections. Do you remember as a child waking in the night and being reassured by the knowledge that your parents were just down the hall in their own bedroom. Could Jesus be trying to tell his disciples that he will no longer be right beside them, but he will be with them, in one of the other dwelling places in God’s house. Jesus is going now to prepare a place for us, the ability for us to know his presence.
Thomas doesn’t get it and asks, “How do we know the way?” To which Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The key word here is “WAY”. Jesus is the way to truth and life. We find those gifts when we follow in our Lord’s path, when we follow his example, his love.
When Jesus says he will come to take us to himself, he means we will come to feel his presence and his amazing love. When we follow the path, the way. When we follow him, he comes to us.
So now we are at the sentence that makes us afraid for our nonChristian friends. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That one sentence has pitted Christians against nonChristians for centuries. But consider this: Jesus is speaking to HIS followers. John is writing to the followers of Jesus. For us, Jesus IS the avenue to God. Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus shows us God’s power, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace and goodness.
So do you really think God’s grace is such that the person who dies in India who is a devout Hindu follower, and who has devoted his life to loving others as his faith teaches will be condemned by a God who loves in such a big and beautiful way? How many times in our scriptures did Jesus say to someone, “Nope. You’re not of the right group. This word of God is NOT for you?” None. Not once did Jesus reject someone, so why would we be afraid for our nonChristian friends?
I suggest that we can trust God to handle that person. We can leave our Jewish friends in God’s hands. We can trust God to care for our Muslim brother and sister. But for us, for those who have experienced God’s love through Jesus, he IS the way. His grace enfolds us and calls us forward to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
That means loving others—ALL others. The Pastor Nominating Committee assures me that it doesn’t matter who walks through our doors. That person will be embraced and loved. They are children of God—even the person who is mentally ill and talking to himself. Even the two women who come in holding hands, even the toddler who is noisy and wants to run around. That person who speaks only Spanish or the person who just got out of jail. How about your neighbor who yelled at you last week about one thing or another? Are all these people welcome in our church? Can we embrace them and make them part of our community? Can we obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Can we feel Christ in our midst because we are actively assisting others to know a better, healthier, happier life?
Jesus is the WAY. He’s the way to God. He’s the way to truth and life. He’s the way to peace and joy.
Stephen lifted up the WAY, and those who listened couldn’t hear him because he challenged their assumptions. How about us? Can we hear? Can we follow? Can we love in order to find this truth and life? It’s precious and Jesus is pointing the direction. Let’s follow and discover these amazing gifts. Amen
*HYMN Take My Life #391
(you may be seated.)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*THE NICENE CREED (Traditional)
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the
Father before all worlds, God of God.. Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
*HYMN O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go #384
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.