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Easter 5A Sermon
1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
10, 2020


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1 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 marvellous 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.

John 14:1-14

‘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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

There’s a lot of “refuge” going on in our scripture texts today. Psalm 31 begins, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.” On top of that, Stephen, it seems, takes refuge in the heavenly vision while those around him prepare to take his life; 1 Peter encourages us to let ourselves be built into spiritual houses, because we are living stones. And Jesus speaks to his trouble disciples about a refuge that he is going to prepare for all in the Father’s House. It reminds me of Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Most good Lutherans know that as the basis for Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark never shaking!” I always wondered what a bulwark was … turns out it is another kind of refuge – a defensive wall or a protective structure of stone or concrete.

In the ancient middle east, hospitality was essential for all who sought refuge. For many people, a permanent home on land which they owned was not a reality. People travelled from place to place, they were very nomadic in their lifestyle, looking for sources of food, water and sustenance for themselves, their families and their animals. There were no hotels – no Holiday Inns or Marriotts or even ways that these travelers could pay to stay if there were. Homes had sleeping places or dwelling places for people to take refuge in their travels. When we see stories of Jesus going from Galilee, south to Jerusalem and other Judean cities, he was not merely “beamed” there. He walked as did those with him. We can be certain that there were many times that people offered him and his disciples a roof under which to lay his head and some food to strengthen him for his journey – many more than are recorded in the four gospel accounts of our Bible. These were sleeping or dwelling places, provided for anyone who was in need of refuge for the night.

The whole concept of dwelling with God is an important one in John’s Gospel. The Greek word for dwelling is, “meno,” and we most often translate that word as, “abide.” The Greek word that John uses in verse 2 is for dwelling places is based off that word for abide – monai, in the plural. It has been translated differently over the years. I remember the old King James version reading that there are many mansions in my Father’s house. Others say that there are many rooms. Originally the sense was that Jesus is the way to abide in God’s permanent house, built with living stones – a place of refuge for all whose hearts are troubled.

Some have seen this text as an exclusive claim for Christianity over/against other religions or the lack of religions. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” But as the text goes on, there is still an open invitation for everyone in this reading. Phillip asks Jesus to show them the father and they will be satisfied, but Jesus’ response is that he has already shown them the Father – in other words, in your wonderful relationship with this human and divine Jesus, you are also in relationship with God the Father. The most complete image of God is revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Is this an exclusive prohibition to others who are not Jesus’ disciples? I don’t believe so; I do believe that it is an invitation for all people, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, to experience in Jesus the refuge that God offers to those of troubled hearts.

Think of all of the ways that our world is in desperate need of a place of refuge right now. The presence of the Novel Coronavirus has brought sudden and drastic life-changes to everyone – no one is exempt. Many lives have been lost or people hospitalized. Many are sheltering in place and jobs have been lost, homes, families and health are in precarious positions. People are protesting, and as we prepare this week in Ohio to have certain businesses open back up, we also live in the reality that the virus is among us, even more so than ever. It isn’t that we all hid in our homes until it moved through; many are simply at a place where they must try to figure out a way to get back to life and work and everything. Meanwhile, there is still the presence of evil in the world, as we see the video of the brutal killing of an African American man jogging in Georgia almost three months ago and wonder if that video hadn’t surfaced, would those men have gotten away with it? Racism and other evils are still present in God’s good creation and are even rearing their ugly heads more vividly as tensions grow during these days.

The promise from Jesus is that we already have the source of strength and comfort that we need for all of this wonderful but sinful creation – and that is the one who is called the way, the truth and the life. This is the one who was sent to abide in this world for a short time and called all of us to abide in him and to abide in the Father. As a matter of fact, he made a promise that he is preparing an abiding place for all of us in that permanent heavenly home, so we don’t need to try to find our own way into the father’s eternal presence, peace and refuge. It is a free gift for us all. It is that plain and simple.

AND, going hand in hand with that promise is another promise … that WE are living stones, made in the image and likeness of the cornerstone, Jesus. Rejected by so many who feel that we are week or unworthy, we are the spiritual house of the Father here, in this sinful creation to proclaim and express the refuge that we all find amid our troubled hearts in Jesus and God. We are those who, although we are not exempt from the dangers of a virus or of unemployment or of the threats of others or of the sinfulness of racism or other evils, we abide in the peace of the one whose life was the complete image of our Father, whose house is our permanent home. Living out trust in these promises, we let ourselves be built into this spiritual house – dispersed for our own safety but bound together by the Holy Spirit who calls us to be the church.
A number of years ago a Contemporary Christian band called Audio Adrenaline had a very popular song called, “Big House.” It is a wonderful contemporary expression of the promises that Jesus makes to all who have troubled hearts. The verse goes, “I don’t know where you lay your head or where you call your home; I don’t know where you eat your meals or where you talk on the phone. I don’t know if you got a cook, a butler or a maid. I don’t know if you got a yard with a hammock in the shade. I don’t know if you got some shelter, say a place to hide. I don’t know if you live with friends in whom you can confide. I don’t know if you got a family, say a mom or dad. I don’t know if you feel love at all, but I bet you wish you had.”

The chorus is then introduced with an invitation: “Come and go with me to my Father’s House!” And then the chorus proclaims: “It’ a big, big house with lots and lots of room; there’s a big, big table with lots and lots of food; And a big, big yard where we can play football; It’s a big, big house – it’s my Father’s house!”

Jesus shares the very image of God in all of his life, and he shares the inviting hospitality to abide in God’s house forever with all. We are God’s house while we live on this earth, and being a spiritual house of living stones means that we are also to reflect the image of Jesus and God. It is particularly challenging for us right now with all of the illness and uncertainty we face. Reflecting the refuge that God gives us truly is the way, the truth and the life as we share God’s peace with all. Amen.