First Reading: Acts 7:55-60
55Filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then 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. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then 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: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
3Be 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.
4Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
5Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.
15My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
16Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.”
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10
2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like 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. 6For 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.”
7To 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.
9But 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.
10Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Gospel: John 14:1-14
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
To help us dig into our text today, let us first do a minute of groupthink. How do our ministry of Bethany Gardens speak to the world and us about our faith? What do we believe as we start our growing season?
Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Today is the fifth Sunday in the Easter Season. The glow of Easter Sunday has faded and we are squarely back into the reality of life with all its challenges. We know these moments. The wedding and all its celebration is over and we have to face the reality of a real 24-7 relationship. The retirement celebrations are over and we now have to build a meaningful future without that daily structure work provides. Perhaps the funeral is over, friends have left and we have to go forward. Six weeks into college courses, we face midterms, tests, or papers and the thrill of independence from home is fading. After the mountaintop experiences, we inevitably return to normal life with its challenges. Easter has not given way to Pentecost yet. We are still grappling with, “The Lord is Risen,” the chant of Easter, and how we know that is true.
We have read and pondered the testimonies of others who saw Jesus on Easter, the women at the tomb, the followers that evening, the two on the road to Emmaus. We pondered the promises of the Good Shepherd and the analogy of Jesus as “the gate,” “the voice” that calls us forth into our present life and future. We are his sheep but often like sheep we are a bit dense. We listen for God’s voice in our life but God seems to be busy in Ukraine or the Middle East. Surely Jesus knew the faith challenges we would face in believing he is risen and so we turn to his last words of advice that he gave his disciples as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. Surely there is more to Easter reality than listening to the testimonies of others or following a shepherd we cannot see anymore and whose voice speaks in so many different ways. Let us ponder some of Jesus’ last words and how they might help us on this journey.
“Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Our text begins as Jesus and the disciples leave the upper room from the last supper and start heading to Gethsemane. Jesus opens with the word “believe.” Last week we were encouraged to “listen” to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Between listening and receiving knowledge comes the step of believing. When I was at Bethany, I listened to the lectures about warm weather plants and cold weather plants but I am not a farmer nor was I from the Midwest when I was with you. I could have argued that I wanted to grow strawberries for my cereal but I had to trust the leader about the proper time to plant them. I want to be a happy and productive Christian but I must believe the words I hear from Jesus. He tells me to forgive those who hurt my feelings but that does not happen automatically. Tithing in an economy that challenges all of us is hard. Attending church when I’m tired makes no sense. I must believe God’s word and take it from head and make it action. I must weave my beliefs into real life.
Jesus goes one step further, though. We do not believe just because some guru gave wise words back centuries ago. Jesus says we are to believe because he and God are one. Jesus pulls out his credentials, pulls rank on all other authorities and says we can believe when we can’t see him that he personally was God incarnate. Phillip is not so convinced and asks to see the Father. It might be like me, an ignorant farmer-wantabee questioning the instructions from Bruce about the gardening and demanding to hear from the pastor. Ooops, no pastor yet and the one who comes might come from the Minneapolis seminary and not be a farmer. We must believe, trust, the words of the leaders of the program even if it is not apparent how the seed will grow or when or where.
We do not follow Jesus because he’s smart, or wise, or gives me all my wishes, or heals all my wounds, or makes me wealthy. We follow because we believe He is God. That does not seem to be a point of debate…but we do debate his authority in our lives, don’t we. People often live life as if elections are coming and Jesus’ leadership, his shepherding of our lives is up for election if things don’t work out as we think or if he takes too long to answer. We are prone to look at other authorities or denominations and consider our alternatives.
Let us take a moment and take our faith temperature. Is there a pre-nuptial agreement and escape clauses that we need to acknowledge and eliminate? Jesus calls us to follow him when we cannot see and do not understand because he is God of the universe and he knows the way through the wilderness of this life. He is alive, he is raised, and he is going before us. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
“…a place for you…”
Jesus not only grounds us in faith that he is God but he also promises us a place. The Bible opens in the Garden of Eden and closes in the New Jerusalem. Jesus assures the disciples that he is going to prepare a place that he will take them and us to. For the gardeners in the congregation, it sounds like the offer of gardening space, prepared and ready to be used. Jesus is not offering a theory about heaven, practice lessons to be a good heaven resident but he is preparing an actual place. Bethany Gardens is a model garden, a course, but it is also a real place that produces real food for the gardeners and the needy.
Like Thomas or perhaps like people new to our program, we might ask, where is this garden? Where is my spot? Bruce says, “Follow me, I’ll take you to your spot.” Jesus is preparing a tangible place that he will return to take us to. And like Aslan in Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus will be there with us. Jesus is the way, tells the truth, and is the life.
“…believe me because of the works themselves…”
For those of us who aren’t quite sure what Jesus being God means, and are not interested in being heavenly gardeners but would prefer to join the heavenly choir, Jesus points us to his track record. Bethany Gardens has an outstanding track record. Produce has increased yearly. More food is donated to the hungry each year. And Bethany Gardens has won several awards, recognized by Purdue University. Let us consider Jesus’ track record. He healed the blind and did not make people blind. He fed the hungry. He walked on water. He knows the pain we experience only his pain was crucifixion, humiliation and rejection. He knows not only as God but also as true man the situations we face, the discouragements we wrestle with and our doubts. I might question whether our politicians truly understand the plight of ordinary people in the trenches but as I read the gospels and the stories recorded, I know that Jesus walked the talk. People at Bethany Gardens have proven their expertise and we can trust them.
And so what?
12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
I suspect that if I were a fly on the wall, I would hear that a goal for Bethany Gardens this year is to surpass the food production of last year. Each year the program has grown. Bethany Gardens is a garden and does produce food, and does teach and help people but it is also a ministry to bless others. Jesus incarnated as man claiming to be God, laid the foundations for those who would follow, and demonstrated the truth of his claims. He could say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus concludes, though, by prophesying that his followers will change the world. They will bless the nations as promised to Abraham. From that small group of followers that huddled behind locked doors on Easter evening, who walked away from the chaos of Jerusalem questioning what they had seen, and from people living in a culture where they knew they could face crucifixion and persecution, came a spread of what came to be known as Christianity. How was that possible? Jesus, true man and true God returned to heaven and represents us and answers our prayers. He is risen, alive and active.
Let us be clear. We do not make the seeds we plant. We do not make the rainfall that waters those plants. We receive the energy and the wisdom to tend those plants. The credit does not go to our wonderful leaders as wonderful as they may be nor does the credit go to the followers of Jesus. The credit and glory goes to God. Prayers are not always answered the way we want. There are droughts or horrible storms or plagues we did not anticipate but that does not mean God is not present. Jesus promises that he will be actively involved in answering all prayers to him. He is not just a listener. He is active even when we don’t understand. We are invited to ask, to dream, and to have wonderful goals that will bring glory to God.
In this passage, our text calls us to the reality that “The Lord is risen,” not only because of testimonies, not only because the teachings are proven in reality but also because we can believe Jesus is God so he speaks the truth, shows us the way, and is our life for eternity. We believe!
The Lord is risen!
Let the people of God say, “AMEN! “