The view of the early Christian community gives us a reality check this week. Up until this point in the Easter cycle, we have seen a group of people apparently always getting along, sharing everything, with no complaint; but today’s reading from Acts lets us know that there were some divisive things that arose in their community as it grew, much like in most communities. This is not to say that there wasn’t much good will, love, caring and sharing that went on, but the human condition is such that in any group of people, challenges arise in attempting to be a community. Today, in Acts, we see there is an issue of justice that brings division—apparently the Hebrew widows are receiving more than the Greek widows of the daily food allotment.
But more important than the fact that there is upset or division is the fact of what is done about it! The apostles are wise in putting the issue to the community–the problem arose within the community; thus they should be part of the solution—would that it were that way within all church communities!
Two issues are raised by the example of the apostles saying, “It is not right for us to neglect the Word of God in order to wait on tables.” First, and this is the lesser and more practical issue—the apostles do need assistance in ministering to this growing community and therefore it was right for them to ask the community for assistance, but not, in my mind, as they say, because “it is not right to neglect the Word of God,” in order to wait on tables, as if this is beneath them. Apparently they missed what Jesus did for them at the Last Supper! Scripture doesn’t say, but hopefully someone set them straight. “Preaching the Word” is always about service first—if they couldn’t see, that, waiting on tables, was in fact, “preaching the word,” then hopefully, at some point, someone did indeed set them straight! But because they couldn’t do it all, again it was right to ask for help.
The readings today are so much about the fine nuances that we are called to as Jesus’ followers, the practicality of everyday living. As we discussed last week, it is here that the true test comes, not what we say we believe, but what we in fact DO!
We see this in 1st Peter’s account today which serves as our second reading. Jesus is called the “corner stone” of the building, even though in his life and death he was rejected by some—basically those in power. 1st Peter goes on to talk about Jesus as the “living stone” and all of us who follow his way, as living stones, together building a spiritual house. We see that Jesus is the “living stone” not because of what he does primarily, but because of who he is. Now that having been said, we know that what he does is influenced by who he is. So again, there is that fine nuancing, trying to make clear what it is that we as Jesus’ followers are to be about. We, as Jesus, are first and foremost God’s beloved, and because of that, we are called likewise, to give back.
We truly are shown that status in this community of living stones, following the Living Stone, Jesus, is not to be lifted up, but because we know who we are and to whom we belong, the work of lovingkindness, righteousness and justice is to be lifted up as we prayed about in our psalm response today, “the Creator loves justice and right, and fills the earth with love.” And again, we think back to the issue raised in Acts about what following Jesus is really all about—not status, but service.
A recent example comes to mind in this regard: This past week we learned that the bishop of the Minnesota diocese of Crookston held, “serving the Church” —which, in his mind meant protecting the institution, above giving compassionate care to one of his flock. He apparently resorted to blackmail and coercion to accomplish this.
In this, we see that the message of Jesus, giving in service, out of love, is not different from the messages of the prophets of old—in Jesus, we see that the original message of covenant love given by the Creator is made complete in him because of his willingness to give all of himself, out of love for them/for us—something we would hope to see in our present day “servants.”
Again using the terminology of the “living stone” from 1st Peter where all who follow Jesus are then too, living stones, we see that together they/we make up not only a “spiritual house,” but truly become the “People of God” in the original covenant made between God and the Israelites. 1st Peter does a fine job here of uniting the Israelite tradition to the Christian experience.
In the gospel selection today from John we are given a very comforting message—“do not let your hearts be troubled…in God’s house there are many dwelling places…I am indeed going to prepare a place for you…that where I am, you also may be.” We see Jesus’ gentle care for his apostles as he tries to prepare them for his coming ordeal. He doesn’t focus though on the end of his life, but only on the joyful events that will follow it. We should notice what Jesus is perhaps trying to tell us—the sadness, the hard times when we may be rejected or called to suffer will pass, but the joy will continue for all eternity.
It gives me a great deal of hope to think about Jesus being with me each and every day, which is one of the meanings of his words, “I will come again, along with his coming at the end of time.
The early Christians, those who were attracted to follow this new religious group, first known as followers of The Way, joined them, we are told, because of what they saw them doing, how they were attempting to live. That is what will cause others to follow us friends; if they see something good in our actions.
Our focus must always be bigger than our own lives, our own agendas—the good of the entire “spiritual house” must be our focus as it was for Jesus. The question must be: What actions will truly bring about the good of the whole? Many of us find ourselves frustrated these days by the lack of this concept coming from leadership in Washington.
Each of us is called as a Christian to follow Jesus’ way—not a physical path as Thomas presumed, but a way of life, based on truth that gives us life. Jesus assures us that if we follow this way of goodness, justice, lovingkindness and mercy—then we have seen God and will one day see God in all the glory that God is.
In the gospel today, Jesus is quoted as saying, “No one comes to God except through me.” What are we to make of that? What about those who live well, but are Jews, Buddhists, practice Islam? Jesus’ way is lived well by many in this world who don’t live as his followers per se. One example: A student asked his Buddhist master—“What is the deepest meaning of Buddhism? The master turned to the student, bowed and gave the words of a wise person, “Beware of the religion that turns you against one another—it’s unlikely that its religion at all.”
Our history has given us many examples of this: Manifest Destiny, the institution of slavery, born out of racism, an evil that seems to have been raising its ugly head again in our present day through violence and discrimination against those with dark skin, the sexual trafficking of our youth—our future, another off-shoot of not seeing all as the Beloved of God.
As a Cojourner with the Rochester Franciscans, I am part of a Water Group that looks at ways that we can protect our wonderful gift of water for all of God’s people. I know that many of you are involved with groups that work toward the good of all the people of God. We must all be part of such activities that uplift rather than bring down. When we are aware of injustice, we must speak up, even if we have to do it alone. As we said last week, sometimes our voice is what is needed, to get things rolling!
We must remember Jesus’ words to us, “You will do greater things than I” as we attempt to follow in his footsteps. The challenge is before us friends to make a difference—to be people of peace, not war; to value people more than possessions, titles or institutions; to realize anew that we need God and we need each other and must work in this world to bring a good life for all. The gospel message is here before us—the question is; will we be living stones in the spiritual house or not?