Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 May 2020.
• First Reading: Acts 7: 55-60 (The martyrdom of Stephen)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 2: 2-10 (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)
• Gospel: John 14: 1-14 (I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me)
I suppose that every parent wants and imagines the best for their children, and especially their newborn, who have yet to show their personalities and potential interests.
What they see is the baby, present in body and yet to be formed in their person: abilities, likes and dislikes, their friends and loyalties.
Everything here is about potential, and about how to realize it with love in the home, care in the teaching, robustness in everyday life, without falling prey to any form of abuse, whether inflicted from outside or arising from the inner soul.
In His farewell discourses to His disciples, Jesus was preparing them for life without His daily, bodily presence. They would have to learn together and often without His personal word for the moment.
They would have to learn to trust Him and to be with Him in prayer and worship even when they could not see Him. They would also have to learn to trust one another, for none of them on their own would have all the insights and understandings they would need.
And so Jesus had two important things to say to them.
First: there was and would only be one way in which they might approach God with confidence. There would be only one way in which they might come before Him and find that He is their Father.
There would indeed be many other paths into the presence of God, but in none would the disciples of any age or era find that He is other than the most holy Judge before whom they are all sinners and have come short of the fullness of the glory of God.
Only in Jesus could people in any age or culture or continent come before God and find in Him the Fatherhood that they sought and needed.
Jesus was not exaggerating or trying to enhance His own standing. He was only speaking the truth for only Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of the world. Him and none other. And none other would be raised from the dead by God Himself.
But secondly, by approaching God in and through Jesus, the disciples would indeed have the boldness to come into the presence of God.
More than that, they would be encouraged to make their petitions to God, for their own needs, the needs of others and the mission that Jesus had entrusted to them.
As they prayed the prayers that Jesus Himself would pray, so God would hear them and answer them.
There is however a sting in this, for prayers for personal luxury, or to be able to command others at whim, to indulge themselves at the expense of others are not the kinds of prayer that Jesus would pray and so are not the kind of prayers that God would be likely to bless.
It had to be remembered that even Jesus’ prayer for deliverance from the cross was met with silence, until He that prayed, ‘Not my will but thine’. That was when the angels came to help Him.
But then there is another aspect of this, for Jesus had a plan for the disciples. They would be sent out into the corners of the Roman Empire and beyond to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and His resurrection.
They were to work together and yet to allow God to build them into a temple – a body of people all inhabited by the spirit of God and equipped and empowered for this task.
In his epistle, Peter has the image of a temple, formed of many stones, all different but chosen and fitted together, mortared together by and in the Holy Spirit.
They would belong together as together they also belonged to Jesus Christ. They might provide the visible form but they would be inhabited, filled, motivated, renewed, glorified by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus might be seen and recognized as being in their midst and as being their life and being.
This is where Peter also has an important exhortation: ‘Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.’
Allow God to find you and mould you, to dress you like stones as a mason would prepare the stones of a building. Allow God to find them, and fit them into His purposes. Allow God to place them in the life of the church as He sees fit – some visible and of great beauty, like the details of doors and windows; others critical but hidden: like the foundation stones.
In days of doubt and difficulty, when we may not have control over all that happens to us, it is important not to yield to discouragement or anger.
God may indeed be finding us, cleaning us, trimming us, fitting us together for the purposes of that temple.
Finally, it is important to recall the martyrdom of Stephen. A short-lived but faithful discipleship, in which he committed his path into the hands of God.
At a time when he might have talked his way out of trouble, instead he gave voice to that final vision of the glory of God.
It was the last thing he did, but he is remembered and honoured for it down the centuries.