5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Epistle: I Peter 2:2-10
Gospel: John 14-1-14

We are roughly two months into this pandemic. I don’t know how you have reacted – or are reacting to it. I haven’t quite figured out how I am reacting to it. As it happens, I live in a very pleasant place to be cooped up. It’s been a beautiful spring – maybe a little more rain than usual – but the trees and the flowers are beautiful – I’ve been spending more time outdoors – and that’s been pretty nice. My health is good, I’m recovering well from recent hip surgery.

And yet there is a strangeness to the times. The regular rules don’t seem to apply as they once did. Things seem out of kilter. Something is not right. Maybe a lot of things are not right.

I have a rock collection. It’s not much. I have only four rocks in it.

Some years ago, I was with a tour group in Rome. At the time I thought it might be nice to have some hard, tangible remembrance of that visit. We were standing in front of our hotel. I noticed a small rock, sort of like a miniature paving stone, that had sort of worked its way out of the sidewalk. Please do not tell anyone but I picked it up. I worried about going through baggage check-ins from that point on until we finally made it back to Little Rock.

But it’s the second rock I want to talk about.

A few years after my first rock theft I was with another tour group, this time a group of Arkansas Methodists in the Holy Land. We were in Jerusalem. Many times, tours will have optional day trips to one place or another. We were staying in Jerusalem and one of these optional day trips were scheduled for the next day. I elected to pass and just spend the day by myself in Jerusalem. At the time I was a member of St. Stephen’s in Jacksonville and it had not been that long since I had been ordained a Deacon. So, I knew who St. Stephen was and I knew that he was the first Deacon. And here I was in the city where the events related in our reading today from Acts had occurred.

So, at one of the old gates of the city I picked up a rock. It’s not a pretty rock- indeed, it’s rather ugly, dirty…

“…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. While they were stoning Stephen he prayed “Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.” Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.”

What are you doing differently now? Or maybe that’s too open ended a question. Probably there are a lot of things that you are doing differently.

One of the most beautiful services of the church is “compline.” It is the evening service, the service that closes the day. Remember this number: 127. Compline begins on Page 127 of the Book of Common Prayer. Before all this stuff started, I would occasionally read it shortly before going to sleep at night. More recently I have begun reading it almost every night. I find that the best way for me is to read it straight through and not worry about which psalm do I read tonight – I read them all. It doesn’t take long.

I think Compline was written for times like these. One of the Psalms of Compline is Psalm 31, which happens to be our Psalm for today.

        “In you O Lord, have I taken refuge…

        Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe…

        For you are my tower of strength…

        My times are in your hands…

        Make your face to shine upon your servant,

        And in your loving-kindness save me.”

Our Epistle reading is from I Peter. We do not often hear readings from I Peter in our Lectionary. And our reading today includes a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea:

        “Once you were not a people,

        But now you are God’s people.”

What does that mean? What did it mean to those who first heard it? What does it mean to us in these times?

Today is the 5th Sunday of Easter. Five Sundays from an Easter that in some ways seems like it never happened – or certainly happened in way that seems like no other Easter we recall or remember.

Yet occur it did and in its way it is a remembrance of what happened that first Easter. And what happened that first Easter led to many different people from many different backgrounds – race, income levels, different ethnic and racial backgrounds coming together to become one people, God’s people. In those days for them it was a revelation of the reality of God, it brought about a transformation of life, and a sense of community like none those people of that day had ever experienced. And from that day to this it continues to happen. God is being revealed, lives are being changed, and men and women are becoming a part of a living community. It has brought together from all different sorts of backgrounds people to make this family of God’s people. This is what we are here at St. Luke’s – a family of God’s people.

But a church family is not the only type of relationship we can be in.

Let me tell a story about another one.

Many years ago, before even what we know as World War II, a girl grew up in a town in Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi River. She had one brother and one sister. Her mother died when she was young so she was raised by her grandparents. She was a good student and even kept books for her granddad who was a farmer and owned a small trucking company. As she thought about how should would make a living when she grew up, she decided she would become a pharmacist. So, after high school she went to a pharmacy school at a university in nearby Iowa. There she met a young man from Missouri also a student there. They became good friends, very good friends. About that time Pearl Harbor happened. He wanted to do the right thing so he joined the Army Air Corps. They decided to get married. So, on the way to his training station they stopped in a small town in Missouri to find a Justice of the Peace to marry them. Later a son was born to them. After the war he returned and still a member of the military the small family moved to Arkansas where another son was born. The young man left the military and joined a mortgage lending firm then moved to Texarkana where he started his own business – or rather they started their own business in which she actively helped.

She had not grown up in a household where she had been taught what might be described as “housewifely” skills – instead she had learned how to keep books. Early in her marriage she bought a good cook book and I’m sure with some skills acquired in pharmacy school became an accomplished cook. She kept an immaculate house. She was a kind and loving mother.

In later years she and her husband travelled extensively together. Indeed, many said that if you saw one you saw the other for both enjoyed each other’s company. Theirs was a lifelong love affair.

As has been noted earlier this is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. It is also Mother’s Day. As I suspect you have figured out the story, I have related is of a mother who was especially important in my life. I suspect most of you could tell the story of someone who was especially important to you – the details might differ but the love is – or was – the same.

Indeed, I think I know many of you well enough to say that your own relationship with your wife or your husband or your friend or your son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter is one of love, consideration, kindness…

And maybe one of the great challenges of this time is to be ourselves the good and kind and thoughtful, mother, wife, husband, or son or father, or friend or co-worker or whatever sort of relationship that we have with those with whom we come in contact even in the ways in which we can in these times.

Why someone asks? Why?

Peter said it.

        “Once you were not a people,

        But now you are God’s people.”

Why are we God’s people?

Because of the One who came to be with us, to love us, to bring eternal life if we would but chose it.

The One who spoke on that long-ago day, in words that are as comforting today as on that day he first spoke them:

“Let not your hearts be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.

In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto me; that where I am, there you may be also…”

Thomas said to him, Lord, we know not where you go; how can we know the way?

Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the father, except through me.



Richard Robertson