Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
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 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 de- | liver 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 tow- | er of strength.
5Into your hands I com- | mend 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 up- | on your servant;
save me in your | steadfast love.”
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.
[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.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
The promise and good news in today’s gospel lesson is pretty life-giving and beautiful. We worship a God who truly loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. I know that many people in the world and maybe a few of you are experiencing anxiety. That anxiety may have many sources, including changes coming to the congregation but also so many other things. Whatever the source of your anxiety, know that Jesus can bear it, as is made clear in our reading from John Chapter 14.
“In my Father’s house are many dwellings,” Jesus says, using a word which means “resting place.” This passage has many interpretations. Some readers argue that Jesus’ statement that he is going to “prepare a place for you” means that he is going away, to heaven, like preparation for the Ascension. A less helpful and faithful interpretation is that Jesus is going to get a place ready for those who will be “raptured” out of their cars or houses for seven years. There is yet another way to hear Jesus’ words.
First, let us remember that this entire speech of Jesus’ is the testament of a leader on the eve of his death. Death is in the air. Jesus is not speaking about ascending up to heaven. He is speaking about dying.
Just as important, Jesus does not specify where the Father’s house is located. Is it in heaven? Not necessarily, certainly not exclusively. We know this because later on, Jesus will say that he and the Father will come and make their dwelling in the believing or trusting person: “We will come and make are dwelling with them.” This is about God’s mystical dwelling in Jesus’ followers. It is in this way that the Father also “dwells” in Jesus.
If there is one gospel that does not want us to get caught up or sidetracked by locations or chronologies, it is John’s gospel. What this most mystical gospel wants us to grasp is that this is a relational God. The Father and Jesus have an intimate relationship. Through Jesus, God desires deep relationships with the disciples, including you and me. As followers of Jesus have abiding-places in Christ, so Jesus and the Father have an abiding-place in each follower. God makes a home with us.
The “father’s house” is not so much heaven as God’s household or family on earth. We, reading scripture some 2000 years later, are already living in the mystical dwelling place in the Father’s household which Jesus has prepared for us. This passage is not about mansions in the sky, but about spiritual dwellings in Jesus.
One scholar tells a story about a four-year-old girl who is asked by her father while boarding a plane, “Where are we going?” “To Grandma’s” the girl shouts. Not “to Pocatello” or “Seattle,” but “to Grandma’s” she says. For her, Grandma’s is a person, not a place. We find our home in those who love us, in people more than places.
So, also, with Jesus’ words for us today. What matters is not where the rooms are geographically, but whose rooms they are. “We are going to God’s.” Our home is with God, we are told. Today we hear assurance that Jesus is preparing a place for us with God. We are going to God’s. That is all that matters in Jesus’ long address. We are going to God’s because God has already come to dwell with us in Jesus.
Sometimes it takes my breath away, that we can have a relationship with God through this Jesus. I want such a relationship for all of you; really, I want it for every human being on the planet.
Most of you have to some extent experienced that dwelling and abiding with Jesus that we hope everyone experiences. It’s not that this love and dwelling gets rid of anxiety and fear, but it certainly makes it easier to bear. Conversations or prayer time with Jesus can be calming and restorative. Abiding with Jesus will lead to something else.
Jesus says as much in our gospel passage, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in my will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Greater, perhaps because although none of us can do what God did through Jesus’s death and resurrection, all of us together can bring a whole lot of love into our world as we care for our neighbors.
I want to say here that if you are proud that I was elected bishop, then you ought to also take quite a bit of pride in being part of this congregation. You are, after all, the congregation that clearly grew me into the pastor this synod wanted to call as bishop. And so much of that growth was rooted in neighbor love.
When I was asked to chair the search committee for the new Luther Heights Exec Director, the council said, “go for it,” and I had to lead my first team on Zoom. When we were approached about selling or acquiring Trinity New Hope affordable housing, we all, after lots of deliberation, voted for it unanimously, which launched me into a whole new set of learning and growing. When I proposed writing an extensive grant for my own sabbatical, a team stepped up to work with me and when were denied the first time, they said, let’s try just one more time. And we got the grant and my grant writing skills also grew. And at every Worship, Music, and Altar Guild meeting I have been reminded that not all Lutherans are afraid of trying new things, even in worship. And during the pandemic, you rallied around me and I learned how to build community online and make videos.
In October I will meet in person with around 25 synod council members and staff. A little of my confidence in our outcomes is because of what I have been told about this group. But the bulk of my confidence comes from 12 years as your pastor—that when people are gathered together around a mission, they will do amazing things. You are my evidence that this is true.
If Jesus gives us the clear instruction, to love our neighbor by doing the works that Jesus’ does, then this morning’s passage from First Peter paints a picture for what that might look like for a church body, including you Trinity Lutheran. Paul writes to an early Christian community and addresses them as exiles. They may be actual exiles, or they may be experiencing abuse for the new faith.
It is of course impossible to put ourselves in their shoes. But like those early Christians, our ultimate identity is in relation to the priesthood of believers—the body of Christ—not me your pastor but all of us. The verse which precedes are reading tells us what behaviors and attitudes we should leave behind as we live into relationship with Jesus and our neighbors: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, all slander.” That’s some pretty clear ethics.
Then First Peter weaves geological images into his message. Resurrection makes somebodies out of nobodies by making us into living stones—hewing us, shaping us, building us together into a home, into a community with others. I love that image of living stones; as living stones, who dwell with Jesus serve our neighbors.
We reside in a world dominated by greed, individualism and violence. Is there anything more radical than the way of life to which we are called? It is life overflowing with love, selflessness, mercy, and care for all those who society reject. Community, hope, a table where everyone is welcome: these continue to be counter cultural. And what of a God of love and mercy? These beliefs and way of living are not the norm. But First Peter’s imagery brings good news too, for the letter speaks of the chief corner stone.
A cornerstone is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls. It is one prepared and chosen for its exact 90-degree angle. It is the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right corner is basic not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its stability and longevity. I hear the chorus of the great hymn, “No storm can shake my inmost call while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” Jesus has been, is, and always will be our rock.
And in fact, First Peter declares, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The author takes language right out of the Prophet Hosea and the Book of Exodus, scripture of the Hebrew People, and grafts this Gentile community onto the royal priesthood. Through Jesus, dwelling with God is a gift available for all people, including you and me. But that dwelling, that relationship cannot be hoarded. Those who dwell with God are to “declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Prayers of Intercession
The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.
United in the hope and joy of the resurrection, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.
A brief silence.
God of life, strengthen your church to proclaim your gospel even in times of trouble. As we remember Stephen, we give thanks for diaconal ministry. Bless all deacons and strengthen them for their bridge-building ministry between church and world. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Creating God, you show your steadfast love through mighty waters, towering mountains, verdant fields, and arid deserts. Protect the earth’s diverse habitats from the forces of pollution, erosion, extinction, and global warming. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Mighty God, your Spirit guides us into all truth. Give wisdom to world and local leaders and organizations as they begin, build, or renew relationships. Strengthen leaders and aid organizations in areas needing to be rebuilt following conflict, unrest, or natural disaster (especially). Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Loving God, you make your home among us. Abide with refugees, those experiencing homelessness, those fleeing war and poverty, and all who question if there is a home in your heart. We pray for all who are sick (especially). Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Assuring God, you accompany your people amid uncertainty and change. Uphold people in this community who have recently moved, changed jobs or schools, retired, or are going through transitions of any kind. Lead us in your ways. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Here other intercessions may be offered.
Renewing God, you gather the saints at your heavenly banquet. We give you thanks for the care shown us by those who have gone before us (especially). Grant confidence and comfort for all awaiting the place you have prepared. Hear us, O God.
Your mercy is great.
Rejoicing in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, we lift our prayers and praise to you, almighty and eternal God; through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.
Beautiful prayer and sermon. The message of God’s love and desire for relationship with us is powerful and reassuring. The reminder to focus on relationships with people more than places is a valuable perspective. The prayers of intercession are heartfelt and encompassing.
founder of balance thy life
Your sermons are always so thought-filled, but this one tops them all, my friend. How beautifully you have led not only your church community, but our greater community with a heart and compassion modeled for all to see and be a part of. Your love for all people and all living things on our dynamic planet, never falters.
Thank you for the example that you set each and every day…helping others to build, see, and live the mission and vision clearly, so that it remains solid through transitions. I love that the environment you have been a part of the past 12 years was one of teaching others and others teaching you. Learning from others and others learning from you.
I am so happy for you as you journey to your next adventure, Meggan, and all it will make possible. Let me know your timeline for your transition. I’d love to take you to lunch and give you another hug.
I cherish the friendship over the years and I do hope that you’ll let me know how to follow you in your next role as Bishop.
Much love, happiness, and deep respect & gratitude…Donna
Thanks Donna! This means so much.