Today’s readings: Acts 7:55-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14.
“But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God”.
What if heaven were close enough that we could all be like Stephen? What if we too could stand and gaze into God’s kingdom?
Last week our readings reminded us that life is rarely one thing or another but often many things at once. Grief and joy. Awe and despair. Light within the dark. Doubt and hope. Today’s readings remind us of another apparent contradiction – that we as Christians are called to live not just here and now, in our earthly lives, but with one foot in God’s kingdom.
That’s a tricky thing to get our heads round. As we come up to Ascension and Pentecost our readings seem designed to keep us confused and uncertain – and for good reason. What a confusing time this must have been for the disciples, this time between the resurrection and the ascension. Jesus dead – but also somehow alive. With them, eating with them, walking with them, talking with them – but also sometimes hidden from them, disappearing from them. Still one of them – but also, very obviously, not the same as them.
And our readings today place us in the same place of uncertainty. Just as the disciples looked at Jesus and wondered if he was really there, really part of this world, so our readings today make us question where we are. Are we really fully part of this world? Or does our faith place us somewhere different – are we actually now part of the kingdom of God and so, like Jesus after the resurrection, no longer fully rooted in this world?
In our Gospel Jesus tells us there is a place for us in God’s kingdom, that it is ready for us and that we know the way there. The truth is that we belong there, we belong with God. We may be here in this world - like Jesus, eating, walking and talking – but there is also a place for us in God’s kingdom, right now, and we know the way there.
Stephen knew that, experienced it. Look at the first reading and see how, like Jesus, he is simultaneously fully present in both this world and the next. In the middle of an unfair trial with false witnesses and false accusations, his accusers enraged and ready to kill him, Stephen is actually also present in the Kingdom. Filled with the Holy Spirit he gazes into heaven and sees the glory of God, while standing with his accusers. Isn’t that amazing?
But the really amazing thing is that we don’t need to die to be part of the Kingdom - our place is already there and our job is to live that reality now. That’s part of what St Peter tells us in our second reading. We are living stones, he says, and we need to let God build us into a spiritual house. We are called out of darkness into God’s marvellous light – not just people, but God’s people. And this is all true now, it’s not something that will happen when we die – we are already chosen and precious in God’s sight.
All three of these readings, it seems to me, remind us that we are no long entirely of this world. Through Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, we are part of the kingdom of God. This world is not our only home and it’s not our most important home.
I said at the beginning of this that life is often many things at once. Grief and joy. Awe and despair. Light within the dark. Doubt and hope. It is also this – the Now and Not Yet of the kingdom of God. We know we have a place there, but we experience it mostly as Not Yet. But every so often - perhaps in prayer, perhaps in the kindness of others, perhaps in faith or in an inexplicable moment of certainty – we get to experience the kingdom of God. Now.
Grief and joy. Awe and despair. Light within the dark. Doubt and hope. Now and not yet.
God’s own people. Amen.
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