Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14
Another prediction of the Rapture and the world’s end has come and gone. And we read of Jesus promising to return, a proof text one can appeal to in bolstering a belief in the Rapture. Yet what we is there is Jesus’ promises to be present, to prepare a place for us, to bring us to the Father. We proclaim faith each week In Jesus’ return, and of continuing life in the World to come. In the face of such predictions and their failure to come true what are we to make of it all? This world and the world to come, God coming to us, our coming to God. The prediction of the Rapture had a very clear distinction between what is to come and what is now, the world to come and this world. Yet if we look at Jesus’ promise of Presence and coming are not clearly divided realities, that can be predicted, one age ends and at that very moment the next begins. Our texts this evening don’t use the world “world” and yet this is about “world”. For those who expect the rapture “worlds” are mutually exclusive, there is no overlap. Yet even our word “world” can be about perspective, a way of thinking and being: Thus we can speak about the “Medieval World” that existed in this same world, that is the earth, at a particular time. What our text suggests is that to realities, two worlds overlap, the world of the kingdom of God which is coming, and the world that is passing away and will come to an end.
The account of the stoning of Stephen the deacon the first martyr of the church shows us this. As he finishes his verbal witness and becomes a witness in death, he sees Jesus Christ on the right hand of God the Father. That is he sees the end of the age and has entered the age to come. For Stephen he is in two worlds and for him the one world will completely overtake the other even as those around him will live in one or the other or both. Saul (soon also to be known as Paul) stands and approves his death in the world that is passing away. The Church lives in one and both, facing people and rulers of this age, but having entered the world to come who now experience Christ’s promises spoken in John. The icon of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, shows him only as he is in heaven in worship, whose blood as martyr was a founding moment for the Church. St. Stephen serves (he is one of the first deacons, servants) at the throne and altar of God. In contemplating this icon we are lead to think little of his life in this age, and this world, and see Stephen as he stood being stoned already in the next age the World to come where The Kingdom of God is fully present, where Christ is at the right had of God, the Father.
Through the Spirit, in Baptism and at the Eucharist we are present now in the world and age to come. We stand with Stephen the first Martyr, in the age to come where Christ is at the Right hand of God the Father. We are promised that eventually, soon, this coming age where the world will see and know this about Jesus and God, and we will experience God’s presence with us at all times, will be the only world to exist, that the current world that is passing away, will cease to be. The place of ambiguity and death, and power struggles, and deception will fall away, and give way to the fullness of God in the world. And we how are in Christ will be caught up into this world and the presence of God on the Throne in the Heavens. And in some sense each Sunday we are already so caught up, we are ruptured into the presence of Christ as we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Eucharist) offering bread and wine that and we eat of Christ’s body and blood as bread and wine.
In a sense for us and Stephen the world has ended. We already live in the age to come by the power of the Spirit, what we await is not the end but the full presence of what we already taste and the reality we have access to through Christ and the spirit through baptism and Eucharist. We are to live lives that witness to the presence of this new world where God’s Justice is the only justice, where God’s grace is experience by all and fills all things. We are all to be martyrs, to witness to the world that we have come from the presence of God and have seen Jesus Christ at the right hand of God the father.
We are in the world but are of the world to come. Amen.