May 14 message is based upon Gospel of John 14: 1-14 and Acts 7: 54-60
"A Place for Us"
In the classic 1957 movie,West Side Story (which had earlier been a play), there were many marvelous Leonard Bernstein songs.
One of them was called ‘Somewhere’ which Tony sings to his beloved Maria.
The words he sings are;…. “There’s a place for us.   Somewhere a place for us”.
Let’s all sing that verse together, with Miae’s help on the piano…..

What precedes the song is a lot of bad stuff that is going on in their world.
Maria is the sister of the leader of a Puerto Rican gang that despises the gang Tony is aligned with, (even though Tony is not really an active member of the gang).
Tony and Maria are in love but in a gang related brawl he he has just killed her brother.
When he goes to tell Maria, she is hurt and sad but realizes that she still loves Tony.
He then sings the song, suggesting that they escape all the troubles of their world.
Imagining they can go to a place where the terrible things that afflict them are no more.

The play/movie is a take off on the Shakespeare story of Romeo and Juliet.
Two lovers struggle in the craziness of a world around them that prefers hate to love.
In West Side Story, the idea of hating the rival gang permeates the two gang’s worlds.
And, at the end of the story, Tony becomes the victim of a gang revenge killing and lies dying as Maria cradles her lover’s head.

My wife loves West Side Story, but she also loves happy endings.
So West Side Story is the exception for her, because it has an unhappy ending. 
She will not go see movies that I want to see,…because they lack a happy ending. 
And I keep telling her that real life is not always about happy endings.
But Hollywood often gives us that fantasy so we’re more likely to go to the movies.

But the real life world we live in is more like Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story.
Real life is filled with hatred and hostility and unfairness and violence and death.
Real life is where we, and everyone else in the world, live all the time.
Jobs are lost,….Marriages break up…..people screw up their lives,….children die.

We heard a story today about the first Christian martyr;.. a guy named Stephen.
He was called before a judicial body (like Jesus) and accused of defaming misguided religious beliefs (like Jesus) and found guilty and killed by mob rule (like Jesus).
Stephen was taken outside the town limits and stoned to death.
A common practice at the time in that land, and even so sometimes still today.

Stephen’s crime? - He said that the religious leaders were wrong for killing Jesus.
That they were wrong to love the land they possessed and their temple more than God.
He said God wanted them to love him and not those things, but they refused to do so.
And, just as they killed prophets who said the same kinds of things, they killed him too.

As much as Stephen’s words provoked all this, you still come away seeing it as unfair.
In today’s world, we’d say he was just practicing his freedom of speech and let him be.
But back then, he was an instigator stirring up trouble against the status quo.
And so, like Jesus, he had to be silenced, in this case, through a brutal way of death.

So a blatantly unfair situation….. with no happy ending there.
Or was there?
Stephen looks up to heaven and sees Jesus waiting there for him.
Then, right before he dies and prays to Jesus “receive my spirit”.
Finally, as Jesus did, he prays “do not hold this sin agains them” right before he dies.

Because of that Jesus he knew, we all know that this is not the end of Stephen’s story.
We know that there is a place for Stephen;….a special place for him.
We know that because Jesus tells us so in what we read from John’s Gospel.
“In my father’s house are many rooms….. and I go to prepare a place for you”.

For Tony and Maria, there was not realistically a place somewhere for them to run to.
They were trapped in a culture of urban life in which gang warfare was the norm.
A place where territorial claims of neighborhoods breed hostility and violence.
A place where discrimination fed the flames of fear and hatred and death.

And we too, like Tony and Maria cannot always escape the woes of this world.
The world you and I live in may not be like Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story,….
but you don’t have to go far to find terrible injustices, and hatred and violence.
Yet, its not just what we see or read in the news but even our own lives that can hurt.
We have experienced conflict and divisions within relationships that tear people apart. 
We all have our afflictions and pains,…anxieties and worries,…our losses and grief. 

There are sometimes happy endings in this life, despite the terrible things.
When those kidnapped girls were returned to their families.
When the guy who fell onto the subway tracks the other day was pulled to safety.
When a couple whose marriage is on the rocks reconciles and lives happily ever after.
When someone who has what is diagnosed as a terminal case of cancer is cured.

But even in those blessings, we can’t escape the inevitable unhappy ending that comes.
We all will, at some point, in one way or another,…face death like Stephen did.
Yet, we have a promise, from the one, who just like us, faced injustices and hardships.
Who, just like us faced and went through suffering and death.
We have his assurance that there’s a place for us;…. somewhere a place for us.
So that, at the very end of our story,…… we all will have a happy ending.

Can we sing that verse just one more time to remind us once again. - “Miae” >
There’s a place for us.  Somewhere a place for us”.

Yeah!….that’s the song the song that Jesus sings to us.

Amen