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Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”[1]   These are among the final words of Jesus spoken to an anxious and fearful group of followers as they sat around a common table.  It is just before the crucifixion and he is gathered in the Upper Room.  This passage in John is known as part of Jesus’ Farewell Address.

 

Soon their hearts will be heavy(er) with grief, sorrow, and anguish.  The one in whom they have trusted will be arrested, tried, and killed.  But for now, he sits among them in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup.

They were so human like we are; a motley crew who struggled to understand the full essence of what it means to follow Jesus.  As is so often the case, I suspect they had one thing in mind (or perhaps many things).  I suspect they yearned for speedy answers and easy follow-ship; to be comfortable and void of sacrifice; perhaps longing for power and prestige and glad affirmations all around; but their theology would have been way off base and not grounded in a lived reality of true discipleship.

 

Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for himself and for them and the cost of advancing his new and radical revolution tries to comfort them.  He seems to want to console, prepare and equip them.  His words were spoken not only for those sitting around the table that night but for all of us and for people of every generation.

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe…”  These are significant words for we have troubles in our lives, don’t we?  We have troubles – sometimes, all around.  It’s part of the human experience; whether we suffer for Christ’s sake or just exist in the flesh, we know something about trouble of one sort or another.

 

We live in a broken and fractured world; among broken and fractured people as we ourselves are broken and fractured many times.  And sometimes we carry those fractures throughout our lives.  They lie dormant inside of us waiting for an opportune time and once bruised or touched, even slightly, they emerge with full-life magnitude.

 

Jesus talks to them and to us about dwelling places and residences; habitations in which God lives.  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; many mansions.   I’m going to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you as my own so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.”[2]

You know the place and you know the way.

But Thomas isn’t having it.  Thomas isn’t wanting to believe that he knows the place nor the way:  “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”[3]

Are there not times in your own life when you wish you could be so honest; so transparent as to say out loud, “We don’t know where we are going and we do not know the way.”

Would it not be great if we could allow ourselves to be so real; so comfortable with at least another soul that we might be able to respond as Thomas did:  I don’t know where I am going?  I do not know the way.

This kind of honest awareness is risky especially in our culture when we pride ourselves in knowing everything although we don’t; not really.  It allows us to open ourselves up to receive the answers we so desperately need.  It re-orients and re-centers us to look again and to seek the source that looks beyond the immediate and see the long view and all that might be impacted.

Jesus said:  “I am the way, I am truth, and I am life.”[4]

Those early Christians were known as people of “The Way.”  “No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”[5]

Now, this is perhaps one of the most controversial lines in all of scripture.  Many people have taken these words to claim and justify that what Jesus was really saying that he is the only way.  Perhaps.  Wars have been fought about it.  Synagogues and mosques and temples have been burned because of it; people have been slaughtered and imprisoned; they have endured great harm in the name of Jesus to support the claim that he is the only way to God.   I can tell you that there are many of my Protestant brothers and sisters and even personal friends who would challenge me on this and consider any doubt about it blasphemous.   So sure we are.  But I can’t imagine that God is limited to any one way to reach humankind.  I think God’s desire for us is plentiful and cannot imagine that others who believe what they believe or how they believe cannot find a path to the One true God.

And while my feet are firmly planted in belief in Jesus Christ and the power of the resurrection; and God’s saving grace through him – the hope of glory embodied in the resurrected Lord, it does occurs to me that God is too big, too mysterious, too vast, too unknown and without bounds to ever say conclusively that there are no other paths; that those of other faiths and other traditions do not have inroad into the Holy of Holies.  I see no necessity in making God so small that it would allow me to be so shallow; so insecure what I believe as to disparage or hate my neighbor in his name.

Yes, Jesus says, “I am the way.”  What is that way?  The way of transformation and healing love; and a shared life in which all exist.  The way of freedom and justice for all people.

The way that turns the world upside down; that has stood against the test of time.  The way for which men and women have given their lives for centuries; have held on through unbearable torture and suffering.  The way that turns murderers into saints; and sinks way down in your soul that no body and no force and no circumstance can fully take away.  That’s the way I’m talking about. Call it whatever you want but I believe that that is the way God desires.

Did you notice that little footnote in the epistle reading?  Stephen, a great disciple of the church is being killed for preaching the Gospel.  The crowd covered their ears and refused to listen.  They turned their backs while he was being persecuted and with loud shouts the people rushed out against him.  And others kept silent, I’m sure they did.  They kept silent as Stephen was dragged through the streets of the city and they began to throw stones at him and he was praying, “Father forgive them, Father, forgive them.”  Remember where you heard that before?

Luke tells us that there was a young man standing there and his name was Saul.  Saul, the great persecutor of the early church.  Saul, whose zeal was without reproach.   Saul, a great anti-people of the Way; a terrorist of the greatest sort  who went from town to town killing believers, locking them up in jail, persecuting them on every hand.  Saul was standing there and witnessed the whole thing and did not say a word.

But one day on his way to Damascus.  One day, this same Saul, who did not understand fully what he had been doing, had a dramatic experience that changed his life forever.  I’m glad God didn’t give up on him and God doesn’t give up on us.

In the United Methodist Church we talk about that grace called prevenient grace; the grace that pursues us and comes after us.  It describes the love of God that we did not ask for; it just settled in on us.  Long before we ever gave God a second thought, this grace kept nudging us, calling to us.  When our mothers and grandmothers; fathers and church elders; when people were praying for us and we were not able to hear or see – grace was coming for us.   It’s part of our theological heritage; the foundation upon which we stand.

And then, there is sanctifying grace.  John Wesley believed that salvation is not static; it’s not a one-time event.  It continues to transform, always bursting forth with new life, forming us as a person and as people who stand for the ways of God in the world.  We press on toward perfection – perfect love in God and for one another.

That’s what it means to be people of the Way.  It does not exempt us from the troubles of the world but oh my – it does give new meaning and new purpose to all our living: what we do, how we act, what matters to us and why.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Hearts.  Did you get the plurality of that?  Your hearts.  Your collective hearts.  Do not let your hearts be troubled for we are in this together; and there is a commonness that we all share – like it or not.   We do our good work together.

Could it be that Jesus knew that every generation and every life would be characterized by troubled times of one sort or another and sometimes with hardly any intelligible understanding or logical explanation as was his own?

Could it be that Jesus knew that the only antidote, the only possible hope is the love he was about to display and all of the ways that love could possibly be played out in our world?

“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe.”  Take it easy.  Don’t let this thing throw you.  Believe in God.  Believe also in me.

I hear these words of Jesus speaking to me this morning.  How about you? I’m so grateful for them.  I’ve heard them so many times; preached them and I’ve taught them but I’m hearing them fresh.

There is also a way hewed out of the chaos of our lives so long ago.  A way that takes us somewhere; and reminds us that there is an eternal One who walks with us; who leads us and shows us the way.  “For where I am,” says Jesus, “you will also be.”

Is there a heaven, some ask?  Yes, I like to think so.  Perhaps I just want to believe it.  I want to think there is a place beyond the stratosphere where my mother is and my father and grandparents; and one day I’ll see them.  The image of streets paved with gold and we’ll walk around all day and every day will be sunny is a powerful one.  That there is a place where we’ll finally rest; no more sorrow or suffering.  After all, Jesus does mention all these mansions and dwelling places.

But I think there is another kind of dwelling place that Jesus has prepared.  Another place where God lives with believers right here, right now.

A place where love is practiced over and over again; practiced and lived out with great resolve.  Where the outsider is welcomed, and the marginalized are freed; where we are willing to do the hard work not just for our own sake but for the sake of those who need it most.  Where truth never dies and life is renewed.  And mercy is the order of the day.

Let not your heart be troubled; believe.  Believe God.  Believe Jesus Christ, our Lord.

[1] John 14:1

[2] John 14:2-3

[3] John 14:5

[4] John 14:6b

[5] John 14:6-7