Welcome and Reassurance – May 10, 2020

Welcome and Reassurance

 A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Sermon John 14:1-14

May 10, 2020

Main Idea:  Jesus gives us welcome and reassurance.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Our hearts are troubled.  In large ways and small our lives have been upended.  And despite some loosening of the stay at home restrictions, our lives are profoundly different from what they were two months ago.  Honestly, we have no idea about when life will return to any semblance of what we thought of as normal.   Our hearts are troubled. We are worried about our health and the health of our loved ones.  We are worried about our communities and the many who are hurting in difficult circumstances.  We are worried about the 33 million people who have lost their jobs, just in the US. We are worried about our nation which is so toxically divided that we have armed protestors in state capitals even while tens of thousands of people fall ill every day and thousands die.  We are troubled that while those white armed protestors make threats without consequences, a young African American man out for a run is shot and killed.  Our hearts are troubled, very troubled. So, it is a good thing that we have church. 

It is easy to identify with the disciples in today’s Scripture text who are deeply troubled.  They are desperate to know what is going to happen to Jesus and to them and they are anxious to know how they will make it through the grief that they know is coming.  Our text today comes from what is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, given after the Last Supper.   Judas has already left to betray Jesus and everybody knows that Jesus’ life is in danger.  Peter has just been informed by Jesus that he will deny him three times.  Everyone is worried, everyone is scared, everyone is troubled as they try to hear Jesus’ words of welcome, comfort, and reassurance.

It is a bit odd that in the Easter season, the lectionary brings us back to Maundy Thursday. But to understand their relationship with Jesus, post Easter, the disciples, and we, are required to let go of familiar understandings in order to welcome and embrace Christ’s new reality.  Letting go of the familiar entails grief.  Last week we talked about the liminal space of Jesus as the Gate being a time of transformation.  Today’s text is also a liminal text inviting us to new and deeper understanding.  So, this morning we will spend some time with Jesus, the disciples and with the early church community for whom the Gospel of John was written.  We will ponder the meaning of Jesus’ words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.  We will hear the promise and comfort he offers.  Jesus shows us the heart of God. 

First a bit of Johannine context. The Gospel of John was written for a small, distinctive Christian community which was in the process of being kicked out of their synagogues.  They were being persecuted by their religious community and by Rome. Their core conviction was that “in Jesus, the incarnate Word, the Son of God, one [could] see and know God in a manner never before possible” (Gail O’Day NIB, Vol IX, p. 743).  Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the very nature of God had been revealed as never before.  The words of Jesus remembered in today’s text, were spoken to this small community of his disciples (and by extension to the Johannine church and to us) as words of welcome, comfort, promise, and affirmation.

Jesus says “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”   When we talk about believing it is often about judging something to be true or false.  “I believe that Vermont is the best state in which to live.”  “I don’t believe in zombies.”  But the greek word translated here as “believe”, pisteuo, is closer to “trust”, or “have confidence in”.  It is a relational word rather than an  intellectual one.   Jesus is saying “Don’t worry.  Trust in God.  Trust in me. I am going away to prepare a place for you with God but I will be back.  Don’t worry.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

But Thomas, dear Thomas, pipes up; “No, no we don’t know where you are going!  How can we know the way?”  We need a map or some directions to get us to where you will be.”  My chaplain supervisor would often say “Structure binds anxiety” and Thomas certainly is anxious and looking for structure.  But Jesus isn’t talking about maps.  He is talking about himself and his relationship with the disciples, and with God. He answers Thomas’ question “How can we know the way?” by saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Thomas, you know me, therefore, you know God. Don’t worry, you cannot be lost.”    No one, none of you, comes to the Father except through me.  Since you know me, you already know my Father also.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (v. 6-7). 

Jesus’ answer to Thomas is reassurance and direction for Thomas and the other disciples. It served as an affirmation of faith for the Johannine community who had experienced the Risen Christ in their midst, as it still serves for the Christian community who worships Jesus as the incarnation of God.  It is relational language, lifting up the relationships between Jesus, his disciples, and God.  Rather than exclusive language, dictating who is in and who is out, it is particular language, affirming the experience of Jesus and this community.  This answer is not doctrine regarding the relative merits of other faith traditions and religions.  It is affirmation of their love and commitment to each other and to God.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” is one of 7 “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the Gospel of John.  All of these statements point to the abundant and life-giving promises of God; bread, light, gate, good shepherd, resurrection and life, the true vine.  Jesus himself is the way to God, the truth of God, and the bringer of God’s life to all.  Everything we need to do, everything we need to understand, everything we need to be can be found in Jesus.

The image of “the Way” has its roots in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Proverbs in which Wisdom shows the paths to folly or to life.  The Way became the self-identification of the early church.  Jesus as the Way means that Jesus is the lens, the gate by which God can be known.  Jesus is the Way in that Jesus’ life and teachings are the path on which his followers can travel as they grow in relationship with God, his very person is the connection between God and humanity.

Jesus is the truth.  He is the revelation of God’s nature which is one of unending love and grace.  When we study Jesus’ ministry and life, we can see that God is welcoming, compassionate, concerned for the vulnerable, challenging to the powerful, unconventional, and so passionate about sharing love and life with all that death itself is defeated.  

Jesus is the life, God’s purpose for all of creation.  Life, Abundant life.

It is heartening to know that the disciples struggled to understand all this.  Right after Jesus says ” From now on you know God and have seen God”  Phillip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” (v.8)  I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes.  “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me? [Jesus says] Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”(v.9) “If you want to know what God is like,’ Jesus says, look at me, my life, my way, my deeds, my character.” (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity p. 222).  Again and again, Jesus reassures his disciples that just as they abide in his love so too do they already abide in the heart of God.

So in these troubled times let us hear Jesus’ words to his disciples and to us anew.

Jesus says ‘In this time of difficulty, take heart. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s love there is safety and rest. I would not have told you this, if it were not so. And although I am leaving in order to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will bring you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. You already know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, No, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look at me. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. All of you come to the Father through me. Since you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know God and have seen God.’

May we be encouraged and empowered by this profound good news.  May we share it through our love and care for those around us and for the whole world.

Let us pray, Amazing God, we are so grateful for your love for us.  We thank you for Jesus our Christ who gives us hope and comfort and challenge and joy.  Help us to see you and see him.  Help us to follow The Way which leads to life, now and forever.  Amen