Fifth Sunday of Easter 18 May 2014
(Acts 7:55-60 Psalm 31 1 Peter 2:2-10 John 14:1-14)
So is it really true that men never ask directions? Could I ask for a show of hands from all the women in the room who believe this to be true? Hmmm. I will admit that I fall solidly in that segment of the male population who believes I am never lost. So if I’m not lost why would I need to ask directions? I believe that eventually I will see a landmark I recognize, even when I’m in a place I’ve never been before. Asking directions just is not in my DNA.
I have both a “maps app” and a “navigator app” on my phone. I guess learning to use them is a lot better than asking directions!
So maybe we ought to give Thomas credit in today’s Gospel as the disciple most secure in his own masculinity, because at least he has the courage to say to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” That sounds a lot like asking directions!
But before we get to Jesus’ answer, let’s situate ourselves in the scene.
It’s Thursday evening, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, Jesus not only knows that he will soon leave this world, but he also tries to prepare his disciples for the events about to transpire. In fact, after the Last Supper he shares with his friends, Jesus spends the next four chapters of John’s Gospel talking about his impending departure. The beginning of today’s Gospel reading comes right at the beginning of that long and dramatic scene that will then take four chapters.
A few moments earlier Jesus tells them that one of them will soon betray him, and then he tells Peter that Peter will deny him three times. So it is in this context that Jesus says, as we just heard, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Can you hear the disciples’ response? [although it’s not included in the text] They must have said something like, “Jesus, are you kidding us? You’ve just told us you’re going to die! You’ve just told us you’re leaving us! And now you tell us our hearts should not be troubled? Come on, Jesus, get a grip! Don’t you get how sad and upset we’re feeling?”
That’s when audacious Thomas asks his intrepid question: “How can we know the way?
And, do you know what I think? I think that both when Jesus tells the disciples “To not let their hearts be troubled,” and when Jesus says, “He is the way,” in both of these Jesus is asking his disciples to just trust him.
And there is one more unashamed disciple in this story. That is Philip. Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Or, to put it more directly, “What does God look like?” Well, that is as brazen a question as ever you could ask. Because in ancient Israel, a person could not look on God and live. Because God was too holy, too powerful, too full of life for any mere human being to behold and live. Yet Philip asks to see God anyway. It is as if Jesus has twice asked them to trust him, so Philip says, “you know what, Jesus, at this point, if you want us to trust you, you need to show us God. So just tell me, what does God look like?”
In last Sunday’s New York Times,1 I could barely keep tears from my eyes when I read the story entitled, “What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?” That was the story describing the terrorists in Nigeria who organized a secret attack last month, but not on a police department, or an army barracks, not even a drone base—but on a girls’ school, kidnapping more than 200 girls. Remember when the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala in the head at age 15? Remember how the Afghan Taliban throw acid on the faces of girls who dare to seek an education. And then the story of the Sudanese woman, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, sentenced to death this past week for refusing to renounce her faith in Christ. And the stories of hundreds killed in mud slides and factory explosions, and tornadoes; and when the doctor tells you that the cancer has returned, or when a loved one dies unexpectedly, or after one more miscarriage, or when you discover your beloved has left…..and there are so many more blanks to fill in.
Every one of us has had moments when we just wanted some reassurance, some small glimmer of hope, that all we have heard about and learned about God and God’s love is not just some fairy tale, but true. It doesn’t take much more for anyone of us to say with Philip, “Just show us the Father, show us God, prove to us that God is alive in this world– and then we will be satisfied, then we will trust you.”
Last week at the conference I attended for pastors of Larger Lutheran Churches, presiding bishop of the ELCA Elizabeth Eaton, spoke at our closing worship service. She began by reminding us with that fireball delivery she brings to any conversation, that “We Are Church” and “We Are Church Together” and “We Are Church For the World.” And although we are “…for the world….we are always church first, and our center is always the crucified and risen Christ.”
Remember again, that in this Gospel text, we are on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus is about to be betrayed, abandoned, handed over, insulted, beaten, and then crucified. Remember why? Not to set for us an example of what real faith looks like! Not to appease an angry God! Not simply to take upon himself the punishment we all deserve!
Rather, Jesus goes to the cross for one reason, and one reason alone: to show us God, to show us God’s face and mercy, to show us just how much God loves us and how far God will go to communicate that love to us that we might believe and trust and have life in God’s name.
So when you are at your wits’ end, when your hearts are troubled, when you are reading the newspaper and your blood pressure begins racing with resentment and rage—make sure you look for Jesus, look for the one who preached God’s mercy and taught God’s love, the one who healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk and then rose from the grave.
What you see in Jesus….this is what God looks like. This is Jesus the Way: perfect love for you, for them, for all of us and for the whole world. Amen.
- The New York Times. May 11, 2014.
Some themes for this sermon came from a blog by David Lose, entitled “The Hardest Question.” May 15, 2010.