Saturday, May 21, 2011
Sermon for Easter 5 2011
Saying goodbye to people you love and have shared an important journey with can be a hard thing to do. That is what Jesus is doing with his disciples in the piece of his farewell discourse from John’s Gospel that we just heard.
Yes, his farewell discourse. Because even though for us it is the fifth Sunday after Easter, in this reading it is still the night before the crucifixion, and we are at supper with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus knows the end is coming with his beloved ones. And loving them…he loves them to the end. He knows that Judas will betray him, Peter will deny him, not once but three times, and yet he loves them still. He knows that even though they have been with him daily, living with him, listening to him, watching him, there are parts of this life and mission of his they still do not get. And he knows that this is the end. Time has run out. He must now leave this earthly incarnation.
This night begins as he washes their feet offering the lesson of loving servant leadership once more. And then he begins to speak to them. Offering them the great summary, the last lesson, to try to help them remember what they have come to know by being with him these three years.
The section we hear this morning begins with reassurance…” Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and in me.” He knows that the things that are about to come will try them and will test their faith. Not only are they about to lose their leader, but they will see him tried and mocked, scourged and hung. And they will see themselves fail as well, will find their own trust to be lacking, their own fear overcoming them as they run, as they hide. Jesus offers them, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Of course Thomas, who we know from later events is the kind of person who needs things spelled out very clearly for him is struggling with this, so Jesus patiently offers more to him. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Life in God’s kingdom is bigger and greater and wider and deeper and more than you think and you can be part of it, he says. You can live this way because you know me and I have shown you how to live like this, or as one theologian1 says, Jesus is the "the authentic vision of our existence.”
Jesus says “If you have seen what I am like you really have seen God, known God, and you can be like that, really you can.” We know from Old Testament readings that humans have been struggling for a long time with the desire to see God. And that the belief has been that no one could see God and live. And now we hear Jesus saying that, yes, really you can in a sense see God because you see me. I am what God is like. And even more than that, Jesus in the Incarnation is the great both/and…both a view of who God is, and our vision of who we, at our most Godlike, can become.
This of course confounds Phillip, and Jesus runs through it again for him and says, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” And then he makes this rather amazing promise, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."
Yes, saying goodbye to people you love and have shared an important journey with can be a hard thing to do. That is why it is a good thing that we have liturgy and prayers and scripture and community to surround and support us as we do these things.
I don’t know about all of you but change tends to make me anxious. There was a particular aptness for me in this Gospel as I felt Jesus might be speaking to me just a little bit here in this “final discourse” and to all of us here at St. James in this time of change.
As Jesus reminded the disciples, and us the place for our trust is in God. I have a tendency to forget that sometimes, and when I do, I get worked up and worried about how things are going to come out. But as our Psalm this morning reminds us, our times are in God’s hands. The God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine. The God who graces us and delights in us and has a dream for us.
And the God who has given us Jesus, our path, the way, and the truth, and the life.” Or again, that theologian’s definition, "the authentic vision of our existence.” If we take that vision and run with it, if we really believe that this is who we are created to be, someone who offers welcome and care to the least and the lowest, someone who loves authentically, forgives and turns the other cheek, reaches out to those whom others would ignore or scorn…if we really believe that we are part of God, and they are part of God…and that every moment is a chance for a miracle, how then would we live?
It has been a wonderful almost nine years being part of this community. You welcomed this stranger and allowed me to become part of you, embracing me into a role of leadership, flowing gracefully with me through life changes, welcoming Rick into our midst and celebrating our marriage. I will keep you in my heart and my prayers. My hope for you is that you will continue to take seriously those baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all people wherever you might encounter them. Amen.
1John Dominic Crossan quoted by John Pilch in The Cultural World of Jesus Year A cited by Kate Huey on Textweek