Sermon from Easter 5: May 14, 2017
1 Peter 2:2-10
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Today’s passage from the Gospel of John brings us into the circle of disciples with Jesus at the Last Supper. Judas has already left the group—he is gone to turn Jesus over to the authorities. Jesus has already predicted Peter’s denial of him—there will be more betrayal. The writing is on the wall, he is going to die and he is saying goodbye. In the face of impending chaos, the disciples see that they are going to suffer, they are going to lose a friend whom they love, Jesus speaks words of comfort. Jesus says “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” We can hear those words as ‘trust in me’. But it is so hard to trust when it’s clear that something so terrible is happening.
The disciples are finding it hard to trust. They are afraid. First we hear Thomas, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas wants a roadmap. Jesus is saying goodbye and Thomas wants to hear from him the plan, the specifics, the route, the direction—how are we going to go forward without you? Thomas has been following Jesus as a disciple and now he wants directions that he can continue to follow.
Then we hear Philip: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Philip isn’t asking for a map, he wants to see the Father—the divine, the One. In his anxiety about losing his friend, he wants to see beyond Jesus to the Creator, the Alpha and the Omega.
I think that we may find ourselves with the disciples in this scene. Even though we are believers, we are followers of Jesus, there are tragedies around us. People we love have died or are suffering. We may be facing loss or frightening changes in our lives. Sometimes the changes are wonderful—like the birth of a grandchild, or the graduation of a child, the start of a new job, or travel to start the next phase of our lives in a new place. We look around our communities and we see that some are suffering today—people who have been forced to leave their home countries because of violence or poverty. We know some who are suffering because of mental illness or addiction. We see that the powers that be—our rulers and structures of government have left some people with little while others have so much. When we feel insecure, troubled by change, apprehensive about the future for us or for our children, we ask questions just like Thomas and Phillip. God, show us the way forward. God show us a power that is bigger than anything we know. Give us a map. Give us proof.
In troubled times, it is hard to trust in God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, “ can ring hollow. The disciples would like clarity. They think that they might feel better if they could see the future more clearly. They are thinking like us—in a linear fashion. They want to see the next steps over time. They want to see the place where they are going. Time and space are their reality. When will my help come? Where will we end up?
But Jesus’ answers break through their reality and offer a different one. Instead of giving them a plan and a goal, Jesus offers them a relationship. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
The trust is going to emerge from the relationship with Jesus. The comfort that they seek is in knowing Jesus and counting on that relationship. Jesus is showing his disciples that the future (the time that will come after Jesus’ death) is knowable only by living into the present relationship that they have him. Know me today, trust me today, this is how you will know the Father. Instead of mapping out a course towards an unknowable future, Jesus is inviting us to trust in him today.
What does this mean for us? We are invited to know Jesus in the present as a way of knowing God and everything God promises for us in the future. How do we know Jesus in the present? We look to the Body of Christ. We see Christ in the people all around us. Jesus is showing us that the only way to trust in God’s help in the future, is to know God’s presence in the relationships we have today. And this is what we’re doing here. Here in this place, we are making relationships that are trustworthy. I think about this invitation into relationship and I see us engaged with the Mothers of Marin, with the Wellness Gathering of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy. I hear about the relationships that are forming with the teens at the alternative high school. I know the relationships that Rebecca has with her group in San Quentin, the relationship that Brigitte has formed with Joseph who is on death row. I feel the trust that is building as we just begin to get to know one another in our combined services, in our coffee hour or choir practice, our service as ushers or altar guild. When we know one another as Christ’s presence in the world, we come to know the Father. The way forward is built on the past. The relationships that we have had, the relationships we build today—this is the way to know God in the future.
Jesus keeps up this theme in his explanation to Philip “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” He tells Philip to believe him, but if he can’t, then “believe me because of the works themselves.” This is where the truth lies and the trust is built. Even if you are having trouble seeing or feeling the presence of God, you can trust, you can know God by looking at the works themselves. Jesus is pointing to his own works—his healings, his feedings, his care for the poor, the widows, the mentally ill. He says, you know the Father, by seeing the work that the Father has done through me. This sense of God the Father, dwelling in Jesus, God the Son and expressing the Father’s goodness, the Father’s trustworthiness through the works that Jesus has done. God the Creator is moving and working in the world through the hands and feet, through the very presence of each being that God has created.
When we are in relationship with one another, we know God’s work in us. We are moved to care for one another. We are constantly surprised, delighted, encouraged by the gifts that we receive at the hands of others. We see acts of compassion, we know healing. And this is where the comfort comes from. As we look around us and see Christ in our midst, we can build up the trust the belief in God. People have bad motives a lot of the time—they are moved to make more money, or get more status or power. They have violent tendencies, they have fears that lead them to oppress or hurt others. But every day we see the counter examples, people of God, people in whom God dwells who are moved to do God’s work in the relationships that they form.
If we look around at these works and understand them as God working in people, people working in God, then in spite of the negative sides that we see, we can believe or trust in God’s work in the future.
Before I depart from this passage, I want to highlight the most remarkable thing that Jesus tells his worried, anxious, distraught disciples before he leaves them. He tells them “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. Even more than the miracles that you have already witnesses, greater works than these, I will do. What a phenomenal promise. In this hard, painful goodbye, when everyone is looking forward to chaos. Jesus promises that God is going to be working. And he explains how—it’s about the current believers. They will do the works that he has done and even more. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the new life that will come through him. He is showing them that they will carry on. The trust that they have built in their present relationship with him, will extend on into the new relationships that they will have. Just as he healed and fed and comforted and confronted injustice—so they will continue healing and feeding, comforting and confronting injustice. Jesus lives in the Father, he will live in all who believe in him. And whatever they ask, he will do through them. This is the way God is working, Jesus moving through the hands of our friends, our neighbors, our doctors, our teachers, our first responders, our families. Even greater works will be done in the future as the believers, those who trust in Jesus call on his name.
Now I cannot end this sermon without noting that it is Mother’s Day. How does this relate to our search for comfort and help when we are facing chaos or suffering? How can we hear Jesus’ words in light of a celebration of mothers everywhere? Aren’t our mothers the ones we trusted first? As we celebrate our mothers today, let’s recognize God working in them. How did Jesus heal, comfort, feed, and answer prayers through them when we were young. How did our biological mothers or those women who were the important mother figures for us, express the love of God that is in them to us? If we hear the central message of our Scripture today as Jesus showing that our help, our prayers, our comfort will come through relationships of trust—relationships built on the history of relationship with Jesus, known in the present of relationships with others who know God working in them, through them. If we are to look ahead and feel the comfort that Jesus offered to Philip and Thomas, we must build up the trust that comes from relationships with one another—starting with our most formative relationships with mothers and grandmothers, extending out into loving relationships in community like those we know here. This is our work to do, it is how we will come into the many rooms of our Father’s house.