May 14, 2017 Sermon. Easter 5
The Jesus Way
Throughout this Easter season, we’ve been thinking about the places where we can see Jesus in our lives. Over the last few weeks, I’ve suggested several movements in our lives where Jesus can be found—in our laughter and joy; in our pain and grief; in our vulnerability.
Southern US Bible scholar Clarence Jordan once wrote, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit–filled fellowship; not a rolled–away stone, but a carried–away church.”
What Jordan is talking about is abundant life … and the good news of Easter is that God’s life is born in the world and it fills our lives to overflowing. This abundant life comes to us in all the different moments, moods, emotions, actions, and occasions of our lives.
That’s at the heart of today’s gospel reading. Jesus promises to be with us always. Our relationship with God is assured.
Scholars call this part of John’s gospel (chapters 13–17) the “Farewell Discourse”. These are the last few days Jesus spends with his disciples. He washes their feet, and then, knowing he is about to die, he says goodbye to his disciples and friends and speaks words of comfort and promise to them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. I am going to prepare a place for you in the presence of my Father. I will come back for you, and we will be united eternally.”
We usually hear these words at funeral services … and thought they offer incredible comfort at the time of death, they are powerful words in the midst of life as well. These words are a gift to us, a completely unconditional promise. Jean Vanier says that with these words, Jesus promises “that when he comes back, he will draw us into a long, loving embrace.”
As if often the case, however, the disciples don’t get it. Thomas responds, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the way?” He wants directions, something he can plug into his GPS.
Jesus responds with nothing but love. “You already know the way, Thomas. You know me, Thomas, so you can’t get lost. I am the way, Thomas. You know me, so you can’t get lost. And if you know me, you’ve seen the Father.”
You see, the “Father’s house” is not a place, somewhere we can go. The Father’s house is a metaphor for our relationship with God. We live into this relationship. Jesus is inviting the disciples, and Jesus is inviting us, to have the same relationship with God as he has. See God wherever you are. Know that God is present with you in every day. Know that God’s love holds you up and surrounds you in every moment of your lives.
This is the heart of the gospel for John. Jesus and the Father are one. Those who see, hear, touch, and know Jesus also see, hear, touch and know the Father. Therefore don’t be afraid. You know me. Keep trusting me. You know me, so you also know God..
In your laughter, know that God laughs with you. In your pain, know that God embraces you. In your vulnerability, know that God’s life is being born in you.
That’s what John means when he says that Jesus is the way. We are a people who are on the way. Being in relationship with God means we undertake a journey. When we walk in the way of Jesus, we journey together to live lives of service, compassion, grace, love and humility. This is the way of life in all its abundance. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life”
What a tragedy it is then that so many of our brothers and sisters take these words of comfort and promise and turn them into words which exclude people. So many Christians interpret these words to mean that if you don’t accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour, you’re going to go to hell.
What happens then is that these words which are given as comfort become a hammer to clobber people over the head. They turn words which are meant as a bridge into a wall.
But that’s not what they mean. They’re not a threat. They are a promise. If you know me — and you do know me — then you also know the Father.
These are words of encouragement to continue on our journey with God. Keep walking in the way I showed you. Keep doing what I’ve been doing. Keep loving God. Keep loving your neighbours. Keep showing compassion. Keep being gentle with each other. Keep being tender with creation and all earth’s creatures.
Then your life will be filled to overflowing abundance. You will know the truth, and that truth is the love in the heart of God.
This is the way to being one with God, says Jesus. It’s a way of compassion and love and service that is for all people.
So how are we doing that? How are we walking in the way of Jesus?
When we hear this call to live with compassion and love, and when we do it, we are part of the Jesus movement in the world. We live without fear. We live with a deep trust that we have seen God. We live in the profound trust that God’s love permeates our lives and flows into the world. We live in an intimate relationship with God, trusting deeply that God hears us and cares for us.
When we walk the Jesus way, we walk in harmony with all of creation, caring for all God’s beloved creatures, embracing those who are walking the way of compassion, grace and love with us.
When we live the Jesus truth, we don’t just hear the truth, but we live it out day by day. We are caught up by the way of life that he embodied. We live the vision of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the place which Jesus prepares for us. It’s a relationship with God which makes our lives whole. It’s a relationship which we live out today, in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, in the shopping mall and on the street.
Anglicans talk about the Jesus movement by talking about the 5 Marks of Mission.
We tell others about this incredible good news that we don’t have to be afraid.
We teach others to live as God’s beloved people.
We tend others in loving service.
We participate in God’s transformation of the world.
We treasure this world, and all the blessings which God has given us.
Tell … teach … tend … transform … treasure.
We live the Jesus way, day by day, reaching out to this world which God loves so deeply. We know deeply within ourselves that God loves us deeply, and that God wants to do something wonderful in us and through us. We accept God’s invitation to live in intimate relationship with God and with God’s world.
That is Christian faith. It’s not a series of propositions to which we give mental assent. Christian faith is a journey. We walk together in the way of Jesus.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Don’t be distressed. Don’t be afraid. Live in trust. Live in hope. Live in faith. Live as people who love.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 14, 2017 (5th Sunday of Easter)
John 14: 1–14
Acts 7: 55–60
1 Peter 2: 2–10