May 16th

An Invitation to Relationship

By PastorAnnabelle

Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 14:1-14
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – May 14, 2017


“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Too often these words have been spoken not as good news, but instead used as a weapon to threaten or cajole people into believing in Jesus Christ.  Hearing them used as an indictment against others, I have wrestled with what they mean.  I have wrestled with where the good news is in such words.  That being said, it’s important to understand the context of this passage. 

These words come as part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples.  This conversation takes place on the evening before Jesus will be crucified.  Throughout the discourse, he offers assurance because he knows he is leaving.  He knows the crucifixion is just a few hours away and he wants to comfort them.

In spite of Jesus’ words not to let their hearts be troubled, they have questions.  Lots of them.  Jesus has had a final meal with them, their companion of three years Judas has been shown to be a betrayer, and Jesus has washed their feet in an act of service and humility.  Now he’s leaving? “Where are you going? How do we know the way? Can we see the Father? How will we carry on? How will we keep going without you? Why is this happening? Why are you putting us through this, Jesus? Why would you do this?”

The disciples are hurting and deeply troubled as they know their teacher is leaving them behind.  They don’t understand.  Their hearts are breaking because they feel like they’ve been cut off from one they love.  Where he is going, they cannot follow. 

But instead of answering their questions, Jesus offers himself.  He offers relationship.  “You have seen me.  You know me.  You’ve spent time with me.  And in doing so, you’ve seen God.”  He invites them into walking his way, into experiencing the truth of God’s grace, and into life abundant.  Even though he’s going away, he’s teaching them how to live and how to love.

As is so often the case, the first disciples’ questions are our questions.  “Why did I lose my job? Why can’t I seem to get my life together? Why am I suffering this loneliness? Why doesn’t anyone understand me? Jesus, where are you right now? Why won’t you heal my loved one? Why did they have to die?” The disciples could not fathom what lay ahead and neither can we.  But in Jesus, we have one who is preparing the road and dwelling places for us.  The journey he walked is one we will all take – through the twists and turns of life, through death, and into new life.  The difference is that he walks it with us. 

We may have questions.  We may wonder if Jesus has left us even as we live on this side of the resurrection.  But our relationship with Jesus is secure.  It remains.  Jesus says to us, “you know me.  You have experienced me in the waters of baptism.  You have tasted my goodness in bread and wine.  You have heard my promises in the words of scripture.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.” 

Remember, this is the same Jesus who offers himself to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”  This is the same Jesus who comes to Peter on the beach, offering relationship and reconciliation after Peter’s threefold denial.  “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs.  Do you love me? Tend my sheep.  Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”  Never does Jesus scold these disciples for their moments of questions, their hesitations or even the way they have tried to run from his calling.  Instead he patiently offers relationship.  He graciously offers nothing less than everything he is and has.

I have many questions.  Being a pastor doesn’t make you immune to that, I assure you.  I wonder about the injustices that plague our world.  I grow weary, frustrated, and heartsick at hearing about all of the prejudice, hatred, and violence.  I wonder how to help or what I can do.  Some days there seem to be no words.  There are moments I even wonder what I might pray for in the face of such things.  But I know the One to whom I can turn.  I know the One who has faced it all and overcome it.  I know the One who has conquered death and been raised to new life.  And you do, too.  You know him.  You know his way, his truth, and the life he has come to give.  You know it deeply.  Trust that. 

Because at the end of the day, I know I will never understand the mysteries of God.  I don’t know that I want to.  Because if I can understand God, I’ve made God too small.  What I need is someone to walk with me.  I need a God to whom I can turn and trust.  And we have a God who longs for relationship with us – who is willing to take on flesh and go to the cross to show us unfailing, unflinching love.  We have a God who will never leave our sides.  A God who won’t let us get lost because he’s the way.  A God who doesn’t just forgive us, challenge us, and help us to live anew, but works through us to bring healing and life to ourselves and others.  I do not understand it, but I rejoice in it, and I know that’s the relationship I need to learn and grow, to find hope and purpose in my life.  

Jesus is honest about the difficulties that lie ahead.  He tenderly offers comfort to his followers.  He wants them to remember and hold onto the relationship they’ve had and live in light of that.  He wants them to take what they’ve learned and experienced living out that relationship and to go forward from there.  And transformed by his death and resurrection, he wants us to take what we’ve learned from being in relationship with him and live that out. 

Jesus tells the disciples they will be able to do greater works than what they’ve seen him do because he is going to the Father.  He will be sending the Holy Spirit – the Advocate who will be with them to comfort, guide and sustain them.  Even though he is leaving, through the Holy Spirit, God will be able to work within them, doing incredible things in the world.  Jesus’ work bringing healing, wholeness and love to the world will never stop because he will always be at work in and through those who seek him. 

The other readings today show us what it looks like to live in relationship with God.  The psalmist takes refuge in God relying on God’s steadfast love and confessing, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.  My times are in your hand.”  In Acts, Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees the glory of God and is so strengthened by God’s presence that he is able to bravely and boldly face his persecutors even unto death.  Likewise in 1 Peter, because people have “tasted that the Lord is good” they are to find their foundation in Christ.  All disciples are to know that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

All of this is only possible living in a relationship with God.  And as with any relationship, it takes time to strengthen and deepen it.  Make no mistake, God invites us into that relationship and works to transform us, but we, too, are invited to pursue God.  To spend time with God in prayer, worship, partaking in the sacraments, and in reading Scripture.  To delight in God’s creation.  To spend time with others, taking joy in the relationships God has given us to cherish.  To work for justice and to advocate for those who have no voice.  And to care for and love our neighbor.  We all need to invest in this relationship because God knows it’s far too easy to want to “go our own way” instead of trusting Jesus’ way in our life.  It’s way too convenient to accept the so-called truths of the world instead of the sometimes difficult, but always grace-filled truth that God speaks.  It’s too tempting to settle for life as offered in commercials and advertising, rather than embracing the fullness of life in Christ.  But the good news is that Christ is always inviting us into relationship with him.  He never stops and never gives up.  

When the world is confusing and chaotic, we hear the voice of Jesus: “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  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.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”  This is not a statement of exclusion barring people from the love of God.  It’s an invitation into an amazing, life-giving relationship with the triune God.  Because in Jesus we know and have seen the depth and breadth of God’s love for all of creation.  Since we have a relationship with him, we can trust that his words are true and unfailing, no matter what is troubling our hearts.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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