John 14: 1-14 May 14, 2017 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 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.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “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.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 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.
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.
A year ago, as I was preparing to return from my sabbatical renewal time, you were finishing up the small group sessions developed for the congregation’s renewal time. Those experiences led us into the New Beginnings small groups when we talked about our values and priorities, which culminated in a half-day workshop in October, when we named the next steps of putting our passion to plan. Two small groups have been meeting in the last several months to do just that, coalesce our passions into a plan for acting out our vision and mission.
Those groups will unveil their work this morning, right after worship.
This will not be the last time we talk about these ideas; we know it’s Mother’s Day, and you may have other plans today. I hope, though, you will engage this vision over the next few months as we discuss it and decide if we can implement it.
Putting our Passion to Plan is a way to name who we are, and then to call ourselves into being more than that. We are people of faith, disciples of Jesus, people who value justice, people who nurture and care for each other, and people who care for the creation around us. As we name these as our foundational passions we are being called into becoming more of who we already know ourselves to be.
Abiding and faithful God, we come to this place not knowing what to trust in our world today. The News is disturbing, disruptive, disorienting. So we ask your abiding presence, the peace that passes all understanding into our hearts today. May the words of my mouth….
In today’s scripture reading, Jesus told those first disciples that by knowing him they know God. As he prepared them for the likelihood that he would die, sooner rather than later, he told them not to despair, that a place was being made ready for them where they would join him for eternity.
These assuring words of a place in God’s glory even after death are often read at funerals. We hear the passage as a prediction of a glory-filled afterlife, where we will live in a palace in which God is the king and Jesus is God’s Prince. It is a magnificent place prepared by Jesus for those who follow him.
However, Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal place; he was talking about abiding in a spiritual life lived in and with God. He wasn’t so much describing a dwelling place in which to live; rather he described an abiding presence at the feet of God. Here’s an example out of my own life: it’s not the home I invited my mother into as she was nearing the death—that was a dwelling place prepared for comfort and care. I readied that house so that I could sit with her, read to her, help her eat, bathe her, hold her hand when there was nothing left to say; that was an abiding place.
Jesus wasn’t so much saying that he was preparing a physical dwelling place but a spiritual presence that would abide with the disciples and anyone who called on him. Jesus said that his body would die, yet his spirit would remain with them, as long as they had faith. Remember, faith is a verb, faith is active, faith calls us to reach out to others, faith desires a deepening of our relationships with one another and with God.
Jesus taught this, but his students, the disciples, were like Freshmen of the Faith. They were eager and excited to understand, yet their understanding was not yet mature. They did not have the vocabulary that comes after deep, persevering study of a subject. The disciples were easily confused by their professor’s teaching.
I remember being in veterinary school, and later in seminary, when the first year or two felt like I had to learn a whole new language. It seemed like I had to look up every other word in a professional dictionary. I look at my notes from those years; words are misspelled as I tried to phonetically spell words in a language that was not yet mine, and concepts are mysteriously linked because I did not understand the trajectory of my professors’ teachings. And then there came this time, around the end of my second year, when I realized I wasn’t looking up so many words, and I began to understand how the concepts in my new profession linked together.
The disciples were someplace in those first few years of study, not yet able to link the concepts and spell the vocabulary of the faith, yet they were eager to learn and try. Like good freshmen of the faith, they asked simple questions that showed their desire to learn while also revealing their limited knowledge of the subject. They naively asked Jesus to show them the way, and to show them God. Jesus patiently--or maybe not so patiently—reminded them that they had spent time observing him, assisting him, learning from him, and all of his actions, all of his being, pointed to God. He said to Thomas, “I am the way.” He said to Phillip, “Whoever has seen me has seen God.” In other words, by walking with me, you have already been on the way to God. Yet it is not the only way to God—there are many room in God’s house, after all.
Jesus then told them that their abiding faith in God—the faith that is a verb—will allow them to do more than what he did. He wasn’t talking about healings and miracles; those are merely signs pointing to Jesus’ abiding place with and in God. Jesus said that his disciples—including us who walk on the way with Jesus--will do more than he did. He reminded the disciples of who they already were, people of faith who abide with and in God. They, and we, could trust this abiding faith to multiply exponentially as we join together in ministry. Living in relationship with God forms the basis of relationships with others. Living in faith with God brings justice, peace, love. Abiding with and in Jesus, who abides with and in God, can be the catalyst to build relationships with others who will then learn to abide with and in Jesus.
In this Easter season, we are asking the question that the disciples and the early church had to wrestle with, “Who is Jesus to me, now that he is dead?” In asking that question we are also asking the question, “Who am I to Jesus?” Jesus answered that question by saying, “You are my beloved; I love you so much that I am inviting you to abide with me in the nurturing presence of God.”
Yet this abiding relationship is not merely a personal one. Our relationship with God only means something in relationship to everyone else. Our abiding faith is not an individual personal faith.
In this place, there is a deep abiding faith in God. Even as we are on the way to God, we are also on the way with God. We will do more together than Jesus could because our faith is multiplied exponentially as we join together to abide with and in God. We abide in God, and we are called to live our faith in public and outward ways, trusting in the greatness of God, and relying on this greatness as we express our faith.
We are people of faith, abiding with and in God. As Jesus told the disciples, do not doubt this abiding faith; just do your faith-- do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. We have already been doing justice based on our abiding faith, and the report we begin to look at today recognizes that. We have done justice by caring for the least of our members, by caring for the lonely in our congregation, by abiding with God and abiding with those who might otherwise be forgotten. We have been doing justice that is based in our abiding faith by going solar, by focusing on recycling, by changing lightbulbs to LED, by abiding with the Earth and with God.
This is the Jesus message, that abiding with God invites us into relationship with each other and with Creation. This is the vision of our mission, to be more than we are right now.
Holy One, today, even as our world turns upside down, we name that our abiding faith is with and in you; we no longer need to question our way; we have done our faith by caring for each other and caring for our planet; now as we continue to abide with and in you, we step out in faith, trusting that abiding in you will lead us into new and greater works. Holy One, abide with us, even as we abide with you. As we join Together with others to build a Just Society based on the inspiration of our faith. May we do works greater even than Jesus could imagine. Amen.