Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunday, May 22

John 14:1-14
1  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe  in God, believe also in me.  2  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?   3  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.  4  And you know the way to the place where I am going."   5  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"  6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  7  If you know me, you will know  my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."  8  Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  9  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'?  10  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.  11  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.  12  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.  13  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14  If in my name you ask me  for anything, I will do it.
I am by no means asking for applause on this, but do know that I had to exercise a great deal of restraint in not gloating over the fact that we are still here.  No doubt, many of you have seen the billboards, plastered as they were around Denver and other US cities, guaranteeing, yes, guaranteeing, the world’s destruction yesterday, and yet here we are.  It is a terrible thing in my mind my that this sort of theology names itself as “Christian” and, because of its sense of relentless self-promotion, often overshadows the more mundane and beautiful work of the church that gets done week in and week out, you know, stuff like feeding the hungry, comforting the sick and dying, praying for the anxious and consoling one another in the love of Jesus Christ. 
Now, to be sure, my own sense of anger at this brand of Christianity can lead me ever so near a sinful anger and judgmental pride, and of this I am attempting to repent.  Please, hear me clearly: we will meet these dooms-day prophets in the kingdom of heaven, for the same mercy that has claimed us has claimed them, they just happen to be a bit off as to when that meeting was supposed to occur. The source of this anger, I think, is not just that we are dealing with a theological disagreement, like when I try to impress upon our more Evangelical brothers and sisters the importance of the sacraments, but rather that this sort of theology, this chicken little sky is falling nonsense, seems to be the precise opposite of what the Gospel of Christ is all about..  But this is more than an issue of a mistaken date.  Instead, it gets us to the very heart of the matter and what it means that Christ has come in our midst. For evidence of this, look no further than the opening lines of today’s reading from John.  Even as we have celebrated Easter, today’s reading takes us back before the movement from cross to resurrection in John’s narrative.  In this section that is commonly referred to as the “Farewell Discourses,” Jesus is preparing his disciples for his imminent death.  He has washed his disciples’ feet and predicted Peter’s betrayal.  He has enacted and then given them the new commandment, that they ought to love one another with the same love that has been extended to them.   In short, this is a moment of incredible tension for the disciples, as they await the death of Jesus.  It is a difficult task to grasp a God who will name the cross as the place of his exaltation, but this is precisely what Christ is doing.  And it is into this tension, this fear and anxiety, that the Christ speaks these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God and believe also in me.”  
Ah yes, these words, “do not let your hearts be troubled.”  In these words there is a comfort so vast, a mercy so true, that all the billboards in the world could not contain it, and the very fact that they have to spoken reveals this fact:  trusting in God’s mercy and goodness is a very difficult thing indeed.  Look, if you will, at the disciples.  They have been with Jesus for three years, give or take, and have witnessed any number of sublime events: healings and exorcisms, feedings of the multitudes, the raising of the dead.  And they have watched on as Christ has offered forgiveness and mercy to those whom they considered the worst offenders, yes, marveling as Christ’s mercy searched out the depth of human pain and sin, so that his love would be known even in the darkness of a starless night.  And though they have been witnesses to all of these events, even as they have heard Christ proclaim himself to be the embodiment of the very Creator of the universe, they still have questions and doubts.   Questions like “how can we know the way” or requests to be shown the Father so that they might have the evidence required to trust in God with glad and generous hearts.   Yes, trusting that God is this loving, this merciful, well, that runs counter to everything we know to be true about ourselves and our world.  We know ourselves as sinful, broken people who find genuine faith to be a difficult, difficult thing, and this difficulty stands at the heart of Philip’s request to be shown the Father.  He wants a bit more because this all seems far too good to be true.
Perhaps, then, it is no wonder that, from time-to-time, we stand witness to these bizarre displays of religious fervor.  The prediction of the world’s ending, as theologically absurd as the claim was, is little more than that human need to be given a bit more evidence, a bit more certainty so that our faith in Christ would somehow feel less risky.  In this way, it is simply another way of asking to be shown the Father, to be given the exact plan and purpose for our lives and to see God in his unmitigated glory, so that we may be sure that this God is actually who he says he is.  Yes, for faith is a difficult, difficult thing.  However, while we are scurry from place to place, from life event to life event, in search of God’s plan and design for us, the answer is already present, already active in our lives.  Yes, for hear again Jesus’ response to Philip’s request of being shown the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  There is no division between the two; Christ really is the embodiment of God’s love in the flesh.  So, to see the mercy of the Son is to see the Father’s desire for reconciliation with the world He fashioned out of spontaneous love.  To see the healing of the Son is to see the Father’s will that all creation would live in harmony with itself and with the God for whom we are all destined.  To see the Son hanging upon the cross is to know that the Father will stop at nothing, not even the death of the son, to recapture a humanity that has fallen away from God.  Yes, and to see the Son, resurrected in splendor, well, that is to see that we are all destined for the unending glory that called the eternal rest of the saints, no matter when this does or does not happen.
Admittedly, to know these things, to stake our very existence on their trustworthiness, well this is a difficult task. As my dear friend and colleague Kevin Maly put it, “we will go to the grave daring that God is good.”   For this is not an answer to when the world ends, assuming you all are interested in this question; nor is it even an answer to when life will let up a little bit, or when the people we love will find work or contentment. We cannot glibly assume we have the answers to such questions, and we are called to faith in spite of this lack. No, to these things we do not have the answers and to stake our faith upon believing we can somehow find God apart from Christ and his cross is to wade into very dangerous territory indeed.  For as we witnessed yesterday, once you begin down that path, once God is sought apart from the cross and open tomb, well, it is easy to end up on a path from which it is very hard to return.  So, no, the answers to those questions cannot be decoded using some sort of special biblical algorithm.  However, to the question of whether or not God has met us in the struggle, to the question of whether or not God can turn death into life, fear into boldness and anxiety into acceptance, look no further than Christ and cross.  For there, we have the most certain of answers: a God who has wed himself to our flesh, and a God who, because he has made the tomb his dwelling place, has in turn thrown open the gates of heavenly mansions, never to be again closed.  Do not, therefore, let your hearts be troubled.  For Christ is your way, your truth and your life.  Amen. 

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