first posted, May 22, 2011
The Lectionary Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Easter offer us a rich, familiar text upon which to refresh our souls. Here Jesus, in preparation for his imminent death and departure, attempts to encourage his followers, and by extension us.
There is much here; more than can be tackled in one homily.
One way under the skin of the text, and believe me there are many, is to simply ask the question,
"What do we know from the words of the text. I would like to highlight three responses:
1) We know we have a place
2) We know the way to the Father
3) We know we have a work to do
WE KNOW WE HAVE A PLACE --
So we need not be troubled...
The text reads:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?"
One motif found in the biblical material presents the people of faith as sojourners and nomads. That is, God's remnant are those who seek a city whose builder and maker is GOD. This is what the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:
"It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith -- for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise. 10 Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God." (Hebrews 11:8-10)
Sojourning is a difficult way to live.
One way to think about it is to think about the power and the importance of place. Professor Ray Oldenberg wrote a book called, The Great, Good Place, and in it he argues that...
"third places' - where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation - are the heart of a community's social vitality and the grassroots of democracy." [from the product description on Amazon]
We don't often think about the importance of place, since increasingly in older urban settings and especially in suburban settings these are disappearing and we are becoming accustomed to living without them. But, these places are critical to a richness of life, and much has been lost to our humanness with their passing. The result is often loneliness and a sense of cognitive homelessness.
Said another way, when we lose those places, those cafes, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores bars and other hangouts, we become even more fragmented and disconnected.
It is interesting that back in the day, the church was our great, good place. I grew up in a time when the church offered place for putting aside the concerns over work and home, and we would hang out and laugh and become known as real people, and not merely Sunday morning acquaintances. This is very sad when we think what has been lost to the church, and when we think of how the opportunity for the church to offer place is squandered because we often only want to build our kingdom and not the LORD's.
You see, we could offer a great, good place to the community, but we would somehow have to overcome our need to be seen as right, our certainty on all issues, and our hidden agendas. We would need to see people, all people (people like us and not like us) as significant and unique and made in the image of GOD, and we would have to treat them as such.
In today's text we should take note that Jesus promises a great, good place for us, and it resides with him. This truth of the presentness of the Christ through his Spirit, allows us the privilege of knowing we belong, knowing we are loved, and knowing that the troubles of this life need not flood and overwhelm.
WE KNOW THE WAY TO THE FATHER --
Because we know the person of Jesus...
Today's also text reads:
"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, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.'”
This, of course, is a seminal text for those wishing to understand the relationship between Jesus and GOD Almighty. What we have before us is the power of Jesus as representation (I am following the work of theologian Douglas John Hall here), where Jesus uniquely represents us to the Father, and equally and uniquely Jesus represents the Father to us.
Think about this representation in this way. How are we to know anything whatsoever about the mysterious and invisible GOD? How can we comprehend a GOD who is infinite and beyond our cognitive borders?
The only way is that GOD himself takes the initiative and reveals himself. And, the Christian faith teaches that GOD has done precisely that -- initially through the Hebrew prophets & poets, and finally in the person of his son, Jesus of Nazareth, who uniquely reveals the GOD who is there.
What also is revealed within the person of Jesus is the way to the Father. Here we think in terms of Jesus' death and resurrection, but we also think of Jesus words and works. We understand, in other words, that the way to the Father is through the unique life of Jesus, and that to follow him, to really follow him, means we follow his ways and orient our lives with him as our true north.
Said another way, and quoting New Testament scholar Gordon Fee,
"To think we can follow Christ without following Christ is theological nonsense."
WE KNOW WE HAVE WORK TO DO --
Because Jesus has gone to the Father...
Finally, today's text reads:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
This portion of the text reminds us that we are still in the in-between time, the time before resurrection. These are the moments of Holy Saturday, the time of the tomb and anxious, sorrowful waiting.
This is the time of the absent Christ.
The question for us is this: How will the increasingly disinterested world, especially in the West, know that the Father represents the Son? How will this increasingly decadent culture know that the hope found in the Son is tangible?
It is left to those now here, those who now name the name of the absent Son to display through his Spirit the daily practice (Luke 9:23) of his life, the true life and work of the Son.
We are called, through the empowerment of the Spirit of the risen Christ, to live out with authenticity the words and works of Jesus.
We do so as a way to persuade people of the hope for life, true life, that is found in the promise of the Christ. And we do so as a way to become fully human ourselves.