Sunday, May 14, 2017
Fifth Sunday of Easter
2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9But you 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.
10Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:2-10
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. – John 14:1-14
I suspect we’d all from time-to-time like to have God communicate a little more clearly about where we’re supposed to be going in life. A billboard would be nice for major life decisions, but I’d settle for text message, email, or postcard for the day-to-day questions about how to handle decisions. This is where you’re supposed to be heading, and here’s how you get there.
I imagine the graduates in our community including the ones we bless at the end of the service today would appreciate something so clear and direct. You’ve all managed to answer the question about what you’re doing next in your life for a two-line announcement in the bulletin and e-letter. But if your experience is anything like my own, I imagine that even if there are some certainties, there is a lot that makes taking the next steps a little intimidating, many unknowns, questions unanswered.
I thought there might be a time when discerning next steps came a little more easily. Maybe there will be a time like that, but I haven’t found one yet. It seems there’s always something that needs discerning – family, work, personal goals, time management, long-range planning at home or work. We face moral conundrums all the time – questions in which a clear right and wrong answer do not emerge. Times when so many possibilities exist that we cannot evaluate them all. Times when all the possible options for action or inaction do harm to someone or something. How do we live out our Christian calling in a complicated 21st century global economy and a complicated and challenging political landscape? What’s next? Where are we headed? How do we get there?
We even ask the question of people who are grieving. After what is an absurdly short period of time we start subtly asking those whose loved ones have died: What comes next? Where are you headed? Still foggy with grief they try to satisfy us with an answer.
It’s the fundamental question that Thomas asks of Jesus as Jesus prepares to leave the disciples. Where are you going? If you just tell us, we’ll plug it into our GPS and follow you there. If we just knew where you wanted us to end up we would gladly work on solving whatever logistical problems stand in the way. Getting to a known destination is a solvable problem, even if it’s complicated. But getting to an unknown destination is nearly impossible.
Fundamentally that’s how a lot of us approach questions of discernment. We attempt to figure out the right destination so that we can plan a way forward. Discernment becomes a sort of holy guessing game about what God wants us to do. And the reward set before us is the heavenly mansion with many rooms. God has a plan, and God has gone ahead of you to prepare a place for you, and God is sitting there waiting for you to show up. Sure you’ve received some helpful guidance along the way, so you should be able to figure it out: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Unfortunately, Jesus is rarely the right answer on the SAT, in a job interview, at the voting booth, or when deciding which house to buy or what career path to follow.
It can sound a little absurd when we try to name it, but I think we all identify with Thomas’s question. How can we follow you if we do not know where you are going?! How are we supposed to know what to do? How are we supposed to follow Jesus?
This is where I think this passage offers us an interesting alternative way to understand discernment. Here the sixteenth century mystic Theresa of Avila is helpful. Though I cannot say I have read the entirety of her best known work, The Interior Castle, the premise is that God’s mansion of many rooms, the dwelling place of God, is within each one of us. Without negating the promise of a place of rest at the end with God, Theresa’s vision opens up the possibility that Jesus’ invitation is to become more attune with the work of God already within us. The invitation is not to go from a place of godlessness through a personal journey to the place where God dwells, thumbs twiddling waiting for us to show up, but to embark on a lifelong journey of discerning God’s presence dwelling already within us, working in us even when we are not aware. Discernment then is no longer a holy guessing game, trying to choose the right path that will lead to life and truth, but instead about the ongoing work of understanding God doing something with us whatever our choices, for good or for ill.
That journey is not an easy one. It is one fraught with distractions, obstacles, and outright enemies that would try to convince us that God does not dwell with us. But the other gift of Jesus’ words is to remind the disciples and remind us that God’s presence has always been among us in ways we haven’t always understood. Jesus can come off a little harsh in his response today, but his point, I think, is a gentle reminder that they need not be looking for something else. The presence of God has been with them already and will be with them still in a different way after Jesus leaves them.
So also is God present with us. God’s self has come down to us to make of us a heavenly mansion. The way that is made is not a path we must forge but the path God has already traveled to us, with truth and life offered to us. Like the disciples we are often blind to God’s having already found us in our lostness. While we are still asking the questions about where to go next and what God’s call is asking of us, we have the presence of God already having made a way to meet us.
We have God’s promise to be present among us when we gather, to be present in bread and wine, to be present in the reading of scripture. It is there and in so many other ways that God makes a way to us with truth and life in abundance. And so in the confusion and doubt we experience in our discernment, in the overwhelming number of decisions that must be made in our lives, we have in this an abundance of opportunities to discern the way God is already making within us to bring truth and life to the world.
-Pastor Steven Wilco