GOSPEL: John 14:1-14
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…
*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video
“How can we know the way?”
This is the question that is asked of Jesus this week in the gospel lesson.
We have arrived at the 5th Sunday of Easter. After 3 weeks of resurrection stories, and then a week to uplift Jesus as our Good Shepherd, we now start to head away from Easter Sunday and orient ourselves towards Pentecost. Towards that moment when the rag tag group of Jesus’ followers are driven by the Holy Spirit out into the public square. There they become the visible community and body of Christ in the world. But before we get there, this aimless group of disciples needs to figure out what it means for them to become the Body of Christ – without Jesus leading the way as he had done for the 3 years prior.
So we go back a bit in the Gospel of John. We hear a conversation between Jesus and the disciples that is taking place around a table. The table of the last supper on Maundy Thursday where Jesus is giving final instructions for the community he intends his followers to become – even though they still have not fully realized that within hours Jesus will be arrested, on trial and nailed to a cross.
In a passage that is the most common gospel reading heard at funerals, Jesus promises that there is a place for his followers in his Father’s house. Thomas, ever rationalizing may be sensing something ominous behind what should be a promise of welcome and belonging. Thomas interjects,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
How can we know the way?
Then Philip, speak out loud the anxiety of all of Jesus followers. He wants Jesus to just show them the father. Thomas and Philip want to know the way, the destination. They want the roadmap, they want to be able to get there themselves. If Jesus can provide the directions and a destination, maybe the journey won’t feel so scary to imagine.
It is a feeling we share. We all much prefer knowing the directions, having a map, knowing the destination… whether it is a literal trip or journey, or whether it is the journey of life choices and experiences. We want to know where we are headed and how we will get there. Whether its finding a job or vocation, settling down and starting a family, choosing a place to live. Whether it is making sure that the church community we love continues on, or that the Jets don’t leave town again, or if we can let ourselves start worrying less about a 3 year old pandemic and on and on. We are full of wonderings and questions about our futures, our destinations and the paths we will take to arrive at them.
When I was little, maybe four or five, my mother took me to the University of Alberta (UofA) for “an appointment.” We met a kind woman there who took my mother, sister and I on what felt like a long walk through the UofA campus. At one point, she just stopped and looked at me and asked, “Erik, do you think you can find your way back to the office?”
So I started leading our little posse back to the office where we had first met this nice woman. I know that I made a few wrong turns along the way, but I eventually figured out our way back to the office. All along the way, I remember the woman asking me questions about why I had chosen the path I was taking, landmarks I was using, my sense of direction etc…
Years later when I recalled the experience to my mother, she told me that I was part of a study about direction sense in children. There were three groups. The first group was told they were going for a walk and would need to find their way back. They’re also given help and hints as they led their way back. The second group was told about the walk and the need to navigate their way back, but were given no help once they started to lead the way. The third group – the group I was in – were not given any notice about the task and given no help finding our way back.
If on the various journeys we take in life we had the option of getting clear instructions and then help navigating where we were going, or at the very least, the knowledge that we were going to have to find our way to our destination, we always choose to be in group one or group two. We wish that the path to find our way through ministry as a church, and in life in general, had a kind researcher reminding us to make note of landmarks as we travel, and gently correcting us when we make a wrong turn.
Yet, we know that life after a certain point the parental figures, teachers, guides and coaches have to let us figure it out ourselves. And all of sudden we are in that 3rd group where we do not even know that we are getting lost and then someone turns to us and says, “Do you think you can find your way back from here?”
When you are navigating blind, you don’t really know if you have taken the right path or made the right choices until you get to where you are going. Providing a map or turn by turn directions or a guide we can hold onto, is not what Jesus is about. Instead, Jesus has a very different idea of what it means to navigate our way down life’s paths and what it means for us to know the way.
“How can we know the way?”
As Thomas and Philip press Jesus for more than a promise that there is a place where they belong, they are casting about for something that they can do, something they feel like they have some agency. But they have also missed tthat Jesus has shown them everything they need.
Jesus promises them a place in his Father’s house. Jesus reminds them that he is the way. Because they know Jesus, they have seen the Father.
Because they know Jesus, they can make the journey.
Because they know Jesus, they belong already to the Kingdom of God.
The dimples want roadmaps and directions, they want the certainty that the destination is a good place to end up. But that is about their own fears and anxieties, those are just means for their own control.
Jesus provides community.
It isn’t just that there is one room, or one place at the table. It is that there is a whole community of faithful disciples who are now part of God’s house. There is a whole table of siblings in Christ who are on the pathways with us. Knowing the way isn’t so important as is knowing that we are not going alone, we have the people who are walking with us, to rely one, to support one another, to care for each other.
Jesus gives us himself.
It isn’t just that Jesus is a teacher and friend. Jesus is the one whom brings God close and near. Jesus reveals the Father to us. Jesus show us God: God’s face and voice, God’s flesh and image. Because the disciples know Jesus, they know God. And God knows them, in the flesh, face to face.
Jesus is the way.
As we struggle like the disciples to know where we are going, to know what is going to happen to us, what we should do as people living our lives of faith, Jesus reminds us that he is the place, the One, to whom we are going. Faith isn’t a task or job or set of instructions to follow. Faith is relationship with God who promises us new life. In a world that always ends with sin and death, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
And in Jesus the way, we are transformed. God declares that we belong no matter where we are. God goes with us no matter what path we walk.
So like those disciples who were trying to figure out what it meant for them to become the visible Body of Christ in the world, Jesus reminds us that the destinations or pathways that we imagine might not be the point. Instead knowing the way is about God who promises a place to belong, room in God’s house.
Hear again the reminder from 1st Peter”
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.