Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Fifth Sunday in Eastertide – Eighth Sunday in ZOOM Church
May 10, 2020
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be stilled
that speak insolently against the righteous
with pride and contempt.
O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone!
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contentious tongues.
Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under siege.
I had said in my alarm,
‘I am driven far from your sight.’
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.
Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
‘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.’
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid. These are the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples as they gathered around the table on their last night together, the evening of his arrest. They had just finished supper – as it came to be known, the last supper, and he took the time to tell them how much he cared for them, and to give them advice on how they should try to live once he was gone. These are called the Farewell Discourses, and they contain some of the most famous sayings of Jesus – love one another as I have loved you, I am the vine, you are the branches, abide in me – phrases to which Christians have returned time after time in every era. In these weary days of quarantine, with all their anxieties and uncertainties, his encouraging words seem to address us directly – do not let your hearts be troubled.
Still, some verses in today’s passage from this long monologue have caused discomfort and controversy – and it almost seems that Jesus contradicts himself. He begins with the wonderful image of God’s house as a large sprawling mansion, perhaps with attics and towers and wings going off in many directions, wine cellars and cozy studies and large dining rooms, a music room perhaps, and a beautiful kitchen. The kind of place you wish you lived in for the lockdown. There are many rooms, he says, and one of them is for you. He seems to be saying that there are many different ways of being a Christian, perhaps even many ways of finding God. This is music to the ears of those who want to be respectful of other points of view, of other faiths. Reassuring for Christians who want to step away from a sorry history of rigidity and intolerance.
But then Thomas – of course, it is Thomas, the questioner – asks him to clarify. Actually, Thomas says, we don’t know how to find that mansion. We don’t know the way there. Jesus responds without equivocation. I am the way, and the truth, and the life, he says – and rubs it in: no one comes to God except through me. So much for interfaith dialogue. Or at least that is how some have interpreted it. Only through me, meaning, Christianity only.
But when Jesus says, I am the way, he is surely not talking about doctrine. He is saying follow me. Look at who I am. Live out the commitment to God’s world and compassion for humanity that I have lived. The openness to others, and to beauty. Here and only here will you find truth and life. Devote yourself to caring for one another and for the world, he says – that is the way you will apprehend the divine reality. Pay attention to those who are marginalized, act for the homeless who have nowhere to shelter in a pandemic, protest against the persistent racism that permits murder with impunity, work to change a society in which violence against indigenous women and girls is discounted. Care for the sick, comfort the grieving, share the burden of the lonely. Give your life if you have to. A life of service and love is the path to God, Jesus says. The only way.
Sometimes people say they love the Gospel of John because it is so spiritual, but Jesus is not a mystic here, nor focused on an otherworldly heaven. The life of faith that he recommends is not primarily a matter of escape from mundane cares or of theological correctness. On that fateful night, his disciples are worried about the future, and scared of what will happen – they may be inclined to shut down in the face of the frightening events ahead and go into a spiritual cocoon. And perhaps in this strange prolonged crisis of ours, we can relate to that.
But Jesus says there is only one way forward, and that is to embrace the world and its troubles wholeheartedly. To live with compassion and self-giving in the realm of reality. This is the way, the truth, and the life that Jesus promised. This is the journey that he invites us to share. And for this we give God thanks. Amen.
Image: Juliana Barquero – unsplash.com