In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
This particular story in the Gospel today is only in the Gospel of John. It is the beginning of what is referred to as The Farewell Discourse where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, the resurrection and his ascension.
Jesus begins with, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Basically, do not let our anxieties overwhelm us. Stay strong in our faith.
The second part is this: “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.”
Jesus is telling the disciples and us – I’ve got this. And so do you. Believe that I love you and that as I love you so God loves you. You are a major part of the whole plan. I will not forget you.
Even as the anxiety threatens to overwhelm them because they forget they know the way, Jesus reminds Thomas and those gathered, “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.”
Jesus is telling them us that we have a relationship. We belong together.
Embedded in the word Believe is another one. Trust. Believe me. Trust me. Trust that what Jesus is saying is truth. Trust that we are a part of the whole plan.
Isn’t that what is so troubling about right now? Our hearts are troubled. It isn’t just sorrow. It is the unknowing. It is the concern that we do not know the way or the truth. Everything thing we know has been tossed upside down. The present and it seems, our future.
For decades now we have been told by professionals that too much screen time is bad for us. Yet here we are – living life via Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and Facebook Live. Online in front of a computer screen, living in virtual time. We conduct business and shop online. We give virtual hugs to our loved ones online. Our students are learning online. Everything is online and our physical contact has been shut down.
I noted in the Trinity newsletter this week that I was trying to think of COVID-19 time as God-time. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today. Right now. This time has made us understand that there are many things that we cannot control. And that while planning as a strategy for getting work done can be a good thing, it is not the best way to live a life in faith. We can offer Plan A and even Plan B but then UnKnown Plan X gets thrown in there and destroys whatever our small minds might have envisioned.
Take the Food Ministry as an example. The best laid plans – we have worked so hard to make community, to build personal relationships, to bring people together. And we have done it. Yet It is so difficult now. Everyone is scattered and separate. However, simply being present, separated by 6 feet, is all there is. Although we don’t know where everyone is, they do know we are there.
Another plan, we had to postpone was the second annual Maundy Thursday Foot Ministry. That one hurt. However, we have formed a new partnership with people who offer clothing and shoes while we are unable to do so. In good time – in God’s time – we will have the foot ministry again. I believe that.
Pandemics cause all plans to be tossed up in the air and blown away by the wind. Yet sometimes new understandings become known in the midst of the chaos.
We simply have to stay grounded and believe. And Trust.
The disciples asked, Where are you going? And how do we know the way?
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Sounds simple, right?
Jesus said Believe. Believe that if we know Jesus, we know God. Believe that In Jesus, we meet God and God meets us.
Jesus tells us how to believe, that we already know the Way. He doesn’t say that he will take the disciples with him. He says that when he returns, “I will take you to myself.”
As if to say – where I am so you will be. Or where you are, so will I be. Even in those times when we are anxious; Even in those times when we are too alone. Even in those times when we are unable to actively participate in the Eucharist remembering Jesus in the bread and the wine. Still, in the midst of the unknowing, we do know the way.
Jesus coming back to take us somewhere and Jesus returning to take us to himself are two different things. This made me remember my grandmother. She used to tell me that Jesus is always with me, that I best be worrying about what I am doing here on earth because the Kingdom of God is right now. Don’t be worrying about heaven. Worry about now. Make sure I am doing and believing right.
When Jesus’ words jumped out at me, I heard my grandmother talking to me.
I think this is what Stephen knew. He knew it all along. It is why he was not afraid, and he was able to kneel and pray as he was being stoned to death. He knew Jesus was with him and that he was with Jesus.
Stephen understood the relationship, that he was a part of it. He knew and followed in the works of Jesus. Stephen stood up and spoke truth to the power, to the ones who had the power to put him to death. He enraged them with his truth. Still, as he knew he was about to die, as he knew how angry they were, he shared his vision – “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Other that this one time by Stephen, Jesus is the only one to use the phrase, “Son of Man”. Stephen knew the way.
And perhaps the Council did also. Maybe that is why they were so angry. They chose to not believe Stephen. They chose to believe that their way was the right one.
Stephen is known as the Patron Saint of Deacons and as having special gifts in evangelism. “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) A good part of what caused the Sanhedrin to be so outraged was Stephen proclaimed that the Temple was unnecessary.
People could seek reconciliation with God anywhere. He declared that the people are called out of the Temple and into places unknown and foreign, just as were their ancestors. He boldly reminded the Council that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands,” that as God created all that is, so is God in all. Stephen accused them of doing the same things as their ancestors had done – killing the prophet that God had raised up for their disbelief.
This accusation caused their fury to overcome them, they covered their ears as if to block his words, the truth. Still, knowing that he was in the presence of God, Stephen asked that they be forgiven for what they were doing. And he died.
As the first deacon, Stephen reminds us that our work is in the world, outside of our places of worship. Sometimes in places as close as the Memorial Garden or in these times, as far away as the internet can take us. This has never been made more clear than it is now in COVID-19 time. Shut out of our worship spaces, we have created sacred spaces in our homes, in front of our computers, on our walks, or simply staring out of the window at the amazing Spring. I don’t know if this a particularly lush Spring or if I am experiencing it more from a ground level in slower time. Whatever, I am seeing it fully in God-time.
Jesus tells us that he is the Way, the truth, and the Life. Do not let our hearts be overwhelmed with anxiety. Believe. Trust. Remember, we have a choice.
We choose to believe … and we choose who we believe.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in this day.