Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easter 5A: Our destination - the broken places

Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

So, it’s good to see y’all! Those of us not carried away yesterday in a rapturous exultation are called, like Noah and his family, to do God’s work in the world until the reconciling work begun by our Savior is completed. And for the record, no one (no one!) can know or figure out when that will be. (See MT 24:36)

So, on we go, doing the work Jesus prepared us to do. The world is still broken. The work is still hard. And we are still struggling to know what the next steps should be and how we’ll get through them. That makes us an awful lot like the disciples in today’s Gospel story.

Our reading today is the beginning of the Farewell Discourse in John. John is the only Gospel writer who devotes so much space (two long chapters) to this teaching in which Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for the fulfillment of God’s plan through him, realizing that everyone will be shocked and frightened by what is about to happen.

Jesus has been telling the disciples that he will die and be raised from the dead, but the reality of this just isn’t sinking in. Now, as they gather together at their Last Supper, Jesus spends time teaching them comforting them, and preparing them for the difficult time to come.

Peter, in his beautiful way, has just promised Jesus that he would lay down his life for him! ‘I appreciate the thought, Peter, but – no you won’t. You’ll deny me three times. You’ll be afraid and ashamed.’

The nervousness of the disciples escalates - understandably. Jesus senses their discomfort and tries to calm them. ‘Don’t be disturbed,’ he says. The word-picture for this would be a pool of water being stirred up. ‘Don’t be stirred up,’ Jesus says. Trust God, and trust me.

But Philip is worried. ‘If Peter isn’t strong enough, how will the rest of us get through this?’ So he asks Jesus to reveal God to them right now, so that they can be made strong (a better translation than ‘satisfied’).

You can almost hear Jesus sigh as he responds to Philip: ‘After all this time, you still don’t get it. You have seen God. You are seeing God. I have told you before and I am telling you now – God dwells in me and I in God… Trust God. And trust me. I know this is hard right now, so if you can’t trust me, than look at what has already been accomplished, and trust that, remembering that all of that was accomplished by God who dwells in me and works through me.’

Then Jesus speaks comfort and challenge to them: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” When we hear this, most of us picture little rooms or houses in the great mansion of God in heaven that we will go to when we die. I think our imagination has long been influenced by the beautiful writings of one of my favorite mystics, St. Theresa of Avila, and her description of the journey to Christian maturity found in her book, Interior Castles – a book, by the way, that I highly recommend.

But the big-picture of Jesus’ teachings, the one we hear over and over again in John’s Gospel, is that God dwells in Jesus and Jesus dwells in God. And Jesus dwells in us, and through him, God dwells in us and we in God.

So Jesus is saying… if you see me go (knowing they will see him die), know that I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again (knowing they will see him in the resurrection) and will receive you into myself, so that where I am, you all (that word is plural) will also be. Y’all will dwell in me and I will dwell in y’all.’

Jesus isn’t talking about rooms or houses in heaven – he’s talking about us – “the chosen race, the royal priesthood,” the Church “who were not a people, but now are a people” because Jesus dwells in us and we in him.

Having established that, Jesus says, ‘you know the place I’m going and you know the way.’ But Thomas declares, ‘No we don’t. We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?’

And Jesus answers him with that most comforting of phrases: ‘I am the way (your access to God), and the truth (the revealed reality of God), and the life (the breath of God).’ In this moment, Jesus is making unmistakably clear his identity as God Incarnate, the one who was with God and was God… in the beginning. (See John 1:1) In him, in the Incarnate God, the whole world is reconciled to God – brought into perfect, harmonious unity with God.

Having said that, Jesus reminds the disciples (and us) that all the strength we need is in him: those who trust 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.” The word ‘works,’ as it is used here, is often understood to mean the things we do, the individual acts we accomplish.

But Jesus is talking about his life’s work, and promises that if we trust him, our life’s work will be like his, and will be added to his work, so that there will be more (not necessarily better) work accomplished that will glorify God.

And all of this can happen because Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, is about to pass from this place to the next, ushering in the new age, uniting what was divided, making the new reality one that is perfect, harmonious, …a holy union.

The brokenness of the world isn’t something we need to fear or avoid. If we trust that Jesus dwells in us and we in him, then we won’t get stirred up when the brokenness of the world is revealed to us in natural disasters or wars or poverty or disease.

If we trust that we are the dwelling places of God, then we might come to see these broken places as our destination – places we must go carrying light of Christ’s reconciling love.

Then our life’s work, the life’s work of our community, will be truly great.

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