Never Alone

On May 21, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Never Alone Easter 6 (2017) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 14.5-6, 12, 14 I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant. Her […]

Never Alone
Easter 6 (2017)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 14.5-6, 12, 14

I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant.
Her mother asked her, “What do you think about what your teacher said?” And Joan said, “I think Sister is wrong.”
Her mother asked, “Why do you think Sister is wrong?” And Joan answered, “Because Sister doesn’t know Daddy.”
When recalling that story, Joan Chittister writes, “Sister clearly did not know what I knew. Sister had not seen what God saw.”

I agree with Joan. But how does her witness of grace square with our scripture reading today?

Few passages of scripture have been misused more than two verses you heard this morning from the Gospel of John.
John 14.6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to God except through me.”
John 14.14: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

The first has been used as a proof text to make the case that only devout Christians can know God and certainly only this elect, special group will be embraced by God in the afterlife. But that isn’t consistent with the Jesus who healed people who worshiped and believed differently than his community did, people such as Roman pagans, Canaanites, and Samaritans whose Judaism was very different from Jesus’ own. No, to make Jesus the locked door for which only Christians have the key is contrary to everything we know about Jesus from the other gospels and from the prophetic tradition which formed him.

The second statement has been used like a lucky charm…suggesting that if you use the magic words “in Jesus name” then your wishes will be granted. Many of us know from experience that it doesn’t quite work that way, at least not always.
Oh, we always hope for good outcomes, and we’ve seen that positive attitudes and determination work together to make amazing things happen, but we’ve also learned that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, on the optimist and the pessimist. Even the luckiest of us have times of challenge.

So let’s reexamine these misused, misunderstood passages and liberate them from superstitions and oppressive theologies and discover once again the good news they are meant to convey.

We began reading John chapter 14 at verse 5. But before that, we would have heard Jesus say in verse 2, “In the divine house there are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you.” And in verse 4, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Then in verse 5 Thomas says to Jesus, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the [Holy One] except through me (by me, with me).”

Remember, the writer imagines Jesus speaking not to the world, but to his dearest friends. We have eavesdropped on an intimate conversation and misunderstood what we thought we heard!

Jesus tries to comfort his friends by saying there are lots of rooms in the God’s house…room enough for everyone, whatever our beliefs or doubts may be.
Many rooms in God’s house is a way of saying, “Omnipresent Love couldn’t possibly exclude anyone for any reason; indeed, nothing could ever be separate from omnipresence. For God to be omnipresent means that wherever we are, God is.

Jesus would be killed, and his friends would suffer and some would die also. There may be plenty of worries in this world, but John’s Jesus tells his friends not to worry about the afterlife…whatever it is, it is with God and it is for everyone.
“Where I’m going, you will go. You know the way.”

But Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”
In other words, “We can’t with certainty know what’s next? What is the way to overcome fear of the unknown?”
And John has Jesus say, “You know the way. It’s the way it’s always worked. I found you in this big world; I’ll find you in the next. That’s my way. I find you. I never let you go.”
Jesus symbolizes the embodiment (incarnation) of God’s love. So, what John’s Jesus is saying is, “Love finds us. Love never lets us go.”
That’s love’s way. That’s love’s truth. That’s the life that love promises. Love is the way. Love is the Truth. Love is the purpose of life. And since God is love, no one gets to love except through love…and we all have love within us.

We’ve heard this Way/Truth/Life triad as if Jesus were a locked door…to get to God you’ve got to get through me!
The intent is just the opposite…to get away from God you’d have to get past a Shepherd who will not lose a single lamb!
Jesus’ way, his truth, his experience of divine life is a love that will never let us go. God is a love that embraces all people.

In the 5th Star Trek movie, Cpt. Kirk almost falls to his death while rock climbing, but he said he wasn’t afraid of dying, because he always felt as if he would die alone, and since his friends Spock and McCoy were with him, he wasn’t alone therefore he couldn’t die. Later, Kirk faces death again, and thinks this time he is a goner, but Spock comes to the rescue. Kirk admits he thought this time it was the final curtain and Spock tells him, “Not possible. You were never alone.”
Of course, we all face an end to earthly days, but our significance never dies, because we are never alone…we are always loved by Love Itself.

Anglican Archbishop Tutu of South Africa has written, “In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab…all belong…Jesus says that we are members of one family.”
That’s the way, the truth, the life that Jesus shares, that’s what it means to experience the sacred through, or by, or with him…it means there are no outsiders. We are as embraced by God as Jesus was. No one is excluded from God’s love and grace. A loving presence is always with us, throughout eternity.

And then Jesus basically says, “now that’s settled, get back to work…the sick need medical care, the hungry need food, the elderly need to be treated with dignity, the children need to be safe, injustices need to be addressed, wars need to cease…do the works that I’ve been doing, heck, do even more!”

“You will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these…[However], if you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” That isn’t a genie in a lamp granting wishes; that is part of this larger conversation: Don’t worry about being deserted. We are always connected, to God and to one another. Now, keep doing the good work. And, you can.

How can we work for justice, care for the disadvantaged, and offer hope to the hurting the way Jesus did, and maybe even do more? Jesus gives the answer: Whatever you ask in my name, that is, when you ask to do what I do, your prayer will be answered.”
That’s what ask in his name and it will be done means. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray the way he did, for the grace to be of service to the world. Not magic words, but a commitment to continue the work of Christ in the world.

These verses aren’t passcodes to the afterlife country club or the secret ingredient in the recipe to get our wishes granted. These verses are part of a conversation that is about people overcoming their fears to live into their calling to follow Jesus’ example (or way), to share the truth of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love, and to help the community live a meaningful life of sharing and service. And prayer is how we can fuel ourselves to continue to do healing work. This gospel text is simply calling us to be the active hands of a loving God in a wounded world, and it’s promising us that we can be, because we are not doing it alone.
And THIS is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

God give us the grace to care.
Give us the grace to share.
May we be blessed to bless others.
May we be receivers and workers of miracles.
Amen.

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