May 10, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, May 10, 2020 in Easter, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2020

It’s good to hear from Thomas again today, and yes — it’s still Eastertide — even though this reading takes us back to the events of Maundy Thursday and what transpires right after Jesus has washed their feet. So we already know things are a bit confusing and emotions are running high. I’ve always loved Thomas, because to me he’s like that one kid in class who asks the question the rest of us feel stupid asking! We all want the answer, we just don’t want to appear not to have it yet. Today we hear Jesus utter some of the most memorable and powerful lines in the New Testament;

Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. 
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. 

That we know these as beloved familiarly reassuring words makes it harder to imagine hearing them the first time they were uttered. The worry, confusion and sense of urgency is clear from Thomas’ response to Jesus saying that they know the way to where he is going. Thomas answers, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Jesus is answering the question no one else dared ask. His answer is one we believe and have come rely on. Would those words have been spoken and writ down without Thomas’ questioning? Perhaps not, or maybe Jesus was just waiting for the right time to give them this powerful gem. We do know it’s the answer Jesus gives when his own feel confused and lost and uncertain. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Even though Jesus has told them not to let their hearts be troubled, I imagine they must have been — remember how high tensions are at this point; surrounded by upheaval, Jesus will be crucified the next day.

It makes Thomas’ fear of not knowing how to follow, what will happen, where to go, sound pretty pragmatic, and his frustration is embedded alongside his need to hear Jesus’ direction. Bear in mind, Thomas was deeply faithful, the first to exclaim after the resurrection, “My Lord and my God!” Here, we see only his inner turmoil. I remember teaching a Sunday school class of second and third graders, and one of them asked why Jesus didn’t just tell them exactly where he was going and how to get there, who he was, and where this big house was. (Yes, every class should have a Thomas!) Everyone got quiet and listened up hoping I’d explain it. No, I still can’t show it on a map or find it on a self-help shelf or buy it online — and I believe that’s part of what Jesus is giving them and us. We each must look within and look to Christ to follow him in the way, to walk in his truth, to truly live, and not fear death is the end. In Mother Ann’s sermon from three weeks ago. She said we could count on “Thomas showing up among us and earnestly offering to be our guide to post-Resurrection living. ‘Head in my direction,’ Thomas gestures. Start with commitment. You will only discover what life with the Risen Lord is like when you go all in. When you start speaking and acting like the redeemed believers you already are. That’s when you start seeing life in a whole new light.”

We are all so well connected by social media, email, text, and zoom and so heavily dependent on GPS, it’s pretty clear we’ve learned that we do well to accept help from others. From those who also seek his path, one which has no exact address to enter into the spiritual search window. So we walk together, if you’re new to us you’re invited too! Each seeks the answers to Thomas and Philip’s questions in our own time. I think we know it when we feel that spark of joy that’s deeply moving, those unexplained tears, that sense of Yes! Alleluia!! Or maybe in the quiet build up of well being when you are in a faith community like ours. I pray we each find that peace or delight or a sense of ‘home’ as we come to understand Jesus being the way, the truth and the life.

The disciples gathered with him that day probably hoped for simpler answers, like we all do sometimes, no? Did they long to ‘return to normal’ as we do? Did they fervently wish to go back to traveling with him, hearing teaching, witnessing healing and breaking bread together? They knew something big was ahead and Jesus had told them what would happen — and yet I think they were filled with dread and anxiety about the unknowns yet to come, a bit like many people are these days. We worry about trying to ‘get to normal’ again too fast or too slowly. But then we begin to realize there will be no going back, only going forward to create a new way of ‘normal’ which is what our Resurrection theology heralds. A new way that puts people ahead of materialism, and values all human beings equally. A new way not afraid to ask Thomas and Philip-like questions, and then wrestle with what the responsibility and love those answers demand of us.

We also know that new way is inaccessible without going through the lament of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The reading from the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today was rather gruesome as they stoned Stephen to death. Instead of seeing stones coming at him, he looked up to heaven and saw our Lord waiting to receive him with loving arms, and asked forgiveness for those holding the stones.

None of this is to say the disciples or Stephen were happy about these things — their sense of lament was strong and lately so is our own. Lamenting those things that said normal life to us, lamenting those we’ve lost, touches we can’t share, people who are hurting. Lament and joy are not strangers to each other, as we talked about on Wednesday night in our first “Lost and Found” conversation about questions of faith. I hope you’ll join in to one soon — it was a spirited and interesting conversation! (Instructions are in the weekly Mike email.) We heard it today as the psalmist takes refuge in God;

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
My times are in your hand; rescue me …
Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.
—from Psalm 31

We’re right to acknowledge fear, loss, and pain — remembering they don’t have the last word. Give voice to them, yes, and know they are not forever. They don’t prevent us from knowing joy in life or discovering the good news around us. Hard to do this, to keep doing it? You bet. So bring out your inner Thomas and ask ‘How Lord?’ Bring out your inner Philip and say ‘show us!’ God can take it and will never judge us for questioning, venting, yelling or weeping. Only when we’re honest about these things do we begin to see Jesus as being for us, the way, the truth and the life. Things around us right now may feel uncertain, scary, depressing—fill in your adjective—and yet it is through as this that we can  enter into richer more meaningful life, into a faith that grounds us, enlivens us, sustains us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” he says.

Instead, may we set our hearts on new life, Eastering with our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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