Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 14, 2017
5th Sunday of Easter
Recently a clergy friend and I got into a discussion about Jesus being the Way to the Father and Christians being known as “People of the Way” in the early church. Soon our conversation took a different turn when I mentioned the modern day GPS, which can help us along the way from point A to point B—that is, unless something goes awry. My friend laughed and said, “That reminds me of a road sign I once saw that read: Truckers: Your GPS is wrong. You can’t get to Route 10 from here.” I was reminded of all this a couple of weeks ago when I was on my way to meet someone in Madison, Florida. When my GPS instructed me to turn left, I did, but I went no further because what was in front of me was a long, dirt road—one that was clearly NOT my destination.
Those of us who rely on a GPS to guide us to unfamiliar places surely have stories to tell. My most dramatic “GPS gone awry” story happened several years ago in Atlanta. When I was a reference laboratory manager, I ventured to Atlanta many times on business—but I always had the good fortune to fly into the city and be driven around in a company car. Later, when I enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary to begin work on my D.Min, getting to and from Decatur became my responsibility. I wasn’t worried, though. After all I had my newfangled GPS—albeit a basic model with few bells and whistles. Fortunately, for my first trip I did have the good sense to take printed directions with me because I knew I wanted to go west on I-40 and then south on I-75—Instead of over the mountains and through the woods into Asheville. So off I went and sure enough I had to listen to Miss Priss’ monologue, “Turn right,” when I wanted to go left; “Make a u-turn,” when I had no intention of doing so; and “Recalculating…recalculating.” Somewhere near Knoxville, however, Miss Priss and I were on the same page and all went well.
For the two weeks that I had classes, I had a couple of opportunities to explore new areas of Atlanta using my handy dandy GPS—which was loads of fun. But by the last day of class I was eager to get home. So imagine my excitement when I learned class would be ending early. Wonderful! Out of the city before Friday rush hour! I practically ran to the car, started the engine, tapped the “Home” icon on the GPS, and left Decatur. Speedily making my way homeward, I was one happy camper—that is—until it hit me. I didn’t have my hard copy of the directions. My mind began racing. Where had I left them? Were they in my suitcase? Had I lost them? And that’s when I realized I had been taken hostage by my GPS. I had no choice but to agree with Miss Priss and head over the mountains and through the woods—toward Asheville. It was a lovely drive and I arrived home safely—but it was not the way I had planned on getting there.
Our reading from John is a part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples. Standing at the edge of his own grave, Jesus takes the time to assure his followers that his death is not the end but the beginning of the “way” ahead. He tells them he’s going to prepare a place for them. Jesus can prepare the way because Jesus is the way. But the disciples are confused—skeptical, really. Thomas wants to be shown the Way and Philip wants to be shown the Father. They are unable to comprehend Jesus is both.
As mystifying as it may be, our final destination is one we’ve already reached—it’s in our hearts. Jesus is with us and in us. Do we believe it? Or has some wrong path led us to a place where we are living like the proverbial deep sea fisherman, who spends his life fishing for minnows while standing on a whale. As believers in Jesus Christ, we stand on the waters of our baptism—loved by God, chosen by God, and equipped by God to go into God’s world and make a difference in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Great is the mystery of our faith!
Even though Jesus spends time with his disciples and explains the nature of his ministry and pending death—they remain confused. There is so much they don’t understand; may never understand. It is the same for us. I wonder though, at the end of the day, if the disciples are more accepting of the mystery of God than we are. In our day and time, we depend on scientific data for everything. We shy away from mystery because it can’t be explained and it can’t be controlled and let’s face it, even in our faith walk—we yearn to be in control. With this mindset though, have we set out to define, confine, and finally reduce God to a more manageable deity? Could it be that embracing the mystery of God might be a good first step toward a way of better understanding who we are, and more importantly whose we are?
In his gospel, John routinely leaves room for the mystery of God. In so doing, he seems to pull us into a greater reality which is this: We know only a whisper of God—the fringe of the holy—the outskirts of the divine. The writer of Job reminds us,
Surely God is great, and we do not know him; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; he distills his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop upon mortals abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thundering of his pavilion?
Often, when I am studying scripture in preparation for writing a sermon, I read several biblical translations to gain a broader perspective. When I read today’s text from The Message, I found Eugene Peterson’s interpretation to be quite helpful. Listen to the words of Jesus in more modern-day language:
“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”
Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”
Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.
“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.
“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!
Undoubtedly God is beyond our comprehension and there is much we do not know but because of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, we know enough. When Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he makes one of the highest Christological claims in the Gospel. As a result we know Jesus is the way to the Father because Jesus is the Father. And the place Jesus is preparing in God’s own life is eternal life, which has been described as simply another name for God.
Through Jesus and the Spirit, we are invited to join the dance of God’s love made real in the world. Great is the mystery of our faith!