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Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020 Rev. Nancy Talbot
John 14: 1-14 Mount Seymour United Church
Earlier this week Premier John Horgan presented his plan for opening up the province or as Dr. Bonnie Henry calls it, the plan for the end of the beginning of our made in B.C. pandemic. The plan, as you know, is not meant to be prescriptive. The Premier is not going to tell you whether or not you can hug your mother today, that decision will be left up to individuals to make for themselves.
On Thursday morning, the day after the Premier’s presentation, I listened to an interview with Health Minister Adrian Dix who was asked if he was concerned that if people are given an inch of freedom, they will take a mile. The question reflected some of the anxiety I’ve been both hearing from others and experiencing myself at this juncture. Not so much anxiety about people “breaking the rules” but anxiety about whether we are actually capable of making these decisions for ourselves and of following these guidelines. I went to bed on Wednesday night full of questions. Is it really okay for us to allow our extended family into our home, especially if they are seniors? Will they be safe? Can I keep them safe? And what about the church? We know we can’t have gatherings of more than 50 people but should we open the building? Should staff resume their regular office hours? And what about the Thrift Shop? Can we open up? Should we open up? Can we keep people safe? My heart is racing just thinking about all these things. And then I hear again the calm, steady and supportive voices of Adrian Dix and Bonnie Henry. You’ve got this British Columbians. You know how to do this. Together we’ve flattened the curve. We trust you to figure out and know the way forward. And we will be here to help you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, you’ve got this.
Today’s scripture reading is taken from the part of John’s Gospel known as the farewell discourses. In these writings, the author of John’s Gospel has Jesus deliver a number of important messages to his followers right before his death. As Jesus prepares to take his leave of this earthly life, he prepares his followers for life on the other side of his death. These are his “you’ve got this” messages to his closest followers and by virtue of our inheritance, they are our “you’ve got this” messages too.
The first thing to notice in this passage is that the disciples’ hearts are troubled. They are anxious that they are not going to know what to do and how to live without the earthly Jesus beside them every step of the way. He talks about going to prepare a place for them and their response is to ask where exactly are you going and how we will know the way there? How we will find our way?
Jesus’ responds “you do know the way.” Think of the time you have spent with me, learning from me, receiving from me, being healed by me. I am in you and you are in me and we are in God, we are all in this together.
What he’s calling forth from them is a mature and trusting faith because he believes that they are ready and capable of embracing that faith.
But the disciples, Phillip and Thomas, are not so sure.
Earlier this week I had a conversation with one of my colleagues about the way that Canadians in general have stepped into this pandemic, how right out of the gate we have led from the place of our goodness, our generosity and our genuine care from one another. We have seen that and we are continuing to see evidence of that in countless ways. Just yesterday the children in our townhouse complex spent hours writing in chalk on the sideway “Thank you Health Care Workers” and “We’re in this Together.” They didn’t think that up on their own. They’ve watched and absorbed the behaviour of the adults in their lives and now they are modelling that behaviour.
My colleague believes that we’ve responded to this crisis the way that we have, from government decision making to children chalking in the streets, because our nation is rooted in the Judeo-Christian narrative, because we have absorbed into the fabric of our country a Jesus way of being. She reminded me that both John Horgan and Adrian Dix are members of the United Church of Canada.
If that is the case, I don’t think it’s because the Judeo-Christian way is a better way than the Muslim way or the Buddhist way or the Sikh way. It’s just that the Judeo-Christian way happens to have formed the dominant culture in Canada. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Tsleil-Watuth Chief Leonard George during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in which he told a story about being at an interfaith gathering where he lit a candle and stood among his peers from various faith traditions reminding them that the same fire burns within each one of us.
Too often this passage from John’s Gospel in which Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life has been used for the purposes of exclusion, a kind of hammer to say here’s who is in and here’s who out, when in fact, this passage is an affirmation as broad and as deep as love itself. It’s meant to be a reminder that there is a way through the trauma, the injustice and the pain of life and by the grace of God, collectively we know how to find it. This passage is about expansive love not exclusive love and if ever there was a time when we needed expansive love, surely it is now.
And so when Thomas and Phillip express their doubts about where Jesus is going and how they are going to find him and when Phillip asks to see God, and says show us and that will be enough for us, Jesus reminds them there are many places in which God dwells and when we see good works of service and self-offering love, we see God, we see Christ. God is all over the place, showing us the way through the trouble in which we find ourselves, pointing us towards life, towards hope, towards one another.
So, I wonder where you have seen God at work in these days?
When the writer of John’s Gospel has Jesus to his followers “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “I go before you to prepare a place for you” he doesn’t have him say these things because the disciples were worried about where they were going to go after they die, or whether or not their souls will be saved in the end of the day or because they are worried about where Jesus is going after he dies. He says these “You’ve got this” words to them because they are worried about the conditions under which they are going to have to live their lives in the here and now after he is gone. They are worried about the conditions under which they are currently living. Some of you will remember that the conditions under which John’s community was living in those days of the early church were very challenging. They were being threatened and persecuted. They were a community in exile. I heard someone describe our reality right now as a community in exile right now.
John’s community needed to know, in the same way that we need to know, that if we are going to choose to follow a path of love and compassion, of life and freedom, of trust and sacrifice, especially when we are challenged, from time to time we are going to need to be reminded that we actually do know how to find our way, that what we need in life to live abundantly and well has already been given to us, that the living Christ is all around us and deep within us showing us the way. We only need open our eyes to look and see and to open our ears to listen and to hear the voice of love calling us and reminding us don’t let your hearts be troubled, we’re in this together, we’ve got this.