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Monday, May 23, 2011

Show Us the Father

John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Those of us who have been left behind by yesterday’s predicted Judgment Day will probably be harassed by our unbelieving friends about the silliness of Christian belief. Yes, it is true, there are some manifestly silly Christians out there, but we need to remind our friends that 99.99% of Christians in the world did not believe in Harold Camping’s predictions, and most didn’t even know about them. It’s also important for us to understand, and to communicate with skeptics, that the Bible is not some esoteric code book intelligible only to either those few who can decrypt its mystical symbols and sayings, or to those quantum physicists able to perform the complex mathematical calculations hidden in its pages. What God wants the world to know is no great mystery: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God; love the Lord with all your heart and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. As for the end of the world, Jesus said of that day and hour no one knows, not even the Son – only the Father. If that’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is saying goodbye to the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. He has just washed their feet at the Last Supper. Now he is giving them some last minute instructions – a kind of cram before the exam. The disciples are pretty upset about all this, and Jesus tries to assure them by telling them that where he’s headed, they’ll someday be as well. That has a double meaning – Jesus is talking about heaven, but he’s also talking about suffering.

Thomas, who I believe is the most honest disciple, asks Jesus where he’s going. Thomas has no clue what Jesus is talking about. He wants Jesus to give him instructions on how to go where Jesus is going: we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Jesus answers Thomas with a remarkable saying. He tells Thomas that he, Jesus, is the way. He is truth, and he is life. The Way was the earliest name for Christianity, in the Book of Acts. It’s a powerful image. a way is not a thing, a location, a possession. It implies action, movement, and process. The Way is consistent with so much of the Bible story: Abraham is called by God to a journey; Jacob meets God on the way to Haran and again on the way home; Jacob’s sons journey to Egypt, and Moses leads their descendants through the Wilderness back home; the Jews is led captive to Babylon and then come home again. The whole Bible is about traveling, about journey, about people on the Way.

Jesus is telling Thomas, and us, that he is the means by whom people come to God. When he says no one comes to the Father except by me, he means that because of his life and death and resurrection people have access to God, because Jesus has broken down the divisions between God and the world. Jesus has united humanity and divinity, life and death, sin and grace in his own body and life. In Jesus, God has shared our humanity, so that in Jesus, you and I can share God’s eternity.

That’s why the next thing Jesus says is something that for Jews and Muslims is blasphemy. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, and they will be satisfied. And they will be satisfied? Do you think? Philip doesn’t want much – he just wants to see the face of the Almighty Creator of the Universe. Moses had asked the same thing in Exodus 33, and God, who has infinite compassion, explained to Moses that such a thing would be too much for any mortal human being. Moses might just as well have wanted to be the first man to land on the sun. So God told Moses to stand in a crevice in the rock, and God would hold his hand over Moses’ eyes until God had passed by and then Moses could catch a glimpse of God’s back – the only part of God Moses could see and not die from an overdose of glory. Actually, in the Hebrew, it’s a little lower than the back, but you get the point. Now Philip just wants to see the face of the Father.

If you need any proof of the amazing compassion and patience of Jesus, it’s right here. Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS would have delivered an almost lethal head slap at this point. Have I been with you all this time, Philip, Jesus replies, and you still don’t get it? Missing from the text here is probably Philip saying Get what? If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The father and I are One. If you don’t believe that, look at what I do.

Jesus declares that he and God the Father are One. This is the heart and soul of Christianity. If you don’t get anything else, you need to get this. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Everything you and I need to know we can know by looking at Jesus. Not everything there is to know about God – but everything we need to know about God. Jesus is not about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or whether there are other universes, or when the end of the world will come. Everything we need to know about God can be found by looking at Jesus. What does God care about? What does God love? What does God hate? Does God have a sense of humor? Does God like children? Does God love sinners? Does God love the world so much that God would die for the world? Is there anything in the universe stronger than God’s love? Everything we need to know can be found in Jesus.

E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist missionary in India in the early years of the 20th Century. He discovered, to his great dismay, that people in India had absolutely no interest in Christianity or in the church. They knew about Christianity and the church – they’d had a bellyful of it from the British for a hundred years, and they wanted nothing to do with it. But Stanley Jones discovered to his astonishment that when he talked about Jesus, people were absolutely fascinated, and wanted to know all about Jesus. So Stanley Jones stopped talking about religion and about church, and just told people about Jesus. And he brought thousands of Indian people to faith, not in the church or in Christianity, but in Jesus. He became great friends with Gandhi, who also really liked Jesus, but said he didn’t see many people who followed him.

Judi was a New York Jew who ran the local dinner theater on the Eastern Shore. Many members of Franktown Church were in her plays, and always shared, lovingly, their faith with her. She let people know she was perfectly fine being a non-practicing Jew, who, though “not religious, was very spiritual.”

Judi’s marriage and her business fell apart. To compound her distress, her mother developed terminal cancer and came to the Shore for her last days. When I learned that Judi’s mother was in the hospital, I went to pay a pastoral call. Judi met me outside her mother’s room and poured out the story of her dying Jewish mother. I asked her what I could do to help. “What can you do,” Judi replied? “Would you like me to pray with her?” Can you pray with her?” “Of course.” “Can you pray and not use the J word?” “Yes, I can pray and not use the J word.” So Judi took me by the hand into her mother’s room, leaned down and yelled in her ear, “Mamma, the rabbi’s come to see you.” So I leaned by her bed, introduced myself, and said, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad - Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God the Lord is One. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Judi’s eyes get as big as saucers.

A few weeks later, after her mother’s death, and her funeral and burial in New York, I walked into choir practice on night and there was Judi, sitting very nervously on the front row of the choir. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she said, “but music is such an important part of my life, and I need the healing in my life that I have always found through music.” “Judi,” I said, “you’re welcome here in whatever way you find comfortable. Make yourself at home.” And over the following weeks and months, Judi became more comfortable, started joining in the prayers in worship, started receiving communion, and joined my Membership class – just to get some information, she insisted. And then one day, she came to me after church and said, “Let me see if I understand this. You believe that when you look at Jesus, that’s what God is like. And when you look at Jesus, that’s what people are supposed to be like, too. And what we’re supposed to do is ask Jesus to help us be like him. Right?” “That’s it, Judi,” I answered. She took a long breath, and then said, “I can do that.” And one Sunday a few weeks later I baptized Judi, and her daughter, and her two granddaughters – four Jewish women in one day. And this morning Judi is in her place as the Minister of Music at Franktown United Methodist Church. All because we didn’t try to convert her to Christianity or to the church, but because she understood that when she looked at Jesus, she looked at God, and at herself.

Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied. Don’t tell people about Harold Camping, or about Providence Church: tell them about Jesus.

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