Gospel: John 14:1-14 (NRSV) Jesus the Way to the Father
4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In 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? 3 And 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus 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’? 10 Do 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. 11 Believe 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. 12 Very 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. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
How have your days been during this quiet spring? When I’m not working for the church, my days consist of reorganizing, baking, splitting wood or piano. This month has been a strange one for me, as it has been for most of us. A pandemic is simply beyond the experience of 21st Century Americans.
I think back to my Dad, who survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. I think of my grandmother, who was an adult that year, and could probably tell me more of what it was like. She would give me good advice about how to navigate such a crisis. But neither are on earth, so are unable to tell me anything. I miss them both, along with my mother, more than I can say. I need advice how to be pastor and how to lead a church at a time like this. We all need advice about how to be Christians at a time like this.
This gospel passage today, John 14, is often used at funerals- I read it at the funeral here recently. It’s one of the most beautiful and comforting in the New Testament. In our Scripture today, Jesus gives advice not only to his circle of 12, but also to all Christians down through the ages. And just like last week’s Psalm 23, I believe this passage is too good to be left just to those times when we are losing a loved one. After all, Jesus wishes us peace at other low times of life, not just when we lose a loved one. Jesus certainly wishes us to be at peace during any other time in our lives, as well. Jesus tells us today that God wants peace for us Christians, the peace that comes from faith: peace for us and for all people. Our country surely needs that peace.
Jesus speaks to his disciples today in private- for their ears only. Certainly, it must have been comforting words to the disciples gathered with Jesus that last time on Maundy Thursday. The reason Jesus spoke to the disciples privately was simple. Most of the people who followed Jesus would misunderstand. Back then only the disciples would understand what Jesus was talking about- that Jesus was going to die soon.
The disciples could “read between the lines” of what Jesus was saying. They understood politics well- he’d rubbed too many people in power the wrong way. When Jesus talked about going away, they knew Jesus was not talking about a vacation. Jesus, in turn, knew that His disciples were going to miss him, and were in need2
of comfort. They were going to be bereaved of Jesus and be scattered to the winds all too soon. He wanted to give them tools for survival, so they could complete their mission of sharing His good news with all people.
Jesus tells the disciples in verse 3 that he goes to prepare a place for them and he will come back for them and us. This is a temporary separation, much like when my father used to leave to go to work. It was hard for me, a young boy. Knowing that a separation was not permanent made it much more bearable, and much less scary.
Even though we miss the people who guided us when we were young, Jesus reminds us also in this gospel lesson that we are not without advisors here, in this pandemic. If we love Christ and keep His commandments, John 14 verse 7 tells us that from now on we will know the Father and the Son. We don’t even have to wait until we understand God! We can live with God’s wisdom right now. For us Christians who are bound for heaven, heaven begins on earth. The lessons we learn here about love and hope and joy will teach us how to live in heaven and be happy there. Heaven is life with God. Jesus promises that for those who love Him, by living with God, the beginning of heaven is right here and now.
What else is important about today’s passage? Jesus says to his disciples in verse 13, “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” What’s going on here? We all know the frustration of unanswered prayers. How many of us have prayed that COVID-19 would retreat so we can have the sporting events our kids have practiced for, the concerts and the gatherings and celebrations we miss so desperately?
What’s going on here? Well, Jesus is speaking to a group of spiritual giants: his disciples, the ones who have lived and learned and followed him. They messed up, yes, as do we all. But they were exceptionally close to Jesus. So they knew what Jesus would want and when they asked they knew it’s what Jesus would want and do. As a kid, I could ask my mother with confidence to pray for me, because I knew, without a doubt, that she would. The closer we get to God, the more we love God, the more our prayers will be answered, because we’ll know more of what God wants and we will know what to ask, and what not to ask for. Jesus was giving them advice about how to carry on after he was gone. The disciples carried on without Jesus, and they carried on well. But for the work of the disciples, we would not even know who Jesus is.
In our gospel today Jesus gave the disciples- and us- good advice how to live life without him at our sides. His advice has both good and bad news. The good news, as I mentioned before, is that Jesus will give us what we ask. If we ask for what God wants, then God will be honored because good will come of it. The bad news is to be close enough to God that God will do anything we ask takes more spiritual maturity than most of us have, myself included. Except for Judas the traitor, and John, who ended up in an island prison, the disciples all died as martyrs for their faith.
The final good news of today’s gospel is that Jesus trusts us. Jesus trusts us enough to carry on his work even without him here on earth to lead us. Jesus says in verse 12 that we will do greater works than his.
How can this be?
What Jesus says is true. In his life he did many wonderful things. He cured people. He fed thousands. Surely we can’t do what Jesus did!
But we can. If Christians work together, we can feed many more than Jesus did. In fact, while the world population has increased in the last 20 years, the numbers of undernourished people has actually declined. Lutheran World Relief has been a huge part of that, feeding millions. Lutheran Christians have also worked together to bring about good. Lutheran Social Services is one of the oldest and biggest providers of counseling services in Minnesota.
We in the church are doing whatever we can to reach out and touch the lives of others. Jesus’s work in the world continues, even in these troubling times, No, especially in these times, because where God’s hands are needed, we Christians are there to help. Amen.