Bethany Lutheran Church, Nevis, MN
May 22, 2011-- Easter 5/Year A
Are you ever part of a conversation in which you and your conversation-partner seem to be “talking past each other?” Here you are--reasonable and articulate persons, saying good things-- but you just can’t “connect.”
It’s like you’re on difference planets or something.
As I read, with great care, the gospel according to St John…that sort of thing seems to be happening all the time.
There is a lot of talking going on in John’s gospel. It’s a gospel that—unlike Matthew, Mark or Luke—includes extended discourses, delivered by Jesus. Jesus has most of the “speaking parts” in John’s Gospel, but always in dialogue with others—his disciples, honest questioners, random strangers whom Jesus encounters.
Now, to be sure, John’s gospel is rich stuff—containing some of the most memorable, challenging, and comforting portions of our whole Bible.
But there is also something frustrating about these “dialogues” between Jesus and his conversation partners. They talk a lot, but often they seem to talk past one another, unable to connect.
Why is that?
I think it’s because Jesus and those he talks with in John’s Gospel have such different perspectives on everything under the sun.
Picture it this way: most of the persons Jesus speaks with have about as much perspective as does the pilot of a crop-dusting airplane. They see things from a very “low altitude.” They’re “close to the ground” and so they speak out of a pretty small worldview.
Jesus, though, looks at everything from a much higher altitude. Jesus’ view of things is more like what our astronauts might behold this morning as they orbit the earth in the space shuttle Endeavour. Jesus is like astronauts who can literally see “ahead of the curve,” the curve of the earth, that is!
Think about it: Jesus knows, Jesus sees, Jesus lives on a whole different plane of reality. Jesus is equally at home in heaven or on earth. Jesus is not stuck in the past, the present, or the future—Jesus is not hemmed in by time.
But everyone with whom Jesus converses in John’s gospel is a finite creature, stuck in one place, capable of living only in the present moment. They’re like bewildered visitors to a shopping mall, all desperately searching for that map with the red arrow that says: YOU ARE HERE.
So Jesus—with his high-altitude, wide-angle lens view of reality—Jesus sees where he is going—back to his Father—and he assures his disciples that they’ll be joining him, and not to worry because “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” No one needs to sleep on the living room couch in God’s heaven! There is never a “no vacancy” sign on the Father’s house.
And that should comfort Jesus’ disciples, but when Jesus assures them that they know the way to the Father’s house, Thomas—always the voice of realism—interrupts: “No Jesus. We’re not familiar with this ‘way’ that you’re talking about. Could you Mapquest it for us? Could you give us the GPS coordinates? Could you show us where ‘X marks the spot?’”
To which Jesus replies: “The way isn’t a route. The way is me. You’re looking at the Way to the Father. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. There is no other Way.”
And I picture Thomas staring back at Jesus, dumbfounded, (as Luther liked to say) like a newborn calf staring at a freshly-painted barn door.
But Jesus just keeps rolling on, assuring his followers that they will know this Father he’s talking about—indeed that they already know him….
And then another baffled disciple, Philip, putt-putting along in his low-altitude crop-dusting plane says: “Time out, Jesus! We’d like to see this Father of yours with our own two eyes. Show this Father to us, please. Produce your Father so we can identify him on sight….”
And Jesus just keeps rolling along, telling Philip that that’s all been taken care of—in fact, if they’ve seen him (Jesus!) they already have seen, they already know the Father. The Father/Son resemblance between the two is, in fact, unmistakable… “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
…and it just keeps going like that throughout John’s Gospel. Although Jesus and the ordinary human beings he converses with share many words, that doesn’t mean that they’re always connecting—not by a country mile.
And yet here’s the great thing—here’s the wonder of it all: despite the fact that Jesus lives way above and beyond us, he keeps coming back down to us, keeps hunkering down on our level to help us catch glimpses of the full, rich life that Jesus knows—the abundant life Jesus wants to shower down upon everyone.
So, rather than losing patience with the likes of Thomas and Philip, Jesus backs up and finds fresh new ways to say the same thing. Jesus uses the anxious questions of bewildered disciples like Thomas and Philip as jumping off points to utter promises that fill them—and us!—with faith, hope and love.
In fact, as we sort out the meandering “two steps forward, three steps backward” conversation here in John 14, we hear—unmistakably—we hear three amazing promises from our Lord—promises that give us a faith-engendering glimpse of what Jesus knows and sees and lives…what Jesus wants to give to us and anyone else who has ears to hear.
First, Jesus tells us that in the full, rich life of God, we belong—there is and always will be room for us in the Father’s house. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
Wow! What a promise!....a promise that has cheered us at countless funerals, right?…a promise that we cling to whenever we face up to our finitude, our unworthiness, our mortality.
But this is so much more than a promise to fall back on when we face death. This is a promise not just for the future, but a promise that transforms our present: God has room for us, now and always. We don’t deserve that—not one bit—but God in Christ just keeps coming back to us, filling our ears with hope. The door is open, the place card with our name correctly spelled on it has been set out, God has room for us, not because “we’ve got that coming” but because God is unfathomably good and gracious.
Second, Jesus promises us that if we’ve come to know him, we know all that we’ll ever need to know about God. In Jesus, we have all the “God” we will ever need.
If the whole notion of “God” is too much for us to wrap our arms around—and it is!—here is Someone we can wrap our arms around: Jesus of Nazareth, who walked on this earth, Jesus who lived among us, Jesus who stretched his arms out on the Cross to embrace all sinners, Jesus who could not be kept in the grave but rose again, nevermore to die, “for us and for our salvation.”
If you’ve seen Jesus, known Jesus, grasped Jesus….you have come as close to God as you possibly can.
And then there’s a third promise here—a promise that surpasses the first two: God has a life and a purpose for you. You belong to the God who hopes that you will “outdo” Him in this world. You belong to the God who believes in you more than you may believe in yourself.
This final promise in our text, I must admit, is so mind-boggling that I “scarce can take it in”: “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.”
What I hear Jesus saying is this: as he “goes to the Father,” his mode of living and moving and acting on earth will be entirely through you and me. As we like to say in our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: “God’s work. Our hands.”
So what Jesus did, we do and will keep on doing as long as God gives us life. That means, at the very least, that
• we will turn sinners loose, as Jesus did;
• we will bring resurrection hope wherever death seems to have the upper hand, as Jesus did;
• we will fill empty bellies, as Jesus did;
• we will embrace outcasts, as Jesus did;
• we will bring cheer to this world’s sadness, as Jesus did;
• we will walk on earth in faith, hope and love--as Jesus did.
And maybe, just maybe, as Jesus lives in us, we’ll gain some altitude with our little crop-dusting planes…and start to see “ahead of the curve,” start to see and know and live the way Jesus does.
In the name of Jesus.