Fifth Sunday of Easter
"People of The Way"
Having a GPS on your phone is a wonderful tool when it is working correctly. But sometimes, it gives terrible directions. I once typed in the address of a person I needed to visit. The GPS thought for a minute, and then it opened a map. It even put a little pin on the map to show me the final destination
I took off, faithfully following the GPS directions. When It said I had arrived, I knew there was a problem, for I was in front of a family cemetery. So, I called the person I was going to visit, and they informed me that this had happened to people visiting them before. The map software had lousy information. He told me I was close. He then gave me the correct directions, and it was not long before I pulled up in front of his home. I learned a valuable lesson that day. While GPS directions are great, it is best to get directions from someone who has been there!
And so we come to today's gospel reading where Jesus says to his disciples in those familiar words, words so often used as we celebrate the lives of those who had gone to be with God, the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on the evening before he is nailed to the cross: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; also trust in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas replies, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Thomas's confusion about knowing where Jesus was going is not one we share with him or the other disciples at this point, for we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. But the question of knowing the way to heaven remains unanswered by many.
There are so many teachings by hundreds of different religions, books, and magazines telling you how you can get to heaven. Each one gives you specific directions on how a person gets to heaven. But if we really want to know, we need to listen to someone who has been there.
And that person is Jesus. In today's reading, Jesus answers the question Thomas asks: "How can we know the way," with these words: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." If we want to find the way to heaven, we only need to look to Jesus because he is the only way!
As Jesus says to his disciples: "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." Again, he says: "The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, the Father, living in me, is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."
One day, a student of Karl Barth, easily one of the most famous theologians of the 20th Century, asked a question that has probably crossed your mind from time to time: "Sir," said the student, "Don't you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?"
Barth's answer stunned the crowd. It will probably stun you, also. He answered, "No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son." That is the challenge and the scandal of our faith. That is Jesus's great claim- and the stumbling block for many people.
We are not called to believe in a religion or follow a particular religion's teachings. We are called to believe in a person, a living person, a person who claims to not only speak for God - but to be God. Think of some of Jesus' claims made in today's gospel reading by Jesus:
He tells his disciples, "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me."
He tells them, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."
and he tells them, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
There is something unique about Jesus: no earthly prophet, priest, or teacher can truthfully claim, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." Many Christians spend a lot of time apologizing for that statement by Jesus. They assure all their friends - their family - and those who have no religion, as well as those following the prophets of other religions, that God is loving and kind and that all that is important is that we love one another.
And while it is true that God is loving and kind and that it is of utmost importance that we love one another, we should never apologize for Jesus and what he said. We are called to do as those who believe in Jesus, "He is Lord," despite the risks involved. We are to testify to others about the joy, hope, love, and peace we have found in him.
Listen again to some of the words that Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor - and to us today: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
My brothers and sisters in the Lord, I know that many of you understand and have experienced within your lives the mercy of God -that mercy that has brought you from a sense of alienation and loneliness and guilt to a new life - a new life in which you feel connected to God and a part of his great family - a family different from all other families because it is a family dedicated not only to doing good rather than harm but to receiving and sharing with all the bread of heaven to earth come down - the Living Christ - he who is our strength and our shield - our joy and our hope.
As People of the Way - as men and women who are priests or bridges between God and the rest of the human family - as God's own people - chosen for eternity by God himself - we are called to connect people to the Lord – to bring them, maybe, to the way that we have found.
We do that - not by apologizing to them about how Jesus claimed to be the Son of the Most High God - and the way, the truth, and life but by proclaiming in our own words and by our deeds the mighty acts of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We do it by speaking the acts that he has done within our lives; the prayers answered, the teachings that we were given, especially those we received which we did not seek or want, the strength beyond ourselves that had sustained us when we were all done in, the little miracles, the often unexpected miracles, that happen that bring ever new light and hope and peace into our lives and the lives of others.
Our experience with Jesus is an experience that is meant to be shared, not hidden for fear that we might somehow be offending others or that we might somehow be judging others. We are to testify as to who he is and what he has done, with no apologies, no attempt to say what God will or not do to them if they refuse to listen to us, and with no judgment upon those who refuse to accept our testimony. We are called to pray for others and for all humankind through Him who is the Way - the Truth - and The Life. Amen