The fifth sunday of Easter: May 10, 2020
Year A: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, Acts 7:55-60, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
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It all feels so up in the air.
I suspect you are asking yourself, as I have been, when have so many people, everywhere, felt so uncertain, had so many unanswered and unanswerable questions all at the same time? When have so many plans been upended, suspended? When have so many guidelines been provisional, temporary, subject to revision? Back when we first started our crisis response in early March, things literally changed from minute to minute.
Now we’re asking ourselves – how long will this last? The coronavirus has what seems like tentacles that reach into our homes, churches, schools, hospitals, our economy. It has left all of us feeling a bit adrift, even more than usual.
Yet, our readings offer us a prescription of sureness it seems. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says Jesus.
If only it were always that easy. What is the way, the truth and the life?
To be sure, with Christ, we have a sure footing. There is a way forward.
We may not see the next step, but he does, and if we stay close, follow him, and know him, we know the one he calls Father, also.
The God we know in Jesus Christ became flesh and lived among us, made a home among the poor, cared for the sick, lived humbly, fed the hungry, blessed children, washed the feet of his disciples, wept at the death of his friend, promised that death will not be victorious.
There is a phrase in this scripture that Jesus uses, that people often misuse: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
We need to make sure that we don’t allow that phrase to make us feel superior. Do not imagine that knowing Jesus allows us to use him as a wedge against our neighbors who may not be Christian.
Here’s what Jesus is telling us: we don’t make our own way to God. We aren’t earning a way to God by our faith or our practice or how strongly we believe in Jesus. We aren’t succeeding in something that people of other faiths are failing at. The point is though we are weak, Jesus is strong. Though we get distracted, Jesus stays focused. Though we stumble, Jesus holds onto us.
Remember, Jesus was talking to people whose families thought they might be crazy for following him. He was talking to people who were risking their livelihoods and lives to call him Savior. He was talking to people who were worried about the consequences of Jesus’ reputation rubbing off on them—Jesus’ reputation as someone who disturbed the status quo, who associated with the wrong people, who got lifted on a cross instead of climbing the proverbial ladder to success.
Jesus offers assurance that following him is the way for us to know God, the way to an abundant life, the way to peace and joy. Jesus is inviting us to the way but is not inviting us to the presumption of moral superiority over others.
Jesus is telling us to keep going and to depend on the God who is our rock, a strong castle to keep us safe, our crag and our stronghold. These words from this morning’s psalm were on the lips of Jesus and Stephen when they were letting go of their lives to hold firm to their faith: Into your hands, O God, I commend my spirit.
When it all feels unstable, shifting, when the world around us is entirely different than anything we’ve ever known, when it’s all up in the air, rely on the God who is our rock.
And it’s pretty amazing when we do rely on God as our rock.
Friday was the second anniversary of the death of Mitties DeChamplain. Many of you got to meet her just a little over two years ago.
For those of you who don’t know the story. Mitties was a dear friend and mentor. She was a giant in the preaching and teaching world. The last sermon she ever preached was in Beckford Parish.
She suffered two brain hemorrhages almost exactly a year apart. She died a year to the day after she suffered the first.
There’s a picture taken of the two of us in October 2017, two days before I moved to Virginia. It was five and a half months after the first massive hemorrhage. She looked amazingly strong considering she had a less than two percent chance of survival five months earlier.
I looked at that picture on Friday and posted it to a small group of mutual friends. Yesterday, the person who found her unconscious after the first hemorrhage, and was with her when she died, described Mitties as not physically strong, but possessed of a “spirit and grit” that may have been the key to her survival after the first traumatic brain injury.
Spirit and grit. In the eight years I knew Mitties, I would agree that’s an incredibly apt description. She tended to be physically frail, having suffered numerous respiratory illnesses through the last two decades of her life after her repeated exposure at Ground Zero. She was without a doubt, though, one of the most spiritually grounded people I ever encountered. Spirit and grit describe her very well.
She would be the first to tell you that if she had spirit and grit, they weren’t of her own doing, but of Christ’s doing. And spirit and grit are what Jesus is giving to the disciples. They’re not sure what to think or what they’re supposed to feel. Jesus has been revealed to them; risen from the dead. It’s a story they are troubled to believe and can’t begin to understand. But Jesus is giving them the spirit and grit – he’s calling them into a new relationship. Into a new normal. That’s what we’ve been called into in recent months.
God gives us grit and spirit so we can build our spiritual house. “Come to [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
In the midst of our routines and lives being upended, we still have the sureness offered by Jesus. I know that the spiritual house given to us by Jesus Christ is both solid and dynamic. It’s tougher than concrete. It’s more lasting than granite. It’s stronger than marble. It’s the spirit and grit of the spiritual house that I know as Beckford Parish, St. Andrew’s, and Emmanuel. A temple made of the people of God, called and loved and gathered, and built up together by God, even when we are physically apart.
 John 14:6a, New Revised Standard Version
 John 14:6b, NRSV
 Psalm 31:3
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.