May 10, 2020 – 5th Sunday of Easter – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips

   by Yanna Courtney

Day 61

Let us pray.  Gracious God, we thank you for your presence in this time and place and within each one of us.  Help us to open our minds, our hearts, our whole lives to receive the gift of your living Word for us this day.  And may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  These words are probably familiar to most of us.  We’ve probably heard them along with “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” – or “many mansions” in older translations.  And we’ve probably heard them primarily at funerals and celebration of life services.  And because of that we often place these words in the context of, “Do not worry about this person who has died – Jesus will look after him or her.  And the reference to “many dwelling places” we think of as “Don’t worry – there’s lots of room for us all in heaven.”

Without setting these interpretations aside, I want to enlarge and stretch the potential of these words – let the Spirit show us more in God’s Word.  I want to move us beyond a merely cerebral sense to this truth and make it much more a heart and body-centred experience.

We need to look at the context for Jesus’ words in today’s reading.  It takes place in the Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.  It is part of Jesus’ final address to his disciples – a group that has become an intimate family in the 3 years they have been together.  In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure.  “Where I am going you cannot come.”  And in place of having his physical presence he says, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  By doing this the disciples will experience Christ.  This will be the sign – the evidence – that they are Jesus’ disciples.  Naturally, the disciples are very distraught.  So as today’s Gospel reading begins, Jesus comforts them.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled … I go to prepare a place for you … I am the way, the truth and the life.”

I think it’s pretty easy to keep all of these ideas in our heads – as truths to be believed.  But we need to go much deeper – much more foundational.  We don’t just need to think about these words – we need to experience them!

In this part of the world, today is Mother’s Day.  It is a day when we give thanks for, and celebrate, mothers – for all that they are and all that they do.  I want to return to the first two verses of the 2nd Reading from 1 Peter that Brent read for us.  “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  The author of 1 Peter uses the metaphor of a mother’s milk for the life-giving Word of Christ.

I want to invite you to “sit” with that metaphor for a moment.  The Word of Christ – it meets all of our needs.  It is the basic nutrition of our lives – just as a mother’s milk is for a newborn baby.

Then Jesus tells the disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  Who is the first person we are to learn love from – long before we can cognitively grasp what it is?  It is from our mothers.  (Now I want to clarify – fathers are equally capable of this love – they are just as important.  But traditionally it begins with mother.)

Then, to the bewildered, threatened disciples Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” – a mature, adult way of embracing a frightened child and saying the reassuring words, “It’s okay!  It will be okay.”  Jesus continues, “In my Father’s house there are many dwellings.”  This is not just about quantity – but also about quality – appropriateness – for each one of us.  A mother doesn’t just care if her children have clothes – but also if they are the right clothes.  Are they the right size?  Does the child feel good wearing them?  Jesus isn’t just saying there are enough dwelling places, but that there is the right dwelling place for each of us – just as God has made us.

And in the first years of a child’s life – from whom do they learn how to function well in this world?  From Mom and Dad.  Their parent defines the way of their successful existence.  Who teaches them right from wrong – life-giving from life-destroying behaviour – what is true from what is deceptive or false?  Their parents are to model truth for the child.  Who is to provide the necessities as well as the joys and encouragement to sustain them – to literally “build” their life?  It’s their parents.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we have been reborn by the Holy Spirit.  We are invited into a whole new way of seeing, understanding and acting in this life – in this world.  We are not “childish.”  But when it comes to understanding God’s world – God’s reign – God’s purposes for us and for all of creation – we are infants.  Like children we are threatened by much that we don’t understand and can’t control – even the present state of our global community.  And like Jesus said to the disciples in John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ is saying to us now, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God – believe also in me.  Trust me!  Or, in a child’s language – the embrace and the words, “It’s okay!  It will be okay.”

What does Jesus tell his disciples to do in order to experience him after his physical departure?  “Love each other in the same way as I love you.”  In so doing we will indeed be immersed in the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  These words are not merely cerebral.  They touch every part of our lives – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – just as a mother’s love is to touch every part of their new child’s life.

It may seem a stretch to see the Risen Christ as our ‘mother’.  But hopefully we can grasp that same foundational love for each one of us – for ever.

Happy Mother’s Day!  Amen.