Saturday, April 19, 2008
Taking it on the Road
Tomorrow I preach for the last time in the Country Parish. They are still stuck between those who want to preserve a kind of special club and those who want to reach out. They have met about it. Including a meeting where someone said that maybe people would be more motivated if they could see how, based upon average giving, how many members would equal how many dollars. Sigh. I pray for them, for the pastor and the for future. But tomorrow I preach on John 14: 1-11. And in two weeks we will part ways.
I have a confession to make. I am directionally challenged. Give me somewhere new to go and I will probably get lost, even with a map. I am not even good at folding maps back up either. My husband will tell you that if left to my own devices, at an intersection where I have to decide which way to go, my first instinct is .. probably wrong. Even with directions. The best example of this is told in my first trip from Pittsburgh to Michael’s family home in Palmyra. He gave me directions, but I did not listen fully, or at least I didn’t get the significance of what he told me. SO when I got to Hershey, the road splits into 322 or 422. I remembered there would be a split. I knew what I would see after the split. But which road?
So I took 322, which after the Medical Center in those days was pretty much field after field. I drove for a pretty long time I thought and I didn’t see what I was looking for soon enough. I must have it wrong. So.. I drove back to the split. I tried 422 which took me through Palmdale, and then Hershey, but where was Palmyra? Eventually I thought maybe I had it wrong again. So I drove back to the split and got on 322 again decided I just needed to keep driving. I was looking for Forge Road. So I drove and drove and finally got to a cluster of houses and a Gulf gas station in a village called Leeds Corner. I decided I needed help. I pulled in, went inside and said I was looking for “Forge Road in Palmyra.”
Imagine the amusement of the man who politely comes out and without much effort pointed about a block’s distance away- “It’s right there.” Just to make this even more amusing, I had missed the entire town of Palmyra (thousands of people) and ended up in Leed’s Corner, population 22. If only I had paid more attention and then had trust and belief in what I was told. It was right there, in front of me. I sure am glad someone showed me the way.
In today’s lesson the disciples are having some trouble with directions and belief too. Jesus is saying goodbyes and tying up loose ends, speaking of going to prepare a place for them, and how great it will be. I half expect he will then ride off into the sunset, and the movie credits will start to roll.
Which is why I love Thomas and Phillip in this story. They ask the questions we want to ask. “How can we know the way?” “Can’t you just give us a sign?” They too were struggling to read the map and understand the directions. Maybe Jesus assumed his closest followers got it by now, but their faith is stuck in neutral. They still don’t see that he is not just “from” God, He is God.
I am sure they felt awkward. But then, Jesus shifts gears and begins to give the disciples a pep talk, to build up their confidence and faith. “Do not be troubled” really doesn’t quite fully express what Jesus is saying. “Don’t stress out” “Do not be in turmoil” “Don’t fall into a state of confusion” are more like it. Jesus knows the disciples will face anxiety, doubt, and fears that are real and fear of the unknown. Sound familiar?
And they will be without his physical presence- they will feel isolated. They will feel that their faith, so easy to express in the abstract, is suddenly much more complicated in a time of testing. We’ve all faced these moments- moments far more trying than getting lost in Leed’s Corner. Maybe even times when it seems like it will all unravel, or it actually has, not just as individuals, but as a community of believers. When with Thomas and Phillip we say, “How can we know the way? Just show me a sign.”
Jesus says- “I am the way.” The way to salvation, because Jesus walked the way of the cross. But this story is not just about the great hereafter, but the way for us in this life as well. Jesus is the way of truth and life. The way of understanding- Understanding how to live in relationship with God and with each other. The gospel is for us-here and now.
We are probably all here today because someone showed us the way, not with the map or the GPS, but that this way of life is the key to life. Maybe it was our parents, or a friend or a co-worker. For each of us, someone was that man at the gas station who could tell us that what we needed was RIGHT HERE.
But after that, why have we stayed? Perhaps after those first experiences, our belief has deepened. We became more in tune with God’s message. Perhaps for some of us, the road has wound through crisis that has shaped us. Times where we asked again- how will I find the way? Show me a sign. And God was revealed to us, in the Word, in the sacraments, maybe a service of healing. But also in the deeds of the fellow travelers here who asked how we were, prayed for us and with us. Who have rejoiced and cried, celebrated and supported, who remind us to believe. This is THE LIFE- the life Jesus talks about for the here and now before we are reunited with all of the saints.
When I first came here over seven months ago, I was pretty nervous, although, thanks to Norbert, I did not get lost. But I didn’t know any of you. I didn’t even know my way in the building. Jean, you showed me. Over time I came to get to know pretty many of you pretty well. To learn how proud you are of this place- the preschool, the addition, your history and your wonderful fellowship. That last part is the reason I need to go on a diet. And many of you have shared your stories and your lives. But in my time here you all showed me another step in the way- the way of a believer. Even though I wasn’t “from here” we each have learned some things from each other. This is the LIFE.
But today we hear not just of our own lives and call to belief. This is important, but it’s just the first step. Jesus also say believers ( that’s us) will do miraculous deeds. Even greater than Jesus did. How can this be? Without stealing all of the thunder of Pentecost, Jesus is here foretelling that day. The time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who will fill the disciples. And these same confused disciples will, by the power of the Spirit bring more people to believe in that one day than in all of Jesus’ ministry. But this was just the start.
These “greater deeds” are a continuing vision, and in fact a call for all of the believers. The imperfect and reluctant believers were and are the ones chosen to carry on the mission. The mission of evangelism.
But how will we do this? In addition to the Scriptures, Jesus tells us how we can in fact do these great deeds. “ Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.” We will do this by the power of prayer.
Maybe we need guidance- ask
Maybe we need understanding for people not like us- ask
Maybe we need the energy to do one more thing in our busy world-ask.
Whatever you ask for the work of God’s kingdom, your prayers WILL be answered.
But then we must take one more step and do. Jesus says, “Believe in me.” We need to take our plan out of these doors and back onto the road. Maybe this sounds hard. But remember that all of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection says something even greater- “I BELIEVE IN YOU. And I call you to help others. Don’t be afraid. Believe.”
This is our calling, for all of us who make up Luther’s “ministry of all believers.” We all know people out there on the road of life who don’t know the way, or who have gotten lost. Whose lives are full of the turmoil and crisis we know Jesus can calm. People seeking some grain of truth, looking for a sign, hoping for life. Who can be not just fellow members, but fellow disciples.
We know the way, the truth and the life. God has spoken and through each of us, God is speaking still. So .. what are we waiting for? The key is in the ignition and the tank is full. We’ve got a map and message that can’t be beat. ( Hold up Bible) . It’s time to take the story on the road! Amen