“Do not let your hearts be troubled….”
Oh, if only it were that easy Jesus! The words seem to ring hollow to me right now, like saying “Cheer up” to a person who is clinically depressed or “Have a nice day” to someone you are holding at gunpoint.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled?”
There is plenty really troubling right now in the world, and plenty that weighs heavily on each and every one of our hearts and minds!
How can you not be troubled when the very act of breathing right now means that you may be spreading infection, or taking it into your lungs?
How can you not be troubled at the confusion of messages, the proliferation of counterpointing views, and the malicious spread of disinformation?
How can you not be troubled by the apparent the lack of concern for the neighbor, the insistence of individual rights and the neglect of responsibilities?
So, excuse me, Jesus, but I feel the need to express my rich and full feelings of being troubled right now!
The words of assurance sound hollow to me.
Maybe they sound hollow to you as well, and if that is the case, then don’t be dismayed about that, or feel like you are being faithless, because there is more to this Gospel than cheap platitudes and “”don’t worry, be happy” gestures.
We have in this lesson, our old friend Thomas who once again gives voice to our own frustrations.
When Jesus says, “And you know the way… “ It is Thomas who pipes up and gives voice to our own angst.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way!”
It is Thomas’ frustrated words that ring true to me right now, because quite frankly, I don’t know where you are going, Jesus.
I’ve spent a lifetime serving you in the structures of mainline denominational experience.
I have been American Lutheran.
I have been a part of the Lutheran Church in America.
I have been a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
I have been a youth director, an intern, a seminarian, an interim camp director, a pastor, an associate pastor, a Mission Developer, and an Intentional Interim Pastor.
I have served a church was as a 100 year old white frame structure, in buildings of stone and brick and also when the church was nothing more than a tent put up on an acreage.
In each of those incarnations I always had a sense that I knew where you were going with this Jesus. The task at hand was to gather those who wanted to hear the word and taste the sacraments and to find purpose and a way to serve by gathering a community.
But I have to admit that right now, in the midst of Covid 19 when to gather is to spread the infection and to put people at risk, I do not know where you are going, and I do not know the way.
So ,Thomas speaks to me, and for me today.
And curiously, Jesus’ answer to his frustration is like balm to my own frustration.
“I Am”… Jesus says once again.
That is enough to dwell in for this moment.
It is a reminder that the church, the ministry, the purpose and the action does not reside in what I do, but rather in what God is.
God is present with us. “I Am.”
I fall into a trap you see, of thinking that the church is somehow my responsibility, my thing, what I make happen or fail to bring about.
Hearing Jesus say, “I Am” is a reminder that the church is not about how clever I might be, or how photogenic, or how good I am at Zoom or Facebook or my electronic presence or the footprint that matters at all.
It’s not about getting back together, or singing, or having coffee hour again, or any of the “stuff” that we have come to associate with as being “church.”
“I am… “ Jesus says to the question about not knowing the way.
The first great hurdle to get over is the great fear that we all have rattling around in the back of our minds, which is that maybe God has given up on us!
Maybe Jesus isn’t around?
Maybe this was all an illusion, all this churchy stuff?
Maybe Elvis left the building a long time ago and we’re just here doing the things we’ve always done out of habit.
Those are the fears we have, and our impulse to try to manage those fears is to want to run back and get busy in them again. The urge is strong to go back to some sense of “normal.” An ordering of the world as it has always been.
I’m sure that when Thomas voiced his frustration of not knowing where Jesus was going, what he had in mind more wandering around in the area of the Galilee.
What Thomas had in mind was more of the same, more going down to Jerusalem for the festivals. More going wherever it was that Jesus would decide they needed to go next.
He was not thinking of what Jesus was thinking, which was no longer about covering geography but rather about something else entirely.
“I Am” Jesus says.
When you are frustrated, and don’t know what to expect or what is expected of you next, the word from Jesus is simply to remember that he is!
Jesus is still here.
Jesus is still speaking, listening, present as the great “I Am.”
The God is and was and who has always been, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, or in John’s Gospel the Word, the Logos that was with God from the very beginning.
“I Am.” Jesus says.
That is something to rest and dwell in, it is a place prepared for us when we have no other place to call our own.
It is an assurance that is not just about some heavenly mansions or far future destinations, but about the present.
“I Am” is a present tense active assurance of Christ being with us right here– in the here and now – right where we are.
Putting your trust in Jesus is not an illusion.
Jesus has not left the building.
Well, maybe metaphorically, but he has now left earthly structures in such a way that he can now be present wherever we find ourselves in this moment, whether that is trusting or questioning or frustratingly unsure.
“I Am” Jesus says, and in those two little words we find reassurance and hope.
More than hope though, because Jesus follows the “I Am” with “the way.”
When we can’t seem to discern a way forward, Jesus reminds us to look for him.
The way will be revealed.
The way to get there will be made clear by trusting in Christ’s presence with us in the here and now, even when we are unsure of what move to make next.
“I Am the Truth” Jesus says next, which seems to be an invitation to think deeply and to observe closely the events around us.
Truth has a way of revealing itself.
You can hide, and you can misdirect, and you can tell falsehoods and gaslight people and disorient them for a while. The world in particular is good at that, some more than others.
But truth comes out.
Truth is what pulls a person toward a decision and a destination in the end.
When we can’t figure out the way, inquiring as to the truth of the matter is a very good step in the right direction because truth has a way of pointing to the presence of God again, the great “I Am” in whom there is no deception or guile.
And once truth is attended to one again? Then it is that life quite often takes hold and flourishes.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus says.
Death you see, loves deception and deceit.
Death revels in making us think that everything is going to be o.k., or that whatever is going around won’t happen to you.
That is how death gets its due, by fooling those who have no clue.
But life flourishes where truth is told and where trust is established and where those two things are attended to, truth and trust, life tends to be found in ample supply.
So, Thomas is frustrated today,— as are we all… because it is hard to see where Jesus is and where Jesus is going right now.
It is hard to figure out how to find our way to where Jesus is evidently going before us because so much of the expected pattern for life has been thrown out and left in disarray.
But it is precisely in the face of such disorienting times that Jesus gives us this promise to cling to.
Let this be our portion this day, as we gather wherever we might find ourselves.. in our homes, in our places of service, in the pantry or in our self-isolation.
Here is the promise of Jesus today.
“I Am.” He says. “And where I am, there you may also be.”
I do not know where you are going Jesus, I really don’t in all of this.
But, I do know this much.
Where you end up… you will draw me to you there, and it will feel like a place that is prepared for me.
Maybe even a place that I have been prepared for but would never have imagined going.