Sunday 14 May 2017

Let not our hearts be troubled. Let us believe in God and also in Jesus.

Address given at Templederry, St Mary's, Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 14th May 2017, the Fifth after Easter. In St Mary's it was a joyful day of baptism for Jack Robert, son of  Robert Nevin and his wife Sharon née Gloster, accompanied by a host of relatives and friends.

I wonder how Thomas and Philip felt when Jesus responded to them the way he did in today’s Gospel reading (John 14:1-14).
Did they say to themselves, ‘Duh – I should have known that’? Were they embarrassed? Did they blush like school children who have asked their teacher a silly question? Or were they happy that their words had prompted Jesus, their friend and teacher, to speak plainly about difficult ideas?

The reading comes at the start of what is often called the ‘Farewell Discourse’. This makes up the whole of chapters 14 – 17 of St John’s Gospel, describing in more detail than anywhere else in the Bible how the 3 Persons of the Trinity relate to each other and to those who believe.  

Jesus has just eaten his Last Supper with his disciples. He has washed their feet as if he were a servant, as an acted parable to show them that they, like him, are called to a ministry of service. He knows that the end game is upon him - the forces of evil are pressing in all around. Soon he will be arrested, subjected to a show-trial, condemned and brutally executed. He does not have much time, but he is determined to take this last chance to prepare his disciples for what will unfold. His words are dense with meaning.

In this short extract Jesus teaches the disciples about the relationships between Jesus himself and the God Jesus calls his Father, and between them both and his disciples – not just those first disciples present at the Last Supper, but through them us as well.

Jesus begins, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’.
Then he goes on to say that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house – this is heaven, of course, where God is. He tells the disciples that he is going there to prepare a place for each and every one of them. And he promises that he will return to bring them there to be with him and with God.

Theologians have puzzled over what Jesus meant by the many dwelling places in God’s house, but perhaps it is as simple as this: that heaven is as wide as the heart of God and there is room for everyone there who believes in Jesus, no matter how unworthy they might feel they are. It is a lovely comforting thought, isn’t it?

Jesus says, ‘You know the way to the place I am going’, prompting Thomas to respond, ‘We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ I like Thomas. Thomas is always questioning – the awkward student who asks the questions others are ashamed to ask. He doesn’t accept anything without owning it for himself – just as he will doubt the resurrection until he sees the wound in Jesus’s side.

So Jesus explains to him and the other disciples, in words that echo down the centuries to us, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’. The way to find God, says Jesus, is by following him. Those who know him will know God. And because they see and know Jesus, because they see and know the truth and the life in him, they have seen and known God.

These words must have been very shocking for the disciples, because it was an article of faith for Jews that it was impossible to see God. When God showed his glory to Moses he said, ‘You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live’.

At this point Philip blurts out ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied’.
And Jesus gently chides him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works’.

The truth that the disciples have to grasp is this: because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus, if you have seen Jesus you have seen God. To see Jesus is to see what God is like – and to know what God is like is to know what Jesus is like. Those first disciples were privileged to see Jesus in the flesh and know what he was like. But we too can see and know Jesus, through scripture, through church tradition and through our God-given reason – and we can experience his presence in our hearts. All it takes is to believe in him. When we do so, we see and know God too.

Jesus calls his disciples to continue his ministry of service, as he says:
‘The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.

Disciples who believe in Jesus will not just minister as he has done, but will do greater things, says Jesus. How can this be? How can they possibly do greater things than God’s own Son Jesus? Well, look at it this way. In his earthly life Jesus’s ministry was limited to the towns and countryside of Palestine. But his first disciples built a mass movement of followers who believed in Jesus. They and their followers brought Jesus’s ministry to the whole world. We call that mass movement the Church. In all its wonderful diversity the Church continues Jesus’s ministry today, and as Jesus’s disciples we are a part of it.

We are made part of the Church by baptism. Today is a day of baptism, a joyful occasion, a day for celebration. For many it is a day of family celebration as Sharon and Robbie bring their son Jack Robert to be baptised in the presence of so many of their relatives and friends, who share their joy in him. But it is more than just a family celebration, because we are all here to welcome Jack as a new member of the Church, a fellow disciple of Jesus. His baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which will last for the rest of his life. As we renew our baptism vows in a few minutes, let us reflect on our own journey, and let us be determined to support Jack’s parents and Godparents as they guide him on his journey.

And Jesus promises to answer his disciples’ prayers: I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son’. But we must understand well - Jesus only promises to answer prayers asked in his name. We cannot honestly pray in the name of Jesus for personal revenge, for personal ambition, or for anything unworthy or un-Christian – such prayers will not be granted. But our prayers prayed in Jesus’s name will be answered - as God knows is best for us, not necessarily as we desire - and that reveals God’s glory to us all.

So to finish, let us echo the words of Jesus
Let not our hearts be troubled. Let us believe in God and also in Jesus.
As we finish in prayer:
Everliving God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life:
give us grace to love one another,
to follow in the way of his commandments
and to share his risen life;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen