We will be satisfied
| John 14:1-14
||Sun, April 28, 2002
Rev. Ed Searcy
|“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” With these words Jesus begins a farewell discourse that is three entire chapters in length. You do not need to be an expert in order to read between the lines and discover the reason for his extended sermon. “Do not let your hearts be troubled “, begins Jesus. Later he promises “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (Jn 14:18). The church that Jesus addresses is a troubled community. It is anxious, unsure of its future. Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” In this confession Thomas tells the truth about the contemporary church in North America and - as Karin is reminding us - in Europe, too. Not long ago the church as we knew it was confident that it knew the way. Now, like our own congregation, the Western church is not sure where a life that trusts in God and in Christ will lead. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” says Jesus.
If only it were so easy. We try to wish away our troubled hearts, try our best to trust in God and in Christ. But without clear sight of the way ahead faith is not easily mustered. Philip speaks for us when he interrupts Jesus to state the bottom line: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Satisfied. What will finally satisfy disciples who are prepared to live through trial and tribulation? Show us, says Philip. Provide the evidence. Then our hearts will not be troubled. Then we will have faith in God and in you. Then we will be satisfied.
The peculiar irony of this text is that Jesus’ answering words seem so unsatisfying for so many. For one thing, Jesus sounds so exclusive: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In a world where we are offered such a variety of ways to the divine, this exclusive claim sounds impossible. Far from easing anxious hearts, Jesus’ words seem to cause only more frowns. But Jesus keeps on. He describes his relationship with God in mystical terms: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? ... Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In fourteen verses Jesus refers to “the Father” twelve times. The God that he embodies in human flesh is the head of a large household, one with many, many rooms. This talk of Jesus as the embodiment of the divine ... and of the divine as a father who heads the household ... only adds to the troubles that arise from the text when it is overheard by moderns. Moderns are interested in objective historical facts, not in divine mysteries. Moderns are suspicious of the ways in which the fatherhood of God has been abused. So texts like this one are regularly forgotten, discarded or silenced by a church that hopes to woo a modern people. Jesus becomes a historical figure who teaches ways of living that are loving and just. God becomes a domesticated spirit ... no longer the potent and unpredictable YHWH, to be greatly praised and feared. The church tries to satisfy by removing that which dissatisfies modernity. Yet, for all of our trimming the cloth of this peculiar text to fit the contours of modern sensibilities our dissatisfaction continues. With Philip we say: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
When we stop to listen, we notice something eerily familiar. This is a text about hospitality. I know, here we go: “Ed’s on about hospitality again.” But look. Jesus says to trust him and to trust God. Why? Because, “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s house” (“The Message”). This is where Jesus is going - to the household that is headed by the Father. Remember. The households of the ancient world differ from our nuclear families. They are not simply extended families, either. They are at once employer, family and religious community. They provide protection and identity. The father’s identity and honour is carried by all who are provided room in the household. Jesus speaks to his homeless disciples, to a church far from home and says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled ... In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
Homecoming is a familiar theme here, gathered as we are as guests at the Lord’s table. And there is, says Jesus, no other way to his Father’s home than through him. We recall this language from last Sunday: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9). The way into the household of the Father of Jesus is by entering through the gateway that is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. You cannot earn your way in by becoming an expert in theology or in meditation or in morality. The way into this home for the homeless is through the doorway that is the open arms of the crucified Christ, bearing the sin of the world, including our own. Notice that the text leaves unanswered the question of whether other ways and other gods lead into other households. But it does answer the question of the way into the household of the Father who is met in Jesus Christ.
Jesus says “Trust God. Trust me ... I am the way ... to the household of the Father.” Philip says: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replies: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It turns out that the Father come out of the household to invite the homeless home. To meet Jesus is to meet the Father. To be received by Jesus is to be received by the Father. Here this text becomes an amazing opening into the truth about our small enterprise here. It points to the living reality that Christ is met here, for those with eyes to see. More than that, it names that when Christ is present that the Father is here and that the household of God is taking shape in our midst. Philip is still looking for evidence of the Father in order to be satisfied. Jesus says, “Take a look around. I am here. The Father is here.”
Then Jesus promises to satisfy his frightened flock. “Very truly, I tell you, 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 the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it.” At first glance his promise is highly problematic. “If you ask for anything, I will do it.” Oh, really. Anything? Reading more carefully we notice that Jesus promises that it is those who do his works and who pray in his name who can expect great things. To pray in his name is, as Eugene Peterson translates it, to “request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing”. Jesus is not interested in prayers for wealth or for survival. He promises to answer the prayers of those who participate in the Father’s works - namely, who invite the world into the peculiar ways of the Father’s household. This is good news as we face the uncertainty of our future as a congregation and as the United Church of Canada faces its own uncertain future. The text reminds us that we need not worry about a church whose prayers and work are along the lines of who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. Of course, there’s the rub. Jesus’ mission in the world is necessarily the heart of our theological wrestling with God and with one another.
“I am the way” says Jesus. And his is a way of bearing the burdens of those who have come to believe that they are not worth it. “I am the truth” says Jesus. And his truth is testimony to a Father whose household has many room for lost souls who are, themselves, prepared to make room for all manner of outcasts. “I am the life” says Jesus. And in Christ’s risen life he invites us to die to the power that death wields over us and to live with him in the power of God to make all things new. Might we so live in his way and truth and life that the world may yet see and believe and be satisfied. Amen.