First Congregational Church
May 10, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Easter
“Questions and Answers”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A mother mouse and a baby mouse are walking along when suddenly a cat attacks them. The mother mouse shouts “BARK!” and the cat runs away. “See?” the mother mouse says to her baby. “Now do you see why it’s important to learn a foreign language?”
Larry’s mother had four children. Three were named North, South and West. What was her other child’s name? Just in case you were thinking it was East, it was Larry. Sometimes we are so very human, thinking one thing, when we missed a really important thing in understanding the whole thing.
While this morning’s scripture passage doesn’t mention a single mother, it surely has a great many questions and answers - of which many mothers are most familiar. It is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse - the teachings grouped together in John, chapters 13-17, right before Jesus’ arrest. Perhaps not knowing the specific time, but knowing - in general - that his time was soon to come to an end, it almost appears as if Jesus is giving the disciples a review of what he’d been teaching.
Scripture John 14:1-14
Jesus Comforts His Disciples
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus the Way to the Father
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
It would be so rewarding, to know the tone Jesus used that day. (Understandingly: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”) (Loudly: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”) (Softly - “I am the way and the truth and the life.”) (Angrily: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”) But then again, maybe it’s good that we don’t have his emotions to get in the way of his words.
There’s a book by Augusta Gregory on Irish mythology, called “Gods and Fighting Men,” which have some wonderful questions and answers. What is whiter than snow? The truth. What is the best color? The color of childhood. What has a taste more bitter than poison? The reproach of an enemy. What is best of a champion? His doings to be high and his pride to be low.
Irony is definitely one of my favorite experiences of thought and reflection. I had settled on the title of Questions and Answers for this message, and not three hours later, I happened across a Youtube video of Johnny Carson interviewing Lucille Ball - back in 1974. They got to talking about Lucy’s children, and Johnny asked her if her kids were doing well. And Lucy’s answer was “Yes. They’re learning. They’re making their mistakes on their own.” When Johnny asked if she still exercised a certain amount of control and gave them advice, she said, “No. I’ve given them all the advice I can give them. And I’ve given them all the training I can give them. They’re out on their own.” When Johnny pressed her further, asking if she would give them advice if they came to her about appearing in a nefarious sort of film, she said, “No, because they’d already know the answer.”
So often, I think we know the answers to questions. We just don’t think we know. Or our minds are so crowded with stuff, it’s almost like when a computer gets too full of information that there isn’t enough space left for the machinery to do it’s job. Sometimes we need to ask questions, to receive answers, because our human spirit needs reassurance and comfort.
I wonder if the disciples - having been on a whirlwind, three-year mission trip, had brains that were spinning with the miracles and teachings and healings they had experienced with and through Jesus. Maybe they knew, but didn’t think they knew the answers to Jesus’ questions. Maybe they knew the answers, but the answers frightened them and they needed his reassurance that everything would be okay in the end.
A lot of us have had almost all the training and almost all the advice we need to be grown-up followers of Christ, even though we all have more to learn. We’ve had good Sunday School teachers, we’ve had close friends that operate out of Christ’s love and grace. We’ve had remarkable pastors. And sometimes things come our way that make us question our situations, things that make us uncomfortable in what we know them to be.
Sometimes, when a person - we’ll use the name, Joe - comes to me for advice, I turn the situation around on them, asking them to imagine that they have a friend or a child in a similar circumstance. What would you, Joe, tell the one asking for the advice? Because I’m rather certain that most of us already know the stuff we need to do. So often, such questions are more about anxiety or fear than they are about information.
Please don’t hear this as a blast on asking for advice. It is far from that, and Lord knows we’ve often been far more stoic than we’ve needed to be. Sometimes we need the outside thoughts of a friend or expert to help us develop good and sound philosophies and theologies. None of us have all the answers to all of life’s questions. But there are times when our human nature steps up and takes over what we thought we had all in order.
Most people don’t realize that Ole’s wife, Lena, is a real estate agent. One day she wrote an ad for a house she was listing. The house had a second-floor suite that could be accessed using a lift chair that slid along the staircase. Working against a publication deadline, Lena wrote: "Mother-in-law suite comes with an electric chair.”
Karoline Lewis, Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, pointed out that this passage can often be construed as a map or “diagram, something to get us to the right location.” Or Jesus saying, “‘I AM the way and the truth and the life’ can become an indication of God’s judgment, exclusion, and absence.” “No one comes to the Father except through me,” rather than a word of promise, becomes a declaration of prohibition. But God already came, was, is and ever shall be present in the life and ministry of Christ. “If you know me” is a condition of fact, “if you know me, and you do.” These are words of comfort, not condition - for the disciples as well as for us.
Steven Garnaas-Holmes follows that thought. “This is not a treasure map for conversion, not a filter to screen out unbelievers, no “One Way” directions to some secret entrance to the favor of God. Jesus speaks not to unbelievers but to us who already believe. We want to know “the way.” There is no “way,” Jesus says, no set of instructions, no formula, no Thing You Do to get to God. He says, “I am the way. Me.
Not beliefs about me, but me, myself.” We don't come to God on Jesus' coattails, behind him, or beside him, but through him. Inside him. Be Jesus. Be God's self-giving love embodied in the world. That's how you come to God. Be God's love for you (yes, yourself!)— which becomes God's love for the world. Get right inside that love. Move through it. We don't get close to God by our beliefs, even our righteous obedience. We get close through love. Love is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through love.”
And most of us “know” that the way to God is through love. Sometimes we forget it. Sometimes we toss it aside like a dirty rag when we believe our own righteous indignation at this, that or the other. Sometimes we’re so busy doing nothing and everything, we forget to stop and breathe - to breathe in the Holy Spirit.
If you’ve been watching anything these days, you’ve undoubtedly caught a glimpse of little parades celebrating birthdays or particular individuals. And sure enough, there was one here in Frankfort yesterday, celebrating a most wonderful 90 year old. There’s joy and excitement and regardless of what else is going on, there is often a smile from us - the ones watching the parade. When we stop, and close off the rest of the world, even for just a few moments, and breathe in the Holy Spirit, in that pause, angels may parade through the neighborhood of your soul. That’s the love that takes us through to God, to that place of comfortable anticipation of the place with many rooms that Jesus has prepared for us. So as we pray our way into the coming week, I’ll encourage you to close your eyes, breathe out all the possible air you can, and then breathe in - deeply - into the very toes of your being - and know that what you are breathing in is the love of God’s Spirit.
(Breathe out - in) Holy and Mothering God, we thank you for mothers, mothering people, those who help us learn the stuff we need to be good and mature people. You know even better than we do - how we forget those important lessons, or pretend that we don’t have to abide by them, or that we can make up our own rules to play in this game of Life. So forgive us, when we are reckless and insensitive to what people have done for us, on our behalves. Help us to honor them - and you - in living lives that reflect good answers - and questions. Thank you for your forgiveness and grace, love and peace, and all the other gifts you give us. Help us to be wise and strong and resilient followers of your heart. And all God’s people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.