Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Acts 7:55-60+Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16+1 Peter 2:2-10+John 14:1-14

Whenever I am leading a bible study and often in my preaching, I remind participants and listeners to always read whatever part of the bible they are studying in the context of what surrounds it. Most of us to not have time to take a deep dive into the cultural, sociological, political, and religious history of, for instance, the late 1st– early 2nd century era during which John’s gospel was likely written, but we can read a little of what comes before and a little of what comes after, just to situate what we’re hearing or reading with what’s happening around it.

I needed to remind myself of that this week, because I was getting so lost in the depth and breadth of the lectionary readings that I had no idea how I might flesh out these particular selections. And then I did what I am always telling others to do – I looked around the before and after parts of John 14:1-14.

It is helpful to know that books of the bible were not laid out in chapters and verses. By the 6th century or so, the Byzantine Church used a New Testament divided into sections, but it was not until the 13th century that chapters and verses came into use. And remember, that was before the printing press, so to say that it was regulated would be to overstate the case.

If I were in charge of things (and I most assuredly am not), I would have set aside the entire portion of John from chapter 13 through chapter 17. This would encompass the Jesus gathering with the disciples to wash their feet, the entire farewell discourse that goes from this chapter 14 through 16, and then what we call Jesus’s high priestly prayer over his disciples in chapter 17. And then, where Chapter 18 opens with his arrest would start a new section. But what do I know?

Anyway, after that digression, I return to my point. If we read the end of chapter 13, we see that Jesus, saying that he will only be with them for a little while longer, gives them a new commandment to love one another. Peter, astute as always, wants to know where he is going.

Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. (13:36-38)

That is the end of chapter 13. Pretend for a moment that there is no chapter division here, though. Jesus has told Peter that he, Peter, is going to fail him, deny him not once but three times, and the very next words out of Jesus’s mouth are, “But don’t worry about it. I got you. You’ll be with me where I am.”

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (14:1-3)

These words are often spoken at funerals. Words to comfort the bereaved with the assurance that God has prepared a place for our loved ones. But God has also prepared a place for us. No matter how many times we have failed, denied, and completely messed up, Jesus says, “No worries. I got this.”

Now, for many of us, Christianity has been something that is all about winners and losers, who’s in and who’s out, who’s saved and who’s not. And we generally put ourselves in the position of decider. See? It says right there, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), so you have to believe in Jesus like he’s some kind of gatekeeper to the Father. But when Philip asks to see the Father and then he will believe, Jesus says to him, “C’mon, y’all. How many times to I have to tell you that we are one and the same. You know me? Then you know God.”

About these words, Frederick Buechner writes

He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could “come to the Father.” He said that it was only by him—by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.[1]

The way of Jesus is to take on the pain of the world and to say, “God’s got this.” The stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Church that we read in Acts this morning, is a model of that. Maybe we aren’t going to be hauled before authorities and have to speak up for our faith, but we might have to do that with those who ridicule our participation in church, our “gullibility” for believing that an itinerant 1st century Palestinian preacher is the savior of the world.

But if the way of Jesus can’t save the world, what can?

If the way of love can’t save the world, what can?

There are many rooms in God’s house, enough for everyone. Enough for us.

The 16th century Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila believed that God’s mansion was within us. In her dazzling work, The Interior Castle, she writes about how God waits for us in a mansion of many rooms, and one principal room where God’s very self dwells and waits for us. Contemporary author and spiritual teacher Mirabai Starr introduces Teresa’s Interior Castle this way:

There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary.

As real as your own kitchen.

More real than that…

Constructed of the purest elements.

Overflowing with the ten thousand

beautiful things. Worlds within worlds,

forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets

thrown over featherbeds,

fountains bubbling beneath

a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests,

universal libraries. A wine-cellar

offering an intoxication so sweet

you will never be sober again.

A clarity so complete,

you will never again forget!

This magnificent refuge is inside you.

Enter.

Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway…

No one else controls access to this perfect place.

Give yourself your own unconditional permission to go there… Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for a dwelling place the core of your own being, because that is the most beautiful place in all of Creation.

Waste no time. Enter the center of your soul.[2]

In these days when uncertainty looms, when it seems easier to cast blame and look outside ourselves for the cause of our trouble, or to withdraw in fear and doubt, my family in Christ, remember that God’s got this. There is nothing we can say or do to gain or lose God’s love for us. God dwells within us so that we can share what is within us with all the world. Without fear. Without anxiety. Without hoarding it for ourselves. There’s plenty good room for all God’s children, as the old spiritual goes. There is enough. You are enough. God is enough.


[1] https://www.frederickbuechner.com/blog

[2] https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/28219

ASEPSermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas