Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

Following the Way

Readings: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-8, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Growing up as I did in a large family had its challenges. There were anxious moments where we felt that we were being treated unfairly. There were always five children vying for a window seat in our little Morris station wagon. Dinner at the dining room table meant that someone sat on a corner with the leg in their way. Seven people lined up to use one bathroom in the morning meant total chaos. But we lived in a mansion. At least that was how it seemed to our friends. The inner city rectory I grew up in was a grand old house. The entry opened into a large hall with a central staircase. There was a huge living room with an alcove and fireplace. Each child had his or her own bedroom. There was even a spare room for guests. Until it too became a bedroom, we had a playroom in the attic filled with toys. There was a wonderful backyard, an oasis in the inner city that attracted all the neighbourhood children.

Yet those doubts that come from being the youngest, or the oldest, or the middle of the pack still remained. We worried individually that we were not pretty enough or smart enough. We were worried that there was not enough love to go around and that we probably did not deserve it any way. Fears that life was not always fair made us anxious.

In the Gospel for today Jesus is addressing the disciples. Their hearts are anxious. They are concerned that God cannot accommodate them with their many differences. They are worried that if that happens they will be excluded, passed over for others who are more deserving or wealthier or cleverer.

They had been having an argument about who would be the greatest. It was self-serving, and so of course, it could not be resolved.

The problem for the disciples was in understanding how the grace of God works. They could not see how God could be so large. In a world of class and status they knew that they were at the bottom of the heap. They may be searching for upward mobility, for economic and political status. But they still doubt that they are even worthy of consideration. They are looking for validation from Jesus. And yet ironically they are simply part of a system that is being done to death in the events that are playing out before them. Their beloved leader is about to be executed. Unprepared though they might be, they are about to assume leadership for the fledgling faith community. If anyone needs to understand God’s grace it is the disciples.

Jesus assures them that in God’s house there are many rooms. It is a veritable mansion. There is a place for everyone. The way in is broad and expansive. It is also ambiguous, open, an enigma. Their skepticism remains. They simply cannot embrace the idea that the gospel is not about status. It has nothing to do with how clever or wealthy or important they are. It has to do with God’s choosing of them and their willingness to serve. If anything it is a gospel of equality and inclusivity.

Jesus might simply have dismissed the disciples’ fears. He might have thought they were being cowardly. He might have thought that given everything that was coming down there was simply no point in trying to alleviate their fears. But he understood the grace of God. He knew that the love of God is for everyone. He knew that these disciples were part of God’s plan, and he was not about to give up on them.

This gospel is addressed to each one of us. It is essential that we understand that. We need to know that despite our misgivings about our abilities, about our deeming of ourselves to be unworthy, God’s grace is accessible. Do we realize that God is with us and comes to others through us? Do we know that we are instruments of God’s grace to those around us?

Do we really know it? It is when life lives in us and death dies in us that we live out the Easter message. And that is easier said than done, because we are not very different from the disciples. We hear about God’s grace and think that it could not possibly be for us. We need to come away from this gospel knowing that God is always with us, really knowing and understanding it. We need to come away knowing that by God’s grace we are the way by which the Christian faith makes its claims. We are the truth about the Christian life. Our lives are the lives through which the Christian faith is judged. All of that is accessible to us through the free gift of God’s grace at work in our lives.

Why is it so difficult for us to accept God’s grace? That is what makes us fully alive in Christ. That is the heart of the gospel message. But how do we live out and apply that message in our lives?

The disciples faced the same dilemma. Philip said to Jesus, “Show us God and we will be satisfied.” I hear people saying exactly the same thing. They say it to me all the time. They say it out of their grief and sadness and despair. It is one of those if only … statements that we so often utter throughout our lives. “If only I could see God, then I would understand. If only God would give me a clear message! If only God had been there when …”

And Jesus had an answer for Philip as he has an answer for us. “Believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” And surely it is not enough to be shown. We cannot be satisfied with seeing God, with simply participating in a worshipping community. It is our action in the world that really matters. It is who we are in God. That is the ultimate test of the Christian faith. The world will know and understand the Christian message through our actions.

It is not what we say as Christians; it is what do, how we live our lives that brings us and those around us closer to God. It is the simple actions of a caring community that take place every day. It is the visit to a shut in, a kindly word, a note to someone going through a difficult time, a smile. Those are the actions that say we care.

That is exactly what Jesus said to the disciples. “Greater works than these you will do.” He does not expect them to perform astounding miracles. He expects that they will have a wider influence in proclaiming God’s word than he could even imagine. They will reach far beyond the area where Jesus’ ministry took place.

That expectation still holds true in the Christian Church in Meadowvale in 2008. We continue the mandate to do greater things. It is not enough to come to church to worship. We need to reach out to others with the message of the Gospel. In our daily lives we need to be the Church in the world. We come to church for spiritual nourishment and we reach out into a world that needs to share in the glory of the resurrection through our ministry. Our challenge is to receive the word of God and to pass in on so that the gospel message becomes the greater work we are called to perform. The challenge is to trust in God’s grace to enable us to live out our faith. Amen.

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