Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Many Faces of God (Easter 5A, 14 May 2017)

The Many Faces of God
Reflections on John 14.1-14

Easter 5A
14 May 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

                  14.1 [Jesus said,] “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  2 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?  3 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.  4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  7 If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

                  8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  9 Jesus said to 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’?  10 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.  11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  12 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.  13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

I want someone with skin on.
            Anyone who preaches on a regular basis collects stories, some factual, some fictional, but all true.  I remember one from my later days in seminary.

            One night a father and his young daughter were home alone.  The little girl went to bed while her father remained nearby reading.  Shortly after she went to bed, a thunderstorm began to rage around their home.  After the first loud boom of thunder, the little girl called to her father, but he simply said, ‘You’re safe.  God is with you.’  A little later a second and louder boom shook the house.  Again she called for her father and again he assured her that she was safe and that God was with her.  Then came the third boom of thunder accompanied by sheets of rain and arrows of lightning.  Again the girl called out and again the father told her she was safe and in God’s keeping.  ‘I know that God is with me,’ she replied, ‘but I want someone with skin on.’

Jesus is God with skin on.
            What the little girl wanted is what we all want.  We want someone with skin on who will assure us that we are not alone, that we are safe and that the storms of our lives will pass by without destroying us.

            On the night before he was to suffer death, Jesus knows that his disciples are anxious.  He knows that they are afraid.  The short homily he gives in the opening verses of today’s gospel reading is all well and good, but it does not satisfy the deep human need to have a physical presence that reassures us, that accompanies us, that gives us hope.

            Philip asks Jesus to show us God, to break through the clouds that separate humanity from the divine, to give us the tangible proof that God has not abandoned us, especially in a moment of uncertainty and perhaps even terror.  And Jesus simply turns, perhaps smiles, perhaps raises an eyebrow and says, ‘Philip, have you not understood?  Have you not seen?  When you travel with me, when you believe in me, when you live as I live, you have seen God, you see God, you will see God.’
The way, the truth and the life
            Over the centuries Jesus’ simple statement that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ has been used by Christians to justify the oppression of those who differ from us.  In doing so we have forgotten the challenge that is embedded in these words.

            Jesus is the way.  In Jesus every human being is shown how to become more fully human.  But it is a life-long journey filled with successes and failures, with moments of faithfulness and occasions of betrayal, with courage and with cowardice.  I have sometimes thought that we should take a phrase from the marriage liturgy and insert it in the beginning of the baptismal liturgy:  ‘[Baptism] is a way of life that all should reverence, and none should lightly undertake.’ [1]

            Jesus is the truth.  In a society where political leaders can shamelessly use terms like ‘alternate facts’ as a euphemism for ‘lies’, ‘collateral damage’ as a euphemism for ‘the death of unarmed civilians’, and ‘globalism’ as a euphemism for ‘economic imperialism and colonialism’, the truth revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth is the rock upon which we take our stand.  And Jesus’ truth is that all God’s children deserve justice, that all who be great must love as God loves and that we are the stewards of creation not its overlords.

            Jesus is the life.  Every human being wants to be fully alive and to become the person that God intends her or him to become.  And because this is what we all truly desire, we look for life in all the wrong places:  in relationships based on unexamined needs rather than love, in the possession of more things rather than having enough, in the search for celebrity than the nurture of character.

            All around us are men and women, some who confess the Christian faith and some who do not, who walk the way of Jesus, who profess the truth of Jesus and who live the life of Jesus.  The faces of God surround us and we, like Philip, do not recognize them.

We shall do greater things.
            Today’s gospel ends with what I think is one of the more daunting statements about trying to follow Jesus, trying to believe in Jesus and trying to live the life of Jesus:  12 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.  By choosing to be a member of the Christian community, Jesus has laid on us the responsibility to be the face of God, to be ‘God with skin on’ in the here and now of our lives.

            When we turn to one another in a short while to exchange the peace, look carefully at the faces of the people we greet, for theirs are the many faces of God.  When we open our doors for the Boulevard Sale in a few weeks, our neighbours will gaze unsuspectingly on the many faces of God working to serve others.  When clients come to the Pastoral Resource Centre, they find themselves face to face with the God who draws near in the person of Christine and those who work with her.  When people who have been alienated from the Christian community gather in a circle later tonight in Saint Hildegard’s Sanctuary, Melanie and those who share in the leadership are the faces of the God who seeks us wherever we may be.

            Sunday after Sunday we gather here to look into the mirror of the Scriptures, the prayers offered, the bread broken and the wine poured, so that we can see how God’s face is found in our own.  We wash away the smudges that obscure God’s image in us, so that we can go forth from here into the thunder and lightning of everyday life to show the way, to proclaim the truth, to live the life.  Why?  Because we all need someone with skin on to assure us that we are not alone, that we are safe and that the storms of our lives will pass by without destroying us.

[1] The Book of Alternative Services 1985, 529.

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