Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sermon: 5th Easter (April 20)

Jesus said, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 12-17)

Familiar to you? It is the passage from John we use on Maundy Thursday. It is the passage where Jesus washes the disciples feet and sets an example for us to follow. This is part of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John and sets the scene for our reading today. After the washing, Judas leaves the others to betray Jesus. The disciples are confused and agitated about what is going on. In the midst of this Jesus tells them: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 34 & 35)

But they cannot hear it, they are worried about what Jesus means that he is going and they cannot follow and then we hear the start of our reading from today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (John 14:1-2) Jesus’ words are meant to reassure his troubled disciples. It is no wonder this reading is often used at funerals because those words of reassurance are for us too. Believe me says Jesus, I will come to bring you to that place prepared for you in my father’s house.

But the disciples don’t entirely get it…
-Thomas: How can we know the way?
-Phillip: Show us the Father?

The Gospel of John in its first chapter tells us the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It is that truth that this 14th chapter shows, that it is Jesus who is the Son of God, who came down from heaven to be with us, who shows us the way to life and will bring us to his father’s house at the end of our days. Jesus said to the disciples, you have seen me, followed me, been part of it all, you know/seen the Father, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except by me.

That is our faith, our creed, our belief too. But when it comes to our living that truth out in our lives, of loving one another, of believing in Jesus and trying to follow his ways, we find that we often go on diverse paths and see God working in different ways.

For Stephen, who was one of the “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), he is chosen by the apostles to distribute food and care for the widows in Jerusalem. From this call, Stephen, became the first to do what the Church has called the work and ministry of a deacon. However his work, led him to preach and live out his faith in ways that got him into conflict with the religious leaders who as we heard in the first reading from Acts this morning led him out of the city and stoned him to death, but not before he continued to speak about his faith in which he had a vision of seeing the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God and asked God not to hold this sin against them. For Steven, he understood his faith, and he followed Jesus, the way, the truth, the life, even as he was led to his death.

Sometimes not following the way, leads us down the wrong path. I have just enjoyed reading the book, Prince Caspian which is part of the Chronicles of Narnia, written by that great author and Anglican C.S, Lewis. Prince Caspian takes place hundreds of years after the first book, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. A time when the people who now inhabit Narnia have forgotten and do not know about Aslan, the stone table or even talking animals. In one part of the book, the youngest of the Pevensie children, Lucy, believes she has seen Aslan the Lion as they travel to help Prince Caspian.

Aslan who in many ways symbolically represents Christ, is not seen by the other children, Peter, Susan and Edmond and they doubt their youngest sister has seen him. Lucy tells them that Aslan has told them to follow him (which looked like a very difficult path), even as she struggles to say how Aslan has signaled this, Peter and the others who did not see him decide to follow what they thought was a better route, which nearly resulted in their capture. Lucy finally convinces the others to follow her (because she is going whether or not they follow her) and along the way, they realize that this was the right path all along and Lucy was right. Their eyes are opened and they see Aslan in front, guiding them. Each apologizes and Aslan tells Susan that she has "listened to fears." Which is true of all Lucy’s siblings…

Such coming to faith, overcoming our fears, is what our lives are about.

For Stephen, chosen by apostles to be a deacon in the midst of Jerusalem caring and sharing with those in need. He was following the Lord’s example, he was loving others and he followed the way, the truth and the life even as it meant certain death.

For Lucy, it is realizing what she was seeing in faith, that was Aslan before her. And she would not let the others who denied it to convince her otherwise. And her faith ruled the day.

Fear holds us back. The path that Jesus has laid before us is there. It is not the easiest route but it is the one that leads us to the way, the truth and the life. Other paths will only put us where we don’t want to be. Our troubled hearts may want us to strike out on our own. To choose what we think is the right or safest path.

But to know that abundant life promised to us, we must be willing to lose our lives in order to gain them, to understand that Jesus is leading us to the fullest life and finally to the father’s house with so many rooms, with so many we know there. May we celebrate this Easter season by following Christ’s “way” to God through love and service like St. Stephen; may Christ’s vision of “truth” open our eyes to our lives and our world just like those children of Narnia; and may the “life” of his Resurrection lead us to fruitful lives, overcoming all fears, for Jesus reminds us, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

May we be so blessed. Amen.

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