“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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.
12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
It helps to understand today’s gospel if you imagine it as a movie. You’ve been watching this movie for at least 90 minutes. You watched the main character, Jesus, be born in that awful barn. You saw him grow up, you saw him baptized, and you saw him build his community and surround himself with these disciples. You’ve become attached not only to this guy, Jesus, but also to his disciples. You have gotten to know them through this movie, have come to feel the intimacy of their relationships, and you feel the same hopes and desires that they feel. You know that they are people who have struggled… people who long for a better day when they and their people will be able to live freely, people who have been taught, led, and cared for by Jesus. They follow him devotedly, and you, the viewer, you have come to follow him, too. They … and you… are inspired by him… they love him and never want to live without him. He is everything to them. They follow Jesus like children follow their mother… finding safety, love, and nurturing in Jesus… and you, the viewer, you feel their feelings. You feel that safety and love that Jesus brings.
And then… in the scene before today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.” Jesus explains that although they are going to look for him, they… you… cannot come where he is going. And, just as children burst into tears when their parents leave for the day, you feel the tears well up within you. Why does Jesus have to leave? We were finally becoming a true family…finally feeling surrounded by love and feeling truly fed by Jesus. Really? NOW, Jesus has to leave?
You relate to Peter when he protests. He says, Jesus, of course I can follow you. I WILL follow you… wherever you go. To the death, if I have to!!
That’s how you feel. You love Jesus. You feel SAFE with Jesus. Jesus must not leave. As you watch the scene unfold in this movie, you see that the other disciples are getting upset, too. What would they do without Jesus? They gave up their entire lives… they walked away from everything… so they could follow this man, learn from him, and become his family. And now… they finally are his family… and he is going to leave?
That’s what you’ve watched so far. That is the somber mood as we watch the current scene… today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus tries to comfort them… to soothe them. He insists still that he does have to leave, but it’s not forever. He will come back for them. Jesus will come and lead them to where he is going so they can all be together again. And besides, even if he doesn’t come back, they know where he’s going… they will come join him one day.
But wait… then one of the disciples speaks… we don’t know the way! How will we get there? Where are we going?
You, the viewer, you can feel the tension come back. Just as Jesus was beginning to soothe them, now the anxiety is up again as you realize… Thomas is right. We don’t know how to get there! How can Jesus just leave them… leave us… here all alone? We’ll never find him!!
But then Jesus speaks again, in his soothing, comforting tone… of course you know where I’m going. You all know God… the Father of all of us. You know God intimately, don’t you?
As the disciples slowly nod, you think about this. Well, yes… you know God. It’s not like you’ve ever SEEN God… but you have felt God’s presence. Sometimes more strongly than others. Yes, you suppose we do know God.
Jesus continues… if you know God, then you know me. Haven’t you figured that out, yet? We are one and the same, God and I. God is in me, and I am in him. No one comes to the Father except through me because I AM him. If you know me, you know God. And if you know God, then you know me.
Jesus’ words seem to be working, but the disciples still aren’t really sure…they want to believe, but they struggle. Can they really let this man go? Jesus was supposed to save their people, and now he’s going to leave? Who will lead their people?
Jesus speaks again – don’t they realize that they will lead their people? Don’t they realize that this is why Jesus has taught them… spent so much time with them… he has raised them like a mother raises a child, making them ready for the world. They will lead their people… and they will do even greater things than Jesus ever did!! Because they have more time. They don’t have to leave, yet. As you watch this scene unfold, you, the viewer, think about what that means… to lead their own people. And yet, those disciples are not with us anymore. Who must lead the people now? Today?
As you ponder these questions, our Gospel scene ends. You’ve seen this movie before, though, and you know that Jesus continues to soothe them, telling them they will not be alone. Jesus’ Spirit, God’s Spirit, will be with them. Not just with them, but IN them. God, the Spirit, abides in them… they will never be alone.
To never be alone… that’s a happy ending, right? Is it? Of course, we have the whole book… the whole bible… and we know what comes next. We know that Jesus dies… that he suffers… that he is crucified. And we know that these disciples… they suffer, too. Because that’s what it means to follow Jesus. It means choosing the more difficult path. It means suffering for others. In our first reading today, we hear about Stephen, who is so thrilled and full of joy as he sees “the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” We hear about how his shout of joy is followed with another awful death. And yet… even as he dies, he cries out his last mortal request to God… please… do not hold this sin against them.
This is what it means to follow Jesus. It means following the cross. The death. The crucifixion. And why? For the sake of the world. For the sake of those very same people who persecute you… who make fun of you… who throw all kinds of stones at you. But why would we do this?
In my previous life as a computer consultant, I did a lot of traveling. Being on an airplane had really never bothered me, but somehow, as I boarded more and more of them, it occurred to me one day that I was increasing my own odds of being in a crash. I remember, like it was today, sitting on that airplane, looking out the window, and thinking about how, every time I boarded a flight, I was making it more likely. My mind started to imagine it… the airplane crash. What if… what if it crashed and I didn’t survive? I’m so young (I was back then!)… I don’t want to die, yet!
My mind jumped around with all these horrible thoughts, and as I clung to life, I began to panic. I began to think that… if I did ever get off this plane, I would never get on one again. I began to hyperventilate… trying to keep myself breathing.
And then… suddenly… a sense of peace overtook me. I felt my nerves settle down. I closed my eyes, and it was so clear… so present… God was with me. I could feel Jesus’ touch in my body. I could hear his soothing, comforting tone… the same one we heard in the movie… I could hear him telling me… Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust God… trust me… I am in you, and you are in me. You will never be alone.
As I let myself soak in these comforting words of Jesus, I knew it was going to be ok. Now… here’s the kicker. I did NOT suddenly think that my plane was not going to crash. I still recognized that as a distinct possibility… a possibility that became more and more possible every time I boarded a plane. And… I did NOT suddenly think that, if my plan DID crash, God would protect me so that I would survive. I knew, deep within me, that that is not how God works. Those thoughts of how the plane might crash, and I might die, and how much I wanted to live, they all still flooded my mind. But they were no longer frantically bouncing around… instead, they were mere facts… possibilities… and they didn’t matter. Because God is with me. Yes, I might crash. But God is with me. Yes, I might even die. But God is with me.
That is also what it means to follow Jesus. It means trusting God’s promise. It means trusting Jesus. It means knowing you will never be alone. Following Jesus means following the cross… following the crucifixion… putting yourself out there, your body, your mind, your very being, out in the world in order to bring God’s love into the world, knowing that your mortal life may not be saved… while trusting God to hold you, knowing you will never be alone.
Today is Confirmation Sunday. Teenagers in our community will make a public affirmation of their baptism. This is their public and verbal acceptance of a gift God gave them long ago. They will say that they renounce the devil, the powers of this world, and the ways of sin. They will recite the creed, words of belief that a council of men, long ago, came together to write in affirmation of their faith. They will say these words with full awareness of what this means, because they have spent many Sundays in Confirmation Class. Learning about the Bible. Learning about Jesus. Learning about our history as a people of God. And now, today, here they are, ready to profess their faith… to say, “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
I must be honest… I wish what they will say is not these “I believe…” statements, but rather, “I trust” statements. Because… even though the translation of today’s Gospel that I proclaimed says, “I believe,” the Greek, the original word in our Scriptures, is better translated as “I trust.” The kind of belief Jesus is talking about is not a matter of professing a faith, but rather trusting God… trusting Jesus… or at least trying, over and over again, to trust God… in all that you do. And so I hope… I pray… they have all learned to trust. Because that is true salvation. If you but trust in God to guide you, if you but listen for God’s voice, if you watch for God, wait for the opportunities to do God’s work… be that by feeding the poor, or standing up for justice… I promise… even in the times when you do NOT feel God’s presence, God IS with you. For Jesus promises… just as God is in Jesus, and Jesus in God… God is in you, too. And you will never be alone.