Sunday the 14th of May 2017
As some of you may know, I was not born into a Christian family. How I came to be in the Lutheran church was due to my next door neighbours asking me if I would like to come to Sunday school with their son, at the time I was five years old. My then Sunday School teacher Nola Waap began to teach me about the Christian faith. I still remember her classes, her taking the time to teach me Luther’s small catechism and her words of encouragement. So much so that when I was in my teenage years and even into my early twenties I used to remember her words of encouragement, her prayers with me and her gentle way of teaching me. I often look at my life and I give thanks to God for the way he worked through her to bring me to a place of faith in Jesus. And I often remember this time, and it has been particularly helpful when I have experienced times of discouragement.
In today’s Gospel reading from John 14 Jesus is preparing his disciples for their life ahead by giving them comfort and encouraging them. John 14 begins what is known as Jesus’ farewell speech. It begins his time of preparing them so that they could face what was ahead of them. And in preparing them he does not give them the answers to everything that the disciples will face. He doesn’t try to explain away what will happen. He does not give them simple answers and suggest that any of this will be easy. He does not try to rationalize what is to come. Rather, he starts with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” He encourages them not to be afraid but to trust him. In the years that will follow, these disciples will need to remember these words from Jesus, as they will face many challenges and difficulties.
Jesus was honest with them, he foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night. He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come (13:33). He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial. So it is no wonder that the disciples are troubled. Their Lord is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the stalwart leader among the disciples is said to be on the cusp of a great failure of loyalty. It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet. And yet he told them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” These words of Jesus were words that these disciples were going to have to remind themselves of many times as they journeyed through life with him.
Jesus impresses upon them the fundamental relationship of trust that they are to have in him and assures them that he is not abandoning them. Rather, he is returning to his Father, which is good news for them. In speaking of his ascension to the Father, Jesus assures his disciples that this is also their destination. There are many dwellings in his Father’s house, and he goes to prepare a place for them, so that they will be with him and dwell with him in his intimate relationship with the Father.
When Jesus says that they know the way to the place where he is going, Thomas takes Jesus quite literally. He wants directions, a road map to this place. He wants something from Jesus that is concrete, something that he can grasp, something that he can rely on. At that point, for Thomas, Jesus’ words were not enough.
I can’t help but think that we are more like Thomas that we like to admit sometimes. That we do have faith in Jesus, we do believe, but when the ground begins to shift beneath our feet, when the certainties that we thought we had about life are taken away, do we hear and trust Jesus’ words to us, or are his words not enough. Do we need something more concrete?
It is interesting how Jesus responds to Thomas; he does by saying: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. This statement by Jesus is a word of promise. It is a word spoken to them in comfort. And it highlights to these disciples and to us that Jesus himself is all that we need. Because of this there is no need to panic, there is no need to try to find a secret map or plan for life. Because it is all found in Him. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to fix their attention on him. And this is so important for us all. Because of our sinful natures we all have the temptations at our feet to run after other things, to be distracted by the trials of life, to focus our attention on things other than Jesus. We all face the dangers of trying to plan out our own lives according to how we want life to go. But Jesus was telling them as he is telling us that He is to be our focus in life.
If we want to know who God is, we need look no further than Jesus. All the words that Jesus has spoken, all the works that he has done, come from God and show us who God is.
God does have a plan for our lives as followers of Jesus. He is at work in our lives bringing about his purposes in us, not only as individuals but more importantly as his church across the world. You see the promises that Jesus gives us here have everything to do with life here and now. It has to do with the hope that we have in him, but it also has to do with how he entrusts us as his children with his mission to the world. He says: “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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (13-14)
If we are honest, many people find what Jesus tells us here hard to understand. How is it that you and I as his disciples are to be doing greater works than Jesus? The very idea that we can even contemplate doing things greater than Jesus is a stumbling block to many. Add to this that fact that Jesus tells us that he will do whatever we ask in his name. I suspect that nearly all of us have lived through pain in this life, where we have lived through times of desperately crying out to God in prayer and yet things have not changed. I suspect that many of us have thought at times how can these promises of Jesus be true?
The more I thought about these words from Jesus the more I pondered whether the problem is in our hearing of his words. How do you and I hear Jesus’ promises here? Do we expect God to do what we want him to do, and think that he will do it if we ask in Jesus’ name? Do we expect these greater works to look like that way Jesus did them, with miraculous power that instantly solves all our problems we face? In John’s Gospel we see that many people indeed did witness Jesus’ signs that he did, but they did not guarantee faith, in fact the overwhelming majority of those who saw Jesus at work had trouble seeing God working through him right before their very eyes.
The key here is to go back to the first verse. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” The very issues that you and I face are the very issues that all Christians face. The willingness to not be troubled but to trust. We do not pray to God based on results, but based upon his promise to us that he will hear us, and how and when he chooses to answer us is often a mystery. We pray to God trusting that he knows best, trusting that Jesus is with us no matter what we face. We do not always see the results of our prayers, or the work that he does in our lives, for that matter, but we step out in faith.
Knowing all of the issues that his disciples would face, Jesus gave them these words of encouragement. Knowing all that you and I are going to face, these same words of encouragement are spoken to you and me. And these words are something that is important for us to remember and to cling to. You and I, as his children who belong to our Heavenly Father through Jesus, are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus; as he has all things in his hands, no matter what happens, we need not to fear, but to put our trust in him.
I encourage you all to remember Jesus’ words to you, and to walk with him confidently trusting that our God always keeps his promises.