How often do we hear the phrase, these are troubling times, or these are not normal times? I must hear it at least five times a week and I have to admit that I have said it myself. Many people are scared and I think that some people are truly afraid that they or someone they love will fall ill and die; but I think that the majority of people are more afraid of the fact that they cannot control the future. We do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, we do not know how many people will die from the pandemic, we do not know how long the economy will take to recover, we do not know if we will ever go back to the way it was. The disciples did not know either. They did not know how much longer they would have with Jesus. They knew the end would come, and probably soon, but they did not know when. They also did not know what it would be like after Jesus left. They did not know who would lead them? They did not understand how or why God could send them the messiah, take him away, bring him back and then take him away again. All these things, these unknowns, are troubling, and I do not mean intellectually, they are troubling to the human heart. I think that one of the reasons we find our current situation troubling is because, deep down, we know that there is truly nothing we can do except wait.
Thomas, who was clearly worried, told Jesus that they did not know how to follow him to where he was going and Jesus responded by telling them that if they know him then they know his father and that is how they, we, will be able to go where he is going; to this, Philip, who appears to be making it look like her gets it, which he doesn’t, replies by asking Jesus to show them the father so that they will then know what to do and where to go. This situation reminds me of so many conversations I have had with students about assignments. When I assign a presentation, I will inevitably get a thousand questions. How long does it need to be? Ten minutes. Do I have to do a PowerPoint? No. Then what can I do? Anything you want? Can I do a Prezi? Yes you can. How many slides should I have? I thought you didn’t want to do a PowerPoint? I changed my mind. So, how many slides do I need? As many as it takes to fill ten minutes. What should be on my slides? Your research. Can I have pictures on my slides? To which I want to say, No the slides have to be blank, no words, no pictures, not even a background color, I want you to just stand there with a blank screen and stare at the class for ten minutes and then I will give you an A; but of course that is not how I respond, I try to respond calmly and without sarcasm, just as Jesus does as his disciples, once again, try to understand what he is telling them; which begs the question, what is he telling them?
Sometimes I think the gospel writers purposely hide their messages in metaphors, wrapped in enigmas, wrapped in classic idioms, and then, for good measure, they fold all of that into another metaphor just for good measure. In this particular chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is explaining several things, but I think that the most important, for today, is that it is through Jesus that we find our connection to God; but that is an over simplification. Jesus is our connection to God because Jesus is God, he even says it. He says, and I am paraphrasing, “I am in the father and he is in me, but if you don’t believe because of that then believe because you have seen me do amazing things, things that only God can do. He doesn’t stop there though, he goes on to talk about how those that believe in him will also be able to do the work that he has done and they will need to because he is going to be with his father. God coming to live among us is a choice. It was and is a sign that God has chosen us, we did not choose God, God created us and then God has spent the rest of time choosing us, not out of a sense of duty, not out of obligation, but because God is love and has chosen to not be God without us. God could have very easily spoke creation into existence and then gone away and left us to our own devices; but God did not do that. God spoke and then God stuck around and that gives me comfort. It gives me comfort because there are so many things right now that are just uncertain, things that I wish I could control, but I can’t, and it is comforting to know that no matter what I do, no matter what we do, God will always choose us; even when we don’t choose God, even when we focus our attention on ourselves and ignore the command to love one another, God still chooses to love us and doesn’t ask for anything in return. The entirety of scripture points to this; the entirety of scripture is the story of God reaching out in love to creation and creation turning its back. What makes the coming of Jesus so fantastic is that God, who desperately wants us to love him in return, came to show us how to do it, to give a road map and what I find even more amazing is that Jesus didn’t say Love Me and worship me like a movie star, he said take care of each other, and then just before he returned to the father he sent the holy Spirit to be among us and in us so that they could continue to guide us. So if we really love God, need to heed the Holy Spirit and take care of that person over there, and that person over there because God loves them just as much as God loves us, and if we love them and care for them we are loving God because the Holy Spirit is not just in us, it is in everyone. At this very moment loving God means that we need to love our neighbor by staying away from them and it means that everything that we have built, the economy, our work, our fun, our lives must be put on hold as an act of love; love for neighbor and love for God. Amen.