Preached at St. Luke’s, Bethesda, 5/22/11. John 14:1-14
he poet Langston Hughes wrote a short poem called “My People.” It goes like this: The night is beautiful, So, the face of my people….The stars are beautiful…..So the eyes of my people… Beautiful also, is the sun. Beautiful, also are the souls of my people….. This triptych of face, eyes and souls came to mind today when I read our Gospel passage with Jesus providing his own triptych when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and then he says twice “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” These two utterances of Jesus basically sum up much of John’s Gospel: whose main theme centers on the unity of God and Jesus. Yet even Thomas and Philip do not understand or believe: Thomas is unsure of how to find Jesus when he goes away; and Philip wants to be shown God the Father. These two, Thomas and Philip, have been with Jesus for three years and they still don’t understand. And yet they yearn to understand, they yearn for a closeness to God.
Jesus does not get angry or lose his patience at Thomas and Philip’s doubts and requests. Jesus does not mock their doubt and their lack of understanding. Instead, Jesus responds, he explains as best he can. To Thomas’ question in regard to not knowing the way, Jesus replies that he is the way, he is the truth, that he is the life. To Phillip, Jesus reiterates that anyone who has seen him has seen God…. Jesus also gives Philip a different way to believe when he says “then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus continues by saying “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Something else these disciples yearn to do, just as many of us do, as well: these works.
When we think of “the works” of Jesus we many times think of miracles: healing the blind, making the lame walk or some other miracle of healing. We can also think of Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John where he turns water into wine. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” This promise can give hope to those of us who are wine lovers. Maybe we will be able to do things like that. But no, when we are out of Malbec, we can wave our arms over a carafe of water all we want, eventually we will still have to go to the store and buy some more wine.
What are these works to which Jesus refers? What can those of us who believe, or struggle to believe, actually do? The works of God are many and varied. Jesus had his and we have ours. Once in a great while there is a healing that can only be described as a miracle, and everyone is taken aback by it. But, generally, the works of God in which we are involved are different and can go, so easily, unobserved.
Yet, these acts, these works do exhibit God’s hand in our world: and these are where we act in certain ways that effectuate the kingdom’s happening now, here among us. In Logan County, Oklahoma recently, a 74 year old individual experienced just such an action. Marland was driving his pickup truck home, and went to cross the creek bed he had been crossing for 50 years without incident and his truck got swept away by flood-waters.
The flooding around the Mississippi has been severe these past few weeks, but Marland over in OK just did not expect the waters of his creek to be so deep, nor the current to be so strong, but wash him down stream it did. Some tree limbs that stopped him from swirling further down the river finally snagged his truck. He climbed on top of his truck (not bad for a 74 year old!). He thought about trying to swim to the shoreline, but was talked out of it by two passing strangers, who insisted that he wait for help. Each of these two strangers tried to reach Marland but couldn’t get close enough to the truck without the current almost washing them downstream.
Both of these strangers waited on the shore, keeping Marland company, while he sat on his pickup truck’s roof. Help finally came by way of some boats that made a life-line, so to speak, to reach Marland and his pickup, bringing him to safety and a continuation of life that could have been snatched away that day. A seemingly small act of kindness by two strangers helped save a life. A miracle? Probably not. A work of God talked about in today’s Gospel? Possibly. By staying with Marland, keeping him calm until help could come, these two anonymous individuals were performing God’s work in the world today in a personal way
“I am in the Father and the Father is in me” is such a personal statement being made by Jesus. This is personal, meant to get under our skin, like someone we love can get under our skin, become a part of us. Thomas and Philip where trying to understand this, and by asking questions they were trying to let these ideas of Jesus become personal for them too. It is part of their yearning to be God’s people in the world that we can feel so keenly at times. That yearning that we hear about in 1 Peter today. That yearning that led Stephen to become the first martyr of the new Church we hear about in our Acts reading.
By engaging these questions, by the simple act of actually asking the questions, we are making them personal, letting them get under our skin….. God can be found in these questions…Not completely understanding the Gospel accounts we hear is okay and delving into their meaning is what we are called to do. Having doubts is a natural and important part of that exploration. Look at how Jesus replied to Thomas and Philip today. He lovingly told them it was okay:….. no one needs to be ashamed of having doubts. This questioning is part of letting it get under our skin, making it personal and is part of doing God’s work….. Those questions are part of doing God’s work.
The results of God’s work can sometimes be immediate, having instant results as shown by the story of Marland, his pickup truck and the creek. As we know, most of God’s works are slow and harder to clearly identify. Neither of these types of work are magic in any way, shape, manner or form…... All of these works are profoundly holy in the way all the works of God are holy: they take our yearnings and what happens here on earth and, in our response, they give us a glimpse of heaven. As Langston Hughes said, our beautiful faces, our beautiful eyes, our beautiful souls yearn for God; and our actions make that yearning transform into the palpable presence of Jesus’ face seen in each other’s faces, eyes and souls. Amen.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cherry Blossoms, jfd+ 2010