Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 28, 2023

YEAR A 2023 feast of pentecost

Pentecost, 2023
Acts 2:1-21
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23
Psalm 104:25-35, 37

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

After what I’ve been through the past week, that sentence hits differently for me this year.  Two weeks ago, I gathered together with all the Clergy of the Diocese for our annual Clergy Conference.  We talked, and sang, and laughed, and ate together, and . . . breathed on each other.  And—to no one’s surprise in hindsight—almost half of us got infected with the covid 19 virus.  My three-year streak was up; it had finally happened to me.

However, since every single one of us was fully vaccinated, symptoms were universally mild, thank God and science.  And, prior to vaccines, we certainly would have had many tragic outcomes . . . that I don’t even want to think about.  Covid 19 is still a deadly virus.  And it is passed through through the air . . . by breathing on one another.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

And how disruptive this all was for me and the people in my life.  We had to cancel Vestry, and our Wednesday service, and we eventually canceled choir practice.  At home, I  had to sleep in a different bed, and spend my days wearing a mask in the sunroom.  Cristin and Leonard ate at the dining room table while I sat on the front porch by myself.  I couldn’t do any shopping; I couldn’t come to the office.  Even though my symptoms were mild, everything changed because someone had breathed on me.  Somebody breathed on me, and it turned the world upside down.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Now, of course, the analogy breaks down quickly.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t kill people when Jesus breathes on them.  But the coming of the Holy Spirit changes everything for the disciples, and everyone they know, and everyone who will come after them.  Nothing is the same after the Day of Pentecost.  The disciples themselves go from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming the gospel in the streets.  From being afraid of their own shadows, to being afraid of no one and no thing.  The transformation is dramatic, and it turns the world upside down.

So, did the breath of Jesus literally contain the Holy Spirit?  I don’t know, but it sure sounds weird to me.  And in a sense, it doesn’t really matter, because the metaphor is so great!  And it just grows as you think about the importance of breath.  In many cultures, a child is not considered to be born until she takes her first breath.  And—as I’ve told you before—there’s a connection in the Hebrew language between breath, and spirit, and wind.  In the very beginning, in the second verse of Genesis, the Spirit of God, the breath of God moves over the face of the earth.

And how does God create everything?  By speaking it into existence.  God says, “Let their be,” and there is.  The breath of God creates everything that is.  And at the beginning of John’s gospel, we get “In the beginning was the word,” the logos, the spoken word.  God speaks, and Jesus is the spoken word.  And then Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, and they begin to proclaim the gospel through their own spoken words.  And it all happens through breath.  The breathing in and breathing out.

The Holy Spirit has been breathed into your life, and that is why you are here today.  If you think about it, you probably didn’t decide your way into Christianity.  I sure as heck did not decide to become a priest!  At some point in your life, or more likely at many points in your life, God’s Holy Spirit breathed into your life, and it changes everything.  Because, here you are today, brought back into this assembly, maybe not even knowing why you are here.

As I said a few minutes ago, “Even though my symptoms were mild, everything changed because someone had breathed on me.”  How much that describes our life in Christ’s Church!  Even though the symptoms may seem mild, everything changes when the Holy Spirit is breathed onto us.

And God’s Spirit keeps breathing into our community and into the world.  Every time we get a glimpse of things being how they were meant to be, the Spirit is at work.  When the hungry are fed with good things, when the captives are set free, when justice rolls down like a mighty river, when the lowly are lifted up, and the mighty are cast down, when the lion and the lamb lie down together, when swords are beaten into plowshares . . . when the world is turned upside down, it’s because the Holy Spirit is on the move.  Breathing life into our hearts, and bringing life out of death.

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Breathe on us today, Lord Jesus, and hasten the coming of your kingdom.


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 7

Easter 7, 2023
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As Albert Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”  Perhaps part of what led Einstein to that conclusion was reading the Gospel according to John.  The other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are called “synoptic” gospels, because they sort of agree.  They have similar stories, with similar wording.  Two of them have the stories about Jesus’ birth, which we mash together into a pageant at Christmas time.  But John’s Gospel has no mention of the birth or the Temptation of Jesus, or the Transfiguration, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the Lord’s Prayer.

The synoptics, most scholars agree, were written together in a sense.  That is, they had common source material, or access to one another’s texts.  Some material is exactly the same in Matthew Mark and Luke, and much of the rest is very similar, with some exceptions.  But John’s gospel brings in all sorts of different stories and teachings, such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and what we call the Farewell Discourse, which we’ve been hearing this month.  John has completely different ideas about time too.

The Gospel of John starts at the beginning . . . of everything.  He puts Jesus there at creation: In the beginning was the Word—that is, Jesus.  Though the other Gospels don’t deny that Jesus is eternal, they all start their narrative with Jesus’ being born or being baptized.  Only John takes it back to the start of everything and lays it out: before there was anything, there was Jesus.  Time does not exist for John the way it exists for other writers.  He seems unwilling to be held back by the conventions of a linear progression of time.  For John—like Einstein—time is an illusion.

So, throughout John’s gospel, we can’t really tell where we are in the timeline of things.  In many cases, Jesus is talking about something to his disciples, but then the narrator steps in and explains that they didn’t understand because he had not yet risen from the dead.  It’s like we’re looking back with the author on things that have already happened, but are then tossed right back into the story in the next sentence.  Time moves forward and backward with John.  

And the reason I tell you all this is because I want you to keep in mind that John is not all that interested in giving us an accurate account of the events of Jesus’ life, per se.  John seems much more interested in the point of Jesus’ life.  In his gospel, John does not so much care about the who what where and when; John wants to tell us why.  Which is why John gives us big sweeping statements about Jesus’ coming so that we might have life.  For John, the Kingdom of God gets replaced by life and everlasting life (which we’ll come back to in a bit).

So, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things John’s gospel includes is the so-called Farewell Discourse, which starts right after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.  We’ve been hearing pieces of it all month.  Jesus is giving explanations about why he does what he does, and what it means for the disciples, and so on.  And then, Jesus lifts his eyes heavenward and begins to pray, which is the beginning of today’s gospel reading.

Now keep in mind, starting with that foot washing, Jesus has been telling the disciples everything he wants them to know.  Everything.  It’s like the World’s Greatest Catechism Class.  And it’s . . . a lot!  But, now he begins to pray.  Straight from what is a long lecture of deep material into a “let’s pray” conclusion.  The disciples’ heads are surely spinning, trying to grasp some very heavy theology, and if they’re anything like us, they are not really going to follow along as Jesus starts praying.  After three chapters of deep concepts, they’re probably ready to just kind of zone out and let Jesus pray.

So Jesus lifts his eyes and starts praying.  And what does Jesus pray for?  His disciples.  He prays for us.  But he starts with some very weighty concepts that only John would write down . . . they are mine and what’s mine is yours as you are me and we are all together.  You know, like The Beatles.  But at the end of those confusing phrases, we get this: “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

When Jesus prays to the Father, it is God talking to God.  A united God having a conversation with God.  When Jesus asks God for something, it is not in an effort to change God’s mind.  Jesus is not trying to persuade himself to do something for us, you see?  Jesus prays to the Father, in front of the disciples, so that they will hear him doing so.  It’s like, the point of the prayer is to let the disciples know that these things are already done.  They can trust that they are protected and will be one, as God is one.

And then here’s a classic moment from John that Einstein would appreciate:  Jesus says, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”  Picture the scene.  He’s right there with the disciples.  He’s not only in the world, he’s in the room, in front of their bowed heads and peeking eyes, saying, “I am no longer in the world.”  It would be awfully strange in any other Gospel, but in John’s World we look for the why, not the who what where and when.  

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”  The disciples are with Jesus when he says this.  If he is no longer in the world, then they are no longer in the world.  And, if they are in the world, then he is in the world.  You see what this means?  There’s kind of a bridge between “in the world” and “not in the world.”  If Jesus is ascended and yet in the room, and the disciples are in that room and yet with Jesus . . . Well, for one thing, it means that Jesus is not bound by the physical limitations of time and space.  And, as Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”

So remove time from the picture completely and just use statements of what we believe:  Jesus is present with us, but is also no longer in the world.

Jesus is praying to the Father (which is kind of like God thinking aloud) that we would be protected, and that we would be one as God is one.  God is with us, and protecting us, and actually wants what is best for us: That we would have eternal life.

I said we’d come back to eternal life, and here we are.  Jesus says, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

You notice how very different that is from saying, “And when they die, may they all go to heaven.”  In the other gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke, Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God, or heaven.  In John’s gospel, Jesus uses life, and eternal life, rather than kingdom and heaven.  Life, and eternal life.  And in this prayer we heard today, Jesus even tells us what eternal life means: “That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

That is eternal life.  Knowing God and knowing Jesus.  

One of the stumbling blocks of John’s Gospel is that he often leaves us with more questions than answers.  And the immediate question from us today is, Well, what does it mean to know God and Jesus?  To be honest, I think the answer can be different for every single person.  But it has hints of being about a relationship, doesn’t it?  To know God and know Jesus implies we spend time with them.  Learn about them.  Talk to them.  Get to know their friends—the ones we call the saints.  Over the course of our lives, we do come to know God and Jesus Christ, and have life, just as Jesus prayed that we might.

To know God, and to know Jesus.  And here’s what I truly love about getting to know someone: The chance to share a meal together.  To break bread together.  Coming to someone’s house to share bread and wine builds bridges that span the meager bounds of time.

And today as we share this meal of the body and blood of Jesus, God comes to you in a way only John could understand.  In the world, and not in the world.  Truly present, yet truly ascended.  And in this meal, we are united as one—just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one—with the saints of every time and every place.  And for us, this is proof that Einstein was indeed right: Time is an illusion.  And for that, I am very grateful indeed.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

YEAR A 2023 ascension evensong

Ascension Evensong, 2023
Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53
Psalm 47

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Ascension of Jesus.  Some will say it is a literal, factual event.  Some will say it is a metaphor for something else.  Some will say it’s completely made up by Luke the Evangelist.  But everyone will agree:  it is a mystery.

There are paintings, but no photographs.  There are Luke’s accounts in his gospel and the book of Acts, but no newspaper accounts.  Maybe it happened just as Luke described; maybe not.  People will honestly disagree about the veracity of it, but the importance of it remains, nonetheless.  And yet, if we’re truly honest, even the importance of it will be different for different people.  So I’m just going to go ahead and tell you what I think, acknowledging that your mileage may vary.  

And I guess what I’m going to say to you is more like a logic puzzle than it is a theological position.  So . . . 

After Jesus rises from the grave—in whatever physical form that was—he was once again in a body that was located in a particular place and time.  Standing on the shore in Galilee, talking to his his disciples.  If not for the Ascension, we would all be able to say, “Jesus is in Galilee.”  Which would mean, Jesus is not in Massillon, or Chicago, or Paris.  Just as you cannot be sitting in this room tonight while also being in Los Angeles, having a physical form in time and space means you cannot be two places at once.  (To the nit-pickers, I am leaving quantum physics out of this example, so don’t @ me.)

So, if the physically resurrected Jesus cannot be in two places at once, and if we know he is in one place, then that means he cannot be in another place at the same time.  If Jesus is in Montreal, he cannot be in Massillon.  Which is why the Ascension of Jesus changes everything.

Because—no matter what you believe about this story being literal, metaphorical, or mythical—the Ascension of Jesus means that he is able to be anywhere at any time.  Only by departing from us can he be present among us.  Only by leaving this world can he be in this world.  Just as he can only be resurrected by first dying, Jesus can only be with us by leaving us

I know.  It’s heady stuff.  But my main point is this:  The Ascension of Jesus is not a sign that he has abandoned us.  To the contrary, the Ascension of Jesus means that he is with us, everywhere, all the time.  By returning to the Father, Jesus can be with you, with me, with everyone.  He is no longer trapped in one place at one time.  He is—as the title of the movie says—Everything Everywhere All At Once.

We cannot fully and honestly understand the Ascension.  But together, like the disciples, we look up into the sky, knowing that Jesus is still with us, and trusting that Jesus will return to gather us together with the living and the dead, to a resurrected life, with the source of all life.


Sunday, May 14, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 6

 Easter 6, 2023
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:7-18
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this morning’s gospel text picks up where we left off last week, and that means that—even though we’re still in the Easter season—we’re back to hearing about the night before Jesus dies.  And to make sense of this passage, we really need to keep one foot on each side of Easter.  Because, in the gospel timeline, he has not yet died, but in the Church year, he has already died and is risen.  So, we need to keep both of those times in mind when we hear these words from Jesus to his disciples.

And then, just to complicate things a little more, I’ll remind you that this text was written more than 100 years after Jesus’ death.  AND, here you and I are today, trying to understand it 1900 years after that.  Just like last week, we’re all over the map as far as timelines, which fits perfectly with today’s reading from Acts, which we don’t have time to deal with today, so come back in three years, when it will come up again.  As Doctor WHO says, time is really just a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

And now, sidebar time: I will tell you that this is a good Sunday to take careful notes, in case you ever want to have me brought up on charges of heresy.   Because what I am going to say this morning may strike you as contrary to everything you have ever heard about God.  I’m not saying I am a heretic, but you may want to keep your pencils ready, just in case.

Okay, back to the text . . .  At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus is giving something of a pep talk to the disciples.  He is trying to encourage them in advance of his departure, and part of his reassurance is that he will be sending the Holy Spirit (or paraklete) to guide them into truth.  Now paraklete is a Greek word that gets translated something like, counselor, or comforter, or advocate.  It literally means, a person called to your side.  Counselor, comforter, advocate.  And to our 21st century American ears, that usually gets us thinking about something having to do with a court of law.

In fact, many people will tell you this is the way to think of it, claiming that the Spirit is our advocate and counselor before the judgment seat of God.  That is, the Spirit will argue on our behalf, so that God will not smite us into everlasting damnation.  Essentially, that way of seeing things would lead us to these two conclusions:

1. God the Father wants to judge us, and judge us harshly.  And,
2. The Holy Spirit is like the ultimate lawyer, defending each one of us against the punishments of this harsh judge.

To the first point there, about who will judge us, I will just say that we believe—as we say in the Nicene Creed every single Sunday—that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.  The judging God of popular imagination (you know, with the beard and the lightning bolt) is the Greek god Zeus, not the God of Abraham.  Jesus will judge us, and in case you’ve never heard it before, I’ll give you this spoiler: it turns out, Jesus loves you.  Enough to give up his life for you.  You do not need a defense attorney when you appear before Jesus, because he is the one who loves and welcomes you!

And, to the second point—that the Holy Spirit defends us in the Court of God—I want to remind you that God is united, not divided.  We do not need for one person of the Trinity to defend us against another person of the Trinity.  It is just plain silly to think that Jesus saves you from the wrath of the Father.  Or that the Holy Spirit argues God out of burning you forever.  It does not even make sense to think that the God who created you really just wants to kill you with everlasting fire, and is only thwarted by that pesky Jesus fellow.  Or that God only decides not to punish you because that cracker jack lawyer the Holy Spirit builds an amazing case that will get you sprung from the gallows.

But, to be clear, the Episcopal Church is not a “confessional church.”  And that means, I will not spend much energy telling you specifically what to believe, because we are a broad tent.  And that also means, you are certainly welcome and encouraged to disagree with me any given Sunday.

I will not often tell you exactly what you should believe about God; but I am very comfortable telling you what you should not believe about God.  And this is one of those days: I am telling you as clearly as I can . . . Do not believe that our creator God’s true nature is one of punishment and damnation.  Do not believe that Jesus saves you from the Father, as though God were somehow divided.  Do not believe that the God who created you is actually out to kill you, or that you need some advocate in the court of the vengeful god Zeus.  There is no basis for believing those things . . . except that everyone else already believes them.

So, with my haranguing out of the way, if the Holy Spirit is not our heavenly lawyer, then what do we do with this idea of the Spirit being an Advocate, or Counselor?  Well, let’s try looking at it from a different perspective.  Jesus says he is sending an advocate.  So, what if Jesus is sending the Advocate to make God’s case TO us?  What if the Paraklete comes to our side to make God’s appeal to our judging hearts? 

Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”  Notice that he says, “another Advocate.”  Seems that maybe Jesus is the first Advocate, doesn’t it?   Like Jesus came to make the case, to show us the love of God in his words and deeds, and now another Advocate will come to continue to make the case to us.  But, “the case” seems the wrong term, really.  “The case” sounds like legal talk.  No, for this, we need something much more powerful than legalese: for this we need literature!

Have you ever read the play, “Cyrano de Bergerac?”  Or, seen the movie?  Or seen the Steve Martin version, “Roxanne?”  Even if you haven’t, you kind of know the plot, I’m sure.  The unsightly Cyrano loves Roxanne, but ends up putting his words into the mouth of Christian, and he captures Roxanne’s heart through this messenger, or advocate . . . and it’s hard to tell which one is the advocate for the other, to be honest.  Now, you never want to press an analogy like this too far, but since we’re dealing with John’s gospel, let’s go for it!  The great lengths that Christian and Cyrano go to in order to win Roxanne’s heart are perhaps a good glimpse of the effort that God goes through to win our hearts.  It’s not a court of law, you see?  It’s a romance!

In this heavenly romance, the Advocate is not sent to be our helper in the courtroom, but is sent by God to win our hearts.  What if God loved the world so much that he sent his only son?  Doesn’t Jesus show the ultimate depths of God’s love for you, in that he is willing to lay down his life proclaiming the love of God?  Jesus walks among us, preaches the Good News to us, and then . . . well . . . we don’t want to hear it.  His courtship is rejected in the Court of Human Hearts.

But God does not give up.  Now here comes the Advocate to deliver the same message.  And, in a way, the Holy Spirit becomes like the Heavenly Postal-Carrier with a certified letter.  The Spirit has a message for you, and will make repeated delivery attempts throughout all your earthly days.  Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night will prevent this Advocate from Her appointed rounds.  The Spirit knocks on your heart’s door with the message of God’s love, and will continue to do so forever, because forever is how long God’s love for you lasts.

And do you want to know the contents of the letter the Spirit is trying to deliver?  Of course you do!  It’s a long message, but I will tell you the most important part of the letter.  Jesus says it himself in today’s Gospel:  Because I live, you also will live.

There’s a lot more to the message, of course, but it all grows out of that main point: Because I live, you also will live. 

And the importance of that message just increases, because of the time confusion that I mentioned in the beginning.  Jesus is talking to the disciples in that room before his death.  But Jesus is also talking to the community in which the words were written 100 years after his death.  And Jesus is also talking to us, gathered here in Massillon 1900 years after that. 

AND, he’s making a promise to all these listeners throughout the centuries that we can fully live our lives right here and now, because he lives.  And at the same time, also making a promise to us about what will happen when our lives are over . . . in all these groups of listeners, across the ages, because he lives, we live, and also will live.  All the people, of every wibbly wobbly timey wimey space will live.  Both in the here and now, and in the final judgement.  Jesus is pleading his case, which the Spirit continues to plead to our hearts:  Because Jesus lives, we also will live.  And, because Jesus lives, we live . . . right here, right now.

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, comes to each one of us, constantly and continuously delivering the most important message in the universe:  Because Jesus lives, you live, and you will live.  Everything else in life grows out of that message.  It is a message of love, a message of forgiveness, a message to live your life without fear and trembling.  You don’t need an advocate to plead your case in the judgment court of Zeus and his thunderbolts.  But you do need an Advocate to plead God’s case before the judgment of your own human heart.

We cannot come to Jesus unless the Father draws us.  And the Father draws us by sending the Son, and by sending the Advocate to plead with our hearts.  And the Father, the Spirit, and the Son together draw us to this altar today, where with the saints of every wibbly wobbly time and place—with all of them—we meet the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  God loves you, and is pleading with your heart, every single day.


Sunday, May 7, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 5

Easter 5, 2023
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Acts 7:55-60
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are a lot of time jumps in today’s readings.  While you and I are still in the Easter season, today’s gospel reading takes us back to what we call the Last Supper, before Jesus is put to death.  

And we’ve got another jump in that first reading we heard today.  Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is stoned to death by the religious leaders, which happens long after the resurrection of Jesus.  As far as the flow of the narrative, we’re kind of all over the map.  But there’s a thread running through the readings today.  

The first reading, from Acts, recounts the stoning of Stephen.  Brutal, and horrible, and senseless.  The religious leaders’ reaction to the gospel is unthinkable in our country today, but it still goes on elsewhere in our world.  Plenty of places in fact.  Christianity is still a dangerous road to travel, and we are offered no guarantees of protection.  As Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Trust in God; trust also in me.”  Stephen did exactly that, and his dying words are recorded as, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  In today’s Psalm we heard, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O LORD, O God of truth.”  And, you probably remember, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Into your hands, I commend my spirit.  For Stephen, for the Psalmist, and for Jesus.  The connection I want us to see here is the continued unfailing trust in God to receive our spirit.  When it all comes down to it, that is the most important part of our faith journey: trusting that God will indeed receive our spirit when it matters most.

So now, back to this gospel text.  Keep in mind what happened right before this reading we just heard.  Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, predicted his own death, and told Peter that he will deny him three times.  Then Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled.”  Huh?  After all that crazy information, do not let your heart be troubled?

The language is important here.  Because “your” is plural, and “heart” is singular.  He’s talking to everyone in the room, but he’s talking as if they have just one heart . . . one collective heart—a heart which is not to be troubled by what he is saying.  Then he gives them the reason not to be troubled: “Trust in God, and trust in me.”  It gets translated into “Believe in God,” to us, but the original word, pisteuo, is closer to confidence and trust, than it is to belief.  

And this distinction is important, because there really is a difference between belief and trust.  For example, I believe in democracy; but I trust in gravity.  My belief in democracy might influence my decisions and choices and attitudes, sure.  But my trust in gravity determines how I live my life.  From picking up a glass, to going outside without a rope, gravity is something you trust, and it would not usually occur to you to do otherwise.  Trusting in God and in Jesus is not something you choose to believe intellectually; it is not some preference for one thing over another.  In a sense, we cannot help but trust in Jesus.  It’s just the way we are.  How we see the world, whether we know it or not.

And then Jesus follows up the Trust statement with something that seems puzzling to us, I think.  And it seems puzzling because it has been interpreted certain ways for so long that we automatically think we know what it means.  He says, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.”  Since we have fairly fixed ideas of what a house is, we picture a massive mansion somewhere, maybe with marble floors and Viking appliances.  And, for many people, the best part about that image is that it is plural—placeS, or roomS—meaning we don’t ever have to run into the people we don’t like.

But, there is an interesting connection between the word interpreted as “dwelling places” and a temporary stopping point.  Some scholars say this word monai is something like a place set up to receive visitors traveling through.  Not a private place to kick back and live out your eternal retirement, but a public place, to be welcomed after a long journey, with good food and a place to rest.  When we go where Jesus is waiting, we don’t put out our hand to receive our personal room keys.  Instead, Jesus stretches out his arms to receive us.  A “welcome to the party,” if you will.

And then here’s the part of this little story that I really like.  Jesus ends his flowery speech with, “And you know the way to the place that I am going.”  Cut to: disciples shoving hands in their pockets, kicking the dirt, not wanting to be the one to ask the obvious question that they’re all thinking.  But leave it to Thomas to speak up.  Leave it to Thomas to be the one who wants reliable information and a road map.  Leave it to Thomas to look up and say, “‘Know the way’?  We don’t even know where you’re going!  How can we possibly know ‘the way’?”  

And then I imagine Jesus looking at them all and saying, “Ahem.  People?  I AM the way!  Remember me?  The way, and the truth, and the life?  You don’t have to know where you’re going, because you know the way.”

Now of course, this is contrary to everything we learn about directions.  You get directions as a means to get where you’re going.  Knowing the way is never the point, is it?  Tell me the destination, and then the way is just details, because there are many paths.  I might take the 21; I might take the 77.  Just tell me the destination.  Lots of people view Christianity in exactly this way.  “I want to ‘go to heaven’, so tell me the behavior-modification plan that will get me to the desired destination, and I’ll take it from here, Jesus.”

But Jesus stands this on its head and says, you do not need to know the destination; you just need to know the way.  Trust in God and in me.  If you know the way, you’ll end up where you’re supposed to, even though you don’t know the destination.  And you—the collective you—you know the way.  All of us together are on a journey with Jesus: destination, unknown.  But we know the way.

It’s hard to believe we know the way right now, isn’t it?

We look at where we are and where we want to be, and it doesn’t seem like we know how to get there.  Show us the way to being able to have civil conversations with our family and friends again.  Show us the way to feeling safe in a grocery store or a shopping mall, let alone a school.  Show us the way not to wake up panicked in the middle of the night wondering if we’re going to have a job tomorrow.  Show us the way to get people to come back to church again.  Show us the way, Lord!

I can’t help but think this gospel text would be heard so much differently back in the 50s or 60s.  Back when there was a discernible middle in most things.  Back when NASA had a room full of people in short-sleeve button down shirts and matching glasses, using slide rules to land a man on the moon.  Back when vaccines were widespread and trusted and effective.  Back when we knew the way, right?

And now, here we are in 2023, where almost half our citizens don’t trust science or data or medical professionals about anything.  In a world where politicians try their darnedest to clear out the middle and get everyone to yell from the extreme corners.  In virtual world of AI and deep fakes, and a physical world of multiple mass shootings every  single  day.  This is where we are together right now.  This is the world in which we live, together.  So now you tell me, how do we get out of this together?  We don’t even know where we are going.   HOW CAN WE POSSIBLY KNOW THE WAY?!?

And Jesus says to us, just as he says to Thomas:  I am the way.  We don’t know where we are going, but Jesus is the way.  If you know the way, you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be, even if you don’t know the destination.  And you—people of St. Timothy's—you know the way.  You are on a journey with Jesus: destination, unknown.  But you know the way.

We know the way to the Father because Jesus is the way.  We trust in God because we trust in Jesus.  With Stephen, and the Psalmist, and Jesus, we pray that God will receive our spirit.  Do not let our heart be troubled.  Because we know the way. 

It’s true:  We don't really know where we are going, but we are going there together.  We are going there together.  We disagree, and we walk in darkness, but we are walking together.

And as we walk together, Jesus walks beside us, and shows us the way: himself.  And that is why we are going to be okay.  Because we know the way.  And when we have arrived at that unknown destination, God will receive our spirit, and say to us, all of us, “Welcome home, weary travelers!  Do not let your heart be troubled, because you have known the way all along.”