Sermons from St
Revd Denise McDougall, Sunday, May
Today’s Gospel reading takes us back in time to an event in Jesus’ life before his Passion. Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, theirs and our final destination. It’s a reading which is frequently chosen for funerals because it gives comfort to the bereaved, of course we have yet to fully experience the eternal joy of a place in our Father’s house because it awaits us after death but as true followers of Christ we are already part way along the route and we do already enjoy a dwelling place in God’s heart. I believe the many dwelling places that Jesus refers to are also places for relationships. There are dwelling places for every individual to have a special space for their own ever deepening relationship with God.
The passage is an extract from the conversation between Jesus and his disciples during the Last Supper when Jesus, who knows that he is about to die tells the disciples that he is leaving them. But also that he will then return for them. His death and subsequently his resurrection entails a new relationship between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus’ earthly mission will be accomplished through them, and over 2000 years later through us! An earthly mission to reveal the compassionate face of God, nurturing and walking alongside others on our pilgrimage towards our destination.
We can only try to imagine the disciple’s distress and devastation when they hear the news, which inevitably triggered a sense of loss and fear. How will they cope without their teacher, friend and leader? So Jesus set out to comfort them and calm their anxieties. His remedy is to have faith in God himself but if faith is going to calm emotional distress it needs to be understood. Faith always needs understanding and without the effort to at least try to understand the mystery it can have little impact on our feelings or on our lives. Later on in John’s Gospel we are told that if we live by faith, Christ assures us that our hearts will rejoice. And whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. The mystery of faith calls us beyond the limitations of human understanding; we can’t log in to Jesus on Face Book, he’s not a destination on the Satnav or an A level subject but He is The Way, The Truth and The Life.
Jesus speaks of himself as the sure way to be absolutely confident of God’s welcome into eternity. The Good news is that whoever we are or whatever we do there is a place for us ‘In my father’s House there are many dwelling places.’ Our whole Christian way of life is an ongoing pilgrimage to the House of the Father, where we will be welcomed.
However, Thomas, who was always the one to probe more deeply, enquires about our final destiny. And of course we know that he will later doubt the disciples’ reports that they have seen the Risen Lord. He contradicts Jesus by saying that the disciples don’t know where Jesus is going or how to get there and Jesus explains that he himself is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ is the Way, because he is the Truth and the Life. He is the Truth as the authentic and full revelation of God the Father. In knowing and loving Jesus, the disciples also now know and love God the Father.
The heart of the gospel message is clear, that Jesus and the Father are one. Those who see, hear and touch Jesus, see, hear and touch the Father. Jesus is the Word made flesh, He is God.
So today, whoever sees us as believers and disciples should also see the Father reflected in and through us and as the world continues to reveal its powerlessness in the face of evil surely it is time for us to act boldly and confidently to be God’s presence in the world? We are an Easter people!
There is something very reassuring about knowing that a place is being prepared for us, and as we start this Christian Aid Week what can we do to help to prepare a welcome for members of the world-wide family of God? For 60 years, Christian Aid Week has given people the chance to be part of a story of transformation. Today 65 million people are displaced across the world, they have no home, young children are without parents, parents without their children, often individuals, young and old who have long since lost all their family members.
Time after time, refugees speak of the agony of living in limbo, stuck and stopped at a border where they can’t work, don’t have access to education, don’t know when, if ever, they can look forward to a brighter future or even where their future may be. They become desolate and move to more uncertainty and anxiety – their time is in the hands of others.
It’s a very sobering thought.
In the Epistle, Jesus is likened to a ‘living stone’, a cornerstone for those who build their foundation on the solid ground of his compassion and love. As Christians we are also called to be ‘living stones’, to be built into a spiritual house. Surely that house should hold a sincere welcome for those God loves. There is also a warning that by not following Jesus’ example, we become stumbling blocks. Inaction, apathy a ‘them and us’ rhetoric deeply affects those who need our voice, support and welcome? I recently read a quote by Ruth Valerio that really struck a chord in me, I think I may have mentioned it once before. ‘The main thing is not to let the hugeness of the problems either paralyse you or make you apathetic.’ So often we think that a problem is so big we can’t possibly do anything to make a positive change. But we can, we are all capable of showing acts of simple kindness and goodness which will give people hope and lead them to trust in themselves, trust other people and trust God. God’s light and hope can shine through us so we do make a difference, however small, to the negative stories we often hear in the media and elsewhere about refugees?
We also hear about stones again in Acts but this time stones are used as weapons – hurled to hurt and kill, to shut down and shut up. Stoning through any actions or thoughts of ours is a prime example of inhumanity towards another person; yet, Stephen follows Jesus’ example and teaching, and forgives his attackers. Stephen’s story gives us a prime example of how to follow Jesus – will we be places of welcome and love or will we ‘cover our ears’ to the suffering of the world the way the leaders of the community did rather than consider Stephen’s witness?
Apathy or indifference help no one! As we start our Week for Christian Aid perhaps if we haven’t already done so then consider coming to the Parish Lunch next Sunday. If you haven’t already bought your ticket then please do consider making that extra effort to join us.
The life revealed and promised at Easter exceeds every hope and human expectation. However lost, sad or fearful we may feel, the God of Easter says to us, ‘Trust me; I am with you always.’ The truth of Easter is so enormous that it remains a mystery which we will constantly seek to understand, but what we can say with confidence is that Jesus is alive and lives among us. Easter continues to revive and renew us and alert us to the truth that there is a place in us all that only God can fill.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.