Fifth Sunday of Easter
- John 14:1-4
- 1 Peter 2:2-10
- Acts 7:55-60
Slightly inspired by the Star Trek TNG Star Ship Enterprise mission to boldly go where no one has gone before, I decided to give this sermon the title ‘Follow Boldly.’ We are given bold texts this fifth Sunday of Easter and people who are made bold by faith. Philip is told by Jesus that Christ is the one way to God. Steven’s bold confrontation of his fellow Jews leads to his martyrdom.
I have spoken before from this pulpit of the None-Zone that is the Northwest US – so known because it is in this area of the nation that the most people have marked ‘none’ on surveys that ask about religious affiliation. It can be scary or intimidating in such a climate to be bold in faith profession. Although I get a sense that it is more okay to be ‘Mennonite’ than Christian, it is still somewhat difficult speak up for Christ in a non-God environment, unlike many parts of the mid-west, for example, where faith is almost assumed.
So what do we who are the few do in a non-God environment with Jesus’ words to Philip: Believe in me, believe that I am preparing a place for you in God’s house and believe this: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” I am the way and the truth and the life. And no one comes to the father except through me.
These are words that we would just as soon ignore when we think of our good and virtuous friends who are un-professing or atheist. And what about our good and faithful friends who kneel and pray to gods of other religions? In the past we have constructed a fairly narrow meaning of these words. The church has made decisions for God about who is in and who is out of heaven and it has been the faithful Christian’s responsibility to see to it that all would be in. In others words: convert and proselytize.
I found one commenter who had some thoughts about this. About the gospel writer’s possible frame of mind and frame of reference as he put those words in Jesus’ mouth.
“John was exercised over what he knew. So must the Christian be. That means that Jesus must be proclaimed as the one way to God to whoever is willing to listen, while leaving the faith and the fate of those who have never heard the gospel to a God who is equal to the problem . The church will always be missionary because it is convinced it possesses in the gospel a peculiar treasure. In earlier times (but not the earliest time) it feared for the eternal salvation of those who had not been baptized. Portions of it still do. But there is a much greater trust in the providence of God nowadays and of God’s mysterious ways of self-disclosure to all the peoples of the globe.”
So, in other words, God is up to the task of welcoming home any who turn to God. It is not our task to convert our neighbours. It is our task to believe in Jesus Christ and if we are moved to do so, share from that experience of belief.
Now, we live in the ‘none zone’ and it is not our task to turn every pacific northwesterner on to Jesus. But I do believe that there is a hunger for a gospel of love, compassion and non-violence. For what other reason would people who are not religious, who distance themselves from church flock to hear one of the great religious leaders of our time this week in Seattle.
I have held a someone skeptical and condescending view of people in an environment like ours who hold the church and organized religion at arms length, saying ‘I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.’ Seemed like this a is a cop-out. A way for someone who doesn’t want to be atheist, but doesn’t really have anything specific to believe either to lay claim to something. I was given pause in my holier-than-thou attitude as I’ve been hearing and reading Arthur Paul Boers talk about his new book The Way is Made by Walking .
Arthur is a former professor of mine. He officiated my wedding and was a regular in my seminary salon hair cutting chair. I have a great deal of respect for him and remember talking with him about the subject that inspired his book both before and after he embarked. Several years ago already he embarked on a walking pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. This pilgrimage ends at the cathedral where the apostle James is said to be buried and has been a route for pilgrims for centuries and there are places of worship and reflection along the journey. As Arthur travelled it he met many other walkers who professed to be ‘spiritual, not religious,’ an attitude he too has looked at with some frustration and doubt.
He learned a greater respect for people who were on a spiritual journey. He saw the spiritual hunger, the disillusionment with the established church. “Now I admired my companions’ pining for God, valuing of authenticity, seeking of balance and commitment to virtue.” He found his fellow pilgrims to be people of reflection and compassion, often with ideas about reincarnation, auras, harmonic convergence, crystals, energy but with a real thirst and longing for God. He also found that the church has been absent to them and, along the camino, literally closed and locked.
God does not turn away and lock out those who are seeking. And in fact, even those who deny or refuse to seek God are welcomed – through Christ – into God’s presence. What would it mean for Christ-believers to proclaim to people along the way, that Christ is the way. To proclaim a corrective to the harm that has be done in Christ’s name and call Jesus the Lord of a non-violent gospel.
I recognize that these are easy words for me to preach since I am most often in a milieu of other believers. It is you who are in the world who truly face the challenge of being missionary. In fact it was in part my inability to mingle the call to be Christ’s with work in the world that led me to quit hairdressing it the first place – I couldn’t figure out how to marry work in the world with a call to proclaim the gospel – I copped out and began to work for the church. I am very much looking forward to the summer series planned by Worship Oversight in which we will be able to hear more from you about how work and faith in Christ come together.
I believe that people who are seeking wholeness of Spirit will find God. We hear in 1 Peter 2:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation– 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood”
Where the taste of God has been put on the tongue, the taster longs for more. Though they may not recognize it, though it might be denied it is the Spirit of Christ is who is working within them to meet that longing. Peter recognizes that for some Christ can be a stumbling block. “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” Indeed I think perhaps not Christ, but the church and those of us who have done un-Christly things in Jesus’ name. That has been a stumbling block for those who would taste more of God’s goodness but for the block that keeps them from it.
But for those of us who can see clearly to taste more and more. For those us for whom Christ is our foundation, we are ‘a royal priesthood and a holy nation’ and we are called to boldness. ‘in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you our of darkness and into his marvelous light.’
Even though I took the easy road, there have been a couple of choices that I have made along the way that have been my way of bold proclamation. They all have to do with ways that I literally carry the cross on my body. While I was at seminary I decided that I would wear a cross on a chain. It’s a different one than I have now. It was larger and I wore both to remind myself of identity in Christ and to have a clear badge of where my allegiance was. This would be my equivalent of the American flag pin.
Similarly when I decided to get a tattoo of a cross on my wrist. When I lived in Jordan I knew of Coptic Christians from Egypt who tattooed small crosses on their wrists as a way of proclaiming their affinity with Christ and to identify themselves to one another. I had been living with this idea for fifteen years before I took the initiative to have the Coptic cross tattooed on my own wrist. I’ll confess that I wanted mine to be more stylized and larger than those that Egyptian Christians wear. And it has, indeed led to questions and conversations about it’s origins, as tattoos often do.
These small ways of proclaim Christ are nothing in light of the bold proclamations that leaders like Bishop Tutu have made for the sake of the Gospel of peace, or of a friend of my family who is sleeping in a Palestinian orphanage with CPT defying the Israeli bulldozers, or even of the bold sacrifice of Steven in Acts. They are small ways that I mark my way as Jesus’ way.
I have hear Alan Kreider talk about how he is a Mac user. I know that some if not many of you are Mac users. Alan talks about how he talks to everyone about how great his Mac is. He loves it – the ease of use, its features, its compatibility. If not a Mac, then surely there is some other product that you have used that you could not stop talking about how wonderful it was and how it has affected you life. If only our consumer mentality that sells our stuff would be translated into the way the Jesus has worked for and in our lives. What can we tell people about how Jesus has changed the way we interact, work, have relationships?
I know that most of you are inwardly cringing at and/or dismissing the idea of ‘selling’ friends and neighbours on Jesus. So I will temper my sales pitch by saying again that the call and task of the Christian is not to see to it that everyone else makes it into heaven. That is God’s task. Indeed, John’s concern when Jesus says ‘let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me,’ may not have been for the souls of all the unbelievers in the world. Nonetheless, Jesus indicates that there are many rooms in God’s house. Room enough for all. The call of the Christian is no to make sure everyone get the directions to God’s house but to follow boldly, proclaiming the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one in who we believe.
What makes you different from the people in bed reading the paper this morning or at Starbucks getting a latte? What is it that makes us come to church week after week (or at least once or twice a month)? What is it that makes us act differently or separates us in some way from our None Zone neighbours? If it is Jesus, why are we not proclaiming this difference.
I think we can also be comforted by the fact that we do not need to boldly go where no one has gone before. We go where so many faithful witness have gone before. I recently joined Weight Watchers and they say that going to the meetings for the support and accountability of the community is one of the main factors in success. The community of saints is that which gives the church its comfort and success. And it is this which can give us hope and faith. We have Desmond Tutu, and Rachelle and the apostle Steven and the disciple Philip to follow. We have each other, at work and in the world every day. Indeed, we might live in the None Zone, but there are still witnesses everywhere. Even in this community – we know this by our many bold and faithful partners in ministry.
It is a matter for your discernment this Easter season. In what way will you be bold?