Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 14 2017
Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10; John 14.1-14
Rev John Howard, Methodist Church of Great Britain
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
One of the things I love about Jerusalem are the many places – shops, restaurants, museums and elsewhere – where you can see pictures of what the city was like 50, 100, or more years ago. Isn’t it amazing how much has changed?
Think for a moment. A person elderly today was born early in the 20th century. Think about what has changed in such a lifetime.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were no televisions, very few cars, no planes, no computers. If a disaster happened 100 miles away it might take days to be known. Most people lived their lives within a few miles of where they were born, unless they took part in military service or had to move to find work. No women had the vote, education was growing but reading levels were poor amongst working people. Buses ran late.
Think of how things have changed and continue to change. The internet affects so much of our lives, but twenty years ago we had never heard of e mails!
I am a granddad. Thomas my grandson is three. He may expect to live for 80 or 90 years from now. I wonder what the world will be like at the end of his life.
There was a report out recently, speaking about possible climate change in the next 80 years. Summer temperatures regularly reaching 50°c in Jerusalem, 60°c in Jericho. Severe storms that will cause structural damage regularly each winter. Flooding annually. Sea level rise will change the shape of the world map, submerging some Pacific Islands wholly.
It will be possible to grow organs to replace diseased ones, so transplants won’t depend upon donors. Space tourism will become possible for ordinary people. Some scientists have suggested that travel at speeds very close to that of light will be achieved. In the home every household task, from ironing to gardening, will be able to be done by mechanical devices, which will follow spoken instructions. Buses will of course still arrive late.
Many mechanical devices will be controlled through conversations with them, others will operate from transmissions from chips implanted in our brains. Computers will truly think for themselves. All in Thomas’s life time.
It’s all a bit frightening isn’t it? When we look at God’s world, we might well say with Thomas, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
It’s even more confusing when we look the church. At the beginning of the 20th century, the missionary movement was at its height. Today, here in the Middle East the church is facing perhaps its biggest challenge since biblical times. I was speaking a couple of weeks ago to Syrian church leaders. They were saying that if the Assad regime falls it will be the end of the church in Syria. The church in Damascus was of course one where Saul was going when he had his conversion experience. For the first time since that date we face the ending of the church there. I was in Gaza this last week. Again, a place where the existence of the church goes back to biblical times – and again the Christians there are openly speaking about the end of the church in Gaza.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
The answer comes back over the years from the risen Christ: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” It is as valid today as it was 2000 years ago when he said it. The disciples who heard it also had no idea what lay ahead for them. At the time they were a tired, confused, soon to be leaderless, group of men, with little understanding of what their leader had been saying to them, soon to have their dreams shattered. But they learnt the truth of the message.
Today it’s more important than ever. When all the institutions of life are changing rapidly, when there seems no unchanging reality within which to root life. When families are breaking down, public morality subject to constant change, attitudes held for a thousand years reformed largely by the media over ten years. When popular music such as gangster rap music calling for violence and drug-taking can be widely played on radios but Christian music – even Christian rock music – is almost never heard outside of churches. We all need some way of living that is rooted in the creator of the world. Christ offers that way. Jesus says, “I am the way.”
What then is the way and how can we find it? It is founded upon truth, love, justice – eternal qualities that are as valid now as they were 100 years ago and as they will be throughout the life of any young child living today.
It is a way of life shown first in the life of Jesus, who remains its best model. It is a way of life that finds its satisfaction through serving others, through finding the ways to live at peace with others, through working at relationships and sustaining integrity. It is a way of life in which we recognize ourselves in an appropriate relationship to the world through its creator. It sees us as stewards of the world. As the book of Genesis makes clear, we hold the world in trust to care for it for a while. We don’t own our possessions – we have them on loan for a while to use wisely. Our overconsumption will in the end be paid for by those who follow us. The same is true of our society’s relationship to the world. We steward it for future generations. We should never abuse it. It is most of all a way of life that reflects love, God’s love. That is not some empty sentimentalism, but a way of life that puts others before self, sees every stranger as a potential friend, and works for justice for all. Justice is the public face of love.
This is still the way, despite the many changes that have taken place in life since the time of Jesus. This is the eternal challenge for us, no matter whether our transportation system relies on horses, buses, cars or space ships. It calls us to a morality that considers the impact of our actions on people around us, on people in distant lands, and on people yet to be born.
Strangely, at first sight, when we give up on the pursuit of pleasure, this way shown in Jesus brings a deeper and more long-lasting satisfaction – even joy – because it offers ongoing fulfilment through our relationships to others and most of all to God himself.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, though, since if offers us a resonance with the maker of us all. God is love. That is how we understand the very nature of God. To live in love is to resonate with that love. The way of love shown in Jesus calls us into a relationship where our hearts resonate with the heart of the eternal. What could be more natural and more true?
This is the way for us as Christians. It is the way for our children and our grandchildren and for us all. In this age of change – let us hear Jesus’ words responding to the confusion of his time and hear it speaking to us now. Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.”