Sermon for Sunday, 7 May 2023 Easter 5
By Revd George Mwaura[Bible readings: 1 Peter 2: 2–10 and John 14: 1–14]
The movie, The Wizard of Oz, tells the story of Dorothy, a young woman picked up in a tornado and dropped somewhere far away from her home in Kansas. There, she is told that the secret to going back home is to find the Wizard of Oz; a powerful magician who lives in a country far away. So, she sets off to find this great wizard who has the answer to her problem. You probably know the story. Along the way to Emerald, the capital city of Oz, she meets a Tin Man who wants a heart, a Scarecrow who wants a brain, and a Lion who needs courage. Together they endure turbulent times before arriving to the kingdom of Oz. And when they meet the reluctant wizard, they discover something; somewhere along the way to Oz, they have already found what they were looking for: a way home, feelings, intelligence and courage. Somehow these were gifts that they already had, or acquired while travelling together. The lesson of the movie is one we sometime forget: that the way we follow and the people we travel with are often more important than our destination.
When we hear today’s gospel reading, there’s a sense of déjà vu, because we’ve heard it countless times at funerals. But this morning I want us to try and read this passage with a different lens. This is not a parable; this is Jesus speaking face to face with his disciples and reassuring them. He tells them: I am going to my father’s house, but let not your hearts be troubled, because I will come for you. But they were not convinced and they wanted to follow him. I remember an incident when Lancia and Jordan were little. We had gone to a summer fair in Cambridge and I needed to use the bathroom. So I told them to sit on a bench and guard our rucksack that contained our lunch. I walked about ten steps and looked back and they were right behind me. I took them back where the unattended rucksack was, reprimanded them and walked away but when I turned again, they were right there behind me; I gave up. It’s hard to be told: Wait, I’m coming right back.
Thomas was more concerned and Jesus reassured him saying: Thomas, don’t worry, you know the way to where I am going. But Thomas contradicted this statement saying: We don’t know where you are going Lord, so how can we know the way there? There is a common misunderstanding that if we know where we are going, we can find our way there. Several years ago I was invited to preach at a church in Stockport in Cheshire. I had been to the church before but only as a passenger. The church secretary tried to give me directions because the final stretch of the road to the church was new and did not register on the GPS, but I cut her short saying: Just give me the address, I’ll find my way. Well, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I drove through all those little side streets that went one way. I passed the church building one way but couldn’t legally turn left because there was a police car right behind me. I drove round and round for about twenty minutes and then I gave up. I stopped and asked directions to the church. At that point my satnav was going absolutely Coco; recalculating, recalculating, perform a u turn when possible! As it turned out I had passed the correct entrance multiple times. Maybe it’s better sometimes to know the way to where we are going, and not just the address.
The other disciple, Philip, was as unhappy as Thomas was with the promise of Jesus return. He said to Jesus: Just show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. How many people here enjoy assembling things at home? Don’t you just hate the complicated instructions? ‘Attach arm A 4 included, vertically to arm B 6 included with nut X-36 included to begin with…’ and sometimes the instructions come in Chinese or Swedish if it’s from IKEA. Several years ago Christine bought a lawn mower that needed a bit of home assembly. Jordan and I sat down to assembly it as we rightly thought it was a man’s job. We just looked at the picture on the box, then took out all the pieces, and started putting them together without reading the instructions. Have you ever done that? I will not bore you with all the details but enough to say that by the time we completed the job, we had several parts at hand which we didn’t know where they went and the miserable thing wouldn’t cut grass! We had assumed it was going to be easy: just look at the picture, how hard can it be?
Like Philip, most people often say: Just show us the picture, give us the vision and we will do the rest. Jesus answers Thomas and Philip in a remarkable way. To Thomas Jesus says: I am the Way. You don’t get to where I’m going by knowing the address, but by walking with me. To Philip he says: If you look at me, you are seeing the Father, do the things I do; and you will be doing the work of the Father.
In the song Walk like a Man, Bruce Springsteen talks about learning to walk like a man by tracing his father’s footsteps in the sand. As he grew older, he realized that manhood isn’t a goal you reach. It’s a way you walk, and a way you live. Similarly Christian faith isn’t about where you go when you die, or about theology and creed, mhhhh; it’s about how you live your life here and now. It is walking in the way of Jesus; in the way of love and service.
This is why Jesus tells the disciples: You know the way! Because they had already seen Jesus, they had seen the way to God. They saw it every day that they were with him: in the words he spoke, in the miracles he performed, in his willingness to suffer for his fellow humans and in the way he broke the Sabbath to feed and heal those in need.
Likewise, the things we do to serve our neighbours and community everyday have everything to do with being Christians and lead us to God. You see sometimes we are far too eager to remove our theological satnavs and plan a dogmatic route to heaven. We think we can get there by avoiding our neighbours in need; those homeless people on our streets, the urgent climate issues or the refugees on our shores. But even if we know the address, that satnav won’t get us there. There is only one way to the Father: Jesus Christ his Son; the sooner you get to know him, the better.
Church, say: Amen.