Puddletown, Milborne and Dewlish
Sunday 14th May 2017
Acts 7.55-60; John 14.1-14
It’s been a tough old evening for the disciples. Everything has been upside down. Jesus doesn’t quite seem himself.
They were enjoying a meal together, when suddenly in the middle, Jesus gets up and starts trying to wash their feet.
They might have expected a servant to do that before they all sat down, but this is the middle of the meal, and this is Jesus, not the most menial slave, but their Lord and Master.
Simon Peter objects – he’s obviously confused by all that is going on, but he knows that foot-washing is not something for a leader to do to his followers and friends.
But Jesus is having none of it – and Simon, being the man he is, once he has relented, offers not just his feet for Jesus to wash but his whole self.
The moment passes, but then more trouble. Jesus predicts that one of his closest friends is going to betray him. That brings all sort of uncertainty – which of them is the traitor, they want to know. The safe, secure group of friends now becomes anxious.
And even when Judas leaves, they haven’t worked out what is going on, John tells us, but some think he’s off to spend some money, either on festivities or in helping the poor.
Then Jesus starts talking about going somewhere, somewhere where the others can’t follow. Again Peter steps right in – I’ll go with you everywhere, he says, even if I have to die with you.
No, you won’t, Jesus says, by the time this night is over, you will have disowned me three times.
We can imagine how perturbed and insecure the disciples are feeling by this point in the evening.
We have to remember too that there is a lot of hostility towards Jesus from the religious leaders outside, especially after he raised Lazarus back to life, and they started plotting to kill him. No doubt this adds to the disciples’ feelings of fear.
So it’s not surprising, with all that in the past few hours and days, that Jesus is trying to comfort his friends: don’t be frightened, believe in God and in me.
Now we’re not just talking about a belief of mind here, the word in Greek which is translated believe is also the word for trust. So Jesus is telling his disciples to trust God, and to trust him.
That’s a message our world needs to hear afresh. Trust in God; trust in Jesus. It’s a message we Christians need to hear afresh too, because our trust is so limited.
It seems so much easier to be anxious about things than to trust in God. We become all consumed with our earthly lives, while forgetting that we have foot in the heavenly kingdom as well.
When we look at things through earthly eyes, we do indeed worry. We become anxious about finances, about relationships, about family, about our health, about our memories, about our lives that are either too full or too lonely and empty, about our work, about aged parents or our children, about things we can change and about things we can’t change. There is, in earthly terms, a lot to be anxious about.
But as Christians our anxiety should always be turned into trust in God.
It takes a lifetime to learn how to do that properly – look at the disciples, after three years of constant and intimate closeness and sharing their lives with Jesus, they hadn’t managed, so it’s not surprising that we struggle too, when Jesus is not among us as a human being but in the presence of the unseen Holy Spirit.
When we see things from the heavenly perspective, our worries transform.
The things of this world, with which we endow great significance, are only temporary things, and everything life throws at us, it does so only for a period of time. Of course, when we are going through tough times, it doesn’t seem like that, but reality and perception are not always the same thing.
For Christians the reality is that God loves us and is utterly trustworthy, that troubles may befall us, but that in the end all will be well.
The Church of England remembered Julian of Norwich on Monday – her words, “all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” are a great reminder of God’s goodness.
I did a funeral for someone recently, whose family told me that he never worried about anything. What was the point – if something was going to happen it would, if not it wouldn’t, and worrying wasn’t going to change that a jot.
The Christian would do well to follow that advice but to add that trust in God gives meaning to a lack of anxiety. We don’t need to worry not because what will be will be, but because God will ensure that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to quote St Paul Romans 8.28).
So trust me, Jesus says, to his disciples and to us. In times of fretting and insecurity, trust me.
And why should we trust? Because we will not be left alone. Jesus tells his disciples why he has to go: he needs to prepare for them a place in God’s home.
This is not preparing in the sense of building a house or being an architect and making plans. The preparation that Jesus does, so that we and the disciples can find a place in God’s home, is through his death and resurrection. In them, Jesus becomes the Way to God.
When we wish to find somewhere we haven’t been to before, we often use a map to chart a course. Some of us manage better than others to follow the right route, but there’s a limit to how much we can hold in our heads without having to stop and consult the map again, if we don’t have a navigator with us.
Similarly these days many people rely on satnavs, but they are only any good, if we get the destination right in the first place.
I’m sure you remember some of the wonderful stories of people ending up in places they didn’t want to go because they put the wrong destination into the machine. I think my favourite was when a taxi took a passenger to a Stamford Bridge, a small village in Yorkshire, rather than to the Chelsea-Arsenal match at Stamford Bridge football ground in London.
Much better than maps or satnavs is someone who knows the way taking us to where we want to go. That is what Jesus does.
Not only does he take us with him, he is the Way himself.
Want to get to God’s house – trust me, it’s as simple as that. There are places there for everyone who believes.
The place to which we are going is less a spatial place and more about having a relationship with God. A true home is a place where we feel secure, where we can be ourselves, where relationships deepen, where growth and creativity can be expressed. It’s a place of protection and safety. That is what Jesus offers us when we trust in him.
To trust in Jesus is to participate in the truth.
The Hebrew background to the word truth is not about facts and figures, but built on relationship. It is about faithfulness and constancy; truthfulness is a characteristic of the divine. In Old English, this is what the word truth meant – loyalty, faithfulness, constancy – which echoes the Hebrew concept.
That’s an idea that we have mainly lost in our 2st-century of factual truth, alternative facts and so on.
In the context of the Gospel, when Jesus says I am the Truth, what he means is that he is the existence of the divine loyalty and faithfulness. His steadfast love is unbreakable.
Which leads to life – not just life as we know it, but abundant life, everlasting life – life that is better than we could ever imagine, because it is the life God gives us.
It’s an important theme for John, whose Gospel as we well know begins with those immortal words, so often heard at Christmas: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being through him was life . . .”
To trust in the source of life, the one who calls us into being, the one who is the Way to our heavenly home in the crucifixion and resurrection, the one whose truth is faithfulness and steadfastness, is the vocation to which we are called.
D.A. Carson, New Testament and scholar and professor, expresses these profound truths in three sonnets he wrote which were published in his book The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus:
I am the way to God: I did not come
to light a path, to blaze a trail, that you
may simply follow in my tracks, pursue
my shadow like a prize that's cheaply won.
My life reveals the life of God, the sum
of all he is and does. So how can you,
the sons of night, look on me and construe
my way as just the road for you to run?
My path takes in Gethsemane, the Cross,
and stark rejection draped in agony.
My way to God embraces utmost loss:
your way to God is not my way, but me.
Each other path is dismal swamp, or fraud.
I stand alone: I am the way to God.
I am the truth of God: I do not claim
I merely speak the truth, as though I were
a prophet (but no more), a channel, stirred
by Spirit power, of purely human frame.
Nor do I say that when I take his name
upon my lips, my teaching cannot err
(though that is true). A mere interpreter
I'm not, some prophet-voice of special fame.
In timeless reaches of eternity
the triune God decided that the Word,
the self-expression of the Deity,
would put on flesh and blood - and thus be
The claim to speak the truth good men applaud.
I claim much more: I am the truth of God.
I am the resurrection life. It's not
as though I merely bear life-giving drink,
a magic elixir which (men might think)
is cheap because though lavish it's not bought.
The price of life was fully paid: I fought
with death and black despair; for I'm the drink
of life. The resurrection morn's the link
between my death and endless life long sought.
I am the first-born from the dead; and by
my triumph, I deal death to lusts and hates.
my life I now extend to men, and ply
them with the draught that ever satiates.
Religion's page with empty boasts is rife:
but I'm the resurrection and the life.
 Published in his book The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus (Baker, 1980)