Connected, Comforted, Challenged
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
May 10, 2020
1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
This morning I want to invite you to think about how you are feeling. Of course, Mother’s Day – we all may be feeling nostalgic – but in this strange Coronovirus time, most of us are feeling disrupted if nothing else. But I think many of us are feeling a variety of feelings, and this morning I want to share some good news about how to identify and process those feelings for better spiritual health.
I also want to invite you to consider journaling this morning, even if it is just during this time when I am sharing this message. Some of you may be regulars at writing about your daily life or journaling in some way. Others may not be. I want to invite you to a moment of “guilt-free” journaling. You don’t have to make a commitment to doing it daily, you don’t have to go out and buy a fancy leather bound journal to write in, you don’t have to buy a special pen to do it. Grab a piece of paper, or your regular journal, or a napkin, or turn on your tablet, computer, phone or whatever. This isn’t going to be hard, but I think if you write down what I am going to prompt you to write you will find this even more effective a use of your time.
Our Scripture reading is a passage that evokes a lot of feeling. It is one anyone who has attended a Christian funeral has probably heard at least parts of. It is a familiar one that may remind us of grief, of hope, of confusion, and of unidentified feelings that either comfort us or leave us unsure what we are feeling. That’s normal because that is what grief does. And this passage of Scripture is about grief.
This passage reports the time when Jesus was talking to his disciples the night of his betrayal, denial, arrest and eventual trial and execution by the Roman authorities. He has told them he is about to die. Even though they should have been celebrating the greatest moment in their Jewish history, they were suddenly cast down into grief. They were observing the Passover, which in the Jewish religion remembered when they were liberated from slavery in Egypt. It is both a solemn and a joyful occasion for every Jew. But in the midst of this Jesus announces he is about to die. He is telling this to 12 of his closest friends, who have spent something like 3 years of their lives, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with him, learning, watching, learning to love him and one another. Imagine the grief they were feeling!
But these are words intended to help them deal with their grief. They were words to remember so that later they would be empowered to see life and live life differently. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled that he is preparing a place for them to be with him, even though he has to leave them for awhile. He tells them he will show them the way to get to that place and that in fact, he is the way to get to that place. He reminds them that he and God are completely one in spirit and purpose and love. He tells them they will not only be able to love as he has loved them, but even more so – more than they ever imagined. These are words to help them overcome their grief.
We are certainly living in a time of grief. Everything feels disrupted. Everything feels abnormal. This is the essence of what grief feels like, whether that grief is due to someone we love dying, the loss of a dream or a way of life, or any other situation that seems to take something important away from us. That is what grief feels like, that is what happens when we grieve. So this morning let me give you four words to journal on and think about and perhaps use to find your way to a better place beyond grief, beyond disruption, and the fear, anger and denial that are part of grief.
Here are the words, one at a time. The first word is “disconnected.” What are some things you are feeling disconnected from? Your routine? Your job, your family, a favorite restaurant, plans for retirement a few years from now? All of these have been disrupted. Things that we were connected to have been yanked away and for many of us there may be anger, there may be sadness, there may be anxiety or many other feelings. Just jot down some of the things you are feeling disconnected from, it doesn’t have to be complete sentences or paragraphs, just a word or two, whatever works for you. Beside that write a word of two about how you are feeling about that. Be honest with yourself – is it anger, is it fear, is it hopelessness, is it powerlessness?
How will you respond to this? This is the question of faith. There are many ways to deal with feeling disconnected and grief. We can take out our anger and go march on city hall or the state capitol with our guns and shout angrily at people who aren’t the cause of our distress, adding to the distress of the situation. We can stomp around about our “rights and freedoms” and demand that we be free to do whatever we want to do. The problem for me with this as a Christian is my faith REQUIRES me to put the other person first. That’s what I learned from Jesus more than anything else. My faith demands me to be more concerned about the possibility of causing someone else to suffer and maybe die than to be concerned about my inconveniences. I may be angry about things I cannot do, but my faith REQUIRES me to seek more positive ways to deal with feeling disconnected.
Now let me try to show you how this passage can help us deal with this. I believe that what Jesus is trying to share with his disciples, as they deal with their grief, is the promise that he will stay connected with them and with us. Feeling disconnected, feeling grief, feeling angry and hopeless doesn’t make us bad people. What we do about those feelings can make us better people or it can make us actually feel worse, even if I feel better for a moment expressing my anger, my demands, my “me-first” rights and attitudes.
Jesus says to us and to those first disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Now we have always assumed this is only about heaven and after our death. But Jesus told the disciples that whenever they broke the bread and shared the cup that he was present with them. He told us whenever two or three gathered in his name, he is with us. Christ’s spiritual presence is with us, we are connected, we are able to dwell with him now, even though he is not with us physically, and we are not with him in some heavenly place – he promises his connection, his love, his presence. I want to invite you to reflect on that a minute now, and for some more time later once I finish and you can find some quiet time to think about this. I invite you to know that feeling connected to the living Christ – dwelling with him, isn’t a thing we have to wait until we die to do. The events of the world may cause us incredible grief and right now we may feel as disconnected as ever, but Christ promises us he will not abandon us or leave us in our grief.
That leads to the second word I want to invite you to jot down: comforted. These words are obviously meant to comfort us as they were meant to comfort those first disciples. Let me invite you to reflect on where you find your comfort when you are feeling uncomfortable. For many of us we find it in ways that aren’t the healthiest: food, drugs, alcohol. Others have even more violent tendencies, and so domestic abuse is raging these days. Some would argue that is a reason to “let everyone out,” send them back to work and all. But that isn’t really solving the problem. That is just trying to put it off until the next time the abuser comes home. The economy isn’t the reason people have issues and it isn’t the solution to it. If we really care about domestic abuse and addictions then let’s address them with real, effective solutions. Jesus invites us to turn from the things that destroy us and others and find a different way. He invites us to discover him as the way.
Jesus tells the disciples that in him they can find the way to real life, to turn from false ways and destructive living. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is offering us the connection with God that our souls long for. When he uses the words “I am” in this Scripture he is echoing the name of God revealed in the Jewish Scriptures when Moses meets God. Moses asks, what name shall I tell the people you go by, God? God responds “YAHWEH,” which the Scriptures translate as “I am.” And so here what Jesus is reminding us is that in him we connect with the real life of God and that is the source of comfort that we need most of all. Instead of the destruction of using our addictions, our anger, our selfishness to deal with life Jesus invites us to find comfort and connection with God – and Christ is the one who reveals this God, this one who is the great “I am.” No other god by any other name can fully give the life this God, our Creator gives.
I know that most often this passage has been interpreted as a way to prove no other religion is good enough. Our problem isn’t so much that other organized religions are inferior, it is that our addictions, our abuse of others or ourselves, our worshipping of our self are the real false gods. One of the great disservices traditional Christianity has done with Jesus is made him a policeman. He is the traffic cop that stands at the one way road and holds up his hand and blows his whistle and yells, “Stop!” at anyone who tries to come in to connection with him or with God that we don’t think qualify. It is a way to control and have power over others that isn’t what this passage is really about. The first disciples who heard this were in conflict with their OWN religion, not with other religions. Their own families and places of worship considered them to be disconnected to God because they had discovered God’s truth in Jesus. Jesus is the way the truth and the life because he is the revelation of God. This is true, but here is the important alternative to consider. Anyone who finds God will find Jesus Christ because God and Christ are one. That is what this passage proclaims. It is not a put down for other religions or a “do not enter heaven” for those who practice faith differently from us. Jesus was speaking to his own followers, not to followers of another faith. He was warning them of those who would try to “be Jesus” when they weren’t.
So all that is to say what Christ is offering us is the comfort of connecting to the way, the truth, and the life of God. It is the alternative to following ways that are destructive of ourselves and others. It is a way that takes making a choice, because putting others first does not come naturally. We are all naturally a little selfish, and some of us are a lot selfish. When we choose to connect with Christ I can promise you one more “C” and that is the “Challenged.”
I want to invite you to write down that word and ask yourself two questions: how is the current isolation, separation, disruption challenging you the most? Maybe it is the same as the disruptions we mentioned first. But then I want you to ask yourself, how is this current situation a time when you might do better if you took time to think about it as a challenge to become a better person, to move away from negative ways of dealing with difficulties and to move towards the way, the life, and the truth of Christ? How could you be more considerate of others rights and freedoms than your own? How could you be more connected to ways that heal yourself and others? How can you make this a time to plan to be a better person, a more “Christ-life” person when we all begin to re-enter face-to-face life?
I believe that Christ is the way, the truth and the life. I believe that when we really understand that, not as a way to hate others, but as a way to love others, serve others, seek the best for others we will find a real connection, a real comfort, but it will always be challenging. I pray all of us will connect with the Risen Christ now and live the life he calls us to. AMEN.