Easter V – May 14, 2017
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
Four years ago I had the privilege of helping 18-year-old Maegan preach her first sermon. We worked on it for nearly six months, meeting together every few weeks to explore the message in the scripture for the first Sunday after Easter which was, as it is every year, the story of doubting Thomas. We pondered of the meaning of faith in that story. I have asked Maegan if I could share a bit of her story and of her sermon with you today.
On that first Sunday after Easter, after the gospel reading, Maegan took her place in the pulpit, paused to look out across the congregation, and she began to speak. “Try to imagine that you are walking down a long hallway, that is painted a sick yellow color. The place is very institutional, very blah. There are no decorations. It was the middle of winter and the temperature in this building was either very hot or really cold, but never in-between. There was a gruel-like smell in the air. My mother cringes at the memory of that foul institutional odor. My mother had been inspired to travel all of the way to Romania, by a program on the television show “20/20” that had spotlighted the multitudes of children sitting in orphanages needing adoption. After a first visit for my sister’s adoption, my mother kept in touch with the birth mother, Valentina.” Maegan shared, “When I was four months old, my mother got a letter from Valentina saying that I had been born, was available for adoption, and was living in an orphanage.
“The first night at the orphanage my mother couldn’t sleep through the sounds of crying babies and metal cribs hitting walls. It must have been hard for her to watch babies rocking to comfort themselves, as was the sight of nurses shoving hot food into our faces. By that time, I was a toddler. My mother had to have faith that everything would be alright for her, for me, and for my sister. She had to have faith through a long process… in a strange place… knowing that there was a chance that the adoption might not work. It took nearly two years to get all of the papers signed and the adoption finalized.”
In her sermon Maegan went on to make connections between her mother and her adoption story… with the story of faith in which the risen Jesus invites Thomas to see and touch for himself, an opportunity that those who were to come after Thomas would not have. It was also stunning to hear Maegan offer a pastoral message to the congregation that was in the midst of a call process and transition to find new clergy to serve them. At that time, I was their interim priest. Maegan named the “hard and uncomfortable”… in-between time that they were in, as she urged her listeners to “be patient.” She said, “there is a reason this call process is taking so darn long, just as my mother’s journey did. We…. are wondering who will come our way, what they will be like, what they will bring to us. Most of us are probably curious about what lies ahead… just as my mom was struggling to imagine if and when she would get to leave and go home with her baby.”
I watched Maegan’s mother and sister as they listened from the third pew on the left. Shirley’s eyes were teary as her face beamed with pride. Indeed, the whole congregation was moved by the message of this wise young woman who stood on the foundation of her faith, worked hard, and dared to stand up in church and preach her first sermon.
In today’s gospel lesson we hear: “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?” This is a passage that we often hear at funeral services. It makes us wonder what is beyond this life. The passage often conjures up visions of St. Peter attending the welcome desk at a heavenly Motel 6 beyond that promises in-room amenities, free breakfasts for eternity, and the ultimate encounter with God. Rather than “dwelling places” the King James Version translation reads “many mansions” which, in the Greek, reads more like an inn that welcomes weary travelers. This is in contrast from our current day images of mansions as sprawling, over-the-top gilded palaces. A better interpretation reads: “in my Father’s home there is more than enough ‘welcome’ for each and every one, there is more than enough room.” But then we are not talking about a place with doors, windows, furniture and walls… are we? This is not a statement about what is waiting for us after this life. Let’s start again:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “Don’t let this situation throw you” says Jesus… have trust…. don’t let the roaring chaos distract you from the true home, the true relationship that is given for you, right here, right now. Trust, believe, have faith… accept God’s invitation. Welcome Christ’s comfort. You are wanted. You are loved. Right here. Right now.
Jesus is giving his equivalent of a “last lecture” to eleven of his disciples. It has been quite a night. Jesus had gathered the twelve, washed their feet… and told them to do likewise. The final meal is over. Judas has left the room. There are now eleven. Betrayal is in the works. Jesus knows that his time is short as he begins imparting his last words and prayer for the beloved. This portion of John’s gospel, known as the “Farewell Discourse,” takes up four full chapters in John. In today’s lesson, John opens his message with Jesus’ words: “Do not be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” The Protestant reformer Martin Luther has described God as “that upon which you hang your heart.” The modern writer Cynthia Jarvis has said that “The heart that is troubled is a heart not hung upon God but hung, rather, on all the things the world peddles to sooth a troubled heart.” The message is: Look up and away from all that the world peddles to sooth and distract us from true and abundant life. “Do not be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” says Jesus. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the say to the place where I am going.” In explosive frustration poor Thomas blurts out: “But we don’t know where you are going? How can we know?” Give us a map, or some instructions. How about a list of “7 Highly Effective Practices for Discipleship?” What about a step-by-step check-list? In which direction are we to head? Dear Jesus: How can we know the way? To which Jesus answers “I AM… the Way, The Truth, The Life.” I am God’s presence with you, right here, right now. Pay attention dear ones. If you thought you had me sussed out, think again. This messiah is going to die, but I will come back again. Whatever preconceived notions you had about a savior are about to be shattered… but fear not… something new is in the works. Look up. Be present. Pay attention. I am the Way through the troubles and turmoil. Don’t focus your heart on the howling distractions of the world. Be with me. Here. Now. I am going ahead for you. Know God in me… and follow where God leads you. I am the path forward across the desert, through the jungle, and over stormy seas. Let us, together, set our hearts on the promise of new life.
Trust, believe, have faith… accept God’s invitation. Welcome Christ’s comfort. You are wanted. You are loved.
The strength, the love and the nurture that we know in Christ seeks to form and shape us as we grow into the people we are meant to be. We are then to serve as witnesses to the God of life and to care for, guide and nurture others as Christ cared for those in his midst. As best we can… we are to build-up and bring forth the gifts in those around us wherever we are. We are to persevere amidst our own insecurities and doubts. We are to look up from the distractions that attenuate and weaken our own presence in the world and to serve by offering our attention, our presence, and our whole honest selves to this calling of discipleship in the world, doing so in the name of the one who is us the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Happy Mother’s Day
 I have edited some of Maegan’s original words.