Sermon for Sunday, May 10, 2020 – “The Way for Our Journey”

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

We so often hear the first part of this passage at funerals, for good reason. After the death of a loved one, it brings such comfort. It is so good to know that Jesus has prepared a place for us to dwell with God now and always. Yet, since it’s part of so many funerals, we sometimes think this passage only applies to life after death.

But in this passage, Jesus isn’t talking to his disciples about what will happen after they die. He isn’t talking about a place we go to after death and saying some will get in and some won’t – though it’s often been interpreted that way.

This passage is part of Jesus’ final message to his disciples when they are feeling anxious about their life here on earth. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going to leave them, that he is going to die. They are so very confused and afraid. Everything is changing. Everything feels uncertain.

They can’t imagine the way forward.

Sound familiar? This is such an uncertain and unsettling time. We have so many questions. What will happen with this virus? When will there be a vaccine? When can we gather? What will happen for the economy, for those most in need, for those most impacted by the virus? How will we get through this?

When everything feels anxious and unclear for Jesus’ first disciples, he tells them, “You know the way.” Thomas takes him literally and says, “We don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?” Thomas gets fixated on the concrete and clear-cut – something that’s so easy to do in anxious times. Jesus assures Thomas – yes, you do the know the way because I AM the way. I AM the way, the truth and the life. In me, you have all that you need.

Through the power of his word given in scripture, Jesus also assures us who are anxious in this time. He says to us, you know the way in the journey with this pandemic because I AM the way. We don’t yet have concrete, clear-cut answers to our many questions. But we do know the way because we know Jesus. In relationship with Jesus, the way, we are given all that we truly need.

In just this passage alone, we see three key gifts that we receive in relationship with Jesus – gifts that are so crucial for walking with hope and faith in this time.

First, Jesus prepares a place for us in the heart of God- Jesus opens up space for us to have an intimate relationship with God. This isn’t a literal, physical space. Yet, it is something we experience in tangible ways as Jesus helps us to feel at home in God’s presence. At home in God, we can rest and breathe deeply. We can know peace and refuge in God, here and now – even when the storm outside rages.

Because we have this place of peace in God, we can endure whatever comes. Because we have this place in the heart of God, we can commune with God even when we can’t go in the church building.

We can also commune with others as we are all held together in the heart of God. We are held there with those who have died, those we’ve not seen in person for weeks, and the whole communion of saints. We are held together with the ones who have mothered us – the moms next to us on the couch this morning, those in nursing homes, those who are so far away and those who have died. Our place in the heart of God is both a starting place and a respite on this journey. It is a gift given by Jesus who is the way.

Another gift we are given in relationship with Jesus is his guidance on this journey. Jesus shows us what the way of love looks like. Jesus tells the disciples that he is the way on the night before he’s crucified. In his death, we see that the way of love involves sacrifice and suffering. None of us wants to suffer. We’d all prefer to be comfortable and satisfied. And, we aren’t called to suffer just for the sake of suffering. Yet love does call us to give fully of ourselves for others. Love does involve a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. And, Jesus leads us on the path of costly love.

We see people living out this way of love everywhere these days. We see it in our shepherds who are stretching themselves to reach out. The shepherds know some of the people in their flocks very well, but there are many that they’ve never met. They want to be helpful. They don’t want to intrude. And, it isn’t always easy to discern what people need. The shepherds are going outside their comfort zones to offer care and support in this time.

We see this love in those who are making masks and hospital gowns in our congregation, in the Decorah area and throughout the world. The hours of time spent over sewing machines is such costly love. We also see this love in all who are wearing masks, even when they feel awkward, conspicuous and uncomfortable.

We see love in everyone sacrificing the joy of in-person worship out of love for those most vulnerable and out of concern for the common good. We see it in people giving financial gifts to support others, in those who are giving children tender care when they are so weary and anxious, and in everyone doing their work for the world in new ways.

Good Shepherd – In so many of these ways and more I see you following in Jesus’ way of costly love and I give thanks. I give thanks that Jesus continues to lead and guide us in the way of love through his word in scripture. This guidance is such a key gift that comes in relationship with Jesus.

Finally, in relationship with Jesus we are promised that we will do greater works even than he did.

Jesus’ work in his time on earth was to make the love of God visible. Yet, in his earthly body he was limited to doing that in Palestine for a few short years. Now Jesus’ followers make God’s love visible in all the world throughout the ages until the end of time. And, Jesus promises that as we do his work, he will give us what we need as we ask in his name.

This is such good news when we feel powerless and overwhelmed on this journey. We can and do make the love of God visible in this world. When we wonder where God is and what God is doing, we can look to all those making the love of God visible through their service as first responders, teachers, volunteers, advocates, parents, researchers, neighbors. Through them, through us, God is at work in our world. And, Jesus provides us what we need for this work as we pray in his name.

The first followers of Jesus were called the people of the way. This description reminds us that the life of faith is a journey guided by the one who is the way. There are so many unknowns in this journey with the coronavirus. We can’t tell how things will unfold. We don’t know where we are going or when we will get there.

Yet, we do know the way. We know Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.
Jesus gives us what we need.
Jesus gives you what you need.
Jesus gives you a place of rest in the heart of God.
Jesus guides you to walk in the way of love.
And, Jesus promises that you will make the love of God visible on the way.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.