Tuesday, June 7, 2011

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A, May 22,2011

1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox

When I was growing up, I loved spending time at my grandparents’ house. This was a place where I experienced absolute acceptance, and love, and welcome. To this day, a certain smell—a combination of laundry soap, fabric softener, and lemon cookies—immediately transports me back to their kitchen in Liberty, Texas. The toys and books I played with at their house were mostly ones that had belonged to my mother and uncle when they were children—slightly worn around the edges, but well-loved. Best of all was a mesh sack filled with real wooden building blocks. Mostly just cubes, but some were triangles or semicircular or other shapes. I would spend hours on the floor playing with them…sometimes with a plan in mind, sometimes just going for height, to see how tall I could make the tower before it all fell—CRASH!—to the floor. Even as a bored teenager, when I would visit my grandparents I would sneak over to the closet where the blocks were kept, and play with them in the front room where nobody could see.

In the passage from the First Letter of Peter, the author is “playing with building blocks.” He’s using the imagery of the great Temple in Jerusalem to describe the new relationship between God and God’s people. The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed; now they themselves will be the temple. Not a house made with hands, of stone or wood or concrete beams…but of people, who together make up the dwelling place of God. Here on this earth, in this world.

YOU (all) were once no people; now you (all) are God’s own people.

You (all) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, the ones set apart “to offer spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ.” The language of priesthood is used in two ways in the New Testament: Jesus, and the baptized community. Individual leaders were not “priests”; it was the role and right of the congregations to speak of God to the world, and pray to God for the well-being of the world.

It’s useful to remember always that the destruction of the temple in 70 AD was a seminal event in the life of most of the people we meet in the New Testament. In the loss of the temple, the author of I Peter is re-appropriating this idea of intercession and offering of spiritual sacrifice, relocating it as the work of the entire community.
What does it mean to have been the recipients of mercy? Of absolute forgiveness, and inclusion, and welcome? For that, says the author of First Peter, is who we are. Not by our own deserving, or because we earned it by following the rules or living up to some impossible standard—but just because God, in the person and work of Jesus Christ, has made it so.

In the gospel reading from John, Jesus is getting the disciples ready for his departure. In a very few hours he will be arrested, and imprisoned, and executed. He is getting them ready, by reminding them of what they already know.

“I AM” the way. And the truth. And the life. Again with “I AM” statements…reminding us, two thousand years later, of what John’s author wants us to be absolutely clear about: that this Jesus is God’s own self-revelation in the world in which we live. “Show us the Father!” Philip asks, and you can just see Jesus placing his face in his hands. “Phil, buddy—where have you been?” I am in God; God is in me; there is no difference. And you (all) too, will share in this reality.

To the first hearers of John’s gospel, this was not new news at all. But it was something that they needed to hear again; an essential reality of which they sometimes needed to be reminded. They were wondering, after many years, “Is this it?” Jesus had not returned to earth in bodily form, as they had been expecting. Most of those who had known Jesus in the days of his human existence had themselves died. So now what are we supposed to do?

Let’s just say that getting rid of all human responsibilities, and sitting on a mountaintop waiting for the Second Coming didn’t seem to be on Jesus’ agenda for his followers. Not then; not yesterday or today or tomorrow.

“There is a place prepared for you (all)”…but before that, something else. Whether the day of going home is soon, even as soon as yesterday or many years in the future, until then there is something else. “You (all) will do the works that I do, and even greater works than these.”

He has washed their feet—an act of complete service and care, disregarding all the social conventions of the day. He has gotten himself a reputation for hanging out with the absolute wrongest kind of people, and eating and drinking and talking with them. He has healed the sick and given sight to the blind, and raised the dead. And “You all”—he says—meaning them, and us too—“will do even greater things.”

Are we ourselves able to see the work of God’s Spirit even now, in our lives as Christ’s hands and eyes and ears in this world? Do we expect that we would? And if not, why not?
To live in faith does not mean that we ask no questions; it does not mean that we are forever satisfied with easy answers, or that we do not seek to understand more deeply the mysteries of the universe, be they physical or metaphysical—but that at the bottom of it all, is a trust that God is God, and we are beloved. No matter what we’ve done, or left undone; no matter who we are or think we ought to be, but only and all for love.

We love, as well and as fully as we are able, because God in Christ has loved us first.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come;
‘Tis grace that’s brought us safe thus far, and grace shall lead us home.”

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