20 April 2008

the 5th sunday of easter, year a

Saint Anne's, Atlanta
Gospel Text: John 14:1-14

My big red suitcase was packed and tagged, and I had a one-way ticket to New York City waiting for me on the fridge. The next morning, I was going to seminary.

That night, I decided to take my Volkswagen out for our swan song. I was about to leave her for the subways and sidewalks of New York City, and, let me tell you, it was a sad break-up for me. I took her to Stone Mountain Park and we drove around the mountain for at least an hour. Round and round I drove that car and round and round went my thoughts, and next thing I knew I was in tears. What am I thinking? New York? Really? Seminary? Really? Whatever. I’m not going. I’m going to call Rob Nash.

Some of y’all have heard me talk about ole Rob before. A college professor, Baptist pastor, missionary, dear friend and mentor to me. He answered the phone, “Hello?”

“Hey, Dr. Nash. It’s Wendy. I’m not going to seminary tomorrow. Ever. No way.”

There was a five-second-feels-like-five-hours-long pause before he cut it with his signature belly laugh.

“Porter,” he said.


“LEAP,” he said.



“Leap? Rob, really. Leap where?”

“Just LEAP, Porter. LEAP.”

* * * * * *

Today’s Gospel lesson launches us into a story that takes place before the crucifixion, before the resurrection, before Easter. Jesus is in the midst of saying goodbye to his friends. He has predicted his imminent betrayal and death, and he’s trying his best to give them some peace, some comfort, and a little bit of instruction.

This scene comes immediately after Jesus hands them the new commandment: Love one another. Big time. He tells them to love each other the way he’s loved them—and that Love is huge and radical and boundary-breaking. It crosses every line, every norm, every standard. Jesus has just told them to love, love, love.

Then he’s all like, “Okay. See ya later.”

You can imagine the waves of fear that shook those disciples. He’s given them this huge, radical commandment—one that they can’t imagine living out with him around to help—and then tells them that they have to do it on their own. They’re scared.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says to them. “I’ll come back, dudes. No worries. And I will take you to where I am going so that where I am, there you will be also. Besides, you totally know the way.”

Well, leave it to Thomas to chime in.

Thomas gets a bad rap. They call him “doubting” and he carries the unfortunate reputation of being the disciple that doesn’t trust, doesn’t let go, doesn’t believe. But he’s indispensable. We need Thomas to name what’s actually going on with the disciples. He doesn’t mince words, he tells the truth. And because of his openness, Jesus gets the opportunity to clarify, to teach, and to proclaim even more than before.

“Lord,” says Thomas, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we possibly know the way?” The subtext here isn’t hard to find: Jesus, man, we’re scared. Don’t leave us.

And Jesus’ answer is remarkably simple: “I am the way.”

Relax, Jesus is saying. Do not be troubled. Stop freaking out.

* * * * *

Four years before I went to seminary, four years before Rob Nash laughed and told me to LEAP, I was babysitting his kids. As I was tucking the 11-year-old Lindsay into bed she casually asked what I wanted to do when I graduated from college.

“Well, I might go to seminary.” I cringed when I said it.

“Why did you make that face?” she asked.

“It’s kind of a big commitment, Linds. It seems pretty scary to me.”

And then—y’all I’m not making this up—she placed her hand on my cheek and said, “Wendy, fear is not from God.”

And, you know what? That eleven-year-old was totally right. There’s a proverb or something that even says it: Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. And today’s Gospel lesson taps into that very truth. When Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “I am the way. I am truth. I am life,” he is handing them a piece of themselves that they already know. “Trust yourselves a little more,” he’s saying. “You’ve got Love on your side. You’re going to be great. Greater than you can imagine. You will carry on without me. Feel the Love and Let Go. Leap.”

“What’s more,” says Jesus, “you know God. That’s why you’re going to be great. Because you know me you know God.”
This is Gospel. This is Good News. You know God. Because the Spirit dwells in you, because you devote yourself to Jesus, you get to know God. I can’t think of a greater motivator, a greater source of fuel, a greater reason to get up in the morning and go.

Can you see? Can you turn on your mind’s eye and see God inside of you? Can you feel this Good News? You don’t need to be shown the way to God because you’ve already got it. Right here, in your heart, in your gut, in your mind. God’s there. God is yours and you are God’s.

And now for the scary vulnerable work…

Not only are we called to see the face of God in the mirror. We are being called to see the face of God in each other. We are called to take a step forward and look into each other’s eyes. Get close enough to smell the sweat and the dirt. Nose-to-nose. See God in each other.

In a minute you are going to renew your Baptismal Covenant. Listen to what is asked of you: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love your neighbors as you love yourselves, to strive for justice and peace, to respect the dignity of every human being.

The work I’m talking about here is big. This Baptismal Covenant is at the heart of what it means walk the way, live the truth, be the life of God.

The common denominator,
the thread that runs through every soul,
the truth of God,
is the truth that
we were all created in God’s image.

And we Christians are called to seek that common denominator,
and when we tap into that denominator,
when we are at our best,
when we are living out that Baptismal Covenant,
when we have our thumbs on the heartbeat of humanity…
that’s when we find ourselves in the throes of God’s call for us.

So, you gotta trust Jesus on this one. You gotta believe—really believe—that you know God because you know Jesus. You gotta believe—really believe—that, even though it might not always be clear, you know the way. The way that points us to the radical, boundary-breaking Love of Jesus Christ.

When you recommit yourselves to Christ in a minute, pay attention. And when you answer that you “will with God’s help”, really say it.

Take the Leap.