The chosen hymns for this week, Styx - Show Me The Way and What a Friend We Have in Jesus can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Like a lot of men, and there’s no good reason for this, it’s completely irrational, I see asking for directions as some kind of weakness. I’d rather drive around and round just on the off-chance I’ll end up where I’m going than admit I’m lost and stop and ask someone. Even if I do ask for directions, it’ll be a bit of a waste of time anyway, because as soon as the person starts telling me where to go I’ll immediately forget everything they’re saying. ‘Turn right at the lights, then take the third on the left, go on for about half a mile, past the fire station, then when you get to a roundabout go straight ahead and it’s the next road on the right.’ I’ll be glazing over after ‘turn right at the lights.’ Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Not that it has to happen much these days anyway, because I’ve got a satnav in my car, I’ve got Google Maps on my phone. All I have to do is tap in an address or a postcode, and the nice lady tells me how to get there. And the best thing is that she doesn’t just tell me for me to remember, she takes me there, she’s with me every stage of the journey.
If you were watching or listening a few weeks ago, you might remember I said Thomas only figures a couple of times in the Bible, but both times were really significant. I’m fairly certain that if Thomas was around now, and he didn’t have satnav or a phone handy, he wouldn’t be backwards in coming forward, he wouldn’t be slow in asking for directions. I spoke before about him asking for proof of Jesus’ resurrection, well, here he is again in our reading today…
It takes place before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion when Jesus says to the disciples he’s going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, and he says, ‘You know the way that leads to the place I’m going.’
Thomas is the only one with the gumption to ask the question that I’m sure the other disciples were thinking, he says: ‘We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way to get there?’
And Jesus comes back with maybe one of the most quoted, most important statements in all of scripture. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one goes to the Father except by me.’
You know how a statement can seem different depending on where you put the emphasis? There’s a sentence that’s quite often used to illustrate this, ‘I never said she stole my money.’ If you’re not familiar with it, write it down, it’s really interesting. Because it’s only got seven words in it, but it’s got seven different meanings depending on where you put the emphasis. ‘I never said she stole my money’, meaning someone else said it. ‘I never said she stole my money,’ meaning I’m shocked at the very idea of it. ‘I never said she stole my money,’ meaning it was something other than money she stole. Try it! Every word gives a different meaning.
I only mention this because I think with Jesus’ statement sometimes we’re tempted to put the emphasis in the wrong place. I did just a moment ago when I quoted it. Let me try again. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ I think it makes more sense like that – Thomas says ‘we don’t know the way’, and Jesus says, ‘I am the way.’
‘I am.’ Where have we heard that before?
I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. Jim talked about a couple last Sunday – I am the gate. I am the good shepherd. I am the true vine. I am the resurrection and the life. Seven times John’s Gospel has Jesus emphasising who, and what, he is. And each time it’s an echo of God’s words to Moses in Exodus – ‘I am who I am.’
Again and again, Jesus tells his disciples that there’s an intrinsic link between himself and God, and that the way to God, the Father, is through him.
And, of course, Jesus doesn’t just tell them about the way – he tells them he is the way. It’s like…when you ask someone for directions and they tell you, well, that’s all very well but you’re still on your own. But if they jump in the car and say, ‘I’ll show you,’ it’s like they become the way, they are the way, you don’t have to rely on your memory of what they told you. The satnav that patiently tells you every turn to take? You’ve still got to listen and do the driving, but you don’t have to worry about reaching your destination, because the satnav becomes the way, it is the way. When Jim spoke last week about the shepherd leading his flock from the front rather than driving it from behind, for the sheep the shepherd is the way.
‘No-one goes to the Father except by me,’ Jesus says, ‘I am the way.’
He doesn’t just describe the way. He is the way.
Still the disciples need a bit more clarification about where this way leads, about the Father Jesus says he’s going to, and Philip voices their concerns: ‘Show us the Father,’ he says, ‘That’s all we need.’
Now, I’m the first to admit that things get a little complicated here. ‘Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me,’ says Jesus. Now, much better people than me have tried to explain how Jesus can be both man and God at the same time, hypostatic union it’s called, and, forgive me, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m not going to try now. I still wake up in a cold sweat remembering the time one of my university tutors asked me to explain it to the class.
But I think Jesus gives Philip, and us, thank goodness, he gives permission not to delve too deeply into it when he says ‘If not, believe because of the things I do.’ I think he’s saying don’t concern yourself too much by the details, just look at the evidence and believe it. Jesus said kind of the same thing back at the beginning of his ministry when some of John the Baptist’s disciples came to him asking if he was the Messiah, and he told them, ‘Go back and tell John what you’re hearing and seeing – the blind can see, the lame can walk.’ Look at the evidence and believe it.
The same evidence is available to us, in here. We’re just called on to believe. And if we believe, the way becomes clear.
You know, there’s a reason why the passage I read today is often used at funerals. It’s comforting, speaking of many rooms in the Father’s house, speaking of Jesus preparing a place. ‘Do not be worried and upset,’ he says. Yes, it’s comforting, but I think it’s as much about how we live now as about what happens after we die. We can live wandering lives, taking our successes where we can, coping with one crisis after another. We’ll end up somewhere, but there’s no guaranteeing it’ll be where we want to be, or where we deserve to be. Or we can swallow our pride and ask for help, ask for directions, knowing that there’s a guide there for us, a guide we believe in, to show us the path ahead and to take us with him to where we’re meant to be.
Let’s join together in prayer again. Let us pray.
God of compassion, we live in an world that’s unfamiliar to us, a world in which we’ve been compelled to face not just the worries of disease and disorder, but the worries of isolation and of loneliness. Some of us, the lucky ones, might be relatively unaffected by the current crisis but there are many, a great many, who have never been in more need of your love and your care than they are right now. We set these people before you and pray that you would be with them, look into their hearts and give them comfort.
We set before you the families of those who are suffering the loss of someone they loved, someone they still love. For every statistic on the government graphs, there is a grieving family, trying to come to terms with no longer having a loved one in their midst.
We set before you those who are currently suffering illness, as well as their families. The numbers may be falling but, again, no man, woman or child is just a number – every one is a person, precious and special.
We set before you those caring for the afflicted, in hospitals, in care homes, hospices and family homes . They place themselves at risk for often little reward, and no amount of clapping on doorsteps can ever come close to relaying our gratitude to them.
We set before you those working in services to the public, the shop workers, the bus drivers, taxi drivers. Without them, the healthy people in our society would live immeasurably poorer lives.
We set before you those charged with finding a vaccine for the virus. It seems the only true way of releasing it from our lives, as no amount of distancing or isolation is ever truly flawless, so our hopes rest upon them.
Lord, this world may be unfamiliar, but it’s still thew world we live in and it’s still your world. It will become familiar again, but until then, be with those who need you, and help us to help those we can.