Sunday, May 18, 2014

Knowing God

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 18, 2014

Year A: The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Knowing God
            If you were here last week you may remember that I talked about how because God is infinite and invisible we have no choice but to use metaphors and figures of speech to talk about God.
            God is like this.
            God’s love is like that.
            And that’s true. And we use metaphors for God all the time. Last week we talked about the image of God as shepherd of the people – and Jesus as the Good Shepherd who protects us, who nurtures us, who never stops looking for us when we go astray.
            It’s a powerful image for the deep love of God – the deep love that Jesus offers to all of us.
            But, at the heart of our Christian faith is the mind-blowing idea that at one point in human history, God broke through metaphor and image and figure of speech and God actually became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth.
            It’s a hard idea to accept. And it was hard for people to accept in the first years of Christianity.
            After all, it would have been much easier, much simpler, frankly a much easier sell, to say that Jesus was a great prophet, a great teacher, a great healer. Most people then and now could sign up for that.
            And probably a whole lot of people then and now would even go along with the claim that Jesus was the greatest – the greatest prophet, the greatest teacher, the greatest healer of all time.
            But, from just about the start, the followers of Jesus have made a much more challenging – much harder to accept – claim.
            From very early days, followers of Jesus have made the claim that, yes, Jesus was a great – the greatest – prophet, teacher and healer. But, we’ve also claimed that he’s much more.
            And we hear this mind-blowing Christian claim in today’s gospel lesson.
            It’s still Easter, but today’s gospel takes us back before the Cross, back to the Last Supper.
            Just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus gathers with his disciples, with his closest friends.
            And the way the Evangelist John tells the story, the Last Supper gives Jesus the opportunity for one last crack at getting through to his often thick-headed followers. They’ve been with him for years, but the disciples are still confused – still don’t get what Jesus is about – still don’t know who Jesus is.
            In the passage we heard today, the Apostles Thomas and Philip get speaking parts and by what they ask we know they still don’t get it.
            We can hear the pain and confusion in Thomas’ question to Jesus. At the Last Supper it’s beginning to sink in that Jesus is going to die. Jesus tries to reassure them that he will prepare a place for them with God – tries to reassure them that we will all be reunited – tries to reassure them that they know the way to be with Jesus, to be together forever.
            Thomas asks, begs, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
            Jesus tells Thomas, tells all of us, that he is the way. And then Jesus adds, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
            In the very next verse Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”
            And Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
            Most scholars think that the Gospel of John is the last of the four gospels to be completed, right around the year 100, about seventy years after the earthly lifetime of Jesus.
            So, this gospel is the product of divine inspiration working through a couple of generations of Christian reflection on Jesus.
            And those decades of prayer, reflection and experience led those early Christians to realize that in and through Jesus we move beyond metaphors and figures of speech.
            Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
            Knowing Jesus means knowing God.
            And if we know Jesus we know that God loves us with a bottomless, self-giving, self-sacrificial love.
            If we know Jesus we know that God has a special love for the outcasts, for the nobodies of the world, the people the world ignores and throws away.
            If we know Jesus we know that God has a special love for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, held hostage for no other reason than wanting to read and learn.
            If we know Jesus we know that God has a special love the poorest among us, the homeless and the addicted, who huddle at Journal Square, who panhandle along Bergen Avenue, who sleep in boxes on the porch of the Old Bergen Church.
            If we know Jesus we know that God is all about forgiveness for us and for everybody.
            If we know Jesus we know God offers all of us second chances, no matter how many times we mess up. God offers us seventy times seven chances, healing, and hope and new life – hope and new life even after days in the tomb.
            Knowing Jesus means knowing God.
            God reveals God’s Self in Jesus.
            But, God doesn’t stop there – God doesn’t stop with Jesus.
            We are the Body of Christ in the world so God continues to reveal God’s Self in and through the Church, in and through Christians through the ages and even today, God continues to reveal God’s Self in and through us.
            In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard the story of the death of Stephen, among the first deacons and considered the first martyr.
            But, notice how much Stephen is like Jesus. He’s killed because he teaches things that people don’t want to hear. And as he’s being stoned to death he echoes Jesus, on the cross, praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
            And at the moment of his death, what does he do? Just like Jesus on the cross, Stephen offers forgiveness, crying out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against him.”
            In and through Stephen, God moved beyond metaphors and figures of speech. God revealed God’s Self in and through Stephen.
            And, if we’re open to God, God reveals God’s Self in and through us.
            So, when we love no matter what, especially when we love the outcasts, the nobodies, the disposable people, then we reveal God to the world.
            When we remember to bring food for the food pantry, when we offer St. Paul’s as a haven for homeless families, when we support our community meal, then we reveal God to the world.
            When we forgive each other – when we forgive ourselves – not just once or twice but seventy times seven times, then we reveal God to the world.
            When we live like Jesus – loving, teaching, healing, forgiving – God breaks through metaphor, image and figure of speech.
            When we live like Jesus then the world can really know Jesus.
            And knowing Jesus we know God.
            And, then knowing Jesus and knowing God, we can proclaim with Thomas, Philip, Stephen and Christians throughout the ages:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!