Words of Hope in Troubled times ~ John 14: 1-13

Fifth Sunday in Easter, May 13/14, 2017
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist

Today is Mother’s Day, a day when we pause to honor those special people who discharged the office of mother in our lives. Sometimes that task was fulfilled by a father … or by a grandparent … or some other surrogate, who cared enough to see that we were loved, protected, and nurtured.

My mother was probably the most powerful faith-formation force in my life. I have difficulty remembering whether the seeds of character and conviction that were sown into my life, as a child, came from my mother or were the result of internalizing the words and teachings of Jesus that I encountered regularly in the little Swedish Lutheran church of my childhood and at our family dinner table.

My mother taught me how to pray … she taught me the fundamentals of Christian stewardship, summed up by Helen Almquist in the simple concept … give to the Lord first and you will never go without.
My mother instilled in me the uncompromising value of telling the truth … something that has fallen on hard times today, particularly in Washington!
My mother modeled kindness and forgiveness in dealing with other people and the importance of not holding a grudge …
She taught me tolerance for all individuals … and the importance of hard work ~ Roy, do not ever forget that when your grandparents came to this country they had nothing but a determination to work hard and do well. Honor them by having your life matter for something.

Most of all my mother instilled hope and confidence in me … by telling me that she would always love me … and I did not have to earn or deserve her love. Such is the nature of mothers … and, if you had a great mother, as I did, you have been profoundly blessed.

So, we honor our mothers today … and we also hear in our Gospel lesson Jesus speak gracious, encouraging words, spoken to his disciples at the end of his earthly life, words intended to instill in them a sense of hope and confidence … not unlike what my mother instilled in me.

Our Gospel lesson takes us back to Maundy Thursday and that final gathering in the Upper Room.
After Jesus had bent with basin and towel to wash the disciples’ feet, giving them a model for true servanthood;
After he had eaten with his disciples and had given them a special new tradition, built around the Passover bread and the sacred cup of wine;
After he predicted that he would be betrayal by Judas (13:26-28) and denied by his faithful friend, Peter (13:37-38) … 

Jesus then commanded his followers to love each other, no matter what might befall them in the days and months to come (13:34). With all of the threats and dangers all around them, we should not be surprised that the disciples were confused and afraid. What is more, Jesus had again predicted his own departure. 

So this is the context for our Gospel lesson ~ a portion of what tradition has called the Farewell Discourses … Jesus made the profound promise we heard this morning and which we often read at funeral services: Though I go away, it is to prepare a place for you in the presence of my Father. I will come back for you, and we will be united again for time and eternity. [14: 3]

During this remarkable time in the Upper Room Jesus tried to assure his disciples that they need not have troubled hearts. In this rarified time with his disciples Jesus spoke some of the most profound words in all of Scripture:
Jesus assured them in the Upper Room that they would not be left alone; he would send them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who would protect them.
He urged them to stay together and remember all that he had taught them. I am the vine and you are the branches. You will bear fruit as long as you remain in me.
Then Jesus tells them, I want you to love one another, as I have loved you.

Our Gospel lesson is a snapshot moment of high apprehension and uncertainty. We are living in such a time today. From a lunatic with nuclear weapons in North Korea … to the constant threat of international terrorism … to uncertainty about health care coverage … to the latest surprise in the roller coaster ride that is the new normal in Trump Land … in many ways, we are back with the disciples in the Upper Room of fear and dis-ease.

No wonder our Gospel lesson is the preferred text for that time of distress when death comes near to us. We cherish Thomas and Philip because they were not afraid to express their confusion and reveal their distress.
Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? [Thomas]
Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. [Philip]

We each live our lives in the midst of great uncertainties.
Some of us are facing health challenges … I certainly am.
Others are contemplating a job change … or relocation … children moving on to their next adventure.
Some are dealing with a family crisis or the deterioration in a relationship.

We have all had times when we would like some blessed assurance … some ray of sunshine and hope … some heavenly guarantee that we have not placed our faith in empty promises. Show us the Father and we will be satisfied. But, of course, it does not work like that.

So let us not be afraid. We will have our Thomas ~ Philip moments. But let us not abandon our hope in the one who came that we might have life and have it in abundance … the one who came to preach God’s mercy and taught God’s love … the one who healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, and then conquered death so that we need not fear whatever tomorrow holds … We know who holds our tomorrow.

This is good news … and it is enough. Let us live in it, with it, and through it. AMEN.

Washington Memorial Chapel