Some Honest Questions

John 14:1-14

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust into God, trust also into me. 2In my Abba’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’*5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Abba except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Abba also. From now on you do know and have seen.’

Accepting troubles | Rumi quotes, Rumi, Rumi love

The stage is set. It’s the end. Well, it’s the end speech. Jesus of Nazareth is about to drop the mic. See, this part of John’s Gospel would fall in the part of the story right before Jesus was killed. So contextually, consider that Jesus [in this particular story] was addressing his dear friends and followers, for the last time. Jesus’ last chance to mentor them; also, the opportunity for Jesus to break the news—he wouldn’t be around much longer. They would have to make it on their own.

And, if we know anything about this band of followers that Jesus had, they were not always the most enthusiastic and confident group. They teetered back and forth and often struggled to live out what Jesus taught. Add to that the ominous future before them—that their Rabbi Jesus would soon be gone, and some of it might even be partly their fault.

Clearly, they were full of anxiety and fear. So Jesus leads with:

Do not let your heart be troubled. 

This is a challenge and not necessarily a comfort. See, Jesus was urging the followers to move beyond their anxiety and to, as per the Greek translation, “trust into God and trust into Jesus.” In this case it isn’t “believe” but trust and “trust into.” That’s some foreshadowing, because the topic of location is about to come up. Jesus challenged them to go to another place—not the place of anxiety and fear. They were to travel to a place called trust.

Doing this would allow them to see their troubles with a proper perspective. I would argue that perspective is huge. Take these last few months, example. We are prone to asking each other when we text, call, or email, or zoom—”How are you doing, in the midst of all this?” What we really mean to say is: “How are you holding up in the midst of a pandemic, with stay-at-home orders, required masks, social distancing, flattening the curve, quarantine, and Covid-19?” And it’s all about perspective. Because if you view your life through the lens of all of those things, your answer will be completely dependent on those external issues. Your heart would most certainly be troubled by all that’s going on and the uncertain days ahead. You may even panic a bit, or feel quite low, because there is no end in sight to all this.

So a more beautiful question we can ask ourselves these days, and every day is:

“What troubles your heart today?”

And a follow up:

What is getting you through it and even out of it?”

In honesty we can address the anxiety and the fear and the frustration, but not dwell in it or stay there. Vulnerability can open our eyes to notice a new path to trust and strength—one we may not have noticed before. Another WAY.

A way to a dwelling place, a habitation. That’s what Jesus called it. Apparently, there were many habitations available, plenty of vacancy. But don’t take this to mean some heavenly 5 star hotel room for anyone who is a Christian. Not even close. The habitation word, in its original Greek, is monai.  This means a temporary resting place for a traveler.  You’ve heard of caravans, right? Back in the day there were groups of people who would go ahead of the caravan to “prepare a place” so that, when the caravan did arrive, the camp had been prepared—they knew where they could get water, they had food ready. Thus, the caravan travelers knew to expect a welcome place to stay the night.

Itinerary of Ancient Caravan in San Pedro de Atacama

No, not anything fancy, but certainly a place of hospitality, and community.

But you gotta get there first, right? You might need a map or a GPS, or something, right? So thought Thomas, who of course is one of my favorite characters. Thomas heard all of Jesus’ words about not giving into anxiety and fear, about trusting, about finding the way to the place of hospitality and welcome. Sounded great. But how would they get there? They didn’t know the way. So Jesus answers by leading with the ego eimi, I AM way, truth, life.

Remember, friends, don’t emphasize “the” in this sentence. This passage has been misused far too many times to clobber people with imperialistic Christianity, claiming that because Jesus is THE way, there is no OTHER way, and thus, if you don’t believe something specific about Jesus, or if you are following another religion or spiritual tradition, you are lost and of course, there is no vacancy for you!

Wrong.

You're doing it wrong - Meme on Imgur

This is not about establishing some superior religion or offering you an exclusive ticket to your heavenly mansion. Instead, Jesus’ words here are a response to Thomas’ question, remember. Thomas, the honest dude who dared to ask something practical. Thomas, who so wanted a way out of and through the anxiety and fear, a way to trust, a way to a place where life could be lived fully.

What Jesus was talking about was a way out—a way out of captivity. As Gardner Taylor puts it: There is something wrong with our humanity. We feel a disquiet, a deep and true dis-ease. We are not satisfied with what we are; we sense that we are born for some spacious destiny from which we feel somehow barred. We feel trapped…longing to be free.

We feel trapped…longing to be free.

Yes.

amen Memes & GIFs - Imgflip

See, there are other “ways out” that we unfortunately look for—in materialism and consumerism, in creating legacies or making more money, or in doing all the things we think society wants us to do. There are other ways out from fear and anxiety that take the shape of unhealthy behaviors and habits. There are other ways out which involve addiction to headlines and social media depression and shaming others.

And then there is a way out and through. Life is hard, harsh, brutal, painful. We fear failure. We feel shame. Jesus offers a way through all that—not ignoring it, not suppressing it, but finding a way through it, we’re not stuck there. And we can get out. We can go outside and escape our own personal quarantines. We can find a way through and out.

So friends, I’ll be honest with you and I hope you’ll be honest with me and with others.

When you check in with someone, ask beautiful and honest questions.

“What troubles your heart today?” And a follow up: “What is leading you through that and out of that?” See you on this way.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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