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May 10, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve spent the last few weeks learning about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. But at this point in the Easter season, we go back in time a bit – so to speak – to the night that he was arrested.
We most often hear the first part of the Gospel reading at funerals – and for good reason. At this point in the story, Jesus has just told his disciples that he’ll be leaving them and they’re trying to figure out what all that means, so he’s comforting them – assuring them that he’ll come back for them.
He said all of this because he knew how difficult things were going to get for them. He’s reminding them of all that they need to know to get through the hours, days, weeks, and even months ahead.
But when we read this today, people’s tendency is to stop at v6 – I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. This is one that’s often taken out of context and used to beat people up. Instead of reading past it to remember the character of God, people stop right there. Instead of being used as an invitation to live the way of Jesus, it’s used as a weapon to scare people.
I’ve said before that in John’s gospel, that to believe in Jesus is to be in relationship with him. The two go together. They’re like this (use hands, interlocked fingers) – they can’t be separated. When Jesus first spoke these words, he was reminding the disciples of their relationship. And that that relationship would guide them and continue to shape their lives even when Jesus was no longer physically present with them.
So this wasn’t a relationship that would form at some distant point in the future, it was one that already existed. And Jesus was inviting them to remain in it, and to live it. And as he continued to talk and remind them about the characteristics of God, it becomes clear that he was inviting them to live a life that embodies agape love.
And when we, today, remember that? Yeah, Jesus is the way. And it’s a way of love, not coercion. It’s an invitation to live that love, not a reason to be afraid, or to make others afraid. It’s the way that shapes us and guides us, not only when things are going well but especially when things are uncertain. Like now.
In these last couple of months, we’ve all heard stories about people who embody this life – this love. Their stories help steady us in the midst of the chaos that’s going on. One of those stories is about a man named Dennis Ruhnke, a retired farmer in Kansas who sent one N95 mask to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
While going through some old farm equipment, Ruhnke found five of the masks, which he’d used while cleaning out the grain bins on his farm. He and his wife now need them because they’re both at high risk for contracting COVID-19. But they decided that, for their immediate family, four masks would be sufficient and wanted to send the fifth to someplace with greater need.
The healthcare workers in their town said that they had enough masks for their needs. So in late March, Ruhnke chose to send the mask to New York because of the toll that COVID-19 has taken there, in the hopes that it would help at least one person. He didn’t expect that Governor Cuomo himself would receive the letter, let alone read it aloud it at a press conference.
In a world, a society, that tends to encourage people to take care of themselves and not worry about others – people like Dennis Ruhnke remind us that the way of Jesus is the way we care for and love each other.
When we live the way of Jesus, we don’t just say, “Jesus is the way” as a statement of affirmation. We embody it every day. And it’s easy to do that when we’re on the outside looking in. When we hear stories about people like Dennis Ruhnke and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.”
But when we remember that “Jesus is the way” is the embodiment of our relationship with Jesus, we remember that it isn’t always easy to do because relationships take work. Living a life that embodies agape love all the time, takes work. And sometimes the work is difficult, and if we’re being truthful, sometimes we’d rather avoid it.
But Jesus is the way acknowledges the hard work and that life is sometimes messy. It acknowledges that we’re anxious and maybe even scared because we don’t know what things will look like when the pandemic restrictions are lifted. And that we don’t like admitting the decisions we make for ourselves don’t only affect us; they have repercussions and consequences for others.
Jesus is the way acknowledges that we’re angry because queerphobia and homophobia and transphobia are real. And that we’re heartbroken that racism is still very much a part of our society.
Jesus is the way means recognizing that the agape love we’re called to embody meets up with the messiness of the world and gives us the strength to stay in it. Jesus is the way works to create a world where no one lives in fear for any reason, and where everyone has enough.
It gives us the courage to call our representatives and hold them accountable for their decisions. And to speak out against injustice and demand that we do better by each other. And to have difficult conversations with our friends and family when we disagree.
It isn’t always easy to do these things. But it is the way of Jesus.
Jesus is the way. It’s the way that embodies love – it embodies a living, dynamic relationship with him. It brings that love to life today. And if this sounds like a lot, it is. But it’s the relationship that guides us and shapes who we and our world become. Thanks be to God! Amen.