In you, O God, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Holy One, faithful God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In God’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? And 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.And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Teacher, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me. If you know me, you will know God also. From now on you do know God and have seen God.” Philip said to him, “Teacher, show us the Creator, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Creator. How can you say, ‘Show us the Creator’? Do you not believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but God who dwells in me does the works. Believe me that I am in God and God is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Creator. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that God may be glorified in the Child. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Will you pray with and for me? Loving God, sometimes we get lost in this confusing world. Remind us that you are with us always; you have prepared a place for us, a place of welcoming love. Teach us to see with your eyes, to be your hands and heart and spirit in this world, to do your works in this world. In all your names, amen.
This gospel reading is one of those hard ones that we don’t really like to preach, because it sounds so harsh. “No one comes to God except through me.” We all know people who are not spiritual, or spiritual but not religious, or of a different faith altogether—they are good people, some of them maybe better people than we are—how can we say that they do not know God?
There are a couple of different ways of looking at this. If we look at it literally, then we have to say, “Well, sorry,” to our Muslim and Hindu and Jewish and non-practicing friends. “You are out of luck.” If we look at it in a more nuanced way, though, if we look at this whole passage, then we can say, “Many paths lead to God. How can we be so arrogant as to believe that we have the one and only way—that we can limit how God acts and works in other people’s lives?” That’s the path I choose to take. I have known too many good people—kind, fair, loving, wise, generous—who are not Christians, to think that they cannot know God. They may have other names, or no name, but they cannot be the people they are apart from God. They may not think of themselves that way, they may not take God into their calculations at all, but they do reflect the love of God in their lives.
God can’t be pinned down to one place or time. When Thomas says, “But we don’t know where you are going, how can we follow you?” Jesus tells him that he himself, Jesus, is the way they will get to the place they need to be. There’s no need to look for Jesus, Jesus is already there—and here, and in Lebanon and Burma and Johannesburg and London and Mexico City and everywhere there are people. We only have to open the eyes of our hearts to recognise God’s presence in every place and every person.
This can be pretty easily done with people we know and see regularly—our family, our friends, our co-workers and neighbours. But it can be harder when we move outside those comfort zones—across town, across the country, around the world. How do we, how can we reach out, beyond those comfort zones, to the rest of the world, to people we don’t even know?
As you may have guessed, I have several opportunities for us, ways we can reach out to the world, see God in others, and allow them to see God in us. Two people are in need of human communication, of that reassurance that people care. One is a seven-year-old boy in Bolivia. The other is a person who feels called to support LGBT prisoners with reminders of God’s love—he is asking for our support though prayers and letters of encouragement. We have also been offered the opportunity to provide worship at a local assisted living facility. These are all ways we can reach beyond our walls here at the church; we can be the presence of God for others through shared worship, through letters of support and hope and simple human contact.
If Jesus taught anything, he taught that we are to serve each other. These are a few ways we can do that, ways to move beyond our comfort zone of caring for friends and family and our church community. Those are, of course, very important. But I am asking us to take another step, to venture out a bit, beyond what we know.
Remember Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” We have been called to do the works that Jesus did—to comfort the sick and dying and lonely; to encourage people who are struggling, to visit those in prison, to feed the hungry—whether physical or spiritual hunger.
What we do here is wonderful—we are nourished by spiritual readings and discussion and music and prayer. But we must do more with it—we need to reach beyond ourselves, beyond this community to the world beyond our doors and share that love and acceptance and encouragement we know here with others, so that they can know it too, and see God’s presence.
Here is my challenge to you—to each one of you here. Write one letter, share in one worship service at the facility; people need and want to know that they are not alone—they are hoping to hear God speak through our voices—the encouragement and support and hope and caring of Jesus, shared with our sisters and brothers.
Some of you grew up in the church, or a church environment. One of the first songs I remember singing in youth group and Sunday school was "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love." As a kid, I always thought of that in terms of getting along with the people in the group, in the church--my friends and family. But it means so much more--"we will work with other, we will work side by side, and we will guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride, and they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love." That love is not just for the folks here in church--that is very important, of course--but the other half of that equation is reaching out to the rest of the world.
Christians have gotten a lot of bad press lately, from Fred Phelps to various politicians claiming to speak for, they claim, " all true Christians." But that is not the final word--you and I can show that they are not the only ones with a claim to the name Christian--we can offer another vision of who Christians are, how they behave and what they do.
We have so many opportunities to show and share love and encouragement--write a letter or two; take church to people who can't get to church. Maybe you have some other ideas too--share them with me and John and Jason, and maybe we can get others involved. There is so much to be done, my friends--let's roll up our sleeves and get to it.
And they will know we are Christians by our love.
In all God's names, amen.