Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
The Gospel lesson begins with some words from Jesus that often surface at funerals: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” The next words lend themselves to the use at funerals because Jesus speaks of coming back to take the disciples (and us) to Himself. At the same time, His going away would also provide a place in this life. This part may have been the most difficult for the disciples to comprehend.
Jesus spoke these words on the night of His betrayal. Like the institution of His Supper that same night, these were very important words — something like “final instructions.” At the same time, the disciples’ minds had to be filled with so many fears and anxieties that any message would have difficulty getting through. The most difficult of all would be that somehow they would benefit from His “going away.” Because we read the words after God’s great act of salvation has unfolded and the resurrection is accomplished, we may not have as much trouble understanding, but we may have as much in believing. Do you believe the following words of Jesus? “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Some good and some bad things happen when kids “go away” to college. I can assure you that the same thing is true when they get married and “go away.”
For friends and loved ones to go away is not a happy thought for anyone, but the disciples must have felt an even greater fear when Jesus spoke about leaving them. What would they do without Him, who would answer their questions, how would they know where to go or what to say? Jesus spoke as if they knew all about it, but “Honest” Thomas and “Straight Man” Philip made it obvious that they were in the dark. Jesus said, “Where I am going you know and you know the way.” Thomas spoke up and said that they knew neither: “Master, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?”
Jesus’ famous response is another I am saying: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He went on to say that those who know Him also know and have seen the Father. That’s when Philip jumped in with, “Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” He sparked a dissertation from the Lord on: “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.”
Most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s quip about his father. I guess most teenagers think the old man is pretty ignorant, but it is amazing how much he learns by the time they are 20. Less known, but equally clever, is another quote from the famous author: “Until a boy is about 14 years old, he does what his father says; after that he does what his father does.” Jesus’ identity with His Father gave Him all the direction, purpose and activity in life that He needed. It can be the same for us.
Speaking of identities, Sunday’s lesson from First Peter gives us another one (perhaps, it is the same one): “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Notice the communal nature of these descriptions. Jesus did not speak or act on His own. He spoke and worked the words and deeds of His Father. Similarly, we are identified with each other, as well as with Son and Father, when we are living up to our high calling as the royal priesthood of the Living God.
In one way or another, most people in our country have been struck with sorrow over the heinous crimes in Littleton, Colorado. We may not realize it at the time, but when life or death strikes us down so that we don’t know where to turn, we may have come to a vantage point. Pastor Arthur John Gossip was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1873. His wife died suddenly and dramatically in 1927. His first sermon afterward was, “But When Life Tumbles in, What Then?” In it, he said, “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else . . . I don’t think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail; and there are places where the road is very steep and lonely. But we have a wonderful God.” (Philip knew more than he thought when he said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”)
During David Livingstone’s three decades in Africa, a mission society once wrote saying that they had some good men to send to help him. They asked if there was a good road to the famous missionary’s current location. He wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road.” He wanted people who knew the Way (Truth and Life), not the road!
Sunday’s lesson from Acts concludes: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I think these words draw together some excellent lessons for living. Individualistic Christians have no acceptance or room in their lives for others because they have not received mercy — if they had, they would be showing mercy to others. God’s mercy is there, it is being directed to them, but they will have no part of it.
Similarly, those who want pat answers for everything — that which is true as opposed to that which is false — have not found an identity as God’s people. For them, truth is always cold, hard fact. For Jesus, if it isn’t united with love, it isn’t true. The Truth is a Person who goes with us through the potholes of life, not some inanimate road map around them. Jesus is the Way — not the end of the road, but the end of our search for one. Every itinerary for the journey is different, but the starting point and the traveling Companion is always Christ. When Jesus is our Way, there is no “Plan B.”
The disciples were fearful when He said He must go away. If He hadn’t, however, their footprints would have always been on top of His own. After He left, their footprints spread out all across the globe, and they are still spreading today. We who are on Christ’s Mission have received mercy and that has made all the difference. We are no longer frozen with the immobility of fearing a wrong turn, because we know intimately the Way of forgiveness. Fear of what is false, any sense of being lost, and even the possibility of death have been removed by the One who has given Himself to us and for us – our Way, Truth and Life!