Texts: Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Psalm 121; 1 Peter 1:18-25; John 14:1-14
Sermon: "The Simple Truth"
The late Dr. Billy Graham tells this story about himself. He was visiting a town in South Carolina, where he would preach that evening in a large venue. Mid-afternoon he had a letter to mail; so he set out to find the post office. On the way he met a little boy and decided to ask directions, to be sure he was heading in the right way. "Can you tell me if this is the way to the post office," Dr. Graham asked him. The little boy said, yes, just a block down the street.
Then Dr. Graham said, "Come to the big church across from the courthouse tonight, and I'll tell you about the way to get to heaven." The little boy answered without hesitation, "No, thank you. You didn't even know how to get to the post office."
It is a delightful story.
But in serious pursuit of this text this morning and in thinking generally about how we live our lives every hour of every day in the presence of God, I ask you:
What do you think God wants you to know about the "way," like the way to the post office or "the way to heaven"?
Our patience, our endurance, and our humanity are under pressure now by the trials of such a time as we are experiencing now. How desperately we need today to know the way! How deeply we long to hear these words from God through Jesus that tell us not to let our hearts be troubled.
Many a family in grief has heard these words as they prepare to say final goodbyes to a loved one. There is no doubt these first words of our gospel message today are beautifully suited for funerals and grave-side services.
I propose to you that these words also are suited for the time in which we live with the threat of a dangerous, highly contagious virus stalking our days and our nights, affecting our pleasures and our nightmares, and straining our relationships and our lonely souls.
Now don't worry, the sermon is not going to be like a report from the Coronavirus Task Force. The message is not about keeping surfaces and hands clean and face masks secure, as important as those things are. But I do want to take just a moment to say that in the week ahead, the First Presbyterian COVID-19 Response Committee will meet again.
This week we will begin a conversation about how we prepare to open the doors to the church again when the signal comes that it is safe to do so.
What a day that will be. I predict that tears of joy will be shed!
Meanwhile, we have these comforting words to start us off this morning: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid. And from there, having tried his best to reassure and comfort his disciples, Jesus tells them just what it means to remember that he and he alone is the way, the truth, and the life.
The disciples have just heard Jesus tell them that he is going away.
They are alarmed. They do not understand.
They cannot imagine what he expects them to do without his presence in their life.
How can they go on?
Don't be worried, he says. Don't be afraid.
Everything I am about to do is to prepare the way for you to follow.
When he talks that way, we think of death and resurrection, heaven, and eternal life in the presence of God. We consider what it will be like in a place too glorious for our human imaginations. And Jesus wants the disciples -- and wants us -- to hold on to those promises of death and resurrection, heaven, and eternal life. They are real promises and they are true.
But the fact is -- that he wants and needs for the disciples to be present in this moment and in their lives going forward. And he wants and needs the same thing for us -- to be here at this moment, here in our earthly existence, here in every sense of the word.
And when Jesus says, "where I am, there you may be also," we must have another vision other than just of heaven.
We know, because he has told us so, that Jesus is everywhere in the world, our very God right in our community, where there are people in pain and grief and fear and despair, and that is where we are to be with him --
if not physically, then in our prayers,
in our outreach to the community,
in our plans for the future work of God's church here in this place.
We know this verse of Scripture pretty well. I think it is one of the most famous from the gospels: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)
Christ, our risen Lord, shows us that way right now. He lays the way out before us and says, "Follow me." His way, his truth, and the life eternal promised by God through him are embodied in the life he lived for us. And now he asks us to live for him -- for us to be obedient to his plan for the world as he was obedient to his Father's plan.
Jesus walked to Jerusalem and took upon himself the pain and death of the cross, only to rise again to the life that became the promise of that hope we all cherish: everlasting life in God's kingdom. But we do not want to miss the rest of the story -- there is more.
I recall when I read these verses from John 14 that a little further in the gospel we witness this remarkable scene: "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate asks Jesus as he prepares to send him to be crucified. Pilate looks truth straight in the face and does not recognize it.
What is truth?
Truth is God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Truth is what we find in the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Truth is the love of God embodied in Jesus Christ through God's Spirit.
Truth is revealed in his way and in his life lived and given for us.
Generations before Christ was born, before he ministered to the sick and lame on earth, and before he gave up his life on the cross for the sins of humankind, the prophet Jeremiah in the sixth century B.C. tells the people of Israel:
God is about to do something new.
God is making a new way for you to be his people.
There will be a new covenant.
"I will put my law within them," God says. "I will write it on their hearts."
Today we claim this new covenant as the one God has made with us.
As Moses, years before Jeremiah, tells the people just before his death, God has provided the way for them to live as faithful people -- to obey God's commandments to them; to live for God only, to love God only, to know God's truth as the truth that guides their life.
Through Moses, God says to the people on that day so long ago:
"These commandments are not in heaven so that you think they are too far away for you to reach.
"These commandments are not found on the other side of the ocean so that you will wonder who is going to get them and bring them back to you.
"No! These commandments are my Word, very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe." (Deut. 30:11-14)
These commandments are God's word. These commandments are for the people to observe, to keep -- and Jesus would add: and to give shape and body to your way of life, to be your truth.
Jesus says to us: I came to fulfill all that law. I came to fulfill all those prophecies of old.
I came so that you will know the way, submit to my truth, and gain your life by losing it in making me Lord of your life.
How do we do that?
In submission to the will of God, like the Lord we follow, we acknowledge our sins.
We ask for strength to overcome the things that hold us apart from God's will -- to rid our hearts of impatience, selfishness, and greed;
We ask for wisdom to replace those things that are not the way of Christ with things that are the way of Christ, such as generosity, love, and compassion.
What about it?
Is this the perfect time to ponder all the ways you might turn your life more completely to the way and truth and life Jesus holds up as our model?
Plumb the depths of your heart now; find and name and then let go of those things that bind you to the old way, the old truth, and the old life.
Make space for the untold beauty and joy with which God will then fill your heart so that you indeed may live for him. That is the simple truth. Amen.