Sermon preached by Ayla Lepine, ordinand at Festal Eucharist for SS Philip and James
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our reading from John’s gospel this morning begins with something that that seems pleasant. Be comforted. Relax. Everything is fine. Is it? It’s perplexing that each time it appears in scripture it seems to be a signal to do exactly the opposite of what these words from God’s mouth are telling us to do. Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ That ‘fear not’ language that so regularly punctuates the Old and the New Testament is, certainly, a compassionate gesture towards the promise of calm, safety, and salvation. It also appears, again and again, where it is evident that the hearers are terrified, anxious, and urgently and blindly searching for any answers that will provide layers of insulation against a truth that is hard to hear, or that might be beyond what these listeners think that they can stand.
If you find you are deeply anxious about something – or perhaps a long list of things – one of the least helpful responses to receive is ‘don’t worry about it’. Not because it wouldn’t be good to be freed from anxiety, but because this may strike us as an impossible thing to do. Worse, that reaction might come across as a diminishment of the turmoil we’re experiencing. Often, behind that unhelpful ‘don’t worry about it’, is something far better – the assertion that you and your anxieties are cared for, that you count, that your confidante believes have ample strength, through faith and through hope, to keep going. Sometimes anxiety can be so paralysing that it simply stops us from being able to listen at all.
Jesus tells his friends that they are welcome guests in their Father’s house, and Jesus puts this across with logic, with care, with the promise that he and his disciples will ultimately not be parted. ‘I will take you to myself’ is a truly intimate phrase. I will not let you go. I will hold you close. A place for you, where you count and where you are free from the trouble that cloaks you so thickly you are unable to see, to hear, even to breathe…..a place for you is waiting. Prepared. So trust, Jesus says. Please, trust. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’, Jesus concludes. We are moving towards the Passion narratives in this chapter – Jesus and his disciples have been traveling together a while, knowing one another better, learning all they can from the Son of God they follow as their Lord, as we do, faltering sometimes, trying to listen, trying to put one foot in front of the other, as we continue – tragically – to let our hearts be troubled.
How do the disciples react to Jesus’ assurance that they know the way to their Father’s house, because, indeed, by following Christ, they are already stepping within its threshold. Thomas contradicts Jesus: ‘we do not know the way.’ Jesus explains – you do know the way, I am the way, you have seen the Father. Philip ignores Jesus: ‘Lord, show us the Father’, and what’s more, Philip, as we so often are because we’re so wrapped up in ourselves and so unwilling to accept the utter love God has already shown us…Philip says the disciples won’t be satisfied until they’ve seen the Father. Jesus gets annoyed. ‘you still don’t know? Still don’t see? Still won’t believe?’
Today the Church celebrates saints Philip and James. They followed, they accepted God’s call. They faltered, they misunderstood, they struggled to see how and why God loved them so much. May we, like Philip, James, and Christ’s apostles, follow our Lord, who has prepared a place for each of us, if we would only turn, if we would only trust that we know the way. Amen.