Tag Archives: the way

“The Way” – Sermon on John 14:1-14

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’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, “Lord, 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 the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, 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 Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father 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 Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. – John 14:1-14

“I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” John: 14:6.

To be quite honest, whenever I hear this verse, I cringe a little. Maybe it’s because of the many billboards or bumper stickers I’ve seen it broadcasted on. Or the number of times I’ve heard street preachers yell it at complete strangers. Or maybe it’s because of the ways in which it had been misquoted and used by friends and leaders in the campus ministry I was involved in in college.

You see, this “I AM” declaration by Jesus in our passage from John today has often been used to exclude: determining who’s in and who’s out of the Christian club. Christians often use this verse to condemn those who are not Christians and to point fingers at others whom we determine are not “believers” by our own standards. And in the meantime, while we take this verse out of its context and hold onto this very limited – and what I believe to be often quite harmful – understanding, I think we miss out on a much deeper meaning of this “I AM” statement.

And so, in order to better understand what Jesus meant by this statement, we need to look at what is actually going on when he says it.

And when we do, we might find it a bit odd to be looking at this text in John several weeks after celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Because we are now going back to the event on Maundy Thursday, where Jesus is gathered around the table with his closest friends, sharing in his last supper with them before he begins his journey toward the cross. (However, I do think it may become a little more clear in a bit about why we are reading this text as we are getting close to Ascension Day.)

Now, throughout this final meal with his disciples, Jesus has been dropping hints about having to leave them soon, not only in his impending death on the cross, but also in his ascension into heaven, which means he will no longer be physically present with them.

“Lord, where are you going?” Peter asks Jesus right before our text for this morning. “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,” Jesus answers him. “But there will come a time when you will follow me.” Worried about what this would mean for Jesus to leave him (after he’s been with Jesus day in and day out for three years), Peter pushes him: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

But Jesus urges Peter and the rest of the disciples to be patient and to hold onto hope, assuring them: “While there soon will come a time that will feel hopeless, do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. Although we may be separated for a little while, we will one day be reunited. I am going to my Father’s house, where there are many rooms. And I am preparing a room there for each of you so that one day where I will be, there you will be also. For you know the way to the place I am going.”

But the disciples still don’t quite understand. And – possibly out of their grief and concerns about Jesus leaving – they try to convince him to stay.

“But Lord,” Thomas exclaims, “we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way to get there if you are not with us?”

I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus replies. “You have already seen the Father. If you know me, then you will know the Father, also.”

But – still confused – Philip chimes in: “Show us the Father. Then we will be satisfied.”

By this point it makes sense that Jesus might be a little frustrated with his friends. “After following me day in and day out for the last three years, you still don’t know who I am?” he asks. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Believe me, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

—–

I’ll never forget what one of my friends who was involved in my college campus ministry said to one of our agnostic friends one day. The friend involved in the ministry said: “You don’t want to burn in hell for all eternity after you die, do you? Because the way to heaven – where you will not burn in hell – is easy. You just need to believe that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior and ask him into your heart.” Then she opened her bible up to John 14 and quoted Jesus’ “I am the way…” statement.

I was a little taken aback by what seemed to be pretty harsh words by my college friend, who took pride in being a Christian.  And I was also a bit concerned about how my agnostic friend was feeling at that moment.

But what really caught my attention was what our agnostic friend said in response to this. “Really?” She asked. “It’s that easy to not burn in hell? So all you have to do is believe that Jesus is your Savior and you can continue to openly be a jerk to everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe? But those who don’t believe that Jesus is God and yet they love others the way Jesus loved others are going to burn in hell forever? That doesn’t really sound like Jesus’ message at all.”

This conversation – along with many other similar ones I’d observed during my time in that campus ministry – opened my eyes to the fact that just about anyone can shout out that Jesus is their Savior until they’re blue in the face. But that still does not guarantee they get who Jesus is or understand what he’s all about.

And what really struck me in this particular conversation was that it was my agnostic friend who seemed to get who Jesus is more than my Christian friend.

You see, if we read Jesus’ entire farewell discourse to his disciples after his last meal with them before his impending death, we will recognize that the way to God Jesus is telling his friends to take is not as easy as my Christian friend explained it to be. It’s not having belief ABOUT who Jesus is, asking Jesus to come into our hearts, and then going on our merry way. Rather, it is about following Jesus’ way. A way that – as Jesus explains just before our passage for today – involves a commandment to love one another, just as he has loved us… Something that is not – in fact – very easy to do

And yes, Jesus tells his close friends to believe in God and to believe also in him. But he does not say that if they don’t, they will burn in hell for eternity.

Actually, his message to his close friends is quite the opposite. Even though the disciples are still a bit confused at times about who Jesus is, Jesus knows they have already put their faith and trust in him – at least, as much as they possibly could at this point in time. I mean, they gave up everything they had to follow him and stayed with and learned from him for three years, even when it wasn’t the most popular or safe thing to do. If that isn’t putting their faith and trust in him, I don’t really know what is!

“Believe me,” Jesus is urging them.  “I have prepared a room in my Father’s house for each one of you.  We will one day be reunited.”  This is a guarantee.

So now, when the disciples are worried about what their future will entail when Jesus leaves them – Jesus assures them that they are going to be okay without having Jesus physically by their sides. And so they should hold onto this hope, no matter what comes their way.

“Continue to have faith in me,” he urges them. “You have a loving God. You know this because you have already seen God. Because you have seen me. So when you wonder what kind of a God you have and where God is when you encounter times of great trials and suffering, look to me, and there you will find God.”

—–

I think this is a great reminder for us.

In a world that is full of violence, hate, and exclusion of all kinds, many of us may be wondering – like Thomas – where God went and what the path is that we need to take in order to find God. Or many of us may be calling out like Philip, “Show us God!” and demanding to see some proof in the world that God cares.

And so when we begin to wonder what kind of a God we have, we can look to Jesus. We can look to his teachings and look to his works. Look at the ways in which he proclaimed good news to the poor, released those who were captive, gave sight to those who couldn’t see, and liberated the oppressed. Look at the ways he fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. When we begin to wonder where God is, we can look into the faces of the last and the least and look for the people around us who are following Jesus’ way of life and sharing his love to a hurting world.

When we wonder what way to go in order to find Jesus, we can look for the people and the places in this world that need healing and Jesus’ good news the most. “This is where you will find and encounter me,” Jesus is saying. “This is the way to God.”

And Jesus doesn’t just end here. He continues with a commission for the disciples and for all of us to continue this work when he is physically gone from this earth. “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

In other words, Jesus is saying: “Now it is you who will be my hands and feet in the world.”

I think our ELCA moto says this well: “It is God’s work, our hands.”

And soon – on Ascension Day – we will be reminded that we are not alone in this work. The Holy Spirit is with us always, giving us strength, comfort, and guidance every step of the way.

Amen.

 

 

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“A Message For Troubled Hearts” – Sermon for the funeral of my beloved Grandpa Wes

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Supper at Emmaus - He Qi

Supper at Emmaus – He Qi

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’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, ‘Lord, 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 the Father except through me…

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:1-6, 25-27

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As I was thinking about memories of my grandfather, Wesley, many of the memories that first came to my mind were times when our family shared meals together. The memories stuck out not necessarily because of the food – though because it was never cooked by Grandpa – the food was always wonderful. But these meals were special because they were always times where cherished conversations and storytelling took place.

The dinners were often shared at my Grandpa Wesley and Grandma Harriet’s home, with Grandpa at one end of the table, looking out quietly and smiling at his wonderful family he always said: “we were sure lucky to have.” But these meals also took place at my parent’s home, aunt Becky and uncle Lloyd’s home, or at a lovely picnic spot overlooking the Mississippi River at Eagle Point Park. And let’s not forget the meals that took place at the grandkid’s favorite birthday celebration location: Happy Joe’s Pizza.

But no matter the location, the same thing often occurred during these meals. The family would sit around sharing funny family stories – often the same ones over and over again that we all knew by heart… and that sometimes lasted for hours.

And with a group of pretty expressive Heitzmans – Grandpa Wes – the quiet one of the bunch – usually sat there listening, taking everything in, chiming in when he could, but most definitely smiling and giggling with the joyful twinkle in his eye that everyone knew him by.

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Though he was often quiet, anyone who knew Grandpa knows that he wasn’t quiet because he was disengaged. Rather, he was quiet because he absolutely enjoyed being with the family he loved.

And this is one of the greatest gifts Grandpa gave to those he encountered: the gift of truly being present with others.

This past August, much of the family had the opportunity to get together for one last meal at Eagle Point Park to celebrate my Grandpa Wes’ 92nd birthday and Grandma Harriet’s 90th birthday. We did not know at the time it would be our last supper there with Grandpa. But even still, we had a very special celebration.

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 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

These are the words we hear from Jesus this morning in our reading from the Gospel of John.

Jesus says this to his disciples – his students and dear friends – during their last supper with him. Throughout the meal, Jesus has been dropping hints about having to leave them soon and no longer being physically present with them.

And so the disciples are a bit scared. They had left their homes and jobs to follow Jesus, had spent the past few years traveling with, learning from, and hanging out with him, and they no longer knew what life would look like without him. So now what are they supposed to do when their rabbi – their teacher – was to leave them? How were they supposed to continue to share the good news about God’s love through Jesus Christ without Jesus, himself? How would they know what to do when he was gone? And how on earth would they be able to get by without their dear friend, whom they loved?

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

Jesus’ words not only speak to the disciples, but they are also speaking to us today, as we sit here grieving Wesley, our beloved friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, husband.

And yet, if I am honest with you and with myself, I can’t help but feel a little troubled. I can’t help but feel a little afraid.

Troubled that my Grandfather had gone so quickly – without more than a few month’s notice.

Afraid of what it will be like at family gatherings and holidays without him. Knowing it will not be the same.

My grandpa Wesley will be missed. Even family friends who barely knew him said in the last few days: “Wes made an impression on me. He was truly a gentleman. Wes was so hospitable. He was such a sweet and kind-hearted man.”

So how can any of us here who did know and love my Grandpa not feel a little bit troubled?

And yet, this is also a wonderful gift that we have. To be able to feel the love we do for such a wonderful man. To come here today in this place and to celebrate the beautiful life that Grandpa Wes did live and to know that we will not be the same because of him. To recall and cherish the lovely memories we have with him.

And to hold onto, emulate, and carry on the love that he shared and the legacy that he left this world with.

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…And boy, did he ever leave a legacy.

That Grandpa Wes of mine left a legacy that will always stand.

As a life-long Dubuquer, no matter how much he enjoyed traveling with his wife to places like Turkey, Singapore, Switzerland, Dubuque, Iowa was his favorite place to be. He loved it so much that he brought his beloved wife, Harriet, whom he met at Iowa State, back to share a life and start a family in.

He loved Dubuque so much that he had to come back to it with a grand entrance… One I’m not so sure Grandma Harriet was too excited about – as it definitely took her by surprise. When Grandpa, his father, and my grandmother were moving a piano from Spencer, IA to their new Dubuque home, they decided to place the piano in the back of a pick-up truck on top of several bails of hay. As they entered Dubuque, Grandma looked out the rear view mirror to see what had happened as she wondered why on earth a bunch of fire trucks were flying down the street with their sirens blaring… And as the trucks got closer and the sirens got louder, she soon came to realize that these trucks were actually following them… That these firefighters were there to put out the fire in the back of their pick up truck… A fire that was caused by our very own beloved Grandpa Wes, when he threw his cigarette out the window and it hit the bails of hay, setting them ablaze.

If Dubuquers did not already know the Heitzmans were moving back to town, they sure did then!

But little did any of these (probably now quite terrified) Dubuquers know that this very same Wesley Heitzman would also leave a legacy here in Dubuque that would make an impact on and be enjoyed by many generations to come.

As an architectural engineer in a long family line of builders, Grandpa developed a strong passion and love for building. Several years after moving to Dubuque, he, his brother, Don, and his father William started the highly respected Heitzman Construction Company and began their work of beautifying his favorite place in the world.

And did he ever beautify this city! From commercial and industrial projects to schools and buildings on the University of Dubuque campus, Grandpa created places where people will work, play, learn, and grow for many many years.

And Dubuquers have Grandpa Wes – along with his good friend Wayne Norman – to thank for saving the 4th street district buildings from being torn down when they decided to buy and refurbish many of them below and around the Cable Car. History in this town stands and will continue to be enjoyed by people for years to come because of the acts of love and care made by our dear Grandpa Wes.

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Our family has Grandpa Wes to thank, as well. Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Grandpa prided himself on using natural and quality materials when he built his lovely family home on Sunset Ridge, which encompasses so many cherished memories from our past and will house many more with the Heitzman family as Grandpa’s legacy continues to live on in it.

And as a life-long and dedicated member of Westminster Presbyterian Church – one who was baptized as an infant in its original downtown location – Grandpa was inspired to devote his time and energy to building this new church structure we are sitting in today. And as someone who had a deep love for God and for the people in this community, this became the project he was most proud of – even in his final years.

Yes, Grandpa Wes left a legacy in Dubuque that will stand for many generations. And we have received this gift from him: that we will always be connected to Grandpa in a special way whenever we drive past a building he built, take a ride on the Cable Car, worship at Westminster Presbyterian, or share a family meal together in the dining room at Sunset Ridge.

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Now, though Grandpa Wes was a very hard worker and made sure the work he did was always of the highest quality, he also made time for his family.

From picnics in the parks to annual family vacations in Chicago, Grandpa Wes loved spending quality time with his family. He took his children fishing and canoeing, he spent some time talking with his sons while they would watch him shave, and he often took his kids with him to the construction sites to show them around and allow them to play while he conducted inspections.

Grandpa attended his kids’ and grandkids’ sporting events, practices, and performances as much as he possibly could (even when they were out of town). He helped move his grandchildren when they relocated (and would often be seen with half of his body outside their apartment windows, scrubbing away, to ensure his grandchildren had the cleanest windows on the block.) He was even caught at his granddaughter’s new apartment at age 88 carrying boxes up two flights of steps.

Grandpa loved through his ears, his actions, and his generous heart. He always took his grandchildren aside and shoved a few 20 dollar bills in our pockets, insisting that we needed it for gas money. He took special care of Grandma when she broke her arm several years ago. He would give his daughter the keys to his Dodson Z when he and Grandma went on vacation because he knew how much Becky loved that car. And when he saw his daughter-in-law rock her first newborn back and forth with her body while sitting on the couch, he went to the store, bought a rocking chair, and had it dropped off at her home that Mother’s Day.

Grandpa Wes loved all of his family and was so proud of each and every one of them. I remember how excited he was when his granddaughter, Peili, was first adopted. He kept saying over and over again: “Boy, she’s such a great kid…” as he laughed in his regular sweet and quiet way. I knew that meant he immediately fell in love with her.

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Grandpa was also extremely proud to be a great-grandfather. He loved to hold all of his great-grandchildren – no matter their size. And he really enjoyed watching them play together – along with Peili – and tickle, tease, or wink at them through his glasses – when he could, while he smiled and giggled to himself in the most gentle way.

Grandpa found joy in the little things in life. His face lit up any time he was around dogs… especially Ducheous – the family dog – and Oscar, his god-dog. He enjoyed playing bridge and poker with his friends, card games with the family, and he loved to put together puzzles with his grandkids while eating oreos and listening to kid-friendly comedians on the cassette player out on the screened-in porch.

As many of you may know, though Grandpa was sweet and giving, he could also be quite stubborn… He was a Heitzman, after all. He would often be found on the roof cleaning the gutters… even in his late 80’s. And no matter how many times his children and grandchildren urged him to fly to his annual trip to Aspen, he insisted on taking a few extra days to drive. Though he loved spending time talking and singing hymns with his life-long friends when he and Grandma arrived in Colorado, those long drives with Grandma were always the highlight of the trip, he would tell us.

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Grandpa Wes was talented in many ways. He was a fantastic dancer and an impeccable dresser. He gave great back rubs, could fit large amounts of luggage into the back of a car when nobody else could, and his specialty was making his famous root beer floats whenever his grandchildren came to visit. One of the things he enjoyed most was zipping around Dubuque in his Dodson Z dressed in his black leather jacket and cap… Sometimes he enjoyed this so much that he’d drive right past his own kids while they were walking home from school, not even noticing they were there.

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Now during the last supper with his disciples, just before our reading in John, Jesus gets on his knees and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. The disciples were shocked and did not want him to do this, as the act of washing one’s feet was something that only a servant would do for a houseguest.

Yet, after he finished, Jesus said to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Then a little later, he goes on to say: “I am with you only a little longer… [So] I give you a new commandment, just as I have loved you, so too, should you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Here, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the fact that soon he will no longer be physically present with them on this earth. So he commands his disciples to follow him. To follow his way of life. A way that was full of compassion, service, and love for others.

And it is through the compassionate and loving acts of these disciples – when they do follow this way of life Jesus has set out for them – that others will – in fact – experience God’s love. In other words, Jesus is commissioning his disciples to continue Jesus’ ministry when he leaves this earth by being His hands and feet to the world. This is the way, the truth, and the life. This is how people will come to know and experience the love of God the Father.

I think St. Theresa of Avila explains it best: “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours. 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world. 
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
 Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. 
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
 Christ has no body now but yours.”

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And this is exactly what I think of when I think of Grandpa Wes. Though he loved quietly, he always loved first with his ears and eyes and then through his hands and feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid.

One of Jesus’ disciples – Simon Peter – can’t let go of the idea that Jesus will soon leave them. “Can’t I go, too? Can’t I follow you to God the Father?” – he insists just before our reading for today. “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,” Jesus responds. “But you will follow me afterward… when it is time… Believe and trust in God. Believe and trust in me, also.

For in my Father’s house there are many rooms.”

After my cousin, Sandi, found out that Grandpa passed away, she posted a picture on facebook of Grandpa, his brother Don, sister Lois, and his parents. Under the picture, Sandi wrote: “All together again.”

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This is the hope and promise we have in Christ. While we know the tragedy that comes after Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, as he journeys toward his brutal death on the cross, we can have hope because we know what happens next. Jesus’ death is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning. Through his resurrection, Jesus conquers death and brings forth new life. And as children of God, and children of the resurrection, we – like Jesus – are promised this gift of the resurrection, as well. Like Jesus, we will be resurrected from the dead and given new life eternal with God and with one another.

Yes, in God’s house, there are many rooms. One for Simon Peter, Thomas, and the rest of the first disciples. One for Great-grandma, Great-Grandpa, Uncle Don, Aunt Lois. One for Grandpa Wes and for my Uncle Lloyd. One for me, and one for each one of you.

And yet, as Jesus says to the disciples, as we wait for our time to follow him to our God the Father, let us continue to follow his way of compassion, service, and love. Let us be Christ’s hands and feet, as Grandpa was, caring for one another – especially in times like these. And in those painful moments when we just don’t know how we might get by, let us remember that we are not alone. For the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is always with us, teaching us, guiding us, and comforting us in our greatest times of need. And we know that Grandpa Wes is right alongside her as She does.

As Jesus says: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Do not let them be afraid.

Amen.