Rev. Danielle K Bartz May 7, 2023
John 14:1-14 “The Way”
I lived in Maine from 2009-2013. Having grown up in Minnesota, attended college in Iowa and seminary in Missouri – living in a coastal state was an entirely new experience for me. And while I lived inland, I frequently traveled to the coast to explore. Typically, I would drive down 95 to Portland and explore the coast around there. It was easy to get to, lots to see, and absolutely gorgeous. Early on in my time in Maine, my mother was visiting me and we were trying to find our way from one coastal spot to another – I don’t want to call them beaches because the coast in Maine is all rock. Anyway, I was brand new to the state and I didn’t know my way around, so I was relying heavily on my GPS, which as I recall was an old Garmin. As that was new technology then, it sometimes struggled, but for the most part it led me well.
That afternoon we set the destination on the GPS for the other spot we wanted to get to and started to follow. It took us on a circuitous route, though that is typical for Maine – the unofficial state motto there is “You can’t get there from here.” Pretty soon though, the GPS insisted that we turn right onto what I can only describe as an old, unmaintained cart path through the woods – and the woods in Maine are dense. I looked down that road and knew there was no way I was going that way. Not only was there no way my little Saturn could handle that road, but turning right made no sense because while I didn’t know much, I knew the ocean was to our left. I ignored the advice of my GPS and kept driving straight. It kept squawking at me to turn around, insisting that path in the woods, heading the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, would lead me right to a very popular tourist destination on the coast. It didn’t take me long to simply turn the thing off, vow to get a paper map at the next gas station, and in the meantime trust my instincts. Sure enough, about a quarter of a mile down the road I stayed on we found where we wanted to be. I can only assume the GPS wanted to cut 200 feet off my journey, no matter the consequences.
And, just so you know, even though GPS technology has greatly improved since 2009, I still keep paper maps in my car of where I live or where I am traveling to. I have even held onto my grandmother’s world atlas from the 90s – because you just never know when you might need to locate the capital of Uganda in an emergency.
Trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next is a big part of what it means to be human. Whether we need to plan an actual road route, course-correct when there is an unexpected obstacle, set realizable goals for our careers, figure out our days in the midst of health complications or physical limitation, or simply figure out where in life we are headed next – moving from one place to another is how we spend a lot of our time. Sometimes the path is clear and obvious. Other times we know the way, but hesitate because we also know it will be hard. Periodically we have to completely give up control and rely on someone else to get us there. And sometimes we need to trust our instincts, by trying, failing, trying again – and persevering whenever we need to retrace our steps.
In a perfect world, no matter what we are trying to accomplish, we would be given turn by turn, or step by step directions. In a perfect world there would be no ambiguity, simply clarity. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to wonder if we are ever going to arrive at our goal. But, as we all know, we do not live in a perfect world. But sometimes even though we know this, we still get frustrated.
The disciples in today’s scripture were frustrated. They wanted to know what was going to happen next. They wanted to know where Jesus was going – because he kept saying he would be leaving them. ‘You are going to the Father? Great, we want to go to – let us know how to get there.” They are asking for directions. And Jesus, as he so often, rather maddeningly does, offers them metaphors instead.
“I am the way,” Jesus says. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The disciples ask for a roadmap and Jesus points to himself. Philip says in response, “show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Perhaps my own desire for clarity is weighing on how I read this, but it sounds to me like Philip is unsatisfied with Jesus’ initial response. I hear Philip in my head, voice dripping with frustration saying, “Can you please just give us a straight answer Jesus? All we want to know is how to get to God. We want to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. And if you are really planning on leaving, then we need to know how to do with without you.” As an aside, the reason I love reading the Gospels so much is that the disciples, especially with their repetitive questions and often bumbling responses, are so relatable.
Jesus knew he could not offer the disciples a perfect roadmap, because this world is filled with human frailty and unexpected obstacles. Jesus knew that the disciples, all of us, would be filled with doubt and cynicism because to follow God is usually the harder path. Jesus knew this, but he did not leave us without a guide. Trust me, he says. Trust the example I have laid out for you. Trust God. Trust yourselves. “I am the way” Jesus says.
The truth is, while that answer may be initially unsatisfactory, it does in fact offer us a lot of guidance about how we can move through this world and achieve justice and peace for all people, including ourselves. When Jesus says, “I am the way” he reminds us to remember his teachings, remember the example of his life. The Gospels are a roadmap in that they offer us signposts that, even 2000 years later, are very relevant.
Moving through life we are offered choices. Do we do this or do we do that? Do we speak up or do we stay silent? Do we take the risk or choose a more certain way? And sometimes we need to figure out when to trust our instincts – The world tells me that this is ‘right’ way, but my gut tells me otherwise, what should I do? These are questions we face individually and these are questions we face as community. So, how do we follow Jesus as the way? We remember what he taught, how he lived, and attempt to do likewise.
Are the choices we make ensuring that the people around us are treated as the reflections of God that they are? Are the choices we make furthering justice and not hoarding privilege? Are the choices we make protecting this planet for future generations to thrive? Are we treating our neighbors as ourselves, and trusting that God is God, and that we most certainly are not? Are we feeding the hungry, sheltering the unhoused, and embracing the sick? Are we giving voice to the voiceless, and resisting Empire at every turn? While it became overused and a bit trite, the popular 90s slogan of “What would Jesus do?” is actually not a bad question for us to keep in mind.
The disciples wanted a roadmap, and Jesus offered them a metaphor. We want clarity and yet we are mostly left with ambiguity. But that does not mean we are left simply having to make it up as we go. We are given a guide in the lived example of Christ. We all carry with us our true names of ‘Beloved’, and therefore God walks with us, nudging us in the right direction if we are open to it.
Knowing better than to drive down an unmaintained road in a dense wood in an unfamiliar area with a car that could not handle it might be a silly example in a world filled with complicated questions. But it is a reminder to me that I do, ultimately, know what is right and wrong. That I, and therefore we all, have good instincts. So when we are trying to figure out where we are going and how we are going to get there, we can be assured that we are not moving through a region devoid of familiar landmarks and guideposts. And, even more importantly, we are not on our own. Together as community, we can chart the way forward. Amen.
God of the way, you have gifted us lives that are full of adventure, joys, unexpected twists, and companions to travel with. For all of this, we are so grateful. And it is in this gratitude that we come to you now in prayer.
There are a lot of twists and turns in our lives God, and while we know that you walk with us, we also know that we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make. And yet, you have given us a guide along the way in the person and ministry and example of Jesus Christ. May we always seek to follow him and to continue to make real, in whatever way we can, the promise of your Kingdom that he showed us to be possible.
God, one of the ways that we seek out your guidance is through prayer. We open ourselves to you in these moments of silence as we offer the prayers of our hearts for ourselves and those we love…
Good and Great God, you are the way, the truth, and the life. You are our yesterdays, our todays, and our tomorrows. So, we pray all of this and so much more in glory to you and in the name of Jesus Christ, our guide along the way. And now we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…