John 14:1-11 (The Message)
“Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”
Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”
Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”
“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.
“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.
Lauren and I are still unpacking books. It’s not a wholly simple task because each book is a memory, a reflection, or an idea of one place and one time. One of the books we found yesterday was a book of poems by Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet ever to read at an inauguration. Her writing isn’t just about the words but also visuals. It includes creative spacing, sometimes an illustration, and occasionally the color of the page to reflect best the words she writes. Quickly scanning a few of the pages, one particular poem stood out. To read this one, you had to turn the page sideways. The words were white and printed on the silhouette of a black face mask. Here are the words from the poem “Anonymous”:
We stumbled, sick with shame, groping for each other
in the heaving black. We were mouthless for months.
We could’ve been grinning. We could have been grimacing.
We could’ve been glass. & so, we must ask:
Who were we beneath our mask.
Who are we now that it is trashed.
The day before we read this poem was the day after the World Health Organization declared that the pandemic was no longer a “public health emergency of international concern.” This declaration doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over. It’s not. It doesn’t mean that there still won’t be significant outbreaks. There will. But it does mean that the concerns about COVID-19 no longer warrant the activation of multicountry cooperation in the same way that it once did. It will be a similar moment in the US in a few days when the United States ends its emergency declaration and cuts all of the pieces it had in place, too.
In the early days of the pandemic, I knew it would be hard, but I was optimistic. The cooperation and compassion that emerged were stunning and beautiful, even amid tragedy. And then it changed. When the WHO first made its declaration, around 170 people had died. Around 7 million deaths and 3 and a half years later, all of who we are is on full display.
I really thought that when we got to this kind of moment, it would be a celebration of all that we had pulled off together. Instead, I find myself with a much more mixed-up set of feelings. The risks of this disease are becoming accepted in that pantheon of risks that make up being human these days. Between climate change, gun violence, disease, and so much more, we are retreating more and more into accepting the idea that nowhere is safe. It comes at a significant cost. With this heightened acceptance of danger, our tolerance for any sense of risk – physical, emotional, or spiritual – is becoming lessened.
So, part of what we’re doing is withdrawing. In the US alone, participation in organizations has dropped by around 50% in the last few decades. A lot of times, those citing these numbers have suggested that this withdrawal has pointed toward an irresponsibility or even laziness among those who choose not to participate in organizational life, and, OK, I can’t say that I disagree with that 100% in some cases. However, it’s not that simple. Many have pointed to the proliferation of mobile phones and social media and how their increased usage has paralleled disengagement. That’s got some truth in it, too, but it’s more complicated than that, too.
Many established organizations, including the church, are far from perfect and, in way too many cases, oppressive. Many organizations, including churches, have roots and practices that cover all the oppressive isms; sexism, ageism, racism, classism, and heterosexism, are just a few. Some of the withdrawal from organizational and institutional life was a protest. And then, those in solidarity and those uncomfortable with the protests withdrew.
It’s not as simple that social media took over as much as that social media filled a gap. It provided social sustenance for many, but for many others, it was social junk food. It started off as a place that welcomed a wide variety of personal expression and gave folks the ability to ideologically connect with others in what felt like a safer space. It felt like an answer to isolation for a time. Youth and young adults flocked to it because, for a time, it was a place they could express themselves with freedom and organize themselves in a way that face-to-face organizations usually oppressed. There was a time there when social media, mobile phones, and all of that technology was glorious. Until it wasn’t.
Yes, some may be withdrawing from organizational life because they’re a little irresponsible or even a little lazy. Still, many – probably most – are withdrawing because they’re exhausted by the daily onslaught of life. We are weary. Weary beyond belief.
And so, here we are. We’re isolated by oppression and exhaustion, and that isolation makes oppression easier and exhaustion deeper. We’re in the middle of a loneliness epidemic that, as reported by the US Surgeon General this week, has an effect on our health that is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We cannot go on like this. We don’t need to.
We sometimes look back at past moments in history, amazed at what people at different places and different times pulled off. Amazed by the sacrifices they were willing to make. Amazed by the foresight they had. We talk about those who survived the Depression or World War II. We celebrate those who, in the middle of horrible circumstances, made sure someone could be the first person who went to college or had the opportunity to start a new business. These were decisions made by people who were weary or tired of things being the way they were or out of an attempt to stop a threat that had become out of control. They didn’t know they had in them what it took, but they did.
James Weldon Johnson wrote the famous anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” an amazing poem and dedication to the power of God and the strength of African-Americans who, when it was written, still had a significant number of people who had experienced slavery in their lifetimes. He mentions weariness in it a couple of times as a reference to the ongoing struggle for freedom and dignity and, at the same time, puts that weariness into the context of the goal in mind.
Weariness, in this case, isn’t something that gets in the way but is a normal part of being on the way. Weariness, in this world of ours, might not be a choice. However, we do have some degree of choice whether or not weariness can turn into a soul-sucking echo chamber of loneliness or one of the outcomes of meaning-making faithful, persistent action.
There are times when the process of reunifying our two congregations can feel like a bit of a soul-sucking echo chamber of loneliness. We can get so focused on the minutia of this process that we can feel weary or even bored by the process. We can feel so enmeshed in the process that we feel like we need too much and are too isolated to make it through. We feel weary.
But, weariness is part of the process and will not be the outcome of our process. Our work together is helping make sure that hundreds of people are fed every week, and as we look for ways to be in partnership with organizations with whom we might share our space, let me make something very clear: we have the opportunity to expand our mission of changing the world and changing lives. We have more than we realize to share.
Just this week, I’ve been conversing with people who see us as a vital partner in helping address the opioid epidemic. Just this week, I’ve been in conversations with people who see us as a partner in improving the community’s health. Just this week, I was in conversation with folks who think our facility could be a safe space for the LGBTQ community in all its rainbow continuum. Just this week, I conversed with folks within our congregation advocating for better food security, care for veterans, promoting environmental stewardship, integrating more arts, expanding our involvement of youth and children, and so much more. We may feel some of our weariness at this point, but many others in this community see God’s vitality shining through us.
My siblings in Christ, any weariness we may feel need not be the end of the story but only part of it. Somedays, it may be clear how much we need others to make what we’re doing work, but the reason we need to figure it out is that God needs us to serve God and God’s people.
In today’s gospel text, Jesus was talking to weary people. The writer of John was writing in a time when life in the early church was in conflict and may even have seen itself as being oppressed. It is to those weary people that the writer has Jesus say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light…” or in the reading, we heard from The Message, Jesus says, “I am the Road…” This writer was trying to call people to both dedication to their perspective on Jesus and to refuse to consider other paths. The writer of John was trying to suggest that there was a way forward for the weary.
Yes, I know some days we may feel weary. Me, too. But, this kind of weariness isn’t something that needs to be an obstacle in our path and an obstacle in our faith, but one of the raw materials that Christ transforms into something deeply meaningful. My Siblings in Christ, maybe our weariness isn’t a sign of something going wrong but proof we are on a faithful journey, proof we are getting somewhere. Journeying is tiring.
Rest up this Sabbath Day. Fill up with fellowship, prayer, and worship. Rest in the love of God and each other.
And then let us continue the journey.
The Rev. Mike Denton is the designated pastor of First Church of Christ (UCC) and South Congregational Church (UCC) in Pittsfield, MA. Join us for worship at 10 am on Sundays! Click here if you’d like to donate to the church and its ministries!
“Join or Die — Trailer on Vimeo.” Vimeo, 9 August 2022, https://vimeo.com/737884603. Accessed 7 May 2023.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Translated by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, 2017.
SEITZ, AMANDA. “Loneliness poses risks as deadly as smoking: surgeon general.” AP News, 2 May 2023, https://apnews.com/article/surgeon-general-loneliness-334450f7bb5a77e88d8085b178340e19. Accessed 7 May 2023.
Gorman, Amanda. Call Us What We Carry: Poems. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2021.
One thought on ““In the Way” (5/7/23 Reflection on John 14:1-11) #sermon #berkshires #pittsfield”
You know how I’m feeling. Such a good and wise piece!
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