Homily for Fifth Sunday in Easter 2020
Acts 7: 55-60 Psalms 31:1-5, 15-16 I Peter 2:2-10 John 14:1-14
After suffering a heart attack and having quadruple bypass surgery, a man woke up to find himself in a Catholic hospital with nuns taking care of him. As they nursed him back to health, one of the nuns asked him if he had health insurance. “No,” he replied, “no health insurance.” “Do you have any money in the bank?” asked the nun. “No, no money in the bank.” The nun asked, “Do you have any relatives you can ask for help?” The man replied, “I only have a spinster sister, who is a nun.” At that, the nun became irritated, “Nuns are not spinsters. Nuns are married to God.” The main replied, “Okay, then send the bill to my brother-in-law.”
Life is fragile with unexpected events crashing in on us. What can we expect from God? Do not let your hearts be troubled. These words are easier to say than to live, especially in a week that continues to experience deaths and new cases of corona virus. A troubled heart is what we can do when we hear the horrible details of Ahmaud Arbery’s death in Brunswick. A troubled heart is what we experience when we see injustice in Arbery’s death and turn a blind eye. A troubled heart brings us to our knees and to our feet to pray and work for justice for Arbery’s family. A troubled heart leads us to become a voice for the voiceless and a comfort to those in discomfort. A troubled heart is what we experience when we carry the burdens of this life by ourselves instead of giving them over to God in prayer and action and love. These concerns are temporal things, Jesus is showing us eternal things.
In the Gospel from John, Jesus shows us that the way to eternal life is secure, even though we can’t see it, we are to believe and trust in Jesus. He has already prepared the way for us. The only issue that remains, settled or unsettled is our willingness to believe.
There are few verses in scripture that describe eternal life, but these verses are rich with God’s promises. Here Jesus says, “I am going there to prepare a place for you,” and “I will come back.” We can be assured of the promise of eternal life because Jesus has promised to all who believe.
The gospel goes on … In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I am reminded of a trip I took to California in 1994. I was visiting a friend who lived outside of Los Angeles. We decided to go to San Jose in our travels around the area and up the coast to San Francisco. In San Jose, there is an amazing house called the Winchester Mystery House. This house is a rambling, unfinished and unfurnished house built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune. The story goes that Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Winchester in 1862. Their only child, a six- month-old daughter died in 1866 and William died of tuberculosis a few years later. Sarah visited a Boston psychic to help deal with her loss. The psychic told her that the deaths of her loved ones were revenge from the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. She could escape the spirits’ wrath by moving west and building a house that would never be finished. So Sarah took her $20 million dollar cash inheritance and $1,000 a day income and moved west to California in 1884. She bought an unfinished eight room farm house near San Jose and started maniacally building – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and she never stopped. For the next 38 years, the house grew like kudzu along a Georgia highway, swallowing up everything around it including the barn and the water tower.
In the end, she created a sprawling structure covering 6 acres with 160 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 40 staircases, 47 fireplaces, 2000 doors, and 10,000 windows. Some of the oddities include staircases leading to nowhere and doors in the floor. It is really something to tour. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. Sarah knew that the process, the journey is more important than the destination. She knew that it is the power and the peace we experience as we accomplish what matters most. Sarah knew that the means and the end are what is important. The journey and the destination are one.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…these places mark the stages of our spiritual growth. In our seeking, our journey, Jesus wants us to remember who the architect and the builder really is. I think Sarah did what a lot of us do, she got busy with her plan instead of believing in God and letting God have the building permit. The story tells us that she continued to build on the house until she died, it does not tell us if her heart healed from the loss of her husband and child. Getting busy, staying busy is not always the answer to finding peace and finding God.
Next, let’s talk about Thomas. He generally gets a bad rep. I can relate to Thomas. He was so real, yes, he doubted, but his doubts had a purpose – he wanted to know the truth. He struggled to be faithful to what he knew despite what he felt. Doubt encourages rethinking and rethinking sharpens the mind for change. Thomas didn’t stay in his doubt, but allowed Jesus to bring him from doubt to belief. Here, Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the Way?”
People who know me, know that I have a horrible sense of direction, no – no sense of direction. I’m not sure if I was asleep the day directionality was taught, but I surely didn’t get it. Growing up in a small town didn’t help because you knew places by the landmarks and the people and not the idea that something was north or south of Liberty Street. Heaven forbid my knowing that. I love to say I have no sense of direction, but my sense of humor makes up for it. Some folks will agree with that and others who have spent some lost time with me, may not. I think you meet some of the nicest people when you stop and ask directions. You men, may not know what I’m talking about.
In 1990, I was getting ready to go on a tour of the British Isles. I was so excited about seeing parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I was going by myself but joining a tour group in London. My sister sat down to pray with me before I left and she asked what were my concerns. Well, most people would think it would be the long flight over the big water, or the fear of flying or the possibility of crashing into a fiery ball. But my expressed fear was not being able to find the motor coach when we visited all those charming English villages. I just knew I would be forever looking for the bus, not knowing if I should go north, south, east or west to find it. She took my request seriously and she prayed with me. When I joined the rest of the tour group, I met a woman, who was Middle school science teacher, my age and my interests, with a great sense of direction. God is so good! I had a wonderful trip, Julie always found the bus, and we traveled a great deal together over the years.
I tell you this story because all those times I have said, “I don’t know where I’m going”, I didn’t realize I was paraphrasing scripture. Really, I think the story underlines God’s desire for us to be in community. Your gifts aren’t my gifts and my gifts aren’t yours, but together we can work to the glory of God.
Part of our working on growing in relationship with God and living out our gifts in community is to believe. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” How can we know the way to God? Jesus is our path. As the truth, Jesus is the reality of all of God’s promises. As the life, Jesus joins his divine life to ours, both now and for eternity.
How appropriate that we are celebrating Mother’s Day today, we talk about our gifts and others’ gifts used in a community of faith. Mother’s Day is a holiday honoring motherhood that is observed in different forms throughout the world. The American incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. While dates and celebrations vary, Mother’s Day most commonly falls on the second Sunday in May and traditionally involves presenting mothers with flowers, cards and other gifts.
Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service. Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of appreciation. This custom eventually faded in popularity before merging with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s.
Our mothers do more than give us live – they help define us and shape us until we become adults, responsible adults who can give back to the world what we have been given. Mothers lead us and guide us into the foundation of our faith. At times, Mother’s Day has also been a date for launching political or feminist causes. In 1968, Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., used Mother’s Day to host a march in support of underprivileged women and children. In the 1970s women’s groups also used the holiday as a time to highlight the need for equal rights and access to childcare. We honor and remember our mothers today.
I love the Prayer of Self-Dedication found in the Book of Common Prayer, page 832. I think it represents a great deal of what our mothers do for us – shape us and lead us. It is a wonderful way to begin each day in community. I will close with that prayer.
Let us pray. Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our will, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.