Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 14:1-14

I want to begin this morning by wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all for whom this day and this expression holds special meaning. I want to celebrate those who had a wonderful mother as I did, those who are mothers themselves, and those who have stood in the gap as surrogates: grandmothers, mothers-in-law, aunties, big sisters, mentors, teachers, Sunday school teachers, neighbors, and friends. We acknowledge and celebrate your good hard and sacrificial efforts to shape the lives of others.  

All too often we ascribe certain qualities to motherhood only, words like unconditional love, nurturer, care and caregiver, protector, patience, selflessness, on and on. But we might also say that these qualities are not necessarily gender specific and at best, can also be possessed by fathers as well.   

Some of us might admit that parenting is wonderful but also hard. Many of us learned as we went along. Even the best parenting manuals, books, and magazines do not fully prepare us for the ever changing, ever evolving work and responsibility of shaping and molding another human being, who from just a few weeks old begins to display characters and characteristics unique to their own life. It can be the most amazing thing – but also scary.   

I realize, however, that it is not always a given. Not all are mothers (or fathers) whether by choice or medical challenges. And for some, this day might hold traumatic remembrances of childhood experiences with mothers who perhaps offered the best they could but fell short of the kind of love and care so desperately needed. I have learned over the years to be mindful of such things and to not make assumptions. Parenthood is a way – a way among ways – but not the only way to live out one’s life.       

Now, as a mother of 2 sons, and grandmother of 4 grandsons, robed in black skin, I cannot begin this day without thinking about Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery. There will be no Happy Mother’s Day for her. I have been thinking about her and praying for her because she is all too familiar; her story is my story. I am imagining that she might be taking some small solace in the video, and the outcries; the solidarity of people and finally, finally the arrests of the father and son pair who murdered her son after 74 days – 74 days had passed. I am thinking about her this morning, fully aware of how close her narrative hits home. As with so many in our city and country.   

I am imagining there will be no Happy Mother’s Day for those mothers struggling to put food in the mouths of their babes. A good mother and a good father would do almost anything for their children. It is an instinct deeply imbedded. That is why when we hear of a parent harming their child it seems so egregious because it goes against the grain. Most parents I know would do almost anything, gladly go hungry themselves, wear hand me down clothes and work multiple jobs at a time, for the simple basics of life. Food on the table, shelter over their head, a fair chance in the world.   

No Happy Mother’s Day for those still at our borders, lost and forgotten. 

There will be no happy Mother’s Day for all those mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and grandchildren who have died during this season of death called COVID-19, as well as from other illnesses. Their first Mother’s Day without those they love can be a harrowing thing. And there is nothing quite like a pandemic to remind us of all the inequities, long held disparities that surround us. 

No happy Mother’s Day for those who have longed to birth something – a thought, an idea, a dream or passion – to bring it to life, nurture, and water it, only to have their hopes and dreams miscarried because of injustice, ignorance, indifference, hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia.  

As the body of Christ, we hold them all in our hearts this morning, do we not? For they are all part of our story, our collective story, the story of citizenship in America, and the story of our shared faith as children of God whether they impact us directly or not. We cannot remove ourselves because together, we pray Our Father. Our Mother. And while we claim to all be in this together, we know full well that we are not all in it together in the same way.  

It begs a kind of introspection and clarity about the way we are going. What we truly believe about ourselves in relation to other people and how we are creating the Beloved Community for which Jesus died. We might only be able to make one step forward. One step, but a step, nonetheless. Even the smallest step can become a giant leap if we are willing, courageous, and faithful enough to make it.      

In our gospel lesson, Jesus is talking to those early disciples and he is preparing them for what is to come. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, many dwelling places. I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you as my own so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” [1]

You know the place and you know the way. 

Thomas isn’t wanting to believe that he already knows the place nor the way: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [2]

Are there not times in your own lives when you wish we could be so honest and transparent as to say out loud, “I don’t know where I am going. I know what needs to be done, but I don’t know the way to get there.”  

Would it not be great to allow for such transparency? Such truth-telling?      

This kind of honesty is risky. It’s especially risky in our culture because we pride ourselves in knowing everything, although we do not – not really. And this moment held so tightly is proof of that. It allows us to open ourselves up to receive the answers we so desperately need. It re-orients and re-centers us to look again and seek the source that looks beyond the immediate and instead sees the long view and all that might be impacted.   

Jesus said: “I am the way, I am truth, and I am life.” [3]

Now, this is perhaps one of the most controversial lines in all of scripture. Many people have taken these words to claim and justify that what Jesus was really saying is that he is the only way. Perhaps. Wars have been fought about it. Synagogues, mosques and temples have been burned because of it. People have been slaughtered and imprisoned. People have endured great harm in the name of Jesus in order to support this claim that he is the only way to God.   

I can tell you that many of my Protestant brothers and sisters and even personal friends have challenged me on this and consider any doubts blasphemous.  

And while my feet are firmly planted in belief in Jesus Christ, the power of the resurrection, and God’s saving grace through him – the hope of glory embodied in the resurrected Lord –  it does occur to me that the all-wise, omnipotent, omniscient God is too big, too mysterious, too vast. God is too unknown and without bounds to ever say conclusively that there are no other paths and that those of other faiths and other traditions do not have inroads into the Holy of Holies. And I see no necessity in making God so small that it would allow me to be so insecure about what I believe as to disparage or hate my neighbor in his name.   

Yes, Jesus says, “I am the way.” What is that way? It is the way of transformation and healing love. A shared life in which all exist, and all are comfortable and comforted. It is the way of freedom and justice for all people.   

The way that turns the world upside down. The way for which men and women have given their lives for centuries and have held on through unbearable torture and suffering. The way that turns murderers into saints and sinks way down into the soul in places that no body and no force and no circumstance and no evil can fully take away. That’s the way I’m talking about – call it whatever you want but I believe that is the way God desires.  

Could it be that Jesus knew that the only antidote, the only possible hope, is the love he was about to display and all the ways that love could possibly be played out in our world?

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe.” Take it easy. Do not despair, do not let this way throw you – it is beautiful and wonderful and transformative. And you can do it. Believe.  Work. Serve.

I hear these words speaking to me this morning. How about you?    

Make no mistake, there is a way hewed out of the chaos of our lives. A way that takes all of us somewhere and reminds us that there is an eternal One who walks with us. We are not alone. “For where I am,” says Jesus, “you will also be.”  

Is there a heaven, some ask? Yes, I like to think so. Perhaps I just want to believe it. I want to think there is a place beyond the stratosphere – that one day I’ll see my mother and my father and my grandparents there. The image of us walking on streets paved with gold – that there is a place where every day is sunny, where we’ll finally be at rest, no more striving, struggle, or pain – is a powerful one. After all, Jesus does mention all these mansions and dwelling places.   

But I think there is another kind of dwelling place where Jesus lives. Another place where God dwells with believers right here, right now.  

A place where love is practiced over and over again; practiced and lived out with great resolve. Where the outsider is welcomed and the marginalized are freed; where we are willing to do the hard work not just for our own sake but for the sake of those who need it most. Where truth never dies, and life is renewed. And mercy is the order of the day.  

Let not your heart be troubled. Believe. Believe God. Believe Jesus Christ, our Lord. What shall we do? Which way shall we go?

[1] John 14:2-3
[2] John 14:5
[3] John 14:6b