Weekly Seeds: The Way

Sunday, May 7, 2023
Fifth Sunday of Easter| Year A

Focus Theme:
The Way

Focus Prayer:
Embodied God, we receive your comfort, care, and direction for truth and life. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 14:1-14
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 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’? 10 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. 11 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. 12 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. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 7:55-60 • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14

Focus Questions:
In the United Church of Christ, we frequently proclaim, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”
Who are you?
Where are you on life’s journey?
Where is here?
Where are you going on your journey?
How do you find The Way?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Have you ever had a conversation with someone facing the end of their life? While we all will eventually experience physical death, not everyone receives a diagnosis or verdict that alerts them that death will come sooner than later. Even someone who has lived an exceedingly long time may reflect upon the approaching end of their mortal life. These dialogues become more poignant when the person seems to be too young or vibrant to be thinking of their end.

Imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples, about to enjoy the Passover with him and your other companions. You have become a family. Your life has radically changed as you abandoned your past for a promising but unknown future. Jesus begins teaching, which is not unusual. You’re used to his expositions and have been privy to private revelations and insights. You may become excited as you consider what new discoveries are about to come. Jesus washes your feet; you’re deeply humbled and feel acutely connected to him. He announces that one of you has betrayed him; you feel betrayed as well. The offense was not only against Jesus, it impacts this burgeoning community as well. You hear that Peter will deny Jesus, and you find it hard to believe. Isn’t he supposed to be the Rock? If Peter won’t stand by Jesus when it gets hard, what will you do? You begin to doubt yourself. You don’t know how to feel.

Then Jesus comforts you, saying, “Do not be troubled,” and begins a lengthy discourse uniquely characteristic of the Gospel according to John:

The “kingdom of God” is not the focus of the Gospel of John. Rather, the “signs” serve to reveal the true identity of the one who performs them. Perhaps the most striking difference between John and the Synoptic Gospels is the manner in which Jesus speaks. Instead of short, pithy sayings, or parables, Jesus speaks in long, extended discourses. The metaphors and symbols of John are also different from those in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus’ metaphorical way of speaking is self-referential and does not point to the “kingdom of God,” the root symbol of the Synoptic tradition. This is because John depicts Jesus preeminently as the “Revealer.” He comes from God and he reveals God. Even the healings are occasions for long monologues in which Jesus “reveals” the deeper significance of his identity and the nature of his work.
Raymond Pickett

This speech is about Jesus, but it is also about relationship with Jesus. He reveals his identity, and by revealing himself, he points to the One who sent him using the analogy of Parent. In the same way that a child’s DNA comes from their biological parents, Jesus shares the same essence as the Parent. They look alike…spiritually. Yet, there is no subjugation in the relationship. The Parent is in Jesus just as Jesus is in the Parent. Seeing, hearing, and knowing One means seeing, hearing, and knowing the Other. There is no real separation between them even though they function and relate in distinct ways. Mutuality grounded in love and care marks their relationship.

Jesus has demonstrated that care and love in his interactions with his closest followers. He has intimately revealed himself to them; thus, he has revealed the nature and essence of the Parent. Now, the imminent events of the Passion prompt Jesus to extend comfort and care to his friends in preparation for his departures–his death and his ascension. While the circumstances will vary in these two events, his disciples will need to be prepared for both. In some ways, the ascension, as the more permanent parting, compels even more preparatory work. After all, the disciples will be commissioned to continue the ministry without Jesus physically present and leading among them. His death will be more shocking and disconcerting, but their immediate response to it will need less attention. Jesus spends a considerable amount of time saying goodbye:

After dinner, Jesus speaks for three full chapters. These Farewell Discourses prepare his disciples for his death and for moving forward without him. Images. The discourses contain several images that make his message more vivid. The first describes “his father’s house” as a mansion with many rooms. Jesus promises that he will return and take them to this house (14:2). There may be an allusion here to the Jewish hekhalot (“palaces”) tradition, involving stories in which a seer visits the heavenly realm and explores its different rooms (see the chariot vision in Ezekiel 1 and 1 Enoch 17–18). More immediately, the verse also alludes to the temple, which Jesus called his Father’s house in 2:16, and to the son/slave contrast in 8:35. Jesus insists that this house can be reached in only one way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Adele Reinhartz

Jesus refers to “the way” several times in this passage. He does not name a charted route to take or a physical location to reach. Use of the definite article “the” has led to a misinterpreted suggestion of exclusivity inconsistent with the teaching and ministry of Jesus reflected in the gospel narratives. Even in the Johannine account, Jesus presents an expansive care for the whole of humanity and creation, “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen.” (John 10:16) Jesus does declare himself as “The Way.” Recall that early Christian communities, fearing persecution, referred to themselves as “followers of The Way.” Certainly, at the time of John’s writing, that phrasing would have been known, and John would have intentionally made the connection.

It’s also important to note (in light of how this passage has been used to advance antisemitic ideology) that Jesus did not renounce or denigrate Judaism. His critique was centered on religious leaders who created their own impossible standards for others to follow, who choose rigid adherence to established norms over meeting human need, and who sought monetary gain from those seeking grace. That critique would seem to be cautionary for any religious tradition and leaders in any age, including current Christian communities who have become lost in following The Way.

The Way is a Person, not a path or a place. Jesus is the embodiment of an abundant and flourishing life in relationship with the Holy One and with creation. It’s a way of being on earth as in heaven. The Way is Truth. The Way is Life. The Way is an invitation to new life transformed and assured both in Christ and like Christ.

His point is that if they truly know “the way,” they do not even need to know the destination, for their arrival at the right destination is guaranteed. There is an ambiguity to “the way” that the reader must be aware of, even though the disciples are not. “The way” is not a literal road or path, nor a mere set of directions, but metaphorically a “way” of life, a commitment to “follow” Jesus.
J. Ramsey Michaels

Realizing that commitment anew invites us to assess and monitor “the way” that we are going, individually, communally, and globally. Kyung-mi Park, located in the Korean church, considers the implications of the gospel message in a world where our paths cross more readily and distant destinations seem closer than ever.

Since the Gospel of John is the most spiritual of the Gospels, it is appropriate to approach it with questions raised by the disintegration of the vision of life—life—the inner world or symbolic world—that people suffer in our time of globalization. Because we are constantly in the presence of all these invisible others who belong to various races and cultures, it becomes difficult for us to have a sense of belonging and security. The world, which earlier seemed more comprehensible and controllable, gradually becomes more terrifying, strange, and even hostile.
Kyung-mi Park

The Way anchors and centers us. The Way guides and challenges us. The Way makes the bridging of blessed distinctiveness and difference a space for joy, celebration, and thanksgiving rather than a reason for fear, demonization, and retreat. The Way is the embodiment of living life abundantly. And, when our way seems unclear, we can turn toward Jesus to find “The Way” prepared for us. Do not let your hearts be troubled; let them embrace and rest in “The Way.”

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

They Are Coming
–Josephine Delphine Henderson Heard

They are coming, coming slowly —
They are coming, surely, surely —
In each avenue you hear the steady tread.
From the depths of foul oppression,
Comes a swarthy-hued procession,
And victory perches on their banners’ head.

They are coming, coming slowly —
They are coming; yes, the lowly,
No longer writhing in their servile bands.
From the rice fields and plantation
Comes a factor of the nation,
And threatening, like Banquo’s ghost, it stands.

They are coming, coming proudly
They are crying, crying loudly:
O, for justice from the rulers of the land!
And that justice will be given,
For the mighty God of heaven
Holds the balances of power in his hand.

(Read the complete poem here: https://allpoetry.com/They-Are-Coming)

For further reflection:
“Like the moon shining bright
Up high with all its grace,
I can only show you at night
And hide half of my face.”
― Ana Claudia Antunes
“Water seeks its own level. Look at them. The Tigris, the Euphrates, the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Yangtze. The world’s great rivers. And every one of them finds its way to the ocean.” ― Alison McGhee
“In the sky there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy and confusion.” ― Ishmael Beah

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.