The words from the two scripture passages I just read were written to offer hope, encouragement and support to people who were going through some very difficult and uncertain times. The first letter of Peter was written to give hope, strength, encouragement and direction to a struggling group of people. These people were on a new path - the way of Jesus - and were finding it difficult to keep going when there was much to distract and discourage and attack them. The words from John’s gospel we often hear at funeral or memorial services, because they speak of comfort and security, and offer hope and security in devastating times for the disciples of Jesus.
Both passages are very timely don’t you think? When have times been as scary and uncertain as they have been in the past 8 weeks? The devastating results of COVID-19 has affected life as we knew it, changing how we live and work and play and BE together. And now, we hear that instead of isolating as we have done, we can begin to be with a small group of other people, and begin to go back to work, or to the park, the library or the gym, maybe even out to eat. And that adds a whole new layer of anxiety doesn’t it. What will that look like? Will we be safe? Will the virus spread as a result of less physical distancing. We still don’t feel secure - we still don’t feel like we have a solid foothold on life.
Yet, in the midst of all we are going through as individuals and as a society, we hear the truth of God in the readings. God, who gives us exactly what we need for this moment when everything is falling apart around us or maybe even within us. And even when we are off course, and the way-markers are confusing, in God we have a solid foundation, and a way, because God gives us a person, and God makes us into a people who are precious. With Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, we have a path forward, and even if we don’t know the way, Jesus does because God doesn’t lose us. Jesus assures us that if we know him, we know the one he calls Father also. God is knowable because Jesus is knowable. This God we know in Jesus dwelt among us, lived those who were outsiders, cared for those who were sick and hungry, wept over the death of his friend, met his disciples even when they isolated themselves in an upper room, and went ahead to prepare a place for them and us, so that we will never be apart from him. He’s there, in all of our doubt, fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability. The way Jesus gives us is the way to life even when everything else is falling apart.
Now, sometimes the sentences “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me,” have tripped people up and have been used to exclude or hurt others of different faith traditions or beliefs. Don’t let it make you stumble. Don’t think that the way of Jesus is built of stones that can be picked up and used as weapons against anyone. The references in these words have roots in Proverbs, where wisdom was often described as the way. The way implied a path made smooth by constant use, which teaches us that wisdom is the result of patterns of behaviour, not just isolated acts. The way is a gift of the guiding presence of God, and the purpose of the way is to form an interior value system in us that connects us with the ways of God. Additionally, in Proverbs wisdom was often personified as woman, offering a path of wisdom leading to life, empowerment and well-being, rather than destruction and chaos. Jesus, as revelation of God’s wisdom, was offering assurance to his disciples that following him is the way to know God - the way to an abundant life, the way to peace and joy, no matter what devastating circumstances are happening. Jesus, the gift of God’s heart, reveals God’s heart has a way and a place for everyone.
So, not only is God the source of wisdom who gives us a way that leads to truth and life, God gives us a person and makes us into a people. “Come to [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” On Jesus as our foundation stone, chosen and precious in God’s sight, God makes us into a people, a spiritual house, a dwelling place for God, a place from which and in which God works and is worshipped, made of living stones.
This spiritual house is solid, yet dynamic. With Christ as the cornerstone, the foundation - the temple is made of us. We are the living stones, called and loved and gathered and built up together by God - even when we are physically apart. This temple of living stones, built on Christ, is dependable and creative, just like the living and life-giving God in whose image we are made. With Christ as the source and Christ as the solidness, we are the living stones who now build up the ways of God, revealed in Jesus. Each time we take a step along the way, we open up the way for others - the way of love, care, kindness, compassion, community - the way that is inclusive and safe for all so they, too, can find the way to God’s heart.
Surely these are good words for us to reflect on, to learn from, to be comforted by, and to keep during these times when nothing is normal or comfortable or familiar. They tell us of the reliability of God, revealed in Jesus, who is the unshakeable and firm foundation on which we are being built, formed and created into ever evolving living stones.
Dear people of James Bay United Church, Do not let your hearts be troubled, because there is a safe and secure place for you in God’s house, and God’s heart. Be blessed by that! May you be strengthened by the real presence of Jesus, who offers the way and who guides you along through the circumstances of life. May you, as living stones upon which God is shaping the world, be empowered. And in turn, may you go forward into your day, and empower others in love. For you are loved, and you are indeed people, chosen and precious in God’s sight.