The Way Forward

We all look with a wary yet hopeful eye toward the future. We hear about the phased plan for reopening our state, for starting the great engine of our nation’s economy again. Every scheduled press conference gives us the promise of some sort of resolution, a way forward. Now these conferences do not seem to usually play out that way. They are often filled with extremely vague and elusive statements and the way forward, the way out of this crisis, the way back to some sort of normalcy is not very clear. We all want it. We all would be doing a lot better if there was a real plan with real dates with predictable results, but we just cannot seem to get there.

The future, especially these days, is marked by uncertainty and fear. We live and move under the tyranny of models of prediction. It works like this, the experts produce a model of what the future will hold and we change our behavior to effect the model, but then we find the model was somewhat corrupt or there were variables that were never considered and so now there is a new model and a new set of criteria for changing the future. And the process starts all over again. It is terrifying because the models are supposed to inform us on the best way to move forward but how do we move forward when there is no predictable way to go forward? Is it all just a crap shoot, a roll of the dice? Jesus says to you, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). But they are troubled, they are stirred up, the unknown of the future does not allow our hearts to remain calm. When will life get back to normal? When will the unemployment rate begin to turn around? When will our favorite shops and restaurants open again? When will we once again greet one another with a hug and kiss on the cheek? What is the way forward?

In our text today we are given the opportunity to see the reaction of the disciples to some very terrifying words of Jesus, words no one wanted to hear, words that turned their world upside down. The setting is the upper room, the same night Jesus is arrested. He has just declared one of them will betray Him and Peter will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Then, to top it all off, He says He is going away, leaving them. It does not start off too dreadful. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Now that does not sound too bad. Jesus is preparing a place in His Father’s house for His disciples. The future for the disciples looks rather good. It is a little disconcerting He is leaving them, but at least they know the destination. But then Jesus says this, “And you know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas picks right up on this development. “Wait a minute,” he says, “What do you mean we know the way? Do we really? I don’t think we do. If you told us earlier, I don’t think anyone wrote down the directions.” How are the disciples of Jesus supposed to go forward? How are they to navigate the future without knowing the proper way to go? For that matter what about you? How are you to move forward? Do you know the way to go? Are you sure you know how to navigate the uncertainty of the future to arrive safely at the destination? After all, this world is full of people who will offer you their model you ought to follow to arrive safely where you want to go. Some will focus on good deeds, on being ethically and morally upright. This is the path to where you want to go. Others might focus on the wisdom you acquire, knowing the truth will lead to the goal. Your intellect assures you of the faithful way. Still others will focus on your feelings, on the spirituality of your emotions. They way forward is the way that feels right. It is peaceful. It is enlightening.

So, which way is the right way? Which path is the correct one? Is it our knowledge or our experience or our virtue that will get us to the destination? Which model will be the faithful and true one? Which is the right way? Well, as it turns out, the answer is: None of the above. None of the models will get you to the destination. You can be the very best human being to walk the planet, selfless and giving, kind and compassionate and it will not be good enough. You can read all the books, improve your understanding and grasp of the great ideas and it will not unlock the gates to Heaven. You can be a person of great spirituality, demonstrating a desire for the righteous and willingly turning away from the things of this age and you will not climb up to the Father’s house. For Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus alone stands as the model. He is the way forward. He is the solution. He is how we get through. In fact, He says there is no other way except for Him. He is the very presence of the Father in our midst. He is the way, the truth, and the life. You do not need to act like Jesus or feel Jesus in your heart or inspire others to love Jesus, you just need Jesus and Jesus alone. Now, this is good news my friends. This is our hope and our assurance. We look toward the horizon longing for the return of our Lord and yet we are not lost in the meantime. You have the way, you have the truth, you have the life, it is your Lord Jesus Christ who dwells with you even now. He is present in His Word and Sacraments. He is there in the sweet word of forgiveness ringing in your ears. He is there in, with, and under the bread and wine you receive in the Super.

So, as the world cries out about the future, as everyone waits with bated breath for the models to play out, we do not have to wait. We can take a bold and courageous stance and declare to the world, “Don’t worry, we already know the way. We already have the truth. We participate even now in the gift of life.” As they cower in fear, we go forward in the promises of Christ. And it sounds good, it feels good, to stand together, to be that unshakable witness of the true light. But then the opposition comes. Sometimes it comes as a full attack from the world in which we live. Sometimes the attack is wielded by our own desires and doubts. We want to stand with Jesus. We want to trust in His promises but there is so much that seems to undermine that.

Is this all we have to get us through? Is this all we have to ensure we will endure until the end? Some bread and wine, a preacher to proclaim forgiveness, some water poured over our heads, is this really all there is? Like Philip before us, with the world cheering us on, we want something further. We want something more powerful and awe inspiring. The way needs to be marked by majesty and glory. Philip says, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us” (John 14:8). Show us the power and the splendor, not these lowly gifts of Word and Sacrament. Show us something more and then at last our hearts will have no need of being troubled.

But our Lord was not fooling. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. So, if He comes in Word and Sacrament it is enough. He says to Philip, “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 authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works” (John 14:10). These lowly gifts and the presence of Christ are the presence of God the Father right here for you. They are here to be your way, to proclaim the truth, and to give you life.

But Jesus does not stop there. No, He says those who believe in Him, those who rejoice in His works will do greater works themselves. That is right. You, the Church, the holy ones of God, who have been forgiven all your sins, who have been called out of the fear and terror of our age, you are now to lead the way forward. As the Father spoke through His Son so now the Son speaks through you. This world is full of those who are lost and confused, those longing for a way forward. You can give them what they need. You can give them the promises of Jesus. You can forgive and love and heal. Out of the darkness and the fear and the uncertainty you can give them the way, the truth, and the life. You can give them Jesus.