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President's reflection

“I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE”

Gospel Reflection on John 14:1-14, EASTER 5: Sunday 10 May.

"The truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” St Augustine

As the poet Muriel Rukeyser conveys, with a little bit of poetic licence, our universe is more made up of stories than of atoms!

One Sunday out around Diamond Creek/Eltham, I was asking some folk about their journey to that parish. They conveyed how, in their Middle Eastern country of origin, they had had vivid dreams in which Jesus appeared saying to them,” I AM the Way…”

These experiences were such a surprise. The appearance of Jesus was entirely comforting. It had nothing to do with religious competition (which should be a contradiction in terms).

The warmth and radiance of Jesus was compelling, love drawn to love.

So began their complex journey from homeland to a suburban parish far away!

The next night, I was in a Parish on the road to Bendigo, past Diggers Rest where some of our forebears once rested on their way to seek gold (only, perhaps, to end up with a lot of sheep). Again, in the supper conversation afterwards, a person this time from S. Asia, told me the same story: The unmistakable, unexpected appearance of Jesus and the clarity of statement: “I AM the Way”.

Likewise, the comfort this gave was beyond any words. Thereafter came light upon next steps as this person’s discipleship took shape. As in the day before, I looked into the face of folk who love Jesus with all their heart and are Gospel - bearers.

So, we can sing from childhood to now, songs like:

“What a friend we have in Jesus” (TIS 590) and “Jesus loves me, this I know. (TIS 229)

➢ We sang along to this version of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’, at a large funeral recently. A Civil Celebrant and I worked collaboratively amidst many grieving people. Sometimes a song, offered with artistic grace and easy for everyone to sing just is such a blessing.  Listen to this version on YouTube  

➢ Then there is this version by Aretha Franklin which is bringing comfort to folk, especially in the US, amidst COVID19.   - Listen on YouTube 

Our universe is full of such stories as these about Jesus, ours included.

They convey the gracious sovereignty of God, notwithstanding the various futile obstacles people might erect to shut down the truth, sadly causing much unnecessary suffering in the process, as religious freedom is oppressed.

But the glorious freedom of the people of God cannot be contained. People can be persecuted, imprisoned, humiliated, hunted, driven away, ignored, patronised by fools ....but still they will be free.

One day, they and we will all be free. Free to worship, in Spirit and in Truth, the One who was, who is and who is to come. Free, we pray, in all humility, recognising human frailty. Remembering, therefore our own mistakes and those of our Church, when a love for power made and makes a mess of our better contribution which is one in humble love!

A better contribution being one which always seeks to learn from all others. Knowing that, in the sovereignty of God, we might learn very importantly from people of other faiths.

As we respectfully note now the faithful fasting and prayer of Muslims during Ramadan.

Our better contribution is always more likely when we assume others we meet are in better spiritual condition than ourselves.

If, in Numbers 22:21-39. Balaam had to learn to listen to the guidance of his faithful and forbearing donkey, who might God be putting in our path for guidance?

Life teaches us not to make any assumptions and to just keep a clear and open spirit. I think it was St Augustine who said it can be those who question and critique us, who might be our most important teachers.

A one-liner from St Irenaeus stays with me: “God will always have more to teach us. And we will always have more to learn!”

So to another story…

There was a young boy, about 15, with many abilities and some disability, who would come to our Church for worship .He was well befriended and would “play Church" with his helper. One day, I watched him playing his way through the liturgy, with which he was well familiar. It came time for the Sermon. He rose to preach...

“God loves us “, he said. Then he sat down.

Fine sermon, don’t you think? Theologically sound. Clear. Succinct. Left those listening deeply moved.

The “I AM “Statements in St. John’s Gospel, including today’s, echo back to the response Moses received from Yahweh when he went to look at the burning bush, whilst minding his father-in-law's sheep on Mt Horeb.

To that point, it had been just an ordinary kind of day, with the sheep and the mountain air. But instead of going back to that quiet work after satisfying his curiosity, he found his life-work at the burning bush. When Moses asked who he might say was sending him, he heard:” I AM who I AM”. (Exodus 3:14).

Imagine that!

So, the One who also says, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8: 48-59), today conveys,” I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life”.

In the Church Year, this Gospel is positioned late in the Easter Season as we move towards Pentecost and, of profound relevance when we consider these “I AM” statements, towards Trinity Sunday.

It is in our Doctrine of God the Holy Trinity that these deep matters find a coherence that is intellectually and emotionally fulfilling. This coherence is so necessary because of the promise also contained in today’s Gospel.

It is the promise at the start. It is one many are familiar with from the Funeral Service and immediately proceeds our “I AM Statement”. “...I go to prepare a place for you...” The promise is universal and profoundly personal.

“I go to prepare a place for YOU”.

The promise is of a place we will be able to recognise as ours; a place of union and of reunion. As you know, it is impossible to overstate how comforting is this promise, as we live our lives between the great mysteries of birth and death.

“I AM the Resurrection and the Life”, (John 11:25) Jesus also says to us, as we trust our loved ones to God’s eternal care.

In the prayers at such times, we ask the help of the angels so our departed loved ones find their way to the place prepared for them.

We cannot think of such matters currently without compassion for those grieving, after wave after wave of COVID 19 deaths in places like Brazil, the USA and Europe, now also Asia as well as Africa.

Our Sunday Service today also therefore needs to include these prayers as well as a prayer for the wise discernment of leaders meeting as State and National Cabinet today and tomorrow. There are many opinions, but my prayer is for continuing grace under pressure.

Everyone is drained after these months of crisis-management....Devastating bush fires followed by the pandemic. When people are tired and stressed, they can say things which are a bit out of character. This is a good time to go gently and be a little forgiving of one another.

Perhaps, therefore, I might end this rather rambling reflection with a final sheep story! One Saturday morning, when we were living on our little farm in W. Gippsland with our chooks and cow, I was writing a very scholarly sermon about “Forgiveness”, when the bloke down the road rang up.

He was a fairly laconic kind of bloke, spoke slowly, and was never in much of a hurry.

“Do you have about 25 sheep?” he asked.

“Yes, about that number,” I said.

“Well they just walked past my place” he said.

I went out to investigate and found somebody had pinched the gate in the night.

He helped me round up those we could gather (some might still be enjoying life somewhere around Albany, by now). Hours later, I went back to my scholarly sermon on Forgiveness and the difficulties of genuine forgiveness were once again more than an abstraction!

So, giving and forgiving, we keep doing our best to make gentle our bruised world!

In all this, we give thanks for sustaining grace, “Amazing Grace”. (TIS 129). AMEN.

➢ A couple of versions…    Aretha Franklin - watch on YouTube        

➢ The speech and song of President Obama.    Obama Sings 'Amazing Grace'    

➢ After President Obama sang Amazing Grace amidst a tragedy... We might pray the US again finds a great President, remembering the inspiration that goes back to at least Abraham Lincoln.                  The President Sang Amazing Grace - Joan Baez

  

Bishop Philip Huggins.

President, National Council of Churches in Australia 

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