You can listen to this sermon on the Saint Paul’s Website, or read on.
Being a Christian is hard work. Of course, that’s not entirely true. Like everything in life, being a Christian doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there is an easy way and a hard way to be a follower of Jesus. The easy way is based on self-preservation: a long-term life and fire insurance policy. If you want to go to heaven when you die, then believe that Jesus died for you, ask him into your heart, show up at church every once in a while to make sure your ticket remains valid, and wait until that day when you finally kick the bucket and move on to the mansion that Jesus has prepared for you. It is no wonder that this way is the preferred method of following Jesus these days: barely any work in exchange for a big pay day down the road doesn’t sound too bad, but like most things that seem too good to be true, this one probably is too. You see, to truly know Jesus requires something more than a prayer and occasionally getting up early on Sunday morning. Following Jesus takes us to the cross and back.
Our Gospel lesson this morning is somewhat peculiar. Here we are shouting Alleluias on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but our appointed lesson places us smack in the middle of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse on the night before his crucifixion. None of our resurrection encounters with Jesus have been particularly happy clappy, what with Mary crying in the garden, the disciples huddled in an upper room, and Cleopas and his buddy downtrodden on the road to Emmaus, but at least all of those happened after the cross. Today we find ourselves back in the upper room as trouble swirls in the hearts of the disciples. Jesus has bucked all tradition and social protocol by washing his disciples’ feet in the middle of dinner. Judas has just run from the room, determined to stop Jesus from acting so foolish, even if it kills them both. Peter is sulking in the corner having just been told that he would deny Jesus not once or twice, but three times that very night. Trouble is everywhere.
Being a follower of Jesus can be really difficult. Often, it means that your heart is troubled, disturbed, or stirred up. It is that feeling you get when you know things aren’t the way God intended them to be. That gut reaction you have when you see injustice, prejudice, and oppression in the world around you. That aching in the pit of your stomach when you ponder the tens of millions of children and senior citizens in the United States who go bed hungry. That churning feeling that comes from seeing images of girls stolen from their school just because a class of educated women makes some ignorant men uncomfortable. Following Jesus means having a troubled heart from time to time, but it also means listening when he encourages his disciples to not let our hearts be troubled. “You trust in God,” Jesus says, “and you’ve put your trust in me. So don’t worry about all of this uncertainty that surrounds you. I may be away from you, but I will not leave you for good. In the meantime, I’m preparing the Kingdom for you even as you are bringing it into being here on earth. You know the way to get there.”
Thomas echoes what I’m sure each and every one of us has felt at least a time or two. There he stands, seemingly in the dark, “groping around aimlessly for a path, a truth, a life, and THE path, [THE] truth, and [THE] life is staring [him] in the face and [he] can’t see it….” In those moments when we are taking our faith seriously, when our hearts are stirred up for the Kingdom, when we are most on edge, it can be hard to trust that everything is going to be all right. It doesn’t take more than five minutes of the five o’clock news to begin to wonder if this whole thing has gone irrevocably off the rails. “No Jesus, clearly we don’t know the way. It isn’t as easy for us as it is for you. You are God, you know the heart of the Father, you can see beyond this broken moment to the culmination of history, but we are stuck in time and space and we are troubled. Heck, we don’t even know the destination, let alone how to get there!”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says, “None of you comes to the Father except through me.” In just a few short sentences, Jesus lays out the reality of what life is like as his disciples. Being a Christian means following Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life: certainly no easy task, but the key lies in the announcement that Jesus had just made. In the context of the Last Supper, it probably hasn’t been two minutes since Jesus told his disciples everything they needed to know about following him. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus knows the way to the Father’s Kingdom. Jesus shows the way to the Father’s Kingdom. Jesus is the way to the Father’s Kingdom. That way is self-giving love – the sort of love that puts the needs of the other in front of our own – the sort of love that Paul wrote about in First Corinthians chapter 13: love that is patient, kind, unselfish, and keeps no record of wrong – the kind of love that is really, really hard to live out in practical everyday life.
Less than twenty-four hours before his death, Jesus reminds his disciples that they have everything they need to live the Kingdom Life without him. They’ve seen him live out the love of God over and over and over again. Whether it was in a seemingly silly act like turning water into wine or in the profoundly miraculous moment of calling a really, really dead Lazarus out of his tomb, Jesus lived in their midst as the love of God incarnate. Our calling as disciples of Jesus is to do our best to follow his example by loving God and loving our neighbors.
Being a Christian is hard work. Of course, that’s not entirely true. Like everything in life, being a Christian doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there is an easy way and a hard way to be a follower of Jesus. The hard way is based on the model of self-giving love that we have in Jesus Christ. It is less about a long-term life and fire insurance policy and more about the right here and right now. It isn’t about getting to go to heaven when you die, but rather it is about choosing to bring heaven to earth every moment of every day. It means placing your trust in Jesus and following him as the way, the truth, and the abundant life that God planned for each of us individually and for the world-at-large from the very beginning. Sure, it means showing up to Church on Sundays, but not to be entertained or to have your ticket punched. It means coming here to give God thanks and praise for his enduring love. It means being nourished in word and in sacrament. It means being fed at this holy table so that you are empowered to leave this place and truly follow Jesus the other 167 hours of the week. Being a Christian isn’t easy, but the good news is, we aren’t in it alone. We’ve got a community of faith, the body of Christ still on earth, to walk along side us, to support us, even to carry us when it feels like we just can’t go another step as together we follow the way that is well known to us. The way of love. The way of everlasting life. The way of the Kingdom. Amen.
 John 13.34-35 (NRSV)