Lean On Me
It has been so wonderful in the past two weeks seeing the entire world around us change from the dull browns of post-snow winter to the beautiful yellow and pink and red flowers and bursting greens of springtime. It’s really something we can celebrate: the renewal of life in the world as it wakes up from its winter sleep. But along with the beauty of springtime is the chaos of springtime weather.
Y’all know what I mean. The weeks where it shifts suddenly from a beautiful and balmy 65 degrees and sunny to, overnight, dropping into the forties with whipping winds and dark clouds. Meteorologists try their best to give us an idea of what’s coming, but there have been multiple days where Annie and I rushed to get in a morning walk while it was still sunny, only to discover the rain predicted for the afternoon never showed up. For us, at least, the uncertainty of the weather is just a minor annoyance. For our farmers, it’s a bit more of a problem. If we could know what the weather was going to be like, that certainty would take away a lot of the stress of figuring what we can get done and when.
We especially feel that now, don’t we? As stay-at-home orders keep being extended, as this pandemic drags on, as models and predictions are being adjusted and there is information telling us stay-at-home is working or stay-at-home is a waste of time; as we hear assurances that the economy will be open by June or will need to be mostly shut for twelve months; as all this uncertainty builds up, it only makes sense that we’re getting frustrated. We need someone to tell us the way, to show us a roadmap, to point us at what we need to know.
It’s like how the advent of GPS made travelling in an unfamiliar place so much easier. Visiting a friend in a distant town, we used to have to follow them where they went, hoping we wouldn’t get separated at a stoplight or some tool would cut us off. Now it’s as easy as plugging in the address into our phones and we’re off to the races. Certainty takes away a lot of the stress. Knowing the way makes us feel better because then we don’t have to rely on someone else.
Which is where we find ourselves in the gospel reading this morning. We’ve gone back in time, to before Jesus was arrested and crucified and raised; back to the upper room where he shared his last supper with the disciples. Jesus is saying goodbye to them and giving them assurances that all will be well, even though the worst is about to happen. Thomas and Philip aren’t just asking Jesus to explain a few points they didn’t catch; they’re asking Jesus to give them something to hold onto. “How will we know the way?” and “Show us the Father” are their words of anxiety, of worry, about how they’re supposed to know what to do without Jesus there. They wanted certainty.
So how does Jesus put our anxieties to rest? What instruction does he give us when we’re worried about the things we don’t know?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It’s not a command to pretend like your worries aren’t there, or to push them down and ignore them. Instead, Jesus is instructing us to see the things that make us anxious, to look the world full in the face, but not let the uncertainty and worries we see and feel overwhelm us. We’re called to recognize reality for what it is: things are anxious right now. Things are not certain. The world is worried, and so are we. But, and this is the important part, in the midst of seeing that worry, believe in God. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus. Don’t let fear and anxiety overwhelm you because you can lean on Jesus.
And just as importantly, follow Jesus. When Thomas asked Jesus to show them the way to the Father, the way to hope and fulfillment and peace, Jesus refused to give him a map. He didn’t give Thomas the street address or the turn-by-turn instructions on how to get there. Instead, he gave the simple instruction: “I am the way.”
We’re being called to follow without knowing exactly how we’ll get where we’re going, or what roads we’re supposed to take. We’re being called, when we want certainty and directions laid out as to what this life of faith looks like, to instead have only one point of certainty: Jesus. And that would be frightening, maybe even more anxiety-inducing than our current uncertainties, except that Jesus isn’t the kind of guide who will abandon us at the stoplight, or lose us in the twists and turns. Jesus says “don’t let your hearts be troubled,” and then he shows us why our hearts can be untroubled by showing us that even death on a cross won’t get in the way of him abiding with us.
So what does it look like to follow Jesus today? How do we lean on Jesus when he’s not physically here?
It looks like doing the works he calls us to do. And today that might look like putting on a mask when you’re in the store, protecting your immunocompromised or elderly neighbor even when you yourself won’t be affected by this virus. It might look like paying a little more for supplies at a locally owned business to keep your neighbor afloat while we buy time to get a vaccine made. It might look like sharing ideas for engaging activities with kids with your neighbors running out of ideas with their kids. It might look like joining with neighbors to buy hogs from a local farmer rather than let that meat go to waste. It might look like all these things, because when our hearts aren’t troubled, we can be calm and certain that Jesus carries us through even a pandemic.
We don’t know how long this will go on for certain. Like the weather, the situation seems to change every day. But Jesus abides with us. He abides with us and he calls on us to trust in him even when nothing else in the world is certain. He calls on us to love our neighbor in whatever way we can, giving up some of the things we may want or want to do for the good of all, for however long this takes. And we can trust in Jesus to get us through it, because he is the way, and he will not leave us behind.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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