May 14, 2017
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Some of you know that this was the second year that a duck, whom we have named Doris, laid eggs next to our backdoor. Last year, when her eggs hatched, I joined the parade down the block-and-a-half to the retention pond in our neighborhood. Doris and her brood sailed off into the pond, and I cried because it was so beautiful.
This year was different. All didn’t go so well. A few of the ducklings couldn’t follow Doris when she left. Another three of them just couldn’t get to the pond. The brood seemed to be struggling this year, their legs not quite ready for the journey. When she got to the lake, there were only four left.
Then some other ducks began to threaten her, the little ducklings scattering in the chaos. Doris stretched up her neck, gave an authoritative quack, and the four ducklings rushed toward her. She fluffed out her feathers and sat down, with the ducklings not invisible underneath her. She did what the creation, at it’s very core, does when its threatened. Like a mother, it protects new life. Even at the risk of her own life, she protected those little ones. There are two ducklings left with Doris at the pond, last I checked.
The whole experience has shaped my reading of today’s gospel text. Jesus says these words on the night that he is arrested. His ducklings, the disciples, were terrified. They finally understood what was about to happen. The threat was gathering in the darkness. Jesus told them that he was going away for good. His mission would now be in their hands.
Their hearts were troubled. They were afraid. They didn’t know how to go on, where to go, or how to do it.
We get it. We’re troubled, too. We’re troubled by what’s happening in our country. We’re troubled that our elected leaders so often shortchange the common good for a grab for more power. We’re troubled by what’s happening in our families. We’re troubled about what’s happening to our bodies. We’re troubled by our mental health. We’re troubled that if the future of the church and the mission of Jesus is up to us, we’ve mangled it all.
Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” Trust that God is good. Trust me. I’m going to provide you with way stations, dwelling places, moments of rest, signs of life, a touch of grace, a connection to something bigger that your troubles.
Thomas speaks for all of us when he misunderstands. He thinks it’s a place, rather than an experience of God-present. “We don’t know the way. We don’t know how to get there.” The “dwelling place” in John isn’t heaven. It’s being connected to the vine; connected to Jesus.
I am the way, the truth, the life. I’m going to be your connection to God.
Let me say one thing about “No one comes to the Father except by me.” We need to hear that Jesus is speaking to his friends about the cross. There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus is speaking to the frightened ducklings, not issuing a press release directed at religions. I hear it this way: No one is going to get there without help, and Jesus is promises to get his friends to a place of love. For us as Christians, the connecting hand is Jesus. For Jews, maybe it’s Moses; for Muslims, it’s the Koran; for Hindus, Vishnu or any number of hands.
So, Jesus says, “Hang on. I’m going to get everyone there.” No one can do it alone. You don’t need to come up with this on your own. You don’t need to figure this all out today. You don’t even have to get it all sorted out by tomorrow. I’m going to get you to a dwelling place, a place where you can know love, a place where you can nestle safely under our mother duck God.
This is mental health awareness month. One in five Americans struggle with mental health. There are so many of us that struggle with our troubled hearts, with our brains and their unbalanced chemicals, with a society that judges and resists providing compassionate care. There are likely some of us even today who cannot see a way to on, who have lost the way and cannot see life tomorrow,.
I remember a preacher from the African Methodist Episcopal tradition shouting, “If you think there is no way, God will make way.” He shouted it over and over again.
To each of us, Jesus says, “I’m going to get you to where you need to go.” There is a dwelling place for you, a place where God will be dwelling, a moment full of God, a neighbor full of God, a church full of God, maybe one of the people in those other religions full of God, a crab apple tree on fire in the sunshine like a burning bush announcing “I am with you.” Maybe it’s in the hand extended to you as we share the peace, that human touch a sign that God is going to reach for us to bring peace. Maybe it’s in the reminder, spoken again and again, “You’re forgiven. This is not all your fault. If it is all your fault, it’s a new day; start over. You are a precious and beautiful child of God.” Maybe it’s the bread and the wine. Maybe it’s the water. There are many dwelling places in God’s creation, God’s house.
Maybe it’s a duck fiercely protecting her ducklings when we glimpse God’s beating heart, when we glimpse not the sadness or the violence but the deep and dwelling impulse to nurture life. Again and again, We glimpse Easter.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!