When I was in sixth grade, I became a Boy Scout. That was a bit of a difficulty as they had a fee to be paid and my dad wasn’t interested in anything if it wasn’t free. Mom prevailed.
I was put in a patrol with other newbies and, though our leader was an older boy in junior high, his leadership skills were sadly lacking. As we approached the date for the big jamboree, a week-long camp for all the Scout packs in Southern California at Camp Pendleton, every planning meeting of our patrol dissolved into aimless horsing around. We were supposed to come up with a menu for all our food for our patrol. It’s a wonder we had much of anything when the day of departure arrived.
We had a couple of boys totally committed to finding snakes to capture. Gather firewood for the evening meal? No, they were off hunting snakes. Helping with cooking? No, they were off hunting snakes. Policing up the trash, no. Yeah, you got it…
We discovered one morning, since we had not had much of any dinner, and no one had started the campfire, and the snake boys had raided the food container in the middle of the night and eaten the breakfast sausage raw, we had only some raw potatoes to gnaw on. This camping experience was going downhill fast.
Some of you know that I don’t do too well in the heat and sun. Well, at our Sunday worship service, out in the blazing sun, I got sunstroke and passed out.
To top it off, on the way home, later that morning, the Marines had set up a display of tanks and other assorted military equipment for us. We were far too young to realize that this was all a ruse to glamorize military culture and entice us into enlisting fifteen years down the road. Yeah, “Good Morning Vietnam!”
Crawling through tanks, and armored personnel carriers, looking at all the neat rifles and machine guns, my attention deficit disorder had completely kicked in and I didn’t realize that the rest of our troop had already headed back to the cars. Until I began looking for my buddy, Dan, and couldn’t find him anywhere. Until I couldn’t find anybody else from our troop. Panic! They had all left me. I was totally lost. My heart raced and my mind fogged over as I ran all over the exhibit looking for anyone I knew. Nobody! I was utterly on my own.
In our passage from John, the writer narrates Jesus’ attempt to prepare his followers for his absence, when he will leave them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’”
Can you imagine the panic in Thomas’s voice? The despair in the hearts of those hearing this farewell? Lost, every bit as much as I was lost that morning at that Camp Pendleton exhibit.
Lost every bit as much as our nation has been, one ruinous and disastrous military intervention after another. As lost as our common political life has been in partisan division over the past half century.
Yet the gospel writer assures, “’I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
This need not be a narrow sectarian understanding of divine reality; for what is the “way” of Jesus? It is compassion. It is humility. It is justice for all. It is daring risk to go beyond the confines of race and class, to understand at a deep, heart level – we are all one. All loved and precious in the sight of the One who is All and is in All – the heartbeat of the cosmos.
The Risen Christ is the power of life let loose in the world. It is that power dwelling in Jesus that could not be contained by death – let loose to embolden and guide – to restore and renew. Now, so diffused throughout our long history of some two thousand years, most do not recognize its influence or power. Yet, it is the very same Life Force, animating receptive hearts and minds.
As on that dusty road to a small nowhere village, Emmaus, Christ comes again and again in guises we seldom recognize – where bread is broken, where justice is served, where the lost are found – even we who so often vainly struggle to see the way ahead — and who seek the faith and courage to venture forth. Sometimes only one day at a time.
You don’t know where the Christ has gone? As of old on that road he is so often beside you, though you do not recognize him. And just as often it’s a her. It is the one who comes bearing the gift of reconciliation, the gift of a second chance, the gift of encouragement, the gift of sustenance, the gift of justice. It is the one who binds up wounds, both old and fresh. It is the one who through service sustains the common good.
Those twelve men and women on the jury that heard the case of the Proud Boys this month were Christ to the nation. It was their judgment that upheld the rule of law that this nation might be preserved. Seditious conspiracy is not to be tolerated. Cannot abide! Though they will have insult heaped upon opprobrium, death threats and be shunned by old friends – they persevered for a greater good. They will have born the Cross for this republic.
Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth have been Christ to fugitive slaves, following the Drinking Gourd on that golden railroad to freedom in the North. As “conductors” they liberated hundreds from our worst of evils.
The other day, as I was picking up my refurbished computer, I missed the curb. In an instant I was sprawled face down on the sidewalk. After a few moments to assess my condition and determine that nothing was broken and that I wasn’t bleeding to death, I looked around. Nobody was in sight. I began to wonder how I was going to get back up.
As I sat pondering my fate, an elderly black fellow approached peddling through the parking lot on a bike. As he pulled up even with me, he called out, “Mister, do you need some help?” I told him that help would be much appreciated.
He dismounted his bike and put down the kickstand. As he reached out to me with a weathered and callused hand, and then a second towards my outstretched arms, I recognized Christ in my time of need. As I steadied myself and thanked him, he was already off on his way. Vanished from my sight. In that instance I was doubly blessed by the kindness of that stranger on my own Emmaus journey.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Open your eyes; open your heart – the way is illuminated every day. Christ comes to us as one unknown – as you also are summoned to do the same.
As I pulled into the Chevron station last week, picking up an Amazon package at the locker, there was a man in tattered, filthy jeans laying on the ground tinkering with a ratty old motor scooter. He had several parts and assorted screws and bolts lying about him. As I passed, he called out, “Could you give me a boost,” holding out two jumper cables.
My first thought was, maybe the next guy will do this. I’m really in a hurry. I passed, trying to ignore him. As I got back in my van, as loud, as if I had heard the actual words, “WHY NOT?” I realized the Spirit prompting – “Pay it forward.” I pulled over to him and raised the hood. Hooked the cables to my battery and his scooter started up on the third try. Only took a brief moment. God sends these opportunities daily to be a blessing – so easy to ignore, to pass by. I was already ashamed that it took so long to get the hint. Instead of delay, I received a blessing.
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Just open your eyes, your heart. You’ll be blest to discover where Christ has gone – right in your midst. I guarantee it! Easter Resurrection.
By the way, our assistant scout master Bill finally appeared in that sprawling exhibit of military hardware looking for me. Another blessed and welcome vision of Christ in my midst. All is lost. All is found. Daily we’re shown the way back to our Eternal Home. Amen.
May 7, 2023, Easter 5
“Lord, We Do Not Know Where You are Going”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16;
1 Peter 2:2-10; Gospel: John 14:1-14