The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 14, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 14: 1-14

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     In the church that I grew up in, we had a nursery, and then you went across the hall to the preschool room.  As you got older you started to go into the other rooms for Sunday school.  Most of the kids stayed in church until the children’s time and then went downstairs to the classrooms.  But Nursery and Preschool rooms were open before church started, so you could drop off your little ones before going up to church, or later if you wanted.

     I don’t remember the nursery.  I remember going in there when I was older and playing in these cribs they had.  They were like cages, 4 of them, two high, two wide, with sliding doors with wooden bars.  We would crawl in there, pretend we were wild animals, locked up.  Looking back, who came up with the idea of having sleeping cells like that I don’t know, but guess it kept us safe if we happened to fall asleep during the hour we were in church.  They are now gone. 

     But when I got into the preschool room I do have memories.  There was a big box of clothes, so we could play dress-up.  In another area of the room, they had these cardboard blocks.  We would build walls as high as we could, and then Carl Fudrucker, yes, I think that was his name, would come and knock down the walls.  After a while of playing we sat on a rug and had a story, and then would go over to the tables, have our snack.  Two saltine crackers and a cup of water.  Church was only about an hour, and they had something downstairs during coffee hour for the kids, so I think it was more to keep us busy rather than because we were hungry.  When we were all done, we would have a craft.  I glued a lot of cotton balls onto paper, to make clouds, onto clothespins to make sheep, onto popsicle sticks to make snowmen.  I have a lot of memories of gluing cotton balls to things. 

     One week we read a story about God, a common subject for Sunday School, and then after our snack we were given construction paper, crayons and had to draw a picture of God.  Most of the kids drew a picture of an old man, God has to be old and a man, or so we thought in our preschool minds.  I don’t remember, but pretty sure that the glue and cotton balls came out so we could add a white beard.  Our old white man God must have a beard.   

     I drew clouds, probably added some cotton balls to fit in.  But my picture of God didn’t have anyone in it.  I have always thought that maybe in my preschool mind I thought that God was more like air, or wind, or spirit than man.  But looking back, maybe there was a different way I could have drawn God.

     The scripture we read this morning is the first part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples.  So this happened before his crucifixion.  He has had the last supper, he has told them that he is going to be betrayed and be killed.  But then Jesus adds “don’t let your hearts be troubled.”  Really, you just told us that you are going to be arrested, betrayed, killed, but we shouldn’t be worried. 

     Jesus explains he is going to a better place, a palace filled with rooms, and Jesus is going ahead to prepare a room for them.  OK, Jesus, sounds like maybe our hearts don’t need to be too troubled, but Thomas asks “Where is this place?  How are we going to find it if you are going to die?”  Jesus calmly explains that he is the way; the way they are going to find it is to follow him. 

     And then comes the question that no faithful Jew of that time should ever ask.  Philip blurts it out -  “Show us the father.”  He words it more as a statement then a question, but I believe he is really asking, what does God look like.  The same question we were asked in preschool, a faithful disciple is asking Jesus.  Why shouldn’t he ask this, because nobody has ever seen God and lived.  Remember Moses and the burning bush?  Eventually Moses is looking out off the cliff, and God passes by so that Moses can get a sense of God’s glory.  When Moses turns around he can only see the tail of God’s glory, or if you go to the Hebrew, more accurately translated Moses saw God’s backside.  That is as close as he ever got to seeing God.  Remember the climax scene of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark?  They are out in the wilderness somewhere, they open the ark, Indiana Jones says “Marion, look away, don’t look at it.”  Those who look at the ark, who see the spirit of God rising out of the ark, die, or in the case of one of those actors, melt. 

     For a good Jew it's an audacious, even inappropriate question, but I suspect we can understand where it came from. Because each of has been there: at our wits end, desperate for some hope that things will get better, for some reason to believe that this tragedy is not all there is. Maybe it was when the doctor told you that the cancer had returned. Or when a loved one died unexpectedly. Or when the stewardship appeal went sour. Or when you discovered your beloved has left. Or any of 100 other things has happened.

     Each of us, you see, has also had moments where we wanted some reassurance, some glimmer of hope, that all that we had heard and learned about God is not just some false story but true. "Just show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."

     To which Jesus responds, not in frustration but in love, both to Philip and to us, "Have I been with you all this time and yet still you don't know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the father!"

     Which takes us back to the very beginning of John's gospel about the Word that was from the beginning, the Word that is with God and is God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us that we might have life.... After all this, John says "No one has seen God. But the only begotten Son, he has made him known."
And there it is -- the two truths of the life of faith. First, no one has seen God. And that's hard, sometimes crushingly hard, to believe, to trust, to keep faith in and with a God no one can see. And yet the second truth: Jesus, the Son, the Word made flesh, if you've seen him you have seen God and so know what God looks like and, more importantly, what God is up to and who God is for.

     Keep in mind that in the story John tells we are on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus is about to be betrayed, abandoned, handed over, tried, insulted, beaten, and then crucified, nailed to a cross and hung there to die. Why? To appease the righteous anger of a just God? To set for us some kind of example of what real faith looks like? To take the just punishment we deserve? No. Jesus goes to the cross for one reason and one reason only: to show us God, to show us God's grace and mercy, to show just how much God loves us and how far God will go to communicate that love to us that we might believe and, believing, have life in his name.

     I was working on this sermon a few weeks ago, around May first, and I came across Dorothy Day.  In Danbury, Connecticut there is the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, but I never really knew who she was.  Since she was involved in workers’ rights, May first was a day when her name popped up.  As I read about her it occurred to me that she was able to really make the connection between religion and social action.  Now the early part of her life was not always perfect, especially in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  In about 1921 she had an abortion when she broke off a love affair she had been having, got married, then divorced, remarried, was able to have a child, divorced again.  But because of the other parts of her life, the Catholic Church has opened the cause for Day's possible canonization, which was accepted by the Holy See for investigation.  In other words, her name was submitted to the Pope to become a saint.  They accepted her name to consider her as a possible saint.  Due to this, the Church refers to her with the title of Servant of God.  I think Servant of God is a wonderful tribute.  I seriously doubt I would ever be considered for canonization, but hopefully will live my life so someone will say that I was a servant of God when I die. 

     It has been said that you can see Jesus in the eyes of another.  When I read her story, I saw Jesus.  The idea of standing up for peace, in the hardest circumstances.  Willing to be arrested at 75 and thrown in jail, in the pursuit of peace.   Standing with the working people.

     But if you are not a Dorothy Day fan, how about Mother Teresa?  Oprah?  Bono?  Bill and Melinda Gates?  Gandhi?  Rachel Carson?  Rosa Parks? Thomas Merton?  Joan B Kroc?  Martin Luther King, Jr?  George Mitchell?  14th Dalai Lama?  And the list can go on, and will be different for each of us.  But we know what Jesus stood for.  Peace, loving your neighbor, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, healing the sick.  When we see anyone do that, we can see Jesus in them.  And when we see Jesus, we know what God looks like.

     My task in that preschool room seemed impossible.  Even in Preschool I think I knew that God was not on old white man with a big white cotton ball like beard.   From the old testament, that wind, breath, spirit fits pretty well.  But I also see Jesus in each of us when we do what God is calling us to do.  I have mentioned to you that I do not view God as male or female, both and neither.  I think I even said that in a sermon once.  I also see God as white, and black and brown and red, and none of those colors.  I see God as straight and gay and transgendered, and not any of those things.  You see God is above all the ways that we categorize people.  But maybe, we can even say that God looks like you and me, and all of us, and also like none of us.  Because I can see Jesus in you, I know what God looks like.  Still would be impossible to draw, but through each of us, and through Jesus, I know God.