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This Is the Way

Good morning, Grace. Today is the fifth Sunday in Easter, and also the end of the first week in May, a week which is contains several other important dates on the calendar. Friday was Cinco de Mayo, which many mistakenly believe is Mexican Independence Day, but is actually the day when the Mexican forces held off invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. Thursday was May the Fourth, which because it sounds so much like May the Force, as in the “May the Force Be with You,” has become known by many as Star Wars Day. At least that’s what I’ve been told by other people who are Star Wars fans. Cinco de Mayo reminds us that all of us have much more to learn about the history of our brothers and sisters of color. May the Fourth reminds us that Reverend Jay will likely—actually, most assuredly—find a way to work Star Wars into his sermon.

Today’s Gospel is actually part of a very long passage called Jesus’s farewell discourse. It takes place on Maundy Thursday, Jesus’s last night with his disciples, and is full of sayings that we have heard so many times that we’ve pretty much completely internalized them, along with whatever theology we were either explicitly told or implicitly modeled. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places,” or, if you grew up with the King James, “In my father’s house there are many rooms.” Also, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

When you hear “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” you might remember a pastor or grandparent saying this to you as a sort of way of saying “Everything’s going to be all right,” as if just saying the words would keep your heart from being troubled. When you hear “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places,” you might think about funerals you’ve been to, where this passage is often read. Sometimes this is seen as a sort of hotel in heaven where you go after you die. There might be one or two us here this morning—three at the most—who remember the song “Big House,” which was a huge Christian rock hit by Audio Adrenaline back in 1993. Some of its lyrics include:

Come and go with me To my Father's house

It's a big big house With lots and lots a room A big big table With lots and lots of food A big big yard Where we can play football A big big house It's my Father's house

When you hear “I am the way the truth and the life,” depending on how you grew up, you might hear something very exclusionary, something that says in order to enter that big house, if you want to get to heaven after you die, you must not only become a Christian, but a certain kind of Christian who goes to a certain kind of church.

Now, for the last few years, when I hear, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” I immediately think of The Mandalorian. There might also be just two or three of us here today who know what I’m talking about, but I’ll give you a quick summary. The Mandalorian is a science-fiction series that takes place in the Star Wars universe, and it centers on a character named Din Djarin, who is a member of a warrior clan called Mandalorians. If you’ve not seen the show, you still might have seen a Mandalorian named Boba Fett in one of the earlier Star Wars films. Again, that’s according to some Star Wars fans that I know, I wouldn’t know personally.

Although their reputation is built on being mercenaries and bounty hunters, the Mandalorians are devoted to a beautifully composed, elegant creed based on honor and respect for their tradition. They call this creed “The Way.” When Mandalorians greet or leave each other, one often says, “This is the Way,” and the other responds, “This is the Way.” It’s a little like “Peace be with you,” and “Also with you.”

There are many ways one can stray from the Mandalorian way, to break honor with the tradition. One of the most punishable ways of breaking the way is to remove one’s battle helmet in front of another person. This can actually cause a Mandalorian to be declared an apostate, and to be exiled from the community. The Mandalorians love their way, but there is little love in it. So, these days, when I hear “I am the way,” I can’t help but think of The Mandalorian. Unfortunately, I also sometimes think of the institutionalized church.

This is one of the things that I love about being Episcopalian: we are encouraged to think critically about scriptures, and not only compare them to our own experience, and other texts, and Star Wars, and all manner of other things. I’m so grateful that other children of God, living 2000 years after Jesus, continue to write words, and make art, and have experiences that make us think deeply about our faith.

And so, we are able to look at these scriptures we’ve always read, and the things we’ve always been told about them, and compare them to our own experience. Jesus says, let not your hearts be troubled, and we say, are you kidding me, Jesus? There is so much to be troubled about. Just telling me to not let my heart be troubled is pretty weak when a mentally-ill homeless young man named Jordan Neely was killed on a NYC subway just a few days ago, or anti-trans legislation is going through the roof, or our church pledging isn’t meeting our operating expenses, or our best friend just received a stage-4 cancer diagnosis. Really? Let not your heart be troubled? It can’t be just saying these words that untroubles our hearts, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant, and we’ll get to that pretty quickly here.

Or we hear, there’s this big hotel in heaven that we check into when we die, and there’s not only a part of us that thinks that the God of All Creation can come up with something better than an afterlife luxury suite, there’s also a part of us that suspects that that something better is something we shouldn’t have to wait for until we die. That’s the part of us that’s been reading all of the Gospels we’ve been reading the last six months, the Gospels that tell us eternal life doesn’t mean forever life, it means abundant life, eternally deep life that’s available to us in the here and now.

Or when someone tries to tell us that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” means that the only way to find abundant life is to be a Christian, or a certain kind of Christian who attends a certain kind of church, our experience sends up a red flag. We all know people who aren’t Christians who are more Christ-like than many Christians. Sometimes they’re from other faiths, sometimes they’re not religious at all. One of my longest-time friends, whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, is a former naval officer who started living into her trans identity about two years ago, and the people who have loved her the most, have accepted her the most, welcomed her with the love of Jesus, are not Christians, but her secular co-workers whom I believe, through their love, are experiencing eternal life now.

What they are doing, Beloved, is following the way of Jesus, which is the way we’ve been reading about week after week for the last several months. This is the way. This is the way where our hearts are no longer troubled: we follow the way of Jesus. This, Grace, is the real good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ this morning: our hearts can’t be troubled when we are busy following Jesus.

Our hearts can’t be troubled with we’re showing the love of God to the marginalized; to the poor, hungry, and imprisoned; and to those who are politically different from us. Our hearts can’t be troubled when we open the gates to those who have not been in Jesus’s pasture before. Our hearts can’t be troubled when we do the hard work of forgiveness—not just say I forgive you to move past a conflict with someone, but to truly listen and understand when they come to us for reconciliation, and we understand that they hurt us not because they are bad people, but they are struggling just as much as we are, and they make mistakes, just like we do.

Time and time again, Grace, this has happened in my own life. There are so many times my hard has been troubled by what’s happening in the world and in my own life. And suddenly, in the middle of my troubled heart, God puts someone in my way for me to love. Or God presents me with a situation that can only be addressed by following the way of Jesus. God gives us lots of opportunities to bring those who were once on the outside into the middle. God gives us lots of opportunities to love our enemies. God gives us lots of opportunities to forgive. Our hearts cannot be troubled and love at the same time.

And here’s the thing: in those moments where it seems too hard to follow Jesus, we can also allow our hearts to be untroubled by each other, by someone else caring for us. Just this past week, my heart was troubled by something I had communicated to someone else in a way that created conflict not just for the two of us, but many people around us. Maybe you’ve had such an experience. And in my anxiety, someone came to me, listened to me, and assured me that what I had done was something we’ve all done. We’ve all unintentionally hurt each other or caused conflict. And this person’s recognition that what I’d done is something we’ve all done untroubled my heart. It also pointed me back to the way of Jesus, the way of love.

And Grace, it is here, following this way, the way of Jesus, that we find ourselves in that big house of God that Jesus went to prepare for us. And there are many rooms, but they’re not heavenly hotel rooms. They are spaces, sometimes even without walls, where we can live fully into our identities as children of God who have been created in God’s image. Some of them are rooms of healing, rooms where we go to grieve with God because there are sufferings and troubles don’t disappear when someone says, “everything’s going to be all right.”

There are rooms, like this sanctuary where we gather every Sunday, where with all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we sing hymns to proclaim the glory of God’s name, and we do say beautifully composed and elegant creeds that sometimes feel like they are just there for tradition’s sake, but if we let them, can also point us toward a more direct and critically-thinking encounter with God. There are other quiet and serious rooms, like the rooms where we gather to strategize how we will bring about racial justice and belonging for our LGBTQ siblings. There are rooms where we will decide what to do about young homeless men being killed on subways. These are some of the rooms of our Father’s house.

And those aren’t all the rooms. There are rooms of inspired creation, unfolding love, radical hospitality, amazing grace, and just plain having fun. There are rooms where, once all of God’s children are gathered within them, we will dance, and share meals, and grow gardens, and teach our children well, and play football, and watch Star Wars, and we will sing as happily as drag queens, and love each other in endlessly surprising ways, and forgive each other past our differences into community. There are rooms in the house of God where all of life is happening. Everything, everywhere, all at once, to name-check another of my favorite science-fiction movies.

We will enter all of these rooms, and we don’t have to wait until we die. All we have to do is follow the way. The way of love, and acceptance, and caring deeply for each other. All of these things, if we are following Jesus, all of these things, we won’t be able to not do them. And we will do them well. How well? Jesus answers by saying “the one who believe in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”

Now, you can’t have thought that I wouldn’t get back to The Mandalorian one more time. At the beginning of our story Din Djarin finds himself in custody of a foundling, a tiny, Yoda-like creature named Grogu. Apparently, some of those Star Wars fans I told you about get upset if you call him Baby Yoda. Again, I’m not one of those fans, but his name is Grogu. Anyway, it is through caring for, and protecting, and sacrificing his own needs for Grogu that Din Djarin starts to question the outer trappings of his warrior identity. He doesn’t give them up, but he slowly realizes that there are moments of love that are more important than his creed. At one point, he even takes off his helmet, breaking one of his institution’s most important traditions. Interestingly, he does it because it’s the only way that he can be healed from a nearly-fatal wound he received as a result of following his warrior tradition. And the moments leading up to his healing all started the moment he found himself caring for another.

In a way, and I hope you can follow me here, Grace, Din Djarin has unwittingly stumbled upon the way of Jesus, the way of love, and it has set him free. It has let him enter rooms where he can take his helmet off, and show his true self, which is a self that made to love. He is still devoted to the creed, but he follows it now from a place of love, breaking tradition when he has to. Love allows him to let his heart be untroubled, and it ultimately allows him to be healed, as well.

Grace, we are invited to enter the many rooms of God’s big, big house, its rooms of sorrow and its rooms of joy. We are invited to stand up against injustice and celebrate all the good things God has given us. We are invited to love our creeds and we are invited to set them aside for love. We are invited to take our helmets off and show our true selves, which are selves made for love. We are invited to love our way to untroubled hearts, for ourselves and for each other. Above all, Beloved, we are invited to follow Jesus.

This is the way.


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