I was at First Lutheran Moline last week when we had one of those discussions that reminds us of our age came up. Unfortunately, it ended up being a great sermon illustration, too. George and Annette and a number of us were celebrating Kaily’s accomplishments as an organist and as a singer at her recital, when George decided to share a conversation he had had with another of the girls who was performing. Everyone here, by now, is familiar with GPS devices. I am told that cars purchased within the last three years usually have them as a standard accessory. Heck, I was reading that my family is fairly normal, at least in the sense that we name our GPS – she has a British voice, so we call her Lizzie (short for Elizabeth).
George was explaining to this young lady that there was a time when GPS did not exist. How did you get to where you were going? In the beginning, we had these papers that were folded up. Driving to places often took two people. One person, usually the man, was the one who drove the car. He managed the wheel and the old device called a clutch. The other person, usually the wife, was responsible for the paper. It was her job to unfold the paper, pretend like she knew where they were on the paper, and give the opposite directions required to get to the destination. If they were to go north, she instructed the man to turn south; if they were supposed to turn left, it was her job to instruct him to turn right or “this way” while in traffic when he could not take his eyes off the road. Eventually, George shared in all serious wisdom, the man was expected to realize that Memphis was nowhere near Chicago nor Kansas City to Minneapolis. Then the man would pull over, turn the paper correctly, re-straighten the folds, and figure out the quickest way to get back on track to the destination. There was no recalculating? she asked. No, he somberly replied, this was not a device but rather paper. It was called a map and it was our job to do the recalculating. That could only be done if you could read the map. Some lines were good or fast roads, others were slower or bad, still other lines might not be roads at all but rather borders, or county lines, or even time zones. And the blue ones were always water. Wow. She replied, clearly impressed by George’s narration. I had heard of Mapquest and seen it on my computer, but I had never met anyone who had ever used it as a primary navigation tool. It was at this point that our beloved Lt. Col. and Senior Warden recognized the need for a retreat and several beers to recover from the shock an awe of discovering how old he really was in his daughter’s friend’s eyes.
Thomas, this morning, is not that different from our young teenager bantering with George, were she to find herself in the dark ages of maps and clutches, or perhaps ourselves. Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Jesus’ response? I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. How would you ever give someone directions to heaven or to where Jesus and the Father currently are? It seems rather hard. We have no address. We can’t punch it into our GPS or computers. It’s an impossible request. Thomas seems right to our ears when he says that we do not know where Jesus is going (went). His question, and ours, might seem right, and Jesus’ answer of no help, but is that true?
Part of Jesus’ purpose for coming down from heaven was to show us how to live in communion with God. Remember, part of Jesus job was to fulfill the torah. Israel could no more live a holy life, a life under the torah, given to them at their redemption from Egypt, than can you or I. Yet, part of the purpose of the torah was to teach Israel, and by extension us, what it meant to live in full communion with a holy, righteous, just, loving, God. Jesus, though, managed to keep all the torah. He lived a sinless, blameless life. You and I might be decent people by modern standards, but we still sin. Jesus did not. In that way, He who knew no sin could become sin and bear our punishment on the cross. He died for our sins so that we could share in His righteousness. He was the perfect offering for us. That is not to say he lived a life with a “holier than us” attitude. As we noticed this Lenten season, the one who should have been judging our need for repentance joined us in the waters of Jordan. Nor was it to declare that God’s righteousness and holiness were misunderstood. No, indeed. When Jesus was confronted by sin, He called it for what it was and called the sinner back into right relationship with God. In this sense, the sense of an example, He shows us the way, the truth, and the life of the believer. How do we find Jesus now? Live a life like He did, to the best ability and grace given us. We study what He teaches, we learn what He would have us to know, and we pick up our own crosses and follow Him!
The other sense, of course, deals more with His work on the cross and His glorious Resurrection. He who knew no sin became sin. Jesus died on that cross for you, for me, and for everyone whom we meet in our daily life and work. Throughout the Old Testament, God reminded Israel that He desired that no one should die, no single individual should die; rather, He wanted the world to repent and turn to Him, the God and Father of all. The punishment that was required for the sins of all humanity was born by His Son. Now, when you and I and all others sin, all that is required is that we repent and ask Him for the grace to follow more closely in His footsteps. He has paid the price for our failures, our sins, in God’s inscrutable eyes. To be sure, we are still human, we will still continue to sin, this side of the grave. But His work, His sacrifice, makes it possible that you and I might become better disciples as we are matured in our faith. Practically speaking, what does such a life look like?
Like the map user which must figure out where one is in relation to where one should or wants to be or the one who makes a wrong turn while using a GPS, the recalculating has already been done for us. You and I, during the course of our lives, will face countless forks and intersections in our faith journey. Sometimes, we will discern where He is and where we should go. At other times, our discernment will fail us. At still other times, we will choose to ignore our conscience and His voice and go where we want to go. The great news is that He has already recalculated our route and can still direct us to our ultimate destination, eternal life with Him. All we need to do is to repent (again) and start listening to Him and following Him where He leads us.
Can’t we get there on our own or by another route? These words sound so harsh, particularly to our American pluralized ears. Sadly, many Christians have chosen to use these words of Jesus as a club. “You don’t know Him so you don’t get to enjoy His offer.” “Will people get into heaven who do not know Him?” is perhaps the question that worries us. After all, He says elsewhere that He has other flocks. Whatever and wherever those other flocks are, and this is not the reading to discuss them, He makes it clear that they are His. The other flocks are not getting to Him by means of any way apart from Him. By why would we ever risk our salvation, or the salvation of our families, our co-workers, or our friends, on His uncovenanted mercies? Why keep silent when we know the way? Can you imagine ever being given the gift of prophesy to know this week’s Powerball or MegaMillions drawing and not use those numbers? And what He offers is of infinitely more value than the money offered in those lotteries. In a very real sense, He has called you and me and promised to use us, all of our joys and all of our sorrows, as signposts for others to His saving embrace. And it is our job to give those directions to all whom we encounter, whether they know they are lost or not. But, in giving those directions, brothers in sisters, we are called to remind ourselves that sometimes we are a bit lost, sometimes we have forgotten our way, and that we are, in the end, fellow travelers with all whom we encounter, seeking to follow the path He has set before us, trusting that He will lead us, and all others whom He has saved, to be home with our Father forever.