Learning to speak and hear the language of God

Easter 5A

In the name of Christ: the way, the truth, and the life.  Amen.

It’s funny the stories we remember from childhood.  I remember visits to my grandparents’ house from time to time, and one strange little memory finds its way into my consciousness every so often, and it did again this week.

My Grandmother was a very proper Southern lady who was very Southern Baptist.  I remember being chastised by her one time for saying “Gosh”.  I knew I couldn’t say “God” outside of a religious context, because I’d get in trouble for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I was surprised when she fussed at me for saying “gosh”.  When I protested, Grandmother said, “God knows what you meant.”  There were no loopholes in the rigid laws of her faith.

But one of the funny memories that I think of very often was one time when we were watching television in the evening.  I wanted to watch the sitcom, Roseanne, but Grandmother wouldn’t have it.  “It’s vulgar,” she said, “and inappropriate for children.”  So this week, I’m wondering what she’d have to say about me starting a sermon with an illustration from the television show, Roseanne.

As admittedly vulgar as the show could be, one of its strengths was that it really did explore issues of morality as they were evolving in the 80s.  Sometimes it explored these issues from the perspective of trying to push the boundaries, but basically, nothing was off limits in that series.

This week I thought of one episode when DJ – the youngest of the Conner children – got caught in a bit of a scandal.  His older sister told on him.  It turns out, he’d been sneaking off after school each day to go to - - a CHURCH.  As soon as he came home, his parents sat him down to talk about it.  Not that he shouldn’t go, but why did he feel the need to sneak around about it?

Eventually, DJ comes out with the truth.  He admits to going to the church, and when his parents ask him why, he says, “I just had some questions about God and stuff.”  Roseanne assures him that he could always go to them with any questions like that.  He says, “Ok – so what religion are we?”  Roseanne replies, “I have no idea,” before deferring to Dan, her husband.

Dan rehearses the lineages of religions held by members of their family in the past.  Some were Lutheran.  Some Jewish.  Some Baptist.  Unsatisfied by all this, DJ asks, “So what do we believe?”  Roseanne says, “Well, we believe in being good.  So basically, we’re good people.”  Dan chimes in, “Yeah, but we’re not practicing.”

More and more people think that way now.  As the church has failed to reach people, and failed to really share the message of Jesus, a lot of people have settled in on the goal of just being “good people”.  And that is good – at least it’s better than the alternative.  I wish there were more good people in the world.

But being “good people” isn’t the same thing as being Christian.  Trying to minimize your impact in the world, and trying not to step on anyone’s toes is fine, but it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I understand that not everyone is Christian.  I’m not here to say we shouldn’t watch Roseanne because they didn’t push a Christian agenda.  But as Christians – as people who have committed our lives to following Jesus Christ, we should strive for something more than just being good.  The question is, what is that something more?

In the Gospel lesson that we read today, Jesus is telling his disciples that he is leading them toward something more – that he is readying the future to which they’re being called.  But Thomas so often stands in for us with the questions we dare not ask.  He says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”

It’s a reasonable, and even logical request.  If I’m asking Google maps to tell me how to get somewhere, the first thing I have to know is the destination – where I’m going.  But Thomas is right.  When we’re following Jesus, we don’t always know where we’re going.  Without a destination in mind, how can we know the way?

And that’s when Jesus lays it out.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

If you want to know what makes Christianity something more than just “being good” – that’s it.  It is following the way of Jesus.  It is trusting in the truth that Jesus taught.  And most importantly, it is having faith in the life of the resurrected Christ.

This is the season of Resurrection.  It is that time in the year that we’ve set aside to specifically train ourselves to look for life – specifically new life.  It’s the time when we recommit ourselves to believing that God deals in life.  Even though we so often see death all around us, the season of Resurrection is meant to remind us that death isn’t the language God speaks.  God speaks life.  Death is loud.  It gets our attention.  But life sings more beautifully and more clearly.  Life calls us along.  Life is the language of God that moves us and all of creation – it is the language that spoke creation into being.  Life is God’s love in action.

So we do know the way.  The way is hand in hand with Christ.  The way is the way that Jesus showed us.  The way to the promise of God is through the valley of the shadow of death; because we walk that way knowing that God’s reign is always on the other side of it.

Being good people is a fine aspiration.  It points us in the direction of Jesus – who was good.  He helped people.  He eased hunger and sickness and suffering and oppression.  But all of that was on the way to Jerusalem.  All of that was leading us to that “something more” that makes faith in Christ different from just being “good people”.

All of the times Jesus was “doing good”, he was renewing life for people who thought life was hopeless.  He was pointing us toward Easter before we even knew what it was.  Because that’s God’s native tongue – life.

As we follow Christ we should do good, too.  We should always be looking for ways to work with God in renewing life where it had been thought to have been hopeless.  We should always be looking for ways that God has been renewing life right in front of us.  Because Easter, life overcoming death, is what this faith is all about.

It’s not about rules.  It’s not about checking the right boxes.  It is about learning to speak the language of life – learning to speak and hear the language of God.  It is about resurrection.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.