Watch our latest service below:
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Stacey Simpson Duke: You Know the Way
The concept of “home” feels different these days, doesn’t it?
I’ve always loved being at home. I’ve loved staying at home. I’ve loved having plans cancelled and having an unexpected night at home. To me, the idea of “home” has always been about comfort, and family, and downtime, and stability. Safety.
Turns out that the whole idea of “home” can feel different when it’s the only place you’re allowed to be for weeks on end. Turns out that, no matter where you are, it’s hard to feel safe or comfortable or stable when there’s a global crisis happening.
Of course, “home” doesn’t necessarily mean those things to everyone even in the best of times. There are people for whom home is the most dangerous place to be, and the fact that they are stuck there now is a life-threatening situation. And there are people who are now living in fear of losing their homes. And there are people who already didn’t have a home.
For all our cherished notions of “home,” it’s a concept that is actually fraught with complexity, a complexity we are seeing new dimensions of during this strange new time.
For me, “home” is the thing that has driven me for as long as I can remember.
Growing up as an army brat, I moved a lot. A lot. I was three weeks old the first time I moved, and I’ve never lived in or even visited the city I was born in since then. I moved seven times by the time I was 10 and went to a new school every year until junior high. I was always the new kid, which meant I was always trying to figure out the norms and expectations of each new crowd, always trying to figure out how to fit in – or at least not stick out – always trying to figure out how to feel safe, comfortable. I was always trying to figure out how to feel at home.
I was fortunate to come from an exceptionally stable family, and we were fortunate that my mother was gifted at turning each new house we lived in into a real home. But I learned along the way that “home” is about more than the house you live in, and it’s about more than the family you live with. You can have the nicest house on the block with the most loving family in the world, and you can still feel the pain of not belonging, the threat of living in a world that isn’t truly safe.
When I was five, my home situation was made more complicated by the fact that my dad was sent to Saudi Arabia for a year. He and my mother decided it was better that she and my little brother and I stay in Georgia rather than go there with him; so he left and we stayed. I knew he was coming back, but it was still hard. That was the year I started school. It was the year I learned to read. It was the year I jumped in a fire ant pile and we discovered I was deathly allergic to fire ants! I missed my dad so much that year.
As soon as my dad got back from Saudi Arabia, we learned he was going to be stationed in Washington, D.C., so we had to move again. My dad left ahead of us so he could find a house in northern Virginia and start getting things ready. I remember being upset that he was leaving again. And I was sad to be leaving the place we already lived, which I loved. And I was anxious to be going to a place I’d never seen before and couldn’t even imagine. How could such a place be “home”?
I’m not the only one for whom “home” is a deep, driving force – even a need. I think it’s what all of us are looking for, on some level. Looking for that deep, satisfying “click” – of things falling into place, feeling right, and good, and safe, and comforting. Feeling like we belong. Feeling protected. Knowing we’re loved.
Our collective grief right now is about all of this, and more. Things do not feel safe or good or comfortable. We do not feel protected. We are separated from people we love. We have no idea what the future holds, or how to get to a place, a time, that does feel safe and stable and right.
The friends of Jesus surely felt the same way. On the last night of his life, Jesus had supper with them, and washed their feet, and predicted that one of them would betray him, and gave them a new commandment, to love each other the way he loved them. And then he told them he was getting ready to leave them. He said, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” And they were devastated. I can imagine their grief, their fear. It’s there, despite his assurances to them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he tells them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…. I’m going to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.”
Did you hear it? He’s talking about home. It’s translated here as “dwelling places.” You may have grown up hearing it the way I did, as “mansions.” But it doesn’t mean “mansions.” The word is “abode.” Which connects with the word “abide.” Not only in English, but also in Greek. In the Gospel of John, it’s the very first thing his soon-to-be disciples ask him, “Where are you staying?” Where are you abiding? And he says, “Come and see.” And later he will tell them, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Stay.
And here, he tells them he’s leaving, for home. With the promise that they will eventually get there, too. Their hearts will break at his leaving, but their pain will not be forever. “And you know the way to the place where I am going,” he assures them.
Thomas is having none of it. In their fear, confusion, horror at what he is telling them, they want certainty. “Lord,” he says, “we don’t even know where you’re going – how can we know the way?”
And I get it. I get it. Don’t you? To contemplate a future without their leader, their friend, the one they’ve given up everything to follow – it’s a bleak picture to contemplate. They can’t even imagine a future without him. They’ve followed him all the way into Jerusalem, with certain hopes and expectations. And now he’s telling them he’s leaving. In a matter of moments, the future they’d expected has disappeared. They don’t even know what’s supposed to happen next. They have no idea where they’re going from here – how can they know the way?
And Jesus said to them, “I am the way.”
I am the way.
I am the way and the truth and the life.
There is no map. Not even a clearly marked path. No predictable plan [for success?]. Just this person, Jesus.
He doesn’t give them certainty. He gives them himself.
And he gives them the assurance that they know him and so they know how to move forward.
They don’t think they know enough. They don’t think they have enough. They want certainty – about the future, about their own abilities. They aren’t going to get that. Jesus is not in the certainty business. He is in relationship business. And relationship is messy, and evolving, and scary, and transformative. It calls for patience. It calls for vulnerability. It calls for trust.
There is a home for you, he’s telling them. You will be safe. You will be okay. You belong. You have a future that is good, and I am in it. You know the way, because you know me.
His word is for us, too. And have we ever needed it more? We sit in homes that no longer feel quite like home, and we keep up with news that keeps shaking us to the core, and we stare out at the weeks and months and year ahead and can hardly imagine what to even hope for anymore. We don’t even know where we’re going. How can we know the way to get there?
And Jesus says, “I am the way.”
If we know him, then we know more than we might feel like we do right now. If we know him, then we know something true – about what matters and what is real and what we can count on. Thomas is asks for a plan and what he gets is a person. It’s what we get, too. The person of Jesus. And also each other. At a time when all our plans have been stripped away, and time itself seems to have almost no meaning, we still have this – relationship. Community. When Jesus tells the disciples they know the way forward, he says it right after giving them the new command, to love each other as he has loved them. This is who he is. This is the way. It has always been the only way to know him, to see him, to follow him, to follow the way, to find home – to love. Just to love, no matter what. When the world keeps spinning towards disaster, this is still the way: love each other.
Writer and farmer Wendell Berry once said, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey.”
When I was six years old, and my dad had just gotten back from Saudi Arabia and almost immediately left for Virginia, I was sad and scared and confused. But of course I was only six, so nothing about any of it depended on me. There were no plans for me to make, I just had to get in the car when the time came and ride the long road from Georgia to Virginia.
I will never forget what it felt like to pull into the driveway of the home I had never seen. It was bigger than I’d imagined, and it was so beautiful. And there was a surprise in the backyard, something I had wanted my whole short little life – a new dog, a St. Bernard, just like I had been dreaming of and begging for. But best of all was my dad, standing in the driveway. My whole family, together. We were home.
It was just like my dad had promised, except better.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells his disciples – and us. Which seems like a lot to ask right now, when we are scared and sad and uncertain. There is so much we don’t know right now, so much we can’t yet see.
But we know enough, don’t we? We know Jesus. We know love. We know death and resurrection. We know the courage that comes with vulnerability. We know patience. We know the mess and the beauty of relationship and community. We know trust. We know we have a place. We know we have a home. We know we have a future and a hope. We know the way.