Our Creative, Surprising God
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 14:1-14
Image by Barbara Florczyk
I am grateful to be able to meet here on Zoom. We get to see each others’ faces, hear each others’ voices. The Spirit can cover all sorts of ground during a pandemic, and I know she’s with us when we gather here.
But as grateful as I am to be able to be at church with all of you here every week, Zoom worship just isn’t the same. Being in the presence of others inside our sweet church—joining our voices together in prayer and song, hugging during the peace, kneeling at the rail together—it feels like home.
We’re grieving all of that. I grieve every Sunday when I don't get to break bread and drop it into your hands. I know Kathy grieves when she leads us in song but doesn’t get to hear your voices.
This feels like a death of sorts. Maybe a temporary one, but we grieve nonetheless. And I know many of you are grieving all sorts of other losses during this time. It is a profound time of loss for us as individuals, as a community, as a country.
And we grieve in isolation. And the grief will continue. Even as our communities start to reopen, things will not be the same.
I’ve mentioned to you that the diocese has started conversations about reopening our churches and how to do it in an intentional way that keeps everyone safe. We’ll be following the state guidelines: opening by county starting this Friday according to how manageable the infection rates are. I have a feeling Multnomah will not be one of the first to open.
But when we finally do get to open our doors again, I know it will be joyful. I know it will be a celebration. But I also know it will not be the same as before. We’ll have to limit how many people can come in, which means we’ll probably need to have more than one service. We will still have to be at least six feet apart. We will still have to wear masks. It’s very likely that we won’t be able to sing together, even with masks on. And I don’t even know what communion will look like.
Even by being together, especially by being together, we will know how much we’ve lost.
So it feels appropriate that today’s Gospel is one of the scriptures we read for a funeral. Jesus has just told the disciples that he won’t be with them very much longer, and they’re at a loss. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus going away was not what the disciples had planned. They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus had confirmed that notion more than once. But messiahs weren’t supposed to leave at the very moment when things got hard. In fact, the disciples had a pretty specific image of what a messiah was supposed to be: an immortal, conquering hero. The messiah would destroy the Roman occupiers. The messiah would establish a new and powerful kingdom that no other nation could stand against. That’s what their stories and history had taught them, the kind of messiah the disciples had in mind. Not one who was going to die, and especially not one who was going to die the humiliating death of a criminal.
They could not even imagine the kind of messiah Jesus would become. One who would overcome death itself. One who would bring a peace that is deeper than any war or conquering could bring.
It was impossible for them to fathom resurrection.
Just like it might be impossible for us to fathom what worship is without singing together. How can we express our care and love during the peace without coming close to each other? Where do we find Christ in a communion without bread passed from hand to hand, without a shared cup?
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
John can get a little wordy, so I’ll paraphrase what I think Jesus was saying: Don’t worry. I’ve got you. Right now, you cannot even dream of the ways I will find you and you will find me.
Our God is a surprising God. Our God is a creative God. Just when we’re expecting some all-powerful super-being to arrive in the midst of our suffering and fix everything, God shows up as a little baby boy, born to normal folk—as frail and as fragile as any human is. He doesn’t grow up to lead a powerful army, he finds 12 friends. Some fishermen. A tax collector. He doesn’t destroy his people’s enemies, he works miracles of healing—even for his enemies.
And when he dies, he doesn’t destroy the people who killed him, he destroys death itself.
That’s the kind of God we worship. The God who sees our suffering and loves us with such surprising creativity.
I trust that God is going to show up for us. When we open our church doors again and have to wrestle with all that means for us, with all the ways we need to do things differently to keep each other safe, I trust that God will prepare a way for us.
I trust it because I’ve already seen it at St. Luke’s. We are a creative community, a community that trusts all the surprising ways the Spirit moves through us.
I don’t know what our worship will look like. None of us do. We’ll shape it together, with God’s help. Because we are a community open to unfathomable resurrection. Amen.