May 10, 2020

Where Are You Going?
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

So, little Teddy, our newest grandson, is now a whole 9 days old. Everyone is doing great. Thank you ALL for your wonderful messages of congratulations and prayers of hope for him and new life.

I got to imagining what life will be like for Teddy. He came into a world that is changing so quickly! I remember the verse from What a Wonderful World: I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know. When I was born, there were still a good number of people in America without telephones, TVs or even indoor plumbing. A lot has changed in the over 6 decades I’ve been hanging out here. What changes will Teddy see in our fast-paced lives now?

Earlier this week, someone asked me if Gus and I had gone to Texas to see Teddy because there was a Facebook post that said Gus and I were “with” Sarah, her husband Jim, Teddy, as well as our son, and Jim’s parents and kids. There were photos of all of us on the same Facebook page. But this is the new world Teddy is in: all that togetherness was virtual. The post was a collage of screen shots from several different Facetime calls. Not one of us left home to see Teddy. I still haven’t gotten to kiss his chubby cheeks, which is a big change from what grandmas got to do when I was born. Teddy’s world is already different from mine.

But some things haven’t changed a lick. One of them is how our experiences color how we see life, even how we experience new events. I have a friend named Dr. Steve Graham, who’s a psychologist. He wrote the other day about this. He said, if we’ve been bullied, then when we hear someone use words that those who bullied us used, telling us to do stuff we don’t want to do, we will say, “Hey! You’re a bully!” However, if instead, we grew up hearing that the world is an unsafe place, and that if we do as we’re told, we’ll be safe from harm, we would hear those same words as comforting reassurance from someone who knows how to keep us secure.

An example today is facemasks. Let’s face it, they are awkward and uncomfortable, and sometimes, no matter what I do, my glasses steam up when I wear mine. If we’ve been bullied, we might hear the insistence to wear a mask as forcing us to do something unpleasant, and want to resist it. If, however, we fear for our health, and we trust the authorities who assure us that this will help us and others avoid disease, we willingly engage in this practice to keep us all safer.

Now, I’m NOT saying everyone who doesn’t wear a mask has been bullied, or that everyone who does is a scaredy cat. I AM saying that we can hear the very same words and, based on our personal experiences, reach totally different conclusions about what we should do. The key for peace on our planet is for us to stop insisting that OUR personal experiences invariably lead us to THE right conclusion, that OUR way is THE ONLY way things should be done. There are so many examples from history that teach us that those who were sure they were absolutely right were in fact very, very wrong. I’ll say just one word: Galileo.

So where is Jesus going with his claim to be THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life? Isn’t there only one conclusion that can be drawn from this: Believe in Jesus or Burn in Hell? I’ve heard that sermon, a bully’s sermon. Some people hear Jesus’ words through a bully and feel threatened and appalled. If God has to get things done through coercion, then count me out. Eternity with that kind of God would be just as hellish as a lake of fire, and I’ll take my chances with the lake. Some people hear Jesus’ words through a beloved authority and feel relief: Now I know what to do! What a wonderful God to give us a clear way forward! Eternity with a God who has everything under control is just what I want. Who wouldn’t want to be with that God?

Which response is right? There’s no answer to that question. I have a hunch one of them resonates with each of you more than the other does. None of us can answer that for someone else…

Read the full sermon text HERE.

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