Something which praying regularly with others in SL has given me is a broader scope for my prayers. When you pray with others from around the world, issues which might once have seemed remote suddenly seem much nearer and more relevant. With the whole world to pray for, there is certainly plenty to bring before God each day.
It is not necessary to look further than the newspapers or international news broadcasts to know that the world is not a very secure place. Tension in North Korea has been high on our list of concerns. Famine and war is affecting many countries in Africa. Refugees are beginning to cross the Mediterranean again on inadequate boats and people are losing their lives. Elections are being held in various parts of the world. Wisdom is needed for world leaders as they deal with the complexity of domestic and foreign policy. Fires have been burning in Florida while lack of rain is affecting the UK. Although some girls from Chibok have been released by Boko Haram, there are others to pray for. Natural and man-made disasters lurk around the corner for many of the world’s population; fear is their daily lot.
The Gospel passage from John finds the disciples in a time of fear, a time when the future looked threatening and insecure, much as it may do for many in the world at this time. Over and over Jesus had told the disciples that he had to die. Just before this passage in John’s gospel we are told about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as an example for them. Then, deeply troubled, he told them that one would betray him and that Peter would deny him. He warned them that he would be with them just a little while longer. Twice he said that they could not go where he was going at that moment.
Jesus knew what difficulties the disciples would face in the hours and days ahead. He sought to comfort them with his words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” It seems that Thomas was very troubled. Earlier he had urged the disciples to go with Jesus to Bethany when Lazarus had died and if necessary die with Jesus. He was brave in the face of a known threat but this time he seemed to lose his confidence. Perhaps Jesus’ words about preparing a place, going and coming back were all too confusing. Thomas seemed to be someone who worked with concrete ideas and so he asked the obvious question: “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus didn’t give Thomas a road map of Palestine or the latest satellite navigation device, he gave him himself as the guide. The way is Jesus, a person with whom Thomas and the other disciples had had a three year relationship. All they needed was to follow the example Jesus had given them and it would get them where they needed to be in the end. He assured the disciples that they already knew the way to where he was going. They didn’t have to wait for a future revelation; they had it right there just as they had done for three years.
Jesus also told them that he is the truth. Jesus doesn’t just tell the truth; he IS the truth. Everything about Jesus, words and actions, was genuine and consistent. He was, and is, truth through and through and therefore worthy of trust.
Thirdly Jesus said he was the life. He said that he came to give life in abundance, far better life than the best quality of human life without him. What Jesus gives is eternal life which is available for us now and will continue forever. We are offered God living in us by his Spirit now.
After this it was Philip’s turn to seek clarification. I can almost sense him trying to keep up as Jesus told the disciples that they were to come to the Father through him. Jesus had added another dimension to the puzzle. Perhaps Philip thought that all he needed was to see the Father and everything would drop into place. Once again, the answer was not far away but right there in front of the disciples and had been for the three years they had known Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the Father.
In all this questioning it seems the disciples didn’t pick up on Jesus’ message that his going away was for their benefit as it is for ours. He has gone to prepare a place for us. Jesus said that no one could know the time when he would return, he would be like a thief in the night catching us unawares. Whatever the various prophets of doom may say, we cannot know when the world will end or when our own life will end. Nor can we know the nature of the ending of our life. It is really pointless to worry about it.
Stephen, whose death we hear about in the passage from Acts, was following Jesus as the way, just as Jesus expects of his disciples. He was serving others in Jesus’ name as a deacon, caring for the widows. He had no way of knowing that he would die as the first Christian martyr but it seems that as his life was about to end he did see Jesus beckoning him on to the place prepared for him. Like the master he had followed, he forgave those who killed him.
The disciples seemed to be looking for something complicated and wanted to get things right I suspect. The Christian life is essentially simple, though not necessarily easy. Jesus invites us to look at the works he did and to believe in him. Having believed we are to follow him, living as he did with concern for the poor, the sick and the outsider. We are to share the good news with all who will listen, to tell people our story and what Jesus means to us. We are to let them know they too can have a relationship with Jesus which will protect them from worry about the future.
Jesus also promised that those who believe in him will do greater things than he did. It’s hard to know exactly what we may achieve but we can certainly reach around the world through this ministry in SL. We are not confined to one geographical area as Jesus was so let’s make the most of the opportunity afforded to us.
Whatever happens, floods, droughts, wars, disasters, we can all know as the psalmist says, that our times are in God’s hands. When our time here is over, Jesus has promised he will personally take us to the place prepared for us. Meanwhile we can remember Jesus’ words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor