An Evensong Sermon, 26 March 2011
When the Dean asked me to give a homily tonight and to relate the readings to our installation of the labyrinth, I must admit I did wonder… and when I read the Gospel for tonight, I really decided it was a questionable enterprise. So let’s start with three questions for approaching Jerusalem…
Where do you come from? Where do you stand right now? Where are you going from here?
We’ve had some pointed questions today, in the Gospel this morning with Jesus and the woman at the well, and they continue here in this evenings lesson with the accusations that are gathered around the high priests house. Three questions or accusations to Jesus: variations on the same question and not unrelated to our first series of questions.
1 – Did you say, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days. 2 – Is what they are saying true? 3 (And under oath) Are you the chosen one of God?
Jesus’s response is both mysterious and profound.
“You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven”
And outside of the high priests house, in the courtyard, three questions or accusations to Peter — or variations on one question with three similar answers.
Q You were with the Galilean. A I don’t know what you’re talking about. Q You were with the Nazarene. A I don’t know the man, Q You are one of them A I swear I never knew the man
But back to our questions: Where do you come from? Where do you stand right now? Where are you going from here?
If you haven’t walked a labyrinth you won’t know, but there are times when you’re on the way, the path of it, and you look around, and you are a little lost, and you’re not sure where you are, relative to where you started or where you want to go. And the person who was in front of you for such a long while, now seems to be far away, and you fear that you’ve crossed some line and are on the way out when you were supposed to be on the way in, but maybe that’s for the best because you’re frustrated and – “For God’s sake, it’s from France or California and let’s just go get dinner or something!”
But the genius of the labyrinth is that it meets you where you are, and if you continue on your way you will find yourself where you should be. You might get surprised, or frustrated, or even agitated on the way, It may take more or less time than you expected, but you’ll make it home at the last. That sometimes is not easy to take.
Almost twenty years ago I lost a job that seemed to me a very important one. It was hard to take and I started working with a priest/spiritual director/therapist. I was fighting against a growing depression and one day he looked at me and said, “I know this is not easy for you, but you are exactly where you should be.”
I could have hit him, but he was right. I was in a place where I needed to answer some questions about meaning and motives and ministry, and it would take some serious and painful introspection.
Two one liners fit here, First, shortly before his death. Dag Hammarskjöld wrote this in his spiritual journal, posthumously published as “Markings;” “The road chose you and you must be thankful.” Next, from a bumper sticker some years ago: “If you are not worried, perhaps you do not fully understand the situation.”
Jesus is asked where he comes from, what he stands for, and what the end of all this will be. And he must know what is coming if…, if what started in love, a ministry of love, of presence, of mercy will last, will continue. That there might be pain, then it might hurt, then it will could take him to hell and back and beyond any human understanding of what life and death and love and connection, to God and to one another, could mean. But he’s not going to leave the way, he’s staying on that mysterious labyrinth, he’s following the path. And that is as it should be.
Peter looks, on the other hand, like he’s losing the thread, He denies who he’s with, how he’s connected, and what he loves. Peter curses the greatest blessing he will ever know. And he runs away from it all, for a little while anyway.
Where do you come from? Where do you stand right now? Where are you going from here, and where will you end up?
When you’re on the labyrinth there are times when you lose the idea of yourself as being on somebody else’s journey, when you feel utterly alone, and you just have to go ahead, step by step, now by now. Even if you fear you’ve lost your way, even if you aren’t even sure you want to continue, and you are no longer the person you were when you started, you just keep on the way.
Jesus stays true to the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” to the end and beyond, Peter stalls, cuts and runs, returns later and gets back on the path to the end. And in the end he goes where he’s supposed to go, and he meets Jesus again and again and again on the way.
But not right now. Can you see them so far apart, so that it is hard to think that Peter, even Peter, is where he is supposed to be: so far from Jesus, so far from where he started, so far from home. But he gets there at the last; and maybe be he needs to take all the time it takes. Maybe he was exactly where he was supposed to be in order to learn what he needed to know. Perhaps what looked like a detour was the crucial step on his final pilgrimage home.
An American baseball player, Satchel Page, once said, “wherever you go, there you are!” and this evening, if you find yourself wondering where you come from, where you find firm ground right now, and where you’ll going from here; then you are in the right place. Hold fast to the path, the way, the long route home, and if you lose the way every once in awhile,it is all right. Know this: you are forgiven, maybe even blessed, if you keep trying, come back, one more time again to walk the long way home with the God who comes to be known as the way and the truth and the life. Amen.