Growing up, there was one thing you could always bank on, that was that on the hottest and most humid day of the summer, my mother’s side of the family would gather for a family reunion at Couch Park in Stillwater. A rented pavilion would always be the place for all the food that was brought, which would be eaten through out the hot and humid day. Upon arrival food would be placed in the pavilion, lawn chairs would be set up under the best shade trees, hand held fans were pulled out of purses, and the ‘catching up’ would begin.
As soon as possible, the cousins, the kids, would begin itching to get away and head to the creek to explore, to the ball field for a game of kick ball, or anywhere that the adults were not.
One element of every reunion on every record breaking hot and humid day was the presence of Billy. Although I cannot remember what Billy did to gain our sighs and groans when we would see him appear, but his presence always warranted an ‘Oh no, Billy is here.’
At the close of every day, we would load up our vehicles and head home until the record breaking hot and humid day the next summer. Before we were even settled into our car seats we would begin asking mom to explain how we were related to such and such individual. Her response always began with, ‘Well, let me see…’. Her explanations were seldom grasped as we were waiting to bring up the delicate matter of Billy. ‘How are we connected to Billy?!’ This was always a difficult explanation that usually began with a great grandparent and got more confusing from there.
Us cousins, however, had our own theory. Billy was not actually a part of the Miller family, but instead, he lived near Couch park and his mother would keep a schedule of all the reunions and would send Billy away each day to eat and annoy whatever unsuspecting family reunion he could join. It made sense, we never saw Billy with any adults, he just always appeared. We were convinced that we were not related to Billy except for the fact that he lived within walking distance of the park.
That theory was destroyed one summer when the reunion was moved to a neighboring town. Billy showed up.
It wasn’t until a summer visit with Lily to Oklahoma State University in the summer of 2017. We were speaking with the department chair of one of the majors she was considering. As I looked at the man, I couldn’t help but think I knew him, his name was very familiar. Finally, after I inquired if perhaps we were related he immediately began to explain our connection. He had beat me to this realization. His explanation was as confusing as my mother’s had always been, a fact that he could tell by the expression on my face, finally, he paused and said, ‘I’m Billy’s brother.’
Everything was now clear, Billy was connected.
The Tie That Binds
This is our fourth week of looking at those things that Christ taught the apostles between the resurrection and the ascension. The things that they would be essential to understand as they led the beginning of the church, essential for their own faith and perseverance, as well as essential for the new believers to understand. He took those forty days to take his followers back through his teachings and his actions to help them grow in their understanding. So far the lessons have been:
Today, the fourth lesson is this the same quest we, as children, were on at our family reunions:
Connectedness defines our relationships.
By Existence We Are Irrevocably Connected To God
Just before the crucifixion, just before the arrest, Jesus sat at a supper table with his group of followers, friends, with whom he had spent the last three years. With a sense of urgency Jesus began to teach the disciples to provide them strength for the coming days. He had already confronted Judas regarding his betrayal, and for Peter for his approaching denial, and now he shared with the eleven.
“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. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
The men were surely confused and bewildered. They had just celebrated the Passover meal together and now Jesus was so solemn and very confusing. Where was he going? Why was he going?
Thomas spoke the question they were all thinking, ‘Where are you going?’ And ‘How do we know the way?’
The disciples, now even more confused as they processed this unexpected and mysteriously announced departure of Jesus, was it to another geographical location, another city, or worse, another group of followers? ‘Was Jesus leaving them for others?’
Jesus response was equally troubling, ‘I am the way to where I am going,’
While Thomas, and the others, were processing this answer, Jesus adds, ‘If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
It was Philip that made the next statement, his was a request, ‘Show us the Father.’
Then Jesus reveals their, and our, connectedness to God. Earlier in John we see that no man has ever seen God, that is then repeated after Jesus in I John. Now Jesus says that they have seen the the Father since they have seen Jesus. Jesus is speaking of a much larger ‘seeing’ than to merely see a face or body. Jesus is speaking of the nature, and very being, of God. As the men has heard Jesus teach and explain, even more, as they have witnessed the actions and responses of his life – they have now seen God. They intimately know his truth and they have a first hand eyewitness understanding of this life.
They now have the ability to differentiate, to know, to recognize God.
First, Let’s go back to his initial words of comfort – ‘I go to prepare a place for you in my father’s house where there are many dwelling places (mansions, houses, rooms, etc.). This term ‘dwelling places’ is the greek word ‘moné’ which is only used twice in the New Testament, both times are in this chapter. There is the use of the word in another form in chapter 15 as Jesus leads us to ‘abide in him’ however this use in 14 is different. There is a permanence in the specific use of ‘moné’ here as this is not just a dwelling place but a dwelling abode, a home – a forever home.
Second, let’s look at Christ’ use of the terminology of ‘the way.’ This is a passage frequently used in the modern evangelism movement to point humans to heaven. This term, however, is much more specific, and yet at the same time, much broader than the narrow use of evangelists. First, it is not necessarily a salvific statement, it is an answer to Thomas’ question when he says ‘we don’t know the way.’ Jesus answer is ‘yes you do, you know me, I am the way.’ Knowing Jesus is how we know the way, it is how we know what is truth, it is how we know what is life.
Third, there are ‘many’ dwelling abodes for us. The Father’s house, whatever it may look like, whatever it may feel like, wherever it may be, it is already our home, it is where we are meant to be, there is an intentional and permanent dwelling place waiting for us.
Much like the prodigal son, we are always welcomed to take the road home to ‘our’ abode. The road that is Jesus.
By Choice We Are Connected to Each Other
Our connection to each other takes place on two levels of our choice. First it is our choice to take the road that is Jesus. Second, it is our choice to choose to be a part of community of believers, of humans who are taking the same road. We partner to learn, to support and encourage each other, and to serve others with each other.
Peter spoke with the believers who were far away in a place where there were very few that were taking the road of Jesus, very few other believers. As we have seen, they were considered exiles by those in their physical community who shunned their beliefs and lives. Their second layer of choice in regard to the connection of other believers was very limited, they couldn’t go about trying to find the right ‘group’. Their choice was to connect or not to connect – they knew a connection was essential to their survival.
Peter explained to them that they had to find a way to make this connection work, and it would be a lot of work.
Much like us today, as we have had to find different ways to connect and gather, as we have been forced out of our normal, out of the ordinary, they had to discover how they could learn and teach, how they could encourage and support, how they could love a community in which they were shunned and exiled.
God using extraordinary circumstances and situations to bring us to a new normal, learning how to do ‘church’ in an adapted manner that will be the new norm.
Observance of Lord’s Supper – partaking and remembering together while being apart.
By Creation We Are Connected to All Created, and All of Creation
Our connectedness to God brings us to recognize our connectedness to all of God’s created and all of his creation.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
To all peoples, past, present and future, to all of creation…..
kosmos -the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor (everyone else) as yourself.
The ‘as yourself’ has always stumped me. I have encountered countless individuals who obviously did not appear to love themselves. However, the experience of this pandemic, coupled with so partisan divisions we now allow to affect even our churches and those hurting loved of God, has revealed this is not about ‘liking self’ it is about what is most important. It is about living selfishly or lovingly in the midst of God’s creation and among his created.
Story of border shelters and banners and political abandonment.
Our connectedness calls us to love and to strive to live in, and with, an eternal mindset now. Christ said pray this way, in saying this he gave us a definition of our connectedness to Him, Other believers, and the entire world – a call that confronts our heartless prayers, pronouncing that our prayers must have feet, legs, hands, hearts, and mind to be a true and sincere prayer to God. Prayer are a call to action to act, and live, out of our connectedness.
Jesus said, ‘Pray (If we have learned anything lately, it is that prayer can never be just words, it must also be our hands, feet, legs, our selfishness, our lives) then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.