It was an incredible Motherís day gift that the family of Rita Chretien were given. Just before Motherís day 2011, Rita was found in her van on a logging road in Nevada, 49 days after getting lost. The health of 56-year old, Rita continued to improve after she survived in the wilderness on just a few snacks spread over all of those days and only melted snow for her fluid intake. Ritaís husband, Albertís body was about 11 kilometres away where he died seeking to find help.
Rita Chretien and her husband are from Penticton. They set out through Nevada driving on a business trip with the destination of Las Vegas, but their GPS device led them astray. Rita is a person of faith and her survival is a story of amazing spiritual, mental and physical perseverance. Her minister has said that, "as she stretched out those days she was keenly aware that even though she was alone, she was never really alone." When we face crisis and difficult decisions we all hope that we have such an understanding and strength to draw upon.
It is interesting that this story of faith and survival is linked with the tragedy of relying on a GPS device to get you safely to your destination. For those of us who have used such electronic gadgets we have probably soon discovered their shortcomings. The road used by the Chretienís may have been fine when ground was dry and hard packed in the summer, but not at other times of the year. The GPS has no eyes. It cannot know when weather conditions or road construction or recent additions and subtractions from our road network will abruptly change our travel plans. The alert traveler needs to have a sense of whether they are generally headed in the right direction and when they are not.
Likewise we need to have an internal moral compass which is leading our lives in the proper direction or we can easily find ourselves going astray. For us Jesus provides that direction to our lives.
Our gospel reading today is taken from a section of Johnís gospel known as the "farewell discourse." It is a farewell speech like that of a great man who gathers together his followers on the eve of his death in order to give them instruction to help them when he is gone. Jesus assures his followers that his death is not an end but a going away to his Father. While he is on his way to his Father and about to enter into glory and communion with God, Jesus promises his disciples that they, too, will enter into communion in this life with him through the Spirit, who is the gift of the dying and risen Jesus.
Jesus says, "I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." Jesus is the new Moses, going before his disciples to seek out a place, to lead us to a new, promised land, that is, to a new, life-giving relationship through faith with God.
This is both a message of assurance for our future and one of direction for our life today. This must have been what kept Rita Chretien hope-filled for those 49 days. Just as Moses, the liberator of slaves from Egypt, moved them to a bright and hopeful future, so does our Lord. When we seek to align our lives closer to that of Jesus, we will have recalibrated our lifeís GPS so that what ever we face, our guidance system will stay the course and keep us on the proper path.
This kind of leadership is the opposite of the kind we heard about in the news in Germany this week. We were in the church of St. Thomas which is a church where Bach was the canter and in our terms the music director. Within the service of worship which had a 100 voice boyís choir we heard this story-Last fall there was a German soldier arrested who had posed as a Syrian refugee (despite being unable to speak any Arabic) and planned a bomb plot within that refugee camp. He had planned to blame the attack on foreigners. This would fan the flames of anti-refugee sentiment. The 28 year old lieutenant stationed in France had at an earlier time been taken into temporary custody when he had Ďstashedí a loaded pistol in a bathroom at the Vienna airport. The detention at that time was only temporary, but now as the investigation unfolds there were many signs that this officer was disturbed. The public now knows that various recordings show that he had far right anti-foreigner views.
The preacher within the worship service wanted to deliver a message to the members of the boyís choir and to the 300 people gathered-here was an example of a person within a group with disturbing behavior. In retrospect many were worried about this manís attitudes and action, but no one had reported him to authorities before he almost caused a major loss of life in the refugee camp.
Todayís gospel passage, which is often read for assurance at funerals is actually about staying so grounded in our sense of belonging to the Eternal that nothing will deter us from acting with passion and Christ-like power in the present day. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. They will do even greater things than these, because I am going to be with God." The contemporary version, "The Message" puts it this way, "Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you canít believe that, believe what you see---these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what Iím doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that Iíve been doing. You can count on itÖ"
We might ask, "Why is it that we canít do what Jesus did? The works that Jesus did were amazing. He walked on water, he healed the blind, he made the lame to walk, he even raised the dead." Some have said, "Itís because we donít have enough faith." But Jesus doesnít say you might do it if you have enough faith. He says, you will do it. I think that we are so impressed with the power of God that we fail to see that the miracles are not about his power but about his love. What Jesus did he did not do so much to demonstrate his power, but to express his love.
We canít duplicate the power of Jesus. We canít walk on water. We donít have the ability to raise up people from the dead, but we do have the opportunity to express the love of Jesus.
One person that we have been hearing about in the news lately is 17 year old, Becca Schofield, who when she heard she had terminal brain cancer, she started making a bucket list. Some of the things that made the list were: going dog sledding, meeting chef Gordon Ramsay, making it to prom, and attending a hockey game in the air Canada centre. What has gotten publicity is her personal, legacy project. Becca was recently honoured in Riverview, New Brunswick for her campaign asking all of us to perform random acts of kindness. Beccaís hashtag is #beccatoldmeto.
What a breath of fresh air she is for any skeptics. Becca says, "I canít explain to what length this has affected me. I love when I see that itís being taught to children because, being cold and unfriendly, weíre not born that way. Itís something thatís taught, so I lpove that children are being taught to be kind and selfless and to care about those around you."
And Jesus said, "The work that I do, Ye shall do and greater works than these shall Ye do because I go unto my Father." We canít replicate the powerful acts of God in Jesus Christ, but every time we perform an act of love in His name, we are imitating Jesus and he is saying, "Well done thou good and faithful servants."
Jesus says that those who believe in him have the power to do his work, and even more, because he is returning to the source of all power. As Jesus prepares to return to God, the Father, he tells the disciples and us, that you and I have access to the same power, when asked in his name. He promises to do whatever we ask in his name. Now, this is not a promise for arthritis relief at the drop of a hat, straight Aís without some very hard work, instant parking places at the busy mall, or a stock-market portfolio that always stays ahead of the Toronto Stock Exchange index. It is a promise Jesus gives to his body, the church, for the church. That is the meaning of asking in his name. If what we are asking of the risen Lord is in accord with his will and purpose for the church in the world he will have the possibility of doing that through us.
When you think about it, indeed, we have seen even greater works than he did. There has been the world-wide spread of the gospel with his word of love, forgiveness and reconciliation in the search of peace. Jesusí work of healing and making whole has happened through the church establishing hospitals and schools across the world. Jesusí value for human life for "even the least of these" has been a norm woven in to the ethics of western culture. Whatever we ask in his name he promises to do.
What does that mean for us as his body as we face complex questions of limited financial resources and higher unemployment in our time? What does it mean for us as his body as we face the challenges of global ecology in a world addicted to oil and high energy demands? We are not only commissioned to be the custodians and stewards of creation, we have the Creatorís power to do so, if we will.
Jesus told the disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." It is a command to stand firm, even when we think we are all alone. Jesus offered a corrective, a new direction, a new understanding. Their theology of a military strongman messiah was replaced by experiencing a compassionate Christ who desired to transform their lives and their world.
Recalibrate that which is leading your life, go forth and take every opportunity to act in love at every waypoint you can. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God. Donít be anxious, just watch and name the unfolding signs of the kin-dom of God.
Acknowledging inspiration from:
The Canadian Press, Health improves for B.C. woman stranded in wild, Sunday, May 15, 2011
McPolin, James, JOHN, Michael Glazier, Inc., p.193
Campolo, Tony, "Doing Great Things," Program #4001, October 6, 1996