The Parish Church of Connersville, Indiana

Saint Philip and Saint James’s Day 2022

Sermon Date: May 1, 2022

Passage: John 14

Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me’ (John 14:6).

The greatest weapon at our enemy’s disposal is fear. Whether it be fear of failure or fear of poverty, or fear of death, the whip we hear cracking in the distance—wielded by all those who wish to dehumanize and destroy us—that sound is fear driving our broken world to the mad scramble of its own destruction. Right before the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus revealed to His apostles He would soon be receiving humanity’s answer to His gift of unending love. In the coming days, fear would rise up in the hearts of the people Christ came to save, and this black panic would drive them to either nail their Creator to a tree or abandon the Hope of the World to beg for a few more years of slavery to sin and death and misery. Jesus tells the apostles that even Peter, the boldest of them all, would break under the pitiless onslaught which awaits every human heart insane enough to try and fight evil alone. 

And then Jesus says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled…’ How on earth could they not be troubled after hearing this news? We also must remember Jesus is troubled by all of this too. Minutes after finishing this farewell sermon to His apostles, He will be sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane gripped by the same fear which drove the first Adam to forsake the woman made from his flesh to try and save his own skin. But, it is in that garden and with His apostles and in this room right now that all men are gifted the means by which our troubled hearts may finally be at peace. Christ says to His chosen men: ‘Ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ This statement is not a suggestion or an attempt by our Lord to convince the apostles of some deep truth which hasn’t been revealed to them; no, Christ is commanding them to believe because of what they have seen and will see. For three years the apostles have witnessed Jesus command the very forces of nature with an authority whose only source can be divine. Soon enough, they will see death itself become a vanquished enemy prostrate at the feet of their resurrected king.

Christ then serving as the captain of this second Exodus uses language which should bring to mind the first Exodus, as we read in Moses’ second book: ‘Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses’ (Exodus 14:30-31). ‘Ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ The One greater than Moses reveals Himself as the mighty, outstretched arm of the Almighty who kills and makes alive. That same God speaks to the apostles as He once did to the man who followed Moses: Joshua. ‘Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest’ (Joshua 1:9). Wherever the apostles go, Christ will be there. Wherever we go Christ, will be there. Let that blessed truth sink into our minds for a moment. Imagine the bloody deaths of Saint Phillip and Saint James: the former crucified the latter stoned and beaten to death with clubs. Those men did not die alone; no, it was in those final moments of agony and victory where they were most closely united to the murdered but glorious King of Creation. It was not God’s absence which caused Phillip and James to be murdered for the truth; no, it was the strength and power of God within them which exalted them above the fearful and groveling slaves desperate to defend their masters and pimps.

Knowing this reality; we must be able to hold two thoughts in our mind simultaneously. First, this world in its broken state is not our home, and secondly, we have been chosen by God to die in service to the Messiah who through His death, resurrection, and ascension is saving this world and preparing a home for those loyal to Him unto death. For, whatever we do, we must be careful not to interpret today’s text like Greek pagans. Our goal as Christians is not to put our heads down, watch the world fall apart, and prepare to be zapped away from the trials and tribulations which exist in every age. We like it when Jesus says, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2), but this verse must be read along with verse 4: ‘And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.’  Our next question like Thomas is surely, ‘Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?’ (John 14:5). Jesus famously answers our question with the answer with which we began, ‘…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me’ (John 14:6). 

The temptation here is to take this verse and crudely staple our own conceptions of what Jesus means to it. Jesus’ way becomes whatever superstition or comfortable fable we dunk in water and pretend it’s baptized. Examples abound, God just wants me to be happy or nice or kind or simple or non-judgmental or accepting or rich or whatever is today’s most popular, easy social virtue we can pin to ourselves to show we are the right kind of people. But Christ has already told us what the way is back in chapter 13: ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards’ (John 13:36). Christ is going to the Cross and in that mighty act He reveals the righteousness of God, initiates the redemption of creation itself, and through the Spirit, recreates His chosen people to walk in the way, the truth, and the life. To walk in the way is to be in Christ such that our true home is in the Father’s house: now alive in Christ’s church here on earth, later in the temporary heaven where our elect ancestors wait for us, and finally in the new heaven and earth where the risen Christ will return and we will return with Him. A fundamental part of preparing those mansions in His Father’s House is through the way of the Cross in which all Christians must walk and die and rise. As opposed to every false religion and evil charlatan constantly bellowing in our ears, Christ is not saying we will not suffer if we follow Him; no, He is guaranteeing it, but in that suffering we will rise to a glory which will save the world and rule eternity itself. To follow the way, the truth, and the life is not a slogan or totem, not a lifestyle or brand; it is to grab a cross and prepare for victory. It is no coincidence that the earliest name for Christianity was ‘The Way.’ This way is the meaning of our lives.

Knowing this great truth, Phillip’s question is all the more difficult for our Lord to hear. Phillip says, ‘Lord, shew us the Father, and it will be sufficient for us’ (John 14:8). One of the apostles we celebrate today hears sacrificial love unto death is the purpose of God’s people, and he’s ready to believe, if he could just hear it from the Father Himself. But, this question fundamentally misunderstands both Christ’s relation to the Father and our relation to the Godhead. As Jesus answers, ‘Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me’ (John 14:11). The incarnation of Jesus Christ, God the Son taking on our human flesh, is the means by which the Holy God has crossed the vast river of bile and hate and murder and rape and evil which separated our apostate race from the God who is love. He stands before Phillip and tells him to believe because it is through faith/trust/belief in the flesh and blood Christ that we become humble participants in the power and mission of God. Jesus is not asking Phillip or you and I to have some blind faith in the singularity or nirvana or folk religion’s heaven or the worker’s paradise or the perfect life or any other idolatrous lie; no, our assured hope and invincible faith is a gift from the Son who brought the Father’s burning love to us and the Spirit who even now is uniting us to the divine.

And it is in our believing that this union of heart and soul and mind and will creates a relation between us and the Father whereby He graciously listens to us as His children. As Jesus says, ‘If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it’ (John 14:14). Within this new life wherein the Son has died to make us His adopted brothers and sisters, we may boldly stand before the heavenly throne of grace, not demanding the wages of sin and death, but rather striving in every word and petition to align our hopes and dreams and desires with the good works Christ promises to accomplish through us. Our prayers made possible by the Cross are to be more than wishes aimed at a cosmic genie but rather a blessed means by which we align our wills with the Messiah who came to save the world that the Father may be glorified. It for this reason our Lord commands us to pray, ‘…thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.’ Our prayers rightly offered connect us to our true home, to our true Father, who in the end of days will invade this fallen earth with heaven itself. True prayer will always be answered because true prayer rests not in fear but in the assured hope which banishes fear forever: the hope revealed only in the way, the truth, and the life.

So then let us not ever think Saint James and Saint Phillip were martyred because God failed to answer their prayers; no, let us carry with us today the blessed truth that to be a martyr, to be a witness for the Gospel is to have our every true prayer answered. Let us then pray today and every day, and let us prepare for our prayers to be answered.