The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 10, 2020
Good mothers give good glimpses of God’s love.
In his book In the Grip of Grace, Bryan Chapell tells of a survivor of the crash of Northwest Flight 225 out of Detroit, a crash that killed 155 people.
When first responders found four-year-old Cecelia, she was so unharmed it didn’t occur to them she might have been on the plane. They assumed she’d wandered over from the nearby crowd of looky-loos. They were stunned when they found her name on the passenger log.
It turned out that, when the plane began to fall, her mother: Paula Chican of Tempe, AZ, knelt in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and held on to her with all her might. Despite the panic and pain, that mother covered up her child and cushioned her against harm, saving her life. That mother’s love resembled the love of Jesus, who covered us up in His self-sacrifice at Calvary and saved our lives.
Today’s scripture gives us some of Jesus’ last words to His disciples the night before His crucifixion. He is preparing them for life without Him in the flesh.
He begins by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. Typically, telling the anxious not to worry is unhelpful; it comes across as dismissive or even mocking. But this is Jesus saying it, the One who has proven His love of them again and again, and is about to do it once more as never before. He knows He can be the enablement for their fulfillment of His commandment to be at peace if only they will trust Him. But Jesus in His grace doesn’t demand that they trust Him; He inspires them to trust Him by reminding them of who He is and what He’s about, and by promising that He Himself will be their source of peace, inner strength and enduring hope.
He puts them at ease by telling them He’s leaving them only to do something eternally wonderful for them. He’s going to prepare for them a place in the Father’s mansion of everlasting glory. And He tells them they don’t have to get themselves there for He will come again to take them to Himself and their eternal home with Him.
In speaking of His coming “again“ for them, is Jesus referring to His return at the end of the age, His return from the grave at Easter, His coming to them in the Spirit at Pentecost, His coming to them at their death to welcome them in heaven, or all these at once? The crucial point is that, to enjoy His company now and always, they are to depend on Him, and not on themselves. Living with Him is not just the end goal; living with Him is the way to the end goal – the only way!
Jesus says here that anyone who knows Him knows the way, for He is in Himself the way. He declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Jesus is the way by virtue of being the truth – the revelation of who God really is, so that to see Him is to see God – and by virtue of being the life – the One who lives “in” the Father and “in” whom the Father lives, so that God’s vitality and vigor flow into all who keep close to Jesus.
This reality about keeping close to Jesus changes the prospects of those who, loving Him, seek to honor God and bless their neighbors. This reality moves Jesus to say the most astonishing thing: “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, do greater works.”
What does this mean? How could we, say, top feeding thousands with scraps of bread or raising the dead?
Though we cannot do “greater” works by how big a contribution we make, we can do greater ones by how faithfully we do what little we can. Jesus always does the heavy lifting, but He likes to delegate and to collaborate with us in a partnership. When we add our small contribution to His large one, and play our humble role, we put His grace on greater display!
Our humble works of love, justice and witness are “greater” because they come through us who are not all that great but who just step forward to do what He asks.
Donald Grey Barnhouse tells the true story of a “greater” work of healing and salvation that occurred in World War II. Aboard a submarine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no doctor within a thousand miles, a sailor was stricken with acute appendicitis. When his temperature rose to 106˚, it became obvious he’d die unless his appendix was removed. Pharmacist Mate Wheller Lipes announced that he’d once watched a surgeon perform an appendectomy and asked the sailor if he’d let him make a try at it. The sailor consented.
In a room slightly larger than an elongated janitor’s closet, Lipes and a couple of officers donned makeshift surgical masks made of cheese cloth. The cook boiled water for sterilization, and a seaman requisitioned a torpedo’s alcohol as an antiseptic. A common kitchen knife filled in as the operating instrument.
Two and a half hours later, just as the last drop of painkiller gave out, the final stitch in the sailor’s belly was sewed – and thirteen days later, that sailor was back at work. It was a miracle, one all the more magnificent for not having been done by a trained surgeon in a fully equipped operating room.
When Jesus saves a life all by Himself, it’s great; but when He does it with the likes of us, it’s greater still because it so reveals God’s grace. So will we accept His insistence on holding out for help from us He doesn’t need and, in deference to His preference, assume our responsibility to act in partnership with Him? And will we trust Him to uplift our modest contributions and to enable them to achieve the “greater” works He has in mind?