The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori: On the Jesus Road

22 May 2011

St. John, Negaunee, MI (Diocese of Northern Michigan)

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

I had a very interesting experience recently, on a visit to another diocese. The plane I was originally supposed to take was cancelled some weeks before the visit, when the airline changed its schedule. There wasn't going to be a flight in time for the meeting that I was scheduled to attend. So I flew to another nearby city, and a man from the diocese I was going to visit agreed to pick me up.

He met me at the airport, an airport he wasn't familiar with, and after some fiddling around, finally got his GPS working and found the road that "Mildred" told him to take. We took several turns as directed, and eventually were underway down the interstate. I noticed we were on the southbound side of the interstate, and though I knew the place we were going was north, interstates sometimes go in very odd directions around cities. I asked if he had a map so I could see where we were. He answered no, the GPS was all he ever used. We kept driving, and after a while we began to get into areas that looked pretty rural, and we were still going south. I finally got out my laptop and fired up Mapquest and tried to figure out where we were. Sure enough, by then we were a good 30 miles south of the airport, going in the wrong direction. We ended up being an hour late for the meeting.

Thomas has a similar problem: ‘If we don't know where you're going, Jesus, how in the world are we going to be able to follow you?' Jesus' response is basically, ‘I'll show you - I'm your roadmap. I'll be your godward positioning system.' ‘If you're connected to that divine roadmap, you'll discover the way home to God, you'll find that it's ultimately truer than a compass pointing to the north magnetic pole, and you will experience abundant life.'

My driver put all his faith in his global positioning system, even when it gave significant indications of being wrong. He didn't let go of the error until he was provided with substantial outside evidence that Mildred was leading us astray.

It may seem like a silly example, but what guides do we trust, and how do we decide which ones get our full attention? Where and in whom and in what do we invest our full faith?

We live in a nation that is increasingly convinced that our economic woes are tied to Muslim terrorists or Spanish-speaking immigrants, and that our taxes are too high because our government is taking care of people who should take care of themselves. Most of those tax complaints come down to the work of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and teaching students. Jesus spent his life doing that very work, and when he challenged the governments of his day about their attitudes toward the poor and the least among us, it got him executed.

The world's roadmap definitions of the right direction in life look like accumulating power over other people, and focusing on self-preservation and accumulating the goodies of this world. This week has shown us the shadow side of those attitudes - in two powerful employers exploiting immigrant housekeepers. The roadmap that we have says that poor, foreign women are especially deserving of our extra care - those widows and sojourners whom Israel is repeatedly reminded to safeguard.

Jesus the roadmap is going to lead us down the byways, and into the slums and barrios, and out back behind the big box stores, to find the widows and orphans rummaging in dumpsters for food. Jesus the GPS is going to send us looking for those who are dying of preventable disease - like malaria in Africa, or AIDS in Honduras, or blacklung disease in coal country. Jesus the truth-teller is going to send us out to find the lost, who think that more toys in the driveway will make us truly happy. No, this GPS voice is going to tell us, "wrong direction" and help us do the recalculating.

When Jesus says, "the father who dwells in me does his works" he means the works of healing, feeding, and reconciling that restore community and offer more abundant life to anyone who will turn in his direction and take his road. His road is pretty easy to find, once you discover where to look. It's mostly in the direction of the "other." If we're going down the road called "my way" we've probably missed it - that's the wrong highway. Those who take the Jesus way soon discover that it's the way of healing for all - you and me and the whole of creation, coming back into right relationship with God. Sometimes it's called justice, or peace, or shalom, or even salaam. That just might be why in some traditions you turn toward the holy city when you pray - as a reminder that that's where home is, in that vision or dream of a wholly restored world.

I visited a congregation in Sweden recently, where their whole focus is how to serve those who live around them. The worship space welcomes an eastern Orthodox congregation as well as the sponsoring Lutheran faith community. They make a special effort to invite in those who have no faith tradition - and in western Europe, as here in the U.S., that is the largest part of the population. The surrounding community is filled with resettled refugees of all different faith traditions, and none, and all sorts of people wander in to light candles or say a prayer. The other rooms in their building are used for an after school program that serves all comers, and to gather other age groups in the community. Muslim and Christian children play and learn together, as do their mothers.

After the consecration of your new bishop yesterday, I met some of the interfaith guests who had joined us. One is Baha'i, another a Jew, yet a third Muslim. All are part of an interfaith conversation group whose focus is on the kind of reconciliation that we call ‘building relationships of understanding and discovery.' Each one told me how much his own faith has been deepened in that encounter. Brenda Ray walked up while we were talking to each other, and said, "I see you've found some of the most interesting people in Marquette." The conversation between people of deep faith is always about the journey toward God and loving our neighbors.

So what do we do with those words of Jesus in this morning's gospel? Jesus says that people can see the works of God through him, and that if they want to find God, they should believe in God because of what they see him doing. He also says that if you can't believe in him, then pay attention to who is doing the works of God. Where do we see God at work?

The way which is Jesus is about journeying toward God and the other, it's about truth, and it is about abundant life. That GPS comes with a variety of voices, but they all lead us toward loving God and our neighbors. What does your road look like? What does the Jesus road look like in the life of St. John's, or in Negaunee? Who is your companion on the Jesus road?

[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]