Good Lord, Show us the Way

The following link will provide you with additional information and resources for the whole family for this Sunday, Easter 6: 
https://sjruc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Easter-Week6.pdf

John 14:15-21   The Holy Spirit Is Promised

15 Jesus said to his disciples:

If you love me, you will do as I command.  Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you.  The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.

I won’t leave you like orphans. I will come back to you. In a little while the people of this world won’t be able to see me, but you will see me. And because I live, you will live.  Then you will know that I am one with the Father. You will know that you are one with me, and I am one with you.  If you love me, you will do what I have said, and my Father will love you. I will also love you and show you what I am like

Good Lord, Show us the Way                   Rev. Chris Fickling

I first heard the song Down (in/to) the river to pray in the Coen brother’s 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?  The movie is set during the Great Depression, and focusses on three convicts, Ulysses (George Clooney), Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and Pete (John Turturro) who find themselves on the run after escaping a chain gang.  In their travels they come upon a congregation sharing baptism in a river, singing, Good Lord…show us the way…

Ulysses (George Clooney) says Hard times flush the chumps…everybody’s looking for answers…

Moved by the moment, one of the convicts (Delmar – Tim Blake Nelson) runs towards the preacher to be baptized, looking for the quick fix for salvation…

Last week, I called our current phase a ‘marathon of uncertainty.’  While the first few months felt like running from one quick fix to the next, a sprint to learn a new way of being, what lays before us requires us to pace ourselves, to slow down, and most difficultly allow all that we don’t know to exist.  To let the mystery be, and dwell in uncertainty[1].

Procedural crime shows, Netflix specials, and more, run on the engine of holding you in suspense just long enough to make good television, before giving you an ending tied up in nice bow.  But dwelling in uncertainty means accepting things for the way they are, and finding meaning in the mystery itself. 

Jesus, who favours riddles and mystery, is trying to be profoundly clear in these four chapters from the Gospel of John (ch 14-17).  He wants his dear friends to know that in his absence, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, will accompany us.  Jesus doesn’t give us a quick fix explaining the mystery of the Spirit, instead saying the Spirit will lift us up, the Spirit will “help us.”  In the Greek, this word ‘help’ could mean comfort, or encourage, or defense.  This Spirit enables us to be – to dwell in uncertainty, strengthened for we are aware that we don’t face our problems alone.

For those close watchers last week, our cat, Rosie, made several appearances.  Likely she was trying to hang around me rather than the boys, as she and my youngest child, Sam, don’t really get alone.  Like sibling rivalry, she’s unsure of what to make of him, and he’s always feared that she’s had it out for him.  She’ll sit as a gatekeeper at the top of the stairs, which will send Sam in tears running to us.  This week, when Sam came running, I took his hand and we went together to Rosie.   She innocently looked up at us, before starting to purr, seemingly for a moment forgetting all the struggles she and Sam had endured.  The Holy Spirit takes our hand in times when we feel we cannot meet the challenge before us…the Lord clears the way for us in times when the way forward seems unclear.  

When first sung, that Down in the river to pray
grew out of the Underground Railway days. Slaves that were trying to escape and gain their freedom would make their way to the nearest river because the water would hide their tracks from the dogs their ‘owners’ would use to track them. They ran to the river and prayed for the Lord’s guidance to make their way to freedom in the North. The song’s text is very symbolic of their plight.

Good Lord, Show us the way … becomes the anthem to all those seeking freedom, not just our self-imposed isolation full of the privileges that come with it, but those caught within the myriad of systems that enslave and endanger.  God alone knows the way forward.

Yet too often, we think we can handle it ourselves.  This week, a petition was created by “Ontario churches” begging the government to allow churches to meet again.  I’m not going to read you the letter, or point you to it, because I think it’s received too much press already.  Instead, I found myself so bothered by this, that I had to send them my response[2]

Friends in Christ,
While I applaud the support of your congregations, and I understand the need to gather for worship (a pull I’m feeling myself), I feel your letter is misguided.  

You cite several passages about worship, however you miss Jesus’ own teachings about the subject. Jesus wanted to “build his church” upon the rock of Peter. It was the person and relationship that he valued most. If we praise the bricks and mortar of our buildings over relationships, hopefully even the stones themselves will cry out.  For those who gathered before all this started wish they hadn’t[3]:
https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/corbella-two-deaths-from-small-church-gathering-should-serve-as-warning
And for those places that have started to open, they’ve seen a spike in cases:
https://www.nydailynews.com/coronavirus/ny-georgia-coronavirus-cases-continue-to-mount-amid-lockdown-easing-20200501-taupn6s2wndfbcrkkmjoje3yzy-story.html
Pray without ceasing, Paul says, and pick up our cross and follow him, says Christ, but to bring harm through our prayers, or to willingly cause suffering upon others seems against the ministry of Jesus.  

And per your comment about never before have we missed months of worship – well – two things. I’ve attached a copy of a newspaper clipping from Kelowna during the time of the Spanish flu that prohibited church gatherings.  And two, we haven’t missed worship[4]God has merely sent us out in the wilderness to witness to the great faith we all have, and which we are blessed to share.  

Good Lord, show us the way… that doesn’t endanger lives because we want to be made more comfortable.   Good Lord, show us the way, to love one another, by not gathering.  Good Lord, help us to be content[5] in our homes, to pray and work for those who cannot be home safely, to live so that no one is homeless.  Good Lord, help us to come together even when we’re apart.  Good Lord, show us the way to find meaning in the mystery, for even the Israelites “wandered” for forty years in the desert, while still following God. 

Good Lord, the way is laid before us in these six verses.  The way is full of awareness – for the Spirit is known in times we need help, comfort, encouragement, and defense.  And the way is full of love.  The Spirit is felt in the ways we embody the daily bread offered in this hope-filled-sandwich…for Jesus says that love should be the beginning and ending of all we do as the commandment to love both starts and finishes our text…

if you love me, you will do as I command…if you love me, you will do what I have said…

So let this time be defined by the love of Jesus, lived out for self, friend, and neighbour, and may it push us deeper into the mystery of God’s love, as we seek help, comfort, encouragement and defense.

May God help us…protect the vulnerable who feel trapped with abusers…
                                    connect with the lonely who feel isolated…
                                    advocate for those who are overlooked in crisis…
                                    support those whose livelihood is at risk…
                                    help those who are suffering more than us…
                                    understand those who are angry and scared…
                                    thank those who work to keep us safe, fed, and well…
                                    appreciate whatever privilege we have…
And may God help us with the hardest thing of all: to truly love one another.  (Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker)


[1] There’s a great HBO show called The Leftovers, that dwelt heavily in uncertainty, and after the first season of creating a world filled with mystery, they “trolled” their watchers by changing the opening credits to this song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlaoR5m4L80

[2] I normally don’t do this – I’m of the mindset of live and let live.  I just didn’t want them speaking on behalf of something I hold dear.

[3] https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/i-would-do-anything-for-a-do-over-calgary-church-hopes-others-learn-from-their-tragic-covid-19-experience-1.4933461#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=Facebook&_gsc=g255pgZ

[4] https://religionnews.com/2020/05/13/survey-shows-faith-can-prosper-in-online-services/?fbclid=IwAR3lehKOy8OCz48Uwt0oJ8BIBJUQfYsGwyYUsaDE1ZPMklZWde4gN27Nntc

[5] https://churchplants.com/articles/20768-content-at-home.html

3 Comments

  1. Hi Chris:
    What a wonderful message and letter sent! I most certainly agree with you and appreciate your standing up/speaking for what is possibly survival for many if we do not practice intelligent patience. I feel very much a part of our church family and enjoy the services. My Dad, at three, lost his mom to the Spanish flu leaving six young children who lived with lifelong pain and anxiety as a result. We need to learn from the past. Stay well and strong!
    Thank you again.

  2. Another excellent service and you are right Chris – WE ARE ALL TOGETHER even if we aren’t at church.
    Great music Alison and Dave, some of it very emotional.
    Also good to be reminded of O Brother Where Art Thou. I always think of it when I hear Down to the River to Pray. Tried to find it on Netflix last night but couldn’t. Drat!!!
    And thank you Sam again. Lovely to see you.

  3. Chris, another concrete lesson of the plumped up raisins in carbonated water to make us dance and also reflected in the background during your thought-provoking reflections and throughout the service today. Yes, we stand apart but are walking hand in hand . I appreciated the sung blessing with our British friends and the tight finale with the Canadian Brass who always perform at a very high level wherever they are and whatever they play. Again very satisfying to listen to and participate in another Sunday morning service with Chris pulling it all together in such a unified manner.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *