Jesus said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me?
At our diocesan staff meeting this week, we opened with a communal reflection on the gospel passage that you’ll hear should you attend an Episcopal Church on Sunday.
There had been a lot of good natured banter as we gathered, and it took a while for us to settle down. At last we read aloud the text that begins:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I would go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going . . . “ John 14:1-3
The room became still.
These are Jesus’ parting words, spoken to his disciples as they shared a final meal. For three chapters in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells them all that what he wants them to know and to be assured of as he prepares to leave, and what he hopes they will remember. As in all of John’s gospel, they are also words for us, written so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Quietly, we shared in turn a word or phrase that spoke to us. We noted that in thirteen verses the word believe is repeated five times: Believe in God. Believe also in me. In response to one disciple’s anxieties, Jesus replies, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
I found myself thinking of how easily I can lose confidence in my relationship with Jesus, particularly when I feel as if I’ve failed Him, or when whatever I’m facing feels insurmountable, or when the pain of the world is too much to hold.
Even now–as a bishop no less–I still need to be reminded that I believe–that is, place my trust–in Jesus. Remembering how He has been with me in the past helps me to place my trust in Him now.
Years ago, I was at a leadership retreat at which we were asked to consider the arc of our lives and how God might be calling us to serve in the future. I remember sitting alone, not wanting to ask God for guidance. I realized that I was afraid that God might ask me to do something I couldn’t do–or worse, that I didn’t want to do. Would I be like the rich young ruler who chose his possessions over the invitation to follow Jesus? (Matthew 19:21)
As I struggled, Jesus answered the prayer I was afraid to pray with a word of gentle reassurance, I know everything about you. I know your weaknesses, your sin, and your fears. You can trust me. I felt seen, and loved, for who I was. Jesus had been with me all along. Whatever the call in the future would be, it would take into account who I was, with all my gifts and failings. I could trust him.
Trusting Him doesn’t mean that we needn’t repent and turn from sin, or that all will go as we had hoped, or that He will spare us from sorrow and pain. But in trust, we can allow Him to help us face our sin, and experience Him carrying us through the most challenging, heart-wrenching times. In retrospect, we realize that, in the times we felt most lost and alone, or caught in the ways of being ourselves that we are least proud of, that He has been with us all along.
In your quiet moments this week, I invite you to look back on your life. Call to mind your most sacred memories–when you felt most alive or hopeful, or when God seemed to show up for you in a powerful way. Allow the memory of those moments to give you courage now, and help you to trust in God now. Remember, too, some of the harder moments of grief, disappointment, or regret, and how you got through them and what you learned.
The One who was with you then is with you still. So do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. He has been with you all this time and He is not about to leave you now.