Our Shepherd is Leaving Us. Easter 5A- A Sermon for a time of Crisis. (John 14:1-14)

When I sat down to begin writing this sermon, I imagined what I might write about – what crisis is going on that I could speak to. It seems most realistic that I would imagine something to use as a crisis; the night after nuclear warfare broke out, or the day after a shooting in the neighborhood around a congregation. Each imagined scenario brought my senses to the edge of terror until the words of several colleagues rung in my ear. We are living in a time of crisis and the challenges just keep on coming.

It’s true.  As soon as the news about possible Russian interference in our most recent election calmed down, there was a threat to health insurance, followed by a ban on people entering this country based on their religious belief and raids on people targeted for little more than the color of their skin. Lather, Rinse, repeat – last week legislators voted to make many of the effects of sexual assault a reason to restrict access to healthcare, and being transgender, became a reason to deny people health insurance. Just yesterday, the director of the FBI was terminated without a satisfying reason given. We are living in a time of great difficulty, a time filled with unknowns. We are living in and through a crisis. We’re terrified, but not of what we see but of what is unseen. As a society, many of us are experiencing the continued and ongoing traumatic erasures of our existence. That is terrifying.

So far this week, we found out about the murder of Brenda Bostick – the tenth of a trans woman since the first of January. We heard of the death by hazing of Timothy Piazza at a fraternity house at Penn State. Jordan Edwards is STILL DEAD, and the number of people killed by police extrajudicially this year is over 400, and still rising.

This week, we hear that Jesus is leaving us for a while.  I certainly don’t like it when I’m doing my best sheep impression and my shepherd leaves. I don’t care why my shepherd leaves.  When our shepherd leaves during the news I just briefly listed off – well – it’s terrifying.

Today in our gospel, we hear the most disturbing trouble since Good Friday. Jesus Died. Jesus is Risen, and Jesus is going away? Jesus is creating a new dwelling for people who believe? WHAT?!
It’s only been 5 weeks since the Good News of Easter, and now we see that Jesus wants to preparing the disciples for his departure. He wanted the people who were closest to him to know what was going to be happening. That the realm he came to bring would not // could not exist on this earth.

In my reading of this text, far more interesting than the declaration that Jesus is preparing a place for us to be together is the hope that in this place there are many dwelling places where we might dwell together, as G-d’s family.  In this text, there’s something hidden in the shadows to hold us together.  Jesus is busy going and preparing and gathering and taking, being active and doing things.  Jesus’ busy-ness leaves open the possibility for something different among the family Jesus creates.

Last year, I briefly visited a church outside of my own tradition – not because I wanted to jump ship, but because I noticed that it was where people who looked like me went in Chicago. When I had coffee with the pastor, she asked me a pointed question:  Where do you go to find home/safety/community?  It’s a question that Jesus talks around and above in this text.  Jesus leaves open our imaginations to a cosmic, spiritual version of home/safety/community, but in the meantime, what do we have?  What is happening when our Shepherd isn’t present?

Like the disciples, we want Jesus to show us – to give us assurances. To introduce us this new communal dwelling is something our eyes can perceive and our hands can touch, and tongue can taste.  But, Jesus has a different idea – Jesus continues to imply that God’s household of many dwelling places will become present in and among each of us. In many of our baptismal promises, we promised to serve all people. We chose to belong to each other, and to share our lives with each other. As a human family, we are called to not get distracted by our curiosities, and instead, Join in the work of creating many dwelling places.

As leaders in the church, from people who cook, to people who preach and preside, we each get to imagine what it looks like to do greater things than what Jesus promised us.  Recently, prompted by a homework assignment, my flatmate and I sat down and talked about what we wanted to do with our life. Not what our parents or family systems wanted from us, not what our denominations wanted from us, but what we wanted to do for our own fulfillment. We imagined a new ministry complex, an ambitious ministry that’s somewhere between what God calls us to do and what this world needs. Where we can use our experiences to support trans youth and young adults with stable housing and navigating trans related complications to life, while also providing resources to ensure the set up was sustainable, and that they had valuable job experience to begin the process of shifting the statistics around trans unemployment.

Another project other friends envisioned with e was a simple video series where I could walk people through the hoops I needed to jump through to have identity documents that reflect as much as possible my lived realities, and that could be paired with instructions for providers who need to write letters to change gender markers, and update passports.

Jesus leaves us with the promise of a dwelling place – where we are all living in community – and gives us the charge to make it so, in this passage. Today, we are reminded that Jesus sits with us in our grief, and when it looks like our shepherd is leaving we have each other.

We’re living in a time of crisis:

trouble and danger surround us.

Now, Jesus has called us to be our kindred’s keeper,

May it be so.

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