Easter / Graduation Recognition Sunday
May 7, 2023
1 Peter 2:2-10 / John 14:1-14
Jane Shelton, CRE
My Daddy taught me to read a map at a very young age. Now some of you may not know what a map is, so I brought a sample.
Being the youngest of four, my place in the car was in the front seat between Mama and Daddy.
On our vacation journeys, I had a few jobs seated there between my parents. One was being in charge of changing the eight tracks for our music selections, how many of you remember those? For our younger people, these were square cassettes which you placed in a device in the car console that played music. It was something we did as a family, and it did not require ear buds.
Another job I had was passing the food snacks my mother would prepare along the journey over the seat to my siblings seated behind me, which my siblings thought was a very important task!
However, my most important job was to be in charge of the map so we would know where we were going.
I don’t know about you, but Thomas’ words rang true to me when I read them, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” How many times have we heard these words or been the one to speak these words, “where are we going?” or “can you tell me how to get to this place?” It’s an important task in life to know where we are going, right?
I’m sure we have all had those conversations in the car with our spouses or friends, “is this the right way?”
My Daddy would fold the map to the section of the road we were on, and have me hold it on my lap. Then he would point to where we were currently stopped, and where we were going to arrive. I guess you could say that I was an early version of the GPS screen!
He would prompt me by asking me where the next town was on the road we were traveling, and he would have me spell it if I didn’t know how to pronounce it, so he could give me the pronunciation.
Eventually, I learned what the symbols were on the map, such as the picnic tables that noted the road side parks where we would stop for picnics. I learned how to turn the map to the next section we needed to see as we continued along our journey.
As I started driving later in life, however, and still before GPS, I paid less attention to road signs and focused on what building I was seeing when I made an important turn, or maybe there was a big tree to mark the spot where I needed to turn.
I seemed to be getting along just fine until one day when having a conversation with my Dad, he asked me about a road, where I had turned and I said, “It’s by that big red building on the corner.” His reply came back, “but what road number was it?” I replied, “I don’t know, it was by that big red building on the corner….I don’t look at the road signs, I just look for landmarks.”
His reply, “if they tear down that building or cut down a tree you’ve been using as a landmark, you are going to be in big trouble.”
It was a reminder to me that I needed to look for the signs so that I would know the way where I was going. It was okay if I used a landmark to help me find my way, but I also needed to know what road I was on. Was it a state road or a county road, and what was the number of the road? Granted I carried a map in my glove compartment, but I never got it out much, and this conversation was a reminder how important it was for me to know where I was going, and how to get there by the signs that had been placed on the road before me.
As we all are aware, knowing where we are going is extremely important, and in our spiritual lives it is imperative that we know the way to God the Father.
Along life’s journey, we come to cross roads as we attempt to know which direction in life we want to take, and the way to get there.
Graduation is such a cross road with the excitement of going off to college. Some graduates decide to stay home and attend their community college or work locally, at least for a while before they head off to college, but most graduates look forward to that time when they will pack their things and head off to the new chapter in their lives.
So how do you decide and resolve all the questions for yourself as you also sort through all the advice being given by teachers, parents, grandparents and anyone else who wants to help you along the way.
If you are completing college and are headed into the work force, you have decisions on which job is best, who is offering the best employment package, where will you choose to live, and on and on.
In either scenario, it’s about finding the right path that is best suited for you with what you perceive as the best benefits in your field of interest and study. Sometimes these decisions can be overwhelming.
What is the right path? Where are the signs that point us in that direction? Hopefully, twelve years of school, and at least four years of college helps prepare us for the real world, helps us find our way. It points us in a certain direction after giving us many signs along the journey.
However, Jesus provides the signs for our spiritual life. Jesus tells his disciples, “Believe in God, believe also in me. I am the way, the truth, and the life. If you don’t believe me, then believe in the works that I have done.” Believe in the works, the signs that he is the way to the Father.
Not only did Jesus show us how we are to live in relationship to others we meet along our life’s journey, he also taught us how we are to be in relationship with God.
In our first reading, Peter, writing a letter to areas in Asia Minor, tells us to come to God as a living stone. What is a living stone?
Now some of you “plant people” may know this already, but there is actually a plant known as a living stone. It’s a small succulent that grows in Southern Africa that typically has a pair of thickened leaves that form a stone-like body with a slit on top from which a flower emerges as it grows. However, the bulk of the plant lives underground as it takes its roots for a deep dive into the shade of the earth.
Like this plant, when we take our very foundation and bury it deep into the shade of Jesus, the works of Jesus, and the very relationship with God that Jesus shows us, we too will emerge as a flower of spiritual soundness, and we also become living stones. It is in the knowledge of the truth that we have faith in who Jesus is as the way to all that God provides.
As we journey, we look for the signs and study the signs that Jesus has provided us in his truth. Bringing nourishment to our spiritual lives, our roots delve deeper and deeper into the shade of Jesus. We become active and work our way through life as we blossom into a beautiful, spiritual being, a living stone, a firm foundation.
Now, if we have that picture of all of us as living stones, imagine how together we become the spiritual house, the church built on solid ground. We are built into a spiritual house, where God dwells among us. These are the dwellings that Jesus refers to in John.
Jesus wants Thomas and Philip and the other disciples to understand when he says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” that he has shown them, and us, how to find our way to God and be living stones. Seeing the signs in his work that show he belongs to one with greater power than death and darkness of the world.
Jesus wants them to see that he is the way to God, and we see the truth of his works, the signs that he has provided to show us the way to life fullness of the Spirit of God.
“Do you believe? Do you see me? Do you see the works that I have done? If you have, then you have seen the Father who dwells in me.” Jesus says.
Look for the signs. How many times have we been headed somewhere trying to figure out where we are because we have gotten lost, or we think we are lost? What do we do? We look at the GPS, or the map when the GPS fails us, and we look for the signs to show us the truth of the way to arrive safely.
Our spiritual life is no different. Jesus is our road map, and he tells us everything we need to know to find our way to God; he is the way. He speaks only truth that provides a sustaining life.
Sometimes, like when looking at a map, we take the wrong road, and we end up turning around and going back, but the sign never left, we just read it wrong. Never be afraid to turn back. Never be afraid to change directions. Jesus is there pointing the way.
For those who are headed off to college or entering a new occupation after college, or maybe you are graduating, and you are not yet sure which direction you will take, know that Jesus will never leave you, and he will protect you in the shade of his divine grace and goodness.
When things get tough, know that Jesus is the truth. When you get lost and are unsure of which direction to take, know that he is the way to the Spirit of God to comfort you and lead you back to the right direction for you.
It’s important to listen to those around you, giving you help and assistance along the way, but ultimately, listen to your heart and mind, to where Jesus is directing you to go because he shows you the direction to life. A living stone, blooming into the fullness of God’s grace.
To all our graduates here in person and watching from home, we wish you many blessings on your journey as you begin your next chapter, your next spiritual journey as a living stone.
Someone gave me a card when I graduated High School. I don’t remember who gave me the card, but the verse has never left me, and I always like to share it with graduates, “Exactly what your future holds, only time will tell, but whatever you choose to do, be sure to do it well.”
May you flourish in the love and light of Jesus on your journey. Amen.
*Photo provided by Unsplash; free