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An Escape Plan?

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Easter 5A   John 14:1-14

I read an interesting and also rather disturbing article last week in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine about a growing trend among some of the highest income people in our country to invest some of their wealth in what can best be called “an escape plan:”
preparing for themselves a place where they can go with their loved ones if and when American economic and civic life and order crumbles. Concerned about the growing number of ways that crumbling might happen: from nuclear war to racial unrest, to the growing gap and divide between rich and poor, to the breakdown in trusted and stable institutions of government and civic society, to the mistrust of the truthfulness of politicians and the press, to cyber-crime and the vulnerability of power grids and web-based financial transactions; many of those who have the most to guard and possibly also to lose are deciding that it’s worth preparing for the worst, and choosing an escape to a safe place when the worst begins to happen.

The author of the article visited what can best be described as a luxury condominium complex built inside of an old nuclear missile silo somewhere in Kansas. The owner has sold enough units to begin buying more silos and building more condos inside of those structures designed to withstand a nuclear blast and filled with supplies to last an extended period of time and security enough to fend off desperate intruders. Those who have purchased a place there also have a plan to get there quickly if ever chaos erupts.

Others are buying property in places like New Zealand, and getting the travel papers and approval to live there as exiles if life here ever gets too ugly or dangerous. New Zealanders, meanwhile, aren’t all that happy about these Americans who are buying up their land and who might perhaps bring the chaos they’d be fleeing, right along with them if they came.

The article made clear: these are not fringe crazies and doomsday predicters. These are Silicon Valley millionaires, entertainment and sports figures, investment and hedge fund managers, people who do not necessarily think that such a disastrous or dangerous future is likely or certain or soon to be upon us, but who nevertheless do find it prudent to be prepared for it if it comes, and of course, have the means to do so.

More and more of those with the most to guard and protect and potentially lose are apparently developing escape plans,
setting up a safe place for them and those they love, in an underground silo or in a far off country. They are preparing a place, just in case.

Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus, at his last supper with his friends, told them to not let their hearts be troubled, and invited them to believe in God, and believe also in him. In his Father’s house, he said, there are many dwelling places, and that he was going to prepare a place for them.

Just BEFORE Jesus said that, he said some other things that could well have left his disciples thinking that with their world coming unglued,  THEY perhaps should develop their own escape plan. Jesus said that Judas was about to betray him. He said that Peter would deny even knowing him. He said that he would only be with them a little longer.  In other words, he said many things that would have deeply troubled their hearts before he told him that they shouldn’t let their hearts be troubled.

And then he tells why their hearts can be at peace. He says that after he has gone and set up this safe place for them in what he called “his Father’s house,” that he would return and take them there, so that they could be together in safety… always.

But then, he claims that they already know the way to this safe place he’s talking about, and that seems to trouble their hearts even more. And while the other disciples seem content to just squirm in silence, Thomas objects.  “Wait a minute!” he says. We don’t even know where you’re going, so how are we supposed to know the way to get there? Even Google maps is of little use, Jesus, if you don’t give us an address!”

And Jesus responds “I am the way. You don’t need a map, you only need me. You don’t need an address. You only need me. I said I will come. I said I will take you. The only ‘way’ you need is me.”

And then, after Jesus says that knowing him means knowing his heavenly Father, Philip begs Jesus to “Show us the Father!” And Jesus answers Philip pretty much the same way as he had answered Thomas. Thomas wanted to know the way and Jesus said “It’s me!” Philip wanted to see the Father, and Jesus said “It’s me! I am in the Father. The Father is in me. My words are the Father’s words. My works are the Father’s doing.” “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. I am the Father. I am not only the safe place, I am the way to it and the one who makes it safe. I am the one who gets you there and keeps you safe and will provide for your needs and do what you ask in my name.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust me. Believe in me. Believe in God!”

The author of that article about “safe places” being prepared by the wealthiest people thought that the rest of us ought to be concerned about this growing trend, and not only because we likely will not be invited to join them when they decide it’s time to go, but because just having them, and spending so much time and energy and money preparing them might just make it even more likely that they’ll need them. The author looked back about a hundred years when the gap between the richest and the rest of us was also quite wide, and he pointed out how the very rich, while they certainly had their nice getaway places, also invested their wealth in job creating factories and  became great philanthropists, and were very generous in supporting education and the arts and other programs to assist the poorest among us and make life less harsh for everyone. He worried that hearts so troubled by fears of what awful things might happen now, and so focused on preparing a safe place for me might just make the worst more likely.

And whether it’s at Maundy Thursday’s last supper when Jesus told his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, or today when so many hearts, rich and poor and in between are also troubled, the truth is the same. I think that I also said this last week. Fearful hearts are closed hearts. Confident and trusting hearts are generous hearts. Safe places that we create for ourselves, no matter how well stocked or secure or sheltered or remote, aren’t the answer to our troubled hearts, and certainly aren’t an acceptable solution for our troubled world.

The only safe place isn’t a place at all. It’s a person. The only God worth loving and serving is the God who came in love as servant of all. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Anyone who ends up in the Father’s safe place, in the Father’s protecting embrace, whether they know it or not, or cooperated with it or not, or looked forward to it or not, or claims or understands or believes it or not… gets there through him, in whatever guise or religion or unique and winsome way that unfolded. Jesus’ way, Jesus’ truth, and Jesus’ life is the answer for all troubled hearts.

So I’m not buying land in New Zealand, or an underground silo condo in Kansas, and I hope it’s not just because I can’t afford to. I hope it’s because my heart is less troubled than that, and I hope that’s mostly because of Jesus. That said, I do have a generator in case the lights go out, and a jug of water on hand to flush the toilet a few times. And also a few cans of tuna fish if the store is closed for a couple of days.  And I do worry about things that might happen.

I may have Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t troubled when I see gaps and divisions and animosities between people widening and selfishness spreading. Like Thomas, I don’t know the way this all goes. Like Philip, I’d like someone to show me the Father in clearer focus than I see God now.

But that’s why I’m here, with you, at supper with Jesus, instead of in a silo in Kansas. I’m here with you, asking for what I need in Jesus’ name. I’m here so that I may be where Jesus is, where he’s promised us he would be; where together with you I can learn to live his way, grasp his truth, and receive his life, the kind of life he lived and now freely gives: life with a much less troubled and much more trusting and open heart.    AMEN