Celebrating the Way of Jesus

Celebrating the Way of Jesus

Jesus the Way to the Father
“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 go to 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.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know[d] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

John 14:1-14 (NRSVUE)

Two weeks ago, we talked about important teachers in our lives. Now no matter how old or young we are, and no matter what path we have walked or what things we have experienced in life, we have all had someone–or even several someones if we are lucky–who have guided us on our way. Whether they were parents or grandparents, a favorite aunt or uncle, a neighbor or a friend, a colleague or a pastor, or an actual teacher, counselor, or mentor.

Now over time, that relationship or connection changes, the parameters shift, and the relationship may even come to an end. But the bond that is forged in a relationship like that never ends because that teacher has made a difference in the life of the student. And often, the student makes a difference in the life of the teacher as well.

As human beings, we don’t often like things to change or to end, especially relationships with people that are important to us. And that is just what we find happening in our scripture reading today. In today’s reading, Jesus knows that he is going to be going away. He knows that he will be leaving his disciples. And he knows that they will be left alone to carry on all that he has taught them.

Now today’s reading may have sounded familiar to many of you because it is often read at funeral services, and for good reason. Jesus was trying to comfort his disciples, just as we try to comfort one another when a friend or loved one dies. But it is important to understand that today’s reading is not only about life after death, but more importantly it’s about how we are called to live our lives here and now.

This conversation between Jesus and his disciples happened in the upper room the same night that many of the gospels tell of the institution of the last supper, but in the gospel of John, John tells it a little differently. He tells of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, teaching them the importance of humility, and loving and serving others. Jesus went on to explain that one of the disciples would betray him and another would deny him. He also told them that he would only be with them for a little while and that where he is going they could not come. No wonder the disciples were worried and upset! It must have felt like the foundation they were standing on was shifting, and the world was turning upside-down. Jesus responds to their anxiety by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” He reminds them to trust in him and assures them that he is not abandoning them, but he is preparing a place where they with all be together again. Of course, they all seem confused, as I’m sure we would be too. But then, when Jesus says: “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas, the disciple who takes things quite literally, couldn’t hold back his questions any longer and he speaks up and asks Jesus for directions or a road map to the place where he is going.

But Jesus is talking metaphorically; he is not talking about geography or a literal place. Jesus is talking about staying connected, being in communion, and cooperating with God, with himself, and with each other. Jesus responds to Thomas saying: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Now, unfortunately, this verse has gotten a bad reputation over the years, and it has been used as a weapon to threaten others saying they must accept Jesus to be saved. But to interpret the verse that way is to rip it from its context and to actually do violence to the spirit of Jesus’ words. These were not words of judgment or exclusion. On the contrary, these were words Jesus used to comfort and assure his closest friends when they were anxious and upset.

If you think about it, Jesus always taught his disciples through the language of love. He set examples for them. He gave them firsthand opportunities to learn by doing. He encouraged them, and when they got it wrong, he didn’t punish them or judge them. On the contrary, he loved them even more. Friends, the truth is, just as Jesus always taught through the language of love, scripture should be heard and shared through the language of love, as well. The problem is we often pick and choose little pieces of scripture, and in our minds, we turn them into absolute truths. Then we use those absolute truths to point fingers and judge others. But that is the total opposite of the Way of Jesus.

Friends, many of you know that I have a cat at home. His name is Cornbread. He is three years old. He is an orange cat. He weighs about sixteen pounds, and he has quite an attitude at times, but all in all, he is the best cat in the world! What do you think of that? Now I know that many of you have cats at home, and you may consider your cat the best in the world, but does that mean that the story I just told you about Cornbread was untrue? No. Because we are not dealing with the absolute truths; we are dealing with the language of love. Does that make sense?

The words that Jesus shared with Thomas in today’s reading, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” were used to comfort and assure a small group of frightened followers, assuring them that if they lived their lives like Jesus had taught them and encouraged them to, that everything would be okay. But many times, rather than being used as words of comfort, love, and encouragement, these words are used to exclude, divide, and judge. But think about it: exclusion, division, and judgment were never a part of Jesus’ way! Jesus was promising his rag-tag group of fishermen and tax collectors and outcasts that, even though he was going away, they could handle it. And that all they needed to do was to keep following Jesus’ way of love and humble service.

They didn’t need to search for a map or write down a list of directions. Jesus said, “If you know me, you know my father.” He told them that they had been with him all this time; they knew the way because they had been living it with Jesus for three years, teaching and feeding, healing and loving not just people like them but everyone they met.

Friends, people tend to get stuck on that line “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“ But, honestly, I think we should be focusing a little more on what Jesus said later when he said that we are called to do greater works than he has done. Really? Greater works than healing the blind and raising the dead? But folks, can you imagine what would happen in the world if we actually followed the way of Jesus? If we actually loved and cared for our neighbors, no matter who our neighbors were? If we cared for God’s Creation and the world around us? If rather than searching for what divides us, we concentrated on the love that binds and connects us? And if, instead of looking to use holy scripture as a weapon and a way of proving why we’re better, and we’re right, and we’re chosen, and we’re blessed while others aren’t, we looked to scripture so that all of God’s creatures can live in the Way of truth and life? Maybe then this whole idea of “the faith and hope and the peace of God’s kingdom here on earth” would actually make sense.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, stop judging and arguing and trying to be right all the time. Instead, do your best to follow in the way of Jesus, truly and humbly sharing the love of God with everyone you meet.

My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!


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