The way(s) of Jesus…
May 14, 2017
Scripture: John 14:1-14
1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
As you may remember last week I quoted a verse from John’s gospel in response to a prayer request that was lifted up. The request was for guidance and the ability to find a way to deal with some of life’s most vexing problems, a plea for a means of assurance that goodness rather than uncertainty might prevail in that individual’s life. I responded to the request by quoting John’s verse in chapter 14 where Jesus says that ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, and followed up that by sharing that the answer to that which was prayed for indeed could perhaps best be found in coming into a deeper relationship with Jesus and the teachings of his as related to us in the scriptures. In essence I said that the ‘way’ this individual was searching for was in fact the ‘way’ of Jesus.
And so I was greatly surprised when I first looked up the readings for this Sunday and found that in fact it was from the same chapter and verses of John’s gospel. And in looking to find a way to open them up even more fully I remembered that I had read a chapter on this passage a number of years back in Brian McLaren’s book titled, A New Kind of Christianity.
McLaren’s book is a wonderful exploration of what Christianity might one day look like in the post-modern era and in particular the stark differences that would result if in fact the Christian faith could, in his words be set free from the influence of Greco-Roman thought and influence which he contends have caused profound misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the gospel story. McLaren explores this passage from John in a chapter on Pluralism which addresses the question of how different faiths are seeking to deal with their coexistence one with another in current times. It is a question that is in the forefront of much of the strife in the world around us as different faiths seem so often to be pitted against one another in ways that are anything but helpful or enriching.
This chapter of John’s gospel and in particular the verse I partially quoted last week, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me’, is one of those most often quoted by those seeking to establish the primacy of the Christian faith above all others. It has been and still is used as a justification by which many other faith understandings are disparaged or worse persecuted for their different views and faith understandings by often well-meaning Christians.
But in his discussion of this question of pluralism and his refutation of the traditional interpretation and use of this verse as a weapon with which to wage war on other faiths, McLaren presents instead what he feels the text is actually seeking to teach. And it was within that explanation that I found the parallel to what I was trying to share during prayer time last week, as well as perhaps some new insight into the other question we have been looking into of late, starting back in Advent, namely, what is the ongoing vision and mission of our congregation and of God’s work in this place and time? And so it is this understanding from John’s gospel which Brian McLaren brought to light for me which I would like to share with you today.
If then, our passage is not all about setting forth characteristics for modern day Christians to use as a means of self-definition, if John’s words were not intended to help us determine ‘we’ versus ‘them’, then what else might they have meant? What was Jesus actually trying to teach his disciples that night and how might that inform our own search for mission and purpose?
McLaren sets up his argument by reminding us that this passage takes place at the very end of Jesus’ ministry, on the last night of Jesus’ freedom just prior to his betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the closing chapters of John, we see Jesus trying to reinforce all that he has been teaching his disciples over the past three years together, trying to emphasize the most important things he wants them to remember as he senses that his time among them in person is drawing to an end.
As such, it is important to understand the passage within this framework, to keep in mind that the disciples are being told that major changes are coming their way, that the Lord and teacher they have followed faithfully for the past several years is now telling them that he has to ‘go away’ from them. And as disciples, as those who have followed, it is not surprising that they are having a hard time understanding what losing this one they have been following so closely after actually means for them.
And so it is in these final instructions, in all the teachings Jesus gave just prior to descending from Jerusalem City proper down through the Kidron Valley and over to the Mount of Olives, that we find him sharing what seems to be his most passionate and treasured teachings with his loved ones. Remember that the disciples are confused and uneasy, fearful at what Jesus seems to be telling them, but Jesus…is not, rather he is laser-focused on preparing his disciples to succeed him in the work and mission he has started among them, he is passing the torch of ushering in the Kingdom of God to those who have been his closest companions. What was his life’s work and ministry is now becoming their responsibility…following in the footsteps Jesus has already walked is now going to be their sacred call and duty.
To understand this point of view and this interpretation of the passage as McLaren presents it I think it might be helpful to try and re-state our passage in narrative form, expanding as needed for clarity and emphasizing what comes through to me as the underlying message Jesus is seeking to share with his disciples. Here goes…
‘Do not be troubled my loved ones. I know you are fearful as there are signs all around that opposition to me and my ways has been growing rapidly ever since we arrived in Jerusalem. I know you believe in God, you always have…but now I ask you as well to trust in me and to believe in me and in what I am about to tell you. In my ‘Father’s House’ there are many rooms, many ways in which to do the work of the Father. I know you have heard me refer to the Temple in Jerusalem as my ‘Father’s House’, but I have also shared there that if they tear down this Temple I will rebuild it in three days…meaning that I myself now embody the house of God. The Temple in Jerusalem will not remain as the actual house of God, rather I will be the new Temple, it is my body of believers that will now become the new manifestation of God’s work and will on earth.
I have told you all that I must go away. I am doing so in order that a place for you within the Kingdom of God, within the House of God, within this new Temple-of-my-body-lifted-up can be prepared for each of you. And so, I must go…but after I have gone I will come again in the glory of God and receive you unto myself so that where I am, you will be also. I have so carefully taught you so that you all already know the way to the place where I am going.’
But Thomas did not understand what Jesus was referring to, thinking that he meant a physical place somewhere apart from where they were at that moment. So he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, how can we possibly know the way?’
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. None of you here can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also; as a matter of fact, from no on you do know him and you have seen him.’
But Philip, still not understanding what Jesus was trying to tell them said, ‘Jesus, show us the Father, and then we will be satisfied.’ Jesus looked at him and said, ‘Have I been with you all this time Philip and still you do not know who I am? Whoever has truly seen me has already seen 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 rather the Father who dwells within me does his works. I tell you, I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe this, then believe because of the works themselves…believe because of all you have seen and been a part of over these past three years. I tell you the truth, after I come back and take you unto myself, after I am glorified by the Father and return to you in Spirit, then together we shall do even greater things than these. I promise you, I will do for you whatever you ask for in my name in order to reveal the goodness and love of God. Just ask in my name and by my spirit and it shall be done to the glory of God.’
The disciples were afraid of losing Jesus…they were unsure of what the future might look like if Jesus was not the leader they had thought he was. But in these few words Jesus is seeking to assure them that he must go away in order to fulfil the will and purposes of God by which all of humanity, disciples included might find the pathway towards the present kingdom Jesus had promised them.
Jesus knew his time was short, and he knew that only by surrendering to the worst humanity had to offer…only by willingly submitting to the absolute worst humanity had to give in suffering and in death, could the love and glory of God be revealed through his triumph over and defeat of this power of hatred and willful sinfulness. Jesus knew that he was part of something much bigger than the very limited understanding of the future that was held by his disciples. He knew that his part was to go away, to go down into the power and hatred of evil in order to re-emerge victorious as the Spirit of God…a Spirit now given to his followers empowering them to pick up his mantel of righteousness and love. He told them he would return and would at that point enable them to do the same things he had been doing among them over the past three years in ministry. In fact, he told them that by the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit resident within them that they would be part of even greater things.
Jesus was addressing his disciples here at the end of his worldly ministry among them and trying to help them understand that his ‘going away’ was simply the necessary and next step in God’s will and purpose which would thereby allow them to become full partners in the ongoing work of the kingdom.
In so doing he had shared with them the way for them to become the very presence of God in everything they would do going forward…
…in so doing he had shown them truth…as a speaker of righteousness, as a voice for the voiceless and disenfranchised, and as a champion of the downtrodden and less fortunate…
…and in so doing he had given them a life that was more fully alive and more filled with promise than they had ever dreamed possible.
…all they had to do…was to trust in him…to believe that when he told them he had to ‘go away for a time’…that it was for a very particular purpose. To trust that in going away and submitting to the sinful and separated ways of the world, he would then emerge in triumph over it and in so doing would have demonstrated once and for all that the way of love…the way of care and compassion…the way of looking out for one another, for every one another – regardless of anything other than the fact that they too were counted by God as his children…was more powerful than the worst the world would ever have to offer…for it was the way of God…and the ‘way’ which they were now the keepers of.
Our passage today is not and never was intended to be a dividing line by which those who follow Jesus could sort, select, and then remove or exclude others from the fellowship. Rather it was a closing moment’s conversation of greatest import by which Jesus sought to pass on the responsibility of building up the community of the people of God, of bringing in the Kingdom of God on to his disciples. Over the previous three years he had carefully shown them ‘the way and ways of holiness’…all that remained was for him to seal the deal by agreeing to submit to the process by which hatred and sin would forevermore be revealed as powerless in the face of God’s love.
‘Love one another…as I have loved you’ was the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples within this same conversation in the closing chapters of John…and it is the same commandment he now gives to each one of us. The way of Jesus…is embodied in all the ways of Jesus…and it is within this lifestyle of lifting up others, of willingly giving of ourselves, of selfless service in the pursuit of sharing the love of God that we too can begin to fulfill our own calling as children and followers of our Lord Jesus.
Our mission, our purpose here in this fellowship, our vision as those who profess to follow God, Son, and Spirit, is to love just as Jesus taught us to in his words and in all his actions…
…ours it is to speak the truth of that love into power within the community in which we reside and the nation and world in which we live…
…and ours it is to thereby demonstrate that it is this love alone that begets fullness of life…wherever it is found…wherever it is lived out in fullness…and by whatever name it is truthfully shared…
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…let it become your own way, your own truth, and your own life as well…