Sermon - 5 Easter
In the Name...
One Sunday afternoon, a minister from Philadelphia was on his way to take evening services at a church near Lancaster, but, he got lost and pulled into a gas station. "Can you tell me how to get to Paradise?” he asked. The attendant replied, "If you don't know that there isn't much hope for the rest of us."
In last week's Gospel, Jesus said, "I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved." In this week's he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life".
Now, if there was ever a text to make you feel puffed up about being a Christian, a text to wave in the face of your unbelieving neighbours or members of other religions, this is it. You want to get to heaven? You become a Christian. That's it, that's all.
After all, it doesn't say Jesus is "a" way - it says he is "the" way. The thing is, though, that once people start focusing on that little word, "the", all sorts of strange things, some would even say un-Christian things, begin to happen because this text has been used, not just to challenge non-Christians, but, also to attack other Christians who don't believe in Jesus in a certain way or who don't interpret the Bible in a certain way, or who don't express their faith in a certain way. Too often, "I am the way" has been taken to mean that "I", myself, am the way and it's lucky for Jesus that he backs up my opinions.
There's a bumper sticker you may have seen, "Jesus, save me - from your followers." We smile, but, there's more than a little truth in it. So, how can we say that Jesus is "the" way without sounding arrogant or venomous? How can we affirm that statement in a pluralistic age?
Well, first we need to remember when these words were spoken. It was on Maundy Thursday night at the Last Supper. The mood was sombre. The disciples were nervous, on edge. Something was up and they couldn't quite put their fingers on it. They were worried about the future. And in the midst of this tension, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And why? What reason does he give for this confidence? “You believe in God, believe also in me."
It may sound strange, but, I've been told it's easier for people to trust in God than other people, because God is a spiritual being we can't see. The challenge for the disciples was to believe in someone whom they saw every day. The challenge was to believe in the Incarnation, to believe that the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God was present in what appeared to be an ordinary human being.
And convincing them of this was behind Jesus' words, "I am the way." In other words, if you really want to know about the invisible God, look at me. If you want to know about the fullness of revelation, look at me. If you want to know how to please God, I'm not going to give you a list of rules to follow. I'm going to give you my life, my example, and you're going to have to use that to figure out how God wants you to live.
That was the basic difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. People forget, but, Jesus didn't approve of the sinful ways of tax-collectors, prostitutes, Herodians and such like any more than did the strictest Pharisee. But, he was able to reach out to them in a way that the Pharisees couldn't. All they did was denounce and condemn, but, they never once gave a sinner a good reason to change.
And some Christians act just like the Pharisees - quick to denounce and condemn, but, not so quick to demonstrate that there are better options in life.
Too often mission and evangelism have been cast in aggressive either/or terms. I'm right and you're wrong. Convert or it's hellfire and damnation. That's the Pharisaic approach. Jesus, however, had a different message.
"I'm right", was his starting point. But, then he replaced the "and you're wrong" part with, "and I can prove it." "I'm right, and I can prove it." That's a big difference.
You see, we don't have to apologize to anybody for saying that Jesus is the way, but, it's not enough just to say it and leave it at that. It's not even enough to say it and point to the Bible for proof. Especially, because we live in a society which doesn't really think the Bible is all that special.
The only way we can prove it is the way Jesus did. Through our actions more so than our words. If Jesus had just talked about God's love, but, hadn't shown it - if he'd just talked about God's kingdom without doing the works of the kingdom - nobody would have listened to him. He'd have been dismissed as just another scroll-thumping Pharisee.
If we want people to listen to us we have to show the ways God has worked in our lives, the prayers that have been answered, the lessons that we've learned - even the ones we really didn't want to - the miracles that have brought us peace, and most importantly, how it is that we who are nowhere near perfect, who make lots of mistakes, who commit sins, can be forgiven and made into people of the way.
Jesus said to a bunch of confused disciples, "You believe in God, believe also in me". Can we say that same thing to a confused world? Can we say, "Jesus is the way and I can prove it because he has given direction to my life"? That is real mission and evangelism. That is affirming who we are and what we believe without demeaning others or setting ourselves up as judges of what they believe. That is Christian witness at its most convincing.
That's what our religion is about. Not metaphysical speculation about invisible things, but, believing in the here and now, believing in Christ as revealed in each other. Christ was the Word made Flesh, but, we give flesh to his words.
Let not our hearts be troubled. We believe in God, let us believe in the men and women made in His image. Let us believe in ourselves, as God believes in us, and point the way to Him who is the truth and life of the world.
In the Name...