Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2005
The Gospel: John 14:1-14
Sermon: "The Meaning of I am the Way"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "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 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 me 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."
The Meaning of I am the Way
Fifth Sunday of Easter - April 24, 2005
Many people love to read mystery novels. They enjoy trying to unravel the twists and the turns within the plot. They try to figure out who the thief, the murderer, or the bad person is before they get to the end. The end is always that climactic moment of the story when the person who done it is revealed. Everything the author has written leads to that one revealing statement. The person who committed this is "
In a similar manner the Gospels also have that climactic moment. In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the statements all appear around the crucifixion or the resurrection. For example, the climactic statement in Mark is made by the centurion in the fifteenth chapter the 39th verse. Jesus is on the cross. He breathes his last breath and the centurion says, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” The identity of Jesus Christ is revealed and it is by a gentile. What a remarkable occurrence.
While the other Gospels tend to have their climactic statements around the end of Jesus' ministry. John's Gospel is different. The climactic statement in John is in today's reading. We are still a long way from the end of the book. Everything the writer has shared builds to this point for the Christian community. This climactic statement is in the sixth and seventh verses of this fourteenth chapter. In this verse Jesus is talking to his disciples. He is not talking to outsiders. He is talking to the people who have been with him for some time. He says these words: "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 my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." These few sentences are the central statement of the Gospel of John. As the core of this Gospel it is important for us to understand these sentences fully.
To understand the meaning of these sentences it is important to understand what is happening at the time. It is important to remember that this Gospel was not written for the original disciples. This Gospel was written for a group of people following Jesus' teachings. It was written around the year 100. John has written this Gospel to communities of believers who are attempting to understand and be faithful to the story of Christ. What is happening in these communities? What are they like?
Christianity is in its infancy at this time. Judaism is in turmoil. In the year 70, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The Jewish faith has lost its center of its cultic practices. The Sadducees, the priests of the Temple, are no longer in existence. The Pharisees, the few priests remaining and the Jewish Christians are struggling for their identity. The Jewish Christians are being faithful to the stories they have heard and are sharing those stories in the synagogues. Around the year 90, the pharisaic rabbis, the leaders of the synagogue, tell the Jewish Christians they are no longer welcome. In addition, the entire area is under Roman control. The Romans don't believe in the Jewish faith or religion. They have a plethora of Gods. In fact, they had as many as twenty-five.
Now, the Jewish Christians, unable to worship in the synagogues and unable to accept the Rman worship, have to develop their own identity. They have to develop their own style of worship and their own places of worship. They have to begin to establish what they actually believe. They have to center their faith. It is to these communities that John is writing this Gospel.
In this Gospel, John is not attempting to recreate the life of Jesus. He is not interested in a biography. This Gospel is interested in sharing the nature of Jesus. John starts the Gospel, not with a lineage, but with a theological statement of the relationship of God and Jesus. The rest of the Gospel points to that relationship. It is a relationship of perfect love, perfect trust, perfect unity. It is a relationship that began before time. Jesus was present from the beginning of all that is. Jesus was present at the creation. Jesus is God Incarnate, the Son, coming to restore the broken relationship between God the Father and all of creation.
All of the actions of Jesus before this central statement are about the restoration of that relationship. A good example is the woman at the well. She has broken relationships in her community and she feels she has a broken relationship with God as well. Jesus teaches her differently.
All of Jesus' teaching to his disciples is about relationship. Remember the foot washing. Peter refuses to be washed. In order to be a part of the community he has to allow himself to be washed.
So, here we are, still in the Upper Room with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus tells them who He is. There is no doubt. He is the way, the truth and the life. This statement becomes the central belief of a struggling community of people. This statement pulls them together and gives them encouragement and hope. No matter what happens they can stand on this statement of their faith.
Now, here is the rub for us. Over the years, the writings and phrases of the Bible have been constantly interpreted. Some of these interpretations have been thought provoking. Some have been encouraging. By the same token some have been destructive and some have been manipulative. Regrettably, interpretations of these few sentences have been used in both ways. Misinterpretations of this statement have been used to keep people away from the community. Some people have used it to create barriers between the Christians and the rest of the world. The statement became a litmus test for everyone.
Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, other denominations, or just the average person on the street have been judged as unimportant or hell bound because they did not believe this statement. It didn't seem to matter that these people may not even know who Jesus is or what he did. A person either believed this statement or they didn't. There was no in-between. Regrettably, in some circles these actions are still taken.
However, there are other places and other groups of people who have interpreted this statement more along the lines of its history and intention. These sentences are a statement from those who know about Jesus and understand what Jesus did. Oh, they don't understand it fully. They do understand it enough to be comfortable in saying Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. They do understand that Jesus' story is one to share with love and care. They do understand that Jesus came for everyone. In order for Jesus' teaching on love and relationship to be understood by others, they too, as disciples are called to follow his example. They are called to build loving, caring relationships. They are called to be teachers of the love of God the Father, through the Son, Jesus Christ for all people. Yes, we believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, because we understand that God the Father first loved us. So, we have to decide how we will use and understand this statement. Do we use it to bludgeon people and keep them away from the love of God? Or do we use this statement to increase our faith as the loving community of God and go to the world appropriately? Can we love our neighbor? Can we care for them as Jesus cares for us? Will we invite people to come and hear the story of Jesus Christ and learn his way?
Folks, I want us to understand exactly what we are called to do. We are called to be examples of the love of God in Reidsville. We are called to go out into this community and share God's love with those whom we meet. We are called to invite them to join us in this community in worship of God. We are called to be a community of faithful sinners who bring others to worship God with compassion, caring and love. If we are not doing this job then we are being faithless. We are claiming by our inaction that we don't believe Jesus is the way the truth and the life. If we are going out and sharing this story in love then we are being faithful. We are called to share and invite in love. After we have shared with others and invited them, then we let God take care of the rest. Our job is to believe, to share, to care and to love. I pray the love of God as exhibited through the Son, Jesus Christ, will empower us to move into the world with compassion. I pray we are given the ability to share the love of God with all whom we meet. I pray we are encouraged to invite others into the fellowship of love that is the community of Jesus Christ. AMEN