Sunday, April 24, 2005

How can we know the way?

Homily for John 14:1-14
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s, Arlington, TX, on 24 April 2005

Perhaps you have also had a similar experience. I was driving home from work a few weeks ago and traffic was backed up because it was just about that time of day. Of course, stop and go traffic can be very tedious and boring. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an old Honda civic, covered in reading material. Especially in these circumstances, it becomes almost a personal quest, an unwritten social contract. I have to read those bumper stickers.

After a few blocks, I had gotten close enough to slip in behind the car. The first of three came into view for a moment. "I’m not as dumb as you look," said the first one. It sped away as I remained motionless in momentary shock. At the stoplight ahead, I got close enough to read the second. This time I was ready for something sarcastic, with a dash of attitude. Squinting slightly I read, "The future is not what it used to be."

By the time I finished that one, the car sped away at a green light. My turn was coming up soon, and I was faced with the fear that I would not be exposed to one more dose of meaningless drivel. Even though I knew it was risky, I hit the gas and eased up into viewing range. Before I had to slow to make my turn off, I caught a glimpse of the last bumper sticker, which stated in bold type, "You have to understand . . . It’s all about me!" I veered away and headed home, annoyed.

Today’s reading from John gospel is an excerpt from Jesus’ lengthy farewell to his disciples in the Upper Room, before he is betrayed and crucified. Although John doesn’t give the Supper narrative familiar to us from the other gospels, John spends over half his gospel on this farewell message. The cold wind of abandonment has just swept over the disciples. For the first time they begin to sense the coming isolation and grief. Jesus says, "I am only with you for a little longer, and where I am going, you cannot follow. But let not your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid. You trusted in God, now trust also in me."

Most people do not want to hear talk of tragedy and conflict, neither did the disciples in the Upper Room, but at the same time Jesus reassures them that these things need to happen--it is a part of the plan. At the Last Supper Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his departure, meaning his tragic death, by telling them that he goes to prepare a place for them and will return to take them there. The "place" Jesus refers to is his Father’s "house." Don’t worry, you already know the way to get there.

Thomas is a bit confused at this point--"If we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?" Jesus gives him a little three point sermon that has been a source of consolation to many during trying and confusing circumstances. Jesus said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." That little message to the troubled in heart touches on all the major themes that we find throughout the Gospel of John. "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but by me."

Part of our hope as Christians lies in the fact that Jesus Christ is utterly unique. It has been said, there are many religions, but there is only one Gospel. There are many teachers, but there is only one Savior. Jesus Christ has no peer. Among religious leaders down through history, we might say that Jesus stands as an Everest, towering above the foothills.
One of the central ways that Jesus is unique is hinted at in today’s gospel. Unlike other religions of the world, Jesus founded the Christian religion not upon his teachings, but upon himself. Christianity is essentially not based upon the sayings or teachings of Jesus, as important as those are.

For example, Leo-Tse, was the founder of the ancient Chinese religion called Taoism (Tao means "the way" or "the right way"). Leo-Tse stressed that the proper way of living was in to live in harmony with nature, and he developed a wisdom tradition that shaped Chinese culture. Leo-Tse taught his disciples, "This is the way, follow in it." Jesus simply said to his disciples, "I am the way." With full awareness and seriousness, Jesus says, "You have to understand . . . It’s all about me."

Christ is unique in the way that he build his whole religion upon himself. Consider for a moment the creeds of the Church. The Apostles’ Creed is a summary of all the essential beliefs of the Christian faith by those offering themselves for baptism. The Nicene Creed is a defense of the core teachings of Christianity, reaffirmed at each Sunday Mass. What do the creeds say about the teachings of Jesus? Absolutely nothing. All the teachings of Christ are passed over in total silence. "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." They pass directly from the day of his birth to the day of his death.

It is Christ’s reminder to us through his Church, I have not come to teach you a way; "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." You can follow the way of Taoism without knowing much about Leo-Tse. However, you cannot be a Christian without knowing about Christ, or perhaps more accurately, knowing Christ himself.

Jesus is the only person that we have record of every being crucified, not because of something that he had done, but rather because of who he was. Before Jesus was crucified, Pilate asked Christ, "What is truth?" Little did he know, there it was--Incarnate Truth standing before him. In the prologue of his gospel, John describes Jesus filled with truth. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).

Truth is perhaps a more rare and precious commodity than gold. We are so often confused and misguided and overcome by deception. But there is one thing in this life that is unmistakable fact: in Jesus, we find the truth about who we are and who God is. In Jesus, we see that God is love, that he first loved us, and that God so loved the world that he gave his Son.

Jesus is the one rock of certainty and security in our uncertain and insecure lives. That certainty becomes clear for the disciples after the resurrection, when we see the truth of Jesus’ words to Martha of Bethany validated: "I am the resurrection and the life." There is no life apart from Jesus, and in Jesus, we find life in all its fullness.

In this Easter season we especially commemorate and celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is now alive--even more alive than you and I. And he is now reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is active interceding for us at this very moment. He stands as our great high priest at the Altar in the sanctuary of heaven, always pleading the sacrifice of his own self on our behalf. The founder of every religion in the world is dead and buried, but only Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Because of that fact, by virtue of being joined to Jesus himself, we have forgiveness of sins and supernatural newness of life.

Jesus followed his little three point sermon with one of his boldest statements, "No one comes to the Father except through me." If anyone else had said it, we would dismiss them as a liar or lunatic. But we find comfort in his words because they are true. The Father is present in Jesus. The one who sees Jesus has seen the Father; the one who hears Jesus has heard the Father’s words; to know Jesus is to know the Father. To abide with Jesus, is to dwell in the Father’s house.

S. Peter says those who believe in him are stones built into a spiritual temple. Christ is the cornerstone, and his temple rests on a sure foundation. But for those who do not believe in him, Jesus is a stumbling stone. Perhaps that is a good thing. Maybe you’ve stumbled over Christ for the first time or in a new way today.

If you feel like you lack assurance and security in your life, you can find it in Jesus himself--the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is your safe hiding place. He is your secure resting place. If you feel lost, turn to Jesus and follow him. He is the Way. If you face uncertainty and fear in your life, look upon Jesus, and see; he is the Truth that God is love and that God loves you. If your life feels lifeless and empty, cling to Jesus, the source of Life in all its fullness.

Let us pray.
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 comment:

dopel said...

I really enjoyed reading this sermon. Wish I had been there to hear it. I almost hear a hint of that Baptist background.