Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Easter 5 – Year A

John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. [2] 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? [3] 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. [4] And you know the way to the place where I am going.” [5] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
[8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” [9] 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’? [10] 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. [11] 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. [12] 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. [13] I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift thee. Amen.

How do we understand Jesus’ words to his disciples when he tells them,  I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Is that a passage that is essentially inclusive or exclusive? Is it an invitation or a warning? What does it say about and to people of other faiths? How are we to understand who Jesus is as he says these words?

But first, let’ s back up for a moment and look at the beginning of our Gospel. The first part of our reading for this morning is one of those comforting sayings of Jesus –  Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. [2] 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? [3] 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. I love that passage. We have all heard it many times before. It comes from a section in John’ s Gospel called the  farewell discourse. It is the central reading for many funerals and memorial services  we will read it this afternoon at 3:00 for Janie Meredith and I want it read when my time comes. In his farewell discourse, shortly before he is crucified, Jesus tells his disciples that although they will not see him, he will not leave them alone. Rather, like a royal emissary and great explorer all wrapped into one, he is going to the Father to pave the way for them. Literally, he will be making room in the family for them, room in the divine family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He will be making room in the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son for the children of God to dwell – not as slaves but as those who are able to call God,  Abba, Father.

But Thomas doesn’ t get it. Literal minded Thomas, who later will not believe in the resurrection without actually touching the risen Christ, does not understand this  way that Jesus talks about. Perhaps he is thinking that he missed some crucial piece of information he needs to learn in order to enter God’ s Kingdom. Perhaps he is thinking there is a secret recipe to be where Jesus is, a secret ritual or  way. After all, he lived in a society where secret religions were all the rage. But after all the time Jesus had spent with the twelve teaching and guiding them I can only imagine his exasperation having to explain to Thomas what should have been obvious. In essence Jesus says to his disciples – There is no secret, no magical incantation, you are missing the point. Haven’ t you learned by now that I am the way, and the truth and the life. I am the way that you are going to the Father. By the very sacrifice of myself you will be given access to God in a new way. Through my death and resurrection you will be given a new and personal relationship to God. I am the  way.

Here is one of the central moments in John’ s entire Gospel. Here is the moment when Jesus makes it so clear that through him something never before seen in the history of the world is being made available. These words express John’ s unshakable belief that the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, forever altered the relationship between God and humanity. Humanity’ s encounter with Jesus the Son makes possible a new experience of God as the Father, as Abba, as literally Daddy.

These words are such Good News. They are the essence of the great promise of Christianity and at the core of Christian hope. And yet these words have been used so often as a weapon of exclusion rather than as an invitation to a new relationship. These words have become the banner we hold on high to proclaim who is part of the Kingdom and who is excluded.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. These are words that make many of us feel quite self righteous or quite left out. As one Biblical scholar so well said –  The very clarity . . . . of the Fourth Evangelist’ s conviction . . . . have turned these words into a weapon with which to bludgeon one’ s opponents into theological submission. These words are used as a litmus test for Christian faith in . . . . debates within the contemporary church. They are taken by some as the rallying cry of Christian triumphalism, proof positive that Christians have the corner on God and that people of any and all other faiths are condemned. 1

Is this what Jesus meant by these words? Did he intend to say that without belief in him there is only condemnation? I don’ t think so. I pray that this is not so. From a personal point of view, I have a hard time imagining God condemning two-thirds of the world’ s population who are not Christian. So then, what did Jesus intend us to do with these words? Are they an invitation or a pronouncement of exclusion?

If you look carefully at the text, I think John gives us a clue. It is very important to note that John does NOT record Jesus as saying – No one comes to God except through me. Instead he records Jesus saying – No one comes to the Father except through me. And I believe in these two words there is an important distinction. In the writing of this gospel John had never heard of a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim and therefore he was not interested in claiming that Jesus was the only access to God. In fact, as a Jew, he knew that his people had very direct access to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What he did want to proclaim was that in Jesus a new relationship with God was possible. A relationship that was far more personal and intimate. A relationship where we are invited through Christ to know God as Father. Other people in other religions may know God, but it is through Jesus that we are enabled to know God as Father. And here for me is the lynch pin. These words of Jesus’ are not exclusionary but revelatory of what Jesus makes possible for us. They are not words that seek to condemn other religions but words that seek to comfort us by letting us know that through Christ we have a loving relationship with the God who created us – a relationship so loving in fact that God is willing to die for us. They are words that show what distinguishes Christians from people of all other faiths. We have as central to who we are a belief that says – as God’ s Son Jesus makes it possible for all who have faith in him to also become Sons and Daughters of God. Buddha never said this. Moses never said this. Neither did Confucius or Muhammad or Ram Dass. While many roads may lead to  God, only one road leads to God as  Abba. That road – that way, that life, that truth – is Jesus, God incarnate. Nobody else comes close. Amen.

1 The New Interpreter’ s Bible , Gail R. O’ Day, Abingdon Press, Volume IX, page 743.