Saturday, March 28, 2015

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

John 14:1-7
March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our scripture reading this morning, for this sixth in our series on the I AM statements of Jesus, comes to us once again from what is known as the “farewell discourse” of Jesus. This conversation between Jesus and his disciples takes place when he is in Jerusalem, after the entry into Jerusalem but before he goes to the cross. It is a crucial moment in Jesus’ relationship with the disciples, in which he once again tries to reassure them and help them truly understand who he is. Once again, however, the disciples misunderstand his message.

Let’s listen for God’s word to us in John 14:1-7.
“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.”

This lovely scripture may be very familiar to you. It is often read at funeral services, as a loving reminder of the life that is to come, the life that awaits us in Jesus Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us. In that context, these words are words of comfort and hope.

For some of us, these words conjure up memories –not of funeral services but of Sunday School and children’s choir. Some of us memorized verses from John 14: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” In that context, these words were directions on how to get to heaven. Or how to get your own mansion, not in this world, but the next.

My sister Lisa and I used to sing a song about it – “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop.”
Apparently Elvis covered this song, but he changed the words of my favorite verse:

Tho' often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone,
And tho' I find here no permanent dwelling,
I know He'll give me a mansion my own.

Parts of this text are also often quoted in religious arguments, usually among Christians who differ on their understanding of scripture. In those cases, the words are not comforting, but confronting: “I am the way, the truth and the life; NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME!” In that context, this text brings more conflict than consolation.

Once again, Jesus’ choice of metaphor is complicated.
Once again, Jesus’ choice of image is bold.
You can see why.

He is with his disciples, near the end. They have shared their last supper together. Judas has left to betray him. Jesus has given them the great commandment to love one another. And he has predicted that Peter would deny him three times. It is almost time for him to be taken away, to go to the cross.

And so he tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.”
He tells them that he is going on ahead of them, to prepare a place for them, where they will be together again. He tells them that they know the way, because they know him. There is nothing to fear.

The way is there, right in front of them.
The truth is there, right in front of them.
The life is there, right in front of them.
And they still can’t see it!

How much harder it is for us to see him, our way, truth and life! So we create other ways, other truths, other lives, apart from him and outside of his great commandment. We draw maps to mansions for ourselves and everyone else. And all too often we imagine that there is only one possible route to God, and that we alone know what it is.

And like the disciples, we lack understanding, so we overlay our own interpretations on what Jesus said. Then, once we’ve pooled our ignorance, we try to fix our interpretations in stone. You may remember that a few years ago, we Presbyterians had yet another of our internal struggles about the Bible. This particular passage was central to that discussion.

The question was, “Is Jesus the only way?”
Is Jesus the only way to God?
Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Is Jesus the only way to truth?
Is Jesus the only way to life?

Although some might tell you otherwise, our answer as a denomination was a resounding YES! The document the church published was called “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” It said, in part:
No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ.
Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of “God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine.[1]

On this day, as we gathered for worship, we recalled that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, that holy city, on the back of a donkey. He rode in to shouts of “Hosanna!” but the shouts would die away, and be replaced with shouts of “Crucify!” His parade, which we like to call the “Triumphal Entry” was hardly a blip on the screen of the rest of the world. But in the days that would come, Jesus would be taken before the authorities, whipped, tormented, and hung on a cross to die.

You know the next chapter, but for now, for Holy Week, we leave that part of the story unspoken. Meanwhile, here is Jesus, right in front of us. Jesus, in whom we have all our hope. He is our rock and redeemer, the bread, the light, the shepherd, the vine. He is way, truth and life. He is the path we follow to reach those mansions.

St. Teresa of Avila imagined those mansions as chambers of our souls, in which we find union with God. The mansions, as she describes them, are stages of prayer, humility, contemplation, and charitable works which we move through as if we were walking through a series of rooms that lead us closer and closer to God until we eventually find full union with God through Jesus Christ.

St. Teresa’s poetic meditations capture the heart of this text. The word for dwelling places, also translated as “mansions” is the noun form of the verb “abide,” from chapter 15. Here, we have that abiding - you remember that old saying, “you abide in your abode?” That’s the mansion. That’s the dwelling place. That’s where we abide.

Last week, when we looked at Jesus’ saying “I am the vine,” we recalled the importance of his words “abide in me, and I will abide in you.” It is a relational statement, a truth that goes beyond belief or propositional statements. To abide in Jesus far surpasses any simplistic avowal that he is the ONLY way. To abide in Jesus, and have Jesus abiding in us, is a way of living, a way of praying, a way of truth that demands everything of us.

It isn’t enough to repeatedly shout John 14:6, as if it were some incantation of salvation.
Belief is not the way; Jesus himself is the way. Our words about God are not the whole truth; Jesus himself is truth. The world to come is not the life; Jesus himself is life.

Today we stand on the side of that dusty road that leads into Jerusalem, as we wave our palms and shout Hosanna! By the end of this week, we will be standing at Golgotha, standing at the foot of the cross, where this Jesus, the I AM, hangs suffering, bleeding, dying.

But do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. He came to us, all of us. He came to be the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, the true vine. He is way, truth and life, and he makes a place for us. He is the house in which we abide, and we are the house in which he abides. May we be open to his way, truth and life, and may this church, and each heart, be an open house.

May God grant that through our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, each wandering pilgrim may find here a way; each hopeful seeker find here a truth, and each weary soul find here a life.


[1] PC(USA) “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,” 2002; p. 11.

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