Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Way, the Truth, the Life (Easter 5A: 18 May 2014)

RCL Easter 5A
18 May 2014

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
North Vancouver BC

       During my first congregational assignment I participated in a regular parish educational programme that explored various aspects of the Christian faith.  At one point during the series the  rector asked me to give a short presentation on Origen of Alexandria, an Alexandrian biblical scholar and teacher who lived from 185 to 254.  Looking back from the distance of more than thirty years, I should have declined, but I agreed because I wanted to please the rector whom I had only known for a short while.
       I gave the assembled group a brief overview of Origen's life and teaching, then I invited questions from the participants.  Things were going relatively well, until someone asked me about Origen's passing comment that 'even the devil could be saved'.  I shared what I knew about Origen's understanding of the human will and of the irresistible love of God.  If God's love is irresistible, then logic would dictate that eventually the devil would have to yield to God's love and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

       I thought that this was the end of the matter, but when the Bishop came for his annual visit a week or two later, this question raised its head again.  This time the question was posed as if it were what I had been teaching the parish rather than my clumsy attempt to describe Origen's teaching.  The Bishop chose not to rise to the bait and said, 'What happens to us after death is God's affair.  How we live our lives as followers of Jesus in this life is ours.  This is what concerns me and every lay and ordained leader of the church.'

       In today's reading from the gospel according to John, we hear words that have been the source of endless Christian interpretation and, in some cases, the warrant for Christian persecution of those who do not share our faith:  "Jesus said to [Thomas], 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14.6)  How are we to understand these words, living as we do in a society that is both multi-cultural and multi-faith?  How are we to act when our closest neighbours may be Muslim, as is true across the parking lot from this church, or Sikh and Muslim, as is true in my neighbourhood in Surrey?

       Perhaps the first step is looking back at the context of Jesus' words in the gospel.  Chapter 14 of John's gospel is part of a lengthy teaching session that Jesus has with the disciples following that last supper they were to enjoy before the events of Good Friday.  In these chapters John records his community's understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus in the light of the resurrection.  It is an internal conversation, directed not at those outside the Christian community, but at those who, as John puts it so well, have not seen yet believe.  Thomas' question is not, 'What is the future state of those who do not confess you as Lord?'.  His question is one that every Christian asks every day of her or his life of faith, "Lord, we do know where you are going.  How can we know the way?" (John 14.5)  It is to this question, "How can we know the way?", that Jesus responds with those famous words, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

       Before you or I ask questions about those following other paths, Jesus asks us three questions about our own discipleship:

       1)  Are we following the way of Jesus?
       2)  Are we seeking the truth of Jesus?
       3)  Are we living the life of Jesus?

It is sometimes far more tempting to question the faith of others, to ponder their place in God's plan of salvation, than it is to look closely at how we as members of Christ's body witness to the way, to the truth, to the life we know in Jesus of Nazareth.

       To follow the way of Jesus is to choose compassion rather than indifference, to choose reconciliation rather than vengeance, to choose self-giving rather than self-interest.

       To seek the truth of Jesus is delve into the mystery of why goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness and life is stronger than death (Desmond Tutu).

       To live the life of Jesus is to love the Lord our God with our all heart, with our all soul, with all your mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

       Follow the way of Jesus and others will follow.  Seek the truth of Jesus and others will seek.  Live the life of Jesus and others will live.

       This is the heart of the gospel that John proclaims.  He even goes so far as to write that those who follow this way, seek this truth and live this life will do greater things than their Teacher and Friend.  Through us the way, the truth and the life can become incarnate and the abundant life spoken of by Jesus becomes evident in us and in our communities. 

       Not quite two thousand years ago a Roman citizen living in North Africa wrote to his city magistrates to complain about the Christians living in the city.  He was aware of the official policies that considered Christians to be criminals, but he pointed out that the behaviour of these Christians was hardly criminal:  'They care for the sick, whether they are Christians or not.  They visit the prisoners, whether they are Christians or not.  They tend the needs of the poor, whether they are Christian or not.  Perhaps if our religious officials were to do the same, there would be fewer Christians.'

       Today's gospel seems to me to be an invitation to return to first things and entrust other matters to God.  Let us devote ourselves to following the way Jesus has modelled for us, to seeking the truth that Jesus reveals to us and to living the life that Jesus has shared with us.  Surely it is enough; surely it is what our neighbours need; surely it is what we have been baptized to do.  Amen.

No comments: