Scripture: John 14:1-14
Given on 05/18/2014 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
I wonder what it must have been like to be sitting at table with this person, this special child of God that they have followed for all these three years and hear him begin to give a final lesson in how to be about the work of God once he is gone. I wonder if the reality of being on the precipice of starting something totally new began to hit them as he started talking about how going somewhere else to prepare a place for them, of seeing God in him and him in God, of knowing that the only way to really be with Jesus was to allow him to leave the physical, tangible realm in order to be able to someday come back for them, a trade off between the present security offered them through their connection to Jesus in the physical with a life lived in the spiritual, the eternal. I wonder what it must have been like to her Jesus say that they already knew the way if they would but look inside. I wonder what it was like to hear the voice of the one they had come to call Didymus, “the Twin,” ask the question that was on all of their hearts, “But we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” I wonder if their hearts leaped when Jesus reminded them that he was “The way, the truth, and the life.” I wonder if Jesus had any idea how much a life-giving statement like that would be used to squelch the life out of so many throughout the history of the faith. I wonder if he knew how many would never be able to fully live into their potential because of the way in which his poetic turn of phrase would be used as a dividing line between brothers and sisters throughout the world. I wonder how many of the disciples knew that they were touching forever, touching God, when in the midst of Jesus and how many thought like Phillip, “If you can just show me God one more time, I will believe.” I wonder if Jesus still looked on Phillip with compassion when he said once more, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you don’t know me?” I wonder if as he was walking Phillip through the connection shared between the child and the parent, between himself and God, if the light didn’t also shine on others in the room who had kept their silence. I wonder what it must have been like for all the pieces of the puzzle of following this enigmatic character throughout first century Palestine to begin to slowly fall into place as he spoke of God speaking through him, living in him, acting through him. I wonder if they were scared or excited or some combination of the two when Jesus looked at each of them and said, “the one who has faith in me will do the works I do— and greater works besides.” How could they possibly have imagined doing things greater than the child of God standing in their midst? Did their minds explode with thoughts of the potential good that could be done for so many of their brothers and sisters in need or were they scared to leap out in faith know what happens to far too many people when they do leap out. Were their hopes and fears confirmed at the same time when Jesus said to them, “so that God may be glorified in me. Anything you ask in my name I will do.” I wonder if staring at the one who had ushered in a new way of being in the world was both exhilarating and terrifying all at once as this new order battled with the old order on the battlefield of their minds. I wonder…
The story out of John today comes at the beginning of what is called “The Farewell Discourse” in the book of John. Coming right after Jesus and his disciples have broken bread together one last time and Judas has gone of to set in motion the events that would lead to Jesus’s capture and eventual crucifixion, this is the longest single section of Jesus speaking in all the scriptures. And we are left to wonder how much the disciples knew of the coming events that would soon explode in their lives and the life of the one they had followed for all this time. Could they really know that this would be one of the last lessons that Jesus would impart on them while dwelling with them in the physical, earthly realm. And while it may seem like a strange passage to read in the midst of this Easter season, it is clear that Jesus is preparing his disciples for that which is to come next, for the next chapter in their lives. And so perhaps it is that we who are on the edge of moving out into the world with the disciples to make more disciples out of all the nations should be brought back to this room one final time to hear the words offered up by Jesus as to how the disciples are to be once he is gone. And it is tragic the manner in which the whole of Jesus ministry gets boiled down to a seven word phrase at the beginning of four long chapters from the gospel of John. And while I do not want to challenge the special nature of Jesus as the child of God, or the importance of his life, death, and resurrection in the story of the redemption of the world, I do want to suggest that those who have boiled down all his teachings into a seven word phrase are missing the chance to experience the abundant life that being a follower of Jesus offers all of us in favor of sharp lines of legalism regarding who is saved and who is not. I do not believe that this is what Jesus meant when he gathered with his followers and reassured them that he was, “The way, the truth, and the life” and maybe it is time for us as the faithful followers of Jesus to begin to reclaim that sort of language from those who would use it as a cudgel against those who don’t think as we.
If Jesus is to truly be “the way” for those of us in this room on this morning that this way must go beyond a simple assent to the redemptive acts undertaken by Jesus and it must be more than simply affirmation of the belief that Jesus was resurrected passing from life into life and not just into death if for no other reason than Jesus is still alive when he speaks these words to his disciples and the rest of the passage speaks of them doing powerful things, even more powerful than he, in their living into the way. Above all, this call that those who follow Jesus see him as “the way” demands that we believe in the power of God, of the Holy Spirit to lead all of us who claim the same spiritual lineage as those who sat in that room listening to Jesus to do and be better and to dream dreams, have visions, and work, with God’s help, to make them a reality, “may God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
On the way home from Boston this week, following a week of visiting with Jameson’s team of doctors, we stopped by the coffee roastery of a company called “Dean’s Beans,” to pick up a couple pounds of coffee. Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the ethics of coffee, of seeking to find a way for coffee pickers in some of the poorest regions of the world to garner a living wage for the work they they do both in growing and harvesting the beans before shipping them off to companies that will roast them and sell them. The difference between fair trade and non-fair trade is often the difference between these growers being able to take care of their families and falling further into the cycle of poverty that is the experience in so many of these countries. Over the past few years, Lesley and I have made a commitment to only brew fair trade coffee in our house and so we stopped by this roaster just outside of Boston to purchase some. Dean’s Beans slogan, “A great cup of coffee can make the world a better place,” passed in front of the eyes of my six year old reader and so he asked the sales lady how it could be that making a great cup of coffee could make the world a better place and after he interjected that it made the world a better place because it helped people stay awake, she began to explain the relationships that they had developed with their growers around the world. How Dean, the founder of the company had spent decades traveling around the world to these remote coffee farms and asking what their villages needed to continue to produce amazing coffee. As part of his commitment to them, he would work to make those needs a reality including fresh water well, hospitals, and schools for these villages in developing parts of the world. I have no idea if Dean is a Christian or if what he does is motivated by Christian values but I do know that he surveyed the world before him, saw an area that needed help desperately, and began to act in a manner that did just that. “I am the way,” Jesus said. “The one who believes in me will do acts greater than mine.”
But Jesus also said that he was “the truth.” But how do we not fall into the same trap that Pilate fell into when he retorted to Jesus, “What is truth?” How do we distill the words of Jesus, stretched across the eyes of, at least, four gospel writers, and determine that which is “the truth.” And again, it seems that that which limits the power of God to be God, that which limits the love of God for the world, that which causes us to turn away our brothers and sisters, cannot be the truth. That which causes us to erect walls that classify some people as holy and other as forever tarnished, cannot be the truth of which Jesus speaks. That which brings about wars and atrocities, starvation and disdain for the poor in our midst and throughout the world cannot be “the truth.” And so it is that the truth must be ever expanding, must be concerned with moving people, followers to reach into the darkness and pull people into the light regardless of their station in life or credal commitments. We must find ourselves in the position of Jesus, never turning anyone away and always reaching out to the one in his midst, in our midst, who finds themselves lost and alone and feeling like no one cares. If we know the truth, the truth must set us all free from the shackles that hold us against the old order of the world in which we are forever drawing lines of division until the box of truth contains just you.
Finally, Jesus said that he was “the life” and this should be thrilling to each person in this room. Jesus wants you to live and live a life of abundance, dancing a dance of joy with the Spirit of God each and everyday. This is not to imply that there will not be hardships, Jesus said this statement hours before the machinations that would bring about his death would begin and yet in the face of all that Jesus reminds us that he is the life. And again we are faced with a choice each day. Do we choose the things that ground us to God, that make us alive in the spirit, that give us life and life in abundance or do we choose the things that bring about greater separation from God, from one another. Do we choose the things that are garnered on the backs of the poor and defenseless or do we choose the things that uplift all persons from the muck and the mire and into places of honor at the table of creation in which each person is a valued member of the world with a set of skills and talents never to be replicated again. In choosing life do we choose to live that others might live or do we choose to live in a manner that guarantees that others will die. It is not easy. The old order of the world has become firmly entrenched in every aspect of our collective lives and society. In one form or another most of us amass all that we have on the backs of those who can’t properly feed or take care of their families. We depend on the work of persons around the world who are neither paid nor adequately taken care of nor valued as beloved children of God to produce our clothes and our televisions and our cellphones knowing all along that this is the cost of garnering cheaper goods and services, the economics of the western world colliding with developing nations who are willing to take anything they can to tell their land and their bodies, no matter what the cost. Jesus said that he was “the life” but it has to be a life that benefits all persons, that brings life to all persons, that equally values and loves all persons or it is a path that will surely lead to our own spiritual death and the physical death of countless numbers of God’s children. We are called to lead people to the abundant life.
Jesus gathered with his disciples in a small room and after having broken bread, shared a last supper together, began to offer the final words of his earthly teachings for all those still remaining. And in doing so laid out the pathway to live into each of our own divine natures, to do things far greater than even Jesus did, to found our worlds on the a truth that enlivens all, that is for all, that brings all persons into the ever expanding circle of God’s love, and to experience life and life in abundance and to invite each person that we meet to join us on that journey. May we leave this place reinvigorated to share this way, this truth, this life with all we meet. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, amen.