May 18, 2014
Karin Liebster, Pastor for Faith Formation
Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This weekend a new temple has opened its doors north of 610 between Ella Blvd. and North Shepherd Dr., a 24,000-square-foot structure. The International Society of Krishna Consciousness of Houston worked for years to build this temple. Thousands of visitors are expected.
A week ago voting members of Christ the King Church traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for synod assembly. A bible study was given by three Rabbis about the Shema Israel and prayer practices related to it. The next day the entire afternoon was devoted to immersions into culture, history, nature and religion. One group visited a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, a mosque, and experienced a Christian prayer labyrinth. We had a wonderful time. The Buddhist monk was articulate and personable, his chanting gorgeous, and the temple most peaceful. We were quite taken by the experience. In the mosque we were graciously hosted with homemade desserts and a sample of chanted prayer, even if the question and answer part did not go so well.
The American culture is laced with a multi-religious reality of whose extent and impact we may not always be conscious within our own Christian circles.
The gospel reading today with Jesus’ saying “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) used to be understood that salvation comes exclusively through Christ. The verse has been universally heard as a doctrinal statement. No other way, no other truth, no other life than the Christian way, truth and life. Because of this many Christians hate this verse and wish it were not in the Bible. Others use the stated exclusivity as a reason to turn away from Christian faith altogether.
Our systematic and doctrinal theologians have of course for the longest time engaged in dialogue with the religions of the world and reassessed and clarified our understanding of salvation through Jesus Christ. In many of the metropolitan areas in the United States interfaith organizations are a cherished part of the mosaic of charitable institutions carrying the social welfare burden.
But still, when we hear the gospel like today, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” it is not easy to say positively, in a non exclusive way, how to hear, to interpret and believe this Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.
Here in chapter 14 Jesus talks with the disciples in the face of his impending suffering, death and resurrection. The words and conversations are a long farewell but also instruction for life after Easter, the time in which we are right now.
Jesus’ words to the disciples are words of welcome and invitation into the relationship between him and God. They are words for those who seek God through Jesus.
He speaks of his relation to God as that of a Son to the Father. He does not talk generally about God and he makes no doctrinal statement. When we relate to this Father, then it is through this Son whom we know.
First Jesus promises that the relationship between Father and Son is so spacious, wide and welcoming that it has room for all. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (14:2) In my dying and rising I am preparing a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am you may be also. (see 14:3) In the life between Father and Son there is room for all.
Then Jesus talks about knowing the way.
When we hear “way” we think about a way we can find on Google Maps. Point A to point B, so many miles in so much time and more in current traffic conditions, especially on Kirby and the Southwest Freeway. But Jesus speaks about “way” with the ears of Jewish wisdom as the way of life with God, the way which affords unity and union with God. Actually, “way” is a metaphor in many religious traditions for life in relation with the divine; it is not specific to Judaism or Christianity.
Jesus does indeed think that the disciples know the way, for “I, Jesus, am the way, and the truth and the life.” I am with you right here, you know me. If you know me, you know the Father, and you know the way of life in unity and union with God. You, who seek life with God, come through me, the Son, to the Father whom you now also know and have seen. I am the open gate, I am the way. Let us rejoice.
This is the particular Christian understanding of salvation through Jesus Christ in the particular language of John. It is not doctrinal, but deeply incarnational. At Christmastime we speak a lot about incarnation, the Word made flesh. We can relate easily to it with the image of the newborn child. Yet, Jesus the “I am the way, the truth, and the life” is in no way less incarnate than the incarnate Word of God at Christmas!
Consider the other I-am statements of Jesus.
I am the bread of life, the living bread, the light of the world, the gate to the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, the true vine.
Think about how all these reach deeply into our own flesh, our being and living.
The bread we eat, the bread we share, of which there is too little and too much. Think of how you work to help the need. Bread encompasses sustenance and survival, good friends and good family, good government, political structures, care of creation.
The light by which we grow, the flowers bloom and trees give oxygen, light chases winter depression away, it lights our way in the darkness – literally and in life. Light for the rhythm of day and night, the rhythm of work and rest.
The gate which opens and closes, gives access, gives protection, the gates we build and the barriers we break down, gates of power and gates of wisdom, boundaries we overstep and so cause harm, boundaries we respect and so keep relationships healthy.
The shepherd to whom we look for safety, whose guidance we trust, who finds the water, the green grass, and the protection of the sheepfold. The shepherds who betray the trust, sell their sheep, who get scared or look for their own advantage. Shepherds who know how to make wool to clothe the people, who know how to milk the ewe and feed the people, who know how to roast the meat for a feast.
The vine which grows slowly to teach patience and endurance. It gives us fruit to rejoice in harvest time, wine to gladden our heart; it teaches us culture and also danger. The fruit of the vine brings us together around the table and the altar.
I am the bread, the light, the gate, the shepherd, the resurrection, the way, truth and life, and the true vine.
Incarnational faith deeply touches all aspects and areas of life. We who seek God through Jesus become conduits for the life of God, the Father and Son, to touch this world which cries out for God’s incarnation and redemption. We are not called to put ourselves above the multi-religious world but go deeply into it. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. … You do know me and you know the Father also.” Amen.