Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wrestling with the Text - Christ is the ONLY way - John 14:1-14

Here are some thoughts on this weeks lectionary text, John 14:1-14.

There is a train of thought roaming around in the American conscience that there all paths lead to God, or to say it differently, there are many paths that lead to the same God. This idea was thrust into the fore front of my mind as I am preparing to preach on the Gospel text for this week, John 14:1-14. I love this piece of scripture for its many deep and theologically rich parts. I love the images of the house with many rooms, Christ going to prepare us a place and I am the way, and the truth and the life. The part that I firmly believe in but I am struggling to preach is “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I truly cannot stand the fundamental, or better put, judgmental preaching that damns all to hell if they “smoke or chew or hang out with those who do.” Judgment is something we should leave to God. Yet to proclaim this piece of scripture, to preach it from the pulpit this Sunday, does it make me arrogant, politically incorrect and judgmental to all those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is the way? In a relative truth society, how do we deal with this? How do we preach it without sounding like we are casting judgment and damnation?

For a minister I think it is easier to stand firm on the fact that “No one comes to the Father except through [Christ].” I mean if I didn’t believe this I don’t think my congregation would see me as a spiritual leader in the Christian faith. Yet for Joe and Jane Laity, how can I encourage to them to live this out in their daily lives and interact with those of other faiths/religions?

It would be great to know that all paths lead to the same God and that my fellow brothers and sisters of other faiths, such as Islam and Judaism, are all worshiping the same God just differently. It would wonderful if those two faiths, in particular, would be simply different denominations, but there not. They are not because the truth is we don’t worship the same God. My God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is the name of my God. The name of the Islamic God is Allah and for Judaism, Yahweh or Jehovah. These are not the same God as my God because of their view on the person/God known as Jesus Christ. For both of these religions they do not see Christ as 100% human and 100% God. To them he is a good rabbi or a prophet but not God. That takes away the Son part of my God and thus is not my God anymore.

To proclaim that Christ is the way to get to the Father is no being arrogant or damning, it is speaking the Truth but we need to do so in love. To claim that Christ is the only way is being faithful to our own religion and to our God. We don’t have to know how others will get to eternity with God because it is not our job. In Bishop Will Willimon’s Pulpit Resource, Vol. 36, No. 2, p.14, says, “Jesus is not only the way to God, Jesus is God.” To remove Jesus from that place, to deny his divinity or his role in the Trinity, is to remove him for power, which then we end up placing something there in his place.

What strikes me as uncomfortable with this text is the way that it has been handled by other preachers and Christians in the past. They wave this text as a way to put down, belittle, and demean others who do not believe the way they do. Yet if we have to go through Christ to get to the Father, then we have to be willing to go to the cross. We have to be ready to eat with sinners, feed the hungry, and care for the ‘least of these’ around us. We are to demonstrate and live out a suffering and self-sacrificing love that Christ embodied. To do that, and proclaim that this is the way to the Father, is not rude, arrogant, or politically incorrect. It is simply living out the faith of our God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Jonathan Marlowe said...

I like your thoughts here. What I say is this: everyone who is saved is saved by Jesus, but Jesus may save more people than we know about. Wouldn't it be just like Jesus to sneak someone into heaven without getting our approval first? Who knows? Jesus may even save a whole bunch of people we don't know about. I wouldn't put it past him.

Or, as Barth put it, it is not our job to put any limits on the free grace of God.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your thoughts and I love the Barth quote. I think you helped me nail something I was trying to do while writing this. To profess our belief Christ is the only way doesn't give us permission step in front of Christ and do the saving for him. That is Jesus' job, "everyone who is saved is saved by Jesus, but Jesus may save more people than we know about." I like that and I may have to borrow that for Sunday, if you don't mind of course. I'll credit the source.

Jonathan Marlowe said...

borrow away!