John 13:31 – 14:14
As we conclude our sermon series on the seven “I am…” statements made by Jesus, today we look at Jesus’ words when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When we look at these words in context, we note that Jesus was providing words of assurance to his disciples, knowing he would soon face the cross, death, and resurrection. Jesus knew his time on earth was limited and he wanted to give comfort to his friends who would most certainly grieve his death, and feel a bit of an ache as he was ascended into heaven.
Uncertainty most often is accompanied by fear. The first time we try something like riding a bike, or climbing a tree, we are usually afraid of falling. As parents at times we see our children as fearless which invokes even more fear in us! I remember the first time my daughter jumped off a diving board. She was two years old and loved the water. She had absolutely no fear of what would happen when she hit the water. Mark was there and Krystal pretty much dared her Dad to catch her!
My oldest son was not so fearless. His big fear was roller coasters. He would be terrified the whole ride, or just flat out refuse to get on. We were at Disney once getting ready to get on a very gentle jungle cruise ride. Nick peppered me with questions, “Is this ride fast? Does it go upside down? Where does it lead?” When we finally got on the ride, the driver was reciting one-liner jokes – one after another. The little boat cruise simply circled the lake, and we had a blast. As soon as Nick got off the ride he wanted to ride again. No fear at all. He had the certainty that everything would be alright.
Jesus, too, was reassuring his disciples that they would be given what they needed to carry on without him. Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them and has already shown them the way to follow. Thomas voices the concerns of all the disciples – “Jesus we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” In the first part of this statement, Jesus tells them plainly, “I am the way.” Jesus was telling his faithful followers not to worry, because Jesus would never abandon them and would sustain them on life’s journey, and at the end, welcome them home. Jesus sends us the same message – ‘don’t worry for I am with you always.’
I want to clarify something here. I do not believe Jesus is condemning those who are not Jesus’ disciples. Many have used these words of Jesus to basically say that unless you accept and follow Jesus, there is no way to God. I wonder. Are there other paths to God? What about those who were servants of God and died before Jesus came to live on earth? What about our friends and neighbors who are struggling with the concept of Jesus as the son of God? What of those who live in regions of the world where 80% of the population is Muslim? Your beliefs may not be based on faith but on geography.
Perhaps we are to recognize that Jesus’ words were not meant to be exclusive but inclusive. I believe Jesus was providing words of comfort to his anxious friends who were struggling with uncertainty. ‘You are my followers. I am the way. Follow me.’ Jesus is giving a message of hope and assurance that all things really do work together for good to them who love God. Perhaps there are other paths to God, yet Jesus notes the way in which the yolk is easy and the burden is light is through him.
The second part of Jesus’ statement is just as profound – “I am the truth.” Jesus does not say, ‘I am one possible truth’ or ‘one truth among many.’ Jesus is the personification of truth. We as humans tend to be a bit skeptical. We often ask the same question Pilate asked Jesus – “What is truth?” Many today will argue that truth is relative yet these same ones claim an absolute truth, ‘you cannot know anything for certain.’ I don’t agree. I think there are things we can know as absolute. 2×2=4. My eyes are brown. For the moment my hair is also brown! I love my children. All of us will die one day – these are certainties. Jesus is stating he is truth – not that he tells the truth or presents the truth but he is in fact truth, and we can trust and believe in him because of this. We can set aside our uncertainties and doubts and feel the comfort Jesus presents to us all.
The third part of Jesus’ statement is also profound – “I am the life.” When Jesus speaks of life it is synonymous with eternal life. Jesus is providing us with a reassurance that even death cannot conquer God’s love for us. There is life beyond the grave because Jesus is life. Every week we recite the Lord’s Prayer which includes the statement, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Jesus promises to transform our lives on this earth, but also give us the comfort and assurance of eternal life – a life even death cannot destroy.
This passage of scripture is often used at funerals. When we come together to remember a loved one who has passed on, we come face-to-face with our own mortality. We cannot ignore the fact that we could be here one day and gone the next. Then we remember Jesus’ words that promise eternal life. We remember that Jesus told us to not let our hearts be troubled. We remember that Jesus said he goes to prepare a place for us so that where he is, we may be also. There is no better message of comfort to offer a grieving family – the peace of God that carries us home.
As we look at this ‘I am…’ statement from Jesus, I do not want to ignore the rest of it – “no one comes to the Father but by me.” What is Jesus telling us here? It goes back to our earlier questions concerning those who are not followers of Jesus. Are they condemned for all eternity? Is there no hope from the God of hope? Again, I believe we need to be careful when reading these words. Jesus, through the use of ‘I am’, was not just aligning himself with God but noting he is God. Jesus is not pointing the way to God as other prophets had done – Jesus was noting he and God are one and the same.
This gets very tricky and difficult for us to grasp. When we add in the third member of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, we get even more confused. Again, I do not believe Jesus was being exclusive but inclusive. Jesus was reassuring his disciples that their access to God was direct – ‘follow me.’ Jesus wants all of us to be disciples – deepening our faith through acts of devotion and worship, and sharing the love of God with others through our acts of justice and mercy. I do not have all the answers concerning those who follow other faiths. My hope is placed in the reconciling nature of almighty God. Jesus provides the inclusive nature of the Christian faith – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Throughout this sermon series we have looked at these seven ‘I am’ statements made by Jesus in order to gain a glimpse of the vastness of God’s love for all of us. Many of us at times feel as if we have no value. Perhaps we are going through a difficulty or a loss and we feel as if everyone has abandoned us. But the speaker of these powerful statements is crazy about each and every one of us. The giver of life is eager to share eternal life with anyone who wishes to receive this powerful gift of hope. We are promised a Good Shepherd who cares for us and walks with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. We have the bread of life which sustains us when times get tough. We have the true vine, the source of all life, as our anchor and compassionate friend.
So what? We are at that point in the sermon – so what? What is the take away here? I hope it is this – how will each of us share God’s incredible gift of love with others this week? Our children are returning to school. Our teachers and councilors are already there. According to the latest statistics Anne Arundel county has record enrollment in the local schools. Can you spare some time to volunteer at your local school? Can you make it a part of your weekly grocery shopping to support the BackPack Buddies program, which we anticipate a higher than normal participation? Can you drop some change in the hands of someone who needs a little help? Can you send a note of encouragement to an AA participant or a shut-in this week? Can you help us present a nice welcome for the nursery school? Can you help us Wednesday with Tim Tanner’s funeral reception? Can you help Brandy get the Sunday School classrooms organized and ready for fall? How do we transform the world? One person at a time, one day at a time, one act of kindness at a time. Amen.