Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Rebirth of my inner preacher

So I signed up to preach at the episcopal seminary's chapel. I wound up getting one of the hardest texts to preach, esp for a universalist/liberal/interfaith person like me. I wrote three wildly different sermons before settling on the one you'll read below. It was really hard to get back into the mode, after a year away from the pulpit. It took a while to find my voice again (had to go reread some old sermons - which is a bit depressing because some are really good & I always wonder if I'll ever hit those heights again).

The first draft was actually a very nice, adequate, liberal, touchy-feely sermon that would have been quite forgettable and would have been very comfortable for me to give. By the final draft, I was writing words that even I wasn't sure I agreed with - but somehow I felt that they were what God wanted to say. I was really nervous about it, but in the end, actually giving it was just kind of a blur because I have a horrible cold and I'm all stuffed up, so I feel like I haven't slept in days and I'm kind of in a fog. I mostly just wanted it to be over so I could sleep. So I hope the spirit did something with it, because this clay jar was pretty broken.

But in the end, J liked it, and he's my toughest critic, so usually I can figure it's not too bad if it gets his seal of approval. Apparently I didn't deliver it with my usual flair, but again, I was barely able to stand up, so I'm giving myself a pass. [it's funny - I remembered that my last sermon before a congregation I was running a temp of 102...what is it with the preaching and the illness?]

Anyway, here it is.

Owning the Way

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”






I am a Christian. A Christ-follower. For me, Jesus must be the way, the truth, and the life. Otherwise, what am I doing here?

And yet. And yet.

My friends are not all Episcopalians. They are not all Christians. They are Muslims and Jews, who respect Jesus but do not worship him. They are Hindus, who may see him as one of many gods. They are Buddhists, who resonate with some of his teachings but do not get the point of a personal god.

How do I share this gospel with them?

And what of us, the Christ-followers? Is Jesus “the” way or merely “a” way? Can we even agree on what the word “Christ” means? Has the name Jesus become an embarrassment?

Can we own these words – this scandalous statement of Christ?

Well. One thing I know is that we always must put scenes like this into their whole context.
So let's back up a little.

Peter has asked Jesus where he is going, and Jesus says Peter can’t follow him now, but he will follow him later. Many believe Jesus means he is going to the cross, where one day Peter too will be martyred. Despite his proud boasts, Peter cannot follow Jesus in this way…yet.

But Jesus has another destination: his Father’s house, where there are many rooms. He goes to prepare a place for his disciples. He tells them that they already know the way to this place.

But how, Thomas asks, can they know the way to the place, when they don’t even know where it is he is going?

Now Jesus has already told them that he’s going to return for them, to personally bring them to himself. So really, it doesn’t matter all that much if they know the way to the place or not. Still, he indulges the question, giving one of those beautiful answers that is extremely pointed and contextual, yet very easy to pull out and place on a bumper sticker.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Who speaks this? It is the Logos. The one who was there, in the beginning, with God. The Word that was spoken to create the universe. The Word that came out of the burning bush. The Word that tickled the prophets’ ears and soothed the fears of boy kings.

This is the Word by which God reaches into the world, how he communicates with us, so it makes perfect sense that, incarnate or otherwise, this Word is the Way back to the Father.

No one comes to the Father except through Jesus because Jesus is, simply, the self-revelation of God. “All truth is God’s truth, as all life is God’s life; but God’s truth and God’s life are incarnate in Jesus.” (FF Bruce)

And what of the destination: the Father’s house? It has many rooms, or “dwelling places.” There are many different places to dwell, to be, and still be in God's house.

But the way to the house is Jesus.

The way isn’t a set of propositions, or a particular denomination, or even a certain religion. The way is a person, who opened the doors to God’s house and stands ready to receive everyone into many rooms.

Should we wish to follow Jesus, we already know the way…it is the way of the cross – with all the love, sacrifice, humility, weakness, and faith that requires.

How do we explain this? How can we make it make sense to others?

1 John 4:6: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us.”

When someone truly knows God, he or she will recognize God in Jesus.

Many people see God shining from the lives of Mohandas Gandhi or Sojourner Truth or Cesar Chavez. If you honestly look at Jesus – at what he said and most importantly, how he acted – you simply know he’s from God.

Our calling is to present Jesus in such a way that he is obviously Godlike. Tell the truth about Jesus, and it will point unequivocally to God – to the God whose way is the way of the cross.

That is not exclusive; it is simply the reality of who Jesus is. And it is not forcing belief in Jesus on others; it is simply revealing the way God reached into the world through the Logos.

My hope for each of us here in this Christian seminary is that we are able to say that, at least for us, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The journey of others to God is their own; but for we who claim the title “Christian,” these challenging words are our statement of faith.

May we, with all grace, own them.


Kirstin said...

You sounded clear and fine. I thought you did really well.

Gail P Smith said...

I thought it was really well done. Very good!