Easter 5A 2011 – John 14:1-14
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
It Is Our Turn Now!
It was Kurt Vonnegut who once said in a Palm Sunday sermon, "Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time." Much the same could be said about The Bible - it is much easier to look at the wrong end of a passage of scripture than to look at it in its greater context. And no wonder. That requires reading more than one or two lines.
Which always tend to be the lines we underline - which we underline because we like them and they seem to support our own personal view of the world. Barbara Hall, one of my New Testament professors in seminary, charged us at the end of the year to go back and study the parts of the Bible we had NOT underlined - for that would be where God wants to work with us.
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me to explain "I am the way, the truth and the life...." I would now be a millionaire. Particularly the "no one comes to the Father except through me" part. Sounds rather exclusive, does it not? And yet, it would appear to hinge on at least a clear understanding of who "me" is. This is where Christianity gets particularly messy - trying to get a handle on just who the "me" of Jesus is.
Perhaps the simplest answer is the most obvious - obvious if you have any understanding of who the fourth gospel claims Jesus is: the Logos, or the Word of God. And the opening verses of the gospel go even further to tell anyone who is willing to pay attention that the Logos, the Word was, is and ever shall be God. Oh yes, and through this Logos, this Word, all things came to be, and without him nothing was made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5 RSV)
To make sure this is not taken as some sort of mistake or scribal error, plastered all over the fourth gospel is Jesus saying, "I AM...." over and over and over again: I am the bread from heaven, I am the good shepherd, I am the gate, I am the true vine, I am the resurrection, and on and on it goes, including, "I am the way, and the truth and the life."
So we are left with a tautology really. No one gets to me except through me since I AM God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. "I AM," of course, everyone remembers, is God's name. When Moses asks the burning bush for a name the bush replies, "I am who I am....tell them 'I AM' sent you."
Which leads us to the other obvious truth of the matter: Jesus was Jewish, and one has to believe never ever thought that something called "Christianity" would be the result of His time spent with us on Earth blessing and hallowing the Earth and all its inhabitants. And nearly everyone following Him, listening to Him, eating with Him, being healed by Him and so on was also Jewish - that is, in Bible parlance, they were already with "the Father" and in covenant with "the Father" since ... well let's just say for a long, long time. At least as far back as Abraham's covenant arrangement with the Almighty. At least as far back as the covenant at Mount Sinai with Moses and all those wandering Hebrew slaves.
Philip does not quite get this since he did not have our advantage of having a copy of the Gospel of John since it would be at least another 70 or 80 years or so before it was committed to writing. So, if Jesus is not the Father, why is it he makes such a fuss with Philip to point out "I am in the Father and the Father is in me. And if that doesn't work for you look at the works I do. Tell me, who else turns water into wine? Who else welcomes a Samaritan woman in broad daylight and asked her to help me? Who else restores sight to the blind, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, welcomes the stranger, sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes? Who else has washed your feet? Who else raises people like Lazarus from the dead? Who else gives you the commandment to Love God, Love Neighbor, Love one another as I have loved you, and in your spare time love your enemies? I am who I am, Philip. I AM. Can you hear me now?"
Further, a thorough reading of the Fourth Gospel reveals that since Christ, the Word or Logos of God, is already in everyone and everything (John 1: 1-5), even though there are “sheep not of this fold,” Jesus will “bring them … So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”(John 10: 16) That is, Jesus will gather the flock from people of different “ways,” relieving us of that task, freeing us to be about the work he actually calls us to do: “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” (John 14:13)
So Jesus is not setting up some kind of litmus test or making any sorts of claims of exclusivity. Jesus is simply placing himself and those who would dare to call themselves his followers in the context of his understanding of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the Prophets: I AM. Here is what I have done, it is your turn now.
And do not forget that what I said to Nicodemus (John 3) I say to you all, God’s spirit blows where it wills. You know not where it comes from or where it is going. It can be blowing among Gentiles and Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims and Taoists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Mormons, and even Agnostics and Atheists! Be clear that what is at stake is not who is being saved, but what salvation actually is.
Salvation is the breaking-in of the reign of God, God’s kingdom, here and now. And my Father’s kingdom can be recognized by the works themselves. It is time to stop worrying about all the rest and take Responsibility for the works themselves – and to recognize that others may also be doing the things God in Christ calls us to do. For those who take Responsibility will “also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” Greater works than these!
Is it any wonder that we try to make this 14th Chapter about something else, anything else? For isn’t it a whole lot easier to spend our time prattling on and on about who will and who will not be saved than to take responsibility for continuing and completing Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world? Isn’t it a whole lot easier to feel superior to every one else than to get down on our hands and knees and wash their feet? Isn’t it a whole lot easier to sit around and speculate on life after death than it is to bring light and life to a dark, troubled and broken world here and now?
The way, the truth and the life is revealed in all those who participate in the works Jesus does. What this 14th Chapter of John calls us to do is to recognize the way, the truth and the life in all those who participate in the works of Jesus and do greater works than these. It's our turn now!