I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life
5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14
By The Rev. Dr. Deonna D. Neal
St John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
10 May 2020
“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The Gospel lesson this morning is one of Jesus’ three farewell discourses in the Gospel of John. The setting of this scene is in the upper room during the last supper. Jesus has already told his disciples that he was going to his death. He had just washed their feet. He had broken bread with them. He had told the disciples that one of them was going to betray them. They saw Judas abruptly leave the room. They heard Jesus foretell Peter’s denial. But after witnessing these events and hearing this awful news, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
But why should their hearts not be troubled? How do they quiet their hearts? How do they quiet their fears? Jesus tells them, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Another way to translate that verse is “You believe in God; believe in me now as well.” And, even another way, “You trust in God, now, trust in me as well.”
Telling his disciples to believe in him, and to trust him, knowing that he is going to his death is a pretty big ask. It makes no sense. How could knowing that Jesus was going to his death, knowing that one person in the room would betray him and that Peter would deny him, not make their hearts troubled? Everything he said to them seemed troubling. None of what Jesus said to them seemed like good news at all. But Jesus doesn’t just walk away and leave it for them to figure it out. Instead, he patiently tries to explain to them what the whole point of his life and ministry has been about up to that point and the goal to which all of it has been oriented.
Jesus tells them that he is going to die so he can go back to God the Father. But why is he going back? And, why now? Jesus tells his followers that he is going back to the Father to prepare a place for them, Jesus’ followers. Just as Jesus is one with his Father, Jesus is going to make it possible for his followers to become one with God the Father as well.
Is that not every human being’s most very basic desire? To know God and to become one with God? Do we not all desire to come face to face with our creator? To be in communication with the one who made us? To know that we are loved and valued by God, not because of what we do or possess or have achieved but because we are just ourselves? Do we not want to meet God, who knows why we are here and our purpose on earth? That is the whole point and goal of Jesus life, to facilitate our reunion with God. To make it possible for us, God’s children, to become one with God, to enjoy eternal communication with him, just as Jesus the Son is and does with God the Father.
But, much to the disciples’ dismay, and to ours, frankly, is that the way this union and communication is achieved, is through Jesus’ death on the cross. Couldn’t there be another way? Why did God choose this way? That is a good question and will always remain a mystery. But that is the way God chose to do it. The way of the cross is the way God could perfectly demonstrate the truth about who God is and what we, his children, mean to him.
What do we learn about God in the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son? That God is not only concerned with justice, i.e. holding us properly accountable for our sins, but God is also a God of mercy. God is merciful in that he does not demand that we die for our sins, which, strict justice would require. But, God, himself, becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, gathers the sins of all of us and the whole world onto himself, and dies for our sins in our place. No other God in the history of world religions that I am aware of has ever done that.
Jesus dying on the cross, an act of supreme mercy and unmerited grace, at the same time also satisfies the demands of justice. God does not substitute justice with mercy. God does not pretend that we are not sinners so we don’t have to be held accountable. God does not psychologize sin, and pretend it is something else, something less bad or less threatening, so that we feel better for ourselves and don’t accuse ourselves of it. No, God calls a spade a spade, a sin a sin, and achieves satisfaction for sin, mercifully, through grace.
What else do we learn about God in the crucifixion and resurrection? In that act of becoming human and dying on the cross, the life of Jesus reveals the truth that God is a God of love and forgiveness. God is a God of patience, God is willing to suffer for our sake, God wants to be with us. God doesn’t give up on us. God is a God of wisdom, a God of tenderness, a God of mercy. God doesn’t abandon us. God wants to be friends with us. God wants us to see the error of our ways so that we will stop hurting him, ourselves, and each other. God wants us to see that sin leads to death, but God’s mercy frees us from its bondage and frees us up to face the future not with fear, but with faith and hope.
In the act of dying on the cross and in his resurrection, Jesus paves the way for us to be united to God. But, on the face of it, this way seems uncertain to the disciples. So, we hear Thomas, cry out in alarm and fear, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And in response Jesus effectively answers, “Actually, you do know the way Thomas. I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
Jesus isn’t the one who simply tells us the way to be united to God, Jesus shows us the way to God by walking with us on our way to God. It’s a journey that we are free to undertake with him. It is also a journey we are free to refuse. Our path to being united with God the Father is not one that we are able to or even permitted to take alone. The only way to God the Father, Jesus tells us, is by knowing Jesus, trusting him, and following him on the path to God the Father. But we have to walk the path that has been laid before us. We aren’t simply transported their automatically or against our will.
I remember getting lost in Lubbock, TX, once, back in the early 90s, before GPS. I-27 was undergoing massive reconstruction and there were multiple detours all over the interstate. I couldn’t find the right exit to State Hwy 84 on my way home to visit my family in Abilene, TX. My road atlas was useless. I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant how to get to the exit for Hwy 84. He didn’t know. However, there was a gentleman within earshot listening to my conversation, and he said that he was going that way, and that if I wanted to follow him he’d get me to the right exit. So, I did. I followed his green Ford pickup truck and I was on my way headed in the right direction. I was grateful for the help.
So, too, with our Christian journey to God. Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do, he shows us what to do, and is our companion on the way. And, while each of us have our own path to walk, not all paths we might chose will lead to God. The path to God requires the same kind of life that Jesus lived. A life concerned with both justice and mercy; a life of tenderness and compassion; a life of love; a life of learning how to forgive; a life of service to God and to others; a life of being truthful and honest. But because we are not like Jesus we are going to stray off the path.
Sometimes we wander a little off the path, and we’re back on it in no time. But sometimes we go way off the path and it takes longer to get back on it and oriented in the right direction again. And, usually the farther we stray, the more painful it is to get back on the right path again. But, with the love and grace of God, God will help us get on the right path. God’s patience with us is infinite. Again, and again, and again, and again. Jesus isn’t there to say, “hey do whatever you want and it’s OK.” No, Jesus says, I am the way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And, that is why he is there day after day, year after year, to pick us up when we fall, dust us off and lead us back in the right direction. But we have to let him do that for us, because left to our own devices we will go the wrong way.
They way of the cross and following in the footsteps of Jesus involves suffering. There are no two ways about that, it is just a sheer fact of the Christian life. Sometimes we will be called to a life of great sacrifice. Some, like Stephen, are called to be martyrs for our faith in huge and dramatic ways. But that is not the vocation for most of us. For most of us, it might be learning to be faithful and to love in a difficult marriage; or to be a parent to child with a drug addiction; or to be a child learning to love a parent who suffers from alcoholism or instigated a divorce; or to suffer injustice at the hands of someone who abuses their power; or to persist in friendship, even when our friends let us down. Seeking justice tempered with mercy; extending grace; offering compassion; praying wisdom; offering forgiveness; bestowing tenderness; exercising perseverance. The list of the ways that we can exercise our faith and seek to live as Christ lives is endless.
I know each and every one of you listening today can probably name more than one area of your life where you called to love someone and doing that is very hard. And, for some of you, that someone who is hard to love right now may be God himself. And sticking with God might feel impossible. But, Jesus is there to help us with that, too. He won’t abandon you, even if you abandon him. He’ll go after you and haul you back on the right path if you are willing to surrender to him.
So, with whatever you are struggling right now, do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and do not be afraid. Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one goes to the Father except through him. But, Jesus did not send us a bunch of directions and leave us to our own devices. He is with us as we follow in his footsteps. He has his arm around us, guiding us in the right direction. The only thing we have to do is to let him lead the way.