Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Jesus Way

The Jesus Way
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ps 33.1-5; 1 Pt 2.2-3, 9-10; Jn 14.1-12

Preached May 22, 2011 at Sunshine Cathedral’s 10:30 AM service, the day after “Judgment Day”, so called by evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping. Camping predicted “the Rapture” would occur on May 22; he was apparently mistaken.

Well, I see I’m not the only one who got left behind. I hate to seem selfish, but I have to admit feeling a sense of relief yesterday that the pilot flying our plane wasn’t beamed to Glory in mid-flight. They can tell you about oxygen masks and life jackets, but mostly in the case of a crash, you’re just hosed.

Of course it’s easy to make fun of the doomsday predictions, especially since they are always wrong; but there is also a sadness to them. One wonders what pathology is at work to make people long for an apocalypse, and to have such delusions of grandeur that they think they can both predict and escape it.

I suspect that what gives life to these apocalyptic fantasies is the fear of change. Fear of losing privilege, fear of losing dominance. As gay marriage gains steam, as immigration changes the demographics of our communities, as Islam grows at a faster pace than Christianity, as women now hold high office in church and state, and in a country that has often been torn apart by racism an African American president now sits in the White House. I suspect that for many people they aren’t really hoping for the end of the world, they are just mourning that the world where they felt they were in charge has already ended, and so they want the new world to be punished, and they want to be whisked away to a place where they will once again be part of the ruling class. Rather than embracing change and celebrating progress, they mourn the loss of power and privilege and they dream of magical ways they might be restored to an elite status.

Well, the world has ended many times…the world that was thought to be flat, the world where Christians thought they could hold slaves, the world where flight and organ transplants and space travel were only the wild ideas of the most creative of imaginations…yes, the world has retired and given way to new worlds many times, and will many more times. So, let’s not ever get too upset about the misguided prophets of doom; let’s just do what we can to make our world the best that it can be now and always.

Psalm 33 tells us that Justice and Love are what God is about.

The psalmist also mentions the harp and lyre…stringed instruments that are to be accompanied by shouts of joy.

Working for justice, sharing love, and celebrating our lives with great enthusiasm is the divine way, or path.

The writer of 1 Peter, quoting two verses from Exodus 19, tells us that we have sacred value and enormous potential.

And the gospel shows us the way to acknowledge and embrace our sacred value, to celebrate and share the divine power within us.

In the gospel lesson, the writer imagines Jesus saying, “Where I Am, there YOU MAY BE ALSO!” Thomas needs some kind of GPS system. He says, “How can we know the way?” And Jesus answers, “I AM the way!”

I think what John is having Jesus say to us is: Where I AM in my understanding of God you can be also, and you can have that by following the way I have followed, the way of fearless exploration, trust, hope, and intimacy with the divine.

First of all, remember that Jesus is executed in the year 29; John is being written about the year 96, almost 70 years later. This is being written long after Jesus ever said anything. Also, this passage saying, “I Am the way” only occurs in this late gospel. An isolated verse in a late gospel has been given far too much weight in the way it has been used to exclude and insult people of other faith traditions. God forgive us.

We must remember “the way” doesn’t mean a belief; the way is a path, and a path is traveled on during a journey. The Way isn’t a narrow, myopic, self-serving dogma; the Way is an on-going path of exploration and discovery. It isn’t exclusive, it is infinitely inclusive. And before the words “the Way” are the powerful sacred words, “I AM.”

In Exodus 3.14 the story says that Moses comes to understand God in a new way. Moses’ new discovery is that God is “I AM.” Yahweh is more a verb than a noun, more precisely a “to be” verb.

The divine name means “I Am” or “I Am Who I Will Be” or “I Will Be What I will be” or “ I Am the One that causes things to be”…in any case, God is Pure Being and the source and substance of all being and becoming. “This is what you are to tell the people” (Moses hears), “I AM has sent me to you.”

I AM sends…The Infinite To Be Verb sets in motion Action Verbs…Theologian Paul Tillich called God “the Ground of Being”…This Ground or Substance of All Being calls us To Be our best and sends us out to do our best…I AM calls us to action, to movement, to journeys…the path, the way is one of forward movement, not freezing time nor going back, not even of all pretending to believe the same things, but daring to move forward.

I AM the way…The name of God is a path we follow, a path of exploration and growth and evolution and change. This way is the life-giving truth: the way, the truth and the life.

Notice that there are in John, 7 “I Am” statements attributed to Jesus: I Am Bread of Life (Jn 6), I Am Light (Jn 8 & 9), I Am the Gate (Jn 10), I Am the good shepherd (Jn 10), I Am Resurrection & Life (Jn 11), I Am the Way, Truth, and Life (Jn 14), and I Am the true vine (Jn 15).

I AM is always used in a positive way. To say I Am is to invoke God’s name, and to follow God’s name with something positive is the word of truth, the word of hope, the word of healing, while to follow God’s name with something negative is to take God’s name in vain. John isn’t having Jesus arrogantly sing his own praises; he’s showing that Jesus so related to the God of the universe that he felt at one with God, and he affirmed that unity. And as followers of Jesus, we too are to recognize our unity with the divine and affirm the truth of that unity in our speech, in our prayers, and in our daily living.

Even if we don’t feel that those statements accurately portray what we know of ourselves so far, we can at least trust that those statements are true of God. And so when we say I AM something good, we are affirming the Goodness of God, and as we trust that goodness more and more we will trust our relationship to and with God more and more and those I AM statements will become increasingly accurate portrayals of how we know ourselves to be in this world. John’s Jesus is showing us the power of a positive I AM statement held in mind and repeated with conviction.

I don’t have to fear the future, I don’t have to fear change if I know that I AM something good, something divine, someone of eternal significance. The person who can say, I AM something good can say with complete integrity, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” In God, all is well.

John intended his audience to identify with Jesus. John’s community is meant to do what Jesus does, follow in his footsteps, say what he says, and be in the world what he had been in the world. So, when Jesus says, “I Am”, each member of John’s community was meant to say, “And I Am too.”

That hypothesis is in agreement with what we notice by comparing Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel, “I AM the light of the world” with Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel, saying, “You are the light of the world.” Matthew has Jesus say, “you are.” John has Jesus say, “I am.” They are both saying the same thing. They are saying Jesus is divine light, and so are we.

We see in Jesus a person so filled with the presence and power of God that people felt closer to God because of their encounter with him. But then we remember that God breathed the breath of life into ‘adam, the earth-being; that God has breathed Her spirit into all human-beings. We are all God-filled persons; Jesus isn’t the only one. Jesus is the model, the example reminding us what is most deeply true about each of us, about all people.

So, what is the way of Jesus that is true and life-giving, the path that is the way we can best experience the power and presence of God in our lives? Well, rather than literalizing a statement that is made only in John’s gospel some 67 years after Jesus’ lifetime, let’s look at the way Jesus demonstrated time and again throughout scripture:

We see Jesus engaging with respect the Samaritan Woman at the well…The Way of Equality (Jn 4).

We see Jesus responding kindly when the rebel being crucified with him said, “Remember me”…The Way of Compassion (Lk 23).

We see Jesus telling his followers to get to work, saying the harvest is ready but the workers are too few…The Way of Challenge (Mk 9).

We see Jesus saying that the greatest commandments are simply to love God and love people (Matt 22), in fact, we see him saying that to treat others the way you’d like to be treated is the whole message of scripture (Matt 7)…The Way of Love.

We see Jesus praising the poor widow who gives her best gift. She gives absolutely all she can. Others give more, but this woman gives her all and does so not to get anything in return but simply for the joy of doing all she can…the Widow’s Mite remains the ideal image of faithful stewardship and spiritual commitment…The Way of Generosity (Mk 12).

We see Jesus praying in a very affirmative way at Lazarus’ tomb: Abba I thank you for hearing me, I know that you always hear me!...The Way of Affirmation and Positive Thinking (Jn 11).

The way of Jesus isn’t to make him into an idol, or an afterlife insurance policy, or a bouncer to keep people out whose faith experiences have led them in a variety of directions. After all, in God’s house there are many rooms…we are each bound to find the one that is right for us.

The way of Jesus is the way of living in relationship with God, of trusting God’s presence within us, of sharing hope and goodwill with others, of learning to love more, of forgiving ourselves and others when we have failed to love deeply enough, of allowing ourselves to experience and express more and more light as we grow and learn and move forward on our journeys of faith. This is the way of Jesus, the truth he demonstrated, the life he lived, this is the way that will help us live truly in communion with God. Few of us are there yet, but we can grow toward the goal, empowered by grace every step of the way…the way, the truth and the life of constantly growing and evolving faith. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2011

"The Way is not in the sky; the Way is in the heart.” Buddha

I Am a child of God.
I Am a person of conscience and character.
I Am a person of generosity and goodwill.
I Am a person of peace and purpose.
I Am a miracle worker.
I Am God’s Word made flesh.

No comments: