Saturday, 17 May 2014

The way, the truth, the life

Sermon for Easter 5.

John 14:1-14
Jesus the Way, Truth and the Life.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me....

I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety recently.
A recent radio show said that anxiety in UK adults in on the increase.
Many young people suffer undue anxiety during exams in an increased results - oriented education system; I know of one young boy for whom SATS at age 11 were a trigger for Tourrettes syndrome which then went on to lose him a full years education.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder was featured on a radio show this week; sufferers believe they have some sort of life threatening illness or that it is dangerous to even venture out of the house and this can lead to depression, agoraphobia or even suicide.
So it’s topical that our gospel opens with these words: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me’.
We have to clarify what we mean when we say ‘I believe in God’, because we’ve misunderstood the sense of the word ‘belief’ in the bible.
Belief, faith and trust are the same Greek word.
So when we say in our Creed: ‘We believe’, it’s not believing in a concept.
People will say ‘I believe in God’ as if that is it; but they don’t know what kind of God they believe in; it’s just a vague feeling that he probably exists; but that’s not what Jesus means here.
He’s talking about trust, and trust implies a relationship, and a relationship is just what Jesus is talking about.
Do you have a relationship with God?
Or do you just believe in the concept of God?
As soon as we use the word relationship we’re making it personal. And it is personal.
Poor disciples, we do feel a bit sorry for them: Thomas says ‘Lord, we don’t know where you’re going’; Philip says ‘just show us the Father, and it’s enough for us’.
They’re still at the stage of thinking God’s up there somewhere.
Whereas in fact, He is standing there right in front of them.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
These days it’s perhaps a controversial claim: what about other ways to God?
‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’
How can we say this today with our knowledge of other religions and spiritualities?
NB: he doesn’t say ‘No one comes to God except through me’; but no one comes to the Father except by me...
What we have in this passage is a detailed and full development of the concept of God as Trinity which is unique to Christian faith.
Jesus uses the word Father 13 times in 14 verses.
It can be a problematic image for people these days if Father is a word which conjured up something negative, critical or absent.
We need to reimagine a loving and gentle parent who always seeks our welfare – this is the Father image Jesus gives us. Or the mother image, if that helps...
And of course it’s impossible to have a father without the Son; so it’s logical to say ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’.
(Tom Wright quotation: John for Everyone, pt 2: p. 59-60).
But there’s a catch: if the world do not see us doing the things that Jesus did – sharing the good news, healing the sick, unbinding the oppressed, washing the feet of others, they won’t be able to see Jesus, let alone accept the claim that he is the Way the Truth and the Life.

Let’s look at those statements one at a time:

1   1. He is the Way: ‘hodos’
John’s use of imagery is so rich…Jesus in often depicted as on the way somewhere.
He invites others to join him on the way.
He is on the way to Jerusalem.
This doesn’t just mean he knows the route.
It means he knows what’s going to happen there and why he’s going to go there.
Knowing where you are going in quite important…physically and in purpose
One spring I set out for a day on Fresh Expressions at Osney Mead in Oxford.
This is ahuge warehouse on the edge of an industrial estate, with a large car park that is...... not for delegates
The Diocese, in their wisdom, have created a centre which you are not supposed to reach by car, unless you’re very important – instead, to be green, we are encouraged to park at Hinksey church and walk across the meadow, or take the park and ride.
Two map, three phone calls, and two stops to ask strangers and thirty minutes later I finally arrived, late, on foot...
‘King’s Centre, Osney Meade - much further than you realise...’

So I eventually found the way.
But I also knew why I was going there…part of my vocation to find fresh ways of expressing the Good News.
So it’s important to know where you’re going…literally and figuratively, and Jesus knew.

    2. He is the Truth: ‘alethia’
He spoke the truth but also embodied the truth.
In the Western intellectual world, ‘to know’ something has been reduced to knowing facts.
My children are in the middle of exams…learning facts and remembering them is of first importance.
We have facts pinned up all over the house.
Whenever you look in a mirror, or go to open the fridge, a post it note fact leaps up to assault you:
‘Mutation is spontaneous change in DNA’;
‘The nature of an element is determined by the number of protons’
 ‘Radiation is measured in seiverts’.
Knowing in the world of the bible and Semitic thought is more about embodied knowledge…you know a person…Adam knew Eve (and we’re not talking here about Eve being some casual acquaintance of Adam’s; they knew each other…)
Some languages reflect this: two verbs in French for ‘to know’:
To know Jesus is to know Truth as a person.

3   3. He is the Life: ‘zoe’
This goes back to John 10 where Jesus says he has come that they might have life, and have it in abundance (last week’s talk).
This life is the eternal life, or life of the new age, which springs up in us as we immerse ourselves in Christ; it begins now!
The trouble with funerals is that they give the impression that now we live physically and then we will live spiritually. No; we live by the Spirit now. After death it just carries on; and will involve physical resurrection!
The Greek for ‘real life’  is ‘zoe’, meaning the ever-living life of God; as opposed to ‘bios’, the word for being alive just physically.
Of course it’s possible to be alive physically but not alive spiritually.
We do so much to preserve and make healthy our physical life, without sometimes giving much attention to the other real’ life.

So, he is the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Basically everything you need.
Are you confused about the direction of your life; or need guidance about a decision? 
He is the Way.
Do you struggle to know what is right and good in life; do you need to re-centre your identity, so that negative thoughts and accusations are dismissed and you become the real person God intended you to be? He is the Truth.
Are you living the real life He calls you to? Or just existing?
He is the Life.
Do you think if we found ways to live this truth and be this truth, others wouldn't become extremely interested in Jesus? They would. And they are.
Take a few moments to contemplate these words as we use the image and words to refocus our lives on Jesus this morning.


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