You Know The Way
Alright, how are we all doing after hearing this morning’s scripture?
If you’re new to the church, I would imagine you’re feeling a wee bit uncomfortable right now. And that’s ok. Actually, that’s more than ok. I believe that’s good and I want you to hold on to that discomfort. Alright?
And if you’ve been around here for awhile then I would imagine you’re feeling a wee bit uncomfortable too, but also made a little curious if not hopeful, because if you’ve been around here for awhile then you know - to quote the great theologian, Inigo Montoya - that those words you just heard… well… I don’t think they mean what you think they mean.
At least, I don’t think they mean what you think they mean if you think what Jesus means is that we all need believe particular things about him if we want to go to heaven when we die and to hell with everyone else.
Is that maybe what is making some of you uncomfortable? Good! Because that makes me uncomfortable too. I mean that doesn’t sound like good news, does it? No. And I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the good news is better than that.
Frankly, I’ll be damned if it isn’t, and I dare say a few of you will be too. (At least we’ll be in good company.) And yet I’m not troubled. I’m not troubled because you see around here we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for the whole world.
We believe that if it isn’t good news for everyone then it’s not the gospel, because if it isn’t good news for everyone than how can it possibly be good news for anyone? The gospel should never leave you feeling like you need to choose between loving God or loving your neighbor. Amen?
And yet for so many Christians, the good news of this passage has been twisted into a declaration of exclusion rather than an affirmation of God’s unconditional love for all.
I think that’s where your discomfort is coming from, and rightly so. That’s not something you ever need to apologize for or even feel weird about because the truth is that there something in you - whether you know your Bible well or not - something in you that already knows the way.
Something in you that knows that if it’s not inclusive of all of God’s children, it’s not the way.
If it’s not full of grace for all of God’s children, it’s not the way.
If it’s not full of love for all of God’s children, then it’s not the way…because what we are talking about today is the way to God, and God is love.
So take a breath. Really. Let the tension go and trust me when I say that you can not only trust both your heart and Jesus, First Churches you can trust Jesus with your big soft heart; your big soft heart that doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. In fact, trust is at the heart of the very first words we heard this morning so are you ready to jump in? Good. Let’s go.
Friends, the first thing I want you to know is that when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me,” that he is not talking about belief here as a form intellectual assent to certain ideas or doctrines about himself or God. The word for “believe” here really means “trust.” Jesus wants his disciples to trust God and trust him, and this makes sense because they are really confused and upset by this point in the story.
You see, these words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples in the midst of the last supper. He has just told them for the umpteenth time that he is on his way to the cross, but there is a new wrinkle. In spite of all they have been through together walking with him all the way to Jerusalem, he’s letting them know that he will be undertaking the very last part of this journey on his own.
“Where I am going, you cannot come,” he says.
To which they respond - and I’m going to paraphrase here, so hang on:
“What are you talking about, Jesus?”
“We’ve come too far to turn back now.”
“Of course we are going with you”
“Lord,” says Peter, “I will lay down my life for you.”
“Yeah, well, here’s the deal: “One of you will betray me,” says Jesus, while passing the bread with some serious side eye to Judas. Peter, even you will deny me, not once, but three times before this night is over. Look, you guys, I am about to suffer and die and there is nothing you can do to stop that. But Peter, James, John, trust God and trust me when I say that even though this body is going to be taken away from you, nothing and no one is ever going to take you away from me.
That’s the core message of this passage. That is what all of these words concerning the Father’s house are really about. I know that we tend to hear these as words about heaven, but here’s the thing: they are and they’re not. There is actually a lot more going on here and in all fairness to you and the disciples, let me just say that this is hard to understand. But see if you can follow me here.
When Jesus talks about his Father’s house, they would not have heard that as a reference to the afterlife. The disciples would not have envisioned a big mansion in the sky where Jesus was going on ahead to custom design a room for each of his followers like some heavenly version of HGTV.
(But you can totally imagine that can’t you. You know, you die. The angels greet you at the pearly gates. They walk you down streets of gold right up to the door of some fabulous house. They tell you to close your eyes and then take you in for the big reveal and when you open them you start to cry because Jesus remembered how much you love unicorns or mid century modern or whatever…. You all with me? You can all imagine that right?… Yeah. that’s great. But that’s not what’s going on here.
I’m not saying that won’t happen. I’m just saying we’ve all seen one too many episodes of Fixer Upper. But I digress. Let me tell you what this scripture is actually referring to.)
When the disciples heard Jesus say, “my Father’s house,” they would not have thought of heaven. They would have thought of the temple in Jerusalem. Because you see in their minds, the temple was the place where heaven met earth. The temple was the Father’s house. It was the place where people went to meet God.
But remember that Jesus has told them that he is the temple now; the temple that will be torn down and raised up in three days time. Jesus is claiming that he is now the place where heaven and earth meet. His body is about to be crushed. But God is going to raise him up on the other side of that, and when God does, the disciples will be with God because they will still be with Jesus because Jesus is not going to let them go.
They will always have a place in his heart, and nothing - not their sin or his death, not Peter’s denial or even Judas’ betrayal, is going to change that.
Jesus is letting them know that nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in him because he and the Father are one. So do not kept your hearts be troubled, he tells them, because I will never leave you or forsake you. Do not let your hearts be troubled because I will come back for you and I will find you and I will bring you home, so that where I am you will be also.
Friends, Jesus is the Father’s house, and he’s saying that in spite of all that is about to take place, “there is and will always be room in me - room in my heart - for you.”
Thomas, always the literal one, wants to know how to get to this place, this house where heaven and earth meet, and Jesus says, Thomas “you know the way” because you know me. You’ve learned the way to the Father’s house through me, through my example.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Serve one another as I have served you.
Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.
Just keep doing what we’ve been doing together these last three years and not only will you find your way to the place where heaven meets earth, Thomas, you’ll become the place.
That’s what Jesus means when he says, “You’ll do even greater things than me.”
Because as you see, as Jesus’ disciples embody his teachings, as we become his hands and feet in this world, as we spread the good news and live the kingdom into being through acts of love, service, and forgiveness, there won’t just be one Jesus walking around down here, but thousands upon thousands of people living in the way of Jesus, the way that brings heaven to earth, the way that makes God’s love and justice real.
Thousands upon thousands of people living in a way that is good for all.
Friends, there is no exclusion in these words, only an open invitation to love, serve, and forgive. There is no pronouncement being made about the fate of unbelievers or people of other religions. This is simply a beautiful word of assurance to the those of us who follow in the way of the one who loves us too much to ever let us go.
If Jesus didn’t give up on them - on Peter or even Judas - he’s not about to give up on us….on any of us. And if we would follow in his way, then we won’t give up on each other, not our friends or our enemies, not people of our own faith or any other.
Years ago, I read this book called “The Shack.” Do any of you remember that book?
It’s a story about a guy named Mack who has the opportunity to spend a weekend in conversation with the Holy Trinity and work through his deep grief at having lost his daughter. I didn’t love the book, but there was this one conversation in the book between Mack and Jesus that rang perfectly true for me and it seems a fitting way to sum up what I’ve been trying to say to you this morning.
Mack and Jesus are in the midst of a discussion and Mack is expressing his frustration with religion and religious people. Although Jesus has just admitted that he has little love for religion as an institution, he tells Mack to relax and just try to love people whether they are religious or not. “Remember,” says Jesus, “the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without an agenda.”
“Is that what it means to be a Christian” asks Mack?
“Who said anything about being Christian?” said Jesus. “I’m not a Christian.”
The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn’t keep himself from grinning. “No, I suppose you aren’t.”
“Those who love me come from every system that exists,” said Jesus. “They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self righteous. Some are bankers and bookies. Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my (Father), into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“Does that mean,” asked Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?”
“Not at all,” smiled Jesus … “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it means is that I will travel down any road to find you.”
Friends, that is the way of Jesus, the way of a God who loves us too much to ever let us go. That is a way that is good news not just for some but for all. And something in you knew that, knew that before I even started preaching today. You know the way. So stay on it. Keep trusting your hearts and keep trusting God, that we might stay on this way together as we walk one another all the way home. Amen.
 P181, 182, “The Shack” by William P. Young