The Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 20, 2008)
The Way that Is Jesus
Lessons: Acts 7:55-60 Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 1st Peter 2:2-10 St. John 14:1-14
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
14.1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
St. John 14:1-14, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
What is the way of Jesus?
This week's Gospel lesson is a familiar one to preachers and those who frequent funerals. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" The usual application of this text is that there is a heavenly place appointed for the faithful dead. When we've left this life, there is no need to worry about us. Jesus has gone ahead of us to make sure of that. Our bed is made up and there is a light burning in the window.
That is a valid interpretation of this text. I have turned to it many, many times as I‘ve tried to share a word of hope and peace with bereaved loved ones. And I pray that my efforts have not been in vain.
However, today's Gospel lesson is not just about the life to come. Remember that it is set in the context of Maundy Thursday. Jesus gathered his disciples together to eat one last meal with him. He girded himself with a towel, knelt before each of them, and washed their feet. He commanded them to love one another as he loved them. And then he taught them that they would soon be without him, at least in a physical sense. But if they wanted to know truth; if they wanted to know life; they would have to learn what it means that he is the way.
What is the way of Jesus? Or perhaps to be truer to this week's text: "What is the way that is Jesus?" It is an alternative way. It is not the way of the world. It is not the way of fame and fortune and achievement and victory. It is not the way of anger and violence and retribution - the ways that many in this world commend to us. No, it is the way of the cross. It is the way of love. It is the way of sacrifice. It is the way of service.
Saint Stephen is one of the seven men chosen in the sixth chapter of Acts to serve as a caregiver in the early disciple community. He is described as "full of grace and power, [doing] great wonders and signs among the people." (Acts 6:8). He is also one who comes to know very clearly the alternative way that is Jesus. As he goes about his duties, caring for widows and others who are vulnerable, he is bold and articulate about his faith in Jesus; so bold, and so articulate, that the High Priest and other leaders of the church (who do not believe that Jesus is Messiah) become enraged. Blasphemy is the charge, and in their rage (and desire to get "it" right) these noble leaders of the first century church drag him out of the city and stone him.
That day, a group of believers dealt with blasphemy the way it had always been addressed in the church. But while they hurled stones at this first century diaconal minister and disciple of Jesus, he died on his knees with words of forgiveness for them on his lips. Stephen understood the way that is Jesus. Stephen understood the alternate reality that Jesus presents to believers. Stephen understood that it has nothing to do with anger and violence and retribution, but with love and sacrifice and service.
"I am the way," Jesus said. Not the destination. Not the reward. Not the goal. The way. Holy Jesus, help us to see you as the way. And with Stephen, help us to walk the way that is you, no matter what the world around us chooses to do.
David J. Risendal, Pastor (April 15, 2008)
Exploring This Week's Text:
- What does it mean to experience Jesus as the way, the truth and the life?
- How is Saint Stephen's life an example of one who experienced that first-hand?
- How is the way of the world different from the way that is Jesus?
Connecting with This Week's Text:
- What ways of the world does my faith in Jesus call me to renounce?
- How would I describe "the way that is Jesus?" What does it require of me?
- How does the way that is Jesus help us to experience truth and life?