Posts Tagged ‘Heaven’

There Is No Ladder 5-14-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:1-14, Jesus says “I am the way.” I explore what he is saying here.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/there-is-no-ladder-5-14-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

If there was one thing that I discovered at a pretty young age while growing up on the farm, its this…farms have ladders everywhere. Everywhere you look is a ladder. Now some of them are actually intended as ladders…there are ladders in barns…there are ladders in corn cribs…there are ladders going up the side of a grain bin or a silo…there are ladders down into well pits.

There are other things that, for a rambunctious kid that likes to climb, will serve as ladders. I climbed the wooded structural braces on the inside of a Morton building. I climbed gates in fences. I climbed fence posts to get on top of buildings…I climbed trees to get on the roof of the house.  I was always ready to climb. And my dad figured this out pretty early on in my memory…probably because I was the youngest and he had witnessed this type of climbing behavior in my brother and sister…but because of this, Dad was always very clear about the things I should not climb…most specifically the tall ladder going up to the top of the bins in the corn crib…bins with no safety rails to prevent a nice 40 foot drop…and then the ladder on the side of the silo, which didn’t even start until 10 feet off the ground…not that I would be prevented…because as soon as Dad’s back was turned…I climbed those ladders just like all the rest of them.

I guess you could say that I just liked getting up high…up to those places where I wasn’t supposed to be…those places where I wasn’t mean to go…but one of those times when Dad had told me to stay off some of those particularly high and, honestly, quite dangerous spots…I remember quite vividly asking myself the question “Well if you’re not supposed to go there…why’d they build a ladder? (Pause) Why’d they make a way in the first place?” (pause)

Now fortunately, even with all of my climbing, I never fell…but I did have a few close calls…times when I missed my footing and slid down a rung or two before catching myself. I’m probably just lucky in that regard, because like most kids do, I never really used those ladders like you’re supposed to.

Ladders, by their very design, are pretty useful when it comes to getting somewhere that’s out of reach. Climb up rung by rung…and you get higher…those out of reach locations start to become more accessible…and vice versa…climb down a rung at a time, or heaven forbid, slip and miss the rungs altogether, and you find yourself back down on the ground where you started in the first place. They are a way to get from here to there…at least when here to there involves a change in elevation. (pause)
Now this idea of a change in elevation brings up an old notion that’s called the 3 tiers of reality.  The earth is here…in the middle…and that’s where we are…now heaven is up above us…we’re not exactly sure where…but its up there somewhere…and hell, well that’s down below…its probably easiest to understand this like a house. We’re on the main floor. Heaven is upstairs, and hell is down in the basement….and this is the way that people thought about things…and in many cases, that people still think about them.

And if we think about the relation of earth and heaven and hell in this way…then the question will eventually come around to how we get from one to another…Sure we probably ignore the idea of heading down into the basement of hell, because none of us really want to go there…but it is pretty common to sit around and wonder just how we manage to get ourselves upstairs into Heaven.

And if my childhood on the farm taught me anything…if you want to go up…you need a ladder…and that right there…this idea that somehow, some way we can manage to climb our way high enough…that we can manage to get ourselves up to heaven where God is…this idea has permeated our society in a lot of ways…I fear, most destructively, with the idea that faith, or religion, or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it gets boiled down into some sort of cosmic ladder.

Ever thought about it that way? I think we probably all have at one point or another…especially when we start talking about the things that are morally right or wrong…and there’s this myth…this idea in the back of our minds that if we do enough right things, we’ll keep climbing up the rungs of that ladder…and as long as we avoid enough bad things in our lives that we won’t slip back down…like life is just a giant game of shoots and ladders…with the final end goal of climbing that cosmic ladder up high enough to get to where God is.

Well let me say this…there is no ladder…that’s not how all this works…and it was never supposed to…and all these rules and regulations and statues or whatever you want to call them…all these ideas of what we should or shouldn’t be doing…while perhaps good for the purpose of life…they don’t get us anywhere on the eternal scale…there is no ladder to climb…and there is no cosmic score board that God looks at to see if our good score is higher than our bad score.  That’s not how this goes. (pause)
Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel?  Why would Jesus be sharing this with his disciples?  It is a bit of a strange situation…actually this passage is found in the Last Supper…Jesus final bit of teaching for his disciples as he’s telling them goodbye…because right after this, he’s betrayed and killed. Just before this, he’s told them about the betrayal…he’s had his encounter with Judas who prompted fled the house…he’s told Peter about the pending denial…and above all he’s told them that he’s about to die. No wonder he starts off today “do not let your hearts be troubled.” I don’t know about you but I’m guessing it was a troubling state to be in.

And not only that, but perhaps for us today, hearing this 5 weeks AFTER Easter, perhaps it’s a little troubling for us as well…Why do we hear this now? Well, if the resurrection has already happened…and we’ll recognize the Ascension of Jesus back into Heaven quite soon…and in our reality today Jesus has already returned to Heaven…maybe as we consider all of that…the Last Supper is a little troubling for us too…because what does it mean to believe in Christ…what does it mean to be a follower of Christ, when the one that we follow has gone to a place where we can’t go?

That’s the question that comes up in the back and forth with the disciples.  Jesus assures them that he has gone to the dwelling place of the Father…what we call Heaven…and he has done so in order to prepare dwelling places for each of us…and here’s the kicker…he says “Where I am going, you know the way.”

And then a hand goes up…Ummm Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?  And Jesus throws it all out there. I Am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me…

Certainly, this is a familiar passage of scripture…one that gets thrown around a lot…and I fear…one that gets used in a way that serves to exclude individuals…and because of this history, this passage is often heard by non-believers as judgmental…exclusive…like a warning that you better believe this or you’re going to hell…and not only that but if you do believe it then you better shape up and start acting like it. (Pause) You better start doing all the right stuff…and land yourself on that mythical magic ladder so you can climb up high enough that God will notice you…and then you can be where he is.

Ever heard that sort of thing before…or felt like that…or wondered if that’s what all this church stuff is really all about. If so, just know this…you aren’t the only one…if Thomas’ question today shows us anything…its that even Jesus’ disciples thought this way…like Jesus was physically going somewhere and if they just look in the right spot they can figure out the way to get there too.

But there is no physical way to get to Heaven…there is no way for us to go there…we can’t get there…we’ve never been able to get there…and God knows it…God has always known it…and God has done something about it…God has come to where we are through Jesus Christ to create a way.

All too often I fear that the world hears Jesus say I am the way…and it sounds like “This is the only way.” And worse yet when someone shares that with them it sounds like “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  But what if what Jesus is really saying is “Now there IS…a way.” (pause)

Growing up on the farm, when Dad would tell me, you aren’t supposed to be up there…I always wondered…if you don’t want me there, why is there a way?   Jesus has gone away…but he has done this so that that now, there is a way for us to be there too. Its not about being good enough, or smart enough…its not about following all the rules and climbing high enough up the ladder…Jesus is telling us…he is showing us that God has already come to us where we are…and because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…now somehow, someway…there IS…a way.  Amen.