Posts Tagged ‘The Way’

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:

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.


Hear It, Believe It 5-18-14

This week’s sermon comes from John 14:1-14. It is an early portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to the disciples and includes the famous phrase “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

You can listen to the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

This weekend, I’ve been finding myself a little nostalgic as the 2014 Luther Seminary graduation ceremony is occurring. I’ve been thinking back to my own graduation a year ago…and also looking back even farther than that…remembering fondly the times I spent at Luther…and the people that I’ve met…fellow students, faculty, and staff that come together to form the Luther community.

Now of course, as I think back, some of the names and faces stand out a little more than others…particularly in terms of the faculty. Some professors shaped me more than others due to the amount of interaction that I had through class work with them…and others stand out in my memory simply for who they are, and the almost tangible presence that they bring to the community…which can be felt when they leave. (pause)

Earlier this week, the official announcement was made that David Lose, one of those professors at who left a solid impact on me, will be leaving to become the new president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, one of the other ELCA seminaries scattered around the US.

I wasn’t completely surprised by this announcement, as an earlier press release a few weeks ago named him as the front runner for the position…but yet when I heard the news, I felt a little odd about it. Sad that he would be leaving Luther…and the tiniest bit upset that, even though I’m no longer a student there, that there will be a David Lose shaped hole in the Luther community…in short…the announcement of his future absence left my heart troubled.

And in pondering on that reality this week, I found something in common with the disciples. Today’s gospel lesson is a small portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to the disciples in John’s gospel. It occurs at the Last Supper and directly precedes Jesus and the disciples heading out to the Garden where he will be arrested. The discourse begins just a few verses before this particular portion…when Jesus announces to them…I am with you only a little while longer. (pause)

I’m guessing that this was one of those moments when you could have heard a pin drop…because Jesus has just dropped a bomb on his closest friends…I know we’ve been together for awhile now…but its coming to a close, because very soon…I’ll be gone…cue the crickets chirping.

I can only imagine what the disciples must have been thinking in their minds and feeling in their hearts at that moment…though it seems that Jesus likely had a pretty good read on the situation…because he opens today’s passage…this particular portion of the farewell discourse with these words…Do not let your hearts be troubled. (pause)

WHAT? How can you say that Jesus? We’ve been following you for three years…and now you’re leaving? Why shouldn’t we be troubled? What are we going to do now? (pause) All valid questions…questions that we would likely share if we found ourselves in their shoes…questions perhaps that we do ask in similar situations…when an important figure in our lives announces their upcoming departure unexpectedly…or in an unexpected death…or the diagnosis of a terminal disease…or any other way that we learn of an important persons permanent absence.

And to top it all off…this is the absence of Jesus Christ that we’re talking about here…and so, when he announces Hey guys I’m taking off…and then follows it up with…but don’t worry about it…don’t let your hearts be troubled…well…understandably, the disciples don’t quite get it.

And that’s nothing new is it? Constantly throughout the gospel accounts we hear the disciples piping up that they just don’t understand what it is that Jesus is trying to tell them…and we see several more instances here. Peter has squawked just before the start of today’s text…good old Thomas the doubter chimes in…and we hear from Phillip…and I image that the rest of the crew were murmuring their concern as well.

But that doesn’t stop Jesus…and he lays some very important things…including…just where it is that he’s off to (pause). In my Father’s house are many dwelling places…If it were not so, would have told you? (pause) Well that’s all well and good Jesus…but why are you telling us? I’m telling you, because I am going to prepare a place for you…You know Dad’s house? It’s a big big house…with lots and lots of rooms…One of them is yours…and I have to leave now…because I have to go and get it ready for you.

Wait a second Jesus…you’re saying that in God’s house, I’ve got a place to stay…there’s a place for me? (pause) You bet there is…but its not ready yet…and unless I take off now…it won’t be…so that’s where I’m going…but rest easy…Yes I’m leaving now…but I’m coming back…and I’m coming back for you…so I that where I am…you’ll be too…so that’s where I’m going. Okay? (pause)

Ummm…okay Lord…but? How do we get there again? We don’t know the way? (pause) Say what you will about Thomas…good old Doubting Thomas…but with this one seemingly foolish question, Thomas cues up Jesus with one of his most famous lines. I am the way…I am the truth…and I am the life. (pause)

Now we hear that line…and we know the history behind it don’t we? We have our own history with it and we bring that prior knowledge to the table…but imagine for a moment that you are hearing this for the first time…and maybe, just maybe for some of you sitting out there today this is the first time you’ve heard it.

I am the way the truth and the life? WHAT? The way to where? That’s what we’re trying to figure out Jesus…and the truth? The truth about what? And what do you mean the life? Aren’t we alive right now? What are you talking about?

All valid questions…questions that seemingly get an answer in Jesus next statement…no one comes to the Father except through me. (pause) And once again…I believe that we hear those words, and the way that we hear them is shaped by our own experience…but imagine that you have no prior experience with these words…or with the teachings of Jesus at all…and you hear that…how does it sound? Joyful? Or maybe judgmental?

In this famous phrase, we find ourselves in the midst of the divisive nature of the Gospel…because for believers…this is full of hope…that through Jesus Christ we see the way to the father…we hear the truth from the father…and we find the life with the father…but for those who have not heard the gospel…they hear exclusion…that there are those who are in and those who are out…and that’s a tough pill to swallow isn’t it?

But it’s the reality in the world today…and whether we realize it or not…even as believers in Christ…we experience doubts…we experience the lack of understanding of just what it is that Jesus is really talking about…just like the disciples express in today’s story…and if anyone should have gotten it, it was these guys…but their example shows us that the human condition leaves us unable to fully grasp the truth of what Jesus proclaims…the truth about the kingdom of heaven…and the truth that through his sacrifice we can be…and in fact are brought back into relationship with the father…we are lost…but through Jesus Christ, God comes to find us where we are.

The disciples may have thought that Jesus was being lost to them…that he was telling them he would be gone forever…but that’s not the case at all. (pause) That reminds me of something that happened a couple years back when we were still living in Minnesota. Emily had taken the kids to the library…but it was not the one we normally went to. As they looked around, Jack got separated…and being in an unfamiliar building…he got a little scared…but fortunately he knew enough to go to the front desk and ask for help.

And so as Emily was in the library…at this point starting to wonder where Jack had gotten off to, she heard an announcement…Would the lost mom come to the front desk…your son is here. (pause) Jack had told the lady behind the desk that “my mom is lost.” I’m guessing that disciples felt the same…Jesus would be lost, but that’s not the case…because Jesus and the Father are coming back…they are coming to where we are…they are not the ones who are lost, but us…and just as Emily was worried about Jack and went to him…God comes to us through Jesus Christ…who brings us to himself so that where he, we may be also.

And the place where he is…is not somewhere specific…it is not a location that we can plug into the gps to find…rather…it is a relationship…a relationship lived with God the Father…life lived with the Father made possible through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son.

This is what Jesus is talking about. I am the life…the life given to you to be in relationship with the father…I am the truth from the father given to you because I am one with the father…and I am the way to come back into relationship with him…and if you’re wondering how that’s possible…how that works…Jesus asks a simple question…Do you know me? Because if you know me…and I say to you that you do know me…then you know my father as well…because we are one.

And now here’s the important thing that might slip under the radar…Jesus tells us to believe it. Quite simply…but he doesn’t just tell us once…he tells us 6 times in this passage to believe it. And when Jesus repeats himself…its intentional…and when he repeats himself this much…you better believe it.

Believe in God…believe in me…Believe that I am in the father and the father is in me…Believe me that I am in the father but if not, believe me because of the works done by the father in me…and when you believe in the works that I have done…then you will do even greater works than these. Believe it.

And that final statement about the works…that’s important too. Jesus isn’t saying Believe that I’m God because I can turn water into wine…or because I heal the sick…rather…the works are the proclamation that through Christ we find the relationship with God.

Christ proclaimed this truth throughout the course of his ministry…but there were limited numbers of people that he could reach…but through the power of the holy spirit…which grants us faith…which gives us the ability to believe that Jesus is God and God is Jesus…we find the ability to proclaim the same gospel to those we encounter…this is the work of the body…this is the work of the church…the work that we share…to proclaim the gospel so that those who have never heard may hear…so that those who do not know, may come to know…so that those who have not seen Jesus may be found by him…and when they are found they too will hear that Jesus has prepared a place in the father’s house for them…because if it were not so…he would not have told you.

Do not let your hearts be troubled…hear it…and believe it. Amen.