Easter 5—Year A
May 18, 2014
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
A man climbed the mountain and asked the guru: what’s the meaning of life? The guru replied, “Google it.”
Thomas asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replied “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I’ve been in Episcopal Churches where that last sentence that says, “no one comes to the Father except through me”, is omitted.
And we know why: For centuries this sentence has been used to attack other religions.
To paraphrase Richard Rohr they took Jesus, who in his human life, is so consistently inclusive, and then created a religion in his name that was exclusive, and exclusionary. That was never his way.
We’ve seen such Christians on the evening news carrying big signs that say, “One Way” or Jesus is the only Way” while they yell and scream at others.
Christian fundamentalism didn’t begin this way. It began in the early 1900s as an attempt to list the five fundamentals of the Christian Faith so conservative Christians could know the foundation of their faith and thus resist religious and cultural modernism.
In response the modernist churches sometimes went so far in the opposite direction that you can now find mainstream Churches that will tell you that they don’t believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, or the Life but only a way, a truth, a life.
This idea has so permeated our culture that it is accepted in much of mainline Christianity as fundamental that “all roads lead to the top of the same mountain”, or that there is “one river but many wells”, and that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslim, Jews, and Christians all believe pretty much the same thing.
In talking about God no metaphor is perfect, but I want to suggest that these two can be misleading. I say this because in this life we know that all roads do not lead to the same place. One road might lead to the mountain while others lead to the desert.
A river can have many wells but you’d better get your water tested before you drink from it. I say because when we had our well tested before buying our home last year we found it had dangerous levels of arsenic.
More importantly, all the great religions warn against the superficiality of a cafeteria approach in which we take a little of this religion and a little of that religion, because it can never go deep enough to quench our thirst for God.
But cafeteria religion is part of the post-modern zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. It sounds so accepting and tolerant, but in fact it is disrespectful of all the religions to think they are so simplistic and easy all you have to do is take a little of each.
But if all you get is a little of this and a little of that it means you’re left with a lot of ego—which is the one thing we need to be freed from if we are to find peace in this life.
All the major religions teach the total surrender of the self to God.
The Gospel of John, along with the rest of the NT, and those martyrs who refused to burn incense to Caesar because Jesus is the Way…not the way up to a remote God, but the way God comes to us.
For them Jesus is also the Truth: he is the revelation of the nature of the God of Abraham and Sarah, revealing God’s love and mission to save and heal the world.
They believed Jesus is the Life—the one through whom life abundant comes to us, liberating us from the forces that turn us in on ourselves and away from others and away from God.
Colossians says that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” and that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” 1: 15, 19
The ancient church believed in Jesus and gave their lives to Jesus, because Jesus said: “those who save their lives will lose them but those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.”
The Collect for the Day says,
“Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life….”
Our task is not to work hard to be worthy of this but to surrender to Christ and let him lead us into fellowship with our Creator.
Richard Rohr often makes the point that one of the chief things Jesus means when he says he is the way and the truth and the life is that you and I are not the way, the truth, and the life, so we are not in a position to judge other religions.
So if we don’t want to be fundamentalists on the one hand, or cafeteria Christians on the other, what then might be a proper stance toward other faiths?
First and foremost since the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that Jesus has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile everyone we meet is inside the love of God. You and I have never met anyone who isn’t the beloved of God for whom Christ lived, died, and rose again.
Even those who reject stories about Christ as silly fairytales or those who believe their religion gives them the right to kidnap our daughters are loved by God in Christ.
Our faith also teaches that the Holy Spirit uses other religions to proclaim truths we once knew but have since forgotten.
Father John Main, before he was ordained and became a Benedictine monk was in the British Foreign service in Madagascar. He met a Hindu holy man who taught him silent meditation. John Main would go on to create a world-wide renewal of Christian meditation. Contemplative prayer had been in our tradition but the Church had mostly forgotten it the last 500 years.
Surprisingly the Roman Catholic Council known as Vatican Two in 1965 had some remarkable things to say about the major faiths. (See DECLARATION ON THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS (NOSTRA AETATE) It reads in part:
“In Hinduism, men [and women] contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.”
The report says that “…Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men [and women], in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination.”
It says “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men….[who] value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
The document goes on to say that “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.”
Today’s gospel is a call to faith.
Not a pick and choose faith in which we move from one road to another without getting anywhere on any of them, but a faith of whole hearted commitment to the way of Christ through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
This is the heart of our faith to which we are called to give our hearts.
I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way for those baptized into his death and resurrection.