Sunday, October 11, 2015

Way, Truth, Life: The Context

Way, Truth, Life: The Context
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 11, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 13:36 - 14:7

My anthem from today, the song "Home" I wrote during my first summer in seminary

Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way 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, but by me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”[1]

The Gospel of John is a favorite to many people because of the famous lines. It is the most poetic of the gospels. You have some real notable ones, and we have looked at many of them. Lines like, In the beginning there was the word. . . or and the Word became flesh. . . or that people choose to live in darkness rather than light, or You must be born anew to enter the kingdom, they just lend themselves to quoting and sermonizing, and it continues because then  you have all the famous I am statements, like, I am the bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life. . . and probably the most quoted verse in all of scripture: John 3: 16, "For God So loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Or the favorite among Sunday School kids having to memorize, "Jesus Wept." We've talked through many of them as we have made our way through, and one thing that I have tried to do is place them in their context. . . for instance. . . that John 3:16 takes place in the middle of Jesus' strange nighttime conversation with the covert Pharisee, Nicodemus. . . we always remember the quote, but the context is typically foreign to us, and context is truly always important for honest readings within the Bible, and that is why I chose to include the end of chapter 13 with this morning's reading. . . because context is important.
And this morning's reading has some 3 of the most quoted Jesus lines in all of John's Gospel. . . 1. Let not your heart be troubled. . . 2. In my Father's House there are many rooms. . . and perhaps my favorite, since I use it every week in my prayer for illumination. . . 3. I am the way, the truth, and the life. We hear those three all the time, don't we. I can't tell you how many times I've heard In my father's house there are many rooms, usually at funerals, it is such an uplifting message, perfect for those times when we are mourning and grieving and thinking about life, and death, and the next world. . . how wonderful to hear the image of such hospitality and love. . . that there is a space being made especially for each of us. . . . and Let not your heart be troubled. That is just everywhere. . . it has even become part of the secular lexicon. . . I don't know how many times I've heard it in the past 7 years on the radio. . . it's ok, don't let your heart be troubled. It is a main stay. . . and I am the way, the truth, and the life was always very central and special to me as I was studying in seminary.
I wrote the song that I played for the anthem back during my first summer at seminary. . . I was taking summer Hebrew. And I had a great teacher. That class could so easily have been drudgery. . . I know it could have because I took Greek in an intensive minimester type class too, and it was drudgery, so I know Hebrew had the potential to be, but it wasn't, because the teacher really loved teaching. . . he really loved the language, and he really loved teaching it, and we didn't feel like we were learning something to pass some test in the future, or to fulfill some archaic graduation requirement, but because the language was beautiful, the poetry of the Old Testament was crucial for really getting to the heart of it, and he made us feel that. I bring it up because the first of Jesus triad, I am the Way, really stands out in my memory of those first three weeks of seminary. . . "Way" in Hebrew is the word "derek" and this is where Hebrew is great. . . the language doesn't have alot of words for stuff. . . whereas Greek has alot of words for everything, like 5 words for love, Hebrew doesn't, and so has to rely on poetry. . . so the word Derek, means the way. . . but it also means road, path, and a way of living. . . the law in other words. . .follow the way of God. . . so when God talks about Abraham living in the way of the Lord, that is derek, and when God talks about blocking the way back to the tree of life. . .that's derek.. . when we looked in the Deuteronomy passage that Paula read for us this morning, when Moses is giving his warning to the Hebrews before they entered into the promised land, to not forget, the way, the trials they went through in the desert, that is derek, and when he says in order not to forget, they should wal kin in the ways of the Lord, and by fearing him. . . again that is derek. . . when the Psalms refer to paths or roads, or God's way, there it is again, over and over. . . All in all the word is found 706 times in the Old Testament. It's a big deal. . . but my Hebrew professor talked about it with such passion. He would say these were a travelling people, so roads meant something. . . these are people who had found their way through the Red Sea, (also Derek), these are people who had been taught how to live. . . and being lost, being disconnected from God, what you need is a path, God is a path, his ways, living his ways, are like walking a path back to him, back to home. I wrote that song Home, about being lost, about searching for the path, and then saying in the chorus again and again, there is a way, and there is a light. . . when you are lost that is what you need, a way, and a light. So that's what Jesus means when he says I am the way. . . that road that path, that fulfillment, through desert, through Red Sea, through the gate back to the tree of life in the garden, that's Jesus. I am the Way. . .
The Truth is awesome, too. . . I am what is true. . . I define it, I made, I spoke it into existence. What is true comes directly from me. . . . back again in the garden you have problems stemming from a lie. . . that lie being told about God, not telling the truth. . . . Eve, did God tell you not to eat of the fruit. . . God said we should not eat of it, nor touch it lest we surely die. .. You will not surely die. . . my professor taught this passage with a lot of passion too. He wanted to show us something cool about Hebrew. . .they have these negating prefixes. . . where you say a statement, and then you say the same statement with the prefix, and whatever was just said is completely negated. They use the prefix Lo - - -it negates. . . so this is, if we eat it you we shall die. . . Lo if eat it you shall die. . . a direct quote, a direct refutation, a direct accusation. . . God is a liar and you don't have to listen to him, go ahead make your choice. . . interesting claim to make for someone who spoke the entire world into existence. . . see how beautifully rich the poetry of the Hebrew language is. . . these things matter. God says let there be light, if he is a liar, then what is light. . .no here Jesus is saying. I am the Truth. . . I don't just speak the truth, I am it, I embody it, it completely comes from me.. . .
The Way, The Truth. . . now the light. .. no life. . . for ever I was misquoting this after that first year of seminary. . . I liked light better, and it works, too, as I said, when you are lost you need a light, and that is why I put light in the song, but of course it is Life. . . and we talked about life before a couple of weeks ago when Jesus said, I am the Resurrection and the Life. We said then that Life here meant the perfect example of life, a life that sets the tone, is what life is about, that is fruitful and Multiply. . . and that of course could work here too, Jesus is the example of life, the source of life, and the perfection of life. . .all of those things certainly qualify him to be considered as The Life. . . . So again what a beautiful all encompassing description of what Jesus is, who Jesus is, and what that means for the rest of the world, since we all stem from him, and it is also in a set of three, way, truth, and life. . . and in Hebrew this concept of three meant the three plus everything in between, so it is a really powerful statement from Jesus about being just like God, the Father, believe in God, believe also in me. . . not to mention the I am, which so brazenly echoes the name of God, I am that I am. . . Yahweh, Jehovah.
I could talk about The Way, the Truth, and the Life all day, but what really struck me this week, was not the words itself because I had seen them before, but how close all three of these are together. . . like I said you hear Do not let your heart be troubled all the time, and you hear, In my father's house there are many rooms, and you hear I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but how often do you think about all three of them living, and coming from the same chapter in John, not even just the same chapter, but the same paragraph. And how often do you think about the context of them? Like what spurred Jesus on to say these things. . . we know that Jesus said "For God So Loved the Word" stuff to Nicodemus, near where he also said about the whole born again stuff. . .and he said I am the bread of heaven at the feeding of the multitudes, he said I am the Resurrection and the Life to Lazarus' sisters. . . but here he says this in response to telling Peter that he was going to deny Jesus three times.
Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
Straight from that into. . . let not your heart be troubled. . . .in other words,  yeah you are going to deny me, but don't worry about it. . . and don't worry about it, because there are many rooms in my father's house. So Even if you are going to lie to me about being willing to lay down your life for me, don't sweat it, there is still a room for you in my father's house. . . and trust me because I am the way, the truth, and the life. . .I am what matters not what you do or don't do. . . whoa. . .
And I just let it sit there because I had no idea what to write next, where to go, what to say because that is huge, enormous. . . it doesn’t matter. . . wait what? Now a lot of Elder brothers from the old prodigal story start, then what am I doing all this for then? If all this stuff doesn’t matter.  . why carry my cross, why show up to church on Sunday morning, why forgive, and give in, again and again, why put it all on the line when its dangerous out there to be a Christian if that isn’t the way, the path, the Derek to heaven, the ticket for one of those rooms in heaven? If it is not about that what is it all about. . . Answer: it is about Jesus, not heaven. It is his father’s house, no one gets to the father except through him, he is going to prepare a place for us there, then he is going to take us there himself, if you know him, you know the Father also. . . he is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. . . it begins with him, and what he does, not what we do. . . but though Peter denies three times here. . . he does pick up the cross and carry it later.  . .. Jesus is the way, Peter found that, Jesus is the truth, Peter came to believe that, Jesus is the life. . . so Peter could give up his own. . . not here, but once his place was made, the time was right, Jesus took him home.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 13:36). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.