Sermon: God’s Positioning System (I Am The Way)

Scripture: John 14: 1-7

Date: October 25, 2015

 

Those of you who spend any time on Facebook, and you know who you are, I’m sure have seen these posts that are pictures of some object or place that was well known and used in the past, that is now obsolete, and asks that you “like” it if you know what it is. The subtle implication being that you must be ancient if you ever used a typewriter or a rotary phone or a transistor radio. Well the other day someone posted a picture of something like this (a map) on Facebook, implying that it was obsolete and had been replaced by satellite GPS systems. Now, of course, maps aren’t really obsolete but certainly aren’t used as much anymore but I must confess it made me feel pretty old when I saw it, because I can remember that the first step in planning any trip was to get out a map and plot the best way to go. But now you simply type the address of your destination into your cell phone or GPS system and it will find where you are and in a matter of seconds download directions on how to get to where you’re going. Then, using a pleasant voice, it will walk you step by step through your journey and keep you posted concerning your estimated arrival time. It really is amazing how far we have come in just a few years from maps to GPS. But there are a few drawbacks to these GPS devices. First is that there are some locations that just don’t show up on the GPS. and you get that dreaded message that data is not available in that area. Another problem is that you need an exact address for the GPS to operate effectively. And then then the final problem with the GPS, is that it often gives a choice of multiple ways to reach the same destination. And so I have to choose – do I want the shortest route or the quickest route or the route with the most rest areas along the way. With a printed map you can visualize the best route and you can see all the potential places to stop with one glance, get the big picture, but that’s not the case with GPS. Now here’s the thing – when I am searching for a destination, I don’t like a lot of options. Just give me the best route and I’ll take it.

As I was thinking about all of this I realized that I am really a map kind of person, living in a GPS world. People today don’t like to just focus on just one way. They like a lot of options. And so when those of us with more map like mentalities talk about the best way to go, we are dismissed as being too narrow minded. Intolerant. Not willing to entertain the possibility that there might be other ways to reach the destination. Or that the landscape may have changed since the map was first made and that the best way then may not be the best way now.

And so we come to the fifth of these I am statements. This one, as was the case with I Am the Vine and you are the Branches, is set in the context of the Last Supper, the Passover meal. Jesus is telling the Disciples that He is about to go away from them. It’s not clear how many of them had figured out that He was talking about His death when He said: in a little while you will not see me. But He says to them “you know the way to where I am going.” Well apparently that was news to them, and so Thomas, who was always the skeptic and asked the tough questions said: “Hold on now, I don’t mean to speak for the others, but we don’t know the way.” And so in response to Thomas, Jesus says: I Am the Way. No one comes to God unless he or she comes through me.” Now let’s think about the context of that statement. These Apostles had been raised as Jews and taught that the only way to approach God was through the Temple system, through the priests- sacrificing animals for priestly intercession. This statement by Jesus contradicted all that they had learned and believed about the Way to God. Just as there are many today who believe that it contradicts all that we know about ecumenism and being tolerant of the beliefs of others.

Of all of the I Am statements of Jesus, this was the hardest for the Disciples to understand and for people to embrace in the 21st Century. This statement really ought to be one of the most affirming and assuring statements that Jesus made, but it has always been puzzling to humanity. And why is that? I think once again it comes down to the context in which it was made. Jesus talks about “I Am the way” in a long discourse in which He was talking about His imminent death. And because He had before associated the Cross and sin with His death, it is no wonder that the Disciples were confused. In the Disciples’ minds there was nothing religious or spiritual about the Cross. It was a Roman instrument of torture and punishment. It was the ultimate instrument of humiliation and pain as far as they were concerned. No doubt some of their own friends and acquaintances, especially those who were associated with the revolutionary Zealots, had been put to death on a Roman Cross. There was nothing spiritual about the cross. It was pure evil. Even John the Baptist, who had been put to death because of his religious beliefs, had not been subjected to the Cross. So how could this be the way that Jesus was talking about. And in 21st Century America, which prides itself in it’s tolerant attitudes, many question how the Cross can be the Way to God. It is too rigid. Too judgmental. Many struggle to understand how it can possibly be an instrument of unconditional love James Moore writes this;

Recently I ran across a story that absolutely amazed me… and yet it’s a story that may well represent the “cater-culture-give-‘em-what-they-want world” in which we now live. A church wanted to improve attendance at their major worship services, so they hired a powerful advertising agency to come in, study their situation, and make recommendations.

 

The ad agency did their research… and then suggested to the church that they should get rid of all the crosses in the church… because the crosses might send a negative message to prospective young worshippers!

And then Moore goes on to say:

Now, I’m sure that in its history, that advertising agency has come up with some brilliant ideas… but, in my opinion, that was not one of them! We can’t get rid of the cross! We don’t want to get rid of the cross. The cross is the dramatic symbol of our faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. The cross is the powerful reminder of God’s sacrificial and redemptive love for us. And the cross is the constant signal to us of how God wants us to live and love today… as sacrificial servants. We are not called to be prima donnas… We are called to be servants. We are called to take up the mission of Christ… and to emulate the servant spirit of our Lord.

You see, ironically, it was not until the Jewish Priests went to the Roman governor Pilate, and demanded Jesus crucifixion, that the Cross became a religious, as well as a political instrument. Pilate thought he was crucifying Jesus for political gain, for violating secular law, but the priests were convinced that it was all about God’s law. It was then that the way to Calvary, became the way to Salvation. We said a few weeks ago that these I Am statements are unique to John’s Gospel but I’m not so sure that’s true of this one. I would contend that all three of the other Gospels include a similar statement when Jesus says: If you want to be my disciples, you must take up your Cross and follow me. In other words, the way to discipleship is the way of the cross. And here’s the problem. From the moment that Jesus spoke those words, humanity has tried to make the Way of the Cross an exclusive path. Not open and tolerant of all people and all choices. Certainly not politically correct in today’s way of thinking. Those Disciples whom Jesus spoke those words to soon became known as the People of The Way but in their interpretation initially, the Way was not open to those who continued to be faithful to their Jewish heritage, or the Samaritans, or the Pagans. But as their understanding of what Jesus had done at the hated cross grew, as they came to understand that the Cross in Jesus’ hands was transformed from an instrument of torture and death into an instrument of forgiveness and redemption and love, they began to understand that the Way of the Cross was intended for everyone. Jesus did not come to deny persons access to God. He came to make the Way to God open to everyone. Remember that as He died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple that separated God from humanity was torn in two. So many today understand the cross as raising walls between people but the truth is that Jesus went to the Cross tear down the walls that separated God and humanity. Too often in the church, intentionally or unintentionally, we separate the torn veil from the Way of the Cross. What Christians and non-Christians alike don’t always understand is that Jesus’ love as demonstrated on the Cross was for all people. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, sinner and saint. As He made His way to the Cross, He had all of us in mind. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we’ve done, or what we’re doing, or will do, His love embraced us all from the Cross. I love the way one writer expresses it.

 

When Jesus declared: I am the Way–the Truth–the Life–he was teaching the disciples and us that the ultimate reality of life–in life–about life is found in him. Jesus the man–the message–the Messiah are one. Like a seamless robe they flow together for a single purpose. You cannot separate one claim from the other. Jesus had said a few days before words recorded in the closing portion of the 8th chapter: “You shall know the Truth–and the truth shall set you free.” Real life is not drawn from a ceremony–a

 

ritual–or set of rules–but flows from this personal commitment to God’s purposes revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the road that will lead you home.

I don’t know the greatest point of pain conflict

confusion–trouble in your life today. I only know his way–his truth–his life can help you in some way.

 

The Apostle Paul went from chief persecutor of the People of the Way, to chief proponent because His understanding of the Cross evolved from exclusivity to inclusive of all and later in his ministry he was able to say that there will come a day when “at the name of Jesus, EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue will proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Because His way, the Way of the Cross, is The Way and the Truth and ultimately life – eternal life.

 

So what is the Way that Christ has in mind. To understand that, we need to understand the way that Christ lived His days here on earth. His Way is the Way of the Cross.

So the first thing I would say about The Way of the Cross is that to know the Way, we must first know Jesus.

And not just know who He was, but really know Him as a personal Lord and Savior. Because when we know Him, then the way He would have us live, the choices that He would have us make, become so much clearer.

 

As long as I am in ministry, I will never forget a conversation that I had with a young couple in one of the churches that I served. They were a great young couple. They had two young children. The kind of family that every church is blessed to have as part of the fellowship. But they came to me frustrated because, though they liked my preaching, they couldn’t understand why I didn’t use the pulpit to take a stand on some of the social/political issues of the day, and they named one in particular that they were very passionate about. And we talked a little about the issue and what the stance of the Methodist Church was, but then I said I do not preach on social political issues from the pulpit because I don’t believe that’s what I was called to do. I was called to preach Christ, and to lead persons into a relationship with Christ, so that when we are confronted with issues such as this, we will know what Christ would have us do. I am not interested in people doing what I direct them to do, but believe that if they truly know Christ they will understand the way to live their life. To know the Way of truth and life, we must first know Christ.

 

And then the second thing I would say, is that to go the Way of the Cross, we must live our lives witnessing to the values with which Christ lived His life. Paul says that Disciples must “have the mind of Christ” and that when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior that our minds are renewed by “the mind of Christ.” So what is that mindset. Well, look at the way He lived and interacted with people.

 

There was no one, or group of people that was not important to Jesus. He touched the untouchables. He made clean the unclean. He made the lame to walk. The blind to see. The children to feel important. Women to feel equal. He embraced and forgave sinners and held accountable those who felt they were above sin. He empowered the powerless and humbled the powerful with his own humility. His choices were always sacrificial in nature and He called on us to do the same.

 

I love this true story from the history of the sinking of the Titanic which illustrates the mind of Christ.

A frightened woman found a place in one of the lifeboats which was about to be lowered into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic on that tragic April night of 1912. But the woman suddenly thought of something she needed, so she asked permission to return to her stateroom before they cast off. She was told that she could have only three minutes, otherwise, they would have to leave without her… and she could only bring back one thing.

So the woman ran across the deck which was already slanted at a dangerous angle. Everywhere she looked, she could see things floating in the ankle-deep water. She ignored all of that and rushed on to her room. There she reached for her jewelry box which contained her diamond rings and her expensive bracelets, her necklaces and other priceless jewelry. But then suddenly, her eyes fell on another box – a box which contained a few apples and three small oranges. She knew that she could only take one box back to the lifeboat… and the clock was ticking. Which one should she choose? What would you have done? Which one would you have chosen? The jewels… or the fresh fruit? The crown… or the cross? The priceless gems… or the food to save the lives of others in the lifeboat?

And then she said, remembering Christ, she quickly made her choice. She pushed the jewel box aside, grabbed the box with the apples and oranges… and ran back to the lifeboat and got in. The jewels did not survive, but everyone in the life boat did.

 

The Way of the Cross is the Way that Christ lived His life. I Am the Way is our call to live a Christ like life.

 

And then I would say that the way of the Cross is the Way of Love.

In fact, it was Christ’s unconditional love for all people that took Him to the cross in the first place. The evidence of that love is shown in several ways. First it is love evidenced by forgiveness and grace. In fact, that was the whole purpose for the Cross. To show us forgiveness and grace for the sinful choices that we often make, Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross. What distinguishes Jesus’ way from the way of the Jews, is not in the need for sacrifice to atone for our sin, but in the nature of the sacrifice. The Priests required animals and birds to sacrifice on the altar. That was their way. Jesus became the sacrifice. That was the way of the Cross. The Way of Love is sacrificial in nature. Jesus said: “Greater love has no human being then that they would lay down their life for a fellow human being. ” And though not stated certainly implied is the continuation of the thought, “no matter what they have done or what they have done to you.” The Way of the Cross was the way of Jesus offering forgiveness from the Cross to those who had placed Him there in the first place. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” And the Way of the Cross is Jesus telling the thief that was crucified beside Him, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” And the way of the Cross is Jesus saying to the prostitute brought before Him to be stoned for her adultery, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” And the way of the Cross is Jesus casting the evil out of a man possessed and abandoned by everyone else. And the Way of the Cross is Jesus weeping as He calls Lazarus from the dead. And the way of the Cross is Jesus offering living water to a thirsty samaritan woman.

 

The Way of the Cross is the way of love. Jesus says I am the Way and the truth and the life. And in many places in scripture love and truth are either used interchangeably or they are yoked to one another. They are the same.

 

I recently read the incredible story of a young man by the name Chet Bitterman. He was a bright and dedicated young Christian who studied hard and long to become a Wycliffe Bible linguist. And he went as a missionary to Colombia in the northwestern corner of South America… to help translate the Bible into the native language of that country. But in January of 1981, Chet Bitterman was kidnapped by hostile Colombian rebels. For no reason, they shot him and left his body in a hijacked bus.

 

Imagine how his parents and loved ones and co-workers must have felt at the senseless death of this devoted young Christian man. They had every reason to be bitter and question their faith in a God who would let something like that happen to such a wonderful young man. But instead of reacting with hatred, in April 1982, as a demonstration of Christian love and international good will, the churches and civic groups of Chet Bitterman’s home area, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, gave an ambulance to the State of Meta in Colombia, where Chet had been killed. And Chet Bitterman’s parents traveled to Colombia for the presentation of the ambulance.

 

At the ceremony, his mother said, “We serve the Christ who taught us to love unconditionally… So we come to present this ambulance as a symbol of our Christian love and forgiveness. We are able to do this because God has taken the hatred from our hearts.”

 

I Am the Way of love. The way of the cross is love.

 

And finally I would say that the Way of the Cross requires total commitment.

 

This is where many of us lose our way. It takes commitment to be willing to go to the Cross, not for yourself, but for others. There are a a lot of people in this world who are committed to some cause or another. Sometimes their commitment takes the form of protests on the street. Sometimes it is evidenced by being unwilling to sign marriage licenses. Sometimes it’s evidenced by the ways we serve. But here’s the thing, often times we are committed to something in part for our own gain. What we get out of it. But Jesus had nothing to personally gain from dying on the Cross. Because He was fully committed to us, He was willing to die a horrible death so that we might live – forever. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. The way of the cross is the selfless way. The Way of truth and love leads to forever life. And to the Disciples, on that last night, He was telling them to not let the distractions of this earthly life, the many other “ways” that present themselves, or even their personal failures and sins, get them lost. Don’t fall to the various ways that the world offers. I Am the way.

 

The story is told of the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s as Adolph Hitler came to power. Bonheoffer opposed the hate and philosophy of Nazism, offered in the guise of nationalistic fervor, and under the threat of imprisonment and death was committed to oppose it wherever he found it. And it is said that he ended every service in the same way. He would challenge his congregation with the words: “Who is Jesus Christ for you today?”

And the congregation would respond: He is the Way, The Truth and The Life. And when Bonhoeffer was hung because of his beliefs in April of 1945, He had the Way on his heart and mind. His last words were: “This is the end – but for me the beginning of life.” That’s what Jesus desires for us all.

 

May God grant us the grace and commitment, when the world asks, “Who is Jesus Christ for you today.” No matter who we are or where we’ve been may we have the committed hearts to say “THE WAY–THE TRUTH–THE LIFE”— and even more than that have the courage to live it out. To let the Cross be The Way of our life.

© 2020 St. Luke UMC
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