Monday, May 19, 2014
On third Sundays we offer a more contemplative service. Instead of a sermon, there is a briefer reflection on one of of the lections and silence. We usually conclude with options of several prayer stations that allow us to engage in active prayers. What follows is an excerpt from our contemplative service with my reflection on the Gospel reading included.
Texts: I Peter 2: 2-5, 10; Acts 2: 55-60; John 14:4-11
*GOSPEL READING John 14:4-11
Jesus said, “4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”
REFLECTION “My Way or the High Way?”
“It’s my way or the highway,” said Jesus never. But many readers of John’s Gospel hear something very like that in one of the Bible’s most divisive verses: “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And usually people emphasize the article “the” in quoting it. The community who composed the Gospel of John seventy years after Jesus was crucified wanted to convey something vitally important about the one they still devotedly followed. They were valuing and sharing his living-giving way and truth. But were they intending to say that followers of all other spiritual paths were damned?
Many Biblical scholars insist, with a range of arguments, this verse was not intended to signal that only those who believe in Jesus will know God. Marcus Borg passes along a story about a Hindu professor in a Christian seminary who insisted on the rightness of John 14: 6 with this explanation: “’This verse is absolutely true—Jesus is the only way.’ Then he continued, ‘And that way—of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being—is known in all the religions of the world.’ The ‘way’ of Jesus is a universal way, known even to millions who have never heard of Jesus.”
Look back at the context for this verse that many use to prove they’ve cornered the market on God. Jesus had been lecturing about his impending death. And then he opened for Q and A. Hoping the disciples were tracking his spiritualized language, John’s Jesus asserts: “And you know the way to the place where I am going, right?” “Uh no,” Thomas admitted. “I mean, how can we know the way if we don’t know the place where you are going?” Which was a logical question if John’s Gospel is referring to a literal destination for Jesus. If the point of Jesus’s lecture had been to direct them to a particular literal place, then, yes, the disciples would need to enter that address in their 1st century GPS to know the way. But the book of John is high flying, spiritualized poetry. John seems interested in a spiritual journey, not a literal destination. Jesus says the destination isn’t the point. The point is the way. Follow my way, he says. And Jesus’s way is the way of death. Or actually it’s the way of death that leads to new life. Jesus is teaching this lesson as he anticipates his own death.
The saving work of Jesus’s life and death, according to John’s Gospel, is not about believing certain factoids about Jesus. Jesus offers a saving way of living—which is to be on this path or way to God, a way of hard truth, a way of abundant life—after a death of the old life. It’s the way of loving one another as Jesus loved us, even to the point of death.
No sooner had Jesus corrected Thomas’s literalism than another disciple, Phillip, demanded to see “the Father.” Jesus said Phillip was also literalizing the spiritual lesson. “It’s like this, Phillip: If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. This is as close as we’re going to get to seeing ‘God.’ Because the divine is in me and in you—when we love. Being on this path of self-giving, loving relationships in a sense makes God visible.”
Thomas wants to make discipleship into a place.
Phillip wants to make salvation into a person.
Jesus—whom John sees as the embodiment of God–makes the life of faith all about the journey, the way. A way of truth. A way of Life, a life that defies death.
Look back at George Herbert’s lyric we sang earlier: “Come, My Way.” This poem, based on John 14:6, is a love song. Herbert understands that John 14:6 has nothing to do with who is in with God and who’s out.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as conquers death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast:
Such a feast as mends in length;
Such a strength as makes a guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move;
Such a love as none can part;
Such a heart as joys in love.
Open Table’s mission statement says we strive to follow in the way of Jesus. We require no subscription to dogma, no test of faith. We’ve been as general as Jesus in simply rallying people around a way. That way is both simple and hard.
What does that mean to you? Has your understanding of the way of Jesus evolved? Why? How?
Where are you now in this life-of-death journey? What have you lost and what have you gained because of that loss? Is there some “truth and life” for you in this Easter-y way of life-out-of-death?
What do you hope will be the next stage of your faith journey?
PRAYER OF THE PEOPLE OF THE WAY a paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer
Love’s Source and Sustainer, hallowed be your ways.
Your realm should come, your ways be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the times of trial and deliver us from evil
For the power of love and mercy is yours now and forever. Amen
Prayer station 1: FORGIVENESS CHALLENGE
Review Acts 2: 55-60, which we read earlier in the service. Remember the dying forgiveness of Stephen–and Jesus.
The stones on this table represent words or actions that have been thrown at you, harming you emotionally, spiritually, maybe even physically. Call to mind a fresh or an old hurt for which you may not have yet fully forgiven someone. Now choose a stone that represents that hurt. The stone may seem small for the injury it represents. Simply hold this symbol. At this point you could choose to throw it back, figuratively, in retaliation. Or you could choose to hide it from sight and hope you can forget it. Or you could acknowledge the hurt and forgive that person. Feel the stone’s smooth surface, its solid but light heft. This is a real hurt you are remembering, but you can choose to deny this stone its continuing harm if you hold it with compassion for the one who threw it and compassion for yourself. Take this stone with you to the next prayer station.
Prayer station 2: CONSTRUCTING THE WAY
Recall the metaphor from I Peter about our lives as living stones. You are invited to incorporate your stone into the pathway we are paving with the events of our lives. To forgive means we don’t forget the past or deny harm but we use past injuries in healing ways. To make this stone part of your journey, place the stone decisively but gently on the path. Imagine yourself using this gesture toward forgiveness as a move forward spiritually. Pray for ongoing compassion for yourself and for other flawed but beloved children of God.
Prayer station 3: OFFERING OUR GIFTS
I Peter 2 :5 urges us to “let [our]selves be built into a spiritual house, . . . to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We offer our now our spiritual and material sacrifices because this discipline strengthens us and the spiritual house of God. Pray for those your gifts will reach in love.
Prayer station 4: RECEIVING GOD’S GIFTS
I Peter 2: 2-3 helps us imagine the Eucharistic cup as milk from a mothering God: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Julian of Norwich, a 14th Century English mystic, wrote: “The mother can give her child suck from her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with Himself; and He does it most graciously and most tenderly with the Blessed Sacrament which is the precious food of true life . . . . The mother can lay the child tenderly on her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can more intimately lead us into His blessed Breast.” Words from scripture and Christian mystics have described Jesus as a mother. Does your experience of the presence of Jesus change when you image the Christ as feminine, as Mother? How does your experience of Holy Communion change If you imagine the chalice brimming with Mother’s milk (rather than the Son’s blood)? Taste and see that God is good.