Thursday, February 05, 2009

Is Jesus the Only Way?
The Vocabulary of Faith 6
Blogging Towards Sunday, February 8, 2009
John 14:1-6
Revelation 17:1-19:10
(or selections below)

The word for the week in my preaching series at the church I serve is "Only through Me" - "or "is Jesus the Only Way?" Tough. We want to be inclusive without being exclusive. And what is Jesus saying? I read John 14 and most often have heard people preach/talk about all those that won't be saved in some sort of long list or repetitive litany. Yet in the context of the passage Jesus isn't talking about other religions or faith traditions.

We’re often quick to judge others, or say that Jesus is the only way to knowing God, salvation, or inclusion in what God wants for the world and the chosen people of God. And maybe it means something more. Are we ourselves following that way, truth and life? I hear John 14:6 and I think of Jesus as being first and foremost relational, a truth we know and experience, a life we receive and mature in, a way of living that is more a journey to discover in community with other disciples than a moral certitude or theological knowledge to posses. What does it mean for you to follow Jesus? How does it shape your daily life, priorities, way you spend money, relationships, work, rest and spiritual life?

Are we following Jesus as Jesus commanded us to?

What does it mean that Jesus is the way, truth and life? Here’s some of the definitions (the gospel of John is first written in Greek) to help you go deeper in your experience of Jesus.

Όδος: WAY, public highway, street or road, journey, a way of life or conduct.

Άληθεια: TRUTH, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness, divine truth, reality.

Ζωή: LIFE in the physical sense, livelihood, means of sustenance life with God.

Revelation portrays a vision of faith and faithfulness from John in the 2nd century of the Roman Empire, a time of great tribulation and persecution for followers of Jesus. The book is a challenging read. Many people disagree on what it means and how is it truth. Is it more like a newspaper or a poem? Is it fact? Is it a metaphorical vision? Is it historical prophecy? Babylon the enemy of the people of God, is most likely Rome, representing the Roman Empire and the wealth and ways of the world. John portrays Rome as a prostitute or whore, who gathers wealth and admirers through seduction. What he's warning is for those who follow Jesus as the way, truth and life to not forget who they're following, or called to follow, and not to be seduced by the voice on the corner, or in the office of power in our government, industry, medias, neighborhoods or families. I'm struck this week by all of the blow outs about the bail out. Executives getting huge pay offs when they're receiving bail out monies paid out by the people who were abused, or lost their money. Of course the irony of it all is that we're quick to point fingers, yet we all were seduced by our own Babylons and Romes: cheap things to buy, overbuying, mortgages that were just too good to be true, borrowing seemingly free and endless money, believing and acting as though the good times might not ever end.

In the church, at least a lot of people I know and have heard, are quick to speak up about the sins of others in terms of choosing Jesus as the WAY, yet mute in terms of noticing the log in their own eyes. Isn't that a deeper reflection of human nature, and the new way of living that I believe Jesus invites us to know as truth, not found in a book, but in a new way of life that comes first and foremost with the living God that Jesus points to.

">Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, 2with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.’ 3So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.’ 6And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly amazed. 7But the angel said to me, ‘Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her….9 ‘This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings,… 14they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.’

15 And he said to me, ‘The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages… 18The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.’

18 1After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. 2He called out with a mighty voice,
‘Fallen, fallen is
Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling-place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
3For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.’

4Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; 5for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. 7As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief.Since in her heart she says, “I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief”, 8therefore her plagues will come in a single day— pestilence and mourning and famine—and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.’ 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning;

My thanks go to Sharyl who talked with me about this, relating a sermon that Tony Campolo preached on this last week with the Presbytery of Philadelphia, which I'm freely plagurizing.


Leila said...

Dear Monte - I am glad you, Jesus and sustainable urban agriculture are my neighbors. I mean, Jesus is our neighbor everywhere, but I'm glad you are pastoring and blogging so close to me. I don't know many other people online who share so many of my core beliefs.

We went to the Winter Church Bazaar this year and dropped some serious $$$ on breakfast and gifts. Will try to show up and support your church more frequently. I live behind the Laurel School & my son goes to Sequoia.

Leila said...

I'm reading through this post, trying to ask myself this question. I guess the reason why you don't see me in church is because I don't say "Jesus is the only way." I believe The Way has many, many tributaries, many paths. In fact I remember very clearly reading the gospels as a grade schooler, like 8 or 9 years old, and asking myself - but what about all the Muslims? Buddhists? People in Africa who are not Christian? Are they all going to burn in hellfire because they don't say Jesus is the only way?

I have come to accept Jesus in spite of the idea that doing so means I must affirm His path is the only way. I do not affirm this. I simply accept that Jesus Is. I read the Gospel. Those who do not speak a particular set of phrases or worship God through a particular person or prophet are still on The Way.

So I don't know if a mainline Protestant church has a place for me. Somehow I think you do...

Monte said...

Hi Leila,

I'd say we have more than a space for you, that you might have some spiritual energy and gifts that we need too.

I have the same theological and philisophical questions. If God is love and love is God...and Jesus taught it, lived it, died it and rose from the dead in-by-and-for-it....then what does that mean for us? How does that effect, inform and transform the way we love our neighbors, ourselves and God in return?

I like the notion of the word WAY: a road, highway, way of's not about a finished dogmatic, moralizing or line-in-the-sand statement...rather a way of living, growing, discovering and maturing spiritually first and then secondly in all aspects of organic and communal life.

Jesus didn't seem (in my reading) to talk about Hindus and Muslims. I don't think he met any. He also doesn't talk about interreligious relationships with Jews (of course that's what he saw himself as). He did talk about serving Ceasar versus serving God, challenging the hegemonic and dehumanizing power of Rome. So how do we take the context of the Gospels and apply them to the context(s) we call our own today? That's the challenge.

I'm reflecting these days on this quote (and the deeper idea behind it: we live what we really believe...whether we realize it or not) from theologian Kathryn Tanner at the Univ of Chicago

“A Christian Way of Life is not doubt constituted by some degree of general agreement about what theological particulars mean and whether they fit with the rest of what Christians, say, do and value.”

Working on what it means...for me and in particular for our church as a faith community of Christian practice.