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May I tell you that this text is one of my favorite texts I often use at funerals and memorial services.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions…”
And Jesus goes on to talk about how he goes ahead to prepare the place for us. It’s a comforting thought…Then comes the tricky part in the reading for me.
“And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
To which Thomas replies for all of the disciples (notice the “we”), “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also…”
And to be honest, it is here where I hit a mental speed bump. Something doesn’t sound right to me. Is it the old judgmental voices I am hearing from my old high school fundamentalis saying in a very exclusive way: “Jesus is the only way. Everybody who doesn’t believe in him and follow him in the way we’ve defined Jesus isn’t saved, redeemed or going to heaven. You agree with us and our theology about Jesus or you are not going to make it to heaven. And if you disagree with us, you cannot call yourself a Christian.”
I even heard of churches who post on their website these messages:
“The unsaved will be separated forever from God in hell.”
“ Those who don’t believe in Jesus will be sent to eternal punishment in hell.”
In other words, everyone who doesn’t believe what we believe about Jesus are consigned to hell for eternity. All this, on a website. Welcome to our church! 
And I wonder, Is that what Jesus is saying to Thomas, Peter, Philip and the others who have been following him for three years? Is that the main message Jesus came to share with them… the world?
And the more I’ve thought about it, I think I know what bothers me when I hear that famous text along with the way my old friends understand it.
It just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me. Not the Jesus I’ve met throughout the gospels.
The Jesus John said God sent to the world, not to condemn the world , but in order that the world might be saved through him…” Or in John 6, speaking of his own life, his own body, he says, “This bread is my flesh which I give for the life of the world.” The Jesus I’ve heard described by others in John 14 is not the Jesus I’ve met elsewhere.
Not the Jesus who loves Prodigals and welcomes them home… Not the Jesus who tells stories about looking for lost sheep and there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who think they are the righteous ones (the ones who are “in” with God). It just doesn’t sound like the Jesus who will do anything for those who are lost. To help them find their way again. Not the Jesus who welcomed the thief on the cross to paradise at the last minute.
So, you see my confusion? In times like this, I find it very helpful to do something very simple. Read the text. It’s a novel idea I know. But how about going back to the text?
When you actually read the text, you find some interesting things. The first thing I notice is that the text doesn’t even mention heaven or hell.I notice this is not a text directed to outsiders— but that is directed to his closest friends and followers.
Jesus is about to leave them and he knows they will be upset. The whole thing begins, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He is worried about them at the moment.
Read the context and you’ll discover for sometime now the disciples of Jesus have had an ongoing conversation about where Jesus is going. Peter had already asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” and “Why can’t I follow you?”
Then Thomas speaks for all of them when he says, “Lord, we haven’t a clue where you are going? Teach us. Tell us so we can find the way too?”
It turns out that disciples can be slow to catch on and understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is talking about. I take some comfort that Peter, Thomas and Philip have been with him for three solid years and they still have questions. I feel that way after 55 years! Makes me not feel too bad that I still have questions.
In the context of the passage, they are not asking, “How do I get to heaven or who gets to heaven?”
No, the questions burning in their hearts and I suspect in some of ours as well: “How can we know the way to God? How are we to see and understand who God is—the Father, the Creator of the world?”
That’s when Jesus responds with “I am the way.” I am the way to God.
I think Henri Nouwen understands what Jesus was talking about. He said,
The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus. For Jesus’ way is God’s way and God’s way is not for Jesus only but for everyone who is truly seeking God.
For Jesus way is God’s way… and it is the way of life for those who follow him. Jesus came to lead us to God— to lead us on the path that leads to life…
So, when we ask again and again those basic questions of life like: Am I on the right track in life? And “How can I know God in my life? Or who is this God?”, the answer Jesus gives is both simple and profound: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also…”Later he tells Philip “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…”
As an aside, what about- “the no one comes to the Father but through me?” …
Here is how I understand it. The time of the disciples was no different than our own in some ways. In the world, there were many understandings of God… some where harmful and not consistent with the life and message of Jesus. Not every path we choose is a good one. Not every path leads to life. Not every path is consistent with the way Jesus revealed God.
Some said the way to God was through self-righteousness, judgment, and the law… Jesus says, the way to God is through him and his grace. Some think the way to God is for God’s people to hate enemies eliminate any who disagree… but that is not the way of Jesus who said to love your enemies… Not every path and not every person speaks for God. Not every path leads to life as God desires for us. So it does matter what path you choose. It does matter who you choose to lead you in your life. Not every one is consistent with the God revealed in Jesus.
So, what I hear Jesus saying to his disciples is something like this as they wonder what the future holds and as they think about the rough, unknown road ahead: “Come on, now. You know what I’m talking about. I’ve taught you this. We’ve been through this before, you and I. Don’t let your hearts be so troubled. Trust me. Trust me. I won’t let you down: ‘I am the Way.” In me you see God. Trust me. In me you meet and will meet God. My teachings will guide your feet. My presence will sustain your spirit. In all the twists and turns your life may take… through all the detours and dead ends… remember to trust me, “I am the way.” I’ll help you find your way. So, do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe (trust) in God. Believe (trust) also in me.” I’m not here to exclude anyone… I’m here to help people find their way.”
Again and again, I have heard stories of people confirm that at a time their lives were headed in the wrong direction, it was Christ who helped them find their way…
I think this is why I keep coming back to Ann Lamott’s story.
For most of her life she stood on the outside of the church, caught in her own struggle with addiction. A dead end to be sure. Then she tells about how God’s unconditional love in Christ found her at a small Presbyterian church. Listening to the choir sing… she found her way out of her dead end life there.
When she describes her conversion she says, “My coming to faith,did not start with a leap but rather with a series of staggers.”
Anne Lamott was brought up in an intentionally non-religious household…
In her childhood, adolescence and college years, however, religious questions kept surfacing in her life. As an adult, life became very difficult for her. Her father, a life-long heavy drinker, developed a brain tumor and started to die.
Her best friend, a source of stability and sanity since childhood, developed cancer and started to die. Nothing was working – personal relationships, family, her writing career-and she was drinking and using drugs heavily.
One day, near the very bottom, she called an Episcopal priest, and in his office poured everything out-her drinking, drugs, fear, affairs, the fact that she didn’t really believe anything. Prayer was out of the question.
So he said, “Stop praying for a while and let me pray for you.”
She writes, “He was about the first Christian I ever met whom I could stand to be in the same room with. Most Christians seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t.”
Slowly, she found her way and came to life. And listen how it happened! Especially this day when we lift up the gift of music. God works in mysterious ways.
Every Sunday morning in Marin City, California she went to a flea market in the Greyhound Bus Depot parking lot. And then she began to hear music, gospel music coming from a little church across the street, which turned out to be St. Andrew Presbyterian.
She knew some of the hymns from the time she used to go to church with her grandparents. She began to stand in the doorway and listen.
“I couldn’t believe how rundown it was, with terrible linoleum and plastic stained-glass windows. It had a choir of five black women and one rather Amish-looking white man and a congregation of thirty people or so, radiating kindness and warmth. During the time when people hugged and greeted each other, various people would come back to where I stood to shake my hand or try to hug me. I was as frozen and still as Richard Nixon.”
She stood in that doorway for months, listening to the singing, watching as this poor little congregation brought huge tubs of food for homeless people. She says it was the people – their singing together – that drew her back week after week, from the flea market to her folding chair near the door. Finally, after a medical crisis of her own, one Sunday morning the dam broke, the flood gates opened. She began to cry, walked home, and said to God,”I quit. All right, you can come in.” Her life then went in a different direction. 
Today she is an elder in that Presbyterian Church.
Again and again if you listen, you will hear stories like Ann’s that make it clear to me that God is on a mission… and has been since the creation of the world. God has been on a mission to seek us out, especially when we are lost… to find us… and to show us the way home to God. And for those of us who follow Jesus Christ… he is the one who leads us there. Christ is who he said he was: the way, the truth and the life. And for that gift, we give God our thanks and praise. Amen.