January 29th 2017

There is a way of understanding John 14:6 that does not involve Christian exclusivism. The key is the realization that John is the incarnational Gospel; in it Jesus incarnates, embodies, enfleshes what can be seen of God in a human life. To say, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life,” is to say, “What we see in Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.” It is not about knowing the word Jesus and believing in what is said about him that is “the way.” Rather, the way is what we see in his life; we see a life of loving God and loving others, a life of challenging the powers that oppress this world, a life radically centered in the God to whom he bore witness.
–Marcus Borg, Speaking Christian

Rumi
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kiss the ground.

You Know the Way John 14:1-6
Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.”

Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father.

Live the Way Deuteronomy 30:11-18
You know God’s laws, and it isn’t impossible to obey them.  His commands aren’t in heaven, so you can’t excuse yourselves by saying, “How can we obey the Lord’s commands? They are in heaven, and no one can go up to get them, then bring them down and explain them to us.”  And you can’t say, “How can we obey the Lord’s commands? They are across the sea, and someone must go across, then bring them back and explain them to us.”  No, these commands are nearby and you know them by heart. All you have to do is obey! Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster.  I am commanding you to be loyal to the Lord, to live the way he has told you, and to obey his laws and teachings.

Eightfold Path: Buddhist Way Buddha
Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

Islam: The Easy Way Qu’ran
‘God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship’ (2:185);
‘Truly with hardship comes ease’ (94: 6);
‘God will assuredly appoint, after difficulty; easiness’ (65:7);
‘Whoso fears God, God will appoint for him, of His command, easiness’ (65:4);
‘We shall speak to him, of our command, easiness’ (18:88);
‘God desires to lighten things for you, for the human being has been created weak’ (4:28).

Wiccan Way The Wiccan Rede
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill –
An ‘ye’ harm none, do what ye will.

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“No one gets to the father except by me.”

That sentence has been on my personal top ten most disliked list.

I have heard that sentence a great deal at funerals and memorial services accompanied by some fear of hell-fire by a preacher who is using the case of someone’s death as a good time to preach his exclusive version of Christianity.

“Where will you go when you die? Are you sure? What if it happened today? There are many rooms but you won’t get into any of them unless you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

And so on…

Good old John 14:6 .

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to the Father except by me.”

Followers of other religions will fare no better than the unredeemed sinner. Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, you name it, all down the shoot to the fire on judgment day.

“No one gets to the Father except by me.”

The thing is I like the first four verses of that chapter, :

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come and again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

It is a farewell speech from Jesus to his disciples. I am going away for a while but I am coming back and we will all live happily ever after. We will all live together in a big house with many rooms.

Then Thomas has to ask,

“Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

If Thomas had not asked the question, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to give the answer. John 14:6:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Full stop.

John 14:6 is the ‘go to’ verse for Christian exclusivism.

This is what turned me off of Christianity more than any other thing. Christian exclusivism, encapsulated in this verse has driven the expansion of Christianity. For many, perhaps most Christians, the belief that “Jesus is the only way” is the driving force for being a Christian in the first place. If Jesus weren’t the only way then why be a Christian at all?

Last week I said that I was out to start a new religion without any beliefs. You don’t need any beliefs to be in my religion and you can have as many beliefs as you want and those beliefs won’t exclude you from my religion. I mean that.

You can believe in John 14:6, that Jesus is “the only way” and be in my religion. Some of the best members of my religion, if I had members, would believe that the only way to the Father is through Jesus.

There we run into the inclusive/exclusive conundrum.

How inclusive can we be to exclusivity?

I ran into this a great deal with this when the LGBT struggle was hot in the church. This was especially true for me two churches ago. I felt the summons to become outspoken for more inclusive policies and practices in the local church and the denomination for gay and lesbian people.

In so doing I was accused by members of the church who said I was not being inclusive to those who thought being gay was a sin and thus gay people should not be ordained as ministers and have their relationships blessed and so forth.

I never could find a solution to that problem. How do you be inclusive to exclusivity?

Of course, I realized what they wanted was this: I could believe what I wanted, I just couldn’t talk about it or advocate publicly for the rights of gay and lesbian folks.

That I refused to do.

For my own conscience, I made the right choice.

As painful and as uncomfortable as it is, we never get anywhere, we get less healthy, when we don’t bring it out and when we don’t allow others to bring out whatever it is they have to say. Allow people to say what they have to say even if it is in direct conflict with our own views. Once it is out, we can deal with it.

The conflicts unspoken are those that fester and eventually erupt in truly destructive ways.

One of the best sayings of Jesus that never made it into the Bible is saying number 70 from the Gospel of Thomas:

When you give rise to that which is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not give rise to it, what you do not have will destroy you.

Whatever is there, bring it out. It is the act of bringing out that saves us.

Jo Ann Hardesty who is the president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP spoke to us on Tuesday January 17th. She and Ibrahim Mubarak, an advocate for the houseless, talked to us about racism and houselessness. If you missed it you can hear the podcast of it on my website, www.progressivespirit.net

I recommend hearing it. She said either that night or in the interview I had with her that the election of Donald Trump has pulled a scab off a wound. This could be a good thing. She said, “

“I prefer my racists out in the open. Then we can deal with it.”

Racism has been there all along but it is covered over with politeness. The election of Barack Obama did not signify the beginning of a post-racial America. It showed in fact, how strong racism is in the United States. The reaction to Obama’s presidency, ultimately the popular support of a man who energized the white supremacist camp, can be an opportunity.

Perhaps now we can have honest conversations about racism and the effects of racism and the outcomes of racism such as the mass incarceration of African-American men, the displacement of African-Americans due to gentrification, and the economic disparities along racial lines. Perhaps if we bring out what is within is as uncomfortable and impolite as it may be, we can actually clean out the infection and start on a path toward real healing.

But if getting along and healing means we don’t talk about it, if being inclusive means that we don’t talk about it, then that isn’t healing at all. That is artificial unity. It is pretending. It leads to further infection of the wound.

I am starting to think about books for Southminster Reads this summer. On my list is Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. That or some other book that can bring light on what Jim Wallis of Sojourners called “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his book is America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. That would be a good one for Southminster Reads as well.

The thing about racism and white people is that nobody wants that label and we spend a great deal of time defending and pretending that we are not racist and whatever. It misses the point. Nobody cares. It is not like we are fooling people of color. They know our racism is showing.

The truth is that racism exists. It has effects. We are all affected. We are affected differently. We are all nonetheless, affected. Because white people benefit from racist constructs, white people tend not to see it. Because we, when I say we I mean white people. I know not everyone listening is white, but to those who are white—white like me–we don’t experience life as a person of color, we don’t see how people of color experience life.

That is unless we have our consciousness raised in some form or another. The way to have our consciousness raised, “the only way” – the “only way to the Father” is to educate ourselves by listening to the experience of people of color.

It is the only way.

Thomas asked Jesus,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

I am circling back now to the point of this sermon.

What is Christianity? What is the way?

The Gospel of John is one of the most puzzling books in the Bible. It is metaphorical and filled with symbolism and double-meaning. Because of that it can be interpreted in a simplistic surface way.

But it is much deeper than that. I recommend John Shelby Spong’s book about John, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.

The Gospel of John, as I am beginning to see it now, is about the quest for authenticity. It is about finding one’s way toward being a real human being. To be conscious. To be awake. To be truthful. To be alive. Way. Truth. Life.

Jesus is telling his friends that he is going to take his own journey toward authenticity. As painful and as frightening as that is going to be, Jesus is going to resist.

He is going resist falsehood with truth.
He is going to resist hate with love.
He is going to resist the power of death with life.

John’s gospel is looking at Jesus’ willingness to go to his own execution, to give up his life for his friends, not as a defeat but as a victory for authenticity.

“How do we know the way?”

asks Thomas.

Jesus is speaking in John’s gospel as the incarnation of the Word of God, with the wisdom and authority of God. He says,

“As you see me you see the way to what is real and true.”

Jesus was about telling the truth and living the truth.

There have always been alternative facts.

There have always been leaders who spin and who deceive and who try to hide the truth.

Truth is an important word in the Gospel of John. Truth matters. Uncomfortable truths matter. Painful truths matter. The only way to authenticity is to tell the truth and to hear the truth and to live the truth.

I spoke with Catherine Meeks. She is a member of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Atlanta. She is the chair of the “Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism.” This is a program for all leaders in the Episcopal church to recognize and dismantle racism. She has just published a book , a collection of essays entitled, Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.

She said to me,

“Some Christians would rather be white than Christian.”

That is a painful truth. Following Jesus is a call to recognize privilege and to learn the truth, to listen to others, and ultimately to follow that path.

John 14:6, when seen in that light is actually a very good verse.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”

It isn’t Christian exclusivism. It isn’t about my religion is better than yours. It isn’t about saying a magic prayer in order to get to heaven.

It is about being willing to follow the way of truth no matter where it takes you. It is seeing in the passion of Jesus the path toward authenticity. For those who are privileged in one way or another, for those for whom the luck of skin color, gender, or whatever else we may have been born into, the call is to become conscious and to use that consciousness to dismantle the structures that oppress and cause pain and injustice.

I know some of you are upset about the newsletter article I wrote this month.

I apologize for offending.

I know I have never written those words in a church newsletter before.

Those three sentences I just spoke are probably the best advertisement for a newsletter article I could offer.

For those who haven’t read it, I included some of the dialogue that President Trump had with Billy Bush the television producer, when they didn’t know the microphone was on.

I realize that it is old news, but the reason I included it in the newsletter as part of my explanation of why I went on the women’s march and why people wore the pink hats, is because I wanted to be on record. I don’t ever want to look back on this inauguration and say,

Why didn’t I call this out when I lived through it?

I don’t ever want this to be normal. I don’t ever want alternative facts to shape the narrative of what is at stake for us a nation. I don’t want to ever shrug and say,

“This was ok. It isn’t that big of a deal. We should just move on.”

Some people have said to me and likely to many of you as well, that he is our president and we need to accept it. I do accept the fact that he is president. But my Christian calling, my following of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, means that for me, I am called to resist the sexism, the homophobia, the xenophobia, and the racism that was the groundswell that brought this person to the White House. I am called to speak out and resist the actions that are the outcomes of these constructs.

When Jesus says,

“I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except by me,”

that means I will….

Become conscious of the truth that racism exists and examine the ways I participate in it.

Recognize the truth that sexism exists and examine the ways I participate in it.

Be in the way of injustice. Stand up and shield and use my voice and my body for my immigrant sisters and brothers.

Resist the rhetoric of hatred and paranoia against my Muslim sisters and brothers.

Counter alternative facts with actual facts,

And ….

Do a personal inventory so I do not become what I seek to resist.

It is a tall order. But I think it is the way to follow Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.

Amen.