BIBLE READING: John 14:1-14
Jesus says 'I am the way, the truth and the life'.
But what does that mean?
What does it mean in the light of the state of the world today. We are all following our different ways - there are communities becoming divided along lines of race and belief, there are political tensions, there are people who feel so excluded by society that they feel the need to take a bloody revenge, there is separatism, xenophobia, hostility.
And a lot of this goes on within faith communities too. The Sunni and Shiite Muslims want little to do with each other. The secular and religious Jews who are happy to co-exist with the Palestinians are outraged at the behaviour of the Zionists, who feel that the whole of the area is for the Jews alone. Northern Ireland - where politics is given religious titles and some of the people who say the most hateful things ministers of religion. Sometimes the pages of Reform seem like a battle field.
What does it mean to the people who have no faith of any kind? 'I don't want to be like that' and no wonder? And those who think - there must be something more, but don't know what it is?
'I am the way, the truth and the life'.
Jesus says 'I am the way'
He also says – “in my father’s house there are many rooms”
These two statements are the battle cries of two kinds of Christian. Those who believe in the importance of dialogue with other faiths look to the idea of many mansions - room in heaven for all. Those who believe the key is to convert the world to Christianity say - room in heaven only for those who go through Jesus, the way.
These the two poles seem to be moving further and further apart.
The 'many rooms' faction tend to underline Jesus resurrection by God who favours outcasts and summons all to his service and praise.
The 'one way' people shun dialogue. The true message from God only comes through Jesus. Full Stop.
As is often the case, neither side is right. Neither side is wrong. We need both understandings of Jesus. The failing of the 'one way' people is that they fail to learn more about their own faith. Dialogue helps us to understand each other and how different faiths worship and practice. But more than anything else they have an impact on how we believe. Some time ago I was a member of a Christian/Muslim dialogue – when we first met - I admit I was a little nervous, not certain about what would happen. The topic was Monotheism, and while there was a whole lot we agreed about, the Muslims were scratching their heads as we started explaining the Trinity. But one thing stands out for me – none of the Muslims were angry that we were different, not offended that we said that Jesus is the Son of God - my faith was not questioned. I was impressed by the devotion shown by my Muslim friends, but I didn't want to change from loving Jesus. I think my faith was deepened by sharing with another faith.
The failing of the 'many rooms' side is that they are so keen to look for things that unite different faiths that they push Christ to the background and concentrate instead on a universal loving God. The problem is that without talking about what my faith means for me, and claiming Christ, any dialogue in undermined. People of other faiths know that we are Christian and that means we claim Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s no good hiding it. Its central to faith.
Now some of you may be thinking, as you gently drift off, 'what has all this stuff about Muslims and for that matter Sikhs, or Buddhists or Jews got to do with me. I don't hang out with people who have a different faith.'
Well I think the same things apply to talking to people who are indifferent, agnostic, of no faith. We must find the balance between saying 'we're in and you're out' and diluting the faith 'oh I go to church because there's some lovely people, and we sing nice hymns' - where is Christ in that?
The key is what Peter is talking about in his letter - 'Make Christ the cornerstone.' Jesus is the living stone on which we build our faith. Without him we have no faith. It is through him that we have been called out of darkness into his marvellous light'. Focussing on Jesus gives shape and substance to talks with people of other faith. Focussing on Jesus gives shape and substance to talks with people of no faith. Focussing on Jesus gives shape and substance to how we live our lives.
If we make Christ the corner stone we can't talk just in theory, we have to look at what faith means in practice. Isn't it so much more interesting to hear people's stories than anything else. That's what we need to do. Tell our story. Not the lurid details if you don't want (though those are always really interesting bits) but what Jesus means to you. People will be interested and they will respect you for it.
If we make Christ the corner stone we will be aware that religion is a mixed blessing. Jesus was not popular with the religious leaders. What he said makes uncomfortable reading. Jesus didn't define faith into creeds or doctrines - he was too busy putting faith into practice, loving, healing, giving, sharing himself. His God, his time, his love.
If we make Christ the corner stone maybe we will learn to lighten up! That doesn't mean going round with a crazy grin on your face saying 'I'm happy because Jesus loves me'. Rather having a sense of humour about faith. Not being offended by people, but listening to what they really have to say. Remembering that Jesus is the one who turned the world upside down, who made jokes about specks and planks, who was subversive, who calls us to be his fools.
If we make Christ the corner stone we learn to find God present in the other. One comentator said 'Christ meets us in and through the stranger'. Remember what Jesus said about the sheep and the goats? We never know where there is an opportunity to serve Christ, so make the most of every chance you get.
What we need to understand is that Jesus is the way - and there are many rooms. We need to embrace both the universal idea of God and our understanding brought through Christ, the way the truth and the life.
So what does it mean to understand Jesus as the truth? Paul Tillich feels that we spend most of our life seeking an answer to the question Pilate asked at Jesus’ trial. Jesus said to him 'Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.' 'And what is truth?' asked Pilate. Tillich feels we are often uncomfortable with doubt. We start off life with truth imposed by others, then in our teens begin to deny authority and its understanding of the truth. The finally we are ready to start seeking the truth for ourselves.
Of course, some people put this off as long as possible. They either claim to have the truth already, pointing back to the traditions of the past, doctrines that try to tie Jesus down, things that bind and can blind to the truth. Or they say they are indifferent, happy to live a life that is a mixture of truth, half truth and lies. You can muddle through life in this way by not asking any of the ultimate questions. But it does leave you with nothing to hold onto in the dark times.
So if we dare ask - what is truth? What is the answer. Jesus says 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. As Tillich points out, Jesus is more than his words. I am the truth. So how do we reach the truth? By making Christ the cornerstone of our life. 'Abide in me and I in you'. Being open to seek out Christ in everything. Sometimes on the road we see glimpses through fog - a sentence from a book, a conversation, we see Christ in nature, through friendship or estrangement, love and hate. Seek out the truth, know Jesus. Don't be bound to past understandings or try to muddle through life. Jesus wants you to know him as the truth.
And there are so many people who feel life has nothing to offer. Help them to choose life. Show them Jesus, the way the truth and the life. By the way he is central to your life, by the way you love, by the way you are prepared to listen and question and seek out the truth.
We are in a privileged position and with that comes responsibility.
Remember what Peter says
'You are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light. '
Let’s proclaim those wonderful acts through Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.