“Road, Truth, and Life”
Psalm 130 and John 14:1-11
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—
2 my Lord, listen to my voice!
Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
3 If you kept track of sins, Lord—
my Lord, who would stand a chance?
4 But forgiveness is with you—
that’s why you are honored.
5 I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
and I wait for God’s promise.
6 My whole being waits for my Lord—
more than the night watch waits for morning;
yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!
7 Israel, wait for the Lord!
Because faithful love is with the Lord;
because great redemption is with our God!
8 He is the one who will redeem Israel
from all its sin.
(Psalm 130 – CEB)
1-4 “Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”
5 Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”
6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
8 Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”
9-10 “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.
11 “Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. (John 14:1-11 – The Message)
On Wednesday afternoon I looked at my phone and saw that I’d missed a call from someone in my church. So, I tapped the missed-call notice and rang him back. Instead of hearing some customary greeting, I heard, “Nothing’s wrong! Don’t worry. Everything’s alright.” So, I immediately thought, “Oh no. What happened?” As it turned out, everything was okay. We just had some food pantry details to tend to.
Still, when someone says, Don’t worry, or Don’t let this rattle you, or Don’t let your hearts be troubled, isn’t it human nature to start worrying, because isn’t what we hear, Don’t worry, but…?
When Jesus says, “Don’t let this rattle you,” but I mean, “You trust God, don’t you?” he does nothing to ease the disciples’ already-significant apprehension. Let’s remember, Jesus says this right on the heels of having washed the disciples’ feet, of having announced his betrayal, of having told the disciples that he’s about to leave, of having told them to keep loving each other no matter what, and, finally, of predicting Peter’s denial. So, when Jesus says, “Don’t let this rattle you,” it’s kind of like telling a child whose dog just died, Don’t be sad. That ship has sailed.
John 14 is a staple of Christian funerals—times when many people are, indeed, rattled and hungry for words of comfort. And even though we, as Christians, speak of a life to come, there’s an undeniable finality to death. As much gratitude and joy as memories can evoke, the person who has died has left this life forever. They’ve left our lives forever.
Most of us have heard stories of near death experiences. Some of us may have read books like Heaven Is for Real or Proof of Heaven. Let’s be honest, though. None of that is concrete proof of anything except our very real and understandable desire for there to be something more. Now, I’m not denying that there is more. I’m merely saying that no one really knows what lies beyond death. Faith, not knowledge, is the basis for our claim to a life to come. So, to reiterate at funerals what Jesus says in John 14 becomes part of our faithful lament in the face of death. And what Jesus says to his disciples throughout the pastoral discourse of John 13-17 is about far more than life after death.
Jesus is saying that beyond the life represented by Caesar and empire, beyond the life of material wealth and military domination to which many Jewish leaders have accommodated themselves, especially the Sadducees, there lies a place of spacious love, a place of deep unity with Jesus and with the Father. And when Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way, he’s trying to tell them something profoundly hopeful and life-transforming.
Speaking for the group, Thomas says, Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going. So how can we know how to get there?
“I am the Road,” says Jesus, “also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.”
This is one of those passages that gets distorted into a warning. If you want to go to heaven, you must believe that Jesus is the only way to get there. And any theology which proclaims that kind of static certainty tends to get wielded like a weapon rather than offered as an invitation into grace. The thing about gospel grace, though, is that it requires much more of us than doctrinal purity, because it’s about more than getting to heaven when we die. It’s about living in holy union with God here and now as well as in the life to come.
“If you really knew me,” says Jesus, “you would know my Father as well…[and] you do know him.” Jesus pleads with his disciples to recognize that following him and participating in his ministry means, ultimately, loving each other as God loves us. For me, if there’s a bottom line, that’s it. Through self-emptying love for others, anyone can experience the Road that doesn’t just lead to life, but which is, in Truth, Life itself, because to love as Jesus loves is to be with him. And because the Son and the Father are so intimately one, to be with one is to be with the other. If that’s the case, how can one experience union with God apart from Christ? Jesus comes to reveal that pre-existent truth, not to make it happen. God’s spacious realm is already something in which humankind lives, moves, and has its being.
Another challenging reality is that it’s terribly easy, like the Sadducees, to settle for a world where a rattled and fearful existence seems not only rational and responsible, but the only real possibility. In that world, though, people just give up and fall asleep behind contrived certainties that provide fertile ground for holding prejudices, casting judgments, building walls, amassing weapons, and reducing a storied and deeply transforming spiritual tradition into an inert doctrine that both religious and political leaders can use to control the masses and ensure their loyalty. That’s exactly what happened when, in the fourth century, Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. The emperor’s goal was political stability, not faithful discipleship.
Some within the first-century Jewish community expected and desperately wanted Jesus to be that kind of Messiah. And one can imagine their weariness of Rome. One can also imagine that, as Jews, many of them were tired of their story being one endless string of exiles. From Pharaoh, to all the various Nebuchadnezzars and Caesars, God’s people had known continual defeat and outside control. Why wouldn’t they want someone who could and would play hardball with tyrants?
Well, when we truly, as Jesus says, trust God, when we truly, as Jesus says, believe him, or at least believe that his works reveal the presence and will of God, then we can begin to understand that all the violent means of empire, and all the repressive certainties of imperial religion are roads that lead not to life, but to one dead end after another.
In claiming to be “the Road…the Truth…[and] the Life,” Jesus invites everyone who hears his story to immerse themselves in it, to live it. For in that immersion, we begin to recognize that Jesus truly is one with the Father—the Creator and Source of all that is genuinely loving and lasting. Jesus’ own trust and belief are evident in the ways he lives in the here-and-now, in the ways he loves those who seem unlovable, in the ways he cares for those who seem beyond help, in the ways he embraces all of life, and in the ways he includes all things—joys and sufferings—and transforms them into signs of God’s ever-present realm of grace.
Wherever Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer unity is evident, wherever death is giving way to life, wherever reconciling grace and love are at work, wherever people choose peace, inclusion, and forgiveness over whatever easy but violent alternatives are available, there Christ is present and forever will be.
May that be our reality, and the reality of this congregation today, tomorrow, and always.