Jesus, the way
On the internet I googled, the most important stories in the world, and I got to a BBC website which listed the top ten stories that changed the world.
And the number 1 story was The Odyssey… Homer’s epic Greek poem from the 8th century B.C.
It is one of great foundational myths of western culture, asking the reader to think what it means to be great, or to be a hero. It has great female characters as well as gods and monsters. It also has characters of poor people and slaves.
It has the basic foundational story of a journey home. It has wit and grit on the part of the protagonists, and is a template of a hero’s virtue and faithfulness. It has romance and violence, and yet it makes one question our assumptions about violence and wealth and prestige. Hospitality is a major theme.
It is only one of hundreds upon hundreds if not thousands upon thousands of stories that are about a quest or a journey, from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Tolkien’s the Hobbit, from the Wizard of Ox to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. From Gulliver’s travels to Robinson Crusoe, to the Murder on the Orient Express to Treasure Island and on and on it goes.
It is one of the basic great stories. The story of a journey, or a quest, or a journey home.
It is a life motif isn’t it, because life is often called a journey, in which we travel many places, have many adventures, where we meet many interesting characters, where at times we are threatened or under attack and life is precarious, or where we get lost, or stray from the path, and need help; where we are in the wilderness, and people help us or show us the way, where we journey with trusted friends or companions or family, and where the destination is home, or heaven, or family, or love, or happy ever after, or new insight.
And so, it is not surprising to any of us that one of the major ways that people experience the divine is as Way.
Jesus said that he was The Way. Jesus is the journey.
Interestingly enough Jesus was born while his parents were on a journey to Bethlehem, and then after he is born Jesus, the angels journey to earth to tell the shepherds, the shepherds journey to Nazareth, and the wise man come on a big journey from the east to find Jesus. And then Jesus goes with his parents on another journey to Egypt where they are refugees fleeing an evil King Herod.
And advent is a time where we prepare the way for Jesus. Prepare in the desert a highway for our God, the prophet preached.
The first story after his birth is of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the temple when Jesus is about 12.
Then Jesus starts his ministry with a journey into the wilderness, and in his ministry, he is an itinerant preacher or teacher wandering through Israel as well as Gentile territory and Samaria, always on the move always journeying, not having a home to call his home.
And after three years he journeys one more time towards Jerusalem and to the cross, and to death and then to resurrection, and then to the Father, and then to live in us.
The story of Jesus is one big journey.
And one could argue that the Old Testament was a lot about journey too.
God calls Abraham to leave his settled place and start out on a journey to a promised land.
And there is a whole story about how the descendants of Abraham now known as Israelites, after Abraham’s grandson, Jacob who was given a new name Israel, end up traveling to Egypt, and there becoming enslaved, and are freed under the leadership of Moses, and these Israelites start a journey out of bondage through the Red Sea, into the wilderness and after 40 years reach the promised land.
Journey is one of the major themes in the bible.
There are scriptures that refer to life being like a journey. One of those scriptures liken us to sheep being led by a good shepherd who is with us in the dark valleys, and who leads us to good pasture and next to still waters good for drinking.
Jesus talked about the narrow path to life and the broad road to destruction.
The man helped by the good Samaritan was journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho.
The prodigal journeys out into the world and to a distant land.
And I could spend the whole time of the sermon talking all about the journeys in the bible, for instance…Paul going on four big missionary journeys.
And Jesus himself talked about himself as the Way.
It has become a very controversial scripture, not because of the words “The Way” but by the words that come after “ I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And those words are: No one comes to the Father except through me.
Diana Butler Bass talks about these words as a clobber verse used by Christians to clobber people who are not Christians, or even other Christians who have a different theology.
It has been commonly interpreted in this way. That Jesus is the way to heaven and if you are not a Christian and don’t believe in Jesus you will not go to heaven.
Except this is not what Jesus is talking about at all. Jesus in these several chapters in John’s gospel is in an intimate situation with his disciples. He is going to be arrested that night and end up on the cross tomorrow.
He is telling them some important words about his great command to love one another. He is setting an example of service by washing their feet.
He is telling them that he is going to leave.
And they are confused and scared and upset. Where are you going Jesus? Can we come? Are you coming back? What are we going to do?
And Jesus is trying to allay their fears be telling them that though he is leaving he is not leaving them alone. That he is in them and they are in him
And that if they are in him then they are part of God too.
And he, Jesus has shown them the way to be. And that way is service and love.
He has shown them what God is all about. And it is mercy and kindness, forgiveness and love.
And if they keep trusting Jesus, to love as Jesus loved them, then Jesus is in them and they are in Jesus and God.
These are not words of exclusion, to non-Christians. Believe in Jesus or you go to hell.
These are words to his intimate followers. Except for me, you would be lost. Except for me you wouldn’t have known God’s love. Except for me you would be alone…
So, trust me, and live in me, and you will be fine and you won’t be alone, or lost, or without love. Instead, you will be Christ to others loving and caring and forgiving and showing mercy, and I will be with you and in you.
All Christians lose their way. Being lost is not just about people who are not Christian, or it isn’t even about not being Christian.
Being lost is that experience of straying off the path that our true self knows is the right path.
And all of us stray away from that path. All of us get lost whether we are Christian or not.
All of us do things we didn’t think we would do, or didn’t want to do.
All of us do things that are greedy or selfish, or do things that hurt others.
The way of Jesus is not primarily about believing doctrine or doctrines about Jesus, but about committing ourselves to seek our true selves, and the truth, and to getting back on the path we know in our soul is the right path for us. And for Christians we believe that right path is practicing the same love and care to others that Jesus showed us.
Scott Peck wrote a classic book called “The Road Less Travelled.”
The road he says that is mostly travelled is the road that is easiest and avoids pains and tries to avoid dealing with problems….
Which he says actually causes more problems.
The Road less travelled is the road of acknowledging there are problems in life and facing those problems head on with the ability to take responsibility, dedicating oneself to knowing more and more truth, of doing hard work and delaying instant gratification, and having the flexibility to use both brain and emotions in helpful ways.
And according to Scott Peck, love is not an emotion but a choice to act in ways for the spiritual growth of another.
And while Jesus didn’t put it exactly that way, he basically talks about his way of being as pretty similar to what Scott Peck talks about.
Jesus is the truth and followers of Jesus commit themselves to the truth even when the truth is difficult.
Followers of Jesus do hard work and take up a cross and choose to act in love towards other and in service to others.
Followers of Jesus take responsibility for their actions and confess their sins, and turn around and go a new direction.
Followers of Jesus are challenged by the wisdom and teachings of Jesus to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, using wisdom, reason, faith, moral compass, heart, prayer and scripture to make reasonable balanced decisions for the good of themselves and others.
And followers of Jesus understand that unconditional love is not an emotional feeling but a choice made to act for the spiritual growth of another, and not by coercion, but by invitation.
One of my favourite movies of journey is called “Stand by me” where four boys go on a journey to find the body of a dead boy who has been hit by a train.
They find the body and go through adventures to find the body and they are hit by the reality of death. But they had all been dealing with various kinds of death. Gordie’s older brother died in Vietnam. Chris and Teddy were abused. Vern is bullied.
The boys are all wounded. They are all flawed. They all carry scars. They are like the body of Jesus…
And what saves them is each other.
Stand by Me is about four wounded boys who find a body, but find, for that moment at least, that when they stand together as a body, listening, sharing, supporting each other, that they are healed and loved, and not just any bodies, but somebodies.
Jesus is the way because he invites us into his wounded body, where our wounded souls can find healing and love with other wounded souls.
Another one of my favourite movies of journey was the Wizard of Oz where the heroine Dorothy finds herself taken off in a tornado into a strange land called Oz.
She meets a tin man, who wants a heart, and a straw man who wishes he had a brain, and a cowardly lion who is seeking courage.
Together they set off to find the Great Wizard of Oz, who they hope can magically grant their wishes.
They have to go through some perils and deal with a wicked witch…
But when they get to Oz they find out that the great wizard of Oz is not so great and is really just a humbug, a charlatan.
But the wizard points out that the tin man who doesn’t have a heart is the emotional one who cries, the scarecrow always seemed to be able to figure out the problem, the lion who was scared, would come to the rescue when needed, and that Dorothy always had the power to go home.
In spiritual direction what we would learn as spiritual directors is that we spiritual directors do not have the answer, that the answer is within the directee, for Christ lives in the directee, and we just help the directee journey inward to their true self, to their Christ self, and find the direction that they themselves will choose to go.
The way of Christ is not to have someone else tell you how you should be and what you should do, but to invite the person to see what is already inside their lives, to invite the person to their own heart, their own brain, their own courage, knowing that they have the way home, because Christ is in them.
The farther I have travelled in their earthly life, the more I realize how close Christ is.
And I have travelled a lot. I think I have lived in twenty-eight different places, including three countries and six provinces.
And I realize how much I have journeyed in my inner life. My soul has been on a huge journey.
Sometimes it even seems that the more I know about God and faith, the less I know, because God keeps getting bigger and bigger and more universal, and more loving, more forgiving, and more graceful every step I take towards the divine.
Part of my inner journey has led me from exclusion to inclusion. Finding Jesus as way has meant that Jesus is the way for all people, and that Jesus way of love is a way all people follow and Jesus is making a way for people we thought were excluded.
I used to think that only a few were going to make it. I now know that when Jesus said “the world” he meant it. All people are loved by Jesus and included by Jesus, and Jesus wants to heal every soul, and free every prisoner from whatever chains that bind their souls.
Part of my inner journey has led me to truth that there is no easily accessible road map, and the scriptures are not some easy 1,2,3 step to heaven.
The scriptures are a whole host of people trying to talk about their own journey with God, including many failures and screw ups.
The scriptures help us because we will find God in reading and studying them, but the hard work of a relationship with God is more than reading scripture. It is about a commitment to truth, to love, to reason, to science, to faith, to paradox, and to practicing the presence of God through worship, study, prayer, meditation, praise and song and stillness.
I have found that the spiritual journey is also not just about the goal but the trip.
Some people when they go on a trip it is all about the quickest way to get from A to B.
But if you go on a holiday in Europe, it is not about getting the trip over, it is about enjoying the trip as you do it, and learning and growing and being the whole time.
Life’s journey and faith’s journey is not about getting to the end of life as fast as possible but having a quality of life that is eternal. It is about abundant life, or finding life in every moment of every day.
The journey itself is as much the goal, as getting to the end.
Maybe that is why Jesus is called the way. Jesus is the journey itself, for Jesus is with you every part of the journey if you let him.
Today this is the last Sunday as we journey towards the Christ, towards Christ being born in us anew… towards Christ living in us and we him.
Let me share some words that were very meaningful to me about journeying. They were written by Mirabai Starr from the Introduction to her translation of Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle
There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.
This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. … Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Slip away. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.
Today I invite you to go to that place where Christ is born in you and spend some time there with Jesus, the way. Amen.