Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jesus the Way to the Father

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is a very familiar one, being one of the mostly popularly used at funerals. This is not surprising, as it contains some of the promises our Lord made concerning eternal life. And at times of grief and mourning these words are of great comfort. But today happily we read them in another context, that of our Sunday by Sunday worship. Given that happier context, let us consider a few points drawn from this passage carefully.

The first point concerns our Lord's reply to Phillip when he asks Jesus to show him the Father. And Christ says to him that if you have seen me you have seen the Father. To put this another way – if you have seen me, you have seen God. This is of great importance. Firstly, it puts the lie to those who try to claim that Christ was simply a holy man who gave us great teachings but never claimed to be God. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for those of us who are people of faith, it means that Christ's promises and commands to us are of Divine Origin. What Jesus says is God speaking directly to us. The promises he makes us are ironcast; and the teaching he gives us come fromt the highest source possible or imaginable.

This bring me to my next point, that one of the greatest of his promises he makes us is contained within this passage; and it is the reason that this passage is so frequently read at funerals. It concerns the eternal life that await all who follow him; and as I already said this is of great comfort when we grive the loss of a loved one. But the implications of these words are far greater than simply as an aid to bouy us up a bit in times of grief. Our Lord's promise of eternal life with him in heaven is something to keep firmly before our eyes at every moment of our lives. It reminds us, as it says in the Prayer Book, that we are to lead our lives in the light of eternity – essentially, that we are always to keep in our minds the fact that this life is not all that there is and that there are consequences in the next life for our behaviour in this one.

This leads me to my next point, one of the very important teachings that Christ gives us concerning himself in this passage. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me. This can be a difficult teaching for those living in the modern age. We are, frankly, uncomfortable suggesting to others that what we believe is in any way better than what they believe. And so we excuse ourselves from evangelising by comfortable thoughts such as there are many paths to God and that a righteous person of goodwill may, by living out whatever creed they hold faithfully may well attain salvation. And there is indeed some truth in that thought. God is merciful and he does not expect the impossible from his children. A person who leads a good life according to the dicates of the natural law – the law written in the hearts of men by God, as St Paul tells us of in his letter to the Romans – someone who would most likely have sought baptism had the Good News of Jesus Christ been brought to them – that person's eternal happiness we leave in the hands of Almighty God.

But for those who call themselves Christians, that can be no excuse for not preaching the Gospel to those who have not heard it. Think of it like this. You are lost in a desert waste with a group of travellers. Luckily for you have been given instruction on the best direction to take in order to find your way to safety. More, you have with you a detailed map of the region you are in, one that shows the landmarks to follow and the dangers to avoid if you are not to be lost forever. And you even have a compass to help keep you on the right path.

Would it be right under those circumstances to say nothing to the others, but rather tell yourself that they have every hope of finding their own way to safety? The answer, I think, is obvious. Some, of course, might refuse to believe you and choose instead to try and steer their own course. And other might well begin to doubt you along the way, finding the journey too difficult. But those who stuck with you would have a reasonable chance of reaching safety.

And imagine if you did tell no one. How would those in authority judge you if reached the place of safety alone and it was discovered that you had known the way and shared that information with nobody else? Some might have made it to safety unaided – but no thanks to you. And others would probably have died, lost in the desert. All would be quite shocked, I imagine. You would certainly be condemned in the court of public opinion; and quite possibly in the courts of law as well if the legal system allowed for it. The blood of those who were lost would be upon your hands and no one would have any doubt that you deserved any punishment you received, not matter how severe.

It is no different if you do not share the sure and certain way to eternal with others that God himself in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity gave to us. And indeed, of what comfort is it for anyone to hear these words read at a funeral if they do not also know that their loved one had first had the oppurtunity to hear these words in life and had the chance to live by them? And so as I end, I do so with the prayer that you will always do your best to share with others the Good News that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him – for the sake of their salvation; and also for the sake of your own. Amen.

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