Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Easter (B) – 3rd May 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings:   Isaiah 30:18-21; Psalm 19:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8;John 14:6-14

When I was a teenager we used to read the stories of the martyrs, not the ancient church martyrs, rather, the modern ones those who went to remote tribes in South America or Indonesia and who were killed for their faith. We believed there could be no better proof of your faith than to die as a martyr. And then we tried being martyrs amongst our friends and family, forcing them into conversations about their faith and where they thought they would go when they died. In the end, our desire for martyrdom just became another way of being obnoxious. We were trying out our Christian faith but we weren’t doing it in a very Christian way.

Sadly, this simply turns into a perversion of religion and we see that sort of perversion going on all over the world today. It is too tempting to take verses like John 14 verse 6 and use them in ways that were never intended. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.” This obviously is a very exclusive claim. But it is just too easy to take a verse like that and use it in very unchristian ways.

For example, it can be used as an excuse not to be loving. “Because I know the truth about Jesus I have the right to force my beliefs on anyone else.” “If others don’t believe exactly what I believe then I have the right to exclude them from the church.” People are capable of the most unloving acts when they believe they know it all. Or because Jesus calls himself people have assumed that that means all truth. They think that the only book they need on the shelf is the Bible, because the Bible can tell them everything they need to know in life.

Thus they rule out the vast amount of research and learning that is now available to us. They live in the most appalling ignorance because they will read only one book. This is not a criticism of the Bible, it is a criticism of this awful narrowness that can arise from religious fanaticism. I heard one war correspondent say one of the biggest problems the world faces today is TB. But he didn’t mean the disease. By TB he meant “True Believer”. The True Believer today is the one who reaches for the gun, the one that says its my way or its no way. Surely, Jesus never meant his words to be read like that?

But then I don’t want to go to the other extreme to say all religions are basically the same. Even a superficial reading of them makes it clear that every religion is not the same. Its true that they all have some profound insights, there are things we can learn from each one of them, there is value in studying other religions but that doesn’t mean they are saying the same thing.

So what do we do with this claim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life? Or to speak more broadly what do we do with the exclusive claims of Jesus? Perhaps, we need to start with the uniqueness of Jesus himself. Jesus never claimed to be a prophet of God, never saw himself as part of Israel’s prophetic movement. Rather, he invented his own language to talk about himself, he is the Son of Man, or in John’s gospel, he is the good Shepherd, or he is the door, or he is the vine or a range of other illustrations. Then there were the unique things that he did. Apart from the miracles it is only Jesus who dies and then rises again on the third day. What we read about Jesus here you don’t read anywhere else, resurrection is not found in any other religion.

In the early church they grappled over the issue of whether Christianity was a branch of Judaism or was it something else, something different. In the end, it was agreed that Christianity sees itself as the fulfilment of the promises found in Judaism while in Judaism they believed those promises were yet to be fulfilled.

Surely, it is a truism to say that most adherents to every religion believe that what they believe is right while everyone else is wrong. But the question is, how will we live with that? And what do we think faith is? For some, faith is little more than a blind acceptance that a particular belief system is absolute truth – the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

But surely we can to better than that. Interestingly, it is Jesus who provides us with an answer. Philip came to Jesus and asked him to show him the Father. It is an interesting question. What I think Philip means is that he wanted some absolute proof that Jesus really was the Son of God, he wanted absolute proof that Jesus really was the way to God. I think we all crave that sort of certainty from time to time.

One comedian used to say that it would be nice if every now and again God would part the clouds and give us a bit of a wave and say, “Hello, believe in me, I’m God.” That way this whole question might be settled once and for all.

But look and the answer Jesus gave to this question. Firstly, Jesus wondered that it wasn’t enough that he and Philip had just spent three years together. You would think that that length of time spent with Jesus might be enough to convince someone of the true nature of Jesus. Then Jesus suggested that if that wasn’t enough then Philip should consider the teaching that Jesus had given. Jesus claimed his words were not his own. Rather, they had come from the Father. Many people throughout history have been convinced of the claims of Jesus simply by studying the quality of the message Jesus taught. Having read those words they were prepared to commit their lives.

But then Jesus gave Philip another alternate. Philip should consider the miracles Jesus had performed. After all, Philip had been an eye-witness to all these events. He had the evidence, so what decision would he come to about Jesus. I find it fascinating that when Philip raised this question of certainty Jesus did not give him an easy answer. Rather, he gave Philip a list of alternatives. Jesus is showing us that matters of faith are complex, it is not simple, it is not simplistic. Rather, faith will be an issue we wrestle with all our lives. Sometimes some things are helpful, sometimes help comes from a completely different source. But what is important is that we do not give up. As we read elsewhere, those who endure to the end will be saved.

What Jesus gives us is a great hope for the future, a great blessing in his promise to bring us to the Father. In our trusting in his words, we need to do it without arrogance, without intolerance, but in love and compassion as we each persist in the task of working out our own salvation. I love that image of Jesus washing the disciples feet. If, in our life of faith, we move away from such a life of humility, then how can we be sure there is much Christianity in any of us?

Reverend Ross Weaver