This gospel is beloved among Christians.
- It is a comforting passage often included in memorial services for our deceased.
- It is the foundational passage for an amazing junior high retreat in Arizona that I volunteered.
And yet, this scripture troubles me despite Jesus beginning with ‘do not let your heart be troubled”.
This ‘trouble’ begins with a young, elementary aged Melinda, whose only schoolmate friend was raised by divorced parents. Her father was Roman Catholic and her mother had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church). We would compare and contrast the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Mormons. At that point, I should have known I would be blessed, perhaps cursed, with a passion for religious studies.
Then, my under-graduate field was Religious Studies. Religious Studies is a relatively recent academic field in its current form, which is composed of:
- Establishing methods for the academic study of religion and religious traditions, as objectively as possible, whether Christian or non-Christian;
- Exploring theories about the definition, origin, and purpose of religion; and
- Comparing of religious traditions, as objectively as possible, through their core teachings, rituals, and histories.
This academic study of religion is a compilation of academic fields, including anthropology, psychology, and sociology.
Then, my graduate education was at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, a member of the Graduate Theological Union composed of multiple Christian Seminaries and non-Christian centers of study.
Thus, I have and continue to craft an intellectual and spiritual life rooted in the fertile soil of religious studies and diverse understanding. This is the foundation for my trouble with our passage.
I know Christians, who proclaim that their understanding of the Way, the Truth, and the Life is the ONLY pathway to redemption and salvation.
I know Christians, who embrace Jesus telling the disciples: “I have other sheep that do no belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10: 16-17). Thus, the differing Christian understandings of the Way, the Truth, and the Life is the ONLY pathway to redemption and salvation. Thus, denominations are various folds with a shared shepherd.
And yet, I remain troubled…
On the first day of class with a particular professor, who is well respected in his field but unfortunately has the ego to accompany it, asked each of us to share a religious/theological book that has influenced us and why. One student noted a book about how we, as humans, seek to shove God into our box and God simply does not fit.
I was the last student. I choose an under-graduate textbook entitled “The Theory and Method of the Study of Religion” because it presented theories from academics in various fields of study, plus counter-arguments. The professor smugly asked “do you believe God created us or we created God?”
As the feisty Lutheran that I am, I replied “I believe God created us, but we keep trying to shove God into that box”.
That statement summarizes my trouble with our passage.
The author of John has these universal, all-encompassing, statements about Jesus and immediately thereafter attempts to shove it into a smaller box, throws the lid it, and rushes to secure it with tape. This is to my dismay troubling my mind and heart.
Within our gospel, Jesus informs the disciples that he is going ahead of them to prepare a room for them in God’s home. The image invokes Luke’s image of the kingdom of God as a banquet table with space, food, and drink abundant enough for all. Similarly, God’s home has room enough for all to settle in after said feast.
This is a beautiful, inclusive passage.
Thomas, the realistic and inquisitive disciple, begins to panic “Wait, Jesus! We need a road map or GPS!”
Jesus calms Thomas stating, that he does not need directions because Jesus, himself, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; therefore, simply follow Jesus’ teaching, example, and embodiment of Grace.
But then John adds “no one comes to the Father except through me”.
I have witnessed this passage weaponized, particularly against our non-Christian brothers and sisters.
And yet, John also has Jesus saying, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12: 32).
I trust that God’s banquet has space, food, and drink enough for all.
I trust that God’s home has space enough for all.
I trust that God’s grace, which is our only means of redemption and salvation, is sufficient enough to draw ALL people into said banquet and home.
I cannot understand how God’s grace is at work within the entire creation, entire earth, within each system of religious faith or even the lack thereof, or within each life.
I do not need to understand the micro-details of the ultimate Way, Truth, and Life that draws ALL people, not simply our fold, into the divine.
Again, I trust that God’s grace, our only means of redemption and salvation, is sufficient enough to draw ALL people into said banquet and home.
I pray that I never seek to diminish God’s grace, mercy, and steadfast love by attempting to shove it into a one-size fits all box or even a one-way road map, for I do not and cannot comprehend how God works in, among, through, and especially despite us, in order that God’s entire creation, all us sinful worthless critters included, will be redeemed, in God’s home and enjoying an amazing banquet together. But what I do know is Thanks be to God for it. Amen.
Scripture was John 14: 1-14.
Originally preached digital on 10 May 2020 for Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).