Ways and Methods
May 7, 2023 Easter 5 RCL-A
It is said that all religions can be differentiated by two things I would add that denominations and sects within a religion Can be defined by the same two subjects. All major religions say that there is something wrong, and how to repair the wrong. In Buddhism, you have the Eightfold Path To enlightenment. Methodism is called so because John Wesley offered a non-conformist method of lifelong practices to move from utter depravity to perfect union with God in Christ. A few years ago when the Star Wars show ‘The Mandalorian’ came out I could feel it, like a movement in the force, I felt something shift as soon as they started uttering ‘this is the way’. Every geeky Christian I know turned their head and leaned in closer. OOohh the way! We know about the way.
It would seem that most people function better for their wellness and wellness of others if they have a recipe, a method, a way to follow. There is a word for everybody doing whatever they want; and while it may be liberated, it is not free for each other. Jesus begins this teaching which is known as his Farewell Address, He begins it with words about paths and movement and motion that have a destination. His words here are not about eternity Even if we use this reading in burial rites. Jesus’ words are about my father's house, and house may not be the most helpful translation. The language is more like the ideal of home as an emotion, the way in which a relationship can feel like you are at home. It's an indwelling, it's an abiding, but it's not necessarily a geographic or cosmic address. I wonder if the phrase ‘God's heart has ample room for all of us’, might be a clearer Illustration of our destination. We are both already in God's ample heart and this world is terribly broken and we are not at home yet in God's heart. How do we get there - this teaching is Jesus's simple and not simple method, his way.
Jesus is diving into and expanding an understanding of ‘the way’ that is already present in ancient Judaism. The word that gets translated as ‘the way’ is a common metaphor for Torah living: both following the rules of the texts and embodying the methods beyond the text. Jesus says some similar things in other places in the Gospels, placing his whole story and presence in the space where Torah and Temple were the route between what is wrong and how to fix it. Giving of oneself to Jesus’ path sharing in his baptism, and joining him at the table, pursuing his upsidedown kingdom in our lives fills in a very similar ‘journey home’ to what is meant by ‘the way’. It is a particular answer for the people at his feet, the disciples who are asking the questions. It is the way for those who follow him.
The phrase ‘I am’ deepens the intensity of this declaration of being God-given. When Moses meets God in the burning bush God declares God's name as ‘I am who I am’, which also could be translated ‘I will be who I will be’. Jesus also says ‘I am the gate, I am the bread of life, I am the Good Shepherd’. I am is a ringing of a bell it should turn our head, like Christian geeks hearing ‘this is the way’. It should make us think of the things that are direct from God. When civil rights protesters held up signs that said ‘I am a man’ part of what they're saying for the biblically literate is God made us equal. In the phrase ‘I am the way’ Jesus says my life is one with God and the life that I lead is God's way. This is how we proceed in this life from brokenness to wholeness, from estrangement to dwelling in God's heart.
So do you have a way? A method of practicing life the easy parts and the hard parts? Do you have a recipe for how you dwell with Christ in the choices you make everyday? If you don't think that you do I will remind you that in the Episcopal Church in the Anglican tradition we are given away and a method in the active promises of baptism. Continue, return, proclaim, serve, and strive. A five finger memory device for the way. Twelve-step recovery programs repeat the 12 steps at every meeting. If I were really really in charge, we would say the renewal of baptism 3 out of 4 Sundays a month (with the Nicene Creed the rest of the time). We intend to renew our baptismal promises in the sacrament of the Eucharist, but maybe, just maybe, it's like the secret ingredient; when what we really need is both that deep truth and to repeat it out loud and therefore, know what we know. We have a way, it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We have a method - it is summarized in the active promises of baptism. Why don’t we repeat them again right now. Your response - (on poster board) is I will with God’s help. (link to BCP Online pg 304)