Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, May 18, 2014
The Way to God’s Heart
[Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14; I Peter 2:2-10]
We have three New Testament Scriptures this morning: one the poignant and painful description of Stephen being stoned to death, while uttering the Christ-like words: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” One of the chief instigators of this persecution was Saul of Tarsus who helped to incite the stoning, condoned the violence and also took pleasure from Stephen’s death, because he believed he was obeying God when Stephen was put down. The crowd put down Stephen, our first Christian martyr, as if they were putting down a dangerous animal with rabies. We see in this passage the use of stones as weapons of destruction. We also learn this is NOT the way to God’s heart.
Not long after this incident, Saul experienced a “Come to Jesus Moment” – when he was blinded, fell from his horse and questioned by Jesus personally: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” For Stephen was Christ’s person and when any of us mess with one of Christ’s persons, Jesus, the Living Savior takes notice!
The way to God’s heart is clearly spelled out in John 14:1-14, when Jesus is giving his Farewell Speech to the 12 disciples, his companions of three years, before his death and before the Spirit was poured out on them. This passage is often read at funerals, because Jesus promises he will prepare a place for us. The bedrock of our Christian faith is that God has ROOM for us in God’s presence… in heaven… in eternal life… in God’s life, which never ends. And Jesus promises to come and get us when it is time for us to join him there.
Still uncertain, Thomas asks: “How can we know the way?” Jesus’ response is so familiar; yet great arguments have been waged over these simple words. Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
How is Jesus the way to God? That is our focus this morning. How is Jesus the way to God? Is Jesus the special password we type in to gain access to salvation? Is Jesus the pin # that enables us to “log in” to life? Is Jesus that “protected” -15 digit key or code without which we cannot connect to eternal life?
I don’t think so. And yet, that is what many Christians today believe. Jesus is the “way” in a much more down-to-earth and practical sense. Jesus is the PATH to God, because Jesus IS GOD. When Jesus answered Thomas’ question, he went on to say: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” That’s pretty clear mathematics to me. Jesus = Father. Jesus IS the Father incarnated in human flesh.
And yet, thank God, Jesus never laughs at ANY of our simple questions, for Philip is STILL confused and says: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus answers: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…..Believe me, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus said he was going to the Father, so that disciples who find union with Jesus will do greater works than Jesus did, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
So how is Jesus the way to God? Jesus invites us into union with God. Jesus invites us into the heart of God, but that only happens when we do what Jesus does, when we live like Jesus lived, when we love like Jesus loved. Jesus is not a “life raft” when our cruise ship is sinking; Jesus is the way of life from this day forward and forever. We cannot walk on two paths. We either choose the path which is wide and crowded and leads to destruction, or the narrow path of life which is often steep and less traveled.
I am reminded of Mahatma Ghandi, who lived in London for a while and visited a Christian Church. Ghandi was drawn to the person of Jesus Christ, but he made the statement long before he returned to India, that if only Christians were anything like Jesus, he would have become a Christian himself. It is my belief, and only God the Father knows for sure, that Ghandiji, as the Indians call him, did walk the “way” of Christ and was “in” Christ, and drew near to the heart of God, because his life was lived in the footsteps of Jesus and the trajectory of his whole life followed the path of Christ. If you read about him and read his writings, you may find Christ revealed in him, as I have. He did not reject Christ. He rejected the poor replicas, who barely resemble the Lord they profess. His was a path of non-violence and patient resistance to the British, and so-called Christian, Empire.
The way to God’s heart is to become like “living stones” – so that we may be built into a spiritual house, where God’s presence is alive, guiding, thriving, transforming, empowering each and every person to be a SAFE PLACE WHERE GOD CAN DWELL and a SAFE PLACE where people can dwell in harmony with one another.
Jesus Christ is the foundation STONE, but for some Christ is a stumbling stone. Saul, the Pharisee, thought he was an imposter – not for real—but Christ became VERY REAL for him on the road to Damascus. Paul made a 180 degree change and became FOR what he was originally AGAINST, . He gave up everything else that mattered to him, calling it “rubbish,” in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Our egotistical agendas ARE RUBBISH, in comparison to knowing Christ and walking on the path Jesus has prepared for us. Everyone who trusts in Christ can be built into the spiritual community God is creating among us. Notice in this verse on the cover of your bulletin: “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” Let yourselves be built, means literally that we are not the builders. We are the bricks, the stones, and God does the building. We are not “in charge” – we don’t get to draw up the plans, hire the architect and vote the project up or down, we are simply the building blocks, the living stones God uses… to create God’s building, which is not made with human hands.
We are the sanctuary God is building, pure and holy, tried and true, not a bunch of mini, individualistic sanctuaries stacked on top of each other. We are ONE sanctuary, ONE community spacious enough to welcome whomever God leads here. God will put us together as God sees fit, cementing us to one another – without our choosing who is on our left or right, in front or behind us.
The newest special edition of Presbyterians Today published in May 2014 is entitled: “Young Adults: Their Vision for the Church.” It was written completely about millennials and by millenials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. I hope to purchase additional copies of the magazine so that our Session and interested members may read it. The present editor of Presbyterians Today is Patrick David Henry, a young blond and blue eyed young adult, who says in his upfront, introductory article: “It seems like everyone in the church these days is talking about young adults: how to get them and why they left in the first place. But about 2 years ago, a few of us in the Presbyterian Mission Agency made an observation: the people doing most of the talking weren’t young adults.”
Henry notes that this issue is written by a diverse team of young Presbyterians as a guide to churches. He writes: “Together, they have cast a vision for the church, and it’s surprisingly intergenerational. It has nothing to do with contemporary worship, having the right program, or catering to every young adult want and expectation; these writers bring a remarkably critical eye to the ways our culture has shaped young adults.
Instead they’re looking to be part of a multigenerational community that, in very simple terms, welcomes them for who they are, talks openly about real-life matters and spiritual questions, wants a personal relationship with them, is open to change while rooted in a very old and shared story, and (this is the biggie) empowers them to put their faith into action through service and justice.
WHAT THEY DON’T WANT is an inheritance (here, please carry on what’ I’ve created), a PR gimmick (hey, we have guitars!) a social hour for insiders (coffee hour, anyone?), an out-of-touch community (oh, have you seen our website from 2003), or a monotony of race and thought (but what about that one Chinese family? – um, I think they’re Korean).”
Henry points out that their vision could fundamentally change how we do church, but for ALL the generations, because each generation would be honestly listening and learning from one another.
He concludes that: “In this new community, [as God cements each living stone together] young adults would cry out for a place at the decision-making table and remind us of the importance of including all voices. At the same time, an intergenerational church would show them what it’s like to be part of a community that’s bigger—and more important—than any one of us. And while the tweeting, drawing, question-asking, service-minded young adults among us would transform worship into an interactive and creative space connected with mission and outreach, the whole of the church could place renewed emphasis on worship as a time for serving God, not ourselves.
Together we would create a church not for young adults, not for older adults, but for God.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, I invite all of us to offer ourselves as living stones, let us be built into the spiritual house God envisions for St. Pauls Presbyterian Church. This is the way of Christ and the way to God’s heart. Let us pray.
Patrick David Heery, “What We Could Learn From Each Other,” Presbyterians Today
, Vol. 104, Issue 4 (May 2014), p. 474