Jesus as the Way

Jesus as the Way

Jesus as the Way

We are in the second week of our sermon series, Freeing Jesus, the title of a book by Diana Butler Bass. The idea is to look at various facets of Jesus’ life so that we can be freed from overly simplistic Sunday school versions of Jesus so that we can delve into a deeper faith that speaks to adult situations.  Today we are looking at Jesus as the way.

Several times, the Bible calls the earliest Christians, “the followers of the Way.”  In the book of Acts the Apostle Paul says he worships the God of his ancestors “by following the Way.” In John 14:6, Jesus says he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” What is going on here? What is this way and where will it lead us if we follow it?

Simply put the way refers to living the way that Jesus lived. It’s how you approach your life and decision making. One of the things I love about this language of “the way” is that it implies that our faith is more than believing certain things about God, it has to do with practices and attitudes that we incorporate into our lives that lead us to a fuller and more meaningful life.

A non-exclusivist reading of the passage.

Throughout history, Christians have been tempted to wrench this passage from its context and make it sound like something that Jesus never intended. They see the part about “no one comes to the Father but through me,” and jump to the conclusion that only Christianity is right and everyone else is headed to hell. It’s ugly. Nowhere in the context are they talking about other faiths. Jesus just told them he is going to die and not be with them any more but they can still connect with him and here is how by following his way.

It’s not unlike the memorial service we had for Traci Reitz yesterday. We connect with her by remembering her and enjoying some of the things she did. I think that is the kind of thing Jesus was saying. He was never exclusivist and insisting on his way or the highway. Jesus’ way was always kind and invitational, not exclusivist and mean-spirited.

A great way to live.

In Diana Butler Bass’s chapter on Jesus as the way she points out how Christianity is often portrayed has having the right set of beliefs. And people debate and divide up over what those right beliefs are. It’s ridiculous. It was never about just having the right beliefs, but about how you live, what you do. Is it like the way Jesus lived? What good is it to have correct beliefs but are still a smug, self-entitled jerk who believes only people who believe what you believe go to heaven? I’d rather not have you believe anything if that’s what it does to you.

The way is about how you live. For me, I believe in God, but I can say, even if it turns out that there is no God, that the Bible got most things wrong, there were no miracles, following the way of Jesus of loving-kindness, forgiveness, acceptance of others, caring for the poor is still how I want to live. Being Christian was originally about applying these things to your life more than having the right belief system.

The Way of Jesus

Whether you are just learning about Jesus or you are very familiar with the story, it’s good to think about the various actions he took and see if there is something you can take from his example. Lots of people had WWJD bracelets and some time ago, my friend said it would be better if people knew the story better and modeled things after what did Jesus do.

The first thing we see is Jesus’ humility in getting baptized by John. He didn’t have to come across as some big shot in total control. By taking the plunge, he showed his solidarity with people instead of feeling he was above them.

The we see him driven into the wilderness to face his inner demons, to find a way to conquer his temptations. All week when writing this sermon, I kept thinking about Frank Sinatra. We all want to have someone sing, I Did it My Way at our funerals. But I have to be honest enough to remember that sometimes my way can be rather small, insecure, irritable, petty, vindictive. To come to terms with those inclinations and know how to prevent them for detracting you from who you want to become is half the battle in doing it your way instead of the way of the worst parts of yourself.

Last week we talked about how Jesus used his gift for storytelling to be an influential teacher. He used his abilities to do good in the world. Jesus’ way was a way of using one’s talents and abilities to help others. He didn’t set up story theater, to enrich himself. How can you use some skill, some talent for others.

Jesus’ way was a way of healing. Everywhere he went, he healed people. Following his example doesn’t mean you perform some mumbo-jumbo faith healing or that you become a medical professional. Maybe you can say an encouraging word to someone, or listen deeply to them, or help them through a hard time. Sometimes a hug that lasts a beat or two longer than normal can go a long way. All those can be healing actions. Maybe there is some trauma or pain in your life that needs healed.

Jesus’ way was a way of withdrawing for prayer and contemplation. We see this cycle of Jesus traveling, and teaching and healing, then withdrawing to recharge his spiritual batteries.  Good for you! You are doing that when you worship. Unplug, no demands on you and be in presence of God, feeling how the spirit may move in your life. Don’t just go go all the time. You are going to be better if you unplug. Electronics going haywire? Restarting often fixes the problem.

Jesus’ way was to accept those rejected by everyone else. He went out of his way to seek out the outcasts, the lepers, sinners, prostitutes, and the poor. He is often depicted as eating with them in a culture where sharing a table meant acceptance and kinship with someone. Think of the lunchroom in middle school. He crossed the barriers. His critics tried to smear him with a like attracts like kind of argument, but he had none of it. In a world that keeps dividing and subdividing, follow Jesus’ way of building bridges and hanging out with people who wouldn’t normally be in your circle.

While at the table with people, sometimes the critics would accuse him of having too much fun, eating and drinking and enjoying each other. Jesus’ way remembers that it isn’t a sin to be glad you’re alive. Be grateful for the opportunities to be truly present and enjoy people and the world.

Way of listening and empathizing. He had an open mind. There is a great story about a Syrophoenician woman who changed his mind and opened him up to new possibilities.

Jesus’ way was to stand over against the oppressors. Liberate people from expressions of faith that had constricting rules and no heart. Called out the leaders who neglected their moral responsibility to care for the less fortunate, especially the widows, orphans, and foreigners.

Jesus’ way was to see himself as a servant. Not as one over others but to be useful in helping them find a path that leads to wholeness. He got down on his knees to do a servant’s job of washing his disciple’s feet saying, do unto others as I have done to you.

Way of sacrifice, lay his life down for others, for his friends.

Jesus’ way was to offer forgiveness not condemnation. At every turn, Jesus is forgiving sins. He never condemns anyone. Even when they beat him up and nail him to a cross, he is praying for his persecutor’s forgiveness. Who can you forgive? Jesus way was a way of peace and reconciliation. Shove a stick in the spokes of the wheels of revenge and retaliation saying it has to stop somewhere. A way to be at peace internally and extend it.

A way of radical trust in God. Not hoarding up securities and a full pantry and bank account, but praying Give me today my daily bread. Trusting that God would provide his needs. Not worrying about “success” in converting everyone, but doing the things he was called to do and trusting God would take care of the results over the long run.

Mostly his was a way of love.

A lot of you may have had 1 Corinthians 13, “the love chapter” read at your wedding. It isn’t really about romantic love, but a way of being of living that Jesus modeled for us.

Love is patient—he patient with disciples who struggled. Right after he taught them that to be considered great they had to adopt a service mentality and the next thing they argue about which of them is the greatest.

Love is kind. Give the benefit of the doubt. See the best in others, their potential. Story of Zacchaeus the tax collector.

Love is not irritable. There are times he got irritable, but it was when he was defending others like those getting ripped off by the money changers at the table. I remember getting vaccinated and saw that irritability was one of the potential side effects. I rejoiced in having three free days to enjoy irritability.

Love is not arrogant, boastful, or rude.

Love does not keep score of wrongdoings. The more you concentrate on the list the more unhappy you will be. And if you are the one keeping score, it’s easy to figure someone else always owes you.

Does not insist on its own way. Jesus does not insist you follow this way. Offers it as a possibility. Free to live however you want. Not a judgy text. Irony of it being used to judge and exclude. It takes it out of context. Not talking about other religions, but how these guys stay connected.

Not a highway to glory. Your own way. Maze false endings, restarts. Winding around. But it’s a way that’s true, that gets there.