Sermon for 5th Sunday of Easter

Sunday May 10th 2020

(Readings Acts 7 vs. 55 –end.  John14 vs1-14)

I offer you my words in the name of the living God; our creator , redeemer and liberator.

Amen

Shortly after Jane and I married in 1975 we left the UK. We worked for 18months in the republic of Zambia on an assignment for my then employers Price Waterhouse, Coopers.

Throughout this time, both at work and in our private life we became part of a multicultural, multi religious community making good friends of people of many different faiths.   As a result of these experiences I began to consolidate and strengthen beliefs that I had been formulating since my teenage years; that all positive spiritual pathways and faiths lead humanity into the experience that we as Christians call God. A lesson that has been invaluable to my own spiritual development. I realised the arrogance of some in our own faith in suggesting we, alone, have the true path.  “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”

But, what about “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except by me.” Is this not a pointer to the exclusivity of the Christian pathway?

Unfortunately, this interpretation of this saying, which I emphasise none of the other Gospel writers even mention, has been used throughout history as an excuse for the persecution of those following other faiths and lead to some of the most disgraceful events in Christian history; the crusades where many Muslims lost their lives; in Europe, the Inquisition when many thousands of witches, heretics and scientists were brutally murdered in the name of Jesus, the prince of peace, and the conquistadors in South America who were responsible for the extermination of many local tribes and peoples. Regrettably, it is still used by religious bigots today in attempts to convert others to their beliefs.

The Gospel of John was the last of the four Canonical Gospels to be written down, towards the end of the first century a number of years after the death of Jesus. The writer had full knowledge of the three synoptic gospels and all of Paul’s letters when he put together the Gospel and would have drawn on these documents.

It is thought by scholars to be less factual than the earlier three Gospels and probably says more about the writer and the times and circumstances that he and the community lived in.

It is believed to have been written by Saint John while he was in exile, with a community of early Christians on the Greek island of Patmos. The despotic Roman emperor, Domitian Caesar who ruled from 81 to 96 AD had declared himself god and commanded all to honour and obey him as god. The choice for Christians was clear; choose either Caesar as god or Jesus as God a choice that often would end in martyrdom. 

Scholars believe, therefore, that John set out to prove in his writings who Jesus was and what He stood for. That He, Jesus, was the Son of God and the incarnation of the Divine not the despotic emperor. John had, with good reason, his own agenda and we must always remember that he was writing to his first century community not to us nearly 2000 years later.

But while suggesting that John’s Gospel was not, necessarily, a literal account of Jesus’ life and teachings, I most certainly do not wish to give the idea that I believe John’s writings to be unimportant  to our faith. They clearly are very vital. The Gospel needs to be read spiritually not literally. For us today it helps show us the way of Jesus and His wonderful teachings and demonstrates, quite clearly, His divinity.

Spiritual metaphors and myths point us to spiritual truths about Jesus and His purpose. The, “I Am” sayings are some of the most beautiful and powerful of these.

In The book of Exodus Moses experiences God on the mountain and asks His name. The reply is, “I am who I am.” And later, “This is my name forever and my title for all generations.” The words, “I am” are crucial.  God refuses to be named. “I am “is the living God, the creator of the universe.

John says of Jesus “I am”; the bread of life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life and, in our Gospel reading today the way the truth and the life. The sayings were used by Saint John as a great comfort and encouragement to the persecuted Christians who seemed to know nothing but hardship. They indicate to us, today, the truth of who Jesus is. They show us all the way of, “I Am.”  May we all worship and stand up for the inclusive God of all peoples and faiths, of all races, of men and women, of all abilities, rich and poor, old and young, gay and straight. May we, like Stephen in our Acts reading stand firm to the inclusive love of our Lord even as, with a loud shout, the crowd rushes forward against us.

Amen