Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Last week I talked about how we can adhere strongly to these things by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Gorilla Glue that holds us to these things, helps us to be devoted to the teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.
But today I want you to see these things as also the space we inhabit, the space in which we live from day-to-day as Christians. This is where we start; this is from where we take our stand.
And take our stand, we must, because as we read passages of Scripture like today’s Gospel reading, we realize that Jesus has taken a stand, taken a stand that says He is set apart from all of the other religions of the world, all of the other things that people call gods. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus is the Gate, Jesus is the One who calls us into fellowship with God the Father, Jesus calls us to go in and find pasture, go in and find truth.
And yet, it’s tempting to start outside of the gate. It’s tempting to start outside of the gate, and still say things about God, but say things that don’t require being inside the safety of the gate.
We can say things like: “A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.”
“God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible.”
“The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
“God resolves the problems in my life.”
“People go to heaven when they die.”
I can say all of these outside of the gate, because I don’t really need God’s protection to say these things. I mean, most people aren’t going to argue much with these things. The way that people generally think about God isn’t going to have much trouble with these things. As long as God seems like a kind, old man who helps out when we need Him to, well, then we’re safe, we’re safe saying those kind of things. We don’t need much protection then, because we’re not stepping on anyone’s toes.
But the more you say about Jesus (moving behind gate), the more we say about how Jesus is the One that loves us, that Jesus died and rose again, that Jesus forgives our sins, that (ducking behind gate) Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him, once we say something like that, well, then we’ve got to duck behind the gate, we need God’s protection, because that’s the kind of thing that really doesn’t sit well with people today.
(standing behind the gate) As soon as you make an exclusive claim about Christianity, as soon as you say that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, well, that’s when it gets difficult.
And frankly, I’d rather say those other things about God, I’d rather be outside the gate, rather say those happy and relaxed things about God. In my sinful, less committed side, I’d rather say those vague things about God, say things that leave open the door for all kinds of belief, say things that aren’t going to offend anyone else, say things that will keep people happy.
But like I said, that’s my sinful, less committed side, that’s the side of me that’s more concerned about pleasing other people than about pleasing God. And that’s the side that’s got to ignore what God has to say in His Word.
The only way to take the Bible seriously and teach what it teaches, the only way to do that is to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the Father. This is what Jesus said about Himself, and if I believe in Jesus, if I believe in Him as my Lord and Savior, if I want to follow Jesus, I need to take seriously this exclusive claim.
And so I’m back inside the gate, ducking, asking for God’s protection, as I say things like “Jesus is the only way to eternal life,” “Those who do not know Jesus are going to hell,” and “The only true religion is Christianity.”
And when I’m saying those things, I’m realizing a couple of things. First, I’m so aware of needing God’s forgiveness, needing His forgiveness for wanting to change His Word, wanting to say things that make people happy. I need His forgiveness, I need to enter into fellowship with Him through the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes to me through what Jesus did on the cross. As I stand once again inside the gate, I realize that I didn’t get here by myself. I got here through the power of Christ, through the forgiveness of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I stand inside the gate, awed by what God is able to do in me—a weak, sinful guy who wouldn’t be able to take a stand, shouldn’t take a stand, shouldn’t be representing Christ, but here He’s transformed me into someone who can speak the truth that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.
And you also are forgiven, you are empowered. You, too, are forgiven for the times when you’ve said things that are vague about God, said things that might make other people happy and comfortable but don’t match Scripture, you are forgiven by what Christ has done for you, you are forgiven and sent by God again to be His representative. You, too, can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak these words, to be protected by the gate, to be able to say to others that you believe Jesus is the only way. The Holy Spirit draws you inside the gate, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes it so that you adhere strongly to these things, adhere strongly to the true message of Christ. The Holy Spirit will empower you to speak the whole truth, the whole exclusive truth about Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings you inside the gate, protects you inside the gate, and gives you the word to speak from inside the gate, makes it so you can say: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
So I realize the truth, the truth is that there’s one way, one way to God the Father.
But it’s one way wide open, one way that stands wide open to all people. . (turn gate around so opening faces congregation)
In all of this talk about Jesus being the only way, in all this feeling like we need to stand behind the gate in order to say these truths about God, in all of this, I don’t want you to think that we stand inside the gate laughing at the people on the outside, saying, “Ha ha! We’re inside and you’re not.” This business about Jesus being the only way and standing inside the gate, well, this doesn’t mean that we brag about being inside when other people are on the outside. I don’t want us to forget that the other message here in what Jesus says in John 14, the other message is that there are many rooms, that Jesus is preparing a place for us, that really the gate is wide open.
I mean, the gate is Jesus, there is one way to the Father, but that gate stands wide open to anyone. As much as Jesus is making an exclusive claim, claiming that He’s the only way to the Father, still Christianity is not a closed religion. It’s open to people from any background—male and female, Jew and Gentile—open to sinners of all kinds—open to people of every background, every country, every ethnicity, every race, every person you will ever meet may enter the gate of Christ. The gate stands open, wide open for anyone to come and believe in Him for eternal life.
As much as we’re offering the one way to eternal life in Christ, as much as we need God’s protection to say those words that the world may not want to hear, as much as we need to stand behind the gate, we also can rejoice that this gate stands wide open to anyone. We’re not going into the world and saying that only certain people can come to the Father, we’re not saying that the gate is only open to certain people, people who are like us, people we are selecting. No, instead we’re going with a specific message—Jesus is the way—but a message that’s available for anyone who hears the message. The message is that there’s plenty of rooms for all who will believe in Jesus. It’s one way wide open.
And if we need forgiveness for not taking a stand on God’s truth, maybe sometimes it’s almost the opposite—we need forgiveness for taking too much of a stand, giving the impression that God’s grace isn’t open to all people. We declare that Jesus is the one way, but we are reluctant to say that this way is wide open, reluctant to offer the Gospel to other people. For that, we also need God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness that heals our broken message, heals us and sends us out to be His servants again.
You are forgiven, you are empowered. You are forgiven for holding onto the Good News, keeping that Good News to yourself. You are empowered to share that Good News with all people, to share it as the way that’s wide open to all people, wide open so that all people can find salvation.
So therefore, you are God’s forgiven servants, His forgiven people of the mission, people with a mission to share God’s Word with others. And for us it comes together in four parts of this gate image.
First, from last week, it’s the Gorilla Glue, it’s the Holy Spirit that holds us to the truth, holds us to these things that keep us strong in the faith, the Holy Spirit makes it so that we adhere strongly to the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and prayer.
Secondly, as we share God’s Word with the world, the exclusive claim that Jesus is the one way, we stand inside the protection of the gate, we stand inside the gate of Jesus, stand in His protection.
Third, we see that the gate is one way wide open, the gate stands wide open to all people, all people may come to Jesus Christ and believe in Him.
Finally, this is a portable gate, this is portable protection that goes with us everywhere we go. We take God’s Word out into the world with us. We still have His protection. We still offer Him as the one way, but as we go, we’re offering this one way wide open, we offer Him wherever we are.
So go. You are God’s forgiven servants, forgiven when you don’t want to take a stand for Christ and forgiven when you don’t offer the Good News to all people. You are God’s forgiven servants, so go. Go with the gate of protection, go with the gate open, go with the portable protection, the portable Good News. Go with the one way wide open.