Down and Dirty Discipleship #4
In that clip came from the movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian.” Academy Award® Winner, Anthony Hopkins stars as Burt Monroe, a man who never let the dreams of youth fade. In the late 1960’s, after a lifetime of perfecting his classic Indian Motorcycle, Burt set off from the bottom of the world, Invancargill, New Zealand, to clock his bike at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. With all the odds against him, Burt’s quest culminates in an unlikely conclusion and remains legendary within the motorcycle community to this day.
As you saw in the scene, while he perfected his motorcycle’s engine and managed to travel from New Zealand, he forgot one critical detail, he forgot to register for the event. He didn’t even know he had to register. And as a consequence he wasn’t allowed to run.
Let’s look at the passage for this morning John 14:1-7
 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Let Us Pray
This is a very familiar passage which is used at funerals and times of loss to give us hope. It reminds us that we’re not alone, that God’s Kingdom is bigger than this life. And yet, in the midst of all that hope is one of those deeply troubling verses of Scripture; one of those hard and troubling teachings of Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This verse comes in the midst of the Last Supper as Jesus is preparing the Disciples for what’s coming next, his betrayal, arrest, their denial, his trial, crucifixion and eventually his resurrection. He lays it all out for them at this meal. He prayed for them and he even prayed for us, the church of the future. But there’s this one verse. This is one of those verses that kind of sticks in your throat like my mother’s lumpy cream of wheat.
I remember a story about a rather self-possessed individual who received a general admission ticket to a theater production. When he got there and took his place, he thought his seat was too far from the stage. So, he called the usher over and whispered, “Look, this play is a mystery, and I like to watch mysteries up close. Can you get me a better seat? I’ll give you a handsome tip.”
The usher went to check the seating situation, came back and lead him to the second row. The man was ecstatic. He sat down, reached into his wallet, said “Thank you” and gave the usher a single paltry dollar. The usher took one look at the “Handsome tip,” leaned over and whispered, “The wife did it.”
Have you ever had somebody spoil something for you? It just kind of takes all the fun out of it doesn’t it? If you read movie reviews, especially online, they always have a notice that says, “Spoiler Alert” which means beware because they are going to reveal something critical to the story in the movie.
I think the passage for today really needs a spoiler alert. This is one of those passages that shakes some people up. And it’s one of the major reasons for this series dealing with the hard teaching of Jesus. This passage raises serious questions amongst non-Christians, new Christians and lifelong Christians.
I’ll tell you up front, I’ve wrestled with this a long time, but especially so this week. I wrestle with it for the same reason everyone else wrestles with the exclusivity of this teaching and the questions it raises. I’ve wrestled with it this week because I want to be faithful to Scripture, to Christ and help us understand what Jesus was teaching and why.
First I think we need to look at a couple of questions that come up again and again. “Aren’t all religions basically alike?” and “Aren’t we all looking forward to the same place? Aren’t we all on the same journey to get to heaven, just taking different roads?”
I. AREN’T ALL RELIGIONS ALIKE:
A. Let’s take the first question first. Aren’t all religions basically alike?
That’s a pretty popular point of view. However, in my understanding of Scripture it’s false. And it’s predicated on not knowing what the other religions believe. When people say, “All religions are basically the same; they just look different on the surface,” it’s a myth. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. All religions may look alike on the surface, but they’re basically different.
For instance, there’s a huge difference between what these various religions mean when they use the word “God” if they even use that word at all. Satanism is a real religion and it certainly doesn’t have God as its object of worship. And even those religions which have the God of the Bible as their central character, whose faith and belief system is built upon events which actually happened in human history have different basic interpretations of God. I’m talking about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
But even these three great religions which share the same roots, have some very basic differences in their concepts of God. A colleague of mine, Dr. Don Strobe, says that “reduced to the simplest terms: for the Jew God is Justice; for the Muslim, God is Power; for the Christian, God is Love.”
I would also add that a major theme of each can be seen in three words beginning with the letter R. For the Jew it is Retribution the idea of an eye for an eye, of equalizing. For Muslims it is Revenge, not just getting even but inflicting punishment. For Christians the word is Redemption which deals with forgiveness and reconciliation.
Now, I know that God is so much more than any one of those descriptions. But I also believe that because Christ was God incarnate, that God as Love and the Love of God are the most important. I acknowledge that as Christians we don’t always practice that love. I realize that at times, Christians can be just as fanatical and bloodthirsty as any member of any other religion there is. However, I believe that when we act like that we aren’t being Christian and we are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught a few short verses earlier in John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That’s different than the teachings of Judaism or Islam.
B. In Evanston, Illinois there is a famous structure called the Baha’i Temple. It’s a fantastic piece of oriental-looking architecture. If I remember right; it has nine sides, with nine windows. The idea being that there are nine great religions in the world, which all point to one God, but just as there is only one sun, that sun can shine through nine different windows. And like that one sun there is one God. The nine great religions of the world are simply windows which point to the One God.
That sounds great, I even dabbled with that idea before becoming a Christian. But if you really begin to compare the views of the great religious teachers honored in the temple, you find that they contradict one another. Some of the great religious teachers were actually atheists, believing in no personal God at all, while others had widely divergent views of what God is really like, and what kind of behavior that “god” requires. To me it actually raises more questions.
How do you reconcile the Hindu belief in a caste system which says that some people are born “untouchable” with the Christian belief that every human being is a person of sacred and infinite worth created in image of God?
How do we reconcile the Buddhist notion that the human self has no real identity or individual significance with the Christian understanding that becoming one’s true self in God is of primary importance?
How do we reconcile the Muslim view that everything that happens, be it good, bad, or indifferent, is “the will of Allah,” with the Christian belief that our lives are not in the hands of blind Fate, but rather in the hands of a loving God? Jer 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
How do we reconcile the Hindu notion that the soul is reincarnated again and again until at last it is purified and breaks from the law of karma with the Christian teaching about the resurrection of the individual into life everlasting?
All religions may look alike on the surface, but when you dig deep down into their roots you find that they are very different.
II. AREN’T WE ALL JUST ON DIFFERENT ROADS?:
A. Let’s look at the second question. “Aren’t we all looking forward to the same place? Aren’t we all on the same journey to get to heaven, just taking different roads?” Actually, that’s a Hindu teaching, not a Christian teaching. One Hindu scholar expresses their tradition in these words: “God is one, but the paths to him are many… God welcomes us in whatever way we approach him, and for each man that religious tradition is best in which he is born and bred.” That’s not what Jesus says here.
Some have said we’re all headed the same direction, we’re all on the same journey, just different paths. They describe it like traveling to the top of a distant mountain. Each road leads to the mountain. In my opinion, that analogy only goes so far. The presence or mystery of God is the mountain. Certainly all roads, all paths lead to the mountain. I think the fact that there are other religions points to the presence of the creator and our natural spiritual inclination is to seek the creator.
However, that’s not same thing. There ARE many ways to the mountain. However, the mountain is not the destination. The top of the mountain is. And there is only one path to the top.
Some people, once they have journeyed to the point where they can see the beauty of the mountain, simply stop. They think that’s enough. From a distance, they worship and live their lives in view of the mountain. they gain much spiritual insight for their lives from the sitting in the distant presence of the mountain. But they never make it to the mountain, let alone the final destination.
There are those folks who travel on these paths to the very base of the mountain. They get so close they’re sitting in the shadow of the mountain. They spend their lives worshipping at the base. The only trouble is, the mountain is not the destination. The top of the mountain is the destination. Consequently, like those who settled at a distance they never make it to the final destination. They never get the whole picture.
There are also those who know the mountain itself is not the destination, the top is and amongst this group there are those who say there are many paths up the mountain. They tell you that we are all headed to the top and how we get there doesn’t matter. As I understand Scripture, that’s not exactly true either. Yes, there are a multitude of paths upon which to begin our ascent but they all eventually lead to a single path to the summit.
It’s kind of like going on any of the rides at Six flags. There are lots of ways you can travel to get to Six Flags. You could drive south to Waco and work your way back. I don’t know why you’d do that but you can. You could go to Weatherford first and then head there. But the thing is, no matter which direction you go, the destination is the same. However, everyone will have to enter through the same ticket area. If you want to ride a particular ride, generally speaking, there’s only one way onto the ride.
I think that’s what it’s like for us as Christians. A lot of Christians will say we’re all headed to the top and it doesn’t really matter how we get there. That’s only true to a certain extent. If we think of it in terms of the mountain climbing or hiking paraphernalia, then it’s true. There are umpteen companies who make hiking and mountain climbing equipment. Most people will tell you that it doesn’t matter which brand you use, as long as it fits correctly and allows the activity for which it was designed.
Here’s the kicker. Here’s what I think Jesus’ teachings were all about. I think the destination, the summit, Heaven if you want to put a name to it, isn’t as important as the Journey or our relationship with the Guide, Jesus. If we’re only concerned with the destination then everything we do in life is simply punching the ticket to get there. However, if it’s about the Journey and a relationship with the Guide, then we have to trust the guide to take us the best way possible.
I believe because we are created in the image of God our souls naturally seek God, the author and creator of all that is. Our souls actually seek to be united with God. Every religion is an attempt to see God. And every religion succeeds in seeing some aspect of God. What I believe is that Jesus offers us the clearest view of God and the clearest picture of the nature of God.
Jesus said, “I am the way.” To me, that’s something completely different than saying, “Our religion is the way.” Jesus is our GPS, God’s Personal Strategy for our salvation. The first Christians were called Followers of the Way. It wasn’t about beliefs it was about a personal relationship and a Way of Life that exemplified God’s love as revealed in Christ because something of cosmic importance had taken place. The God of all creation became one of us “And the word became flesh and lived among us.”
III. SO WHAT ABOUT THEM:
A. Having said all that, it leaves us with one more question. “What about them. What about all those people, the 2/3 to 4/5s of the world that either haven’t heard the Gospel or believe something else? What about them?” To be honest, I don’t know.
I DO know that all religions are not basically the same. They teach some very different things about God, about salvation, about the meaning and purpose of human life and the value of human life. I DO know that something can’t be true if its exact opposite is also true. Truth is singular it can’t be both and. Not everything is black and white but white can’t be black and black can’t be white even if we vote on it; because some things can’t be settled by majority vote.
There’s an old story about a school teacher who brought a baby rabbit to show her students at school. They asked, “Is it a boy rabbit or a girl rabbit?” The teacher was hesitant to reply, when suddenly a hand shot up in the back of the classroom, “We could vote on it!” We all know that some things are either one thing or another; they can’t be both. There are times when the truth can’t be settled by a show of hands. And this is one of those.
I believe that Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life. If I believe that, then I have to believe that what He said about being the only way to the Father is true as well.
B. John 10:1-18 which we read earlier, may give us some insight of God’s plan for others. Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” I think this has been interpreted primarily to point to the Gentiles or those of us what aren’t Jewish. However, it might be construed that Jesus is talking about everyone else, the people of all the other religions; the people who have never heard about Jesus. It may mean that God has a plan for them that we don’t know about. I do know this, God loves them just as much as God loves us. I think Jeremiah 29:11 was written as much for them as it was for us.
Our job, our call is to be faithful to the One whom WE claim is Lord and Savior, the One who we follow and emulate, Jesus. Part of that faithfulness is making sure as many people as possible hear the Good News so they CAN make the choice. I think one of the imperatives of the Great Commission is for us to have Great Compassion for those of other faiths; to respect them and treat them with dignity. Not because they are alternatives but because that’s how Jesus would have treated them. You see, once again, it boils down to the two basic teachings of Christ: “Love God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” We’re called to leave the rest up to God.
In the movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” the rest of the story is that through some finagling and bending of rules, Burt Munro was actually allowed to run. That year his officially timed but unofficial speed was 205.67 mph. He said he always dreamed of doing one big thing in his life. Over the next 9 years Burt set 3 world records for motorcycles under 1000ccs. His fastest official record was 190.07 mph. He did this when he was 66 years old. He died in 1978 and in 2006 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
We all hope there will be some finagling and bending of rules at Judgment Day. Unfortunately for us, according to what Jesus said and taught, all the finagling and bending of rules has already taken place. Now it is time for us to choose.
As much as we don’t like to, WE have to make a choice. So, what does that do for our brothers and sisters of other faiths. I don’t know but that’s an ambiguity I’m willing to live with because I’m not in charge. I DO hope that they are the “other sheep” about which Jesus talked.
I DO know that I have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For me, if Jesus isn’t the only way, my whole ministry has been predicated on a lie. If there ARE other ways, then why did Jesus die on the cross? Why did he have to suffer all the pain and humiliation? Is God just a big bully who wants to get His own way?
That’s not the God I see revealed in Jesus. I think Jesus was asking us, maybe even forcing us to make a choice. Our challenge is to live that choice with the greatest integrity possible so our lives become a living witness to the Love of God in Christ.
Our challenge is to be ready to share the Good News of Jesus with others while loving and respecting them. No matter what their belief system, they are still God’s creation; they are still created in the Image of God.
Our greatest challenge maybe to leave the rest of it up to God.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.