Monday, August 22, 2022

Christ the way. . .

The Sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 16C, preached on Sunday, August 21, 2022.

The way is not some small metaphor in Scripture.  It is a profound thing.  Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life.  That is familiar verse and we know it well but what it means is not quite so well known.  We keep thinking that Jesus is like a GPS – He gives directions.  We treat His Word as if it were the voice of our GPS telling us where to turn in life and what the speed limit is on our morality and when we shall arrive at our destination.  But Jesus never promises to show us the way.  He never ever speaks of Himself as One who reveals anything but Himself and the Father.  Jesus comes that we might know God.  Let that sink in.

The promise of Advent is that a messenger and prophet has come to prepare the way of the Lord.  This does not mean someone who has come to tidy up the lives of messy people or sweep up the dirt of the world.  No, this is not about cleaning up the city and its people so that they will impress the great one when He comes.  It is about preparing the Lord’s way – calling a people to repentance, to abandon their trust in themselves and the things of the world, and to look to Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet’s promise.  It is the Lord’s way that all of the past and its prophets looks and we were taught to look for Him to come.     

Jesus insists that HE is that way.  The prophets prepared us not for a better life or more things in life but for one life and one thing.  They pointed to Christ and His cross.    The prophets did not promise one who would dish out advice but the One who would deliver sinners into the hands of a merciful Father.  Jesus IS the way.  He does not point to the way.  He does not give out travel advice or suggest routes to destination.  Jesus is both the destination and the path of the journey to that end.  We have got to stop thinking of Jesus as the giver of advice or the great counselor or therapist or life coach.  Jesus has only one concern for you – that you know Him as He has revealed Himself for now and for everlasting life.  That seems terrible exclusive and rude in our culture of many ways, many paths, and many destinations.  It seems odd for those who think of the journey as its own destination or reward.  Jesus has nothing to do with such things.

Jesus is the way.  No one comes to the Father except through Him – well, everyone goes to the Father but those who do not come through Jesus enter into judgement while those who come in Christ are immediately recognized by the Father as His own, covered with the righteousness of Christ and bearing His name.  
The most profound sense of that term the way in Scripture is Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He and He alone.  He is our path and He is our destination.   

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus insists that He is no broad boulevard to be followed but a narrow way.  That is offensive to us.  We live in culture in which every truth is captive to the individual and few things are true of everyone and most things are true only of the beholder.  Jesus will not have any of our grand experiment of individual truth and reality.  There is only one way and Jesus alone is that way.  He is the way and He is the destination.  Scripture does not merely show us Jesus – Jesus is that Word speaking – Jesus, the Word made flesh for us and our salvation.

There is another mention of the way in Scripture.  It is from Acts 24.  There it is recorded that Christians were first called the people of the Way.  This name given to Christians identified the people of God as those who lived in Christ, through Christ, and by Christ.  Because of this, they lived for Christ and not for themselves.  The world had not known such a people so dedicated to another.  What stood out to the many was the devotion of the few to the one Lord Jesus Christ.  It is for this reason that the first name of Christians was people of the Way.

It is often said that people come to church for a variety of reasons.  Some come because they grew up going to church – as if church were merely a tradition or a habit.  Some come because they are lonely and the church accepts just about anybody.  Some come because they feel guilt and shame and want to bury those feelings once for all time.  Some come because they think church helps them round out their lives or achieve their goals.  Some come because they think the church is a community of good people and they are arrogant enough to judge themselves good enough.  All of them are wrong.  People come because Christ is here, the Spirit calls them, and forgiveness cleanses them.  Luther says that in the catechism.

Sometimes we do not realize why we are here.  The Spirit has not emptied our hearts and minds of all our delusions and we are tempted by the flesh.  But the Spirit is working to fill us right here, and right now.  God is working through His Word to vacate the demons from their dwelling places within us and set us free.  God is even now working in us that which is well pleasing to Him – a people of repentance who love the Christ who forgives them and a people of righteousness who strive to walk in Christ the way.

Sadly, we too easily forget that Christ does not simply meet us where we are.  We forget that He brings us to Him, to the new birth of water and the Word, to the new life death cannot touch, and to the new love that lives to serve.  The way has become merely a metaphor when it is really absolute truth.  Christ is the way of truth and the way of truth is Christ.  We acclaim Him Lord not because we need to claim us or He needs our agreement to be Lord.  The Spirit reveals Him to be Lord because He alone is holy, righteous, and having salvation and teaches us faith.  

To walk in Christ means to follow His Way and His Word.  That means we do not live by our feelings or by our desires or even by our wants.  We live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  How foolish it is that we think morality is the domain of the person.  How do I get to judge who is a person and who is not, whose life matters and whose does not, what sexual preference fits my mood, what gender identity feels right at the moment, to have sex without marriage and marriage without children?  Is Christ merely God’s stamp of approval upon my chosen path or is Christ the path that compels me to lay down all desires, wants, feelings, needs, and hungers?

People say it all the time and actually mean it.  God would not want me to be poor so I can steal; He would not want me to be unhappy so I can do what I want; He would not want me to be alone, so I can indulge my desires; He would not want me to be without so I am justified in keeping my money for myself.  What a lie and yet we have told it to ourselves so often that we believe it.

No, my friends, Christ is the way the prophets looked to prepare, Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life, and we are people of the way in Christ.  Our words are about Him and our works make known His love and mercy to those still in darkness and death.  The way is narrow – Christ has forged its path and now we follow where He has led the way, He is the first of many to follow, and so we live not for ourselves but for Him who loved us even to death on a cross.

In the holy Name of Jesus.  Amen

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