No Other Way

Gospel According to John 14:1-14

May 7, 2023: Fifth Sunday of Eastertide

The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, CT

 ‘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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Gospel of John 14:1-7, NRSV

Good morning! On this fifth Sunday in the hopeful season of Eastertide! This morning’s reading from John’s Gospel begins the section known as the Farewell Discourse. It is the part where Jesus tells his disciples everything they are going to need to know before he leaves them. It is the passage we read in this season of Eastertide when the disciples are called to rise to the occasion that God is to be made manifest in a whole new way.

These disciples are being called to change their spiritual addresses and revision their orientations. To move out into a wider world beyond their previously small contingent with Jesus at the helm. This will require a change in their footing and their perspective.

For the first 13 chapters of John’s Gospel, God descends from heaven to humanity, joining the human condition in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. In the last 8 chapters of John’s Gospel, humanity is called to complete the transaction by receiving the indwelling of God. This is where we join the disciples this morning.

Despite its connotation, this is not a passive calling, receiving the indwelling of God. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s not a Door Dash sort of transaction. It’s more like…….like……catching a Hail Mary pass. Difficult. But not impossible, at least with God.

Because every one of us was born to be such a holy wide receiver. Not by nature, but by birthright. It’s going to take some effort on our part. The trick is to get ourselves in shape, show up for practice with the team, and keep our eyes laser focused on the ball. And eventually, Hail Mary full of grace, the indwelling of God will lift us to our best selves.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel reiterates that every one of us is called to do this work. To receive the indwelling of God that is there for any and all who reach out for it. No matter who we are. No matter where we’re from. No matter what gifts we think we can bring or not bring.

Jesus said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places

I can still hear my grandfather reciting The King James version: In my Father’s house there are many mansions. This passage promises that there is a place in the heart of God for every one of God’s children. Just as we are. Where ever we fall on the social ladder. No matter where we live, we can call God’s house our home. In God’s house there is room for everyone to belong.

This was a great comfort to me as a child. As a kid I thought, how great is this – no matter how different I am….no matter how poorly I seem to fit in this life, there is a place somewhere in God’s house where I belong. I have always walked a bit on the margins of my context. I have never quite fit in with the dominant crowd.

I grew up in a Beaver Cleaver world where my brother and sister and I were the only children of divorced parents in our small Midwestern town in the 1970’s. We were products of what people often called a  “broken home.” Which often made us think that maybe we were broken too.

We had no social capital. We were not generally included in the social life of our community. As though our “broken home” might be contagious. And so we were out on the edges of …everything.

And our home was not just “broken,” it was poor. We had no money. At all. My mother regularly sent me, the oldest, next door to borrow milk from our disapproving neighbors.

If that were not enough, I had a fairly tough adolescence. The older I got the more I realized that I was much more interested in badmitten than boys….and let me tell you I was not that interested in badmitten. I had no idea where I belonged. Or if I belonged. Anywhere.

So this assurance that God’s house had more than the narrow, straight laced, rigidly conservative dwelling place where I currently resided, felt like a sort of biblical comfort food for my marginalized life for a very long time.

However, in time, I began to grow a bit uneasy with this comforting passage. I began to see it as a sort of good news / bad news proposition. Because on the one hand, it sounds like we are welcome whoever we are, whatever road we have traveled, wherever we find ourselves on matters of politics, or social or economic location or even religion – there is ALWAYS room for us in the heart God – do not let your hearts be troubled. In God’s house there is room for all of God’s children.

BUT, just three short verses later, Jesus says: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.’ Wait a minute…. what happened to the many mansions? To the many dwelling places? What happened to room for all of God’s children in God’s heart?

Maybe the most inclusive piece of scripture in the entire Holy Bible is immediately followed by one of the most exclusive pieces of scripture. And in the blink of a single verse, that unconditional welcome into God’s heart and home becomes a very conditional invitation….a very exclusive invitation issued only to we who call ourselves Christian.  Is there really only room in God’s house for Christians?

I am a Christian. But there is no way I am checking in to any mansion that does not welcome my non-Christian friends. Because that does not seem like Good News. And, I do not for a second believe that there are not some rooms, maybe just as many rooms in God’s mansion reserved for Jews, and Muslims, and Zoroastrians, and every other faith tradition, and probably even a few atheists who just can’t bring themselves to speak of love in the language of God.

Not every room in God’s many mansions can be is reserved exclusively for Christians. Because if that is the case, then maybe I’m not a Christian. Because if that is the case, maybe I do not belong in the Christian tent. And not because of my … of badmitten, but because of my love of Jesus Christ as the way.

And yet, this proclamation in John, of Jesus as THE way, the only way,  has always felt troubling to me. How can I, as a Christian who respects and welcomes all of God’s children, of whatever faith or none at all, how can I, how can we hear this passage from John’s Gospel without hearing it as obnoxiously, unconscionably exclusive?

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor is fond of saying that when we are having trouble with a passage, we would do well to remember that often times our scripture does a better job of interpreting us than we do of interpreting it. William Sloan Coffin, another of my favorite preachers says that he does not so much read the Bible, as the Bible reads him. Which is to say, the meaning is not in the text alone, but in the context, in our particular relationship with the text. And so although it might sound like there is only one way to hear the Word of God, there are as many ways to hear each passage as there are rooms in God’s mansion.

Marcus Borg tells the story of a poorly planned interfaith worship service in which a Buddhist lector ends up reading this very passage from the Christian Gospel of John. And after he reads it, there is an awkward extended pause in which the whole auditorium seems to be holding its breath. But the Buddhist monk looks up, smiles, and says: “This scripture is absolutely true —Jesus is the way— and Jesus is the only way that one comes to know the divine.”

A pretty fabulous response, if you ask me. What the wise and gracious Buddhist meant of course, is that the way of Jesus, Jesus as the embodiment of the way, is the only way to the divine. Not that Jesus himself is the only one on the way, but that the way that Jesus walks is indeed, the only way to God. The Buddhist monk is saying that the way that Jesus IS is the only way. In this way Jesus is the only way.

And so this passage calls us not just to the comfort of knowing that we are welcome in God’s heart, no matter who we are; but also to a radical welcoming of others who are also on the way of love, albeit not necessarily the Christian way. As Christians, we are called to follow the radical way of Christ; the one who heals and teaches and comforts and welcomes first, and asks for ID later.

I think the second part of this morning’s Gospel reading, the part about only getting to God through the way of Christ can only work if it is modified by the first part. The part about the many mansions. The part about our unconditional acceptance into the heart of God. And our unconditional acceptance by God requires that we unconditionally accept each other. It’s the only way.

I think this is exactly what Jesus means when he says that he is the way and the truth and life through which we come to God. And we can only come to God through this one way. To God who has room for each and all of us, no matter what sport we play. No matter what form our families take. No matter where we work or live or how we manage to feed our children. No matter what guilt or shame or unholy secrets we bear. No matter where we stand on what ground….as long as it is common ground. God has a room for each of us in God’s home. And it is a home that celebrates both our broad diversity and our individual particularity. Otherwise, why would God need so many mansions, if not to welcome so many walks of life.

So do not let our hearts be troubled, friends. We will always be welcomed home with love.

And welcomed home with love is the only way.



© May, 2023 The Rev’d. Dr. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

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