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Loving the Way Jesus Loves

(John 14)

John 14 contains some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture.   Frequently shared at a funeral or memorial, they are spoken to people who are saying good bye to a loved one.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus, “Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would not have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.”  These beautiful words from Christ take something of the sting out of the grief of bereavement.  Jesus promises to go before us and prepare a home for us in God’s eternal kingdom.  It calms some of our anxiety about death and plants a seed of hope that there is another dimension beyond human life, a spiritual realm of everlasting life.   

Even so, there are other words here that make many Christians uncomfortable.   According to John, Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  And plenty of people take these words in the narrowest sense of meaning only Christians will be welcomed into God’s kingdom.  So what about everyone else?  Sorry – no place for them.  Is that actually what Jesus meant?  

It was such thinking that sparked the cruel and bloody Crusades over Jerusalem in medieval days and to a great extent allowed the Nazi Shoah of the Jews and thousands of other non-Arian Germans.  Numerous Christians have used these words of Jesus to justify having an intolerance of other faiths.  I’m sure we’re all aware of the occasional news article concerning fundamentalist church leaders who have publically burned copies of the Koran  -  one such event that occurred at a tiny church in Florida ‘You Tubed’ it’s way to Afghanistan and sparked off violent protests, during which 20 people, including 7 United Nations workers were murdered.  I find it impossible to imagine that Jesus, who constantly emphasized the centrality of love, reconciliation and forgiveness, would want his teachings to be used to provoke violence of any kind.  People of faith, especially Christians, Jews and Muslims, have a tendency to believe their religion is the only true one.  Islamic fundamentalists justify extremism and terrorism.  Certain Western Christian fundamentalists have called on governments to declare war on Muslims.  Orthodox Jews believe that they alone are God’s chosen people, although they also believe the rest of the world is blessed through them.  And, of course, the Roman Catholic church officially holds that they are the only true church of Christ, while other denominations are just okay by association.  

Too many people of faith will boast, “God is on our side!  We are right!”  How many people today, including some Christians, keep their distance from religion and church because they understand it requires them to be intolerant of other faiths and certain minority groups and hold them in contempt?  Jesus Christ is the best revelation of God and he is the way for me; he is my root and my rock.   But I try to remember that it’s easy to slip into the mind-set that God acts in ways that are especially beneficial to me above others.  I know I am God’s favourite . . . seriously, I really, really am  -  but so are you, and you, and the guy walking up the street and basically every human being that’s breathing just now.  

You’ve probably heard the story about heaven’s guide who ‘s giving a newcomer a tour.   The guide takes the newcomer past a number of different rooms where people are having a glorious time.  There’s a room where the Baptists are having fun dancing.  Another where the Methodists are enjoying good red wine.  In another room there is the usually self-controlled Anglicans enjoying unaccustomed chaos and another room where the Episcopalians are enjoying intimacy without any guilt.  Eventually, as they approach another room, the guide tells the newcomer, “We need to be quiet now: these are the Roman Catholics and they think they are the only ones here.”  But isn’t that the way it is for many people of faith?  When they picture heaven, it’s filled with people who are just like them, of the same colour, flavour and creed.  

When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he’s talking about relationship, a child-parent relationship with God.  If we want to know God as Father, we need the Son and to fully appreciate Jesus as the Son, we need the Father . . . but if someone of another faith loves God fully with heart, mind, soul and strength and loves their neighbour as themselves, I think it would take someone very brave or very stupid to declare that they have no place in God’s kingdom.  And of course there is Matthew’s stunningly dramatic scene of the last judgment during which Jesus separates those to be included in God’s kingdom from those who will not.  His basis for separating them never mentions what people believe . . . it’s all about who “fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the ill and visited those in prison.”
Remember, these words are part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his closest followers a few hours before he is going to be put to death.  He is not conducting a seminar on the legitimacy of other faiths.  He is not judging other faith traditions; he is comforting his closest friends and encouraging them to remain faithful after he’s gone. 

Throughout his earthly life Jesus shows us that a life totally committed to God is a life filled by God’s love, wisdom and a desire for justice.  Christ is the only way for me, but I do not believe that God limits himself to only one way of reaching people.  I think it makes sense that God would provide different paths for different people to follow  -  although that doesn’t mean any path will do or that they are all the same.  Following Christ leads me to respect people of other faiths, and also to question any path that promotes injustice, oppression or fails to highlight love and compassion.

Which brings us, finally, to another wonderful, critical verse that is actually often overlooked.   Verse 12: “Truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”  Jesus challenges us to accomplish amazing things and to even outdo him in acts of compassion and works of justice.  That is some challenge!

A few years ago, Baptist minister Tony Campolo was in Haiti checking on missionary work he supports there.  At the end of his stay he went to the little Holiday Inn where he always stayed the day before he boarded the plane to come home.  As he stepped out of the taxi at the entrance of the Holiday Inn, he was intercepted by three girls; the oldest could not have been more than 15.  The one in the middle said, “Mister, for $10 I’ll do anything you want me to do.  I’ll do it all night long.  Do you know what I mean?”  He knew what she meant.  He turned to the next girl and said, “What about you, could I have you for $10?”  She said yes and so did the third girl.  The first one tried to mask her contempt for him with a smile but it’s hard to look alluring when you are under 15 and desperately hungry.  Campolo said, “I’m in room 210, be up there in 10 minutes.  I have $30 and I’m going to pay for all three of you to be with me all night long.”  He rushed up to the room, called down to the front desk to explain what he was doing and requested every Walt Disney DVD they had.  He called the restaurant and asked if they made banana splits.  They did.  He said, “I want banana splits with extra ice cream, extra everything.  I want huge ones, and I want four of them!”  The little girls arrived as did the ice cream and DVDs, and they sat watching the films and laughing until about one in the morning when the last girl fell asleep.   Campolo looked at the three young girls stretched out asleep, and he knew that tomorrow they would be back on the streets selling themselves to men because there will always be men who for very little money will destroy little girls.  He didn’t know enough of their language to tell them about Christ, or God’s love but the Spirit spoke to him: “For one night, let them be little girls again.” 

Jesus challenges us to break into people’s lives by loving them as he would; to be his hands and feet in this world.  Remember, we can never know the lasting impact of even the smallest act of compassion.   So don’t miss the opportunities God brings your way . . . just give it your best.