Jesus the Way to the Father 

Reading: John 14:1-14
14 “Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. 3 And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. 4 You know the way that leads to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”
6 Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me. 7 Now that you have known me,” he said to them, “you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know him and you have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father; that is all we need.”
9 Jesus answered, “For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe, Philip, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I have spoken to you,” Jesus said to his disciples, “do not come from me. The Father, who remains in me, does his own work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. If not, believe because of the things I do. 12 I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father's glory will be shown through the Son. 14 If you ask me or anything in my name, I will do it.
Lord Jesus, thank you that we are loved and accepted by you and welcomed into your Father’s house. Help us to spend time with you, to know your ways so we too can see the Father and do his works. Amen.

In one of my very early conversations getting to know Chris we discovered that we had both done the same Football teaching course while training to teach. I was quite proud of having fitted in an extra course, but then Chris went on to explain that during his PGCE year he had fitted in 5 extra courses. I was in awe of his ability to do so many things at once, which probably set me on the path of trying to do the same. But I don’t have his aptitude for it, which probably explains why one Friday a few years ago I had tried to drop some children off at Stannington Infant School at 9.00 and then jump on a tram and be at the right location in Sheffield Hallam City Centre Campus by 9.30 ready to do an assessed power point presentation. I had never done a power point presentation before and I didn’t quite know where the building was that I was supposed to be at. I wasn’t panicking, but my anxiety rates were pretty high. I got off the tram at Castle Square and ran to where I thought the room was. I was wrong. I searched all around the library area as precious seconds were ticking. All the doors I tried were locked. I was lost and alone; what on earth was I going to do? When I saw a group of students standing chatting. I asked them if they could direct me to Aspect Court. “Of course” said one young girl, “I’ll take you there”. Suddenly there was no more need to be worried or upset, I wasn’t alone and I could trust this girl to take me on the complicated way down steps and walk ways that I had never discovered before that take you from Arundal Gate, behind the Odeon, and down to Pond Hill at the back of the bus station. I slid in to join the rest of the group, some of whom raised eyebrows at my timing, and the kind ones explained that the tutor was busy trying to sort out a mix up with the rooms. I could hear Chris saying “See, plenty of time”.
As we were hurrying down the steps and I realised how far we needed to go I began to wonder about the young student, what about her lecture, would she be late. This was taking her time, but if she was concerned she didn’t show it, she just offered to carry a bag for me. The automatic way in which she had responded reminded me of an explanation I had heard years ago about this passage where Jesus says “I am the way”. Jerusalem was a complicated city with narrow winding streets. If a stranger asked a young person for directions instead of trying to articulate, ‘Well you go down that road and then take the third right then the fifth left and then round the back of the spice seller there’s a little passage way and you go up the stairs..’. Somehow you would be lost before you started. The young person would simply get up and say “I am the way” and take you there. It is a bit of a shock to our independent individualistic way of doing things, we are either too busy to give up our time, or might feel we were intruding upon someone’s privacy to physically get up and go with someone as a guide. But that was the norm in 1st Century Israel. 
So let’s look at the passage in more detail. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going to go away but they aren’t to be troubled, they aren’t to worry or grieve for him because of separation. They are to believe in God and believe in Jesus. Right from the start of the passage Jesus is stating that he is interconnected with God. He is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for the disciples, then he is coming back so he can take them there himself. Jesus is going to be the way for the disciples, and subsequently for us, to come to our Father’s house where there is room for all. So where is this place Jesus refers to as his Father’s house? It’s a term John has already used in Chapter 2 when Jesus cleared the temple. Jesus said “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”, and again in Luke ch 2 when Mary and Joseph have to return to Jerusalem because Jesus has stayed behind. When they find him Jesus refers to the Temple as ‘My Father’s house’. So My Father’s house would appear to be the place where God and people meet, the place where heaven and earth meet. A new place which isn’t segregated by race, gender or status as the old temple was, but a place of many rooms with a welcome for all.  It hints of the end times when God will renew the world with a new city and new house, and when God renews there will be room for all, but Jesus could also be referring to his return after the resurrection, or the time after our death, they are all times which bring us to Jesus. Because Jesus is the way to his Father’s house. In our pluralistic politically correct society maybe it would be more comfortable to say Jesus is a way to God. And we need to acknowledge the damage which has been done through the arrogant miss application of Jesus’ statement. So it is essential we get the point. While it might be nice to say all faiths lead to the same place, they don’t. They may lead to the foothills of the mountain, but only Jesus takes us to the summit. Only Jesus can take us to the Father. Other faith leaders claim to be sign posts pointing the way, John himself makes that clear at the beginning of his Gospel where John the Baptist is a sign post pointing the way to Jesus. But only Jesus claims to be the way, because only Jesus claims to be God. His claim to be one with the Father makes him unique. It makes him the bridge between the Father and us, he is the Way, he is the truth about how life should be lived.
And the Jesus tells the disciples the earth shattering news that they have seen the Father. The basic religious longing, to see God has been realised. When Moses asked to see God’s glory he was shown God’s back. But in Jesus we see God because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. It is what John’s Gospel has been saying from the prologue onwards. The Word was with God and the Word was God. Jesus is the incarnation of God. He does nothing without Father. In Chapter 5 when Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath he explains that he can do nothing by himself he can only do what he sees the Father do, and this is done out of love. In Chapter 8 again Jesus says he can do nothing on his own, but only speak the things the Father instructs him to say. Jesus is totally dependent upon his Father. Gregory of Nyssa one of the Cappadocian fathers said “All that the father is we have seen revealed in the Son, all that is the Son’s is the Father’s also; for the whole Son dwells in the Father and he has the whole Father dwelling in him.”
I wonder how does this look in our independent individualistic society? Working in relationship with others is not something which comes easily to us, but it is the heart of our Trinitarian faith. How do we live like this? We need to look at Jesus. Jesus’ model is based on love and obedience, always deferring to the Father. Obedience can a hard word to accept, the root of it lies in Latin and comes from a combination to hear and to act. It isn’t a blind acquiescence. It is to hear and to act out of love for the other and Jesus can do this because he is confident of his Father’s love and he spends time with his Father.
When I was preparing for this sermon I had a quick look back over an old story. I wanted to hear from someone of a different faith to hear what she had to say about the Father and Jesus’ claims, so I looked at Bilquis Sheikh’s book ‘I dared to call him Father’. If you haven’t read it it’s a good read. In it she struggles with the idea that God can be spoken to as Father. She has been taught to pray 5x a day and study the Quran, but to talk to God as Father, to make it so personal and she fears that it brings God down to our own level. Then she stops and thinks about her own father and remembers how she would sometimes peep around his office door. He would put his pen down and call out, come here my darling, sit here, now what can I do for you. He would put aside everything and listen to her. She begins to pray, My Father… and senses God’s presence. Bilquis asks, which is your book? And hears the reply, in which book do you meet me as Father?

It is only through knowing Jesus as in the gospels that we can come to know the Father. Holman Hunt’s painting of the light of the World illustrates the invitation to allow Jesus into our lives to dwell with us, to abide with us. The choice is ours, there is no handle on the outside of the door, Jesus waits on our invitation, to open the door and let him in to abide with us and us with him. And if we do this then Jesus make the outrageous promise to give us anything we ask for. But we need to understand what it means to abide. It means to observe, to obey, to follow, to heed, to pay attention to accept, to respect and most importantly, to defer to. If we abide in Christ, then what we request will be in Jesus’ name because we will know the will of the Father. And then we will be able to do works as great as Jesus’ or even greater. Jesus was limited to one human body in one moment of time. But because Jesus has gone to the Father there is a whole fellowship of Christians able to act in his name across time and space.

Which neatly ties this with the cycle of Grace that Mark Cockane spoke about last weekend in Whitby. The cycle starts with Acceptance, Jesus goes to prepare a place for us out of love, because we are beloved children of the Father, Our sustenance is through our dependency on the Father and the intimacy we can draw on through prayer and time with God, our significance is knowing we are children of God, we can ‘dare to call him Father’, which takes us to Achievement, to do the will of the Father. Jesus said that the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.  John Wimber said, the problem with contemporary Christianity is that we spend all our time listening, we need to stop filling notebooks and get out, put our preaching into action.
This is the start of Christian Aid week. We see so much about poverty and the struggle of refuges that it is easy to be over loaded and retreat into a feeling of apathy. Christian Aid have two stories about real individuals to inspire us out of that. Theodor’s story helps give us a passion to help support Christian Aid. Through Christian Aid he was given support when he was desperate and he has never forgotten it, he is now dedicated to helping to raise funds for Christian Aid.
Nejebar’s story tells us what it is like to live in the face pf persecution today. She was forced to escape Afghanistan with her family when the Taliban threatened to kill anyone who worked for the government, this included teachers like her husband. When they saw the reality of the threat they fled arriving eventually in Greece. They have a tent, there is no school for their children and their youngest is ill. They can’t communicate with the doctor because they can’t speak Greek. Yet, they have managed to make their home a place of welcome for two brothers Faraidoon and Farzed who are travelling alone and don’t know if their parents are alive or not. In the middle of all their own difficulties, Nejebar understands the need for relationship and family and offered a place for these boys to abide. When you hear their individual stories, you cannot help but feel compassion for the people involved and give thanks for organisations like Christian Aid who can help them. But Christian Aid cannot work without funds. Christian Aid week make a hugely significant difference to their work, if it didn’t they wouldn’t do it. It is easy to make an online donation; it is pretty easy to put an article in the magazine so every home in the parish has the opportunity to make a donation if they want to. But that is individualistic, there is no sense of community support there is something about going round door to door. There is something about the face to face contact with the people in our parish that gives a deeper meaning to this week.
Some roads in Stannington are great about community so this doesn’t apply, but in my road, and I expect it is true for others, I do not know the faces let alone the names of all my neighbours, and there are only 12 houses on it. This is why Bishop Peter at the confirmation service on Thursday said, “This is our Mission field”. We live in isolation from our neighbours. Yet our faith has relationship at its heart. This is an opportunity to go and let those who live near us know who we are. I know some of us are busy and this isn’t the best use of our time, that is fine we need to do what we believe God is calling us to do. We may feel it is an intrusion of people’s privacy, so I asked a group of students what they felt about being asked for a few coins, and their response was yes, it’s much better than being chased for direct debits. Maybe there isn’t as much opposition as we expect.  And those people who don’t want to be disturbed have a yellow sticker on their doors which reduces pressure.  So this week, for those who are able and feel called to do so, there is the opportunity to be like the young student who without hesitation gave up her time to show me the way when I was lost, we can go out and be not only a blessing to families like Nejebar’s but we can also be a blessing to our neighbours in offering them the opportunity to give, many of whom are waiting to be asked.

The Questions for this week look at how we can apply the four key values of beloved become, build and bless.
1 In what ways does this passage show us that we are beloved by God?
2 How does Jesus say we can become more like him? What might that involve us doing?
3 How does the passage suggest we can build our community?
4 What does the passage suggest are ways of being blessed by God and blessing the wider world?

Alison Cook, 14/05/2017