Journeys in Faith

Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Photo from Joan Nye
Rev. Tracy Heilman

Wrestling with our faith

Almost all Biblical scholars agree that the author of the gospel of John came from one of the Gnostic communities in ancient Syria. The communities developed a common story as to how God or the Divine was to interact with humanity; basically, that a Divine Revealer would descend to earth to share The Truth with all of humanity, and then ascend to the place reserved for Divine Revealers.

The author of the Gospel of John lived in the midst of this Gnostic story. He came into contact with Jesus of Nazareth and came to see Jesus as that Divine Revealer who brings The Truth to humanity. The gospel writer is saying that Jesus’ life, lifestyle, and teachings constitute The Truth for every single part of our lives.

As believers and followers, it was the community’s responsibility to live as Jesus lived, to imitate his life. John’s gospel records Jesus’ use of the phrase “I am” seven different times to reveal who he is. Jesus described himself as Bread, the vine, water and light, the good shepherd and the gate, NOT as King, Messiah, or Lord of Lords. The divine revelation of God’s own self is common, accessible, available, and is based on that which we all know, that which we all need.

Jesus was connected to the people around him. He was concerned about how those in power treated those who were vulnerable. His message used the language of simple things and symbols that were familiar, available to all.

Jesus fed the people with bread, he broke bread with strangers and prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life,” and this understanding of Jesus provides a direction for us, helps us to make choices in our lives.

But John’s gospel continues with “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me makes them want to come.” This verse, taken alone, seems to tell us that Christians are the chosen few, the truly beloved of God. No one else, no other religion has a way given to our one true God.

I have heard many explanations for that part of the passage. I’ve heard some preach that it is literally true, that only believers in Christ can be saved. I have heard the explanation of “anonymous Christians,” ones who have never heard of Jesus but live a just life. They don’t know it, but they are really Christians.

These explanations fall short for me. They all seem to be talking about a God who cares mostly for individuals. But Jesus seems to speak to and care for a community. He feeds thousands; he speaks to the crowds; he restores people to health and wholeness by restoring them to community.

If Jesus is the Divine Revelation of the Truth of God, then this care for community is an integral part of the truth and love that is God. Our efforts must be focused on the path that the whole community can take in coming to God.

To follow the path that Jesus put before us, I need to recognize that my path must include others easily forgotten. Through the life and teaching of Jesus as our Divine Revelation of who God is, we have to see that our fullness of life will never be attained at the expense of others.

Jesus, as the Divine Revelation, offers us a path towards God and shows who will have access to the truth and love of God. For Jesus and his earliest community, this access was extended and intended for all, including widows, orphans, outcasts and prostitutes.

How do we allow access, not just to Jesus, but to the things for which Jesus stood? Are we allowing the vulnerable of our day access to what they need to live full and abundant lives? We might say that we do this by paying taxes and donating to churches and/or other worthy organizations that help to provide what people need.

But the hard question for me is this: how are my actions, knowingly and unknowingly, denying others access to the fullness of life. When I purchase clothing, does choosing the “good deal” mean buying clothes made by people somewhere who aren’t paid a living wage? When I buy fruits and vegetables out of season, which require a gluttonous amount of fossil fuel to ship them to my store and refrigerate them along the way, am I denying future generations the energy that they will need to live lives of God’s abundant love?

When I shop for the lowest food prices and ignore the cost to the environment for the waste run-off and the cost to communities for unfair labor practices, am I not standing in the way of God’s love and care for creation?

The gospel of John compels me to wrestle with these two understandings of Jesus, these two sides of Christianity, these two sides of Faith. Jesus shows us a way to live into the Love and Truth of God. We can follow, but we can’t follow alone. Walking in the way of Jesus requires that we always be aware of those who are vulnerable, outcast, unseen.

It is when our care and concern includes these ones, that we are able to truly come into the Love of God.