Saturday, May 21, 2011

Following Jesus on the Way

Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14

We continue to read, this Easter season, about how the early believers understood what it meant to believe in Jesus and to follow him. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles highlights some of these events and activities.
Soon after the resurrection, the new believers understood the need to take care of those who were suffering in their community, especially the widows. Apparently there was an imbalance in assistance given. The Jewish widows were receiving more aid than the Greek-speaking widows. The solution was to appoint seven servants, called deacons, to oversee the ministry. A man named Stephen was one of these first deacons.
Today, we have lay ministers who serve in the spirit of Stephen. Stephen Ministers accompany people during challenging times, helping people find God in the midst of trouble. We also have deacons, who serve as lay ministers to help pastors and congregations do more effective ministry.
The biblical Stephen was passionate about his faith in Jesus, and did great wonders and signs among the people, according to Acts. In response to accusations of blasphemy he delivered the longest recorded sermon in the Bible. But the leaders resisted his message and stoned him to death.
It surprised them that instead of quaking in fear, or recanting his message, he looked toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus with God. As the people threw stones at him, he asked Jesus to receive his spirit, and to forgive those who killed him. He lived and died Jesus' way. 

By the time John’s gospel was being written, the believers had experienced persecution by the Romans, rejection by the Jews who did not believe in Jesus, and probably some occasional trouble-making by their non-Christian neighbors. Jesus’ words during the last supper gave them encouragement. Do not let your hearts be troubled, he had said. Keep on believing in me, keep on trusting me. John’s community needed to hear these words of compassion.
More, they needed to hear why they should continue to believe in Jesus. Using one of the “I am” statements, which reminds his hearers that Jesus and God the Father are one being, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
The meaning of the term “the Way” is just as multilayered as many other terms in John: born again, living water, blindness and sight, abiding, bread of life, and so forth. The word for way in Greek means road, highway, pathway, and journey; it also means conduct, a way or manner of acting; in other words, all the things the English word “way” means. A way is literally a road or path; and a way is figuratively a spiritual path or journey.
When Jesus says to the disciples, I am the way, the truth, and the life, he intends us to understand this in all the dimensions of following him, literally and figuratively. Jesus invites us to live as he lived: in a trusting, loving, serving relationship with God. This lifestyle of love and servanthood brings us into a fuller relationship with God which John’s gospel calls eternal life. Those who believe in Jesus believe in God the Father and know from Jesus what God is like.
Next, Jesus says, “It’s through a loving and trusting relationship with me that you can have a trusting relationship with God.” Jesus totally trusts God, even as he is one with God. Living and believing Jesus’ way will lead believers into a trusting relationship with God.
What this means for us is best demonstrated in a couple of short stories. So much of the news these days is bad. Politicians can’t find a middle ground; whether from left, right, or center, each one insists he or she is right, and unwilling to compromise. The news is full of violence, here in Citrus County, and all around the world. Much of the news is about the devastating effects of natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, fires.
But there is good news as well. In a daily devotional I receive, a retired pastor writes proudly about his grandson. He “is still teaching English 40 miles west of Sendai, Japan, months after the earthquake and tsunami. He keeps going with little food variety. He has lost a lot sleep from aftershocks. Now he is helping his school finish its term, even with his supervisor losing her brother and tremendous trauma and upset around.” This grandson is following Jesus’ way to loving service in a scary place where it’s hard to find much bounty.
On the Today Show, this touching story aired last week. Anu was suffering from kidney disease, curable only with a transplant, but the transplant list is long, and available kidneys are in short supply.
Desperate, Anu’s daughter Kirti set up a Facebook page about her mother’s failing health and the need for a live donor. Amy happened to find the page, and began to communicate with Kirti. Amy volunteered to be tested, and it turned out that she was a good match for Anu.
Kirti wondered why Amy would be willing to donate a kidney to a total stranger, and Amy replied, “My father died eight years ago, so I know what it means to lose a parent. I couldn’t do anything like this to help my father, but I can do this to help you keep your mom. Besides, I have two kidneys, and I can spare one of them.”  
The surgery took place last month and both Anu and Amy are doing well. The three have formed a strong bond, and enjoy spending time together. Anu and Kirti don’t know how to say thank you for such a wonderful gift, but live with joy knowing that Anu now has a chance of a long life.  
I could not find any information about the role faith played in this story, but it sure seems like Amy is following Jesus’ way to the truth and life in relationship with God.

Living Jesus’ way, learning to trust in him for everything we need in life, is a life-long project. Some days, it’s easy as pie. We find at least a few moments here and there to be loving and forgiving servants.
Most days, it’s more of a challenge. Even though we know God loves us and wants us to be living servants, it’s not easy to live Jesus’ way in our world. People cut us off on the highway, or in the grocery store. The cashier is rude; our food is cold; the government cuts our benefits. People fail to do what they promised. It’s natural to criticize.
Instead, living Jesus’ way invites us to pray for those folks who disappoint us, not by telling God what to do with them, but that they would know God loves them, too. There’s more: when we tell others that God loves them, we hear ourselves saying the same thing, and that helps to soften our hearts against them.
This week, as you encounter people of all sorts, consider how Jesus would love them. Strive to live Jesus’ way and love them too.
Life presents us with challenges, family relationships, health concerns, financial stresses. At these times, it can be really hard to trust in Jesus. We turn away and try to solve the crisis ourselves, believing that we know more about our life than God does.
In those moments, strive to follow Jesus on the way to trusting in God, and finding what you really need for life in that faith in Jesus.
Please pray with me: Jesus, you promise that if we follow you on the way to loving and serving God, we will have a full life in relationship with God. Help us to stay on the path, guide us on the way, and bring us back when we go astray. Amen