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Doing the Works of Jesus

based on John 14:1-14
by HW in HI


Jesus calls out to his people. He called out 2,000 years ago, and he has not stopped. At first, his only followers were Jews, and Jesus himself only seemed to seek after Jews. It was well known that the Jews were a chosen people, and God has worked to be known by them. I see Jesus’ ministry as sort of a circle. He started off with his close friends – the fishermen, the tax collector and so on. They were known as the twelve, or the disciples, or the apostles. They were his first followers. Over time his circle widened. He spoke to thousands of people. His longest recorded conversation was with a Samaritan woman at the well. She became a follower, and so did her whole town. And Samaritans were not Jews. They were the first gentile believers. And so the circle widened. Following his resurrection Jesus gave the great commandment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Which means everybody. Jesus came at first for the Jews, but in the end he came for everybody.

This morning in churches throughout our country, Christians are congratulating themselves for being followers of Jesus. In some churches there are altar calls, and people are choosing Jesus. This is not a bad thing. But we have to stop and wonder if it is Christian for us to draw a circle around ourselves and basically say, “We’ve got God, and you don’t. We’re going to heaven, and you aren’t.” It doesn’t sound much like Jesus, does it?

The Gospel for today is one of the most widely quoted, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Which sounds pretty good, if you’re a Christian. This is why some people get their babies baptized. They figure that the key is baptism, and one of the biggest problems the church has is baptizing babies we never see again. Some people will take it a step further and say that no one gets to heaven unless they believe exactly the right things about Jesus, some people call this dogma.

Of course, it leaves some of us in a lurch. Some of us have loved ones who aren’t Christians, or aren’t baptized. And some of us aren’t exactly sure which denomination has the right theology. A friend of mine put it this way,

“A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter greets him at the door, and to help him get adjusted, takes him on a tour. After showing him the golden streets, angelic hosts, and the tree of life, they come upon a closed off area. Singing and shouting can be heard coming from inside. “What’s this?” asks the man. “Shhh. I’ll show you,” says Peter, “but you have to keep quiet.” Peter cracks the door and the new arrival peeks inside. A small group of people are singing hymns and praising God to their hearts content. They’re having a wonderful time. “Who are they?” asks the man. “Those are the Hittites,” says Peter. “They think they’re the only ones up here.”

There is a tremendous human tendency to want to know God. This is a good and wonderful thing, and it helps us improve our lives. It calls us into relationship with God, and helps us change. But the problem is, we want to define God our way. We become so sure we have the key, that we start pretending we are the gatekeepers, deciding who gets in and who does not.

Let’s take a minute to review some of the basic things we know about God:

God created the world. Somehow we blew it, and wound up with a world with a lot of problems – you can take the Adam and Eve story literally if you like, or see it as a metaphor for something we don’t quite understand. But somehow we blew it.

God worked through prophets for thousands of years, trying to get through to us. And in some ways, he did. We understood the ten commandments and tried to live them. But we would fail again and again.

Finally God joined us here on earth. Jesus came and taught us two main things: to love God and to love our neighbor. He preached parables and healed people. And he did the unthinkable: he allowed himself to be killed, somehow wiping out the power of our sinfulness, and getting us right with God. This was a courageous act, and only a loving God could have done it.

Does it follow then, that the same God who became human in the form of Jesus would say to us: “Oops, you don’t quite get the incarnation – you’re out?” I don’t think so. Or maybe – “You’re understanding of evil in the world is incomplete – you’re out.” Maybe – “You don’t get salvation history, so there is no saving for you.” This just doesn’t sound much like God.

Now the tough question: what about people who can’t quite wrap their minds around God or can’t quite make the leap of faith to see Jesus as God. Are they out? Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” If they are blessed, are they kicked out of heaven? I doubt it. The whole sentence goes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, fir theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I am asking all these questions, even though I am not sure of the answers. I can’t conceive of a loving God kicking out our loved ones. I can understand a room in heaven for people who think they are the only ones up there.

I do know that Jesus will change our lives, right here on earth. I do know that following Jesus gives us a path that is better than anything else. I do believe that a life filled with trying to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is a life well spent.

Jesus told Philip, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” If it is too much for us or for our loved ones to make the spiritual leap to Jesus, then he points us to his works. Which is to say his healings and his signs. In the book of John there are xx signs, beginning with the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and ending with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. If a person needs signs and wonders, they can be found in the gospel of John.

But there is something more in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. “ This, I think, is the essence of Christianity. Not that we are saved because of the things we do in the world, but rather that we believe in Jesus, so we go ahead and do his work. Anyone can argue about who gets into heaven and who does not. But not just anyone will go forth and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the prisoner and welcome the visitor.

I want to conclude today with one last question, “Do we want to argue over who gets in, or do we want to be believers who will do the works that Jesus has done?”