14“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe 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.
12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
Our scripture for today takes place on Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room where Jesus has just finished washing the feet of the disciples and telling them what is about to happen in the days to follow. And then Jesus begins telling his disciples that he is going to be leaving them to prepare a place for his followers. He uses the metaphor of a large house with many rooms, or many dwelling places. This is a place where they can continue to live in the good fellowship that they have been enjoying. And Jesus makes the statement that the disciples already know the way to the place that Jesus is going.
But Thomas jumps in and says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas either is not understanding that Jesus is speaking in a metaphor or he simply continues to speak into that metaphor, because his words seem to imply that he doesn’t have the turn by turn directions to the Father’s house. He doesn’t even know where the Father’s house is, let alone how to get there. Is it in Jerusalem? Perhaps on top of Mt. Sinai? “How do you expect us to get to this place if we don’t even know where it is?”
To answer this, Jesus launches into one of the best known passages in the Bible, a passage that I believe most Christians know, but don’t really know much about it. Jesus answers Thomas by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Thomas is looking for directions to the Father’s house, and Jesus says “Hey, I’ve been showing you the way to the Father’s house now for almost three years. I am the way. If you want to come to the Father, you must follow me.” The way to the Father isn’t some paved asphalt road with signs and rest stops along the way. You don’t just jump onto I-81, head south for 35 miles and turn left on Spruce Tree Lane and end up at God’s place. The way to the Father is the way of Jesus. If you want to be with the Father, you must follow the Son. Then in verse 7 Jesus says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
So Jesus is the way to the Father, and we must know him to know the Father, but what does it mean to know Jesus? Is it enough to know of him? Is it enough to believe in him? James 2:19 tells us that it is good to believe. It is necessary to believe. But even the demons believe and shudder.
No, we don’t just believe in Jesus, and we don’t just know of him. We must know him. Hans Denck, an early Anabaptist is quoted on our website and on our church directory as having said, “No one truly knows Christ unless they follow him daily in life.” Now I don’t know this for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Denck got this phrase by looking at our scripture for today. Jesus says that he is the way to the Father. We must follow him if we want to be with the Father. And to follow Jesus, we must know him. But Denck also turns this phrase around then and gives it the other way. “And no one can truly follow Christ unless they first have known him.”
Knowing Jesus in this way is more than just having an acquaintance with him, knowing of him, or believing in him. This knowing is following Jesus daily. And to follow Jesus we must know him. Stone sharpens stone. Each one improves the other.
Many of you have heard this story from me in some form or another, and I apologize if you have heard this before, but I will retell it to make sure that we are all on the same page. It was March 1st, 2008, a Saturday night, much like any other Saturday night. It was about 10:00 pm, Sonya was reading a book and I was trying to familiarize myself with my sermon for the next morning when we heard a crash outside. We ran out to see a Honda Accord up on our sidewalk, having hit my Volkswagen hard enough to move it a few feet to the right.
I looked at the driver of the car and he looked at me. Then he began to back up over the curb and drive away. I quickly looked at his license plate and yelled it out to Sonya so she could write it down. JCV XXX. I said it again and again as I went back into the house. We called the police to report this likely drunk driver who had just left the scene of the accident. But when the police came out, the license plate did not check out. It either had not been a Virginia plate or we had the license number wrong.
Well the insurance company was good to me. They fixed my Volkswagen and I was only out $400 hundred dollars for my deductible. But I was angry. I knew that James Madison University had just begun spring break, and I assumed that this person that left the scene of the accident was just some stuck up rich kid that had never had to pay for anything in his life, out celebrating a break from classes. I assumed that he had never been held accountable for any of his actions. But time went by and we soon forgot, or at least thought less about this entire incident.
Then we took our Honda into the service department last week for a safety recall. And as we were leaving, Sonya noticed something. Next to our car was a Honda Accord with red paint on the bumper. There was front end damage right where it would have hit my Jetta. And when we looked at the license plate we saw that it was JCU XXX. We had written down JCV XXX. This was the car that caused $4,500 worth of damage and then drove off.
Well Sonya and I went back into the shop and began talking with the manager. We didn’t know what he could tell us and what would be private information. But I have a bit of a relationship with this manager now after taking my Jetta to him for repairs and so on. And he told us about the damage to the undercarriage of the car and how it looked like the driver had driven up over a curb and we could see that it had front end damage.
This is the guy that hit my car, I am sure of it. I wanted to call the police and tell them what I had found out. I know who was involved in this hit and run accident. I took pictures of the damage and the license plate. I was ready to nab this rich frat boy and make him pay for what he did. Until the body shop manager told me one thing. He told me, “The guy who dropped off that car ain’t American.”
Now Harrisonburg, VA is not the most diverse city in all of the world, but there is a significant amount of immigrants in the city. Immigrants are attracted there because of all of the construction jobs and poultry processing jobs. And I think it is safe to say that a large number of the immigrants in Harrisonburg are not there legally. No social security number, no visa, no passport. They have come to work and raise money for their families back home. These immigrants live in such poor conditions back in Mexico that the only way they can get ahead is to come to the United States and do the jobs that many American born citizens don’t want to do.
Now there is a good chance that not everyone here today will agree with my position on immigration, but I hope that you will agree with God’s position on helping the poor, the needy, and to use the Old Testament language “The Resident Alien among you.” Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says that God “executes justice for the orphans and the widow, and loves the resident aliens, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the resident alien, for you were an alien in the land of Egypt.”
I believe that anyone that is trying to work for a living should be able to earn a decent wage and I believe that the Bible teaches us to treat the foreigners living among us with love because we were aliens ourselves in Egypt. And while that probably doesn’t really apply to anyone here, I also don’t think that many of us in this congregation have Native American roots. We look pretty European to me. We too were once aliens in this land. Our forebearers just happened to come before the border patrol was put in place and before we started building tall walls to keep people out. Like I said, you don’t have to agree with me on immigration. But I hope that you can see that time and time again the Bible teaches us to care for the foreigners among us.
So here I am, out $400 because of the deductible from my insurance. I’m not rich, but I can afford $400. My car has been repaired and I even got a car wash out of the deal. What do I have to gain from calling the police? Is there a chance that I might get my $400 back? Maybe. Is there a chance that this immigrant will be sued by the insurance company, taken to jail for leaving the scene of an accident, and deported back to his country of origin? Yes. This was a lot easier when I thought that it was some rich white privileged college student that hit my car.
In which case is there a bigger injustice? Is it a bigger injustice to let someone get away with a crime or is it a bigger injustice to oppress the poor and the resident alien living among you? And what would Jesus do? No one truly knows Jesus unless they follow him and no one follows Jesus unless they know him.
I hope you can see that this was a difficult situation for me. I did not know what to do. Maybe you are out there thinking you would definitely do one thing or the other, but what I want you to see is that I didn’t just let my emotions control my actions. I tried to think theologically. Because I believe that Jesus is the way to the kingdom, and I am trying to think kingdom-mindedly. My theology needs to shape my decisions.
If we look at our scripture for today again, we will see that after Jesus talks about being the way to the Father, Philip chimes in and says (v.8), “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replies by saying, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
I can see that there are many of you in this congregation that wear glasses. And the only reason that I can see that you are wearing glasses is because I have my contacts in. If you are wearing glasses or contacts like I am, then the lenses put before our eyes are helping our eyes focus on the images in front of us. My vision is so bad that I wouldn’t be able to tell who any of you were without looking through a lens. The lens helps us to see something more clearly.
Jesus can be understood as a lens as well. When Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” he is saying that looking at Jesus helps us to see God more clearly. Jesus is the greatest revelation of God. He is the incarnation of God. So when we look at Jesus, he helps us to see God more clearly.
I think that this should be our goal as well, we should be a lens through which people can see Jesus more clearly. When people look at us, they should be able to say, “I can see Christ in you and through you.”
The choices that I make as I consider what to do with this guy that hit my car should reveal to all those involved “the way” that Jesus spoke of. My actions should be a lens for others to clearly see Jesus. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life as we profess him to be, and if Jesus is our Lord and savior as we profess him to be, then my decision must be based on who Jesus is and what he expects of his followers. I didn’t make any rash decisions when I first found this car with my paint on it. I didn’t pick up the phone and call the police right away. Instead I tried to think about this theologically. And I knew that this shouldn’t be a decision that I had to make on my own.
So I called my friend Dustin and we talked through both scenarios. If I did call the cops, this guy might get into a lot of trouble. He might have to pay a significant amount of money, spend some time in jail, maybe be deported. If I didn’t report him, he might cause more damage to other people’s cars, maybe even hit a pedestrian or kill someone. Whether he was driving drunk that night or is just that bad of a driver, he probably shouldn’t have been driving that night.
I continued to dig through scriptures and process my decision. And I came to the realization that when the Old Testament talks about the resident alien, the authors tell us time and time again that we are not to treat the resident alien differently than the other people of our community. That also means that we shouldn’t treat them as better than others. So I did call the police. And after a while of trying to contact the officer that processed the case I realized that the Harrisonburg Police didn’t really care about this case. Nobody would return my phone calls or go out of their way to help me.
So I am off the hook, right? That settles it. No, not for me. Because now that I know that this person may be dangerous to others, I realized that I would be responsible for anyone else that he might hurt if I didn’t do something about it. So I wrote a note for this man, first of all forgiving him for what he had done to my vehicle and the stress that he had caused me. I told him that I want him to be safe and careful, especially on the roads where other people’s lives might be in danger. I told him that he is a beloved child of Christ, and I am not going to be pressing any charges against him, but that I want him to not drink and drive if that was the case, or not drive at all if he is not a legal resident alien. And I hope to have the autobody shop leave this note with the gentleman when he picks up his car this week, because I hope to be a lens through which this guy can see Jesus.
Jesus was asked by Thomas to show him the way to the Father. Jesus answered by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” I hope that as I have wrestled with this difficult decision that I have chosen to follow the way that Jesus has laid before us. And I hope that others will see Jesus through me.