A teacher was walking among the desks of her Kindergarteners, hard at work on an art project. “What are you drawing?” she asked one little girl. “Oh, I’m drawing God,” the child replied. “You know, no one knows what God really looks like” the teacher confided. Without looking up, the girl replied: “Well, they will in a minute!”
Every religion, I suppose, shares a bit of this spirit. Each of them says to a skeptical world, “We know what God looks like. This is God’s Way…”
But no one knows all there is to know about God! At most, each religion only glimpses a bit of The Eternal One. And unfortunately, each is too proud of the part it knows, and too blind to the parts that others may know better. Perhaps if every world religion would just wise up and humble down regarding the limits of their perception of God, there’d be a whole lot more peace in this world.
That said, as Christians we must grapple with Jesus’ words: “no one comes to the Father except through the son.” Here we have this luminous man who loves and serves and teaches in a manner that is so sane and attractive, even atheists and people of other religions have admired and discussed him for 2000 years. But then Jesus goes and makes an outlandish claim that no other founder of a world religion has ever made. He claims he is not simply “a” child of God; he’s the Son of God in a unique sense. Jesus says he is the eternal Word, come to earth in human flesh and “. . . anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Well now, that’s an audacious claim. Jesus Christ the only! Jesus Christ the essential! Jesus Christ the absolute! No other way but Jesus!
It’s a bold statement, especially in today’s world. Our culture prides itself on variety, choice, options, and tolerance. Like Baskin-Robbins, we like our faith in 31 flavors. We want to pick and choose, mix and match, all according to our own personal tastes. And anyone who claims uniqueness or authority is met with suspicion.
Oftentimes, the Christian Church has responded to our culture’s suspicion by going on the offensive against other religions. Instead of trying to share with others what is right about the Christian faith, we set out to convince them what is wrong with other faiths. Not only is that a poor tactic, it implies that being Christian is simply a matter of believing the right things and worshiping the correct way.
Friends, hear this! Being Christian is not about right thinking, it is about right relationship. The Christian faith makes the bold claim that through Jesus we can be introduced to a unique, loving relationship with God. And that special relationship is only achieved by way of Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth and the life.”
Now, you may be thinking, “No wonder Christians have the reputation of being narrow minded. Isn’t that awfully exclusive?” Yes and no. The Christian faith is both inclusive and exclusive. The arms of God are wide open, but those arms are attached to one specific person – Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith is inclusive in the sense that Jesus Christ lived and died for all people without exception. Whether or not you decide to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, he lived and died for you. Christ is radically inclusive and if we are to faithfully live out the Jesus message, the church must also be radically inclusive!
But it is also exclusive, in that Jesus the Christ introduces us to a unique relationship with God. If you don’t remember anything else I say today, I hope you’ll remember this: in Jesus of Nazareth, God fundamentally changed God’s relationship with the world.
Our Creator was not satisfied with being far-off and distant from creation. In Jesus, God got “up close and personal” with us. Jesus taught us that God loves the world fiercely and passionately, and that God’s greatest desire is to be loved in return. And Jesus shows us just how wide-open God’s arms truly are.
God is not narrow-minded like the Church Lady, bent on criticizing and condemning people; God is not manipulative like a televangelist – only out for our money; God is not vengeful like the terrorist, who demands that we kill and destroy all who disagree with our interpretation of Scripture. And God is not interested only in the narrowest bandwidth of people.
Colossians tells us that through Christ, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the cross.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4 reads: “God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Or hear the words of Jesus in perhaps the most famous Christian text of all time, John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
Jesus introduces us to a gracious God whose love is stunningly inclusive in its scope. And if the Church is going to live out the Jesus message, then we must be a radically inclusive community of faith as well.
You may be thinking, “OK Rev., I get the inclusive part – but what do you mean by saying Christianity is also exclusive?” Simply this: Jesus introduces us to a unique relationship with God – the kind of intimate relationship that no other faith tradition offers. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Note, he does not say, “No one comes to God except through me.” He’s inviting us to experience a close, personal relationship with God the Father. And this particular kind of relationship can only be experienced when we are introduced by the Son. Let me illustrate:
When I was in ninth grade, Mr. Schuler was my school principal. He wasn’t very tall, but he was imposing – built like a fire plug. He had reddish, thinning hair and lots of freckles. And when he got angry with the students (which happened a lot) his hair stood on end, his eyes bulged out, and all those freckles just ran together into a sea of bright red. Mr. Schuler used to scare me to death!
Until I made friends with Sarah. Sarah and I were in chorus together. She had reddish hair and freckles – and she always smiled while she sang. I liked her immediately, so I was delighted when she invited me to her house to do homework one afternoon. We were sitting at her kitchen table, talking about boys and going over our biology notes, when who should walk in the kitchen door, but Mr. Schuler!
My heart stopped and I went white with terror. I didn’t know whether to cry or hide…Until Sarah jumped up from the table, ran over and hugged Mr. Schuler. Then she said, with a big grin, “Tonya, this is my Dad!”
“Dad?” I couldn’t imagine that Mr. Schuler was someone’s Dad!
Well, Sarah and I hung out at her house a lot that year. And I got to know Mr. Schuler pretty well. He wasn’t scary at all! He was funny and kind, and he really cared about young people. Through his daughter Sarah, I came to know Mr. Schuler in a new way.
That’s the way it is with Jesus. Other faith traditions may lead you to God the Creator of the Universe, Liberator of the oppressed, the Righteous Judge, Unfathomable Holy Mystery. But only Jesus can lead you to his Abba (which is the Hebrew word for Daddy). Only through Jesus are we introduced to our Loving, Gracious, Forgiving Father.
Jesus introduces us to the God who is as near as our every breath, who offers mercy and patience even when we fail him. A God who says, “No matter how far you may stray away from me, you can always come home. I’ll be up and waiting with the light on.” Only through Jesus, can we know God as Jesus knew God. That is the unique nature of the Christian faith.
So, to be a Christian isn’t about believing the right things or doing the right things. Being Christian is about the right relationship: it’s trusting that Jesus is the way to God; that Jesus is the truth about God; that Jesus is the life with God. Jesus is the key to a personal, intimate relationship with God.
See this key ring? On it, are lots of keys that open up lots of different things. There is the garage key, a house key, an office key, a car key. I have big keys, small keys, round keys, square keys. They’re all good keys. But when I get to 5221 Church Rd and the sign says, “Dixboro United Methodist Church” – there’s only one key that will unlock that door. Doesn’t matter how many keys I have. The only thing that matters – is whether or not I have the right key.
I like to imagine that each of us stands before a door that says “Abba.” And we’ve got a handful of keys. Most of them are good keys. Some will open business opportunities for us. Some keys will unlock friendships. There are keys to power, keys to success, keys to love. We hold a handful of good keys.
But the door before us says, “Abba.” And only one key will open that door. Only Jesus can unlock a personal, intimate relationship with our loving, merciful Heavenly Father.
I am convinced that it is only by walking with Jesus that we see the Truth of Who God is, the goodness of the Way God intends us to live, and the Life that is available to all who love him. Through Jesus, God comes into focus and we can say, “Ah, yes! This is what God looks like.”