I began my sermon Sunday with the words, “Nothing in the history of the church has done as much damage as the idea that Jesus is the only way to salvation. No one can count the people we have tortured as heretics, no one can recon the families torn apart because one family member thought another would be tortured eternally if he or she did not convert. No one can calculate the minorities oppressed because they believed differently than the Christian majority.”
A visitor was waiting after church, visibly upset. He said I was leading people astray when I said that Jesus was wrong. I told him that I wasn’t saying Jesus is wrong, I was saying that people are wrong when they make God no bigger than their own understanding. The poor man was reduced to parroting phrases he had heard in his own church. Eventually he just left.
I grieve the damage done by the church to simple honest souls like this. I grieve at minds that greet each new idea with fear. The church does the world no favors when we say that God has only spoken to us, and that we must reject other ideas of the sacred. I cannot imagine a blasphemy more monstrous than that one group has defined the infinite and that their creed is the only correct way.
My sermon was on John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Heavenly Parent except through me.” I wanted to show that the Greek text reads very differently than the English.
In the passage, Jesus has just told the disciples he is going to die. He tells them not to be afraid because they know the way to where he is going. Thomas asks how they can know the way, and Jesus responds that, he himself is the way. It is critically important to realize that the “I am” Jesus uses in that sentence is not regular Greek. “I am” is the divine name that Moses heard at the burning bush. Jesus says in verse 10 that he is not speaking about himself. So Jesus makes it clear he is not saying that you must be a Christian to be saved, but something more profound.
I believe Jesus was reassuring the bewildered disciples by pointing out that he had embodied the way, the truth the life for them. He wanted them to know they were not being left behind. He symbolized the profound unity he felt by calling himself the vine and them the branches. His words are not to be understood literally as a sectarian religious leader, but mystically as Love itself. I believe he was saying to the grieving disciples that he was not leaving them as orphans. He was reassuring them that when they loved each other as he had loved them, they would be where he is.
He wasn’t saying “Only Jesus,” but “Only Love”
I can’t remember the name of the book I read that was published in the 90’s about the cross fertilization of philosophic and spiritual ideas from Greece to China and India in that period. The book focused on the evidence of emerging thought rather than literal translations. Some people want assurance and rigid belief systems. However, rigid beliefs don’t lead to real understanding of what is outside that system. Hopefully, you can have another conversation with the parishioner.
Thank you so much for this, Jim. This point has been a great stumbling block for me. Thank you for shedding light on this difficult concept so clearly and simply.
Thank you Jim Rigby–and Keith Wright for his book The Hell Jesus Never intended.I was born and raised Presbyterian.I left for a short while-then came back.I was blessed to come back to Faith Presbyterian with Keith Wright as the Pastor.I had just mourned the death of my Brother-only 22,my first pregnancy that was very wanted,and my dear Mother-in -law. This happened in the space of less than 3 years.I was not doing all that well emotionally,and I had two small children in tow.I had life long fellow Presbyterians-not in Austin-tell me if only I believed in Jesus more I would not be sad.Well fortunately for me I found Keith Wright,and Faith Presbyterian.Jesus was probably crying for me also.I can never believe that God would make all these beautiful people world wide then condemn them to death because they did not believe in his “Son”.It just does not make sense to believe in God and Jesus and believe that to me.If we choose to lose the central tenant of Christianity and all Faiths-which is love-then all is lost.Why be concerned about folks that have a true ,sweet Faith?-Be concerned for those that seem to not have a conscience.Maybe they do -and have been driven “nuts”.
Thanks Kathleen. Keith Wright is a favorite of mine as well.
I was at the 8:15 and felt so moved by what you said, because it validated what I’ve always felt I’ve physically known. Christianity was something I rejected due to the rigidity and well, everything else that goes with that. What I’ve always believed is that this is bigger than us, that we are so fragile and fallible and that it’s so so so much about humans learning how to be human, truly human and the “in God’s image” to me always meant in love’s image, not hate. Thanks so much for being willing to say those things out loud.
Thank you Julie. A lot of people consider universal love to be what religion is all about. It’s nice when we get a chance to find one another. I feel so fortunate to be at a community where I can say this kind of thing and keep my job. I’m also touched by the friendships being made by kindred spirits online.
To understand the Bible, we must understand its roots. The English translations are shallow and miss so much from its original Hebrew and Greek text.
While I am not a believer, I was raised by a Catholic mother, and grew up watching all the great films like the Ten Commandments. The wonderful scene of the burning bush shows Moses asking what he should say to the people of who sent him? God responds, “Say I Am has sent you.”
More than the Jews and the Greeks can read these texts and become more enlightened.