I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Alycia and I took a vacation to Charleston, SC a couple of years ago and we took a late night walk through the market. Most of the market had closed down and there were only a few people displaying items for sale. As we walked through I noticed that one of them were selling bobble heads. As I looked closer one of these bobble heads looked like Jesus. Sure enough, there in front of me was a Jesus bobble head. I looked at the guy and asked, how much. He said $20 and after a look from me that told him he had to be kidding he came down to $15. It was still too expensive for my taste and I left. I have often regretted that decision because how cool would it be to have a Jesus Bobble Head sitting on my desk.
Just think of the implications. Jesus would be right there on my desk and I could ask him anything I wanted and he would give me a yes or no answer. “Jesus, do you think this is a good sermon illustration?” With one flick of my finger Jesus nods with a yes. “Jesus, do you think I should ask this person to chair a committee?” With a flick of my finger Jesus shakes his head no. How easy would life be? I would feel so much more connected to Jesus because he would be right there in front of me, telling me yes or no to all my questions about life. Then I will be satisfied with my relationship with God, because he is sitting on my desk for me to control.
Okay, I say this with my tongue firmly in my check. Not all of it, I still think I should have gotten that Jesus Bobble Head. But many of us wish we could do that with God. We wish we could have the control over God and use him as a puppet or bobble head, making him tell us what we want to hear. Then we would be satisfied. Then we would have that close relationship to God we have always wanted.
We don’t hear much about Phillip in the Bible. He is not one of our go to Disciples. Sure we can talk all day about Peter, Andrew, John, Judas but Philip? In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels Philip is only named as a disciple, there are no real stories about him in the synoptic gospels. In the Gospel of John, Philip has a couple of stories but usually a very small role. In John 1 we have Philip and Nathanael’s calling story. In the sixth chapter Philip is tested by Jesus at the feeding of the five thousand. In Acts 8 there is a story about Philip going out and preaching. Later on there is the familiar story of him and the Egyptian. Other than those references the only other mention of Philip is in this piece of scripture I read today.
Jesus is talking to the disciples and says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my father also. From now on you do know him and have seen me.” Philip hears this and then asks Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us,” or as the NSRV puts it, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Apparently for Philip being in the presence of Jesus was not enough, he wanted to see the Father.
We would all love to come face to face with God, or so we think. I know I would love to be able to say that I know what God looks like, that I have seen his face, that I could paint you a picture of what he looks like, but I can’t. No one can. God has never been seen by anybody. 1 John 4:12 tells us that “No one has ever seen God.” Sure he passed by a couple of people. God talked to people. But God has never been seen by a human being in all God’s glory. The best vision of God, the best picture of who God is and what God can do is found in the incarnation of God, Jesus Christ. Yet, while staring Jesus in his eyes, Philip wanted more.
We all do that. We all have this image of who God is and that is what we crave to see. During one of my Field Education placements while at Duke, I asked the children I was working with to draw a picture of God. These children lived in a low income housing development in Durham, NC. It was not the best place to live and a place many of us would feel uncomfortable even driving into. What these children drew fascinated me though. Many of them drew their idea of God by depicting Jesus on the cross or Jesus in heaven. Children understood that the best picture of God is found in Jesus. If this is the case then why is it many of us adults are not satisfied with the Jesus picture of God? Why do we want more?
We live in a very relative truth society. We live in a world that likes to think that the truth is what an individual makes it. If something is true for you it may not be true for another person. That means that we should be acceptant and tolerant of all truths because they are true for someone. That is what the world thinks but is it correct? In this passage Jesus says that “I am the truth.” For us Christians truth is not relative, truth is Christ. But that makes us uncomfortable. That makes us start to wiggle a little in our seats because all of a sudden we start to sound pompous, arrogant, and damning to all the other people around the world who don’t believe in Jesus, let alone believe he is “the Truth” and to go further, “the only way to the Father.”
We are uncomfortable with that because we have it drilled into our heads by the popular culture that all paths lead to God, or that many paths lead to God, or all religions really worship the same God. So when we come to this statement of Jesus’ that he is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” we look at the culture around us and we start to get uneasy believing in this. We also look at the street corner preachers, the TV preachers, the ministers in the pulpits around this town and the world who use this verse to prove that there are people who are going to hell. They damn people to hell because they do not believe in Jesus and start to cast judgment all those who “drink and chew and hang out with those who do.” We don’t want to be like those so called Christians and so we timidly dodge this verse in the Bible.
Yet I believe that Jesus is exactly what he says. I believe he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him. I need to because if I didn’t then I am nothing more than a hypocrite standing behind this pulpit. So it is easy for me to play the minister card because I have devoted my life to the ministry of this Jesus and so people accept the fact that I believe this. What about you out there in the congregation today? How are you to live out this strong statement of Jesus’ everyday in your lives, in your work spaces, in your daily lives and not come across as judgmental and damning?
It would be great to know that all paths lead to the same God and that my fellow brothers and sisters of other faiths, such as Islam and Judaism, are all worshiping the same God just differently. It would wonderful if those two faiths, in particular, would be simply different denominations, but there not. They are not because the truth is we don’t worship the same God. My God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is the name of my God. The name of the Islamic God is Allah and for Judaism, Yahweh or Jehovah. These are not the same God as my God because of their view on the person/God known as Jesus Christ. For both of these religions they do not see Christ as 100% human and 100% God. To them he is a good rabbi or a prophet but not God. That takes away the Son part of my God and thus is not my God anymore.To proclaim that Christ is the way to get to the Father is no being arrogant or damning, it is speaking the Truth but we need to do so in love. To claim that Christ is the only way is being faithful to our own religion and to our God. We don’t have to know how others will get to eternity with God because it is not our job. Bishop Will Willimon says, “Jesus is not only the way to God, Jesus is God.” To remove Jesus from that place, to deny his divinity or his role in the Trinity, is to remove him for power, which then we end up placing something there in his place.
Philip wanted more from Jesus because he was not satisfied with what he saw. We are not satisfied with Jesus’ statement about being the only way because then we start to think about others. We think, “Isn’t Jesus leaving out so many people around the world?” “Is Jesus damning them to hell because they don’t believe?” Muslims have passed the Roman Catholics as the largest religious group in the world. Does this mean since they don’t believe in the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God we do that they are going to hell? When we ask these questions, we are trying to make Jesus into a bobble head, who only answers in yes and no. We are not satisfied with the God who says I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me because we don’t have much control.
We are uncomfortable with this because who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is out of our human control. We would love to play judge and dictate who goes where. There are many Christians out there that use this verses as a way to do just that, but that is not our job. That job is left to the one who is God, Jesus Christ. We are not arrogant or politically incorrect when we profess this scripture because it is not our job to dictate who lives in eternity with God. As Jonathan Marlow, a minister at Shiloh UMC in Salisbury District puts it, “Who is saved is saved by Jesus, but Jesus may save more people than we know about. Wouldn’t it be just like Jesus to sneak someone into heaven without getting our approval first? Who knows? Jesus may even save a whole bunch of people we don’t know about. I wouldn’t put it past him.”
What strikes me as uncomfortable with this text is the way that it has been handled by other preachers and Christians in the past. They wave this text as a way to put down, belittle, and demean others who do not believe the way they do. Yet if we have to go through Christ to get to the Father, then we have to be willing to go to the cross. We have to be ready to eat with sinners, feed the hungry, and care for the ‘least of these’ around us. We are to demonstrate and live out a suffering and self-sacrificing love that Christ embodied. To do that, and proclaim that this is the way to the Father, is not rude, arrogant, or politically incorrect. It is simply living out the faith of our God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And all of God’s people said…Amen.