Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"No one comes... except through me."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 -- The 12 Days of Christmas, Year One
Elizabeth Seton, Founder of the American Sisters of Charity, 1821
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 940)
Psalms 85, 87 (morning)       89:1-29 (evening)
Exodus 3:1-12
Hebrews 11:23-31 
John 14:6-14

Jesus said to Thomas, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."

From childhood I have been bothered by this last sentence -- "No one comes to the Father except through me."  When we began to study geography in elementary school, we learned about children growing up in distant lands.  They had parents like we did, and interests and education.  But their land was different in interesting ways, and so often their religion was different as well.  I imagined myself as a child growing up in those places.  I realized that if I were growing up there, I would not be an Episcopalian; I would not be a Christian.  I would adopt the religion of my parents and my culture, just like I had done in my own geography.

My Baptist friends were certain.  Those children growing up in those foreign lands were destined for hell.  That's why we have to send missionaries to them, to save them.  But what if missionaries didn't make it to some of these villages?  That's why we've got to send them.  Don't you want to be a missionary, to save people from hell?

I wasn't so certain.  In fact, what they said didn't make sense to me at all. 

My favorite geography chapter was about an isolated island atoll in the Pacific.  The little boy's life there seemed idyllic, especially compared with mine -- climbing coconut trees with a big knife to get coconuts for his mother; riding into the ocean with the men on outrigger canoes to help with the fishing.  Except for the lack of electricity (and especially TV), it looked like a better way to grow up than what I was living.  I wondered, why would God condemn that little boy and his whole island to hell and condemnation just because they hadn't heard of Jesus?  That didn't sound like the kind of God I was being taught about.  The kind of God that Jesus showed us.

I now have a bigger, Trinitarian picture of God.  I know that the Second Person of the Trinity is God's incarnate Word, manifest from the beginning throughout creation.  Wherever God manifests the Divine presence, that is the work of God's Word.  Wherever God's presence is recognized and appreciated, that is God's Spirit in action.

We see that in the interpretation from Hebrews today, commenting on the story we read today from Exodus about Moses and the burning bush.  Moses turns aside to see the bush that is burning but not consumed, and Moses encounters God.  God calls Moses to his task of liberating his people.  The author of Hebrews, commenting on the faith of Moses, says, "[Moses] considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt."  The writer of Hebrews claims it was Jesus, the Christ, whom Moses served.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, alluded to the manna of the Exodus in eucharistic terms, and the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness, giving water to the people, as the rock of Christ.  "For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ." -- centuries before Jesus.

In today's dialogue in John's Gospel, Philip asks Jesus to "show us the Father."  Jesus points to his works.  He tells Philip, if you do not believe the words that I say to you from the Father, "then believe me because of the works themselves."  The works of Jesus point to Jesus.  The works of Jesus identify him, and they point to the Father whom Jesus mediates.

And what are these works?  These are the works we see in Jesus -- love, compassion, healing, feeding, satisfying physical and spiritual thirst, and the proclamation of justice, especially for the poor and vulnerable. 

So wherever we see these works, we see Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, the activity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  The love of God incarnate is "the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through [God's incarnate Being]."  And the manifestation of the Divine life is ubiquitous in time and place -- no less in the wilderness of Moses than on an isolated island atoll.  God is with us.  Emmanuel.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, in the simplist terms, when I see good works like feeding the poor, working for social justice, advocating for those on the fringe and real peace among people and nations, then I'm seeing Christ? That is, if I know the name Christ. If I'm that little boy on the island, I'm seeing goodness, God or another manifestation of God?

What if the culture of that island worships gods that require human sacrifice, maybe slavery? Is that the work for missionaries? veret

At 9:07 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

The isolated island problem used to bother me, but I came to realize that Christ may manifest Himself to others at any point, perhaps even at the time of death. As the criminal on the cross found out, it is never too late to follow Him.

At 4:10 AM, Blogger anglejax said...

Father Lowell,

I am pleased with reading your reflections again. The island problem has always been a problem for me and I see that a lot of Christians will not agree with your conclusions, but I wholeheartedly agree.

I'm reminded of a saint who once left Ireland and went to a small island off the coast of Scotland, establishing Christianity there. Legends tell of St. Columba going out to sea every morning because he felt that he was closer to God when he would pray with the seals. He saw God everywhere in creation.

I guess a lot of those old Celtic saints saw God ever present in nature itself. Stories have even been told of St. Patrick using a three leaf clover to teach the Irish about the Trinity. If there are lessons to be learned here, I can't imagine it to be any different than your reflection this day.

Thank you for reminding me to see that the Divine is always around, always with me, so that even when things are very dark and dreary... if I look, I will see light. I needed to hear this today. Thanks.

Sincerely yours,
Jack Douglas

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the responses, Greg?, UP, and Jack.

I agree with you, UP, that God has infinite ways to reveal God's Word, whom we as Christians know as Jesus the Christ.

God's Word is revealed in creation (as Jack says) and anywhere that God's Spirit is manifest.

Just like Moses followed Christ the Rock, without knowing the Name of Jesus, so many people who do not know and may never know the name of Jesus nevertheless follow God's Word as it has been manifest to the Gentiles. (We'll celebrate that tomorrow.)

There's an old saying -- Known or unknown, God is present. It could be tweaked -- Named or unnamed, Christ is present.

And Greg?, about the gods that require human sacrifice and slavery? You bet the God of liberation is against those things.

One of the ironies of history is that is was sometimes the arrival of Christians with their missionaries that inaugurated slavery and human sacrifice among some cultures.

If we sent missionaries, let them be loving, compassionate, healing servants rather than proud, triumphalist authorities.



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