Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass Easter 5 2017

Acts 7:55-end
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

As the general election campaign gets underway we will of course hear the claims of the various parties in their attempts to persuade us to vote for them. Having a system of parties and manifestoes means at least that we know what we’re voting for: whoever your particular candidate is in your constituency, you know that their party is offering a package deal of policies and promises.
There is however, perhaps, a risk with this system, that the party can be seen as something demanding complete loyalty. You must sign up to the whole deal. Exclusivist claims can be made: only this or that party can protect the country, save the NHS, or whatever it may be; vote for us, as all other parties are entirely bad and wrong.
Well, as voters we need to use our intelligence, and I think we realise that the reality is usually more complex than that. Absolute claims to truth and value won’t really wash with mere human constructions such as political parties.
But what about religion? When it comes to faith, we can encounter absolutist claims as well. This or that is the “true religion”; all others are false. You can only be saved by becoming a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Catholic, or a Protestant.
Now religion, unlike politics, does make claims to put us in touch with absolute truth, because religion is about relating to God, and God is the source of all truth. These then are serious claims. But how are we to weigh them?
Well, as Christians, we listen to Jesus. In today’s gospel he says very famous words, one of the great “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now there is no mistaking that this is an absolute claim: “No one comes to the Father except through me”. But we need to attend very carefully, both to what Jesus says, and to what he does not say.
He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. This is about who Jesus is. He goes on to say to Philip that to have seen him is to have seen the Father. Jesus is the one who makes the Father known.
The doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three Persons, runs all through John’s Gospel. Indeed, it runs all through the New Testament, but in John it is particularly clear and explicit. God in himself is entirely mysterious. We cannot know God the Father, the origin and source, in himself, but we can know God as he is revealed in his Son. As John says in the opening of his Gospel, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
God the Son is the Word, the expression of the Father, who has existed from all eternity but was united in time to our human nature in Jesus. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Throughout John’s Gospel we have to bear this in mind: when Jesus speaks, it is the Word who speaks. Jesus is the revelation of the unknown God, come among us as one of us. This is why Jesus says, “to have seen me is to have seen the Father”. 
And this revelation is for all people. The prologue of John’s gospel says that the Word of God is “the true light, which enlightens everyone”. Not some people, but everyone. Jesus himself says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself”. He doesn’t say some, he says all.
Jesus never said, “Christianity is the only way to the Father”. He did not say “only Christians can be saved”. We should not claim something that Jesus did not claim. We need to guard against our Christian faith becoming exclusivist and narrow. And that can happen if our conception of Jesus is too small.
Jesus is the way to the Father, because he is the revelation and living image of the Father sent into the world. This is a universal revelation. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” The letter to the Ephesians says, “he ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things”.
Jesus is God the Son, the revelation of the Father, the way to the Father, and as such he has created all things and fills all things. Jesus is present in all the universe, in every human community, in every human life. He is present to everyone as the revelation of the Father and as the way to the Father.
Now this presence of Jesus is explicitly and consciously realised in the Christian Church. We are those who have come to conscious faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God who has come into the world, the way to the Father for all. We are transformed into his image and become the visible Body of Christ in the world though the Sacraments that he gave to us.
But the universal nature of Christ informs how the Church sees the world and other faiths and communities. Jesus is not absent from the rest of the world. The true light enlightens everyone. Today, especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church acknowledges the reality of saving grace in other faith communities and among all people of good will. But the Church also asserts that all who are saved, all who come to a knowledge of God, do so through Jesus, the Word of God who fills all things – whether this is consciously realised or not.
This does not mean that all are automatically saved. We must respond to the grace we have received. The role of the Church in evangelism is not to bring Jesus into places and communities from which he is absent, because he is already there ahead of us. Our role, rather, is to awaken people to the God who is making himself known to them in Jesus, in whatever way God finds to do that.
We live in a world of many faiths, reflected in the microcosm that is London. This should not make us anxious, narrow or exclusive. Jesus the Word has ascended to fill all things and enlighten all people. We bear witness to him, not to ourselves. We do not need to cast other people into outer darkness, still less do we need to turn other people into copies of ourselves. The sects who hand out leaflets on street corners seem to want to do that, but that really reveals only their own insecurity and lack of faith in the God who is bigger than they are.

A mature, confident Christianity does not see the world as filled with darkness, but as radiant with life and hope. Mature, confident evangelism is not motivated by the fear of hell, but by the joy of bringing ourselves and others into a closer relationship with Jesus, who fills all things and enlightens all people. Because he, not we, is the way, the truth and the life, and everyone who comes to the Father comes through him.

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