David E. Little Ministry and Leadership Mentoring
David E. Little
15970 Fitzhugh Road
Dripping Springs, TX 78620
I AM the Way the Truth and the Life
given at St Peter Lutheran Church
March 9, 2016
Prayer: Father God, You are an awesome God. The way You nourish the ground with the rain makes us realize You are here and caring for our world and, therefore, us. Let us now, during the Lenten season, see what God has to say to us through Scripture, to make us better witnesses, and make us show Jesus to the people who need it (which is everybody). Now take my voice away, and let Your Holy Spirit come through. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Beginning: I told you last week about the “I Am” saying of Jesus from the Gospel of John. Today we will talk about that generally and focus on one. Also, it has been brought to my attention that at least some of you would like me to share part of my life in Faith, and so there is some testimony in these words, too.
Illustration: There is movie called “Elizabeth,” which was in the theaters in 1998 and stars Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush, among the actors. It is about Elizabeth I of England that ruled from 1558 until her death in 1603. It was nominated for seven Oscars (including best picture) and won an Oscar for Best Makeup. Before Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth, she was a Protestant princess that was birthed by Ann Boleyn after Ann’s short time as Queen herself (under Henry VIII). The Queen at the time, Mary Tudor is a Catholic, but has no heirs. She develops a tumor and dies, which vaults Elizabeth to the throne. The movie is interesting, but I want to focus on a scene at the beginning. It is “Catholic” England, because of Mary Tudor, and three Protestants are being burned at the stake for their beliefs. When you get over the shock of it, one of the Protestants is silent and turned his head aloft, almost like he’s in another world.
Reminds me of Stephen, in Acts 7, when Stephen was stoned for believing in Jesus and said, during the midst of the stoning, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
What is it that these Believers have that causes me, at least, to gasp in “awe,” and wonder if I could do the same?
We are focusing on John, for this sermon, and I have to tell you that it is interesting in seminary to hear about John’s Gospel. I think it has to do with the things John says about Jesus, emphatically, and the some would say “exclusionary” nature of Christianity that comes for it. John’s Gospel basically says (I’m paraphrasing): If you don’t believe in Jesus, you are not going to heaven (or you don’t have a relationship with the One God). If you want any other way to get to God, then John’s Gospel must be dealt with.
So detractors say it is a homily, or sermon, created by Christians in the 100’s or 200’s (the Johannine Community). Or, another like that only different, nothing in it is true – none of the saying of Jesus were actually sayings of Jesus.
Whatever you think about the Gospel of John, it is part of the Bible and, in my opinion, “divine” as the rest of the Bible, and so we must look at it and make our own conclusions.
The Gospel of John
It is called the Fourth Gospel for a number of reasons, a few of which I will unpack for you. From an academic side, it has mystery about it, from its unknown author, to where it was written, or even when. There are those scholars, especially leading up to today, that think it was written by the Johannine Community long after John the Apostle went to his glory! And finally for this discussion how do we square it with the other “synoptic” (or “same”) gospels? Some things to ponder while we get to the Scripture.
In Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is already in Jerusalem for the last time. Some Bibles or commentators have “The Farewell Discourse” as the title because it has the elements of Farewell speeches that were in or around the 1st century A.D. In Chapter 13, He had the disciples in the Upper Room, where He washed their feet and had the betrayal of Judas. As Jesus begins to tell the disciples what will happen and what they are about to go through, He tells them of a place He is preparing for them. He does it, I think, to prepare them for the things to come.
Let’s pick up in John 14:6-7: (Please stand)
John 14:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 Jesus said to him [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know[a] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
John 14:7 Other ancient authorities read If you had known me, you would have known
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated.
The Seven “I Am” Statements
The Gospel of John contains seven (or eight, I will get to that in a minute) statements giving the reader a clear picture of Jesus, a “divine” picture. No one in 1st century Israel could mistake Jesus was saying he was God. That is why they were doing anything they could to quiet this Nazarene prophet. One commentator says “it is no accident that John gives us seven. This is the number of perfection.”
The OT reading for today notes that these “I Am” sayings go back to Exodus 3:13-15 where God revealed Himself to Abraham as the great I AM THAT I AM. Jesus is hearkening back to it. Did you know that the name “God” is supposed to be revered for Jewish people? Even today, G*d has an asterisk in it because it is unthinkable to write God out!
The seven declarations in John are:
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).
Just in case you missed it, John makes it even clearer by recording the time the Jews tried to kill Jesus for claiming be the I AM of the Old Testament scriptures (John 8:52-59). In the story the Jews asked Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus answered them in a way that they could not miss, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (There’s the eighth saying) The Jews reaction was to try to stone Jesus because he claimed to be equal to God (v. 58).
C. S. Lewis’ wrote in “Mere Christianity” this: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with a man who said he was a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with some patronising [sic] nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, 52).
One thing more before we get to my testimony. Jesus said “I am the way,” but what does He means. You know, followers of Jesus were initially called “followers of the Way.” And what about “the way”? Within the Jewish wisdom tradition, "way" (^rd derek) denotes the life-styles of the "wise" (those who live in accordance with the teaching of the sages [Prov 2:8, 20]) and the "wicked" (those who flaunt wisdom [Prov 2:12, 14]). In the Psalms, which was read here today, "way" is used as a metaphor to describe a life lived either in accordance with the law or the will and desire of God (e.g., Ps 119:1, 3, 5, 27, 33). So “the way" is an expression of the faithful person's unity with God.
Maybe that is what Stephen and the Protestant in Elizabeth had...But what does that look like, in today’s world? Believing in Jesus, and having an oneness with Him and the Father (through the Holy Spirit)? Believing in the truth, and living it out.
That’s a tall order, and one that my story cannot (in my opinion) hold as true as Stephen and the Protestant from Elizabeth who was burned alive. It is my hope that you can see a part of it, through my testimony, and I leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit to reach you and show you what Jesus can do for you and others...
I have a long story to tell and not much time to tell it in...So I will pick portions of the three stories to tell you. You can have the others anytime you like, just ask me...
The first story is I was deployed with the United States Marine Corps in 2005. 9/11 happened, (9/11/2001) and the world – as we knew it – changed. I was in the Inactive Ready Reserve in the Marine Corps Reserve, and thought my time as an active duty Marine had come and gone. But I was in email contact with USMC headquarters, and in 2004 they started running out of officers for Iraq, especially judge advocates. As I starting getting more and more emails, and the sounds of them said “we need bodies” I started praying. You see, when you are a Marine, and the call comes in, you know that if you don’t step up, then that leaves somebody else that will go in your place. I had to make a decision, and in prayer, I believed that my place was in Iraq – for family, for the USMC, for country, and – interestingly – for God, to be – along with the Chaplain and other Christians – a mentor to young Marines that were seeing some terrible things.
Before I went, I had to say goodbye to a lot of folks, including my family. Thinking it was possible I wouldn’t come back (my attitude is God can take me anywhere, so why worry about the location), I made a tape of my final goodbye’s, gave something to my oldest son to keep (a rifle), kissed my kids and my wife, and went to Camp Lejeune, where I would hook up with my unit, Regimental Combat Team – 2, and go over.
But in the process of thinking about and going, Jesus’ words – and all they meant – came to me. Jesus was “the life.” My family going to be alright, even if I don’t come back – because God has them. My wife is going to be alright, because God loves her more than I. And I am going to be alright, because the demons of this world – and I saw a few of their actions over there – are nothing compared to God, who with Jesus and the Holy Spirit were in a relationship with me!
You know, I prayed to God that if He decided to take me in Iraq, I would rather He take all of me, rather than have a piece of me in Iraq and the rest of me back home to walk this life with. I thought that it was more than I could handle having a piece of me gone – my arm, my leg, both legs – you get the picture. I didn’t want to deal with it.
So, two years and two months after I get back, on January 8, 2008, I am driving down the road and something happens to my body. I found out, four days later - when I came out of the anesthesia induced coma – that it was a stroke. At 40! Thank God my daughter, Ashley, who was in the car with me, was saved! They said it was a spontaneous stroke (which means they can’t figure out why I got it); my left carotid dissected (in my neck), and the blood and plasma went to the site to work on it, and stopped the blood from going to my head. I woke up four days later with a new (broken) body, brain, and spirit, and a new journey to walk.
My wife, Amy, was 7 ½ months pregnant with our fourth child, by the way. She is a saint! Sometimes life throws a wrench into your plans! I want to ask God, if I can manage to get up of the proverbial ground worshiping Him, does He have a sense of humor!
To be honest, on January 12, 2008, I was good for drooling on the pillow, and not much else. I couldn’t walk or move the right side of my body. My voice and the connection to my brain was compromised – I could get a word or two out, but the Speech Therapist held a duck up, and I said it was a dog! And my brain – what we call “brain housing group” in the Marine Corps - was in a fog that would last 15 months! I have 26 months of speech therapy to talk to y’all today!
So I was praying, in the two weeks after I woke up from the coma, and asking “God, why am I down here?” Because I didn’t want to be, and frankly, I couldn’t see how I was going to be anything other than another baby for Amy to take care of? I couldn’t worship Him (or so I thought), and I couldn’t be a husband to my wife, or a father to my kids. (Funny how God can see above time and knew that He had a plan for me, even when I couldn’t see it, and didn’t see how it could happen.) One thing I did know, God had me down here for a reason, a purpose. You see, I knew the “truth” – that I was in a relationship with the Triune God. But more than that, I knew that whatever it looks like for me, God has good in it for those who love Him and are called to His purposes (Rom 8:28). That this body – this broken body – is only mine for a smidgen of time – I get to be with Him for eternity – and He can do whatever with this broken body through the Holy Spirit.
In truth, my surrender to God was complete – I had nothing to give Him or my family. I’ve found that in surrender you find wholeness. I hope that is true for some of you...
You know, God says that we can handle anything with Jesus at our side (Philippians 4:13). But when I got a call from the baby sister on May 17, 2010, in the pouring down rain, three miles from my house, I didn’t dream that I would be telling you this part of the story.
Bristol Galbreath, then our baby sitter and now a part of our family forever, had our two boys while Amy and I were at the rehearsals for the Dance Recital, which was later that week. I came home with Sarah, while Amy was there at Westlake Center with Ashley finishing up. What Bristol told me was there was a thud (like, it turns out, lightning hit the house), and the lights went out for a second. But now, the lights were back on and it seemed okay. I asked enough questions to be sure they were safe (or so I thought), and said I’m 3 minutes from you, I will see about it when I get home. Little did I know that the lightning had struck, had hit the gas line in the attic, arced (which tore open the gas line) and gas was in my attic, with wood up there and, it turns out, fire.
When I got to the house, there was smoke coming out of roof tops, and a strange car that was parked in the driveway, with the door open. Bristol was already in her car with the two boys, Sam and Jacob. I went inside, had about three minutes, listened for the popping in the walls (that was not good), and saw the air conditioning vent pouring water (that was also not good), but otherwise the downstairs looked okay. I went upstairs, and before I got halfway up, one of my dogs came into the house, and I had to get it outside. It’s a long story, but my dogs and cats did not get along! By the time I got back in and traipsed upstairs, this time there was a wall of smoke that met me.
It was 2 ½ years after my stroke, and it showed. I could barely get up the stairs, and made the choice to not brave the smoke and see what else I could do. At about that time, the first Firetruck showed up. He said to turn off the propane (I tried, but it was stuck), and about that time fire came out of the attic and was on the outside of the house. The fireman said I couldn’t go back in the house! I was there for three minutes and did not get a thing! The only thing I would change is that my two cats died in the house that day – they did not deserve it.
So for 2 ½ hours I watched as the house slowly imploded. The firemen did a wonderful job, but in Dripping, there are no fire hydrants out there. In fact, they spread a makeshift rain collector out in the street to catch water to throw (in water hoses) up on the house. It was an awesome display of firefighting skills and determination – but it was not enough. The house almost burned down to the ground. The only thing I will say is it “almost” burned because the insurance people said we had to go through every room and itemized because there was one wall standing – which we had to tear down anyway! But I digress...
What was amazing to see, both that night and thereafter, was how we were loved by everyone? That night, as I watched the house burned down, neighbors started showing up. Then people from my church! Then people from my office! It was almost as if God said to people “love them” and they did. From neighbors, to church, to work, to the community, and beyond. I was watching “the way” in action. We got love, prayer, shelter, clothes, money, it was amazing!
You know, you have times when you think that nothing can go right! Everything is going wrong, so much so that it feels almost surreal. Yet in that time, if you look at it right, you can see God’s love pouring out to you! The relationship is there, even when your eyes deceive you!
Bring it to the congregation:
One thing is certain: Somewhere people are hurting. It may be you, or someone close to you. Maybe a family member is losing a battle with some disease. Maybe it is a broken home, and the damage that is left from that. Maybe it is unemployment, a business that can’t make a profit, or crops that won’t grow, or cattle that is on dry land. Maybe it is addiction and the ramifications of that. Maybe it’s loneliness. Maybe it is a war, or sickness, or fire. Whatever it is, you have the answer: Jesus.
Tell it to the world in your actions, be up for the challenge when they ask questions of you, and be able to walk in a fallen world.
When you have the God’s sized hole filled up within you, you are at peace. And that is a good thing, but it’s a must when you go through trials or tribulations. I hope that it never happens to you, but I believe that we are often tested for our faith, and tested in this world. Wouldn’t you rather have it before you need it, rather than wish you had it in the time of struggle? I hope my testimony has helped you on that path. To God be the Glory. Amen.
Prayer: Father God, You are the Way, the Truth and the Life, and showed it to us when You sent part of Yourself down here to us, to walk in human form, to suffer and to die for us! Let us now be a witness to the transformation in our lives, because of Jesus. It's in Jesus' name that I ray this. Amen.