I try not not watch a lot of television. Now don’t be mistaken. There are those shows that I just can’t miss (thank goodness for a DVR). But the majority of the time in our house, if I am in control of the remote, the TV is on the Food Network. It’s safe for Ellen and mommy likes it too. I consider that a win/win. One thing I try and avoid (especially if Ellen is in the room) is television news stations like Fox, CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, you know the type. Often times there seems to be some sort of debate happening on these television channels that pit one person against another and they are usually people in the extremes. So many times (because it makes for good television watching to watch people verbally insult one another) people on these channels are debating hot button issues: gun rights, immigration, health care, women’s rights, race, the economy. whatever it may be. The goal of the debate, of course, is to make the other person look less intelligent, or at least that seems to be what the goal is. Eventually one person will get frustrated with the other and inevitably the “ultimate” (quotes inforced) insult is this one “well, you’re just wanting to play God!” How many of you have heard this before?
“You’re just wanting to play God,” as if playing God is even an option for any of us. The English language, for how vast it is, really falls short at very crucial points in time. When we play, it’s usually a game, or a trick, or some sort of light hearted activity. I highly doubt that playing God, if at all possible, would be or should be a light hearted activity. But still, that verbiage is used, thrown around without much thought, “you’re just wanting to play God.” And really what the other person is saying is this “you’re trying to decide what is best for me or someone I love or about a topic I’m quite passionate about and I think that’s just wrong.” It is the verbal equivalent of sticking your tongue out at someone.
Today we hear from what is commonly called “Jesus’ farewell discourse.” Jesus is gathered with his disciples and this is the last time they will hear from him before he makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on his way to the cross. Jesus is trying to do the best he can to prepare his disciples for his death. It’s no easy task. Jesus tells us something that has become a keystone or a cornerstone in what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He says (verse 6 and 7) “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.”
I think we hear this and think “I know Jesus, so I will know God according to what Jesus is saying here.” That’s good news, isn’t it? We will get to know God. Now go in peace, serve the Lord, right? Oh friends, you know I cannot let us off the hook that easily. There’s a great movie called “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carrey (if you’ve not seen it, I recommend it) where Bruce, played by Jim Carrey is a little down on his luck and a bit angry with God. So God, played by Morgan Freeman, of course, challenges Bruce to see if he can do his job–if he can be God for a while. Bruce finds out that it is harder than it seems. But it does raise an interesting question of would we want to do God’s job if given the opportunity.
We may be quick to say “no way, I don’t want that responsibility” but then we are surrounded by a lot of noise that would seem to point towards there being only one way or only one right way to God. There seems to be the threat of hell for all kinds of things these days. If you can think of any “hot-button” sin, there would probably be at least one person, if not a group of people that would tell you whoever has engaged in that sin, whatever it may be, will be going straight to hell. Pro-life, pro-choice, illegal, gay, divorced, mixed-race marriage, non-christians, children born out of wedlock, all of these are examples of people who are “going to hell” (emphasis on the quotes). They aren’t following the Lord’s way. Let’s do each other all a favor here, folks. Let’s remember that there is only one God and we are not that one God. In order to get to God people do not need to nor should they be expected to go through us. Furthermore, it would be good for us to practice a little humility as Christians once in a while and open ourselves to the possibility that even though our friends or family may attend a different church they too know the way.
Jesus doesn’t say “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” for all those who declare themselves to be Lutheran. He also doesn’t say “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” unless you’ve been divorced, or unless you are a democrat or a republican, or unless you’re undocumented. Friends, the reason why we would never want to “play God” is because we would be bound to get it wrong each and every time. And honestly, if we were actually able to “play God” the people whom we let into the kingdom might make us uncomfortable. Because when Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” what he means is that he is not a wall builder, but a gatekeeper and a bridge builder.
And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we don’t deserve to go to the Father (through Jesus) more than anyone else. If we don’t want to allow people access to God through Jesus Christ for this sin or that sin or for whatever reasons we may find, then we don’t deserve access ourselves. Friends, Christ called us to be fishers of people, but too often we want to be keepers of the aquarium*. God is not ours to keep in a box to ourselves. God is not ours to control. If you find that perhaps God seems to be agreeing with your political, social, or economic views a little too often, most likely you’re not worshipping God, you’re worshipping yourself.
Last week I talked about what it might look like to live life abundantly in Christ. Part of this abundance is having peace in knowing that though we may take different roads or paths, if we ultimately go through Jesus, follow Jesus, listen to Jesus, and serve like Jesus, we are going the right way. Will we run into people we don’t like along the road? Yep. Will we encounter circumstances that seem unfair along the way? Yep. But along our journey Jesus invites us into the waters, to the table, into fellowship with one another. Take and eat, take and drink; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
No one gets to “play God.” This is a relief and good news for you, for me, for those whom we love, for those whom we find difficult to love, for those who care for us and for those who have difficulty caring for us. There is only one way to God–and that is through Jesus. Don’t set up roadblocks where God has built a bridge. Don’t play God when God doesn’t have an interest in “playing”– only in loving.
*= quote attributed to Louis Schueddig, Episcopal Media Center