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Jesus Teachings: A Path to Authentic Living

Fred Thompson


John 14: 1-14

Jesus Teachings

Jesus Teachings

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

The Scriptures this morning

draw us to reflect on what it means to be community.

We each have our own communities that

we come here from on Sunday,

but we are part of the larger community of

the Christian faith—

…a community in which we can gather and

from which we can gain

wisdom, rejuvenation, and identity.

Within each of our larger communities,

there are smaller ones,

such as our families, our friendship circles,

our schools, our churches,

and our workplace communities.

Obviously, we define these in particular ways.

But this way of defining a community

is not a new thing that we

in contemporary society invented.

It has been going on from

the time people could group together

to share the responsibilities and burdens of survival.

Identity in tribal cultures came from the community,

not from individual accomplishments.

One thing that tribes knew

is that they were stronger together

and that to go off alone,

you would eventually lose your mind or die.

In Jesus’ time,

people identified themselves as being Jewish or

Roman or Samaritan or

one of the many other cultures and nations

that were intermingling under Roman conquest.

Jesus himself was Jewish and

worked within the framework of being Jewish

to call people back to God.

When we celebrate Easter,

we celebrate a very particular definition of

what it means to be a community:

We are the people who believe in the God

who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.

As we say in Eucharistic Prayer A,

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

This separates us as a community,

just as it separated the community for

whom the Gospel of John was written.

Our Gospel of John wasn’t written in one sitting.

Instead, it was written over time to address

the developing religious and pastoral needs

of a particular community.

We don’t know exact times

but given the evidence of what was happening

in the social and historical context,

we can understand this Gospel

as originating in an early Christian community

struggling to separate itself from first century Judaism—

…that is, sometime between 75-100 AD.

The religious turmoil within emergent Judaism after 70 AD,

when the Jewish temple was destroyed, is critical.

The Gospel of John focused talk

about “the Jews” and its prediction of expulsion,

persecution, and martyrdom for believers

readily displayed the intra-Jewish conflict of the time.

John’s community saw themselves

to be a persecuted religious minority,

expelled from the synagogue,

expelled from their religious home,

because of their faith in Jesus.

There were, of course,

other religious beliefs swirling around during that time.

The early Christians were also living within a Hellenistic society—

meaning that much of the worldview held

at that time was that of the Greeks—

the principles, ideas, and pursuits

associated with the contemporary Greek culture

also permeated the Mediterranean world.

The way the Gospel of John was written is also influenced by this fact.

This Gospel was written to a particular community

in a particular time and place

so that they could define themselves apart

from the other religions that were around them.

This Gospel helped define them as a community.

Things haven’t changed much since then.

We have different religions and philosophies

swirling around us in this modern age now.

- So how do we define ourselves as Christians now?

- How do we live as Easter people?

Defining ourselves means that

we live out our lives in a particular way as

community so that people can clearly see

what being a Christian means.

Defining ourselves doesn’t mean that we throw stones at others.

In our lesson from the Book of Acts today,

this meant that even unto death,

Stephen echoed Jesus, asking God to receive his spirit

and to forgive those who were murdering him.

Stephen’s faithfulness compelled him

to behave differently than someone

who did not follow Jesus.

In our American culture,

we are not persecuted in

the same way that Stephen was treated or by

how Christians are treated in other parts of the world.

This is nice and comfortable for us,

but it often makes it more difficult

to show the world how a community

that follows Jesus defines itself.

The media makes this even more difficult

when it highlights Christians that

manifest bigotry, hate, and judgment on their neighbors…

…lumping us all into that category together.

- How do we continue to define ourselves in the midst of this?

- How do we show that we are God’s people?

- What makes us different from Habitat for Humanity or

the food bank?

They do good works, too, right?

In our Gospel lesson, we have part of the answer.

We know the way to the place that Jesus is going

because we, by definition,

claim to know Jesus as God incarnate—

God with us—God’s own son.

Jesus was always going to return to God the Father

because they were inseparable.

Jesus himself was and is simultaneously

the access to and

the embodiment of life with God.

This is our particular belief that

helps define us as a Christian community

and because of this belief,

…we are to love Jesus by doing his works

and by keeping his commandments:

to love God and to love one another.

- How have we defined ourselves

in our own community as Episcopalians?

- What does it mean to be Episcopalian?

- When we begin to lose our own identity and

lose our saltiness,

we need to be recalled to the larger community

of The Episcopal Church and

to the extended Christian community.

As Christians,

we are not called to be like everyone else

…and as Episcopalians,

we have our own distinct flavor.

“If someone were to stop at a gas station

and ask where your church was,

how would the attendant answer?”

Great question.

Would the attendant look at you blankly?

Maybe, give a vague answer? Is that the church near Ashley Hall?

Or would he or she say, “Oh, that church!

That’s the church where this, this, and this happens!”

- What is our identity in the wider community?

- What do we want to be known for?

Here are some further questions to ponder this week:

- What do we value about being Christians in our community?

- What is God calling us to do as the Episcopal presence in our community?

How do we define ourselves,

and as the community for whom the Gospel of John was written

…how would we define ourself?

May God give us wisdom and courage

to live into these answers

​​…for the future of St. Mark’s and

the Diocese of South Carolina.



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