Language, my friends, I believe is our greatest blessing and our largest curse.
Here’s an example of why I think that…..Go talk to your Dad. Go talk to your Father. Two phrases that mean the same thing, right? Not in my house! “Go talk to your Dad” meant your dad has something to tell you, whereas “Go talk to your Father”, meant you were mostly likely in trouble.
Or what about this one…..I heard this a lot… “Joan, your child is really creative.” My children are very creative! They are filled with arts and music, and ok, a little pizzaz that didn’t go over too well in school. Our trying to put a spin on something, that’s our language. I think that language is our best attempt to put into the finite, what is really infinite. It helps us to put parameters around emotion, around feelings, around questions. It can express beauty and it can express shame. Language can be healing and at times can be deadly. It can break our spirit and can bring us joy. The biggest challenge of language, I believe, is that though I think I’m putting adequate expression and words to what I am thinking and feeling; I have no control over how you hear it.
I talk about this is because there are two passages that I swore I would never preach on when I was in seminary because of the language. And when I say “never” the Holy Spirit laughs at me and I swear every time they come up I have to preach on them. In my first parish I had to preach on the passage on divorce…I hate that one! It says don’t do it, and yet, here I am a divorced woman. But I am a woman who believes that God was with me through that whole painful and ugly process. And the 2nd one is this reading. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful passage, and normally I love John, but the words “the way, the truth, the life” have been abused in our history, in our culture today because we don’t finish the story.
I was raised to believe that I was a child of God. It was brought to my awareness through my baptism, through the Sacraments. I went to church, tried to be good as good as I could be. I need to confess that I was a naïve and diminutive child, and did what I was told. I thought I was walking the straight line.
I went to camp the summer I was thirteen with my best friend and she went to an evangelical church. The youth pastor said “oh you’re Joan” and I said “yes I am” (terrified of anyone I didn’t know.) He asked if I had found Jesus and in my innocence and honestly and a little sarcasm, but it was really honest, I said “I never lost him”. I believed from the beginning that I was a child of God. I didn’t have to have a revelation of God or I didn’t have to be born again in a way some people choose to believe that. That was just the first example of how those words have come back to haunt me. I have been told I am too Catholic, that I’m too spiritual for a Lutheran church. I was told I was too honest for another church…it’s like anywhere we go we can be too something because the language can’t hold what it is that we are. But we use it as a weapon. The cornerstone that we’re looking for, we want that. We want our language to make us safe. We want to be secure, we want to be right, because that’s who we are as human beings. My experience must be the same as yours or mine is not valid. That is SO far from what the Gospel is telling us today….it’s so far.
I am the way, the truth and the life. Jesus doesn’t tell us the pathway, he doesn’t tell us… he says he is. So what do we do? They say actions speak louder than words. How do we live? Jesus did not go around saying you have to be Catholic, you have to be Christian, you have to be Muslim, that’s the only way you’re going to find salvation. Jesus said do what I did, do what I do, love how I love. That’s what being the way the truth and the life is. Jesus was authentically divine; he knew he was divine and was with God, and he knew we were too.
As we continue on in the Scripture, even the disciples are saying “I’m the way the truth and the life, so what? I still can’t see you, I still want some answers. Give me the rock. Give me the rock.” And Jesus says the rock is the faith. Those that have faith will have that rock at their disposal. Sometimes we have to have faith in that which we cannot see. Sometimes we have to believe that which we cannot put into words. And sometimes we have to love that which we don’t understand. It’s not up to me to say, “My way or the highway”. I am not God. Jesus is God. And he’s not saying “my way or the highway”. He’s saying if you follow me, I will show you love, I will be with you, you will never be alone, I will come and get you at your death and you will live with me forever. That’s a lot more positive.
Now, anyone who has ever driven with me knows that I get lost, a lot! I got a GPS for Christmas, and it talked back to me, so I got rid of it. But this is how I’m going to try to explain the Gospel today. This is a map. The map of St. Paul. We’re somewhere around here because here’s the river and there’s a big blue mark, all right? How did you get here? What road did you take to get here? I took hwy 55. How’d you get here Brian? 110. How did you get here Geri? 110. How about you, Lynn? Charlton to Charlton. Look, we all got here, but we got here different ways. I can’t always put words to what I believe is the truth, and sometimes pictures help me. My friend, Fr. Peter Wang, taught me this in my 1st year of seminary when he heard me being called “the Catholic” (I was at a Lutheran seminary) It was hurtful at the time, but now I think its good…
Joan, he told me, the city of St. Paul is just like the City of God. There are many ways to find God. Look at the many roads that go into St Paul. You can go 35, you can go 94, you can go west 7th, you can go Roselawn. You can go a lot of different ways.
Everybody has a different path to God, a different way to understand God. Because we are so unique, so beautifully made, our path will not look like another’s – and that’s ok. We don’t have to say we’re the best. We don’t have to say we’re the holiest. We don’t have to fight those who say “your way is awful, your way is evil.” I’ve been called a heretic. I can accept that because God is bigger than our language. God is bigger than our actions. God is bigger than our church. God is so big and so infinite that there is not a soul on this earth that cannot be embraced by God’s love.
That’s the way, the truth and the life. It’s the infinite. It’s the bigger than we can know. It’s the part that causes us to say that when we accept other people’s road and we ask them about it, ours becomes richer and ours becomes more open, and our experience of the infinite is a little bit more.
So as we go through this week, I wonder. I wonder if whoever crosses our path that we meet, if we have can’t have a conversation and find out something small about them and see how does that stretch our understanding of the infinite. Let’s go beyond language of words, and this week, let us go with the language of the heart. Amen.