At our annual spring clergy conference, our practice is to read the gospel for the upcoming Sunday for our closing Eucharist. This week at that service our gospel lesson was read in Spanish. When this happens—the gospel read in a language I don’t know—I usually just take it in and let the words wash over me even if an English translation is printed in the bulletin. This week, however, I kept hearing a word I knew repeated. It’s the Spanish word for way: camino.
An Eastertide Sermon based on John 14:1-14.
As the deacon read John 14, she said it three times. Camino. Camino. Camino. And it opened up this passage in a new way for me. All I could imagine, of course, was the four and half weeks our family spent walking 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago—the Way of Saint James—from the Pyrenees along the French border to Santiago de Compostela in the far western portion of the country—about 55 miles from the Atlantic coast. For many years when I heard these verses, I imagined Jesus as a beeline way to the one he called the Father. A shortcut. A direct path with no curves, meanderings, or stops. But when I heard the word camino, all I could think about were those challenging uphill climbs, the stopping for solace after a hot day’s journey, the sometimes inexplicable diversions the Way would take only to discover a place of immense beauty. Hearing camino made me imagine the way of Jesus as much more of a glorious and intense journey.
Which is of course what it is. These disciples of Jesus have been traveling his way for three years now. And they still don’t have a clue. Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And my namesake disciple, Philip, says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” So if these ones who had Jesus beside them, teaching them, journeying with them, laughing with them, and eating with them for three years still aren’t clear on what this Camino of his involves, well, maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we question and doubt and miss the point. “Have I been with you this long, Philip, and still you don’t know me?” I can’t tell if Jesus is disappointed, chagrined, confused, or something else in that response, but I do know this: he doesn’t give up on him. He tells them all again. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It’s really quite that simple. If you want to know the Father, follow the Camino of Jesus. Jesus is the way to the Father. The Camino al Padre.
I’ve heard more sermons than I care to admit about how Jesus saying he is the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him means that Christianity is the only way to God. And not just Christianity, but a form of Christianity that is all about assurance and right belief, and if there’s any doubt then you must be on the wrong path. Not once have I heard how odd it was that Philip—a disciple who had been there right from the beginning, who had said upon first meeting Jesus that Jesus was clearly the Messiah—how he had more doubts than certainty. Or why Thomas would ask “Um, Jesus, sorry, but we have no idea where you are going, so how could we possibly know the way?” (Perhaps there’s less confusion on Thomas who has had to deal with the nickname “Doubting,” but still, a disciple who walked with Jesus for over a thousand days, and doesn’t have a clue about who he is?)
No, what I’ve heard is that Jesus is the way to the Father, which means Christianity is the way, and all those who faithfully follow other religious beliefs are doomed to spend eternity in hell. And not only that, but Christians now understand the way of Jesus much more completely than the original disciples, so we have to give assent to his way through expressing the right belief and then we will possess a golden ticket to heaven.
That proof-texting—the snatching of a single verse of the Bible in order to prove a point—pays no heed to the wider context. For Jesus himself said just a couple of verses earlier that in his Father’s house were many rooms, in God’s kingdom there are many dwelling places. Jesus was going to that kingdom in order to prepare a place for those who follow his way. So, he says to them, don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in the “roominess of God,” as theologian Robert Jenson puts it. Jeson writes, “If creation is God’s making room in himself, then God must be roomy.” Which makes Pastor Cynthia A. Jarvis ask, “Are there others on the Way whose lives bear witness to Jesus’ works but whose lips have yet to confess his name—others for whom Jesus is preparing a place, even if religion will not?”
Because there was one thing I learned in walking the dusty way of Saint James, there were all types and sorts of people making the journey to Santiago, and they were all looking for something. That something was love. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus implores his disciples. A few verses later—ones we didn’t read this morning—he says it again. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Do not be afraid. In his first epistle, John writes, “There is no fear in love, rather perfect love casts out all fear.” Don’t be afraid. Experience love, for God is indeed love. The way to God is to walk in the way of Jesus, and his way is the way of love. Do not be afraid. Embrace love.
For far too many in this world, God is not Love as much as God is brimming with judgment. 20th century professor and Scottish minister William Barclay tells the story of some young American soldiers fighting in Italy during World War 2. One of their comrades lost his life, and they happened upon a church and wanted to bury him there before they traveled on. They found the priest, and told him what they wanted to do. He asked them if their friend had been baptized a Catholic, and the men had no idea. So the priest told them they could bury him, but it had to be outside the fence around the graveyard. They dug the hole at a spot just on the far side of the fence, and placed a simple marker for his grave and continued on.
At the War’s end a couple of years later, some in their group came back to pay their respects to their fallen brother before heading home. When they came to the church yard, they found the place outside the fence where they had buried him, but couldn’t locate the marker. They searched all along the fence, but couldn’t find anything. They went in to the church and found the same priest they had met before and asked him about their friend’s grave. He told them that he had been troubled by the fact that their friend had been buried outside the fence line, and so he decided to do something. The men were incredulous, “Did you exhume his body?” they asked. “No,” replied the priest. “I moved the fence.”
He made the graveyard roomier.
I firmly believe that God created us by making space within Godself because of a deep and abiding love. God called the entirety of the cosmos into being as a result of that love, and that the Triune God longs to be in community with us so that we too might come to know the love that defines the very essence of God. When we live in fear of God, thinking that God will strike us down or cause us pain based on what we have done, we do not know God. When we imagine God as being closed off and tightly bounded with only a chosen few being able to experience the fullness of God, we do not comprehend the Love of God.
Jesus’ Way of Love—this camino of tenderness and compassion—does in fact lead us to God. And it is a way that many travel. We should be less concerned about who we think couldn’t be on that way based on who they are and more expectant that the Way of Love is roomy and ample and spacious. That there are other sheep not of the fold, as Jesus himself said in John’s gospel, and he is also their shepherd. And we are called to travel along this camino of his. We are to show love rather than apathy, humanity rather than hate, gentleness rather than power. The way of Jesus—the very way to the Father—can only be found if we embrace his call to love others just as he has loved us.
Friends, let us not grow weary in showing that love. Let us not grow tired in walking his path, trusting that when we journey along that way, we do indeed come to know more truly the Father, who is indeed Love.