This summer I’m teaching the I AM statements of Jesus in a ‘Spiritual Life Tent.’ It’s part of a conference center in the Adirondacks near where we live in the summer. And while there are some Christians in the organization, it is not explicitly a Christian center. In fact, it’s intentionally interfaith and ecumenical. So each week when I walk into my tent, (truly it’s a tent, like the sort you’d set up for a large family picnic with four screened walls to keep out the bugs… but do they ever really keep the bugs out?) I never know who might show up, or what they might believe or not believe, or even harbor anger that they were once associated with the church.
The classes are small, perhaps 3-4 people on any given week, which means I can’t hide behind lecture style teaching. If people have different views, I know it. Immediately. The classes are more like conversations where I’ve chosen the topic.
And yet, one of the I AM statements is, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” At first, I worried about teaching that specific week. How could I actually tell whoever walked into the tent that Jesus was the only way in an interfaith setting? What if they were Buddhist? What if they’d left the church and were angry at God? What if they thought Christians in America were obnoxious know-it-alls?
Thankfully, I’ve seen again and again that Jesus not only is the answer, but he shows us how to explain the answer.
Jesus Shows He is the Way
Jesus didn’t start with a big declarative: “Hey, I’m the way, so get with the program!” Rather, his I AM statement came at the end of a series of actions and acknowledgments that began in John 13.
John 13:1 says, “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Jesus’ way of loving his disciples to the end was first to serve them by washing their feet—a tangible and physical need in that culture. He then went on in chapter 13 to acknowledge the real problems that were on the horizon for the disciples: betrayal, death, and more betrayal. And within the context of trouble on the way, he offered them hope, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Let’s review. Jesus loved his disciples. He served them physically, addressing their tired bodies. He then talked about the hardships they would face— life would not be easy. Then he offered them hope with the promise of an amazing house—God’s house—where they would find true rest and restoration with him.
And then, and only then, he explained how this would all work saying, “I AM the way and the truth and the life.”
He was the way to get there! He was the truth they were searching for! And from this truth, they’d receive life— a new glorious life that culminated in someday joining him in this wonderful place he was creating.
When people walk into my tent, and into your tent, we don’t need to jump on them with our very best apologetics arguments, important as those are. We don’t need to roll our eyes if we learn they believe the common claim that “all roads lead to God.” And while we may cringe when they assert, “your truth is just different from my truth,” we can save that debate for later.
When people walk into your tent, be imitators of Christ. See if you can help them in the moment, maybe even physically. Do they need a meal? A firm handshake or hug? A chair pulled closer into the circle? A ride?
Next, acknowledge what troubles they are going through (divorce, cancer, kids gone crazy, financial strains, depression, etc.). Then, tell them that no matter what else, there is hope! And that hope is a person: Jesus Christ. Then point them to Christ and invite them to follow him to a bigger tent, a glorious tent where we are invited to live with him forever.
Jesus can change their hearts. Jesus can show them the truth that leads to life. You know why I know that? Because he did it for you and for me.
About the Author:
Esther C. Baird is the Director of Women’s Ministries and Adult CE Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church North Shore outside of Boston. Her humor/parenting column, The Baird Facts, has been running for more than a decade in the local paper and she is the author of, Exodus to Advent: God’s Christmas Plan for You and for Me, and, Echoes of I AM: Life’s Big Questions Answered in God’s Great Name. Both are available on Amazon. Esther, her husband, their two daughters, and their two Bernese Mountain Dogs try to embrace the winters of New England, but only the dogs really succeed. For more of her work please visit: www.estherbaird.com