A cheque for £100,000. A few weeks to live. Both rather dramatic but both actually true of us all, if you lengthen the time span. In about ten years most of you will have made £100,000, but by then you'll only have perhaps another 2000 weeks to enjoy it. Its all a question of time isn't it, a matter of perspective. When you buy something its ultimate value is not the price tag but the amount of time it took you to earn it. Perhaps that's a better test of whether it is worth it. What do you value most? What are you investing your life in what will outlast you? I'm reading a book at the moment called "Hope is not a method". Its written by the former US army chief of staff, Gordon R. Sullivan. Its sub-title is "What business leaders can learn from America's army. The introduction ends with this sentence and question.
With our Millennium project in mind that's not a bad set of questions to ask. Are we building or merely maintaining? How well are we preparing for those who will follow us? How well are we providing for the ministry not only now but into the future - for the young people who will be the leaders of this church after we have gone, who will be the missionaries of the next generation. We cannot afford to drop the batton. Its tremendous that about 110 individuals or families have already contributed to the Millennium Project. About half the church family have collectively pledged 60% of what we need. If you have already done so 'thank you', but please consider giving more. If you have not yet decided or remain unconvinced of the need then I invite you to go along next week with the Explorers or Pathfinders to the Vicarage or to Simon and Janet's house or Diana Allen's further down the road. Talk to the young people and their leaders and discover the challenge of trying to run a Sunday school from homes around the parish. We cannot afford to ignore the needs of our youth work any longer. We have been making do for too long. The young people make up between a third and half our church family. They are part of the present church and they deserve better.
They are our leaders of tomorrow. Without them we would become an ageing church and an ageing church is a dying church. The resources needed for this project are in our pockets. Lets get serious, reflect upon our priorities and invest in the future of Christ Church. I am forty five and a week away in Israel gave me some time to reflect upon where I am heading in life. It was brought home on Thursday afternoon when out of the blue I got a phone call with instructions from the British Consulate advising all British citizens to leave Israel and the Occupied Territories immediately. Humanly speaking I had 18 people's lives in my hands. To make decision making more complicated we were starved of information. That evening all the cable television channels were censored and off the air. All we had was one government channel with a serious looking military official explaining the importance of gas masks in Hebrew. We turned to the only refuge we had, the Lord God almighty.
The incident made me question what am I here for, what am I investing my life in, what are my priorities. It made me very much more aware of how life is unpredictable. When the wind is blowing hard your roots get tested. More than ever before it made me recommit my life and my priorities to God and his service. Yes I want to enjoy life to the full, but there is nothing more satisfying than leading people to Christ, building them in the faith and encouraging them to do the same. In the light of eternity everything else is really quite superficial and irrelevant. When change is slow, its subtle and you don't notice the odd one or two grey hairs. But when change is dramatic, when someone we love dies, when we find ourselves divorced, redundant, or seriously ill, or our lives are in danger it make us question what life is all about, we begin to ask where are we going? We begin perhaps not only to question whether there's life after death?, but "is there life before death?"
A couple of years ago the Algerian President Muhammed Boudiaf was assassinated by Moslem fundamentalists. According to Newsweek, seconds before he was murdered he said this, "The life of human beings is very short. We are all going to die. Why should we cling to so much power." A good question? Just a shame he didn't have enough time to find an answer. You have. Life is a journey. It has a beginning and an end. Birth and death. That much is certain. What happens in between is the unpredictable, exciting part. We're all travellers somewhere on that journey, for ever on the move, learning, growing, changing. Jesus tell us here that our real home is heaven but that we have forgotten the way home. Some people treat life like a mystery tour.
They don't care where they are going. As long as the journey
is long and lots of fun along the way. To travel is more exciting than to arrive.
Like the man who got lost on the M25 and spent several days driving round London.
Not sure where to get off. Can you imagine setting out on
a journey and not knowing or caring where you were going? Silly isn't it. Can
you imagine forgetting where your home is or how to get back? Life is the biggest
and longest journey we can make. Its important we know where we are going.
Jesus describes heaven as real as any place on a map. A very special map. While I was waiting at Gatwick for our flight out to Israel I wandered into the Dixons duty free shop. I was tempted by a hand held global positioning receiver. About the size of a portable telephone, the little screen, linked to satellites orbiting the earth, displays a map showing your exact location any where in the world. Not bad for under £400. You need never get lost again.
In this passage Jesus is explaining the way to heaven. He describes heaven as like a caravansarii, a splendid hotel found at an oasis on one of the roads used by camel trains in the desert. They were a bit like the old coaching inns. Jesus was pinpointing heaven as somewhere as real as any place on a map. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." I want us to think about these great claims of Jesus for a few moment. Like three grid map references or the satellite co-ordinates on a global positioning receiver, they show us the way to heaven.
1. I AM THE WAY: THE UNIQUE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
Life is a journey, and we are all travellers. Sometimes, maybe right now, for you it seems like a desert. Sooner or later we all get lost, we lose our way, we need someone to show us the way, A Pathfinder. One of the most memorable films I have seen is called "The Pathfinder"? Its a Scandinavian film with English sub-titles. Its a folk story about a family of nomadic Laplanders living in the frozen north of Siberia about a thousand years ago, living in temporary settlements following the herds of reindeer. But their community is threatened by a tribe of killers known as the Tehudes. The Tehudes are from the east and live by plundering whoever falls across their path. The story centres around a young boy called Aigen who returns from a hunting trip to find his family brutally murdered. He escapes to a nearby village half dead and is accepted as one of them.
But the village is afraid that the killers will follow his trail and attack them too. They cannot decide whether to stay put or flee. He and some of the men stay behind to prepare to fight while the other villagers move nearer the sea. There is a fight and the boy is captured, the only survivor. He is forced to turn traitor and lead the marauding band to where the villagers are hiding, but in doing so he risks his own life by leading them into a deep crevasse where they are killed. Aigen survives and from afar the villagers see their deliverance.
In a moving end to the story Aigen is chosen as their new Pathfinder. Even though he is only a child, he is chosen to lead them through the snowy desert to food and safety. Its worth seeing. Ever since I saw the film, the phrase "Pathfinder" has taken on a new meaning, because that is what Jesus is saying here. A thousand years before Aigen, Jesus said, "I am the true Pathfinder." Jesus says to us as He did to His friends, "I am the Way". I am the road to God, the only road that leads to heaven. Buddah is dead, Gandhi is dead, Mohommet is dead, Lenin is dead. You can visit their graves. Instead we worship at an empty tomb. Most of the world tries to walk in the shoes of dead guides and gurus, and fails. Jesus is alive. He came back to life to show us the Way. In a world of competing religions and guides, prophets and gurus, Jesus says "I am the way to God". Not "a way" but "The Way".
No other religious leader made such claims or offered such convincing proof. Jesus said "I am the Way", and He came back from the dead to prove He had been there, to prove He knew how to get back, back to eternity. The true Pathfinder. Here's the second coordinate.
2. I AM THE TRUTH: THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST
I come from a small village in Suffolk, a farming community where they speak with broad accents. If you've seen the film "Clockwise" with John Cleese, you'll realise how easy it is to get lost in that part of East Anglia. One such yuppie who was very lost, pulled up his XR3i along side a farm labourer pushing his bike and asked for the road to Norwich. The yokel thought for a minute, scratched his head and said, "Well if I was goin a Norwich I woun't be startin from 'ere." If the Way is like the road, the truth is like the route map.
You can be on the right road but going in completely the wrong direction. You can believe in Jesus, give to charity, attend Church and try and live a good life but that's not same thing as following Jesus. Its as bad as driving on the right road but in the wrong direction. Where does the road to heaven start?
It starts at the foot of the cross. Jesus is the way, and His teaching in the Bible is the truth, Its our map, and the cross is like our compass which makes sense of everything else. I visited St Petersburg a few years ago and as is my custom, being the intrepid geographer, I bought a street map. I carried it around with me for ten days. Admittedly it was in Russian but even with my compass I still had a hard time getting the road names and locations to match up with those on the map. On the last day of my stay I asked a Russian to help me locate myself on the map. He smiled told me in broken English I had bought a copy of an antique map printed in 1918. No wonder I had got lost....
Most modern so called "guides to living" have a notoriously short life. Apparently most new books have a shelf life of six weeks before they are remaindered and then pulped. This book on the other hand has been the number 1 best seller world wide for around 2000 years. Have you ever wondered why? Because eternal truth is always contemporary, always relevant. Why follow Jesus? First, because He is the Way to heaven. Secondly, because He is the Truth, the right route to heaven. But Jesus promised more. He didn't just say. "Follow my example, read my book, bye for now, see you there, hope you make it." Jesus said "I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life."
3. I AM THE LIFE: THE DISTINCTIVE WORK OF JESUS CHRIST
The distinctive work of Christ was to do what no one else had the ability to do. I was speaking to a former Communist in Russia recently, he likened their predicament to a man who falls into a well. His friends look over the edge into the gloom and cry out, "Are you all right down there..... All religions agree that the world is in a mess, each has its own way of trying to deal with our desperate situation. Imagine we are like the man who has fallen down a deep well. The question is how to get out.
First comes Mohommed who looks over the top of the well and says, "If you will only keep the five rules of Islam you will be able to escape out of the well. You must pray five times a day, eat no pork, drink no alcohol, keep the feast of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca." But a man has only his own strength to keep these commandments and after a few steps he falls back again and cries out for help.
Then along comes Buddha, who looks over the top of the well and says, "I can see you are in a mess; the problem is due to pain and desire. If you follow the noble eightfold path you will ultimately escape from these into Nirvana." But the trouble is we are still down the well.
So how is Christianity unique? God comes to the top of the well and looks down and says, "I can see that you are in a mess; you will never get out by means of your own resources. I will have to let down a rope and come into the well myself in order to rescue you. I will hold you firmly because you do not even have the strength to hold onto me yourself." Only Christianity speaks of a God becoming one of us to rescue us. Other religions say we must work hard to deliver ourselves. They are all effort, Christianity is all grace. Jesus promised them, "I will come back and take you to be with me." And He did, and He continues to. Jesus has shown us by his death and resurrection that death is not the end of the journey, that we were created for eternal life, a living relationship with God as our Father.
Foolish to believe? Foolish to ignore? That's for you to decide. Earlier I quoted Muhammed Boudiaf. "The life of human beings is very short. We are all going to die. Why should we cling so much to power?" The answer is perhaps because people are so deeply insecure about the unknown. Jim Elliott was a missionary in South America. He too was murdered, along with five other young men trying to help the feared Acuwa Indians. Before he was killed he wrote this in his diary, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." You may feel a fool for contemplating becoming a Christian, afraid of what your friends or colleagues might say, then think through the consequences. Maybe you have been a Christian for many years but only half heartedly. Repeat Elliots sentence. Following Jesus involves entrusting our life with all its warts and wrinkles to Him, a life which we cannot keep anyway, and in return receiving Jesus life, his wisdom, his values in ours, a life we can never, ever lose. Jesus is the one through whom we can experience the life we were created for, destined for, both now and for eternity. In the midst of life's uncertainties, joys and tragedies as well as the sheer tedium of daily existence, Jesus comes along side us with His arms open wide with this promise, "Come unto me all who are weary from life's journey, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." May you find that rest today. Lets pray.