"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me." - John 14:6
For inclusive, interfaith-minded, UCC folk, this verse can be like fingernails on our theological chalkboard. I mean, who hasn't heard these beautiful words of Jesus twisted into a pitchfork by hell-bent Christians to skewer people of other faiths or no faith?
Here me: this verse does NOT mean only Christians go to heaven because the gospel of John makes little or no difference between this life and the afterlife. When John talks about eternal life he's not envisioning an ultimate post-mortem retirement in the clouds. For John, eternal life begins now by living the Jesus way of nonviolence, doing justice, telling the truth, defending children, forgiving one and all; in other words revealing peace, love and heaven with every step.
You have heard it said, "Life is not about the destination, it's about the journey," but that's not what the Gospel of John would say. For John, the destination, eternal life, is the journey. In other words, what you aim for must be present in every step along the way.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh once put it this way: "There is no way to peace, peace is the way. Heaven or hell are available right now depending on how we walk."
According to the book of Acts, the first followers of Jesus were called "people of the way." Later the term "Christian" or "little Christ" became the main descriptor for Jesus way-farers. We are Christ's body on earth today. That means it's up to us to reveal his way, truth and the life. And I'm pretty sure that doesn't include condemning others to hell.
Lord, help me to forgive those who use scripture as a wall instead of as a door and may I reveal your way with every step.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.