The Way to Carnegie Hall: A Sermon on Jesus' Wordplay on "the Way".


This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on May 14, 2017. The scripture text for the sermon is John 14:1-14.

Note: Italics in the written sermon indicate a time of congregational conversation with the pastor.

If I said, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” you would reply...“practice.”

It’s such an old joke, the joke of the maestro running down the street being stopped by a stranger asking for directions to Carnegie Hall, and the maestro answers, “Practice”.

We understand the joke because we take for granted that to be a world class musician, you need to practice.

Of course, we also understand that to be a competent musician, you need more than practice alone.

For example, if I handed you a piece of sheet music, if you don’t read music, you wouldn’t know what to do with it - even if you had all the time in the world to practice.

So, what else do you need to be a musician? Help me out here...

An instrument, a teacher, a place to practice, music to play, the desire or willingness to learn, etc.

The way to become a musician involves training, desire, and practice, for sure. We take for granted that even people who play music for a hobby need to invest themselves in all kinds of ways in learning music.

But, what if instead of asking “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” I said, “How do I find my way to God?” what would the answer be?

Well, here’s where we turn to the Scripture for today from the Gospel of John. (Keep in mind, we’re kind of jumping backwards in the Bible accounts - these verses are pre-Easter - even though in our church year we’ve gone past Easter). At this time, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death, getting them ready for his absence. He has just washed their feet, shared his last meal with them, and told Peter that Peter will deny him.

Jesus, to help reassure them, tells them not to let their hearts be troubled because he will go before them to prepare a place for them. Jesus then says to the disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”

But Thomas speaks up and says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And Jesus says, “I am the way, and the the truth, and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me”

So, to recap, Thomas says, “How can we know the way?”

And Jesus says, “I am the way.”

The word for “way” here is a word with multiple meanings, sort of like answering the question about Carnegie Hall with “practice”. The humor of the Carnegie Hall joke shows an understanding that the journey to Carnegie Hall is a full, embodied journey that involves more than following directions on a map. Similarly, “the way” here means a way, a road (like a for real road not a metaphorical road), and a journey, and a path.

The way to the Father - God - involves a journey that is much more than just hearing the directions on how to get there: Jesus tells the disciples (and us, through the gospel account) quite clearly that he’s the journey, the path to God.

So, to go the way Jesus is going, to know the Father, we must to follow Jesus on the way...the road… the path…the journey.

Jesus’ answer to Thomas makes me think that our Scripture for today may be calling us forward to look at our faith as a journey, much like getting to Carnegie Hall is a journey.

Here, let’s remember that following Jesus isn’t about generically being nice. Sometimes, Jesus wasn’t all that nice - flipping tables in the temple and all that. It’s also not about being a generally “good person”. Jesus did not fit the standards of his day for being a “good person”.

Following Jesus is about specifically getting to know Jesus as the “way”.

What if we looked at faith as more than a “belief” that we think in our heads, or feel in our hearts, but also as a way of life that we can actually practice.

How would we do that?

When we talked about what it takes to be a competent musician, we said....

An instrument, a teacher, a place to practice, music to play, the desire or willingness to learn, etc.

Whether we play an instrument or not, we understand that we need all these things to play an instrument well.

So, what would we need to practice being followers of Jesus?

Sheet music to guide our playing? Here’s where I do my Bible-thumping public service announcement that the place to learn about Jesus is the Bible, so we should each be spending time in Bible study.

A teacher who is well trained in the art. Perhaps a pastor.

A place to practice. People to practice with. A church.

What else comes to mind for you?

Let’s not leave out the power of inspiration, as well. Inspiration and the Holy Spirit are related. The Holy Spirit is with us always, and we’ll begin to hear more about the Spirit in the next few weeks as we move toward Pentecost in the church year. Even with the Holy Spirit’s constant presence, we need practice tuning into the voice of the Spirit to distinguish that holy voice from all the others crowding it out.

The truth is that most of us need lots of practice on the Jesus journey.

Practicing the way of Jesus matters and matters deeply because following “the way” brings peace and calms chaos in our lives, and in the wider world. I can’t speak for you, but I know it’s easy for me to fall into thinking that I’m playing awesomely, like Yo-Yo Ma, when I’m really scratching out an earsplitting version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

But, there’s good news for us amateurs.

We are saved by grace through faith in God. Whether we’re a virtuoso or have never played a note in our lives, we don’t have to strain for applause or prove our worth to stand on the stage. The difference between us and the musician trying to get to Carnegie Hall is that we have a 100% guarantee that we are already valued and loved by God.

In the case of learning “the way”, practice doesn’t make perfect. Instead, consistent, disciplined (disciplined = disciple, get it?) practice reminds us that though we aren’t perfect, God loves us: that’s God’s free gift of grace.

When we practice following the way of Jesus, then we are also practicing extending grace to others. Grace is knowing that even when we are hitting the wrong notes, when we’ve lost the map and stop to ask for directions, by our faith, we know Jesus is always leading us home to him. Amen.

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