When you leave work in the evening to go home, there is a good chance that you know the path that will lead you there. There’s a good chance that you know the way home. But, knowing the way to get there alone will not actually get you there. There is a process involved in which you are able to begin at your place of work and end at your home. You have to get in the car and start moving in that direction. You have to walk in the basic direction. Whatever mode of transportation, you have to use it to arrive at your destination. And then, knowing the way to get there, you have to follow that way. Knowing that you live South won’t get you home if you drive Northwest. You know which turns to make, but you have to make them. You know what roads are dead ends, and there’s a good chance that if you go out of your way to go down those, you’ll never arrive at your house. Occasionally, you may get caught up in traffic, which will delay you, but even that doesn’t bother you too badly, because you know that you are going in the right direction; so the occasional hiccups are never enough to make you throw your hands in the air and surrender.
Saul of Tarsus here goes to the High Priest to obtain letters that will allow him to arrest those who are following “The Way.” It’s important to notice that he doesn’t go and ask for letters to arrest people who aren’t Jewish, or who are Pagans, or who are atheists; no, it’s specifically those who are following “The Way.” Consider this fact, merely deciding one time in your life that you mentally assent to the fact that Jesus is God will not get you arrested. Affirming that Jesus is Lord in a declaration will not get you in trouble. Nor, however, will it save you. Knowing that following Him is the Way is completely different from actually following Him; knowing the path to get home won’t get me home unless I get on the road and follow that path.
See, the Church, in Scripture and all throughout history, has been called “The Way” because it is not a one time impulsive emotional response to something, it is not adherence to outward signs of piety. No, it is called the Way because it is an ongoing Way of life. It’s called the Way because it is the path that we have to walk to find our salvation, our healing. And it is when that becomes our truth that it becomes threatening to the world. It becomes frightening to the world when, because of our Faith, they can no longer pigeon-hole us into a particular socio-economic class, a particular political demographic, a particular ethnic background. To follow the Way means to be fully loyal to the Truth, which is our Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of any human labels that we could place on one another. To follow the Way means to follow Him, to lay asunder all earthly cares and desires, and to walk together with Him. And that scares the world, because the world could never understand this faith and devotion. It scares the world because they can’t understand our motivation for doing things. A boss can easily hold wages over the head of someone who cares about wages, but how do they control someone who isn’t concerned about money? How do political leaders manipulate someone who has no patriotic allegiance to a particular country or agenda? How do the enemies of Christ control someone who has no fear of death, as our Lord has trampled down death? See, they can take away earthly possessions, family, pride, prestige, whatever weapon they think will overthrow our convictions, but when we truly follow Christ, even the threat of death is of no profit to them, death has truly lost it’s sting. And the world, being the world, can not understand that, thus, as it has often been said, “we fear what we don’t understand.”
See, Saul wasn’t seeking to persecute people that he didn’t agree with, or didn’t like. He sought to persecute those whom he didn’t understand. He sought to persecute those who could stare the executioner in the eye and say, as Polycarp would later say, “Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and savior?” He sought to destroy those whose voices could not be silenced because their hope wasn’t in earthly comforts and cares, but rather their faith was fully in the One who would not be silenced, those who didn’t merely proclaim their faith, but truly lived it.
May we all, in similar fashion, understand that to follow “The Way” is much more than a once and done decision; it is rather a complete way of life. Far from a one time decision that will grant us eternal fire insurance, it is a complete way of life that declares that this world truly holds nothing for us, and at any moment the world could take everything from us and we would still find our peace and comfort in our Lord. In St John’s Revelation, Jesus writes letters to the seven churches. One of the churches is the church in Laoidecia. In that letter, He strongly warns them, “you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). Consider for a moment what Jesus is saying in that statement.
To be cold would mean to be fully unbelieving, those who would deny that there were even a God. To be hot would be those who fully believe, those who are on fire for the Lord, those who study His words and commandments and fully embrace the life that He has prescribed for those who would follow Him. Those who base their entire life, in faith, on Him. Who then would be the lukewarm? I heard someone recently say that, in her own life, she had to decide, either religion would be no part of her life, or it would be all of her life. She either believed everything Jesus said, or she didn’t believe any of it. There was no room for middle ground. The very lukewarm people that Jesus is warning against are those who claim to believe in God, but their lives show no evidence of it. They know the way home, but refuse to leave the sidewalk to get there. Jesus warns that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:19). Those who are content to busy themselves learning about Christianity while never actually living it. Patriarch Kirill warns that “if a theologian becomes an armchair scholar with head knowledge and debating skills, then that person is in danger of succumbing to false teaching.” and in the Scriptures St James warns us no less than three times that faith without works is dead. Jesus rebukes those who “draw near to Me with their mouth,And honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8).
The Didache, the teaching of the twelve Apostles, opens with the very phrase, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two ways.” May we allow that thought to be the focus of our meditations. There are two masters in this life, Jesus and Satan. And every word, every thought, every deed we perform, makes us more like one or the other. To follow “The Way” is not merely to proclaim it and study it, it is to actually live it. It is to change our life to a way that doesn’t make sense without our faith. It is to feed the hungry, to give to the poor, to love our enemies. There is a story of a monk who was robbed by two men, and when the two men left, he realized that there was something that they’d missed, so he chased after them to give it to them. He didn’t seek justice, he didn’t seek vengeance, he recognized two men whose desperation was so high that he wished to help them in anyway that he could.
Each of us, you and I, have an important decision to make. It is the same as the young person that I spoke of earlier. Jesus is very clear on what it means to be His follower, to follow “The Way.” He told a man that if he went to bury his unbelieving father, then he was not worthy to be His disciple. He told a man that if he wanted to follow Him, he had to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor. He tells all of us that if we would be His disciples, we must be willing to surrender everything that we have and are that we may make Him everything that we need. Christianity either becomes our life or is no part of it. We either believe everything that Jesus said, or we don’t believe any of it. There really is no room for middle ground. Christians have never been persecuted for believing in a seven 24 hour day creation, or for a global versus local flood, or for whether they believe in a flat or round earth even. But, Christians all throughout the history of the Church have willingly gone to death rather than renounce, either through their words or their actions, that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Master of their life. And so must we neither.
Christ is in our midst.