By Anthony Casperson
Today is the second to last day of Gencon, a tabletop gaming convention I’m currently attending. (Yeah, I’m on vacation and still posting for you guys.) It’s a place where so many people share some of the same interests as I do. It’s a place where I feel like I belong.
I can use specific jargon and most people understand me. I don’t feel like I need to explain everything about the things I enjoy. This is one the great things about conventions. It’s a group of people who share a specific interest and gather to celebrate it.
But one thing that other conventions I’ve gone to has taught me is that the last day of a convention is bittersweet. You’ve had so many new experiences, met so many new people, and have a renewed fervor in you. But it’s come to an end. There’s not much left of the fun and you have to return to “real life.”
You’ve felt belonging like you’ve never felt before. But now it’s leaving. You have to say goodbye to the people you’ve met. And the pressures of life burst though the shell that protected you for a few days. And that sense of belonging is about to leave with everything else.
It’s not just conventions where this loss of belonging happens. It might be one of the most truncated versions of this emotion felt, but it certainly isn’t the only time in life it happens. Growing up, leaving an old job, moving away from home, and many other changes in life make us think about our belonging.
One of the biggest changes in the life of Jesus’ followers came when he was about to die for them on the cross. They’d had a sense of belonging with him. He’d chosen to teach them, eat with them, do life with them. And now, he was going to leave them. They didn’t know what to do, how to feel.
The sixth “I Am” statement of Jesus in the writings of John comes right at this moment, in John 14 (and a couple of verses in the previous chapter). The disciples ask several questions of Jesus. He’s leaving and they need to know some things. Like little children, they ask where Jesus is going and if they can come with.
Peter asks where Jesus is going. Jesus responds, “Somewhere you can’t go right now, but you can eventually.” But then he tries to relieve their fears. He’s going for a good purpose, to prepare the way so that they can go.
But then Thomas says that if they don’t know where Jesus is going how could they know how to get there. It’s all well and good to know that a place is ready, but if you don’t know where it is, it’s not going to help you very much.
And this is where we get the “I am.” Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” They might not know where, but they do know the Way. Jesus is not only the trailblazer, but also the path.
Jesus is going to the Father, to God. And no one can get to the Father without going through Jesus. So, knowing the Way is the only way to go to the Father. Knowing Jesus is the only way to belong to God.
Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father and that will be enough for them to follow. And Jesus responds by saying that if they know Jesus, they know the Father. They are the same. The trailblazer, the path, and the destination are all one. For those who belong, it’s not going to be difficult to travel.
And Jesus doesn’t leave them alone. The Father sends them the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Truth comes to all who are followers of Jesus, all who belong, to guide us, teach us, and continue what Jesus began.
While the exact words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” don’t directly show us this sense of belonging, the rest of the context does. Jesus comforts them, and us, with this hope. There’s no reason to fear the loss of belonging to Jesus. His actions prove that we belong to him.
Jesus died for us. He chose us. And the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is the down payment of our belonging to the family of God. Though we feel alone and sometimes feel like we don’t belong, God lives in us. He loves us, accepts us, and calls us his own. We belong to him no matter how we feel.
Even if we have questions and doubts and fears like the Apostles, we still belong to God if we accept the trail that Jesus blazed for us.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s not an exclusion as much as an invitation to belong.