Today, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Tang, Director of the Tyndale Intercultural Ministries Centre, reflects on the words of Christ found in John 14:6 as we continue the series on Jesus’ “I am” declarations in John’s Gospel.
Tim was born in Toronto and has been a pastor at the East Toronto Chinese Baptist Church since 2001, first as the English-speaking congregational pastor, and now as the Intercultural Pastor-at-Large. As the son of international students, he leverages his personal experience of being a new Canadian to his present work in areas of ethnocultural inclusion at local and national levels.
Tim is a creative leader and speaker and will challenge and inspire with his meditation entitled, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Thanks, George, Ken and the worship team, and thanks for your weekly commitment, for Dr. Davis, Ken, and the worship team, every week coming to lead us into worship, what a privilege it is to, to pause in the day, pause in the week to gather as a community, to worship Him, to gather, and to sing praises, and to be led by His Spirit.
If I can begin this morning, by asking for prayer, I hope that's okay. At our church, we regularly pray for our speaker. So I'm asking for prayer right off the top. Usually after the message, we'll ask the speaker for someone who can pray for, sometimes it's in house speaker, sometimes it's somebody who's come from outside of our church community, and we'll pray for them. And hopefully it's okay. If I can be a little bit transparent this morning to ask for prayer. Hope it's not too too heavy to start the message with a prayer request. But I've you know, been here for a few years and graduated here a number of years ago. So I feel like I can I can at least ask for prayer. And, and maybe some of you know, because of, you know how old I am, what I'm going to pray for, and the stage of life that I'm kind of in. And but I could, you know, really use a lot of prayer and some of you probably have guessed it, that I'm at the stage of life now where I need to teach my 16 year old son how to drive. Man, do I need prayer. Prayer for wisdom, prayer for patience, prayer for peace. It's these times when I feel like I wish I had a little bit more Anabaptist, Mennonite, you know, dedication to peace, you know, that just war is not is not allowed, right? That I can't just lash out at him and and tell him that he's not doing well. But no, honestly, he's he's actually not doing too bad. If I can share a little bit about him. He's actually, I think he's actually spatially intelligent, so he kind of knows what's going on around him. He knows what's going on, for the most part. But you know, definitely there's a lot of times when we're in the car, and I'll say, you know, what's the speed limit, you just gotta check the speed. You know, make sure you're light on the brake, you're not giving everybody in the car, you know, whiplash kind of thing. And so for the most part, he's doing okay, but every now and then he's just utterly confused, and he has no idea. Take, for example, the other day, we stopped the car, we started getting out. And I paused and I said, Are you forgetting something? And he said, Let me see. Let me see. He said, nope, nope, nope. Put the gear into into Park. We're good. I'm like, Okay, well, what else? Are you forgetting anything else? You know, took my foot off the brake. I pull the handbrake up. No, we're good. I said, you forgetting anything else? Yeah, I turned off the lights. I think we're okay. Everyone else is safe. I parked reasonably within the lines. And I said, Are you forgetting anything else? And he said, no, I think we can. We can go now. Well, I said, Well, how about the keys to the car? How about turning off the engine? Because he forgot to do those things. And these things that for any of us who have been driving for any amount of time, it, become automatic, we just kind of go into autopilot, we just do we just you know throw it into park, pull the handbrake up, take the keys out of the ignition, turn off the engine things that we go into autopilot for. And yet, for some, it's about relearning these things. And if you don't learn them the first time, you can be utterly confused.
Our series, in the last number of weeks, have been looking at a series of I Am statements, as George said, and it's been great listening along, hearing the different speakers, I don't know if you've been listening to every message out there, you can. Luckily you can go back and stream and watch every single message. It's been fascinating, and amazing, to hear about chickens and doors, to hear about light and Mexican food, to hear a few weeks ago, the story of Bashara and his testimony and God leading him as a witness to his entire people. And as as I've been listening to the messages, and listening to the the the privileged honoured speakers that we've had, it did remind me a little bit about even my own church, if I can share a little bit of my own church. We have a preaching team at our church. It's not just one pastor preaching week after week, but we have an entire preaching team of lay leaders and different pastors who preach on a rotation. And particularly we try to shake it up a little bit, and during October and running right into November, because one month was not enough, we tried to dedicate that month to women's history month. So we preached, not just on more feminine themes and feminine speakers coming to the pulpit. I apologize to those of you who theologically, it doesn't, it doesn't work for, but for us, that was real good for us to hear different voices. And so we had an entire month, having and hearing from, female speakers. And it was it was really, really startling for us to now shake up the messages that was being said at the pulpit. And for me as I came out of that month and a half. It was this reflection of wow, I was I was spoken to in such a powerful way. How do I start to normalize a little bit of the messages that I was hearing? How do I normalize some of these different ways of thinking that we've come to forget and gone to autopilot forgetting to hear the voice of.
In our passage today, in John chapter 14, the disciples too are confused, much like my son, they're confused. They don't really have a clue in terms of what's going on. They're asking, Where are you going, Lord? Can we go too? What's going on? Show us the Father. And Jesus is probably shaking his head, and and he's probably a little bit ambiguous to tell the truth. He starts out the passage, as we read together, and he says, all of a sudden, "In my Father's house, there are many rooms." And what's he referring to? "If it were not so I would have told you", and they're like, what is what are these rooms? You're talking about? Where are you going? What in the world are you talking about? And, and the disciples, you can understand, are absolutely confused. They don't know what's going on. They're even more confused and perplexed, because you have to put into context what's happening in this chapter. Chapter 14, follows chapter 13, and it's all really in one narrative. In chapter 13, it says in the Gospel of John, that it's just before the Passover feast.
So celebrations, gatherings, preparations, all these things are are starting to get together, where the entire community, the entire city, the entire nation of Israel is getting ready to celebrate this Passover festival. And so you can think about all the plans and preparations that are happening, and it says in that chapter, that Jesus sits down for a meal with just his disciples. And as they sit down, probably in their heads, or all the preparations that needs to happen, and they're thinking about this plan and that plan and, and did this person get the invitation, did that person get the invite? Did we make the plans correctly, tomorrow when the big festival happens? And in that moment of them sitting down for a meal, Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps around his waist. And as they're all reclining at the table, he stoops down and washes their feet, one at a time. He washes the first disciple, then the second, then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and so on, and so on. Now, if you're the disciples, and you've read the Bible, some of the Bible at least by now, hopefully, you'll know the shock and horror that was going on in the disciples heads, as Jesus, their Rabbi, their Lord, their master, is now stooping down to wash their dirty feet, even more unimaginable in our day of pandemic and COVID. Like, forget even seeing people's faces, washing feet, could you imagine us having a foot washing ceremony? Like we don't even want to come six? How can you wash somebody's feet from six feet away? I'm not really sure, maybe with a big hose, and, and inappropriate things. But you have to understand, getting into the disciples mindset, how huge of a deal this was, how shocking it was. All their imaginations, all their expectations, all their assumptions of what they thought this Rabbi was supposed to bring, and do. They thought he might be the Messiah. They thought he might be the Lord and King. And here he is, on his knees, washing their feet. Think about how mind blowing that must have been. It's easy for us in hindsight to say, aha, we knew all along that Jesus came not to be served but to serve. But think about how earth shattering that must have been for them to see and to witness what Jesus was doing. It was completely beyond their expectations, it would be gone, completely beyond what they were used to. For three years they followed this man, clung to every word he said, they would do as he as he said to do. They would go where he wanted to go. They saw Him as their Lord and Master. And here he was washing their feet.
About a year ago, last time I preached here. It was definitely a different time, one year ago, and I was I was honoured to be invited back again, when George invited me to come and I got all excited because no longer was I just going to preach to a screen at home, and try to figure out Zoom, is my mic on, is your mute on, and all that stuff. And I was excited to come here. Now, it was a little bit different. Because when I got here, George was like, oh, yeah, by the way, we're filming in person, but there's gonna be nobody else here but me, and I was honoured to preach to George himself. However, actually, George I think had a meeting that day. So he left, he left me alone in the entire chapel, which was, you know, God bless you, George. But it was quite an experience to preach to an empty chapel, as glorious as it is. So this week when I thought to myself, I need to, oh and Rainer. Rainer was here too. Rainer was like, what about me? What about my needs? But this week, when I knew that I was going to come and preach, I thought to myself, well, there's gonna be people here. This is a special occasion. This is going to be exciting. Not that Rainer wasn't special enough. Maybe I should have dressed up for Rainer. However, I was even more excited to be in person with other people, which is why I wore this dress. This is, actually the last time I wore this dress was when I got married. This was the the the wedding clothing that I wore on my wedding day, 21 years ago. And so it has special significance for me in many ways. You know, when I think back to my wedding, I mean, it was kind of a big deal. If you've ever been to a traditional Chinese wedding, it's kind of a big deal. You kind of invite everybody, and their uncle, and their dog, and kind of thing, right? So you just kind of invite everybody. That's just the way it is. On top of that, my, my wife, her father, her father was a pastor at a significant number of hers. Yes, I marry a pastor's kid, you can pray for me about that as well afterwards, anyways. And so we had a number of churches and communities that we had to invite to the fold, and I had already by then ministered to a number of churches as well. And so we invited even more people. And, and sure enough, it was just nuts. Like, it was just too many people, way too many people. And you know, over and over again, I'm a little bit of an introvert. So I thought to myself, do we really need this? Do we really have to? Do we need to invite? I don't even know these people. Literally, when I was in the greeting line, meeting people and talking to them, somebody literally said to me, oh, you know, it was it's really great to be here. Do you know who the groom and bride are? He said that to me, right? Like, it's like, Why did I invite this person anyway. And, you know, it was food and food and food and people and people and it was just, it was just kind of crazy.
And then all of a sudden, my dad also said, Oh, by the way, there's also a few Chinese traditions that you have to fulfill. And I'm like, Come on dad, like this. Aren't there enough things that we need to do? Yeah, by the way, in the afternoon, you need to go to your grandmother's house, and all the relatives are going to be there. It's going to be smaller, so a little bit more quiet. But you need to go there, and serve tea. And I'm like, serve tea? But I don't even drink tea. God. You know, Dad, don't you know that, you know, coffee is the living water anyways. Whole the, whole other sermon, right? And he was like, no, no, you got to serve tea, you got to serve tea to all your relatives. And I was like, Ah, geez, okay, fine. So I went through the whole ceremony of, of tea being brought, and I get out there and I have to get on my knees, in fact, and serve tea to my, to my grandmother, and to my relatives, and those that were still alive. And as I was doing that, there was this moment, while I was on my knees. It wasn't like this holy moment, no shining light came through, there was no stained glass windows on my grandmother's house. But there's this moment, where I realized, you know what, this isn't about me. This wedding day, it's really not about me. It's about me, giving respects to my family, giving respects to my grandparents, giving respect to the community that has loved and nurtured me, than me going through this ceremony of getting up in front of people isn't really about me. It's about celebrating with the community that has loved me. It's gathering together, letting them witness together, with me, inviting together people who have been part of my life for so many years, to now celebrate on this very day. And for me, I really needed that moment of realization, of what I was expecting out of a wedding, of what I was expecting out of a marriage, out of what I was expecting out of this big ceremony, that I thought was about me when it really wasn't. And in that moment of me serving, I realized that it's not about me being served, not about being served myself, but to serve others.
In a traditional Jewish wedding, after the vows had been given, the commitments to be married, the proposal between the families, usually the groom actually goes away, and they go back home. They go back home, not to stay away from the bride, but to build an extension on the house, to build another room on the house, so that when the marriage happens, the bride can come home and join the larger family. Collectivism versus individualism, we can talk later, or you can come to one of our lectures. And in that collectivist mentality, the groom goes away and builds this room. It's like all of a sudden, where did the groom go? And oftentimes, there are references in Scripture, over and over again, of the bride waiting for the groom to return. In many respects, when I think about this last year and a half, I think about the church having to stop all these proceedings on Sundays. And for many of us, that was weird and difficult. All of a sudden, we had to learn DaVinci, we had to learn OBS, we had to learn Zoom, we had to make sure we click that little box when you want to play a video, to make sure our audio is sharing, when we're in Zoom. And all of a sudden, what we were all used to, on Sunday mornings, was gone. And it was a radical change for many of us. And, and I wonder if God was trying to teach us something. I don't know what it was. For, for you it might have been one thing, for somebody else it might have been another.
But church carried on, didn't it? Our church communities continue to love. Our church communities continue to figure out what it meant to fellowship with one another, that it wasn't just about Sunday, we lost Sunday. There's a great article about losing the Queen, those of you who love chess. The Church lost the Queen, and realized that there's other players still on the board. And I wonder what were those lessons that we learned? You see for me, I come back to that question, because in the last few months, all of our churches have been rushing back to Sunday morning. And we've been rushing back to what we thought we knew. We've been rushing back to do things the way it was before, because it was so great before. Do you remember the statistics about where the trick was going before? And for us to rush back to the same expectations, the same assumptions, the same ways that we did things, is that truly what God wants us to be doing? For the disciples, we think back and think to ourselves, oh, we know so much better than them. They had all these expectations, how foolish they were. But I wonder about our expectations, about our assumptions, of what the church is supposed to be.
People are losing their jobs. And so many of us are just concerned about whether the pastor's doing their job. There are people who are concerned about food security. Food banks have empty shelves. And some of us are worried about the right to gather on Sundays. There are significant numbers of people suffering with mental health issues, way more than ever before. And for some of us, we're more concerned about whether the band is playing the song that we love, and that we want to worship about. There are unmarked indigenous children's graves that have been discovered, and still being discovered. There are women who are going missing in indigenous communities. And sometimes we're just concerned about what the words are going to be about acknowledging this land, and whether we should, or not.
I wonder for how many of us, we've gone right back to autopilot. You've got right back into the car, started driving the way we used to drive, because we've been driving for decades, for our entire lives. But I wonder if God truly wants us to shake up our thoughts, to startle us, to make us rethink? What are the ways by which we're doing this, this thing that we call life, this thing that we call church? Jesus said, I am the way and the truth, and the life. Jesus, who got down on his knees to wash his disciples feet. Whose feet has God called you to wash? Whose brokenness has God called you to pour into? Which part of this world has God called you to love, beyond your expectations, beyond your assumptions.
And now as God's chosen people, may you go from this place, living by the way of Christ, who said to us, I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE
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