John 14:1-14 (CEB)
“Do not be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. God’s house has room to spare. If that were not the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”
Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know God. From now on you know God and have seen God.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us God; that will be enough for us.”
Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen God. How can you say, ‘Show us God’? Don’t you believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. God who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in God and God is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to God. I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that God can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
May 13-14, 2017
Festival of the Christian Home
“Room to Spare”
Our Gospel reading comes from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. This passage is known as part of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus.
In this fourth Gospel, chapters 13-17 have Jesus preparing his disciples for his death and departure. We heard part of Chapter 13 on Maundy Thursday with its narration of the foot washing, the last meal shared between Jesus and his disciples, and the betrayal and departure of Judas. (13:30).
Chapter 14 picks up with Jesus trying to get his disciples ready for his absence. Jesus speaks words of comfort and hope and promise; and speaks directly to what is soon to take place. Jesus is trying in this chapter to tell the disciples that there is more to God’s promise of love and life beyond the crucifixion.
(Read John 14:1-14)
Over the years, I have been part of several house blessings for Habitat for Humanity. There is a short blessing service that is shared with the family that is soon to be homeowners along with all the volunteers, friends and extended family that put in time and ‘sweat equity’ hours to build the house. Something else that plays out in different ways, but is a consistent theme, is the family coming into the completed house for the first time and realizing that this is their place.
Once it was two small children in the family running all through the house, from room to room including the bathroom and then asking their mother if this was really their place with all these rooms? It’s hard not to get choked up when you see something like that and witness the joy on the faces of those who hear the promise that, ‘yes,’ this is our place with all these rooms.
When our confirmation class spent a Saturday working to help prepare the rooms that will bring a place of shelter, safety and promise to women and children at the Shelter from the Storm house here in Sun Prairie, it is clear that part of who God is…part of the character of God, is place and as our scripture passage promises, “God’s house has room to spare.”
I remember listening to a Rabbi speak once at a conference I attended. He never used the name God in his speaking. Then, in the question and answer time, someone asked him, “What is your favorite expression or name for God?” Without hesitation, the Rabbi said, “Of all the names, my favorite is one of the oldest—‘The place,’”
God is ‘the place’ and in God’s place there is room to spare.
Like many pastors, nearly every time I stand at the graveside of someone who had died, I read the beginning portion of this scripture from the Gospel of John. I usually read it from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible that says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In God’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
At a graveside, as I look into the eyes of those who have lost a loved one, I don’t know how much of this Scripture passage they hear or if at the time they hear it, they understand God as being the place and the promise.
And that is why it is important for us to hear these words of scripture in a setting such as worship…in a place such as the sanctuary and not only at the graveside of a loved one. Like many scriptures, the location and place in which we hear the words and the season or situation of our lives makes a difference in our hearing.
If you are one who has heard these words spoken at a graveside, my hope is that you can hear them differently today…that today you can hear the promise that is intended in this scripture passage.
Jesus is trying to soften the blow for his disciples as he gets them ready for his absence. It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “I’m leaving and I need you to listen to me. You trust in God, now trust in me. It’s true, I’m going, but I’m going to prepare a place for you.”
Does Jesus succeed in preparing the disciples? From the rest of the passage, it does not seem so. They are still confused and asking questions. “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas asks. Then Philip wants concrete proof and says, “Show us God; that will be enough for us.” He is right…that would be enough for any of us.
We can almost hear the disciples saying to Jesus, “We don’t know what you’re talking about and we don’t like it when you talk this way.”
The disciples did not like to talk about death and neither do we.
Yet, Jesus did talk about life and death and life beyond death as being always held within God’s presence and Jesus tried to prepare his disciples. There are many places throughout Scripture where God has offered us prayers and psalms and promises to prepare us for life after our life on earth.
But, it’s not always easy to hear those promises of preparation.
Pastor Fred Craddock has said, “It might be that sometimes God needs to let us do it on our own to develop some strength.”
Then he tells a story about a friend of his that was born with no arms. The friend was telling Fred one day of the experience of learning to put on his own clothes. The friend said his mother always dressed him. She fed him and she dressed him each day.
One day she put his clothes in the middle of the floor and said, “Dress yourself.” He said, “I can’t dress myself.” She said, “You’ll have to dress yourself.” He said, “I kicked, I screamed, I kicked, I screamed, and I yelled at my mother, ‘You don’t love me anymore.’”
Finally, he realized that if he was going to get any clothes on, he would have to put them on himself. After hours of struggle he got the clothes on. He said it was not until years later that he learned that his mother was in the next room crying.
It is hard when we don’t understand God and don’t understand what God is up to. It is hard when we feel distant from God…and that troubles us. Yet, what would free the human heart from being troubled? The world has many answers. Jesus has just one – “Trust in God. Trust also in me.”
This is not an easy task. But, as residents of an anxious world that has fewer and fewer promises that are held true, the Gospel of John give us a promise we can believe because Jesus confidently said, “If it were not so would I have told you?”
After this promise of Jesus going to prepare a place for each of us there are the words Jesus says in response to Thomas’ question about not knowing where Jesus is going and not knowing the way to go. Jesus answers, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.”
While these particular words have often been used as a bruising blow against our non-Christian neighbors or as a method of conversion for a questioning friend or stranger, they too were meant to be words of promise, not words of threat. These words were first meant to be words of comfort for the frightened disciples and are now meant to comfort, console and strengthen us.
Jesus declares that he is the way to know God’s love; the truth of God’s love; and the life that is God’s love. But there’s more…Jesus then says you may think that I’m the best there is, but after I’m gone, “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do even greater works than these.”
And that’s where we come in…as the body of Christ, there is a lot of work left to be done…in our own lives, in our communities, our country and our world. Greater works have been and will continue to be done by those who hold to the promises of God and then step out, speak up, and pray not only with words, but with hard work, dedication and devotion.
It is never our job to determine who’s in and who’s out; who’s on the way and who’s got the truth in life. Rather it is our job…it is our high and holy task to keep pointing toward Christ as the way, the truth and the life and to pray that the promises of God will be heard and held.
And holding the promises of God comes down to remembering…remembering that when we hear a promise at a graveside, to know that we have heard that same promise somewhere else…somewhere in a place like a sanctuary…in a setting like worship, where we sit shoulder to shoulder with people longing to hear the same promise. “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. God’s house has room to spare. If that were not the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?”
We do all hear the same promise; it’s just how we hear it, when we hear it, and where we hear it that makes a difference.
You see, what we do here in worship matters…it does make a difference. What we do here is remember and rehearse the promises of God. And the promises we hear today may be the promises that sustain and hold us on another day…and it will be enough.
This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God.