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Your Room is Ready!
May 22, 2011
05-22-2011 SermonAs most of you know, I have been spending a lot of time with my grandson Henry these past couple of years while his mother has been in nursing school. When Sharon drops him off at my house, she tells him that she will be gone for a while and that he will stay at Dody’s house. And usually things go well with the two of us. But every once in a while if he gets upset, he wants to know where his Mommy is. In troubled times, I am not a very good substitute for his Mom, no matter how much she has assured him that he will be just fine.
Like Henry, Jesus’ disciples also need assurance that they will be fine after he leaves them. The Gospel readings following Easter are full of assurances from Jesus to his disciples about how they are to live without his physical presence. Our passage today is part of a long farewell discourse of Jesus that only John has recorded.
We can probably guess that there is a lot of emotion in these conversations. These disciples have been with Jesus since he began his public ministry, but they are still having difficulty understanding his message and his vision. And as he begins to reveal that he is going away from them, we can imagine how their anxiety rises.
And of course, we have difficulty completely understanding what those disciples are feeling – these Jews of the first century. For hundreds of years, their people have been looking for a Messiah and they believe they have found him. They had a vision of a messianic hero who would liberate their people from oppression, and yet their master is about to be executed. They believed that the Messiah would usher in an eternal kingdom of peace, and yet they are about to experience a horror of violence which they cannot imagine.
This particular passage is often used as we stand beside the grave of a loved one as a message of comfort and support for the family and friends of the one who has died. And it is a comforting message – that ultimately our loved ones and we will be with Christ, that Christ is preparing a place for us near the very heart of God.
But my guess is that those early disciples could not hear much comfort in his words. It is not only their friend and master who will die, but also their hopes, their understanding of the messianic message and mission. It will be a long time before they can see that all that they had believed about Messiah really is eternal. Death will not have the last word.
One of the articles I read this week described Jesus’ ministry at this particular time as a mixture between a hospice chaplain and a maternity midwife. A hospice chaplain is needed as the disciples’ hopes for messianic peace and justice pass away. But as we often see in the biblical story as well as in our own lives, when one thing dies, something else is born. In both death and birth, the human family is changed. The hospice chaplain and maternity midwife have similar roles to be fully present as whatever is next unfolds.
Of course, the disciples are confused and anxious. Good old Thomas (who is never afraid to question) jumps right in, asking Jesus about where he is going. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” We are always glad for Thomas’s questions because often we would want to ask the same things. Like those disciples, we want to cling to our securities, the things that we know. Like Thomas, we want some specifics, some definite directions.
But so often in the Gospel of John, location is not a matter of geography. Have you ever noticed that in the other three Gospels, there is a lot of geography mentioned, particularly in Luke? He writes almost a travel log of Jesus’ ministry.
But here in John, location has more to do with the intimacy found in a close relationship. The sheep stay close to the good shepherd. The branches grow right out of the vine. So often Jesus speaks of the oneness of God and him – “do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” And later on in John, Jesus expands this oneness to include the disciples.
And so Jesus wants to assure them that even though he cannot draw a map or give specific directions, in God’s household, there is plenty of room for all. Their close relationship will continue even as it changes.
This is one of many passages that speak about abundance in God’s kingdom. When Jesus preformed his first sign at a wedding in Cana, he changed water into wine – gallons of the best wine, more than they could possibly use at the wedding feast. When Jesus fed the multitudes with a small boy’s lunch, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers – even after the whole crowd had plenty to eat. Have you noticed that every time we come to this table, the servers bring back plenty of leftovers? And they are sometimes taken to the homebound or perhaps the squirrels and birds have a feast too.
In God’s house, or we could translate it “household” there is abundance – many dwelling places. In God’s very self there is room for all. Jesus is the servant Lord who prepares the rooms.
Jesus begins this discourse by telling his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus begins with reality. Jesus knows that life brings difficulties that we must face every single day. And death is one of those realities. So Jesus tells disciples to stand firm, even when their hearts are breaking and when life seems unbearable.
In a sense, Jesus offers a new theology in which their hopes for a hero Messiah will be replaced with a revolution where love and compassion are more important than anything else. Death must come in order for new life to spring forth. Even in the midst of suffering, there is the potential for transformation.
We have been listening to Dr Carl Pickhardt in our adult Sunday School class the past two weeks. Dr Pickhardt is known for his work with adolescents. As we think about our young people seem to be at an in-between time. They are leaving the safety of childhood when decisions were made for them, and yet they are not quite at the self-sufficiency of adulthood. Adolescents are in a space between rooms, going from one space to another.
In many ways, Jesus’ disciples in every age, are a lot like our teenagers, at an in-between time. We have some understanding, but need more. We need help along our way as we try to give up our old ideas about who we expected Jesus to be, and as we grow into a new revelation of, not only who Christ is, but who we are to be in Christ.
These words of Jesus assure us of who we are. Through Christ, God promises to love us and to make room for us.
Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house 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 receive you unto myself. That where I am, there you may be also. Thanks be to God. Amen.