‘The Way. Home.”
First of all, let me add a greeting, on this mother’s day, to all the mothers who are worshipping with us—including your pastor and my wife, Kerstin—a special greeting and thank you to, and thanks to God for, all mothers and to ALL who have served such a role in the lives of others. AND also on this mother’s day, a special welcome to all of us, and I mean ALL of us, held by, and moved, by our loving God.
Now, let’s begin with something that mother’s, and the rest of us, know something about. Everybody knows what a home, or a dwelling place is. Right?
2 decent rooms and a bath, was the description given by Jimmy Stewart in that great movie, A Wonderful Life, honoring the little guy, the regular family, and what a good, healthy, respectable home in the developing suburbs of the time looked like: 2 bedrooms and a bath; I suppose a kitchen and some kind of living room/dining room as well. Real estate brokers, and working and “middle class” families today, might expect about the same—or maybe another bathroom or so, and maybe another bedroom OR two. City dwellers, condo dwellers, apartment owners or renters have their preferences, and their realities. Of course we are aware of and care about and through our church social services and in other ways care for those who struggle to find or to keep a home of any kind. But for all of the difficulties of finding and keeping and renting or purchasing a home—and for all the different types and styles and preferences—we all KNOW what a home is.
And so we all KNOW what Jesus is talking about when Jesus says, In God’s house there are many dwelling placest. Of course we know. Or do we?
Where is God’s house? Well the answer is obvious. Isn’t it? God’s house is in heaven, up there, out of this world, of course. Jesus is talking about heaven of course. Isn’t the whole bible, isn’t Jesus whole ministry, about getting to heaven?
Well, I’ve got nothing against heaven—I’m looking forward to it—when my time comes. And I have a whole host of questions for all kinds of family members and ancestors and famous people I hope to meet there. I got nothing against heaven. It’s just that I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here. So, what IS Jesus talking about in this wonderful passage?
Well, first things first. Let’s try to get this real estate thing right, for starters. Where is God’s house? Let’s get at the answer this way:
We’re in the Gospel of John. And just last week we heard that wonderful passage in the Gospel of John about Jesus the Good Shepherd. And we also heard what is maybe the most famous Psalm in the whole bible, Psalm 23 about the Good shepherd.
We, most or all of us, recognize that Psalm right away when we hear it:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…for anything. And on it goes on:
God makes me like down in green pastures. Leads me beside still waters. Guides me.
Even when things aren’t good—because let’s face it, things aren’t always good—the period we’re living through right now is a case in point—and some are having a tougher time than others, that’s for sure; and even in those times when, according to the politicians or the magazines or the financial indexes things ARE good, there are still those of us who are left out, who are going through personal difficulty and challenges and loss and tragedy, all sorts of things—and so the 23rd Psalm goes on: even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the deepest darkest valley, you, O God are with me.
The whole Psalm is about movement. Me, my life, our life together, moving through good times and tough times. Moving from, and through different experiences, to and from different places.
And then that line that ends the whole Psalm. Remember it? Can we say it together, that last line of the great Psalm 23—And I will dwell—where? And I will dwell IN THE HOUSE of the Lord. And then that very last phrase, different bible translations handle it differently: In English: I will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER, OR my whole life long. In the Luther bible:
ich werde bleiben im Hause des Herrn immerdar. IN the biblical Hebrew it’s clear: for the length of days. Through all the stuff of life I am dwelling in God’s house. Hold that thought!
We know and love that Psalm. Jesus knows and loves that Psalm. SO,
to get back to the real estate question—well first, it seems like if God’s house is everywhere I am, God’s either got a really really big house, or God’s house is a mobile home. And that’s about right, as we can see in Jesus’ teaching here in our Gospel lesson. And of those two choices—either of which’ll work—I think Jesus would kinda like the mobile home idea. It’s all about THE WAY. And living with God, and being with God, and God acting with and through you, all along the way. Wherever you are on the road, on the way
Listen to this passage again now, as if for the first time:
In my Father’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. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No sooner does Jesus bring up the idea of dwelling places than he starts talking about THE WAY, the road, the journey. It’s as if he can’t help himself. Get yourself into your dwelling place, and then start moving. It makes no sense, except it does.
Time is against us, and I want to get us to a very important verse, that comes JUST a little bit after our Gospel reading ends, that uses this same word: dwelling place or home—wohnung in the German of Luther’s bible. So, let me just run quickly through two more parts of our Gospel reading:
First, Jesus famously says in this reading: No one comes to the Father except through me.
Well, how many people in our world, who proudly call themselves Christians, KNOW what that means? They know that it excludes from heaven, and exludes from life with God, anybody who don’t believe in Jesus, or more particularly anybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus in the way that they believe you should believe in Jesus. EXCEPT that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.
What Jesus is talking about is the way. Through life. The way of living in God’s kingdom as Jesus has shown throughout his ministry. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “I was thirsty and you gave me a drunk, hungry and you gave me food. I am the way. I am truth. I am life.” I come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” By living in God’s house every step along your way, Jesus is telling us, you will be sharing in the ways of God, and you will be sharing my ways and God’s ways with others. Now THAT’S how to live a wonderful life!
Jesus goes on, about just this matter, as we come to the close of our reading:
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…
Wow. So God the Father, the prime mover God, whatever or however you want to call that First person of the Trinity, that God is within the Word made flesh, this second person of the trinity incarnate in Jesus—AND THEN JESUS says, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…
Really? Your building us up a little too much, aren’t you Jesus? Or setting too high a bar for us—how can I, how can we and what we do be compared to you?
And our Gospel lesson leaves us hanging, because it cuts off right there.
But, let’s end this reflection where we started—with that bit about in my father’s house there are many homes, many dwelling places, viele wohnungen.
In God’s world, each of our dwelling places is a mobile home which is part of God’s grand mobile home park. God is with us each step of the way, or every mile down the road. You still don’t believe me, you think this is all a bit far fetched? Well Jesus comes back to it in verse 23—just a few verses following where our reading leaves off. Jesus says:
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home—our wohnung– with them. Wow.
So, let me ask again—where is God’s home, God’s dwelling place? And then let me ask—where are you? And now I have my answer, and so do you.
Sisters and brothers—Jesus, and God, think pretty highly of you, it seems.
I invite you to recognize that in yourself, and in others. I invite you into the riddle that Jesus is unlocking in this extraordinary passage. We don’t need to wait to get to heaven to live in God’s house with God and with Jesus. And we know the way to do it and to live it out—Jesus shows us.
In God’s house there are many homes, mansions, dwelling places, wohnungen. And I can see them, every time I see you living out your faith in God and your love for God’s people and God’s great creation. I like what I see!
And let all of God’s people say together…AMEN.
Picture by Stefan Widua on unslpash.com
This post is also available in: German