What troubles your heart these days?
There’s plenty to trouble us: wars all over the globe, gun violence, the economy, politics, … disease. Sometimes, these troubles seem so pervasive, we become numb to them. We simply can’t process any more grief, any more pain, any more anger. And sometimes, one particular trouble amplified others that were already brewing – troubles in our homes, and in our relationships; financial troubles; questions of our own value and purpose. Sometimes, it seems we have more questions than answers.
I grew up in a church that was convinced it had the Right Answers to all the Big Questions, and most of the little ones. Ours was a very exclusive community of faith, and we were proud of it. We knew who was In and who was Out. We did not let the things of this world trouble us. Or at least, we wouldn’t admit it if they did.
We were nothing at all like the community of faith gathered around the table on the night Jesus was betrayed.
We had answers. … The disciples had questions.
We were full of assurance. … The disciples were full of fear.
We were certain: we knew who was In and who was Out. … The disciples were confused: they had thought Jesus would become the King Forever. Here he was talking about dying. And it sounded like he meant “soon.”
As those confused and fearful disciples gathered around the Table, Jesus talked openly with them. He knew it would be his last chance to help them understand what was about to happen, and what they would need to know after he was no longer with them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 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 one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 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. 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.
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, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:1-14)
Jesus wasn’t only teaching his disciples how to deal with his impending death, nor was he only concerned with a far-distant heavenly future. Jesus was preparing his disciples for carrying on the ministry he had begun. The Kingdom of God had broken into the world, and it would be up to Christ’s followers to continue the work of bringing it to full reality.
For us, the question “who are we following?” never even comes up. We all know from the beginning that the faith we are exploring is Christian faith. Those early disciples didn’t have it so easy. As Jews, they were still caught up in thousands of years of interwoven spiritual and physical DNA. Like my childhood church, they thought they had it all figured out.
They knew how the story was supposed to end. And they knew it wasn’t supposed to end with the Messiah preparing them for his own death. The question they were all asking themselves, but no one wanted to say out loud was troublesome: Have we made a mistake? Did we follow the wrong guy?
So when Jesus promises to come get them later, and tells them that they know the way to where he is going, Thomas – who seems to have a habit of blurting out what everyone else is thinking but is afraid to say – Thomas says, “You’ve got to be kidding, Lord! We don’t even know where you are going! How can we possibly know the way?”
There are seven “I AM” statements in John’s gospel. You heard two of them last week, when Jesus announced, “I am the Good Shepherd. I am the gate for the sheep.” Now, to answer Thomas, Jesus makes another claim to his identity.
“I AM the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life. You don’t need to look for another Messiah. You got it right the first time. I am the way you can get to the Father. Believe me.”
It’s important to keep this “I AM” statement in its context of this conversation between Jesus and the chosen followers who’ve stayed with him throughout his ministry. Jesus wasn’t declaring a threat for nonbelievers – “Believe in me and only me, or else!” Jesus was offering a promise to the faithful. And that promise was not only for the future, it was a promise to be with the disciples in the here and now, as they figured out how to carry forward the ministry Christ had begun.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve preached this text at funerals, with a focus on Christ’s promise that “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?” (v. 2) And as reassuring as it is that Jesus is making a place for me to be where he is for all eternity, I think it’s a little selfish to focus on that one verse in this passage. Because the “you” isn’t singular. It’s plural. This image of a “dwelling place” isn’t a private mansion. It’s a family home.
When a group of pastors were traveling in the Holy Land a few years ago, we spent some time in Capernaum. Archeologists have excavated much of the village where Jesus based his ministry in Galilee. The shoreline is covered in huge black rocks – no soft beach sand here! And because those heavy black rocks were what they had to work with, the homes in Capernaum were connected to one another by common stone walls.
You see, when a young man was ready to marry and start a family of his own, he would first build a room for his new bride, attached to his father’s house. All the rooms would share a central gathering space, the kitchen, but each generation would simply add rooms on to the original home as they were needed. The disciples would have been familiar with this inter-connectivity, this multi-generational style of home building. So when Jesus says, “in my father’s house are many rooms (or dwelling places),” they would have recognized this image of living in community.But the promise of living in Christ’s home isn’t just for some distant future. It’s for the present. And when Jesus says, “Those who believe in me will do the works I do, and even greater works than these, because I’m going to the Father,” he is inviting us to a life lived in the kind of community that glorifies God.
Christ expects great things of us, and has given us the Holy Spirit to accomplish that work. Just as Jesus healed the sick, cared for the poor, and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God, so we are to bind up the broken-hearted, feed the hungry, and share God’s love.
But we don’t accomplish this work in our own strength. And we don’t do it for our own self-satisfaction. We do the work of the gospel for God’s glory, in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it means to follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Sometimes we want answers, but what we really need is relationship. The answer Jesus gives to our question of “Why?” is not “Because.” The answer Jesus gives is his very self. This is what he means when he says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (14:14)
Jesus promises himself to be with us, to glorify the Father. As we act on his behalf to do the works he did, and even greater works than these, he invites us into his own life, into his own … home.
As Robert Frost puts it in his poem, “The Death of the Hired Hand,”
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,”
and the poem goes on to say,
“I should have called it ‘Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’”
That sounds like grace, doesn’t it? The room Christ is preparing for each of us isn’t waiting in the Sweet By and By. It’s God’s infinite grace calling us home in the here and now, calling us to do the work of Christ, offering the kind of love and acceptance to others that God has so graciously extended to each of us.
Nice! I love the way you put the passage in its context and gently push back against the ways it has been used to exclude. Thanks for posting!