5/18/2014 Fifth Sunday of Easter The text for today’s sermon is John 14:1-14.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“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?”
This verse is familiar to all of us who have ever been to a funeral. As well it should be! For when dealing with the loss of someone we love, it is especially comforting to know that our Lord has prepared a place for that person and a room for everyone who dies in faith. And if the Lord prepared a place, then he will come and bring us home where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yes…Jesus left this world and went to his heavenly Father. We are left behind to carry on the work begun by him, but he hasn’t forgotten us. He went on ahead to prepare for us a place at the banquet table and at the right time, he will welcome us home.
Now all of us have some expectations of that dwelling place. And some of those expectations are quite vivid. So, we tell stories, like the one about the pastor who died and went to heaven. This pastor was a good man who lived by faith and who worked for justice and truth in the world, so, he was looking forward to a nice comfortable place in eternity. So when St. Peter welcomed him at the pearly gates he just couldn’t wait to see his new home.
“Where am I going to stay?” he asked. To this St. Peter said little other than, follow me and I’ll show you. So, the two set off on their journey.
As they walked down the road, they came to some luxurious high rise apartments. “O, Boy, that will be a great place to live,” the pastor thought to himself. But they didn’t stop. They walked right past them. Soon they came to some beautiful mansions with manicured lawns and swimming pools. “Why this is even better,” thought the pastor. But they just walked right past them, too. Finally, at the outskirts of town, they came to a little shack. It was adequate, but nothing spectacular.
“This one is for you,” St. Peter said. Well, the pastor just couldn’t believe his eyes. “I don’t understand,” he said. “There must be some mistake. I led a faithful life. I always tried to do what is right. I gave more than a tithe. I served the poor. I preached the good news. I prayed many times each day. I tried to live as Christ would have me live. Why is it that I get this place and not one of the mansions we just passed?”
“Well,” said St. Peter. “It is true that you have been faithful and participated in God’s work on earth. But those places are reserved tax collectors and the like. We have a lot of pastors up here, but we don’t have many of them.” And so the story goes…
We all have our own image of what heaven is like and we often equate it to what we know here on earth. But the heavenly realm is different. Every place in the Father’s house is a place of glory. Any place is a place of joy and peace and acceptance. Any place is a place of hope and love. For in any place in the Father’s house, we stand in communion with God and all the saints.
If this sounds like paradise to you, it is. Although I doubt if any of you would list the Father’s house as the place you’d like to call home right now. And if you do, then I would like to see you after worship so we could talk about your impending funeral. For you see, heaven can wait. What cannot wait is the work of the kingdom which is before us.
“Very truly I tell you,” says Jesus, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do…” Participation in the work of the kingdom of God is not limited to some time to come…participation is ongoing. It is a part of life, now and life to come. We don’t really have a choice in the matter. For, participation in the work of Jesus is not a matter of finding the right time or the right project to get involved and then clearing a busy schedule. It is a matter of faith – faith in Christ, faith in the Father, faith in the work of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide you in the way, the truth and the life.
Oddly enough, the pastor in the little story for today actually had the right idea, even if he had the wrong expectation. He lived out his faith in his daily life. He bore witness to Christ in word and deed. He served others and put his treasure in heaven. In the end, he received his eternal reward. Of course, it wasn’t what he was expecting because he, like all of us, measured value by what we know. What God has in store for us is more than we can imagine.
“Believe in God, believe also in me,” says Jesus. “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?” A place of honor has been prepared for each one of us who lives by faith. It is a place of peace and power. It is a place where the little man is equal to a king. For, in the kingdom of God, our nationality, social position, occupation, gender, economic status, do not matter. What matters is that we are all children of God. We are all part of a fallen humanity which has been made whole though Christ Jesus. Jesus prepares a place for each of us – not on the basis of who we are in this world, but on the basis of who God makes us through his Son.
In the Father’s house, we are reconciled to each other. We are forgiving and forgiven. And we are loved and we love others. But, heaven must wait until the right time. Until then, we can participate in God’s kingdom here on earth by living as though we are already there – singing praises to God and serving in his name.
May we accept the invitation to participate in God’s kingdom and never treat this participation as a short-term commitment, nor see it as a way to earn a better spot in the Father’s house, but may we live by faith, believing in God and trusting that there is a place just for you in God’s house. As we follow the way, the truth and the life, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.