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At Home in Jesus

This is the sermon for this Sunday, for the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. If you would like to see and hear me preach it, go here.
Relationships are important, aren’t they? When we’re happy or sad, it’s good to have someone to share things with. This passage is all about relationship as can be seen in several phrases in this text. This gives us a different lens through which to look at and understand what God is saying to us today.

Jesus’ followers had plenty of reasons to have troubled hearts and to grieve. Just a little earlier, Judas had left to betray Jesus, so he was no longer one of their band. Jesus keeps telling his followers that he will be betrayed and crucified. With all this swirling around in their heads and what it all meant, no wonder Jesus tells them not to grieve.

And of course, these words are not only meant for those followers of Jesus, but also for those who were part of John’s community around 50 years later. They lived with persecution and I’m sure they couldn’t help but wonder at every action they took, what kind of trouble it would get them into with the Romans.

We think of these words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” as something we hear at funerals and we tend to think this passage about dwelling places is about heaven. It can apply to that, but it’s about so much more. It’s about a dwelling place that is a relationship with our living Lord. This is what gave those early Christians hope—when Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving them seemingly alone; when Stephen was martyred; when later Christians lost their lives and as their bodies burned they cried out to God to forgive their persecutors and as the people of God today speak and act out against the persecution and injustice of the innocent.

Jesus did not tell his first followers or any of his other disciples throughout the centuries not to cry, don’t be afraid. His comfort to them and us is that he was and is the believers’ home. We can wrap ourselves, like a blanket, in that all-pervasive, all-encompassing, all-comforting love and presence of God. Do you remember that Jesus promised that when he left his disciples, they would not be alone because the Holy Spirit would be with them? Take time each day to drink in God’s presence. The Christ who put aside his own sorrow at his approaching death invites you in.

We do not need to be afraid and it’s not because Jesus is going to magically make all the bad, horrible, circumstances go away—like COVID 19. After all, he was still arrested, still tortured and still executed. The reason we need not fear is that these circumstances are not the end of the story. Luther asks what it means to have a God and answers that God is what you hang your heart upon. The troubled heart is a heart not hung upon God but hung rather upon all the things the world peddles to soothe a troubled heart” (Cynthia Jarvis in pulpitfiction.com).

Jesus has painted a great word picture for us: my Father’s house, many rooms, a prepared place, a prepared way to get there, a trusted guide, not being left alone to find our own way, ending with being with Jesus again. Our work is to believe into, which is to be bonded with Jesus not merely “accept[ing] concepts about Jesus. (David Ewart, holytextures.com).

“My Father’s house” needs to be read first in the context of the mutual indwelling of God and Jesus, a form of residence repeatedly stressed from the first verses of John’s gospel. Throughout this gospel, location has consistently been a symbol for relationship…to know where Jesus is from is to know his relationship with God (Gail R. O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible).

What seems like plain speech to us seemed opaque to the disciples. I have to give Thomas credit. He has the gumption to admit he did not understand the way to where Jesus was going because he did not know the destination. All roads, in fact, do not lead to Rome, or in this case, Jerusalem.

I remember one of my seminary professors, who was Finnish, spoke very quickly. When she got excited about what she was teaching the speed of her speech increased even more. One day I had such a hard time taking notes that I asked her if she could please slow down and she said no! I was frustrated and because no one else had said anything, I assumed I was the only one having trouble keeping up. After class I found out that virtually all of my classmates, even the youngest had the same trouble. They just decided to compare notes later. So, I have a soft spot for Thomas who spoke up.

Again, Jesus’ answer was relational. Jesus is the way to where the disciples needed to go as well as the truth and the life. Here, life, is not what is coming next but what happens when we follow the way of God. This is all bound up in that relationship with the Lord Jesus, via whom they would see the Father. Because Thomas knows Jesus, he can’t get lost. The place he is preparing for the disciples is not a spot in a physical dwelling, but a place in God’s family—a place where we can be related to and remain with the Father as closely as Jesus, the Son does (Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com).

Then we have dear Philip who just wants Jesus to show them the Father and that would be enough. Jesus’ answer, “…still you do not know me?” If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

In case we’re unsure about what Jesus is saying, he heaps on another promise to boot, “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” (v. 12). Pardon me! Greater than Jesus? How can this be? Because Jesus left earth when he ascended, he sent the Holy Spirit who dwells in all believers. This means we can follow Jesus, do his works and even greater ones right now.

There is lots of room in God. He is not our personal possession but is our God who longs for more and more people to be part of his house. There’s a fun contemporary song about that called My Father’s House. Here is the link to it.

This passage is not about who’s out, but who’s in—all who have seen Jesus or have come to know him through the testimony of his disciples (17:20). This is pure promise and means we can open wide our arms of welcome and love to all God brings our way.

Where do you hang your troubled heart? Is it on God and Jesus or on the details and our own strength? God’s house has lots of room, always room for us, do we have room for others in our lives? Jesus the way, truth and life is a text of comfort, not a litmus test for faith or a gate to salvation.

What are the things that threaten our faith today? Is it fear of the Coronavirus? Is it fear that we will not be able to say good-bye to those we love if we become ill? Will we run out of money before we can get back to work? We need to determine what those “faith-threatening” things are in our lives and repeat Jesus' words, “Don’t be troubled. Keep on believing!”  Amen!

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