Text: John 14: 1- 14
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
May 14, 2017
Several years ago, a Methodist minister friend of mine said that one day he saw his eight-year-old daughter, who had shown some artistic talent, drawing a picture. He asked her what she was drawing. She said I’m drawing a picture of God. “That interesting,” he said, “Do you know that no one has ever seen and God we don’t know what God looks like?” “Well,” his daughter replied, “Everybody will when I get through with this drawing!”
All of us have an image of God, don’t we! For many it is a kindly old man in the sky, or as I heard someone say just last week, “the man upstairs.” For others, their image of God is that of a stern taskmaster. Still others see God’s as a mother embracing her children. My image is a variation, that of a Father running down the road to welcome home the prodigal son.
None of these images even begin to capture the essence of God. When our Hebrew ancestors thought of God, they thought of one who was holy, distant and unapproachable. They believed it was a fearful thing to gaze upon the glory of God. They were convinced that if you could see God face to face, God would become an object under our control that we could manipulate and use. They had a point. One has only to look at a radical Muslim extremist, a person of the far Christian right, or at history so see how easy it is to reduce God into our image of the divine and then justify our actions in God’s name.
There are moments in our lives, though, when we feel a desperate need to see God. How often I have found myself in a hospital with a Christian family who has just lost a sainted mother before her time, or gotten a call that the child of a parishioner was killed in an accident. Looking at the anguish on their faces, I know that in so many cases, God seems so far away.
I confess that the focus of my thoughts changed radically, about the direction my sermon would take this morning when I got the phone call from Adrienne, informing me that she had just lost Matthew. I had been contemplating a Mother’s Day sermon. Suddenly, I realized that today a mother of this parish, surrounded by her remaining children, would be grieving on this day. Those of you hoping for a Mother’s Day sermon will have to wait until next year.
In light of what has happened, our Gospel reading is so fitting. Jesus, knowing that this would be his last night on earth in his human body, and trying to prepare his disciples for his death, tells them that he must leave them, and that they must stay.
I can only begin to fathom what the disciples must have been experiencing that night. On the one hand, I suspect they were still hopeful that Jesus would declare himself to be the Messiah, and that by some miracle (and they certainly had witnessed Jesus do many of those), Jesus would bring Israel deliverance. At the same time, they had to be aware that if he didn’t do something and do it quickly, both he and they were in trouble, big time!
“I’m out of here and you can’t come with me.” Put in plain English this is what Jesus said. Of course, the disciples don’t know the end of the story the way we do. Imagine that you are there with them in that upper room. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you be thinking? What would you be saying? Certainly, your mind would be filled with questions, just as the disciples were.
Peter, quite naturally, speaks first. “Lord just where are you going?” It’s a logical question. We would undoubtedly ask the same thing. Given the situation, Peter probably was thinking Jesus is going into hiding. Jesus' reply is both a non-answer and a rebuff. “Where I am going, you can’t follow now, but you will later. “Why not,” “ Peter huffs. I’m ready to lay down my life for you!” “Yeah, right,” Jesus answers, “before daybreak, three times you will deny that you even know me.”
Then without giving Peter a chance to respond, Jesus goes on to speak the words we often hear at funerals and will hear again tomorrow: “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so I would have told you. 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 you might be also.”
In the King James version, it is translated, “In my father’s house are many mansions.” When I was a child my church would often sing: “I have a mansion just over the hilltop in that great city where we will never grow old. And someday yonder, we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are paved with gold.” I remember thinking, gosh it must be like living in the White House. But the image Jesus has in mind is a little different. Throughout the Gospels he refers to his followers as his bride and himself is the bridegroom. As Fr. Tad informed us in his class last week, in New Testament times, when a young man became engaged, he would immediately begin building an extra room on his parents’ home. When the room was built, the wedding day would then be set. There would be much feasting and especially much drinking. Then the groom would take his bride to his father’s house where they would spend the rest of their lives together.
This is the image, Jesus had in mind when he said to Peter, you can’t come now, but you will come later. Right now, he was saying, I’m going to Father’s house to prepare a place you, my bride. Later when it is ready I will come for you that you can be with me forever. He concludes by saying, "You know the way to the place I am going.” Where was Jesus going? He was going to his Father’s house.
That is when Thomas spoke up, asking the second question. Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” At first his question doesn’t seem to make sense. Jesus just told him he was going to the Father. But let’s think about the situation for a moment. Jesus has just told them his life is in danger and that one of them was going to betray him. Then suddenly he seems to shift gears and talk about Father’s house. Have you ever been in a situation where you have heard some shocking news and then someone changed the subject like Jesus seemed to do? Your mind is still trying to wrap itself around the shocking news. You miss what is being said, your mind is a blur, you catch only the last sentence, “You know the way.” Thomas still thinking Jesus’s life is in danger and that he may be going into hiding, perhaps in one of the thousands of caves down some wadi near the Dean Sea. So, he naturally responds, “We don’t have a clue where you are headed, so how could we possibly know the way.”
Like his response to Peter, Jesus patiently nudges Thomas from his incorrect perception of his messianic role to restore Israel’s independence, to the spiritual world that he was inviting his disciples to enter by saying “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”
From the Acts of the Apostles, we know that before Jesus’ followers were called Christians, they were known as the People of the Way. They followed their Lord’s example following his teachings. He is the Way, because he lived without sin, died and rose again to reconcile us to God the Father. He created the community of Divine Love which you and I have become a part and which we seek to live out at St. Paul’s. His claim to be the Way stands because He is also the Truth and the Life.
Finally, Philip burst out. “Just show us the Father, that is enough.” He had listened to the talk about the Father’s house and about Jesus as the way to it and almost intuitively realized these were secondary issues. Just let us see God and we will know everything is going to be all right. In our existential crises, that is the heart of the matter. If our world seems to be falling apart all around us, we often think if God would only show himself, we would know everything is going to be ok. In those moments is almost like when we woke up from a bad dream in terror and our mother or dad came into our bedroom, and suddenly it was all right again.
But we are no longer children, and God does respond to us that way. But He has responded. He has responded by sending his Son. His son has told us, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father and he has told us: “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.”
We who are gathered here today are His followers. I am confident, that like me, when you have faced crises in your life, Jesus has been there. At the time, you may not have recognized him, but in retrospect you can see how he got you through. He probably did not remove the crisis, but he was there to give you courage, to give you strength, to walk with you until you reached the other side. Philip would learn this was true in his life also.
Along with Philip, as People of the Way, our calling is to assist others going through crises: assuring them that if they hang in there God’s grace will see them through.