May 10, 2020, Way, Truth, Life.com (John 14:1-14) – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000194
I’d just like to say here at the start that I hope you heard Fr. Bill Cooper’s sermon yesterday on this gospel reading because it was wonderful. And I especially loved the way he pointed out that Jesus shows us the way by his character, which is the perfect revelation of the character of the Father. If you haven’t heard Fr. Bill’s sermon, please listen to it when you have time, because he said it all so well, and what he said was so important, and I’m not going to repeat what he said here.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and for me that brings up bittersweet memories of the very last time I went to see my Mom. It was a long, complicated trip because my Mom was living in Amarillo, Texas at the time. The plan was to drive to Texas with my sister, who lived in St. Louis, and who really hated air travel. So I flew from northern New York to St. Louis, where my sister and I could head out for Texas together by car. And a long car ride it was! Neither of us were very experienced at travel, and neither of us had ever driven to Texas before, so the whole thing was foreign territory for us. The only thing we had to rely on for directions was our print-out from googlemaps. Since my sister was the driver, I got to be the navigator, clutching that sheaf of papers like a life-line, as we drove hour after hour after hour through the unknown territories of southern Missouri and Oklahoma and into the barren moonscape of Northern Texas where the speed limit is 75 but people actually go 90, because it’s a zillion miles from one town to the next with nothing in between and if you didn’t go 90 you’d never get to where you’re going.
We were going to be with my Mom because she had developed pneumonia after being in a car accident, and my sister and I were going to stay with her and take care of her for as many days as she had left. But first we had to get there. This was almost thirteen years ago. If we had made the trip in 2020, we would have had GPS and our phone would have let us know where the next restaurant was and where they were doing roadwork, and warn us when a speed trap was coming up. (Assuming, of course, that there was cellphone service in the wilds of Oklahoma.) But thirteen years ago online directions were a bit more primitive. And the memory is bittersweet, as I say, because even though we knew we were going to say goodbye to our Mom, I still treasure those hours with my sister all these years later. My sister passed away just about a year ago, and I am thankful for every long, weary mile we traveled together.
So all of that comes to my mind as I read the gospel for today, where Jesus is preparing his friends for his own parting. He’s leaving directions for them, because he wants them to know how to follow him. And because he doesn’t want them to be afraid or anxious. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” we read just now. This whole, long “last-supper discourse” as we call it, is definitely a bittersweet recollection, as Jesus spent his last hours with his friends, knowing what would happen that very night. How much must those men have treasured the memory of that night, in years to come, of Jesus kneeling before them, the feel of his hands washing their feet, the sound of his voice as he said the blessing and broke the bread to share with them? Because the directions he was leaving with them weren’t printed on paper; Jesus wasn’t giving his friends step-by-step instructions like my googlemaps directions to Amarillo Texas. The directions Jesus left with his disciples were embodied in himself – the things he did, the words he said, and the way he lived – he was the directions, as he told them: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. There is no other way that leads to the Father.”
But what does that really mean for us? What does it really mean for Jesus to show us the way to the Father? We are in the habit of reading this passage at funerals – I have used this passage as the gospel reading in many burial services – because these are comforting words when someone we love is gone from our lives. Jesus seems to be promising that he has a room ready for them at their death, that they are safe and at home – and that is all true. But if all Jesus is really talking about is how to arrive at our life after death we really don’t need a lot of directions. If Jesus is simply talking about going to heaven when we die, then we all know how to get there. Sooner or later every human being finds his or her way, with no particular directions at all, to his or her death. If they are honest, for most people, I think, the directions they would really appreciate are the ones telling them how to delay their arrival at that inevitable destination. Clearly the disciples are asking Jesus something more than how they can follow him to his death.
Notice that Jesus is using the language of home. The men sitting around the table with him on that night had left everything to follow him. They had been homeless wanderers following Jesus along the dusty roads throughout Galilee and Judea for three whole years. On one day, Jesus had said to a man who wanted to wanted to join them: “I should warn you: birds have nests and foxes have holes to curl up in, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And he meant that literally. That was the life of a follower of Jesus. But now, on the night before his death, Jesus said to his friends: “I’m going to get rooms ready for you in the household of my Father. Believe me, there is a place for you, or I would have warned you.” But he’s not talking about going to Heaven – as believing Jews, they already believed they would be with God after their deaths. Jesus is talking about something much more immediate. When Jesus tells them he’s preparing a place for them in the Father’s house, he’s talking about their adoption into God’s family.
Jesus goes on to say to them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” “I’m not leaving you as orphans. I will come to you. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. And we will make our home with him.” Jesus clearly isn’t talking here about us going to our home in the sky in the sweet by and by – in fact, Jesus never does talk like that. He’s talking about the home that is ours now, a home in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, through the presence of his Spirit that was coming to dwell with them. The life that Jesus was promising them: the home that he was promising them, and the relationship with the Father that they were longing for: he was telling his disciples that all those things were going to be a living, daily reality for them – and for us – not just a distant hope.
There is the greatest joy ahead for all of Creation when Jesus returns with healing in his wings, and the new heavens and the new earth are established, and all tears are wiped away and sorrow and suffering are gone forever. But the comfort Jesus was giving to his friends on that night, and to us today, is that he was making abundant life available to us now, for all who follow the way that he showed us. And just as my long trip to see my Mom all those years ago was blessed so sweetly by the fellowship my sister and I shared along the way, we are blessed on our way every day by the fellowship of Christ’s Holy Spirit, through whom we have received the right to pray “Our Father”. And we are also blessed by the fellowship of our brothers and sisters who share the joy of belonging in the Father’s household, which always has as many rooms as it needs for all who come to the Father.