Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 22, 2011

2011.05.22 “It’s Not the End of the World” – John 14: 1 – 14

Central United Methodist Church

The 5th Sunday of Easter

“It’s Not the End of the World”

John 14: 1 – 14

May 22nd, 2011

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?”

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.”

“You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act.

“Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see — these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” – John 14: 1 -14, The Message

I just want you to know I was torn as to whether to prepare a sermon for today, since, according to 89 year-old California Bible scholar, Harold Camping, the world was supposed to end yesterday.  But, as turned out to be the case with his prediction (and every other such prediction over the last 2,000 years), the world did not end (except for Arnold Schwarzenegger), and so here we are, right on schedule.  Always a skeptic, I did prepare a sermon, and I’m sure I feel a lot better than those who didn’t, who now find themselves having to preach this morning.  Ooops!

As we have seen on previous Sundays, for the Sundays after Easter our readings from the Gospels focus on Jesus’ disciples learning to live first in his post-resurrection presence, but then in his absence, just as we Christians in the 21st century must do.  In today’s reading, we jump back before Jesus’ death and resurrection, to a time when Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for what was to come, in the Gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17.  Today’s reading from John 14 is a passage that contains some of the most familiar and most comforting verses in scripture, as well as one of the most controversial. Let’s take a look.

In many ways, the reading begins where we begin: people with troubled hearts. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

At this point in the story, it’s Thursday evening, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus knows he will soon leave and is trying to prepare his disciples for it.  A few moments earlier he told them that one of them would betray him, and now he’s just told Peter that he will deny him three times.

      James Somerville, Baptist pastor, says that we have here the image of Jesus as a mother standing with her hand on the doorknob, coat over her arm, watching her children play with Legos on the living room floor. One of them looks up suddenly and, noticing that she is about to leave, asks: “Where are you going?” To which Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.” “Can we go with you?” they say. “Where I am going you cannot come,” Jesus says. It’s in this context that Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”


“What?” they must have asked. “Are you kidding me? “Don’t be troubled? You’ve just told us you’re going away, and going to die!”

Most of us can understand what they’re going through, because we’ve had those moments in life, when our hearts were troubled, deeply troubled. Most often, in fact, this passage is read at funerals, at a time when we are deeply troubled, seeking comfort.  But the truth is, it’s not just at times of death that we’re troubled, but many times along the way.

In fact, many of us may come to church this way, seeking a cure or at least some comfort for our troubles. It might be something going on in our lives, or in our family, or at work, but it’s something deeply troubling to us, a distraction to living a full and happy life.

While the world might propose many solutions to our troubles, Jesus has only one: “Trust me.” That’s a clearer translation than the one we usually use, “Believe in me.”  What’s Jesus is asking is not “belief in”, but trust, something you can hang your heart on. The German Reformer Martin Luther once defined faith as “a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.”

Trust is what the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, experienced when he went reluctantly to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738. That’s why we call this Heritage Sunday, because it’s the Sunday nearest that date.  That night, Wesley wrote in his journal:

“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

To trust in Christ; that is what we are asked to do all the time, but especially when our hearts are troubled. No less than those first disciples, no less than John Wesley.

Jesus moves on, talking about going away, preparing places, and coming back. As if to add insult to injury, he implies they should know what’s he talking about: the way to follow. To which Thomas bravely says what all of them are thinking: “Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?” To which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father but by me.”

How often have we seen in John’s Gospel – as in life – how questions lead to answers, often unforgettable answers. During our Lenten series, “Fearless: The Courage to Question,” we saw how Nicodemus asked how a man could be born again, and Jesus said, “For this is how much God loved the world, that he gave his one-and-only Son, that whoever trusts in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” A Samaritan woman at a well wanted to know where she could get this living water Jesus is talking about, and Jesus says, “”Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again; anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst.”  A man born blind gets healed, people ask, “How can this be?”, and Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world.” On it goes, as Peter, Pilate and all kinds of other people ask Jesus questions that give him, in turn, a chance to teach more deeply the truth he has come to reveal. As does this question of Thomas.  Never be afraid to ask questions!

“I am the way, the truth, and the life, says Jesus; no one comes to the Father but through me.”  The first part is one of our favorite sayings in John’s Gospel; the second is one of the more controversial statements of John’s Gospel.

Of the first part, as someone once said, “Without the way there’s no going, without the truth there’s no knowing, without the life there no living.” Jesus, here, says he is all three.  As Christians, we understand; Jesus is to us, the way, the truth, and the life.

The second half – “No one comes to the Father except through me” – is more controversial. Is Jesus the only way to God? Are we Christians the only ones going to heaven, as some Christians believe, often citing this verse? 

I think to make this small statement say this, as some do, is to take it out of context, not only here, but with the larger context of what Jesus was about. Jesus is not talking here to people of all times, places, and religions, he is talking to his disciples, to whom he was everything. Add to that what he had just said immediately before, when he said almost completely the opposite: “There is plenty of room in my Father’s home.” And not long before this, in John 10:16, Jesus had said, “You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too.”

Is God’s house expansive, or exclusive? I vote expansive and inclusive.  I believe God indeed has many rooms in the place prepared for us: a Christian room, but also a Jewish room, a Hindu room, a Buddhist room. Who knows, maybe even a Methodist room?  Someone once asked George Whitefield, a well known preacher in John’s Wesley’s day, and a friend of Wesley’s, but a staunch Calvinist with whom Wesley strongly disagreed, whether he expected to see Mr. Wesley in heaven.  “No, I do not,” Mr. Whitefield replied.  “Because he’ll be so far in the front, and I’ll be so far in the back, I don’t expect to see him.”

For further current and controversial reading on this topic, I commend to you the book I mentioned a few weeks ago: pastor Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Pastor’s Bell book has certainly gotten him into hot water with fellow conservatives; kicked out of heaven himself, some would say.

But our reading doesn’t end there. When Jesus says he is the way, and asks again that they trust him, Philip can’t stand it any longer and asks the one question no faithful Jew should ask:  “Show us the Father,” says Philip says, “and we will be satisfied.”

John doesn’t say so, but I suspect there was a collective gasp from the other disciples when Philip asks this question. Because in ancient Israel, it was understood no one could see God and live. Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet, once asked, and all he got to see was God’s backside. In Israel, for God’s sake, you don’t even say God’s name, much less get to see God.

And so – embarrassingly – Philip asks. “If you want us to trust you, Jesus, just show us the Father.”

You have to think there were times when Jesus must have just wanted to put his face in his hands and cry. After all he had said and done, after all he had taught them and shown them, Philip wants to “see God.”

It’s an audacious, even inappropriate question, but I think we understand where it came from. At one time or another we may have been there, been desperate to see tangible evidence that things will get better, to find some reason to believe tragedy and loss are not all there is. Maybe it was when a doctor told you the cancer had returned. Or when a loved one died unexpectedly. Or when the Twin Towers fell, or when floodwaters rose. Each of us has moments where we need something to touch, to feel, to see, something to hold on in order to be able to trust.

And so Jesus responds, not in frustration but in love, to Philip and to us, “Have I been with you all this time and yet you don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father!”

The Christian answer to such a question is this: If you want to see God, look to Jesus, the one who preached God’s mercy and taught God’s love, the one who ate with sinners, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame to walk, who then conquered death, and now prepares a place for us. This is what God looks like, this is who God is: love for you and for me, for all of us and the whole world. “No one has ever seen God,” said John, way back at the beginning of his Gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18)

Before I end, I want to note that in this passage Jesus says one more astounding thing: “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.”

That may seem like an audacious statement if there ever was one, to suggest that this confused group of disciples, among whom we would number ourselves, might not only continue the work Jesus did, but do even greater things. 

How could this be? Jesus is with God; we are here on earth.  Jesus, in the time of his life, was a poor peasant; we have wealth beyond his wildest dreams. Jesus lived in primitive times, we have modern tools of technology: schools, hospitals, churches, media, global transportation and communication. Jesus grew up in a tiny village called Nazareth; we live in the global village.  Can we begin to see what he might mean when he says we can do even greater things? Why do we set our ambitions so small?

And what was that work again? To preach God’s mercy and teach God’s love, to eat with sinners, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to make the lame to walk, to raise the dead back to life.

So we end up where we begin.  Bring your troubled hearts, bring your most embarrassing questions; Jesus can not only handle them, he can turn us into instruments of God, to do even greater work that he did. 

“Trust me,” he says.  It’s not the end of the world.


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