This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/10/20, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture readings for this sermon were: John 14:1-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text)
Our reading this morning is one of the most famous parts of the Bible. It’s a passage that carries a lot of historical and cultural baggage, on a lot of different levels.
A big part of this has to do with the way this text has been spiritualized and weaponized. It’s been turned into a discourse on heaven and hell – and who’s going where. It’s been used by preachers who wanted to coerce us into agreeing to certain statements of belief, to define the terms of who belongs to the club, and who doesn’t.
This text has often been used to serve the interests of those who wanted to point us to some transcendent, immaterial, other-worldly afterlife – rather than the flesh-and-blood battles that we are facing in our own life. It’s been used to bamboozle us.
It’s a dangerous passage. It’s dangerous, because it’s been weaponized. But above all, it’s dangerous because we think we already know what it’s about. We’ve heard it so many times, we’ve stopped listening.
This morning, I want to invite us to encounter this text again with our full attention, leaving behind what we think we know.
Because in this passage Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
In the age of Covid. In the age of falling empires and rising oligarchies, I want to know, why on earth shouldn’t I be worried? What does Jesus know that I don’t?
Jesus says we don’t have to be afraid, because he is preparing a place for us.
“In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places.”
“I go to prepare a place for you.”
“I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
This is wedding language. In Jesus’ time, it was common for extended families to live together in a single compound. And so when a man wanted to marry a woman, he would go back to his father’s house to build an extension onto the compound, so that he and his fiancée would have a place to live. Then, he would go and bring her back to live with him as his wife.
So Jesus says we don’t need to be troubled, because he loves us like a young man loves his bride. He is preparing a place for us in God’s extended family. He has promised himself to us. To you. To me. He has promised to make us part of God’s household.
Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him. God dwells in Jesus and works through him. Jesus is the way – he lives God’s life by walking it. He is the truth, and you can see it in his whole being. He is the life – abundant, joyous, and unafraid even in the face of terrible threats.
Jesus is going to make a place for us. A place to stand in, as part of his Father’s household. Jesus dwells in the Father, and the Father lives in him. We can see God’s action through the acts of Jesus.
And here’s the kicker: We will do greater things.
Let me repeat that, because so much of the Bible sounds like wild heresy when you just read it: We will do greater things than Jesus. That’s what Jesus himself has promised us.
We will do greater works than these, because Jesus is going to the Father. Jesus will do whatever we ask in his name – in his way, truth, and life – so that God can be glorified in his children.
That’s why Jesus says, even in times like these, do not let your hearts be troubled. He has made us brothers and sisters, siblings of Jesus and children of God. He has sent us the Comforter who will lead us into all truth – to do even greater things. To manifest the kingdom. To live lives that demonstrate the presence of God on earth.
This world says, “Show us God. Prove that God exists!” They say, “We want to see signs and wonders. We want to see miracles.” But here’s what Jesus says: We are the miracle. We are the body of Christ. By the grace of God, by his undeserved love and mercy, that is what we are.
Are we in the Father and the Father in us? Do we dwell in his love, his power, his presence? Then whoever has seen us has seen the Father.
We are here, not to convince with words, but to make the character and presence of God visible in our daily lives.
By God’s grace, we are here to say to this world, “Do you still not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Have you experienced this? Have you encountered God in the life and actions of another person?
I remember one time, years ago, when I was traveling and had a long layover in a Texas airport. My flight had been delayed. You probably know how that feels. I just wanted to be home, and I was worn out and in a bad mood.
And so as I’m waiting around, for hours, in this airport, I go to get some coffee from a Starbucks there in the terminal. And the man who hands me my coffee utterly surprises me.
I felt seen by this man. It’s hard to describe. I was operating in this robot space – take order, pay money, wait for coffee – and he just broke through it with a living presence.
My heart was closed up and my eyes were dead, but the barista saw me. He encountered me as a human personality, a fellow life, more than just another order to be filled. I had entered into the moment prepared for a transaction, and somehow he made it a relationship.
Even now, I have a tough time describing what this felt like. But I was so taken aback by it, that after I got my coffee I retreated to the edge of the shop and just watched the barista for maybe ten minutes. I watched him serving other customers and interacting with them in the same way he had with me.
I could feel the life radiating off of him. He was full of life, and it was overflowing onto those he served. He was fully present, filled with love, and giving complete attention to the people in front of him. For anyone who has ever spent much time in an airport, you can imagine how strange this felt.
I have no idea who this man was. I don’t know if he considered himself a Christian. But when I looked at him, I could see the Father. I could see the Way.
This is what Jesus teaches us here, in our reading this morning: Don’t pretend that God is some abstract, distant being, totally uninvolved in this world. Look at Jesus, and you will know who God is. The children of light reflect the light of God. Like Jesus, we dwell in the Father, and the Father dwells in us. We do the works of God. And that is proof enough.
In the words of George Fox, our calling is to:
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.
The witness of God in me blessed the barista at the airport Starbucks. Can you remember a time when the witness of God in you answered the presence of God in another person?
The great revelation of the Quaker tradition, and that of original Christianity, is this: The keys of the kingdom are hidden in plain sight. God has come to earth and dwells among people. The new Jerusalem is descending, and we are the walls, and the gates, and the streets. We are drinking from the river. We are being healed with the leaves from the Tree of Life. We are bathing in the light of God, never to walk in darkness again.
That sounds pretty good to me. I want to get there. What do I need to do to experience that kind of life and power?
Here’s what Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Not ideas about him. Not rules to be adhered to. Not a tradition to be cherished. Not an identity to be built around him. But Jesus himself. He is the way. Dwelling in him, as he dwells in the Father. Doing the works of the Father – and even greater works – as he leads us.
The religions of this world – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, scientism, capitalism, Marxism – all the religions of this world want to sell us on a way. An ism. An abstract set of principles and rules and answers that will get us where we want to go. The religions of this world are about providing us with a human-constructed way for us to walk. And we eat it up, because ideological systems make us feel safe.
But Jesus doesn’t offer us a system. He doesn’t offer us a new set of commandments carved into stone. He offers us himself in marriage. Covenantal union with Jesus.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It’s me. Know me. Love me. Follow me. Stay with me. Imitate me. Dwell in me, as I dwell in the Father.
Jesus is the way. Relationship with him, marriage to Jesus and adoption into the family of God – that’s our religion. Not rules. Not rituals. Not reason. Not money. Not being nice people. Him. It’s him.
All we need is you, Lord. All we need is you.
Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. … I go to prepare a place for you.”