Inspired by John 14:1-14
To give you some context, today’s Gospel reading comes from, what scholars have called Jesus’ farewell discourse, what I call, Jesus’ loooong goodbye. And when I say long, I mean long! Jesus’ long goodbye takes up four plus chapters in John’s Gospel! Now, I’m all about saying goodbye but come on Jesus! In fact, one of the things my family instilled in me was, whenever you leave a place, you have to say goodbye to everyone! That still remains with me today. When I leave the office every day I have this instinctual need to find everyone and say goodbye, even though I know I’ll see them tomorrow, God willing, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t. Now, I draw the line if they are in the bathroom, because boundaries, but I’ll still text them a goodbye! I know, I’m weird. And I’m your pastor!
But back to Jesus’ long goodbye. I believe I’ve recommended this movie before but it’s worth repeating. I didn’t appreciate the Gospel of John properly until I saw the 2003 movie called The Gospel of John. I highly recommend it because by the end of the movie, you will have heard the entire Gospel of John, as all of the dialogue of the movie come from John’s Gospel. Nothing added, nothing taken away.
Now, it’s a long movie, but it’s not as long as Titanic! And one of the things that you’ll notice when watching that movie is the number of times that Jesus launches into a long speech, whether he’s at the temple, in the garden, or just walking down the street. His disciples were probably like, oh, there he goes again. Someone interrupt him! This farewell discourse, that we get a piece of today and another small piece next Sunday, comes from one of those times when Jesus launched into a long speech.
Let’s take a closer look at the text itself to see how we get there. Jesus begins with “Don’t be troubled.” I don’t know about you but when someone begins with that I get troubled! And maybe that was the point. He continues with, “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” Jesus then goes on about spare rooms for them in God’s house, about how he will prepare a place for them, and he won’t stop there. After he prepares that place he will come back and take them there himself!
Now, I had an odd real world connection to that the other day at the Auburn True Value Hardware. I asked for some help finding something and the woman said, “I know exactly where those are, I just stocked that shelf! Let me take you to them.” I would have been content if she had just pointed me in the right direction, Lord knows that’s the usual assistance you get in stores today. But no, she insisted on walking me across the store to the item I was looking for, in spite of how busy she clearly was. Likewise, Jesus is always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for us. Not only does he build the spare room for us, not only does he prepare that room, but then he takes us to it himself! More behavior for us model.
Then he tells them, “You know the way to the place I’m going.” Now Thomas, God bless him, I don’t know if Thomas interrupts Jesus with his question or if Jesus was just going to end it there by saying you know the way to the place I’m going but Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going.” I imagine Thomas looking at the other disciples as he asks this like, am I the only one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus remains calm, maintains his patience, and proclaims in no uncertain terms, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Now this can sound very exclusionary. Lord knows that this passage has been used by Christians for centuries to exclude many groups of people, beginning with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
But this remark of Jesus doesn’t have to be taken that way. Christians have just chosen to take it that way because in doing so it helps them to come out on top. Here’s another way to hear it. Remember last week when we talked about the phrase, “You are God and I am not?” And then we turned that into, “You are the gate and I am not.”
What if, Jesus is simply saying here, I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and you are not—knowing full well that we are going to be tempted to make ourselves central, to make our doctrines central, to make our practices central, to make our rituals central, to make our worship styles central, to make our translations and interpretations of scripture central. What if, this was simply Jesus way of saying, I am central and nothing else. Not us, not our ways, not our truths, only Jesus.
Here’s another way to think of it, we hear the word journey and we look for a path, when the journey is actually a person, Jesus. We hear about a way and we look for a direction, when the way is actually a person, Jesus. We hear the word truth and we listen for facts, when the truth is actually a person, Jesus. We hear Jesus speak of life and we look for things like good health, success, pleasure, or dare I say, increased worship attendance and heavier offering plates, when that life is actually a person, Jesus. Whoo, just got real there at the end didn’t it? Yikes!
Then Phillip, God bless him, Phillip says, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” Now Jesus starts to lose his patience, probably thinking how dense are these guys? Jesus responds, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And more than that they have seen his works, all that Jesus had done up to that point. Jesus says, “Trust me” there’s that word again, “trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves.” In other words, if you can’t believe what I am saying, then at least believe in what I’m doing! And here’s why, because “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”
Remember, this is part of Jesus long goodbye. Jesus is preparing them for his absence, as best as anyone can. Jesus will soon be gone and the works that they’ve seen him do, will now be there responsibility to carry on. The works that we have heard about, are now our responsibility to carry on, and not just them but greater works. How could that be? Because we will do those works together, as Bethlehem, as Lutherans, as followers of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, across the entire globe. That’s how we will do greater works than Jesus.
And that’s why Jesus began this farewell with “Don’t be troubled.” We don’t have time to be troubled! There’s too much work to do! That’s why Jesus began this long goodbye by reminding us of his spacious house, with prepared spare rooms, that when the time is right we will be taken to by Jesus. In other words, don’t worry about your futures, all is taken care of, besides, there’s a lot of work to do. Thanks be to God. Amen.