Read John 14:1-14.
If this scripture sounds familiar, it might be because we often read it at memorial services and funerals. It’s a good one for those times because Jesus gives us a vision of eternity using the comforting image of God’s big, big house that has room for everybody. This scripture is one of the reasons that people sometimes refer to death as “going home.”
It’s a comforting image. But it is also a murky one. This isn’t a place we’ve seen before. We sometimes call a church “God’s house” but is that what God’s heavenly house looks like? I don’t know. In my imagination it looks more like a two-story craftsman farmhouse with a big wrap-around porch and great big windows. And it’s green. Or maybe white. And there’s a big yard, and some big trees for shade, but not so many trees that you can’t see the stars at night, and the sunrise and sunset on the horizon.
That sounds like a house here in Kansas, doesn’t it? Does our heavenly home look like Kansas? I don’t know. Maybe you have an entirely different image. We don’t know because we’ve never seen heaven before. But Jesus goes ahead of us. Jesus will welcome us, and he’ll show us the way.
When a crisis happens that makes us confront the reality of death, we suddenly think more about the future. That’s what’s driving this conversation Jesus is having with the disciples, too.
The scripture we read today is part of Jesus’ last teaching. We call it the Upper Room Discourse because that’s where they were, having their last supper together on the night Jesus was arrested. Read chapters 13-17 to get the whole thing. There’s a whole lot in those five chapters, but there’s a whole lot in even just these 14 verses.
It’s a bit of a cram session before the big test, because this very night Jesus will be arrested. The crucifixion will happen tomorrow. The next 24 hours will probably be the scariest that the disciples have ever experienced. They don’t understand what’s going to happen, even though Jesus has tried to tell them, because it’s beyond belief.
Have you ever asked God to show you the future?
I have. One time I begged God, “Just give me a glimpse of the next five years. Where will I be?” Years later looking back I can see that even if God had shown me, I wouldn’t have believed it, and I wouldn’t have liked it, because it wasn’t at all what I expected. There was some really hard stuff to get through. It came out ok, and I learned a lot about trusting God. I wonder, if God had shown me, whether I might have just wanted to give up instead.
We don’t know what’s ahead of us on our way through life, but God does, and in these verses, Jesus gives us some guidance that shows us the way.
Remember with five words. The way is trust, prepare, Jesus, action, and prayer. (Verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13)
Jesus tells the disciples, “I am going to prepare a place for you. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way.” (V2b-4)
Thomas asks the obvious question, “How can we know the way?” (v5)
How can we know the way? Trust
Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (v1)
This is why we are always talking about following Jesus. We don’t know the way, but Jesus knows the way because Jesus is the way. “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” Keep trusting that he’s leading us, even when we cannot see the way.
We can trust Jesus. He promises to be with us always. Whatever is happening, Jesus is going to walk through it with us. This is not an invitation to ignore our feelings, or to ignore hard realities. It’s an invitation to persevere despite those realities and to hold on to hope by trusting in Jesus.
How can we know the way? Trust and Prepare
Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” (V.2) There are a lot of ways to think about how Jesus prepares a place for us. One that makes a lot of sense to me right now is that Jesus is clearing the way. He’s making room for us in heaven, and making room for heaven in us, making room for God in our lives.
It’s kind of like the way we find lost stuff in a messy room. Whenever my kids would tell me they couldn’t find something, I’d tell them to clean until they found it. I’m sure I annoyed the heck out them when I said that. But it worked. As they threw away the trash, hung up the clothes, put things back on the shelves, eventually they’d find what they were looking for.
What is getting cleared away in our lives right now? Looking back at some of my journey so far, I can see how some hard changes made room for me to spend more time seeking God, and to seek God in new ways. How is God preparing us right now for what’s ahead? Even if the future is not be clear, the steps of preparation may be. What’s your next step? How can you make room for God’s work? Prepare.
How can we know the way? Trust, prepare, and Jesus
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Throughout the book of John, Jesus’ makes these “I Am” statements—I am the good shepherd (10:11), the light (8:12), the bread of life (6:35), the vine (15:1). The very first “I am” statement happened back in Exodus, when Moses meets God at the burning bush, and asks God how to tell the people of Israel who is sending him to rescue them. God says, “Tell them ‘I Am’ has sent you.”
“I am” is the divine name, the sacred name of God. Every time Jesus says “I am…” he’s using that name of God to remind us who he is. He is God.
And the disciples were all like, “No way!” And Jesus was like, “Yahweh!”
Jesus keeps trying to explain this to the disciples, and he says in verse 7:
“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
But Philip says, “Master, show us the Father; that’s all we need.”
We can imagine Jesus at this point shaking his head with a sigh. “They just don’t get it.”
But Jesus keeps trying. “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father.” (v9 MSG)
Jesus is the way to God because Jesus is God in the flesh. When we trust in Jesus, we’re trusting in God.
How can we know the way? Trust, prepare, Jesus, and Action
Jesus says, “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”
There’s a wonderful story about action in the book Adventures in Missing the Point by Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren.
It’s about a land of boredom and drudgery where people have been hoping for something big to happen, because they didn’t have much adventure in their ho-hum land, beyond attending committee meetings, waiting in lines, sorting socks, and watching sitcom reruns. One day the news spread that there was going to be a big race. Some excitedly signed up to run, and others came out to watch and see if the race was really going to happen or was just a rumor going around.
On the day of the race, the runners were there lined up, itching to get started, stretching and warming up. When the starting gun finally went off, they leapt into action and dashed across the starting line. But after a few steps, they stopped and began celebrating. “We did it! We’re racing! This is such a wonderful day!”
The spectators kept watching, expecting the runners to stop celebrating the start and get going on the rest of the race, but instead they were too busy celebrating.
Spectators began muttering; some laughed. “So what do they think this race is? . . .Two or three strides, then a celebration? … They’re treating the starting line as if it were a finish line. They’ve completely missed the point.”
… “You know,” a spectator said to the person next to her, “if they’re not going to run the race, maybe we should.”
“Why not? It’s getting boring watching them hang around just beyond the starting line. I’ve had enough boredom for one life.”
…[So] they ran—past the [runners celebrating]. And they found hope and joy in every step, and they grew stronger with every mile and hill. To their surprise, the path never ended—because in this race, there was no finish line. So they were never bored again.”
In our reading from John today, Jesus was also telling his disciples that they needed to keep going, that he has shown them the way to run the race. They didn’t get it that day, and they did stay huddled in a room praying for awhile, but then after Pentecost they went out and started telling people about Jesus—telling people so they could run the race, too.
Sometimes on this race, on our journey with Jesus, the way will be clear. At other times it will be foggy or even dark and we won’t be able to see. So we stop and let our eyes adjust, and get our bearings. We’ve had some time like that the past several weeks. We’ve had to stop and adjust. Some aspects of this adjustment have been clear, some not so clear. As we work on moving forward, that will continue to be true.
The reality is that even when we think we know where we’re going, we don’t really know what will happen tomorrow. Only God knows. So we have got to keep on trusting and following Jesus. Keep on asking for course corrections. Keep on being willing to adjust and reorient.
How can we know the way? We’ve looked at four of the five words: Trust, prepare, Jesus, action. The fifth one might be the most important of all: Prayer
Jesus says, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (v13-14)
We often say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers. We do it because Jesus told us to. I don’t think Jesus said this because God needs to hear us say it. It’s because we need to hear ourselves say it, to remind us that we are trusting in Jesus to show us the way forward.
Jesus goes before us and shows us
- that death is not the end of the road, and
- that fear needn’t stop us, because nothing is greater than God’s love, and
- that we’ve got to keep moving forward, trusting that Jesus knows the way because he is the way.
I’ve been saying for a long time that church was going to look different in the future. I didn’t know how far in the future, and I didn’t imagine it would look quite like this that we’re doing today, or that it would involve masks.
I still think we don’t know what the future will look like. But I think God doesn’t show us the future because he knows we’d freak out and give up.
Don’t freak out. Don’t give up.
Trust Jesus. He’s preparing us and showing us the way, and he’s not leaving us alone, because he loves us, and we’ve still got work to do.
Together we’ll get there.
 Katy Stenta, “RCL: Living Stones,” RevGalBlogPals.org https://revgalblogpals.org/2020/05/04/rcl-living-stones/
 Adapted from “Adventures in Missing the Point: How the culture-controlled church neutered the Gospel” by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo (Zondervan, 2003).