“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.”
Bob Dylan once wrote;
“the times they are a-changing”.
He was reflecting on the tumultuous times which he was living though in the Unites States of 1963-64 and he wrote the song which, he’s quoted as saying, was a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the time.
Now in 2020, it sounds like a statement of the obvious - time is always changing - that’s the point of it.
Jesus reached a point in His ministry where times were changing for Him too - and He was trying to convey that to His disciples.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” is a very comforting thing to say when it’s the conclusion to what you are saying;
But it’s a bit disconcerting when said by way of introduction! Beginning a message with the warning “don’t panic!” doesn’t bode well for what follows.
Jesus, of course, goes on to say,
“Trust in God; trust also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so, I would have told you.
You will be very familiar with these words, I guess, because they have been read at almost every funeral you have attended; They have certainly been read at almost every funeral I have taken (and I’ve taken plenty of funerals).
The “Father’s House” is a wonderfully useful image when you understand it as allowing us to think of “Heaven” in a very inclusive way.
John Chapter Fourteen is, in fact, part of the final discourse Jesus has with His disciples at the last supper. Jesus is addressing the disciples as a group and He’s referring to a particular group event! Jesus is talking here about “comings and goings” (or rather about going and coming) and there’s a key difference.
In one case Jesus is talking about how He comes to be with us; and in the other case He’s talking about us going to be with Him! So we have the wonderful promise that Jesus will come to us to be with us and live in us and with us - that’s one side of the mystery!
The other side of the equation though is that we have to keep being drawn away from where we are - to go and be where Jesus is!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” might be interpreted as a warning too - and we should take this warning seriously, for this is a teaching that is likely to trouble and challenge us!
In more normal times we sit very comfortably inside our nice, warm, cosy Church buildings - but Jesus is out there in the community - preparing the way for us… “Do not let your hearts be troubled” - says Jesus but He warns us to be ready because He is going to come to us and take us to Himself, so that where He is we also will be! Jesus is going into the streets and markets to prepare the way for us - He’s heading to Jerusalem - He’s going all the way to the Cross!
In short, Jesus is heading in a direction that we don’t really want to go in but He says,“Do not let your hearts be troubled”
Where Jesus is going, then, is to His destiny; He’s going to the Cross, to suffering and to an ignominious death!
But His disciples were more than a bit uncertain about this. One of them, called Philip, says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’” Philip speaks on behalf of all the disciples as the general feeling among them is that none of them is totally enamoured with what’s going on around them. All of them want a more intense religious experience before they are going to venture down this ignominious road!
There’s something bizarre about that, of course. The disconcerting reality seems to have been that the Apostles themselves didn’t feel spiritually satisfied with what they had! Yet, those men had had intense religious experiences with Jesus.
They’d seen His “miracles” and they’d been there on the “Mount of Transfiguration”. Even so, by the time of the “Last Supper” all that must have seemed an awful long time ago.
The disciples had spent three years with Jesus now and the intense days of “I want you, I want you…” were well behind them. No doubt some of them were experiencing that three-year Messianic itch and thinking; “Maybe he’s not the right Messiah for me after all?’
So Philip, speaking for the other disciples says,“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
“Sorry”, says Jesus, “but I am as much of the Father as you are going to get!”
It’s all a bit dissatisfying and disillusioning, isn’t it? We want a spectacular religious experience! “Sorry”, says Jesus.
We want our own room in Heaven!
“Sorry’ says Jesus, “all I can offer you for the moment is a cross!”
This is the heart of that final conversation between Jesus and His disciples at that final meal before everything fell apart! Jesus was warning them - He’s trying to help His people brace themselves for what was about to happen.
Life was about to get very rough, but, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me...
Jesus then says to them,
“I go and prepare a place for you…
I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am.
You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus also comforts another of His disciples: He says to Thomas,
“I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus is the Way - following Jesus as seekers after truth is the Way to embrace relationship with the One we know as the Creator;
The One credited with rescuing His people from bondage, nurturing them in the wilderness and bringing them safely into the Promised Land,
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and as a Jewish rabbi He said that the entire Law of the Jewish people, developed over the centuries could be summed up in this way:
“Love God with all your heart,
with all your mind and with all your soul
and love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Love of neighbour as the pathway to peace is an eternal truth. Love - and not exclusion - is “The Way” of Jesus - and we must distrust every claim of truth where we do not see truth united with love.
God the Creator is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Jesus is the Way, the Way to truth, the Way to life and the Way to love. The Mystery that lies at the heart of reality is love; love way beyond our ability to imagine or express.
Let’s open ourselves to that love in one another, in our neighbours and in the very cosmos itself. The Way - the path of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new Way of being – a “new normal” if you like - is the only Way to God.
Maybe one of the lessons we’ll learn from this current time of Public Health emergency is just how much we need each other; Not just to provide the necessities of life; Or to enable us to earn a living; Or just to kick a ball about with, but to be whom we are meant to be!
We like to think of ourselves as independent, self-sufficient, masters of our fate, heroes of our story and captains of our soul - but we are all, in reality, deeply inter-connected; we are all part of something much greater than ourselves, and that means yielding, and giving, and stepping aside, to serve a common good.
There’s been increasing speculation this week about our “post-covid” world?
Some want “normality” to return as soon as possible. Others dream of a “purged” world with cleaner air and clearer seas and new restraints on human greed. My guess is that we shall emerge slowly and mightily chastened from this terrible experience - maybe with some fresh ideas about how to work and communicate and travel - but, otherwise, much the same.
But the nearness and suddenness of death that we’re having to adjust to at the present time should make us question our perspective on life.
Is it really all about us and our short-term fulfilment: or are we able to discern the Eternal afresh in our present moment?
“In my Father’s house,” says Jesus, “there are many dwelling places” - not a heaven of solitary bliss, in flower-filled meadows;
But streets of houses, shops, parks, pubs, cinemas, stadiums - not the hell of other people, but the joy of the crowd!
We can say with confidence that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”, and that we follow Jesus with confidence into the mystery of God.
In his book, “Many Mansions”, Harvey Cox, points to Jesus as the way, but he cautions us to remember that to be a disciple of Jesus, means: “Not to emulate or mimic Jesus but to follow His way to live in our era the same way Jesus lived in His era - as a sign and servant of the reign of God.
To follow Jesus requires us not to choose twelve disciples or to turn water into wine - but to take His life project - that of making the coming of God’s reign of Shalom real and immediate - our own.”
Jesus is “the way the truth and the life”, and those of us who believe this truth would do well to follow Jesus His way; with grace, mercy, truth and love.
Yes, the path of discipleship is hard and lonely and so often far from spectacular; and yet this is our testimony today: that a single day on the Via Dolorosa with Jesus is worth more than a lifetime in a mansion without Him!
Almighty God, Your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.
Give us grace to love one another and walk in the way of His commandments,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, in glory everlasting.