THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, June 14, 2015
The Roominess of God
Most of the twelve disciples are tight-lipped. They apparently said nothing memorable. We know Peter, who frequently spoke before thinking. Thomas was at the very least skeptical, if we judge him by his questions. He speaks several times, including being resigned to go to death in Jerusalem when Jesus decides to go raise Lazarus. We know Judas Iscariot more from his actions than his words. Philip gets about three lines and Andrew has one. The remaining disciples are walk-on roles.
According to John’s gospel, when Jesus was on the cross, he looked down on his mother who was standing near the disciple whom Jesus loved. Many serious readers of the scripture assume that this is a quiet reference to John, the author of the gospel. If this is the case, then the most beloved of the gospels was written by the most beloved of the disciples. And what we have in today’s reading, placards in sports arenas notwithstanding, is perhaps the one of the most beloved passages.
I would guess that I use the opening verses of John 14closeAn error occurred. in four out of every five funerals and memorial services I lead. I suspect that my colleagues in ministry do much the same.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places [mansions]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (NRSV)
The image that comes to mind heavenly real estate. Real estate is not something Paula and I have paid much attention to during the course of our marriage and ministry. The houses attached to churches have picked us out so to speak. We have loved and cared for the manse the Waverly Church owns. It needed a fair amount of attention when we first saw it. As Paula famously said when we first toured it, “It has potential.” Ralph and Sally Preble took charge of getting it in shape for our move in. We have been privileged to live in it for one quarter of its existence. It was built 120 years ago.
In retirement we get to pick out the house we hope to spend the next twenty or thirty years in. We will actively look and hopefully find that house the end of the month. Where we are looking, Bowie, Maryland, has thousands of houses built in the 1960s. There are sub-divisions after sub-divisions of homes, with all the streets in a sub-division beginning with the same letter of the alphabet, Bs, Ss, Ks, Ts, Is, etc. There are three basic designs, which owners have added onto over the years. The other major housing style in many of the surrounding areas are townhouse condominiums.
These are not the mansions or dwelling places that Jesus is referring to. Nor is Jesus referring to some great campus of dormitories, as if heaven were akin to Ohio State University or the like. Lots of preachers have acted like real estate salespeople when it comes to this verse. They have mapped out all sorts of accommodations, including some sort of gated community for a certain branch of Protestant Christianity that thinks that the rest of us have little or no business being in heaven. And as some one put it in a serious but flip way, “I’ll be more surprised by who is there than by who is not.”
And if that isn’t tacky enough, what about Jesus going there to prepare the place for us. Who is he? The head of housekeeping? Is he making the beds, fluffing the pillows, lining up the little sample bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, and making sure the complementary coffee packs are in place?
On a more serious note, the activity he speaks of is a lot like the situation that Luke recounts in chapter 14 of his gospel. Jesus was invited to a dinner at the home of a Pharisee. He noticed how some of the guests were jockeying for the best seats, Jesus remarked that when people issue invitations, they should do so without expecting invitations in return. Then he told a parable about a man who issued invitations to a large dinner party, Then when the time came to tell the guests that the dinner was prepared, the guests came up with all manner of excuses why they couldn’t attend. So the host sent servants out to bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame to the dinner.
So Jesus will tell his people when things are ready in the dwelling places that he has gone to prepare. This is where the idea of Christ’s second coming finds a lot of support. But like the parable, the excuses begin with Thomas saying that he doesn’t know where Jesus is going.
That’s a another sermon for another day. What I want us to think on today is his word that there are many dwelling places. I like how our Common English Bible has chosen to word the translation: “My Father’s house has room to spare.” The translators of the New Living Translation put it this way, “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.” Eugene Peterson similarly says, “There’s plenty of room in my Father’s home.” While the Greek original uses a word for “abodes,” it seems to me that the key theological concept that Jesus is putting forth is not one of real estate, but the roominess of the capacious love of God. As far as God is concerned, there is always room for one more. Space in the kingdom is not limited. Unlike Jesus’ entry into humanity, there will never be a “No Vacancy” sign posted.
The roominess of God is one way of looking at an image that Paul often uses: The Christian is in Christ. The Father’s house is not a heavenly mansion, but Christ himself in whom reside all who believe in him, “trust in him,” to use his own words. Again, Paul would expand this to say that the Father’s house is Christ and the church.
“As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone….Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20, 22closeAn error occurred.).
That brings us to what Peter wrote:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light” (1 Peter 2:9closeAn error occurred.).
Believers don’t have to wait until the second coming to live in this house; once Christ rose from the dead he brought them into a new, living relationship with God. Jesus would be the means by which believers come to dwell in the Father and the Father in them. If this is the case, the fellowship of the kingdom is corporate and is possible through Christ’s departure and return in the Spirit. So the “many rooms” would be the many members of God’s household. Christ went to prepare a place for each member in God’s household—the preparation which was accomplished by his death and resurrection.
When Jesus says, “Don’t be troubled; trust in God, trust also in me,” Jesus means to reassure his disciples that his death is not the end but the beginning of the “way,” whose destination is the room he is making for them in God. He tells the disciples that the God in whom they are to trust, on whom he invites them to hang their hearts, “has room for them.” Robert Jenson writes about God’s roominess in relation, not to the space, but to the time God has for us. When asked, “What is time?” Jensen says that “created time is room in God’s own life. If creation is God’s making room in himself, then God must be roomy…. this roominess of God should be thought of as his ‘time,’ that God’s eternity is not immunity to time but his having all the time he needs.”(1)
The metaphor of God’s roominess as God’s eternity is our opportunity to trust more deeply in the grace God has shared with us in Christ. By confessing Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have already accessed the way. We don’t need to ask Thomas’ question. As we approach Pentecost and the outpouring of Christ’s Spirit on believers, the tongues of fire which the first believers experienced are already licking at our spirits, and the roar of the wind is already whispering grace and peace in our ears.
Friends, the roominess of God is God’s joy at including us in the chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession. Spread out in God’s roominess so you may “speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light.”
Thanks be to God.