A Place in the House
May 14, 2017
Our scripture from tonight is from John 14:1–14 (CEB):
1”Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4You know the way to the place I’m going.”
5Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6Jesus answered, ”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
9Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Trust 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. 12I assure you that 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. 13I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
This scripture immediately makes me think of that old song, “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline — this is a real 90’s throwback here. We’ve sung it before, you might know it. It’s the “big, big house with lots and lots of rooms. There’s a big, big table with lots and lots of food. There’s a big, big yard where we can play football.”
The song describes “My Father’s House” as this amazing place where there’s food and football and everything good in the world. It’s like a glimpse of heaven. And that’s what this scripture appears to invoke. Jesus says, “My father’s house has room to spare” and he goes on to explain that a room has been prepared for us. I’d be willing to bet that this is the scripture Audio Adrenaline used as inspiration for the song.
Then, later in verse 6 of our scripture, it seems we’re shown how to enter the house: ”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.” That’s why the little lego Jesus is there at the door showing everyone how exciting it is to enter the house.
However, as I’ve been reading this scripture throughout the week and reading commentaries exploring the themes, one thing has been abundantly clear: this scripture is not about a big house in heaven or on earth, no matter how exciting the little lego Jesus made it look.
At this point in Jesus’ life, we’ve come to Thursday of Holy Week. Jesus delivers the message from our scripture in a small room where he has just washed the feet of his disciples. He knows what is about to happen and he is preparing his followers — giving them their final instructions.
This section of John is known as the Farewell Discourse. It’s three chapters long and begins with our scripture for this evening. He’s saying farewell to his followers, reminding them of his message and teaching, and giving them the tools to carry out that message.
This is not a message given like the Sermon on the Mount, which we talked about earlier this year. It’s not a message that Jesus delivers to flocks of people. This is an intimate message given to his closest friends. It’s a message where Jesus outlines a relationship with the Father.
Gail O’Day is a theologian who has spent her life studying the book of John. In her commentary on this scripture, she says “it is critical to the interpretation of Jesus’ words here that the reference to ‘my fathers house’ not be taken as a synonym for Heaven. … Throughout the Gospel (of John), location has consistently been a symbol for relationship.”
We’re at a disadvantage reading this scripture today where Christianity has spread across the globe. At the time, Jesus’ followers were contained to one small area in the Middle East. His disciples didn’t know what was going to happen once Jesus was gone. They were fearful. Anxious.
We can relate to that. There are all things that bring us fear. That make us feel anxious. Yet, in verse 1 Jesus lays out the entire context and tone for his Farewell Discourse. He says 1”Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. Here is their Rabi saying, “Don’t be fearful. Don’t be anxious. Trust.”
In one small line, Jesus also explains a fundamental point that both Thomas and Peter don’t seem to understand. When Jesus says “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” he is explaining that they are one and the same. He’s trying to tell his followers that trusting in God is trusting in Jesus and vice versa. This theme replays throughout tonight’s scripture.
Jesus says to them that their relationship with the Father is ready. There’s a place for them. There’s a room in the house even without Jesus’ physical presence. This is extremely important for not just the followers in that room, but for us too. God has a place for a relationship with me. And with you. And with everyone else. A place beyond fear and anxiety. A personal, intimate relationship with the creator.
That is really good news!
In verse 6 Jesus explains, ”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Often this is read as a statement of exclusion. Jesus is that little lego man standing at the door deciding who gets to come in and who stays out.
Except that isn’t what Jesus is saying here.
According to Gail O’Day, Jesus’ use of ‘Father’ and not ‘God’ here is extremely important. She explains that Jesus is defining God not as a generic deity — there were plenty of gods at the time — but as The Father. The Father is someone desiring a relationship. The Father is something personal. Intimate.
When Jesus says no one comes to the Father except through me, he is explaining that all can enter into a deep and personal relationship with our creator father.
God created the world and then created humanity. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden symbolizing a direct and intimate relationship with humanity. Then humanity broke that relationship and, for the entirety of human existence captured in the Bible, God had been trying to replicate the close and intimate relationship with humanity.
Here, in Jesus’ words to his closest friends, we see the culmination of that moment. Because of Jesus — who is God incarnate — all are able to again enter into an intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life that makes that relationship possible.
Jesus isn’t the little lego man keeping people out, he’s the one standing at the door with open arms to everyone seeking a relationship with their creator father.
The good news in tonight’s scripture is that, thanks to Jesus, there is room enough for all to have a relationship with God. He’s opened the door and shown us that all are accepted. That all are invited. That a deep and personal relationship with the Father is available to each of us.