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Sermon Notes - 05.14.17 Home » Member Resources » Sermon Archives » 05.14.17

A Place For You
Sermon By: Dr. Randy Hyde
Key Verses: Psalm 31:1-5; John 14:1-14 listen onlinesave mp3sermon notes

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Easter 5

The reading from John’s gospel, the fourteenth chapter, is often used at funerals. I have done so many times myself, and there are not a few of you here today who have heard me do it. When I do, as I begin to read this familiar passage there is always a response from those who sit in the pews. I see heads nodding, and I know that people are thinking, “Ah, there it is, there it is. Yes, that’s the scripture we’ve been waiting for.” It gives comfort to the grieving and a sense of purpose to what we are doing.

The familiarity of it, the very cadence of it, has a soothing effect, because at that particular moment we want to be assured by Jesus’ promise that indeed there is an abiding place where our loved one or friend has gone, a place that awaits us as well. Jesus’ words give us comfort, and when death comes to our household, comfort and assurance are what we need most.

In those settings, John fourteen is as impactful as when I read the Twenty-Third Psalm. Inevitably, that is when I am given the full attention of those who are listening. The words resonate and calm, they encourage and inspire. It is scripture at its very best…

“In my Father’s house there are many abiding places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Yet, I’m not sure that Jesus, when he spoke these words – or John, for that matter, when he recorded them – had death or funerals in mind. Jesus’ purpose in sharing these words with his disciples was to give them directions. John’s purpose in sharing these words with his fellow believers was to encourage them in their journey of faith, a journey often imperiled by persecution. Jesus knew he was about to leave his disciples, and they would need to know what was lying ahead for them. So he tells them, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

“This is where I am going,” he is saying, “and I will be there waiting for you when you arrive.” John’s listeners were needing the same message, for they too were facing the unknown. They too needed directions.

Some of you are aware that a couple of weeks ago my Aunt Frances died. Ninety-six years of age, she was the last surviving person of her generation in our family. As my family is diminishing in size – at least among those who have come before me – there are fewer reasons for me to return to my hometown of Paragould, and now that Aunt Frances is gone that is especially true. Except for her son, my first cousin, I have no more living relatives in my hometown, and since my parents’ deaths there haven’t been a lot of reasons for me to return. No telling when I’ll get back.

Which is a bit ironic since it’s so much easier now, now that there is a new road from Highway 67 north going into Jonesboro. Back in the day, it took a good three hours or more to get from Little Rock to Paragould, and now you can do it in just a little over two since the way there has become so much easier. But it also helps to know the “back way” out of Jonesboro that avoids a lot of traffic. So if you any of you have any need to head up that way, even if you continue on – oh, let’s say to the huge metropolis of Corning, or perhaps to St. Louis – let me know and I’ll give you directions. GPS, you know, can’t always be trusted.

That’s what Jesus is doing for his disciples, giving them directions. To be honest, I’m not so sure he succeeded. Not at that moment, anyway. This is one of those understandings that had to slowly, and over time, penetrate their hearts. You see, when Jesus first spoke these words they weren’t prepared to hear them. Only later did the meaning of his words come true in them. Only later were they able to say to themselves, “Oh, so this is what Jesus meant!”

Fred Craddock cites the story of King Saul when he is about to go into battle with the Philistines, the battle that would take his life and the lives of his sons. “He tried to pray,” Craddock notes, “but the heavens turned to iron.”1 “The heavens turned to iron.” At the moment Jesus spoke these words, the disciples’ ability to hear him had done the same, for their ears had turned to iron.

Let’s hope that John’s listeners, years later, understood better than did Jesus’ disciples. You see, these words apparently did not comfort Jesus’ disciples. They confused his followers even more…

“Lord, we do not know where you are going.”

“How can we know the way?”

“Lord, give us the directions.”

“Lord, show us the way.”

The people to whom John is writing his gospel are troubled as well. It is decades later, and still they look around them and everyone else has a god they can see and touch and feel. It may be a god made with their own hands, but at least it is a visible god. And sometimes – especially when the going gets tough – that’s what people want and think they need most… a visible god.

This is the question on the minds of John’s congregation… “How can one follow an absent Lord? Where is Jesus now?”2 “We know where Jesus has been, but where is Jesus now?”

It is not coincidence that before the name Christianity was adopted as the means to describe those who follow Jesus, his disciples referred to their chosen life simply as The Way. They may just be the most important words in this conversation. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And what did Jesus say to them? “I, I am the way…”

Of course, the disciples don’t believe him… at least not at first. Or, they don’t believe that the way he is forging for them is the way they want to go. Or, they simply don’t understand – remember, their ears have turned to iron – so they revert to their old ways of thinking, their own ideas of what this kingdom ought to be about. They do indeed have their own ideas on that, don’t they? Just as they are working out their house plans for their abiding place in this new kingdom Jesus keeps talking about, he comes along, takes out his eraser, and changes everything.

No, it’s not a kingdom on earth.

No, it’s not a kingdom you can see.

No, it’s not a kingdom where you build a house.

There’s a family up in northeast Arkansas whose father, years ago, started a small conveyance business out of an old service station. From that grew one of the largest industries in that part of our state. Needless to say, the patriarch of the family accrued a lot of wealth and passed it on to his children. He purchased a large plot of land just outside of town and there he built four houses – four large houses – one for himself and one for all his grown children so they and their families could dwell with him. They had their own private compound all to themselves.

I wonder if that isn’t what the disciples had in mind. “In my Father’s house are many abiding places,” Jesus says. “Come with me and I’ll have your own dwelling for you, right where I will be.”

For some of you, your Bible says rooms. It almost makes heaven sound like a dormitory, doesn’t it? You may prefer the King James Version where the rendering is mansions. Certainly sounds better than rooms. We’ll take a mansion over a dormitory slot any day, until we find out that this is a seventeenth century translation that, back in those days, may have merely implied that God has a lot of space for his children when they join him.

But what Jesus is offering his followers is not four bedrooms and a couple of baths, indoor plumbing and a sun room. He’s offering relationship. He’s talking about giving them a family, not a building.3 Still, it’s hard to imagine, much less believe.

The late actor Cary Grant delighted in telling the story of the day he was walking down a street in Hollywood when a stranger stopped him. The man said, “You’re… wait a minute, don’t tell me. I know who you are. You’re… Rock Hud… no, that’s not right. You’re… You’re…” Finally, deciding to rid the poor man of his indecision, the actor said, “I’m Cary Grant.”

“No, that’s not right,” the man responded. “Give me a minute; it’ll come to me.”

Excuse the analogy, but Jesus had much the same problem. “I am…” Jesus said repeatedly in the gospel of John. “I am… the bread of life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, the true vine, living water, the good shepherd.” And here he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

“No, that’s not right,” the disciples respond. “Give us a minute; it’ll come to us.”

It gives me no pleasure in telling you this, but that’s what we do when we reduce our Christian faith to a neat and clean system of beliefs. It is not that. It may be many things, but it is definitely not that. Jesus certainly gives us directions, but he doesn’t give us an answer for everything or a solution for every problem. What he does give us is a promise, and as far as I can tell the promise is this… that life in Christ is a relationship, a way of life.

When Jesus speaks these familiar words to his followers, it doesn’t appear that they have quite grasped that, at least not yet. They’re still thinking politically. They’ve been caught up in their own plans, and their ambitions have clouded their ability to see and appreciate the relationship they have with Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

If this thing with Jesus doesn’t work out, the disciples know the way back home, let me tell you. Nobody needs to give them directions to Galilee. They know the back roads, and when they get back home how to avoid the traffic. They know where the fish are, where the taxes are collected. That’s their safety net, their backup, their Plan B. They’ll just go back to the way it was before. Right?

Except… except… they know they can’t go back. Not really. Jesus has shown them a way – no, check that – Jesus has shown them the way. And there’s that word again – way – a way of life that is so compelling and real that they know instinctively they can’t go back to where or what they were before. Life in Christ never lets us go back, only forward. It always causes us, to use Paul’s terminology, to strain for that which is yet to be, that which is still ahead, that which has not yet come. Walking with Jesus is indeed the way. And it may just have less to do with the destination than it does with the journey.

So, if you need directions, Jesus doesn’t say to you, “Well, first you have to go up Highway 67, take the Cash exit into Jonesboro. 555 will take you to Commerce and from there you head east on 18 to Rogers Chapel Road. Take it north and you will connect to 49…” No, that may be the way to Paragould, and while it is a pretty nice town, these are not the directions that will take you to Jesus.

What he will say to you is, “Come, come, I will show you. Let’s take the journey together.”

And that, my friends, is what it means to follow Jesus.

Father, Jesus has promised not only to show us the way but to be the way to you and the kingdom. May we embrace that promise fully and may each of us do it now. In the name of Jesus our Lord we ask it, Amen.

Notes

1Fred B. Craddock, Cherry Log Sermons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), p. 58.

2M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The Peoples’ New Testament (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 336.

3Ibid.

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