Preached on May 10, 2020, for St. John’s United, Marathon’s livestream service. Based on John 14:1-14 for Easter 5, Christian Family Sunday, Year A.
While in Jerusalem, during his last days, while having supper with his friends, Jesus foreshadowed his death, saying, “I’ll be with you only a little while longer”.[i]
Understandably, Peter turns to him and says, “Where are you going? Can I come with you?”[ii]
These friends have travelled the Judean countryside together, they have crossed the Sea of Galilee, journeyed in Samaria. They have followed their teacher into the temple courts, the hillsides of Galilee, the garden outside the city, as well as into private homes of both honourable and disreputable people.
So, how strange it is, for Jesus to tell them they can’t come with him.
Of course, they don’t understand right now, but they will. They don’t know that the path he’s walking leads to imprisonment, beatings, and death.
But, in his next breath, the passage we read today, he tells them, “I’m going to prepare a place for you, at my father’s house, and then I’ll come back and get you.”[iii]
I think the disicples probably looked back and forth between one another, thinking about Nazareth…they just arrived in Jerusalem, the Passover Festival is soon, why would he turn right back around?
Do they even want to go back to Nazareth? They’ve come so far.
And, as for his “father”, well the Gospel of John isn’t very concerned about Jesus’ earthly father. He gets the briefest mention, when some folks literally say, “Isn’t that Joe’s kid? Don’t we know his mom and brothers? How can he say ‘I’ve come down from heaven’???”[iv]
So, were Jesus’ friends confused? He has been referring to his “Father” quite a bit. Scarcely one chapter goes by in the Gospel of John without reference to Jesus’ “father”.
As always, father and son are intertwined – to know one is to know the other.
Did the disciples get that yet? Did they understand who Jesus was really talking about? Probably not.
I imagine they grimaced to one another, thinking of an uncomfortably dusty journey back to his hometown.
When you traveled, in the ancient world, the customs around hospitality ensured that there would be safe places to stay. The Hebrew Bible is filled with stories of guests and hosts, and the customs that facilitated these relationships.
It’s not a surprise then, that Jesus uses the image of travel and hospitality when he speaks to his followers.
I am going on a journey, a journey you will also make, and I am ensuring a safe place for you, with my Father.
You will be treated as an honoured guest in our home.
We’ve talked quite a bit about what dwelling with God means in the Gospel of John, and here Jesus offers us another perspective.
God’s home is the boarding house for weary travellers; it’s the tidy roadside motel with the VACANCY light on; the bed and breakfast always ready to welcome a stranger.
And Jesus, is the guide – the map, the compass, the friendly gas-station attendant with directions to this resting place.
But it takes immense trust, on our part, to follow.
It takes trust to look to someone else as the navigator, if any of you have fought over directions in the car with a family member you get it!
Jesus has told us that he is the Way to his Father. We look to his life as our guide to relationship with God, to dwelling with God.
And his Father has put new sheets on the bed, laid out the towels, put a stew on the stovetop, and waits with bated breath to see if we are willing to accept his hospitality.
This radical invitation gets even stranger when we realize that it’s not an invitation to remain as mere guests. Jesus is creating for himself a new family, of which he hopes we’ll want to be a part.
He’s breaking down the old ideas of who gets to eat at the family’s table, and who has to stay outside.
We arrive as guests, he invites us in, taking our coats and offering us something to drink, but in almost grandmotherly fashion he soon puts us to work, setting the table, getting the door, and welcoming in others.
How quickly we move from guest to host.
This is the beauty of the kin-dom of God, the wonderful surprise when we follow Jesus’ way.
He washed the feet of his followers, he fed people, he cared for them. And then he looks to his intimates, his closest friends, and asks them to do the same.
We are adopted into a radical family;
God’s house, becomes our house;
God’s invitation to hospitality becomes our invitation to hospitality;
God’s adopted children become our adopted siblings.
However, it takes trust and courage to get there. Trust, to choose a different path. Courage, because sometimes it feels really good, and it’s easy, but it’s still a family. That means challenging days, messy relationships, and the need to make-right.
But what an amazing welcome on the long and challenging journey of life, to be greeted by love and asked to love in return.
Loving others is a deeply transformative act. Caring for a child, a friend in need, a sick loved one, or an elderly relative – these are transformative acts. And learning to welcome and receive love, to see that transformation taking place in others as we allow them to take on the role of host, is just as powerful.
This is what Christian Family Sunday is all about; this is what the Gospel is all about – the transformative power of love, whether it is in giving or receiving.
By embracing the radical call to love Jesus offers us, we can grow closer to God, who calls us to take all that we receive and turn it outward. Knowing one transformative act of love has the power to spark thousands more.
Thanks be to God.