Rev. George Miller
May 14, 2017
Though we are in the 5th week of Easter, today’s reading takes us right back to before the cross, during a very dark, dark hour for Jesus and his disciples. It is beyond car problems, beyond employment issues, and beyond burn notices.
This is Jesus about to be betrayed, about to be brought before Pilate, and before this takes place, he asks his disciples…to believe.
In this dark, dark hour Jesus asks the disciples to believe what they cannot prove in a laboratory, or a court of law.
Jesus asks them to bravely, faithfully hold onto their trust in God.
In other words, he is asking them to believe in the words of the 23rd Psalm-
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.”
Thus John 14 transcends space, transcends time and becomes a scripture for all people-
For anyone who knows what it is like to tread upon dried grass, to thrash about in dangerous waters, to be in dark valleys, or to be surrounded by damaging enemies.
Jesus says “Believe” and “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
With this statement, we wonder- what is Jesus talking about? And because this is an English translation of a Greek writing based upon the words of a Hebrew man, we cannot be 100% certain that what we just heard with our ears is what was actually meant.
For example, did Jesus say “house” or did he saw “home”?
House tends to be more of a physical location. If he meant house, is he referring, as some would think, to a place we go after we die, when all is said and done, and breathe is no more?
But what good is belief, what good is comfort post-death, if the struggle, the pain, the stress is in the now?
When someone is confronted with suffering do they really want to hear “Hush, hush- years later when you die, things will be ok.”?
Or in their current suffering, do they want to know there is a way to rise above; a way to pass through, a way to survive, and a way thrive?
So…maybe Jesus is talking about a house, where you go. Or, maybe he is talking about a home.
A home is less a physical place, and more of an emotional experience. Home hints at heart; feeling.
Yes, we may live in a house; but it doesn’t mean we live in a home.
All of us have a place in which we feel home, even if it’s not a house.
A beach, a river, a garden; a golf course, a garage, a place in the woods.
Home can be your Momma’s bosom, or Auntie’s embrace, or Granny’s kitchen.
Home can be Dad’s tussling of your hair, Uncle’s dominos table, or Grandpa’s rickety old fishing boat.
So maybe what Jesus is doing is his metaphysical, mystical, emotional mumbo jumbo he does so well.
Is Jesus talking about our Heavenly Parent’s House or our Heavenly Parent’s Home?
And what exactly do many dwelling places mean?
In Greek, the word used is “monai.” And monai has many meanings.
When the King James Bible was written, they used the word “mansions”, which makes sense. If you’re writing for a king, you would use a huge, opulent word that expresses abundance and majesty.
Mansions do that. But how do many mansions fit inside a house; and does a mansion sound like a home?
Monai can also mean “room.” Think of it like living in a campus dorm in which all your friends sleep, study, socialize, and eat supper in the same place. Or being on a cruise ship in which all you need is right there.
Monai can mean “dwelling place” or “to abide in”. In this context, things become more relational. To dwell or abide are akin to saying that the person lives within you.
Like how your Mom or Dad may have died, but you feel like you are carrying them within your heart.
Now, before your eyes gloss over or your brain shuts down, monai can also mean “Room for all.”
Now that is deep. It is progressive. It is very, very UCC.
“In my Parent’s home, there is room for all.”
How does this notion touch you? How does it make you feel?
This possible translation indicates a God who is so big, so limitless; a God who is truly boundary breaking.
Would this cause you to believe and to bravely, faithfully hold onto your trust in God?
This is not God as a product, this is not God as magic maker, but God as welcoming, embracing, having a heart that houses all people, no matter who, where, or what.
Finally, the last meaning of monai is “stages upon the way.” Big difference from mansions or rooms.
“In my Father’s house there are many stages along the way.”
Think of that- stages, steps, levels.
Like how you can go to the same elementary school as your sister, but you’re in a different grade; or the same college as your brother, but you’re in a different year.
Stages don’t imply that one is better or one is worse; steps don’t indicate superior or supreme.
Stages simply mean that one is where they are at; one is where they are supposed to be.
The Bible is full of references to stages. The Old Testament tells us that in the wilderness the Israelites journeyed by stages, and each stage brought them a new act of redemption.
The Book of Acts tells us how the earliest Christians spent day by day together in worship, and day by day adding to their numbers. (Acts 2:46-47).
Day by day, step by step, stage by stage.
At this stage of my life, I like this interpretation of John 14:2; that in God there are many stages along the way.
It sounds like freedom. Its sounds like mercy. It sounds like…grace.
It sounds like we can let go of the notion that one person is holier than another; or one knows more about the Bible than another; or that one is more enlightened and redeemed than another.
It means that in our faith, we are exactly where we are meant to be.
It sounds like Jesus is saying “Even in the darkest of moments there are many ways to experience the Light of God.”
It sounds like Jesus is saying “Our Parent is so amazing that whatever we do out of faith can’t be wrong, even if we are unsure about the way.”
In conclusion, today’s reading is both complex and so simple.
I cannot tell you exactly what Jesus said or exactly what Jesus meant.
House and home are so different, and yet so much the same.
Mansions, dwelling places, room for all- what speaks to you? What gives you comfort? What gives you strength?
What allows you to believe so there’s comfort in the darkest valleys, the waters feel a bit calmer, and the grasses seem a bit greener?
Are stages along the way a source of joy? Is step by step, no matter how fast or how slow, an Ok way to go?
If you are dwelling in the Lord, and the Lord is dwelling within you, is that enough for whatever you may be going through?
Amen and amen.