“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You all trust in God, so now, trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not believe my words, then believe me because of the works you have seen me do. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These are good words for this time. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Of course, it doesn’t always work to just say these words and then, “tada,” everybody stops being troubled. Tell me why I shouldn’t be troubled. Show me why I shouldn’t be feeling disturbed and anxious. This is where many of us are. And it’s where the disciples are in this story from John’s gospel.
Jesus has just told them he is going away, and that they cannot follow him now to the place he is going. He is going to the cross, going through death, going into new life, going to the Father. The disciples don’t know where he is going, or why he is going now, and Jesus doesn’t tell them plainly. They just know they don’t want him to go, ever. They need Jesus, they like him, even though they don’t really get him. He can be obtuse and frustrating. They want to hear from him something like an equation: 6 + 6 = 12 and Jesus says something like infinity plus infinity equals infinity. They would like a five-year strategic plan with specific, measurable goals and objectives, and Jesus says thing like, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me.” “I am the bread of life. Feast on me.” I am the living water. Drink me in.” “I am the light of the world, receive me and walk in my light.”
The disciples have already put their trust in God, and they believe that Jesus has come from God to do something significant that will change their lives and change the life of the world for good. They don’t know what this something is, but it is clear that whatever Jesus has come to do, it is not yet finished. And they are not ready to graduate, to be handed their diplomas by their beloved rabbi and sent out to carry on.
Jesus sees that they are troubled. And his saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” doesn’t ease their fret. So he goes on to explain why they can calm down, take a deep breath, and release a long, quieting exhale. Here it comes: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places and I go to prepare a place for you all (plural you), and when it’s ready, I’ll return and take you myself,” says Jesus.
If you were raised on the King James version of the Bible you would expect to hear, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” I grew up singing, “I have a mansion, just over the hilltop in that fair city where I’ll never grow old….” And I suppose the King James translation and this song mean to offer a vision of how marvelous will be the new heavens and the new earth described in the book of Revelation. How extravagantly beautiful will be God’s fulfilled, completed, consummated reign of love, justice, and peace. You can hold onto this “someday by and by” vision. I like to imagine this future in which people who have lived on our streets, or in refugee camps, or in segregated shanty towns in South Africa without electricity or running water—I like to imagine them dwelling in mansions specially prepared for them by Jesus.
But I want to bring what Jesus says down to earth, to the here and now, not some future far away. The universe is God’s house, and within it there is, here and now, plenty good room for all, and plenty good resource to make sure that everyone has a place to dwell, to find rest, safety, comfort, a table to eat at, food to eat, and a bed in which to lay down their weary self. But we know, here and now, not everyone has such a place or such provisions, and COVID-19 with its economic impact is only going to make this situation worse, especially for certain populations who because of racism and xenophobia are truly disadvantaged in this and in other nations.
This past week our local Interfaith Council and our Thursday night discussion group talked about the need to be preparing ourselves, our congregation, our larger our community, our local government, to respond to what we know will be significant need for housing and other forms of support. Our hearts are troubled, and we felt somewhat overwhelmed by the reality. Where do we start, where do we go, what is the way forward?
And as I listened to Jesus words again and again, it was these specific words, that spoke into the troubled feelings: “I go to prepare for you all.” This whole section of John’s gospel is about the reality that Jesus goes before the disciples. He goes before us. In love and for love, Jesus goes before all the world’s people. He has gone before us through death to new life as a human being. He is the artisan of a new humanity, the first fruits of God’s new creation. Jesus has gone ahead of us. Hhas opened a way for us to follow. A way for us to walk in. A way for us to live abundantly together, in community, in love.
When Thomas expresses his frustration with Jesus saying, “we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way, how can we follow,” Jesus says plainly “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is not speaking words here to be printed on billboards and bumper stickers with the implication that if you do not believe in Jesus as the way, the truth, the life, God the Father will prepare a place for you in hell. Jesus’ whole life is shouting out, “this is not who God is.” Here, Jesus is speaking words of comfort and encouragement to people who already believe in God, but who are anxious about their lives.
Jesus is saying, “Look guys, it’s me. You have seen in me the full truth of God’s love. You have seen in me the full truth of what it means to be fully human, intimately connected to God—Father, Mother, Creator, Source. You have seen in me the very life of God who sustains all that lives. You have seen in me the workings of God. I dwell in the Father. The Father dwells in me. We are one. We are love. With the Spirit we are doing the works of love. We will not abandon you and leave you to find your way alone.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus. “I go before. I am ahead of you. Doing the works of love. Opening the way that leads to abundant life, not only for some, but for all. Not in some future light years away, but here and now.” We are not left in our own power to walk in the way that has been opened by Jesus the Christ. We are not left on our own to undo the racism, the xenophobia, the inequities, the entrenched poverty and the entrenched privilege, or to dismantle the life-depleting economic and political systems we have created, or to wrestle down our own private demons.
Jesus has gone ahead and he has already returned in the Spirit to walk with us, to be the power of divine love at work in us, and to welcome us into the dwelling place he has prepared for us. That dwelling place is God. That resting place is God. God is home, here and now. And, the Spirit of God makes her home in us. We are God’s dwelling place. So it is that we are both on the way and we are already home. We are on the move, doing the works of love that God is doing in and through us. And we are already resting in and living from the unending life of God. The Triune God—Father, Mother, Son and Spirit—are way out ahead of us, and way deep within us, and walking right beside us, every step of the way. Do not let your hearts be troubled.