‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 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? 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. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I’ve never shared a funeral reflection in a living room before. Usually, when I’m sharing these kinds of thoughts, I’m in a funeral home or at a church or standing next to a grave. I’m not usually preaching in a space like this. But I’m glad I am because this space….is filled with Dorothy. This is the building where she spent her nights. This is the town she called home. And this is the place where she created memories with you – memories she cherished and memories you will carry with you forever. We are in a place where Dorothy did a lot of living. And we should be here. We should be sharing our memories of her, here. We should be telling each other our joys and our sorrows, here. We should, ina sense, live in this space like she did. By sharing even these sad moments together, we are making this space a real living room. So It’s good for us to be here. It’s good for us to share how Dorothy made a difference in our lives. And it’s important that Robert and Jean picked this gospel reading from John. Because, in our reading, Jesus is also in a room filled with people who loved him. They had done a lot of living together. So Jesus makes a promise to his friends and to us – the living and love we share will continue, no matter what.
Today’s reading from John is the start of Jesus’ Farewell discourse. It’s called that because that’s exactly what is. It’s sort of like John’s version of the last supper. Jesus and his friends are in a room. They shared a large meal together. They’re starting to get comfortable and they’re wondering what’s going to happen next. But before they could decide what to do, Jesus does something unexpected. He washes their feet. Now, this action confuses Jesus’ friends because, in their world, only slaves wash people’s feet. Jesus, as their teacher and leader isn’t supposed to act like a slave. He isn’t supposed to serve in this way. But Jesus does. And then he keeps serving them by launching into a long speech that lasts 3 whole chapters. Because, in the gospel according to John, Jesus is always in control. He’s always one step ahead of his friends and his enemies. Jesus knows how his life, and his death, will play out. But he also knows that the disciples aren’t him. They have a vision of the future that doesn’t match what God is about to do. So – Jesus talks. He uses his words to say farewell but he isn’t saying goodbye. He’s promising his friends that the love they share, this relationship that binds them together, won’t be broken by what comes next. The death Jesus experiences – a death his friends will see and feel – won’t be the final word. There’s so much more in store for all of them.
So the discourse begins with this image of a giant building full of many rooms. We’re using an older translation of the Bible today so the words house and mansions brings to mind big giant spaces, like those new homes developers build on Ridge Road or by the high school when they tear down older homes and build something gigantic to replace it. But a better translation of our reading today wouldn’t include the words mansions or rooms. It would instead say dwelling places. Jesus isn’t building a castle in heaven full of palaces that his followers can live in. Jesus is telling those who know him, those whom he has called by name, that what matters most is the relationship he has with them. What’s important is how much he cares and loves them. And since love and care are verbs, the word mansion or house isn’t enough. Instead, we need dwelling places because dwelling places are lived in. They’re the kind of places where the dishes in the sink might stay an extra day because company is over and the conversation about the most recent book we’ve read is just too good to break away from. A dwelling place is filled with memories and laughter, joys and even tears. A dwelling place, in other words, is a living room where stories are created and shared and is a place where God’s promise of life and love, in the end, conquers all.
Dorothy, from what you all have shared, lived. This place was truly her dwelling place, her living room. The way she lived will continue to ripple outwards, through the memories you share, and into the new memories you create in the living rooms of your own. We are blessed because Dorothy blessed us. We are blessed because Dorothy loved. And we know that everything that made Dorothy who she is – is now basking in the eternal light of our glorious Lord, forever and ever.
A sermon on John 14:1-6 at a memorial service held in a living room on 6/17/2017.