So, I just got back from a lovely trip to Scotland, where I was invited to officiate a wedding of an old friend of mine. It was a beautiful occasion and a spectacular location in the Scottish Borders along the River Tweed where the leaves where just beginning to change colors. The weather was supposed to be rainy and cold, so I grabbed a rain coat and a very thick sweater. Both took up valuable space in my suitcase… and both were never worn because it was so lovely there.
Checking the weather before I left is about all the time I spend preparing for my trip. I spent many hours preparing the words for the wedding ceremony. But as for everything else, I probably took about a half hour max to compare airfare prices, book my flight, and rent a car. And only half that time packing my suitcase.
My friend Dawn is the polar opposite. She prepped for months for her trip to Ireland. She joked about practicing packing and unpacking her bags as if she is preparing for an Olympic event. Unlike me, she goes well prepared. Has all she needs, and knows where it is. By the time she landed in the Emerald Isle, Dawn had her entire journey mapped out – down to the local grocer. Whereas I relied on the overly polite British lady in my GPS to help me navigate the roads and roundabouts so I wouldn’t get lost or starve to death.
We all prepare differently, because each trip is different. Yet no matter how we go about it, nothing compares to the planning God has made to be with us. Then again, God wasn’t planning for just a visit. Which takes us to our reading today from the gospel of John 14:1-7:
I have spoken these words from John’s gospel at countless funerals and bedsides. They often provide a sense of promise and comfort in times of grief or worry. Like the comforting voice in my rental car, when Jesus speaks these words, I feel hopeful – believing them to be true and following them as such. While John alludes to an afterlife, and a promise of something greater is to come, I think Jesus is speaking to the present. After all, preparing for a life after death starts with preparing a way to live rightly so we can die faithfully.
The scene of this passage is set in the upper room where Jesus has gathered with his friends for one last meal. Up to this point, Jesus has washed their feet – teaching them what it means to serve. He has revealed his betrayal by Judas who has already slipped out into the night. He has told them he is leaving soon and where he is going, they cannot come. He even foretold of Peter’s imminent denial to the shock of all present.
So, when Jesus tells his friends, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” it’s easy to understand why there’s a little push back. They’ve been looking for the Messiah. And now they believe they have found him. What they don’t know is that in less than 24 hours, all they had hoped for will be nailed to a cross. And Jesus wants them to be prepared.
But how does one prepare the human heart to be free of trouble when your world seems to be crashing down around you? On Google, Facebook and Twitter you’ll find a million stocked answers and opinions on this. But in the Bible there just one. Jesus said, “Believe in God. Believe also in me.”
It’s worth noting that the central theme of John is the indwelling relationship between Jesus and God. His gospel opens with the bold declaration, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Here John is telling us that Jesus is the Word, the Christ. The one God has been preparing for this moment since the beginning of time.
Jesus comforts his friends by inviting them to have the same intimate relationship that he has with the One who sent him. Jesus is also inviting you and me. This relationship begins not with some great faith which might seem impossible to achieve. It starts with a sliver of belief in the preparation God has made to remove our troubles, distress, agitations and fears through the redemptive work of Christ. Try to imagine the prep that went into that!
After a long overnight flight and a nerve-wracking drive to the rental home, I was exhausted and needed sleep. Unfortunately, I arrived well before our check-in time, and the owners were still preparing our rooms from the previous renters. As I waited in the car for them to finish, I thought about Jesus trading his righteous robe and holy halo for an apron and rubber gloves.
It’s funny to think of Jesus pushing a vacuum and making a bed for me. But that’s what he does. He serves others. He feeds them, washes their feet, and cares for all their needs. So, it’s no surprise that wherever Jesus is, or whatever he’s doing, it’s all to prepare a place for our hearts to share oneness with God.
It makes my heart feel good, knowing there is a place that Jesus is preparing for us and that he is going to come back and take us there. That’s why I often read this passage at funerals or at the bedside of the dying. But every now and then someone asks me “What is that place? And where exactly is it?”
Like so many of us, Thomas also wants to know the way to this place so he can be in the safe care of his Messiah. Can you blame him? Up until meeting Jesus, Thomas relied on the world to make sense of the great mysteries of life and death.
As Jesus begins to reveal the truth for him, its natural for Thomas to want a map or a softly spoken British Sherpa to tell him where to go… because these are roads he’s never traveled. There are signs that are hard to read. And roundabouts ready to throw him off course.
As the Bible reveals, Jesus knows the only way to make sense of the mystery of death is to enter it. And the only way to come out the other side is to follow God through it.
Like a soft spoken voice guiding the way through a backwards maze, Jesus calmly tells his beloved friend, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I read these words and find comfort knowing Jesus is exactly what I need to prepare for life’s journey; there is no need to panic, no need to search desperately for a secret map. I just need to follow the One who is already One with God.
I can trust and believe he knows the way because he’s already been there before. By his words and deeds, Jesus reveals the fullness of God’s love for me so I know where I am going in a world of twists and turns.
I invite you to join me on this trip. I invite you to hear Jesus’ words and follow his way of living, so you will find your place of peace in God’s expansive and everlasting heart… no matter where you are or what the world throws at you.
Jesus said, “Believe in God. And Believe also in me.” In doing so, he’s telling you to believe in who God made you to be – a beloved child with a great mission.
Through Christ, God has already prepared you for glory. By seeing and doing what he does, you too can reveal the personhood of God for others. This is why I believe this passage isn’t so much about being with Jesus in some afterlife, but it has everything to do with our life here and now.
As the world will tell us we can’t, Jesus says we can. This does not necessarily happen in spectacular ways like making the blind see or raising someone from the dead. Yet wherever you bring healing, forgiveness, or any life-giving work into the world, the glory of God is made visible. The presence of God is known. And the love of God is felt.
It is as though God had thought very carefully and spent a lot of time prepping…not so we can just be in heaven after we die. But so we can experience heaven as we live and travel in this journey called life.
As you leave here today, I hope you will ask yourself where you might become the presence of God’s love in the world. How might you be for others the way of Jesus, the truth of Christ, and the life that draws people back to the Oneness of God’s ever expanding love… as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Amen.
Let us pray:
Most Merciful and Loving God, through the ministry of your Son you have soothed our trouble hearts and free us from the grip of the tomb. As we await the coming of his glory, we pray for your Spirit to keep us filled with the fullness of life so that we can proclaim your glory to all the world. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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