John 14:1-14, Revelation 21:1-4 – May 10, 2020
Let’s pray. O Lord what wonderful words. We take your admonition that our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid at heart. Help us as we meditate on your words to let go of the things that trouble us or cause us to fear. Amen.
This morning’s gospel lesson is part of Jesus’ commencement address to his disciples who are about to graduate from being his students to becoming teachers of others.
The class of 2020 is not able to have commencement ceremonies. I ride my bike 4-5 miles every day and the other day I witnessed a drive-by graduation congratulation celebration where the graduate stood by the curb in front of her house and cars drove by and honked their horns and handed her presents out their car windows. I honked my bicycle horn. It was a proud mother there.
A mother of eight children was once asked if she had any favorites. “Favorites?” she replied. “Yes, I have favorites. I love the one who is sick until he is well again. I love the one who is in trouble until he is safe again. And I love the one who is farthest away until he comes home.”
Not everyone can be a mother, but all of us are here because we had a mother that brought us into this world. We may have had a good relationship with our mother, or we may not. We may be estranged from our mother, or maybe even never knew her. But we all have someone who loves us like a mother should.
Isaiah wrote, “Like a mother who comforts her child, so the Lord comforts us.” Jesus said he was like a mother hen who longed to gather her chicks under her wings to protect them. Jesus’ parables painted God as being like a Divine Parent whose love never stops, a Parent whose love will never give up. You may stop loving God, but God will never stop loving you. You may run away from God, but you will soon find that you cannot run forever. You can’t get away from God. That is not a threat. That is a promise!
We are celebrating Mother’s Day today in a way we have never celebrated it before. This year many are lamenting the loss of mothers and grandmothers. This year some mothers are lamenting the loss of children. This year mother’s children are still in cages. This year there are tears.
Eric Clapton, arguably one of the greatest living rock guitarists, wrote a heart wrenching song about the death of his four-year-old son (March 20, 1991). Eric’s son fell from a 53rd-story window. Eric’s son, Connor was with his mother in a condo while visiting New York City. The housekeeper had just cleaned a window and had left it open and Connor ran to the window and fell out.
Eric took nine months off from playing music and when he returned his music had changed. The hardship had made his music softer, more powerful, and more reflective. You have perhaps heard the song he wrote about his son’s death. It is a poignant song of hope:
Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.
Would you hold my hand, if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand, if I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day,
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven.
Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure,
And I know there’ll be no more… tears in heaven.
Through this poignant, heart wrenching song Eric says what many folks feel. They feel they aren’t good enough to belong in heaven. I’m guessing Eric assumes his four-year-old son was good enough because he hadn’t lived long enough to do enough bad things to NOT deserve to be in heaven. Eric has part of it right, in that beyond the door from this life to life in heaven there is peace and no more tears. But what he doesn’t have right is the idea that anyone can do enough good … or not do enough bad to deserve to belong in heaven. It is only through God’s grace that anyone will be in heaven. No one will be in heaven because they deserve it. On the cross Jesus got just what they deserve so that all who believe in him could get what they don’t deserve–a place in heaven.
The perfect example of this is the thief who died on the cross next to Jesus. As a thief he had certainly done enough wrong to not deserve a place in heaven. Yet in his dying moments he cried out to Jesus to remember him and Jesus said, “This day you will be in paradise with me.” Now, that thief could not get down off the cross and go do enough good deeds to cancel out all the bad deeds he had done plus ONE, and then get back up on his cross and finish dying. The thief cried out for mercy and received it in the form of God’s grace from Jesus himself. Justice is what we deserve. Mercy is what we get through Jesus. He made his heavenly reservation during his last moments.
That thief was in the wrong place at the right time. But it’s terribly risky to wait until the last minute to make important reservations. If you planned to vacation in Paris (whether it is the one in France or the one in Texas) you wouldn’t wait until a day or so before leaving to make reservations. Neither does it make sense to postpone one’s eternal reservations, especially since you don’t know the date your departure. (and the date of our departure is more in question every day with COVID-19)
Being in heaven is not a factor of what we have or have not done. It is a factor of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Jesus has paved the way. Jesus is the way to heaven. What we have to do is follow him as he leads the way.
Jill Duffield writes, “Our hearts are troubled. As we continue to be the church scattered and maintain our physical distance even from those, we love the most, we cannot help but long for a great homecoming, a big, huge family reunion. Wouldn’t it be grand if all the people we love and especially those we’ve lost in this season showed up on our doorstep unannounced, and we were all together again? Would that a respected and beloved mentor heard our sadness despite our best efforts to keep it together and came to show us the way forward. Could not God our Father come and rescue us from this devastation, this isolation, this free-floating fear of what might happen next? …. Right now, there is grief upon grief as we huddle behind our respective doors, unable to be with those we ache to see and touch.
We ache for the embrace of the Father who runs out to meet us regardless of the mistakes we’ve made. On this Mother’s Day we long for the love of a mother who refuses to abandon us no matter that it pierces her soul to see us in pain. We yearn for the acceptance of siblings who know us and welcome us despite how long we’ve been apart. We want a place of safety and refuge and relief when everything around us seems threatening. ..
Jesus tells us to believe. Believe in God, believe in him. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He goes to prepare a place for us, a space in the household of God, a room in the mansion of heaven. While we wait that great homecoming, the glorious family reunion, we are the holy priesthood, the living stones of spiritual houses right here and now. We are the ones who exercise mercy when conventional wisdom says we should let people tough it out. We are those who dress for church and go out into the streets and sing hope to the brokenhearted. We are the followers of Jesus Christ, praying forgiveness for the violent and the cruel, trusting that God loves them, too. We are the ones who believe in Jesus and live in hope and ask God for the courage to do the works that Jesus did and does. We are the ones who know where our home is, know there is room there for everyone, and therefore no one’s heart need be troubled….”1 Jill Duffield, Looking Into the Lectionary May 7, 2020.
Death is the last great hurdle we must all face. Jesus Christ is the only one who has died and then returned to tell us what it is like on the other side. Some folks try to avoid even thinking about death. They just keep on having plastic surgery, coloring their hair, or replacing or covering what hair they don’t have with someone else’s hair (in the form of a wig or toupee) and denying every sign of aging.
This 14th chapter of John’s gospel and his later writing, the book of Revelation, declare four truths about heaven.
First, Jesus has assured us that there will be accommodations in heaven for us. For the last 2 months it’s been like some of us have been living on vacation because we aren’t able to go to work. I’m finally sensing what it must be like to be retired. I look forward to going Krogering. This last Thursday I had a hard time believing it was only Thursday. I had to check my watch to make sure It said, “Thursday 5-7.”
But when we USED to get to go on vacation we had to plan ahead if we wanted to get accommodations. But Jesus assures his disciples that when it comes to heaven, there will be accommodations. He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Jesus was simply trying to say that there would be room for everybody whom Jesus has claimed as his own.
The second thing Jesus told us about heaven is that reservations are required.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you and then I will come again and receive you.” In other words, Jesus goes ahead of us to book our reservations. In the New Testament Greek, he is called forerunner—a Greek word which in a military setting refers to reconnaissance patrols that go ahead and prepare the way for the main body of troops.
The moment that we confess our sins and declare our faith Jesus as Savior and begin living with him as our Lord, our places in heaven are set aside. No confirmation number is needed. Our reservations are offered by grace and received by faith.
The third thing we learn is the way to get there. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”
Let’s suppose that you are in a strange city and need to find the City Hall. There are three ways someone could help you. Someone could give you verbal instructions. A second way would be for someone to draw you a map. But the very best way would be for someone to offer to personally escort you to city hall.
Jesus Christ offers us a personal escort to heaven. To commit oneself to Christ and to follow him as Lord is to be on the road to heaven. And when each of us approaches heaven’s doors, Jesus Christ will announce to the throngs of heaven, “This is my brother. This is my sister.”
The fourth thing we know about heaven is that it is awesome! In Revelation 21, John saw a vision of heaven. He called it the city of God. The poor man was linguistically strapped to be able to find descriptive adjectives awesome enough. He wrote of streets of solid gold, city walls adorned with every kind of precious stone, twelve gates of pearls. The place was radiant with the glory of God. Revelation 21:1-4 says, “
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
Let me try to describe heaven in different terms. Imagine a place where no one is ever sick, where each person is valued, where every person is loved and affirmed, where not a single person is addicted or prejudiced or greedy. Picture a world in which folks from the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. won’t be able to remember which was which. Picture a place where laughter and praise are heard constantly. Picture a place where the glory of God is so pervasive that you can hardly restrain a song, and even I will have a glorious baritone voice. Banished from this paradise are worry and grief and jealousy and frustration and lust and anger…and a place, according to the apostle John and even Mr. Clapton, a place where there are … no tears.
Let’s pray. Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for going to prepare a place for us to be with you for eternity, for providing a place for us to be so we can say, “HERE.”
Jesus, thank you for BEING the way to the place you are preparing for us. Jesus, thank you for providing the way for us to be able to follow the way to be with you for eternity.
We pray for those who have yet to find their way to you and for those who without you have no hope. May we be your instruments of showing them the way that you have become for us.
Jesus, thank you for being the truth. We are inundated by shades of truth and versions of truth and half truths and it reassuring to know that you stood and claimed to be THE truth. You not only brought truth and told the truth you claimed to BE THE truth. And you backed up that claim by fulfilling every prophesy and accomplishing everything you came to accomplish.
Jesus thank you for being the LIFE. You came that we might have life and more abundantly, not only now but forever. You are the source of life. All of life comes from you and the gift of eternal life comes from you. Thank you, Jesus, for these and all the gifts you have provided us. In Jesus’ name we pray.