“Meeting the Roomy God”
May 7, 2023
“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. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 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’? 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. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. ***
Families often choose this passage for the funeral of a loved one. Today, in the midst of the season of Easter, worshipers will hear John 14 in a different context. Looking for the Good News of resurrection and life, the phrase “Do not let your hearts be troubled” has captured my attention. It is a tall order for life in this world today. We live with many questions.
It doesn’t take long to think of the questions that trouble me. My heart is troubled by the prevalence of mass shootings every week in recent months. My heart is troubled about the lingering effects of the pandemic on churches that see fewer people each week. My heart is troubled by intolerance and racism. My heart is troubled by the thousands who are dying in a senseless war. My heart is troubled because we are probably never going back to some of the better ways of the not so distant past. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” doesn’t seem like a helpful answer when questions of the heart prevail.
In this reading we get a glimpse into the questions on the hearts of the disciples and how Jesus responded.
The setting for John 14 is somber. Jesus has just finished a last supper with his disciples. He has washed their feet, given them a new commandment, predicted Peter’s denial, foretold Judas’s betrayal, and told his friends that he is about to leave them. “Where I am going,” he tells them, “you cannot follow now.”
Needless to say, the words fill the bewildered disciples with questions and fear. What is Jesus talking about? How will they survive if he leaves them? Where will they go? What will happen to their plans? Why is everything changing?
Jesus answers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
As much as I like those words, I wish Jesus would have been a little more specific. But he was never much for Q &A sessions:
What’s going to happen? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
How will we get through this? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Is everything going to be ok? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Unsurprisingly, the anxious disciples respond to their predicament by demanding certainty. Thomas asks Jesus for a roadmap: “How can we know the way?” Philip asks for proof: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
What they want and what we want when we feel uncertainty and fear is a GPS faith providing the map, the plan, the twelve steps. “Do A, B, and C, and you will surely arrive at Destination D.”
Jesus’s response? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “If you know me, you will know my Father also.” No roadmap. No master plan. No PowerPoint presentation. Just himself. Just the ever evolving, and often confusing business of relationship. Of trust, patience and vulnerability. Jesus is asking his disciples to let go of their established way of relating to him in order to learn to trust him in the midst of change and question.
Over the years I’ve heard people express a variety of views of God which they hoped would take away the troubled hearts or the uncertainty. Here are the views of God I heard most often (and the labels I attached to them).
1 The Deal Maker. The deal maker god attracts people who believe faith involves transactions and bargaining. “If I do A, then god does B. If I behave, then I’ll be loved. If I mess up, I’ll make god angry. If I work hard, I’ll earn forgiveness. If do good, I’ll receive a blessing.”
2 Superman. This is the god whose omnipotence guarantees my safety: the god who spares the innocent, eliminates the disease, stops the rapist, and defuses the bomb. Superman god can make all things work out and explains satisfactorily when things go wrong.
3 The Good Wizard. This is the god whose kind power controls everything: the god who opens for you the parking spot, diverts the tornado from your home and property, and keeps your health good or restores it when disease invades. This god’s desires orders all things, such that nothing happens unless this god wants it to.
4 Mr. Rogers. This god makes faith easy by providing answers, erasing doubts, peddling miracles and planting signs like rainbows. This god comes when called to provide an enabling and reassuring presence.
These are just a few of what I call imposter gods. It is difficult to step away from these gods because they feel good, they are easy to follow and provide instant reward or protection. They do not look sinister or ungenuine. These gods speak kindly, make enticing promises and feel good. They pretend to make the world less scary, more manageable and tamer.
Jesus is asking his disciples to step away from all these gods. Jesus asks them to know and believe in the God who dwells in the midst of question and mystery. The God who says, “I have to go now, but I will still be with you. Things are changing, but you are not alone. Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Maybe it feels like a tall order to you — to “not let your heart be troubled.” To trust that you do in fact know the way — the quiet, unglamorous, risky, but ultimately life-giving way of Jesus. But you do. Like Thomas, like Philip, like Peter, like the others, you know Jesus. You know his life. You know his love. You know his death. You know his resurrection. You know what it is to hunger for him, to seek him, to listen for him, to hope in him. You know the way.
No, the way isn’t what we thought it was going to be. The way is demanding. The way is precarious. It is not a straight line. The way takes time. But the invitation of this passage is still an invitation to confidence. Not because we’re experts at finding God, but because God has always and already found us. With every unknowing we embrace, God finds us once more.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his sad and forlorn disciples. Definition: God is roomy. God is generous. God is hospitable. God can handle our doubts, fears, and questions. And God’s offer of belonging extends far beyond the confines of this mortal life. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says as he stands in the shadow of his own cross. You have a place with me. You have a place with God. You know the way.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
To what degree is this passage Good News for this time, for your life, for this world? The story — your story, my story, our collective story of this present day with all its tumult, war, shootings, hatred, divisiveness and uncertainty — overwhelming as it is at times, will not end in death. Though we might feel alone and frightened at times, the Way is open before us. We know it. We know Jesus, and because we know Jesus, we know God. The Way will safely bear us home. Do not let your hearts be troubled.