“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.” (John 14:2-3)
In today’s text, Jesus offers us words to live by. I mention that because our tendency is to regard them as words to die by. This passage is usually reserved for services held beside a freshly dug grave. Almost exclusively in fact. These words are so familiar in the context of a funeral that they seem out of place here in Sunday worship. But they belong here, too, because they are also words to live by. They speak of his relationship with God, his communion with the Father, a relationship he enjoyed his entire life, not just at the end of his life. So the passage belongs here within the context of Sunday worship.
Nevertheless, there’s no masking the fact that Jesus offers these words as part of his farewell discourse on the eve of his own death. In chapter 13 he informs his disciples directly that he won’t be with them much longer (13:33), and their response is reminiscent of children questioning their parents as they put on their coats to leave the house for the evening. Typically, children ask the same three questions when they see this happen: Where are you going? Can we come too? Who is going to stay with us? Though we don’t hear these questions directly in this text, we hear echoes of them in the farewell discourse of Jesus.
The passage is loosely shaped by those three questions...
Where are you going? “Don’t be troubled, I go to be with the Father...to prepare a place for you.”
Well, can we come too? “No, but I will come again and bring you to myself so that where I am you may be also.”
Well, who’s going to stay with us? “I will not leave you orphaned...the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Father will send in my name. The Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The disciples are troubled with the announcement about the Jesus departing because they know their lives are about to change dramatically. They will suffer the deep pain of his loss. They’ve been following him for several years and they’ve pinned all their hopes on him! But now he’s announcing that he’s going home to be with the Father. Well, what about them? Why can’t they go too? Will he leave them orphaned? What are they to do? Where should they go from here? They aren’t just troubled by his announcement, they’re utterly lost.
So Jesus assures them, letting them know that he’s not abandoning them...that he’s going to be with God and he will prepare a place for them too. When he does he promises to come again and take them to himself. In the meantime, he’s sending the Holy Spirit who will be with them as an advocate and comforter and will remind them of all Jesus’ teachings.
And this place that Jesus is describing sounds a lot like home. Jesus is using the metaphor of home to describe our eternal relationship with God. And it’s a welcomed metaphor because we all understand what home is and how it feels. Home is where we can be ourselves, because we are accepted as we are there. It’s where we long to go at the end of a long day, or even at the end of a great holiday. There’s no place like home. Home is the place our hearts yearn for. We all long for a place to call home.
If you don’t have a home you are the poorest of the poor. If you can’t find your way home, you are truly lost indeed. The homeless of Newport News are the most to be pitied in the entire city because their lives are reduced to a series of basic questions: What am I going to eat? What am I going to wear? Where am I going to sleep? Where can I go to the bathroom? How will I launder my clothes? Oh, there are those who imagine being homeless as being completely free ‒ no mortgage payments, no household chores – just wandering around without a care or an obligation in the world. Truth is, it’s the most disorienting feeling there is... not to know where home is.
Back in the year 2002, a colleague of mine wrote me from Japan saying they were coming back to Ontario to visit and were looking for a place to stay for the month of July. It so happened that Sue and I were away on vacation for most of that month so we offered our home to them. They were very grateful and took us op on the offer. The only problem was that there was a bit of overlap at the end of the month ‒ we’d have to stay with Sue’s parents for a few days after coming back to town from vacation. Our daughter was away for most of July for dance but she joined us right at the end of the month and she was perturbed that other people were living in our home! She was incensed, in fact, and wanted to go home. We drove her by the house to show her that it was still there, and when we stopped she jumped, got out of the car and marched right up to the door and walked right in! I had to run after her and drag her out of her own house! It was most unsettling to her not to be able to go to her home. Perhaps it was because she never knew any other home than the one we were living in, and she just couldn’t imagine being without it...I don’t know.
I do know that when we decided to sell the house and move to Newport News twelve years ago, Beth had the most trouble with it. She had already moved to Winnipeg to ballet school but she still had trouble ‒ she needed to know where home was. So, we invited her to come with us to Newport News in the summer of 2005 to help us find our new home. We found our place on Jonquil Lane, and she even picked out her own bedroom...even though she’d only be staying there for holidays and vacations. And then she was able to fly back home to Winnipeg and not be anxious. She knew where home was and how to get there.
Thomas had this same worry. When Jesus tells them that he’s going to go prepare a place for them, he’s anxious because he doesn’t know how to get there. Jesus assures them: “You know the way to the place I am going.” But Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know he way?” And Jesus responds to him with one of the “I am” statements found in this gospel: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” It’s through our relationship with Jesus that we find our way to God. Jesus is the guide who leads us home to God.
“No one comes to the Father except through me” is a statement that some Christians take to be an exclusive claim of Christianity...it’s their proof that Jesus is the only way to God. And if you pluck that verse out of context is certainly sounds exclusive, but read within its context, its clear that it’s not Jesus’ intent at all.
He’s not making an exclusive claim, he’s simply reminding us that we can’t find the way to God on our own initiative. We need to be led to God because even with all our intelligence, imagination, ingenuity, effort, and ability we can never get to God by ourselves. We need to be led there...and we are led to the Word by the Word made Flesh. God sends the Son to show us the way. This is something Jesus takes pains to explain, saying in the remainder of this passage: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” No one has ever seen God but Jesus has...and the closest reflection we have of God is Jesus himself. If we follow him he’ll lead us home to God.
So we are all on a search for God. It is a universal search. To quote Phillip: “Show us God and we’ll be satisfied.” Or to quote Augustine: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” All humanity is looking for God and until we find God we are homesick. And homesickness can’t be remedied by anything else ‒ not materialism, not money, not drugs, not a satisfying job, or family, not even a busy social life will fill it. The only cure for homesickness is home.
We ought to put a banner out on our lawn that simply says: “Come Home” or “Welcome Home.” It might awaken some to their homesickness and bring them home....
Last week I watch a movie on Netflix called “Lion.” You may remember it was in the movie theatres last year. I had no idea what it was about and the title gave no clues; so I sat down and was soon engaged. It’s a true story about a cute five-year-old boy named Saroo, born into a poor family in rural India. He and his older brother do what they can to help the family ‒ they bring home coal from the railroad cars that pass through the town, they barter for food at the market, etc. One night the little boy catches his older brother sneaking out of the house at night ‒ he insists on going so the brother takes him but only as far as the train station. He leaves him to sleep on a bench on the platform till he returns. The boy goes to sleep, wakes up and sees an empty train sitting silent in the station. He enters it and finds shelter on a comfortable bench and he falls back to sleep.
When he awakes, the train is on the move.... for two days it keeps going, never opening its doors until it arrives in Calcutta. The boy gets off the train and is lost in the hustle and bustle of Calcutta. He becomes part of the homeless street children of that city...scrounging food wherever he can and sleeping on a piece of cardboard at night. He finally gets noticed by a young businessman who takes Saroo to a children’s agency. The agency adopts Saroo out to a young couple living in Tasmania (Australia).
So Saroo is given a new life ‒ a privileged life, in a new country raised by a new mother and father and eventually a new brother also from India. But when Saroo becomes a young man he begins to remember the life he had forgotten and wrestles with his homesickness all over again. He says to his girlfriend: “Do you have any idea what it’s like knowing my real brother and mother spending every day of their lives looking for me? How every day my real brother screams my name?”
So Saroo begin a search for his hometown using Google Earth. He doesn’t know the name of his town but he knows it had a water tower and train tracks through it. So he calculates how far the train would have traveled in two days from Calcutta and starts searching. Nothing looks familiar anywhere he looks. He’s frustrated and homesick and inconsolable and begins to pull away from his adopted family, his friends and even his girlfriend, unable to reconcile having two families and two lives.
He eventually has a sit-down conversation with his adopted mom who tells him why she adopted him so many years ago. It wasn’t because she couldn’t have her own children as he assumed...she could have children. She was raised in a very dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. When she was 12 years old she had a vision while escaping from her father out the back door of the house. She saw a brown-skinned boy across the field...and then he was beside her...just standing there. She could sense his presence closely and even felt his warmth. The vision was powerful and, somehow, she knew she would mother than child one day. So she did...adopting Saroo when he was just 5.
Hearing that story helped Saroo to embrace both his families and lives. He realized his home was with two families. Spoiler-alert ‒ Saroo goes on to find his hometown on Google Earth and even to visit there. In his search, he is reunited with his family, his mother and siblings. He doesn’t stay in India because his life was already established in Australia, but it was enough for him to find his mother and assure her that he was alive and OK. He even had opportunity to introduce his adopted mother to his real mother.
What is striking about this story is the way God is woven through the story of Saroo’s life. He is lost twice in this movie ‒ once physically lost, and later emotionally/spiritually lost. And each time there is evidence that God plays a part in his being found again. He doesn’t do it all alone...the mystery of God is involved in his homecoming.
The reason Lion is such a captivating story is because it resonates with each of us. I once was lost but now am found is a story each of us could tell. And perhaps some of us are still lost in some ways and still searching or praying to be found. The good news is that God is searching, too. God never gives up on any one of us. You are never so lost that God cannot find you! Even the biggest prodigal among us is found and welcomed home by God. And the proof of this love is Jesus Christ himself... “for God so loved the world he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.” Welcome home.