The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Before the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible came to the fore, it was the King James Version many of us recall being read in church. Instead of hearing “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” we were told “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” So, perhaps some of us can be excused from childhood musings which imagined that mansion to be akin to the Barbie Dream House, and other versions which included marble balustrades, expansive gardens and in-ground swimming pools. Putting our extravagant idylls aside, and coming to terms with translations reflecting more recent scholarly knowledge which translate “mansions” as “dwelling places” and “rooms” (a far sight distant from the in-ground swimming pool I mentioned earlier), I imagine that what Jesus is really saying is that in our Father’s house, we will find our home.
What is home like? For some of us home is less a place than a smell; perhaps that of our mother’s home-baked bread; pumpkin pie or our grandmother’s root cellar. Perhaps “home” for some people might be a tool shed, garage or even a garden. Here’s the common denominator for most: home is a place where we feel as though we belong. And, in order to belong—it presumes other people must be involved. So---boil it all down, and what you get is this. Home is primarily about relationships. This is something on many of our minds as we celebrate and observe Mother’s Day today.
The Rev. Dr. Gayle Landis tells a story about her experience of “home” and belonging. She writes: “As a very young child I went every year with my family to Camp Wesley Methodist Church Camp in Ohio. On one weekend, we would reserve the whole camp for our church. Some folks would stay in cabins, but most of the families had tents or pop-up campers. I remember these trips fondly. We swam in the lake, sang, and ate together. In the evenings there would be a big bonfire with marshmallows for toasting.
A couple of the fathers would stack up the wood ahead of time and round up marshmallow toasting sticks. They would get the fire going, then the rest of us would arrive. It was usually dark by the time we went to the bonfire, a trek down a steep hill and up another through the woods. Of course, the teenage boys in the back of the group did not help. They made scary noises and jumped out from behind trees. I remember terror. My best friend and I held hands and hoped for the best. One time we got lost and took so long that Dad had to come find us. We had turned the wrong way and were going toward the lake and away from the bonfire hill. When we got close enough we could hear the others singing and see the fire. We made it. After that year, we knew the way. We n ever got lost again. Now, looking back, those nighttime walks through the woods, listening for the hymns and looking for the firelight, are some of my favorite memories. The fear and uncertainty was gone, but we still held hands.
Home could be a church camp in the woods of Ohio. But here’s one thing for certain, without the members of that church gathered together: old, young, best friends and troublesome teenage boys , it would simply be a shell of empty cabins, forlorn campfire sites and lonely trails through the woods. It takes people to make a home. Really, if you think about it, it takes love.
But, back to this beautiful lesson for this morning. It’s one of the best loved and most comforting passages in the Gospels. But context is important. This conversation takes place at the time of the Last Supper. Jesus has just informed the disciples he will be betrayed, and he has told them he is going away. So—imagine the anxiety, the fear and the confusion that must have accompanied hearing this message. These words weren’t spoken to the disciples on a sunny afternoon following the success of healings or the feeding of the 5,000—they are uttered at the hour of dusk—when darkness, evil and loss are close at hand.
So, we can understand, can’t we, why Thomas speaks what’s on everyone’s mind when he says: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And what our Savior tells him is that he is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is the north star. Jesus is the way home. In a moment of high anxiety and fear, where failure and loss are waiting impatiently in the wings, Jesus reminds Thomas and the other disciples that it is by following him, they will find their way to the place they belong. It’s so unfortunate that when we read this passage out of context, many hear it as judgmental: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” In truth, it was meant to be comforting. Jesus is telling the disciples that the way home (the path forward) is clear, they cannot get lost—indeed they won’t get lost, for Jesus has prepared for them a place. Follow Jesus and they will find their way home. The path ahead is difficult, it involves sacrifice, pain and even death, yet despite all appearances to the contrary, it is the way to life and peace. In other words, I don’t believe Jesus is making a statement of other religions so much as he is comforting disciples who are deeply concerned and afraid. “I am the good shepherd,” he says. “I am The Gate, The Way, The Truth and The Life.” Follow me.
Perhaps today, more than other times in our lives, we can empathize with the plight of the disciples. We too, are living in a time of fear and anxiety. And loss, for many of us, seems perilously close. We are living in a confusing and distressing time. The foundations have shifted, and finding a center of peace can be difficult. Jesus, here, is reminding us that this both this time and this place are not our true home. They are but temporary abodes.
It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it. Because our senses tell us that right here, right now, this is the only home we know. But Jesus, here, is telling us that this life is a passage, not a destination. What’s more, it can’t be home until we are all brought together as one family, in the kingdom of heaven. Home is not here—it is with God. Perhaps the message of Jesus for us this morning is more comforting than ever, for it assures us that despite the death of so many of our loved ones, now just shy of 80,000 in our country, they are not lost, nor are we. All of us are held in the hand of the one who has assured us that one day we will, indeed, find our way home. And this, this makes all the difference as we seek to find our way in the darkness of this present moment.
So, consider the joy promised in this passage. If Jesus has indeed, made a home for us in heaven; we know that it is not filled so much with grand houses and manicured lawns as it is with the people we love and who love us in return. It is filled with joy, meaning and purpose. Most of all, it is filled with the great and endless love of God. Now, that is good news for us as we continue our task of making the kingdom of God present on earth as we wait to be joined with those we love in the kingdom of Heaven. In the name of the living Savior. Alleluia. Amen.