Sermon Text: John 14: 1-14
I remember a project for my 7th grade math class where we were supposed to design and draw our dream house. We were given no restrictions, we could build or draw as many floors and rooms as we wanted. The only requirement was that it be drawn on grid paper and that we calculate the square footage.
Of course, the seventh grade mind is a fascinating thing, and we all created the huge mansions trying to outdo one another in our creativity as we skipped over the essentials like kitchens and bedrooms and bathrooms and went right for the awesome things like swimming pools, hot tubs, home theaters, basketball courts, rec rooms, and helipads…you know, the important things.
After being stuck at home for two month, I bet some of those options sound appealing right now. Wouldn’t it feel good to have a mansion to live in at this moment? Something straight out of the Great Gatsby? After all, isn’t that what Jesus is promising us in this Gospel text?
“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?”
Depending on biblical translation, you might be more familiar with “many mansions” or “many rooms.” But as weird as it sounds in English, “dwelling places” probably does a better job at capturing John’s intended meaning—the location where we can be together and be one.
Don’t get me wrong, the poetic language of “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” is beautiful and it captures the imagination, but it sends the wrong message. It sounds more like my 7th grade imagination than a heavenly abode. It sounds like Jesus is going to Newport, Rhode Island to prepare some exorbitant, palatial home for us.
If you’re unfamiliar with Newport, Rhode Island, it is where the robber-barons of the Gilded Age built their summer cottages. Today, there are at least 11 mansions you can tour.
When I was a kid we stopped at the Marble House, built between 1888 and 1892 by William Vanderbuilt, the grandson of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. The mansion was huge, 50 rooms that were all over the top in decoration. It was so large that it required 36 servants, butlers, maids, coachmen, and footmen to operate in its heyday.
The most impressive feature of that mansion was that the entire thing was made of marble. 500,000 cubic feet of marble. In 1892, Mr. Vanderbilt spent $11 million dollars building this mansion, $8 million of those dollars went to purchasing the marble. All of this was a birthday present for Mrs. Vanderbilt for her 39th birthday. However, it most have been the wrong color or something, because they divorced shortly thereafter.
Is this what Jesus is going to prepare for us?
Once again, this type of property might sound enticing with the current stay at home orders, but what exactly does it mean to have a home with God? What dwelling place is Jesus preparing for us?
While there is nothing wrong with drawing up your dream home, I doubt that’s what Jesus had in mind. Jesus is preparing a place where we can dwell with him, a structure that will never wear out or degrade or need upkeep. That’s why dwelling places is the preferred language. It accurately describes the intimate relationship that we will have with Jesus as we abide in him and as he abides in us. A dwelling place describes Jesus’ promise that even though we live with God now, we will fully and completely live with God in the future.
Jesus goes ahead to prepare a home for us with God. Jesus goes to the cross, is risen from the dead, and ascends to God in order to defeat the destructive forces of sin and death. Jesus goes ahead of us to repair the brokenness of humanity. And for all that we joyously shout:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Right now, we all probably feel a little like the disciple Thomas in this reading, as he says, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” For with the uncertainties that are currently swirling around is it feels like there is nowhere to go, all of society appears to be rudderless. But it is precisely because of life’s uncertainty that we can put our trust into the bedrock of our faith, the one thing that cannot be shaken: Jesus’ care and compassion for us.
Jesus makes the promise that God abides with us and in us. The promise that we all dwell in God’s presence, and that by his ministry we have a priceless home where we will be with God, now—with all of life’s turmoil and distractions—and in the future when we are at peace and one with God. AMEN