Sermon; Easter 5A; John 14:1-14
I have been focusing on faith this Easter season. The faith of the women at the tomb. The faith of Thomas. The faith of Cleopas and the other disciple at the breaking of the bread. The faith to accept whomever Jesus calls through the gate. And today we have both a continuation of last week's gate-keeping theme as well as a statement of a mature faith.
First, the continuation of last week. In summation I pointed out that Jesus was the gatekeeper, not us. It is not incumbent upon us, therefore, to protect our church or our turf by keeping the wrong people out. Instead, we need to recognize that this is Jesus' church and those gate-keeping duties belong to him. We need to have a faith that recognizes anyone who shows up at our doors has been called by Christ. If Christ calls them, then we accept them. Do we have the faith to relinquish control of gate-keeping duties to Christ?
This theme is picked up today when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This statement has been used over the centuries to present an exclusionary view of Christianity. People have pulled this out of context to say, “We're right, you're wrong.” Or, on a more crass and dangerous level, “Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you're going to hell because no one gets to heaven except through him.”
That, in my opinion, is a very insecure form of faith. It requires certainty. It squashes honest questioning. Unlike Thomas, it removes room for doubts. And most importantly, it usurps gate-keeping responsibilities from Jesus to ourselves.
What if, however, instead of viewing this statement as limiting and exclusionary, we viewed it as broad and expansive? What if we viewed this as a hotel?
The NRSV translates v. 2 as, “In my Father's house are many dwelling-places.” Other versions translate this as “mansions” or “rooms.” Regardless of what translation you use, the implication is that there is plenty of room with God.
When we are traveling and need a place to stay, we go to a hotel. Hotels have many rooms. Some have rooms that seem downright palatial. And we are almost never refused a room. Granted, there are situations involving conventions, illegal activities, or sudden snowstorms. But in general, to get a room two things need to happen: 1) we need to stop and ask for one; and 2) the desk clerk, the gatekeeper, needs to assign us one.
Is it possible that what Jesus is saying about no one coming to the Father except through him isn't necessarily exclusionary but is a recognition that he will assign a room to anyone who stops and asks? Instead of us putting restrictions on who's in and who's out, can we open up the hotel doors and let Jesus, desk clerk and gatekeeper extraordinaire, allow in whomever he chooses?
Is our faith secure enough to allow for that possibility?
Which brings me to my second point: that of a mature faith.
The first part of this gospel passage has Jesus discussing his departure. This passage today is part of the larger Farewell Discourse. Judas has left to betray him and he is preparing the remaining disciples for what is to come, both immediately and in the long-term. Jesus says very clearly that he will come again and will take us to himself so that we will be reunited.
An immature faith stops there. An immature faith goes no farther. An immature faith reasons that, since Jesus is coming again, we don't need to do anything. This leads to some very problematic scenarios.
If Jesus is coming, all we need to do is believe. If Jesus is coming, we don't need to worry about the environment, clean water, melting ice caps, or the depletion and extinction of species. If Jesus is coming, we don't need to care for the poor, the hungry, or the homeless because Jesus will take care of all that when he comes back. Not only is this an immature faith, but it's also an incredibly selfish way to view the world.
A mature faith, on the other hand, will not be satisfied with a one-verse theology. A mature faith will engage with scripture and examine the whole. A mature faith will look for context. A mature faith will say, “What else is there?”
Looking at the totality of this passage, a person of a mature faith will notice this: “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.”
In other words, we are not called to remain in a holding pattern doing nothing until Jesus returns – we are called to do the works of Christ.
What are those works? First, let's not confuse miracles with works. We won't be changing water to wine, raising the dead, or walking on water. Instead, we need to look at what Christ did in his life. He refused to condemn even one caught in sin, opting for restoration instead of eradication. He worked to feed people without judging why they needed food. He healed the sick without regard to pre-existing conditions. He spoke out against an establishment that put burdens on the lowest in society while looking for ways to make life even easier for the rich and powerful. He broke down walls instead of building them. He welcomed the foreigner.
These are the works of Christ.
As we move through this Easter season, our faith is being challenged in two areas:
Are we willing to see Christianity as inclusive rather than exclusive, offering a room to all who stop in and ask?
Do we have a mature faith that urges us to do the works of Christ, even in the face of the same worldly opposition that he himself faced?
If we are able to do this, then we will be that much closer to seeing the kingdom of God in our midst.