Many Dwelling Places
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Acts 2: 42-47
John 14: 1-14
Rev. Dean Snyder
Like many of our Jewish neighbors and friends did last night or will tonight, Jesus was celebrating the Passover Seder with his disciples. During the Seder, according to the 14th Chapter of the Gospel of John which we just heard read, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” The reason Jesus says this to his disciples is because their hearts were troubled. It had been a difficult day and it had been even a difficult Passover Seder.
previous chapter, John Chapter 13, Jesus had made a number of things clear to
his disciples that were very, very difficult for them to hear. He began the
chapter by washing the feet of his disciples and saying, “This is your future
if you would be followers of mine.”
This is your future: the humble, servile act of washing the dirty feet
of guests in your home. The disciples’ fantasy, the disciples’ hope had been
for greatness. They had thought that Jesus would become the new ruler of
Then, Jesus had confronted Judas, the one who had decided to betray him. After that, Judas got up from the Passover table and left. The community of the disciples had been broken. These twelve disciples who had lived and learned and ministered and become community together over the past years had turned out to be imperfect and faulty and broken.
Then, after that, in this previous chapter of John, after Judas has left, Peter begins to make promises to Jesus that, no matter what happens, Peter will never leave Jesus. “I will lay down my life for you,” Peter says to Jesus. But Jesus turns to Peter and says: “No, Peter. By the time tomorrow morning that the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times. By daybreak tomorrow morning, Peter, you will have denied me three times.”
It was a difficult experience. The disciples had hoped in three things. They had hoped for their own greatness. They had hoped that they would be a community of love where they would find the kind of love that they all longed for. They had hoped for their own personal goodness. In all three of those hopes, they had been disappointed. They would not be great the way they imagined they would be great. The community was broken. And they themselves were not as good as they had supposed themselves to be.
It is to these disciples that Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” because their hearts were troubled. These verses read for us this morning from the 14th Chapter of John are verses that we use often at funerals. They are the gospel suggested in the funeral service in our United Methodist Book of Worship. It is a beautiful lesson for funerals. But with the Biblical scholar Raymond Brown I want to suggest this morning that this lesson is not only about death. This lesson is about something that is maybe even harder than death. This lesson is about disillusionment.
These sayings of Jesus according to the Gospel of John are directed to a disillusioned group of disciples. What they had hoped for in their lives, the way that they thought they would find meaning and value in their lives was not turning out to be true. They would not be a people who would find meaning in greatness. They did not have a community that loved each one the way they wanted to be loved. They were not as good people as they had supposed themselves to be.
It is one of the difficult parts of life, but one that is essential to the Christian as well as the human journey. Life includes again and again the experience of disillusionment. How hard it is to give up our fantasies – what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “wish dreams” – our illusions that somehow we are destined for greatness in our lives and in that greatness we will finally find happiness.
But it turns out that we are not Cinderella. We are not the pauper who becomes the prince. We will not become mostly likely, at 57 years old, President of the United States, and, if we do, it will turn out that being president isn’t what it is cracked up to be. In other words, there is no happiness out there that we will somehow manage to find or achieve.
I think that the people in the whole world who are probably worst about this are United Methodist ministers. We have a new bishop and he is doing this new thing that is upsetting the ministers of this annual conference. When ministers are asking for a move to a new church because they feel that things are not going well in the church where they are, he is saying that he will not move them until they have served there for seven years. Pastors having difficulty hope somehow that if they could go to a new church, a new congregation, their problems would be solved and they would have a great time and they would find happiness in a new church. What our new bishop is saying is that when pastors move from one church to another, it is highly likely that they will take themselves with them. And so they tend to have, after a few years, the same problems in the new church that they had in the old church. But they live in this constant fantasy that there is a perfect congregation out there that, if they could only get the bishop to send them to it, would bring them happiness.
Translate that into your own life and into your own world. Happiness is not out there – somewhere waiting for us to find it.
The second disillusionment that the disciples had is that there is no perfect community. Another way of saying this is that there is no family that will love us the way that we really want to be loved. Our family was our family and it loved us as best we could. But there is no community, no family that is going to love us the way that we really want to be loved.
I spent nine years, nine good years, doing campus ministry. It was a great experience. I envy people who are on campus, who are teaching, who are working with college students because it is such a great time of life when people are spreading their wings, discovering themselves, stubbing their toes and getting up again. So campus ministry was a constant adventure.
I had one year that was a little strange. I had a group of ten students who came to spend more and more time with each other. They became more and more isolated from the rest of the young people who were in our campus ministry. They talked about moving in together next year. They began calling each other “sister” and “brother.” They actually developed an extended family chart with nephews and cousins and ancestors.
I thought this was all very interesting and it didn’t bother me much until I discovered that, behind our back, they began to refer to the Campus Ministry’s Minister of Music as “Mommy” and me as “Daddy.” Then I decided that something needed to be explored here. I sat down with the students and we talked. After several weeks of conversation, what we figured out was that they all had great pain and disappointment in their families growing up. They had hoped somehow to create a family on campus that would love each one of them as much as they wanted to be loved. But it had already begun to turn sour and become a Lord of the Flies kind of thing. What we had to face together is that there is no perfect family that will give us happiness by managing to love us as much as we want to be loved.
The third thing the disciples learned was that none of us is as good as we want to be. Peter who was the disciple of all disciples was not as brave and as courageous and as good as he thought he was. All of the disciples deserted Jesus. None of us is as good as we want to be.
It was in this circumstance of the disciples’ disillusionment that Jesus says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” What he says to them is now you are ready to believe in God and to believe in me. Another way of saying this: now that you have discovered that greatness will not make you happy, that you will not find perfect love in this life, and that you are not as good as you want to be – now you have come to the point where you are ready to trust God and to trust Jesus.
And then Jesus says to them: “You don’t need to worry, because in my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. In my Father’s house, there is a lot of room; there is no competition for room in my Father’s house. There is space for everyone to move in. You don’t have to compete for it. You don’t have to earn it. You just have to come into my Father’s house, not because you are great or not because you are loving or not because you are good, but because my Father has a house and there is plenty of room there and my Father invites you in.”
“I go,” said Jesus, “to prepare a place for you. When I come again, I will take you with me because I want you to be with me. Not some great person, not some person who manages to love perfectly, not some person who is as good as you think you ought to be. I want you, the real you, to come and to live with me.”
Annie Dilliard spent some time visiting churches. She wrote about it in an essay in her book, Teaching a Stone to Speak. After she had spent time visiting these different churches, she came back and said that what she had learned most of all from visiting all of these churches was that, when all is said and done, it is O.K. for us to be human.
It is O.K. with God for us to be human. We don’t need great achievements. We don’t need perfect love. We don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. As a matter of fact, the harshest destruction that happens in our world is a result of us attempting to convince ourselves that we are better than we really are. What that causes us to do is to blame the problems on other people rather than to own our share of them. We don’t need to be gods. It is O.K. for us to be human. It is the human you and me that God invites into the dwelling places of which there are plenty in God’s house. It is you and I that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for and will come to take us to be where he is because he wants to hang with us. Not some plaster creation of our mind, but the human you and me.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” Life may not give you everything you dreamed for. Your family, your community may not love you as much as you want to be loved. You and I may not turn out to be as good as we wish we were. But it is exactly you and I that Jesus wants to be with him.