John 14: 1-7
What’s a dwelling place? Is it simply any place you lay your head at night or fix a meal? Does it have to be decorated? Does a tent count? Is it a dwelling place if you only stay there one night? Or do you have to spend some serious time there and pay rent? How about a first year dorm room with a loud, impolite roommate and every square inch occupied? Or the Cottage, with 4 lovely roomies and lots of friends stopping by? Could it be all of these? God’s house has many dwelling places.
I know Jesus is talking about what’s going to happen after his death and resurrection. He’s promising the disciples that things will be different but that he is not leaving them. He’s promising to return again, to send the Holy Spirit to be with them, and that in God’s household – in God’s family – there is room enough for everyone. I know that there are some out there today, May 21st, who think they’re going to see the many heavenly rooms of God’s dwelling before the day’s over. But that’s not what we’re focusing on tonight. Here on graduation eve it seems that maybe Jesus is saying something else, too.
Do not let your hearts be troubled…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you… (John 1: 1-2).
As usual, the disciples have questions. Thomas says, But we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way? Just how, exactly, are we supposed to find this many-roomed house you’re inviting us to? (paraphrase, John 1: 5). And Jesus reiterates that if they’ve seen him, they’ve seen God; if we know Jesus, we know God. He says, You’ve already seen the One you’re looking for and you already know the way (paraphrase v. 7).
Is that comforting? It’s meant to be, but I wonder. Did Thomas sigh with relief and think to himself Of course! Yep, I know the way. Ok, check that worry off the list. Now for some more bread and wine ? Does this promise give us the assurance that a map or a 5-year plan would?
Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in my grandmother’s old house. It’s close to our Conference assembly center in Blackstone, where I was headed for a clergy meeting, so I decided to go a night early and stay at the house. This is the house my brother and cousins and I called “The Country House” the whole time we were growing up – not, as it might sound, because it has anything in common with country clubs or estates in the country, but to differentiate it from the suburban areas where we lived.
As I sat on the porch last week, listening to the rain, enjoying the breeze, and watching the many trees my grandmother planted swaying in the wind, I was overwhelmed a couple of times by the memories and associations I have with that place. It was just a week or two in the summers, a few other weekends in the year, but I can walk from room to room there and quickly call up stories and people long gone.
I remember the year my grandparents painted that same porch and my brother and I were so proud to announce that we’d fixed dinner while they were working on it – a feast of tomato sandwiches and iced tea. I remember watching my grandmother can vegetables and the time my grandfather taught me how to drive the riding lawnmower. The nights there are so dark, far from the city, and I remember always looking forward to being in the yard after dark, looking up at all those pin-prick stars in a black sky.
It’s only the second time I’ve been to the house since my grandmother’s funeral a year and a half ago. As I drove, it occurred to me what a gift it is to still be able to go there. So often when someone dies the house is packed up and sold as quickly and efficiently as possible, forcing us to cram all of our leave-taking into a few days, with no opportunity to revisit, except in our minds and spirits. It is a genuine blessing that my dad owns the house and isn’t planning to sell it anytime soon. Because it isn’t “just a house.” It was a dwelling place. We spent our lives there and became a family there and knew the blessing of God right in that spot.
Wesley has been the dwelling place for you who are here tonight. More than a place to worship on Sunday, more than a few close friends, more than just a lovable old building – though each of these is important. You have dwelt here. You have spent time and energy and love and relationships in this place called Wesley. You have spent your life these past few years right here in the middle of this community-family-block called Wesley and, I dare say, you may have done some of your best living to date in this dwelling place.
Let me assure you, we aren’t selling the place. We’ll be here when you want to come back to visit and remember and sit on the porch a spell.
But here you are, gathered on the eve of graduation, ready after four long years of hard work (or paying tuition bills, depending upon your perspective and place in the family), to celebrate and move on to the next thing. You might be really excited about that next thing, or just to be finished with this current thing. You might be worried about finding another thing: another place to inhabit and call your own, other friends who are so close they become brothers and sisters, another community of faith that comforts and challenges you the way you’ve been comforted and challenged here at Wesley.
God knows how we hold onto fear. Maybe that’s why some of the Bible’s most important instructions and announcements come after God or someone sent to speak for God says, “Fear not!” In the text from John, Jesus begins right off the bat with, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14: 1). Don’t be worried. Don’t be scared about what’s going to happen next. Earlier we prayed with the psalmist, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31: 15).
Where will you dwell next? Whether you end up camping in a tent for a while, couch surfing, moving back home, or on to your dream job or grad school, dwell there as you have here. Really live there – dwell with the people God gives you in those rooms and know that they are all in God’s house.
Our times are in God’s hands, the One who showed us this beautiful house we’ve shared these past few years. The same God who may bring you back down this road from time to time. The same God who is already ahead of each of you, whatever road you take from here tomorrow. The same faithful God who is even now making room and family for you to discover and give thanks for in the next dwelling place. You already know the way.
Thanks be to God!
© Deborah E. Lewis 2011