Sermon: May 17, 2020

God’s Mobile Home’s Got Space

Scripture Reading

John 14:1-7, 15-21

This morning’s reading occurs in the middle of the Holy Week story as told in John’s Gospel. John chapter twelve tells of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. John chapter 13 tells of the Passover meal and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Jesus tells them: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” 

Then, in John chapters 14 through 16, we have more of Jesus’ instruction. Here, as Jesus faces his betrayal and death, he teaches his disciples about who he is, about who God is and about how they are to relate to him and to God. Several times in this morning’s text, we hear Jesus refer to the commandment he has given his followers. This morning’s reading begins with John 14 verse 1:

“Do not be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Parent’s house has room to spare. If that were not the case, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  You know the way to the place I am going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know God. From now on you know God and have seen God.”

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Parent, and God will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees the Spirit nor recognizes the Spirit. You know this Spirit, because it lives with you and will be with you.“I will not leave you orphaned. I will come to you.  Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in God, you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Heavenly Parent, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

God’s Mobile Home’s Got Space

Will you pray with me? Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, the anchor of   existence and the giver of life.

I feel as if my life as a Christian has been a series of confessions. 

Confessions of faith and unknowing.

Confessions of vulnerability.

Confessions of apathy and complicity. 

Confessions of wavering and stumbling. Confessions of reliance on others and on God to pick me back up.

Confessions of a deep hunger for God’s beloved community of justice. Confessions of faltering attempts to usher in that beloved community.

Confessions of identity — mine and yours — as God’s beloved children.

And today, a confession of preference. My preference. 

I have never liked these scriptures. [PAUSE] And yes, I feel like a bad Christian admitting to that. 

I have struggled, as long as I can remember with John’s Gospel — the Gospel in which the divine shines through Jesus so brightly that it obscures the familiar, comforting, human Jesus whom I meet in Matthew, Mark and Luke and who I seek to follow in my life. This Gospel where poetry and metaphor replace straightforward narrative. 

In this morning’s scripture, I confess that all the coming and going, leaving and arriving, following and returning leaves my linear-loving mind befuddled and more than a little lost. 

Why haven’t I liked these texts from John?

Because they have so often been used to exclude. To judge and condemn. I know too many good and faithful people who follow a way of love and are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai’i, Jewish, Wiccan, agnostic or atheist to believe that only Christians get saved. And these scriptures have been used to harm so many people. 

And here’s a confession of pride — because I do not like these scriptures, I have largely dismissed them. And it is only because of the wisdom of others — of Richard Rohr in his book The Universal Christ, of the group that meets virtually on Tuesday mornings for Lectio Divina — It is only because of other people’s wisdom that I have been able to experience our scriptures as living — offering good news from our still speaking God. Insisting on their meaning and relevance like opening lilac blossoms — not extraordinary to look at, but with a heady fragrance that cannot be ignored.

This week, as we read this scripture in our lectio divina group, as we heard again about God’s house with MANY rooms, with MANY dwelling places. I heard not about exclusion but about God’s expansive hospitality — an expansiveness that has room enough to hold many ways of knowing God. As we read this text again and again, someone offered: Maybe God’s house is a mobile home. 

Absurd. God’s house is obviously a mansion, a palace, an enormously grand castle with too many rooms to count. 

A mobile home? Absurd. Too humble. Too much associated with the poorest neighborhoods in town. But wait. That’s my bias, my assumptions. Of course God’s house is a mobile home! Of course God’s house defies logic and expectation. Of course God’s house is neither static nor stationary but dynamic and shifting and moving. 

And why not? 

When Jesus tells his disciples that he goes to prepare a place for them, Thomas — rapidly becoming my favorite disciple — asks “How will we know the way?”

And Jesus tells him, “I am the way.” I have always heard this as meaning a particular way — the ONLY way. But now I wonder….

What if Jesus is the way that we travel — whatever way we travel — as we seek God? What if Christ is the journey itself?

What journey? You ask. 

The journey of living into Jesus’ commandment. 

Which commandment? You ask. The Bible is full of commandments, but John’s gospel has only ONE: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” 

Love each other like I have loved you. With a love that is humble and bold. That washes feet and breaks bread. That celebrates — turning water into wine. That reconciles and heals: bodies, spirits, relationships, communities. That eats with tax collectors and social pariahs, the religious elite, the wealthy, the poor, and the people that society discards. A love that receives as well as gives — even the seemingly wasteful gift of priceless perfume. A love that refuses to exclude! A love that lays down its life. A love so big you can never find your way around it. Love each other like I have loved you.

It’s not an invitation. Not a suggestion. It’s a command. Did you notice that John’s version of Jesus’ commandment says nothing about loving God. Except, maybe it does — if you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you love me, you will love each other. You love me by loving each other. 

What does that love look like? 

It is easy to think that love is static and stationary, just as we so often think of God’s house: Be kind. Say please and thank you. Practice generosity and hospitality. Follow the rules — no killing. No stealing. Honor your parents. Do not covet what belongs to someone else. Be faithful to your partner. Practice honesty — especially when speaking about others. Worship only God. Put God before all else. Use God’s name in earnest. Take a sabbath day of rest. 

Now don’t get me wrong — these are great guidelines. Great rules. But Jesus was never much of a rule follower. He broke sabbath rules: picking food and healing people. He broke social norms: eating with everyone, touching the unclean, preaching and teaching without any formal education that we know of.  Making a scene in the temple — remember when he entered the temple in a rage? Knocking over tables and scattering people’s wares! 

No, Jesus is not telling us to follow static rules. Love is not that simple.

Jesus’ life, Jesus’ actions show us that love is dynamic, ever-changing. Rules may be broken, but love must always be practiced. Love that honors context. Love that respects the recipient. Love that is not simply about behavior or looking good or doing “what is right” but about the state of one’s heart.

What does it mean to live this love today?

I believe it looks like protecting one another even when it is personally inconvenient, difficult or even a sacrifice. 

It looks like giving generously to care and support for those in our community who have need.

It looks like keeping our eyes and hearts open to the systems of injustice that allow some to benefit at the cost of others.

And this, beloved of God, is important. Because these systems are all around. And the current pandemic is shining a light on them anew: 

Systems that allow the murders of our black and brown siblings. Systems that maintain educational disparities based on the wealth of a neighborhood.

Systems that allow food deserts to exist in inner cities. 

Systems that deem undocumented immigrants essential workers but will not offer them a path to citizenship.

Systems in which grocery workers have neither paid leave nor health insurance. 

Systems that pit us one against another. 

Love looks like challenging these systems and working together to change them. 

Because love affirms every person is created in God’s image — whatever their race or ethnicity, whoever they love, whatever pronouns they use, whatever name they call God, whatever their citizenship status or language. Whether they received their education in a classroom or on a farm. However young or old they are. 

Beloved of God, our Father’s mobile home has many rooms. There is room enough for all. Christ’s love is expansive. May ours be too. Amen.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.


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