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“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” [John 14.2] A Sermon for Easter 5 14/05/17

When I was a child, I’d get into the car with my parents and we’d go for drives on Sunday afternoons. Sometime we’d drive out to a brand new suburb, Eastern Heights. Here the streets had names like, “Harvard”, “Yale”, and “Princeton”. Maybe, someday, if the business prospered, we might move into one of these nice new houses. I wondered what my life might be like in a new house. I’d have to go to a different school, I’d have to make new friends. Today as adults, we often wonder what our lives would be like if we lived somewhere else. On tv we watch property programmes, such as Escape to the Country, or Location, Location, Location. We indulge in daydreams: how might our lives be changed if we lived in a different place?
We also wonder what our lives might be like after we die. At funeral services, the gospel reading is often, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” The traditional word, “mansions”, conveys the splendour of heaven, and the multitude of spaces for all sorts of people. Today’s version, “dwelling places”, is a literal translation of the original Greek. Before his death, Jesus promised, “I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself.” What kind of place Jesus has prepared for us? When we wonder about life after death, often we have cartoon images of heaven: fluffy clouds, angels playing harps. Some people joke, “I wouldn’t want to go to heaven, none of my friends will be there.” Dante imagined a sublime and elaborate heaven in Paradiso.
“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” Where is this place which Jesus called, “my Father’s house? For the disciples, the words, “in my Father’s house”, would have meant the realm far above the sky, the place where God dwells. They would have remembered Jacob’s astonishment when he saw the ladder reaching up to heaven and angels ascending and descending: “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” [Gen 28.17] The disciples would also have thought that “in my Father’s house”, referred to the temple in Jerusalem, the sacred building where God was worshipped. In the Old Testament, this temple is repeatedly described as “the house of God’ [see Chronicles]. Where is “my Father’s house” located? In heaven or on earth?
If we try to define “my Father’s house” as a particular place, either in heaven or on earth, then we would be attempting to confine God to a specific location. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” God is not restricted to a particular place. Where then is “my Father’s house”? Where is the place that Jesus said he will prepare for us? Our human imaginations long for something physical, an actual place, somewhere to fix our hopes upon.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you”. In going to prepare a place, Jesus is not acting like an architect, going to build a structure in a particular physical location. Rather, Jesus is acting as a guide, a pathfinder who shows us the way to God. Through his human birth, his teaching, his death, his resurrection and his ascension, Jesus shows us the way to his Father’s house. “House” can also mean “household”. A household is formed by relationships that extend beyond an immediate family. A household may include distant kin, servants and friends. Noah was told, “Go into the ark, you and all your household.” [Gen. 7.1] St. Paul tells us, “So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints, and also members of the household of God.” [Eph. 2.19] We can understand “in my Father’s house” as meaning, “in my Father’s household”. God’s household is composed of relationships. These dynamic relationships are not confined to a particular physical place or limited to a particular moment in time. God’s household has been built by God and by those doing his will. The community of faithful believers, the household of Jesus, are themselves to become the house of God. This household of believers is the living house of God on earth, a reflection of the heavenly house of God in the life to come. Those who are faithful to Jesus will become “like living stones…built into a spiritual house” [I Peter 2.5]. “Living stones” sounds like a paradox. Yet “living stones” is a realistic description of our relationship with God. Our faith is firm, but also living and growing as we gain more knowledge of God through Jesus.
Therefore “in my Father’s house” is both the place prepared by Jesus for his faithful followers after death, and also the spiritual house built by the faithful in this present life. Jesus promised, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and build our home with them.” [John 14.23.] “Keep my word” means to be loyal to Jesus’ teaching and to believe in Jesus as the Son of God who reveals the way to his Father’s house.
What will our new house with God be like? We can only speculate about life after death. We can only wonder about our promised place in our Father’s household. God’s house may seem as remote and inaccessible as those seemingly perfect houses on television. When we try to picture our home with God, our human imaginations fail. St. Paul said, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” [I Cor. 2.9]. We put our trust in God’s promises. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus reassures us. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Amen.
Copyright © by Roberta Berke 2017. All rights reserved.