young people share in communion together at Affirm 2016 in the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA
I know that I must have heard this text a dozen times in my life just by following the lectionary. But I imagine it’s actually more than that because this text is often read at funerals. And rightly so, it is a source of tremendous comfort to know that our God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth has walked this world, endured our sufferings, and according to this and other biblical translations, has gone on before us to “prepare a place”.
We've even written songs inspired by it. Think about "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (and I always hear the version popularized by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). "by and by, Lord, by and by. There's a better home awaiting in the sky, Lord, in the sky."
The danger in relying only on that kind of interpretation, I think, is that it allows us to believe that since God’s grace is free, we don’t need to do anything else in this world. We don’t have to worry about our actions or feel too bad about the times we hurt others, because, well, grace is free, and we're already saved, and there’s nothing we can do about that.
On the other hand, we can be tempted to look at others who are suffering and say, “well, poor lamb. Things will be better when you are living with Jesus.” And then we choose to look away, to leave those folks to their fate, trusting that things will be better for them when they are dead and that that’s okay. That it’s all part of God’s plan.
We can become lazy Christians.
But being a Christian is about following and emulating Jesus, and if there is anything we know for sure about Jesus, it is that he was certainly not lazy. If anyone was free from the risk of eternal hellfire and damnation, if anyone was entitled to sit back and watch the world turn around him, it was that guy. (God made flesh does not need to work for God’s own grace, for forgiveness, for life eternal with God.).
Yet Jesus showed up time and again to accompany those the world cast out: the broken, the wounded, the unclean…those living on the margins of society. and, it turns out, there are lots of margins. Jesus gave of himself, his time, his food, his energy, his absolute unconditional love, to soften the lives of those whose lives were hard and to open the hearts of those whose hearts were hard. Jesus who gave and who gives his life that we might be healed…back into relationship with God and with one another.
Wednesday evening, I attended (rather than led…Becca and I let Pastor Steve be in charge this time. haha!) Bible Study here. This group meets each Wednesday during the school year at 7pm, and you are all welcome and encouraged to attend…after all, the more voices in the room, the more complete an understanding we have of how the Word continues to live among us and to speak to us.
Anyway, as we studied the gospel lesson for today, we focused on what kind of place Jesus is preparing and the concept of home. Our group was a pretty small one all things considered, but we had a wide variety of answers to the question “what does home mean to you?”
Some of us named a particular place. Some of us named particular people. One of us even named a dog from college days. (if you’d like to know who that crazy person was, come to my office after worship. I’ll show you a picture of Elliot and tell you all about him.). Some of us didn't really have words to express home. Some of us have never really felt "home".
But as I participated in the conversation and listened to the wide variety of experiences in that small group, I reflected on still more experiences being lived by others in my circle. I have been saying for years that FaceBook is the Prayers of the People. As I scrolled through my feed this week, I observed the joy and the pain that comes from being human and from the struggle of living in relationship with one another. I observed brokenness and healing. I observed building and destruction and restructure.
Some of us have intact families of origin. Some of us experienced the divorce (or even plural…divorces) of our parents. Some of us are desperately in love with our spouses. Some of us are desperately in love with our children. Some of us have lost a parent or a child. Some of us are in the process of ending relationship…with a parent, with a sibling, with a member of our family by choice…with a spouse. Some of us are queer and struggle with if or how we can have children. Some of us are not queer and struggle with the same thing. Some of us really miss our moms this time of year. Some of us don’t yet have the words to talk about what our hearts are feeling. Many of us are living life on the margins.
Some of us are joyful and dwelling in hope for the future.
Some of us are devastated and grieving the past or the right now.
Most of us are both.
All of us are searching.
As Maya Angelou said, "the ache for home lives in all of us."
So, I’m wondering, what does home mean to you? If Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, what does that mean to you given your current understanding of home?
We’re going to get a little vulnerable with one another, my people. If you feel safe, you may share where you are emotionally. But you certainly don't have to share more than that with which you feel comfortable. And, as always, if you’d like to talk with a pastor afterward, I am absolutely available, and I know that Pastor Steve is, too.
Take a minute and turn to your neighbor. In groups of two or three, talk about what home means to you and what you think Jesus means when he says “I go to prepare a place for you”.
Did you learn something new about your neighbor? Did you learn something new about yourself? Did you learn something new about God?
Here’s what I am thinking about those questions today (show up on Sunday and you may get a whole ‘nother answer…but for today…)
I think when Jesus says he will prepare a place for us, he doesn't mean some gilded mansion in the clouds or something to happen only when we die. I think Jesus means that we are and that we will be with him and live in relationship with him and with Creator and with Spirit. I think this idea of creating a place for us in the Father’s house is about being bound up into the Trinity here and now rather than simply something that will happen to us one day.
I think the idea of “home” is more about relationship…between humans and between humanity and Creation and also between humans and our God.
And how do we find home? The disciples ask for directions, but Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Which is a promise that for we who are disciples, Jesus is all we need to find our way home. Not that we need to "fix" or covert those who believe differently or that we have the only answer, but that Jesus is all we Christians need to be in relationship with our neighbors and our God.
Jesus who is in our suffering. Who is in the lives of our neighbors. Who loves and beloves each and every one of us. In this congregation and out in the world. Who gave and who gives his very life that we might live. Who says, “this is my body and my blood given for you”.
Hear the Good News. You are freed, forgiven, and loved beyond measure. God is calling you home…into relationship with the One who made you. From that place of home, we invite others, we invite everyone, home, to the Table, and into relationship with God. A place has been prepared. We are invited. Y’all come.