John Chapter 14 Sermon 2011
Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden Easter 5 Year A 2011
Some of you have probably heard of Harold Camping. He is the American family radio evangelist who proclaimed that Jesus would come down to earth on May 21. That was of course yesterday, and even when I wrote this sermon on Saturday I had a fair degree of confidence that I would end up preaching it. Camping has been wrong before, he predicted that the rapture would arrive previously in September 1994. Commenting on the suggestion Bishop Spong said
‘The fact that anyone takes this foolishness seriously only proves what P.T. Barnum has said about human beings! There one born every minute.
But many people did believe Mr Camping and made great preparations. It was even reported on Sky News yesterday and we were treated to people twittering responses. Two were read out which were of particular note, one gave the bible verse saying that nobody knew the day or the hour. The other person said a tractor had just driven past his house and the farmer was shouting that the end of the world was nigh - it was farmer Geddon
Of course the world will end, we know this. The world will end when the sun burns out in about seven billion years or when it gets reabsorbed into the sun, which might take about the same amount of time. That is if we don’t blow ourselves up in a nuclear holocaust or cause some great environmental disaster. I learned all about the end of the world when I saw a video recently at the National Observatory at Greenwich. It all sounded very apocalyptic, but I must confess that I am not so worried about the end of the world as the end of my world. I won’t be here in 7 billion years, but nothing is more certain than the knowledge that all of our days are numbered. Time is running out for me and we must all face our mortality. It is into this human angst that the words of John 14 which is our New Testament reading today are spoken.
- Jesus is enjoying his last meal with his disciples and he uses the occasion to tell them some important things.
- He washes his disciples feet and give them a practical demonstration of how they should behave towards each other
- He tells them that they must learn to be servants to each other .
- He warns Peter that he will deny him three times, even before the cock has crowed in the morning - because he doesn’t want him to feel disappointed with himself
- He tells the disciples that they must love one another even as he has love them and that it is by this behaviour that people will come to know that they are his disciples.
It is all very serious stuff, it is like Jesus calling everybody to gather around him on his death bed ti give words of wisdom, but actually it is in the context of a meal.
Perhaps the most famous words which come in this Chapter 14 are those which we have in our a text today in which Jesus says
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God,
trust also in me, in my Father’s house there are many mansions'.
Judas has left the gathering to betray Jesus said ‘go and do it quickly’, Even as Jesus speaks there are plans afoot to trap him and kill him. Jesus is facing the bitter crucifixion and death which he knows is now only a short time away, yet even at this time of impending death, Jesus thoughts are directed not to his own pain suffering and death or to the inevitable sense of loss which will be felt by his followers. Jesus is thinking not of himself but how they will manage in the days ahead when they look back on their own betrayal and unworthiness.
Jesus is laying down a message of comfort but he was also putting before the disciples a challenge. Yes the words are reassuring, yes Jesus wants to bind up their broken hearts. He knows that they had followed him expecting that there would be triumph, victory, the establishment of a new order of things. But this passage is so much more than just Jesus binding up their broken hearts.
Jesus does not want to leave behind a bunch of dispirited individuals who fear that the same fate will befall them as happens to Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples I tell you the truth anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing He will do even greater things than these becuse I am going to the Father.
Jesus is telling his disciples that his death will establish a new water of things he will go through the waters of death and by so doing will give them power and authority to act in his name. Jesus says to his disciples
‘you may ask me anything in my name and I will do it.’
Bear in mind he’s talking about his work and mission, the fulfilment of what he had set out to achieve with his disciples. Jesus’s work will go on after his death because his disciples will do it. They will do all that Jesus would have done and even greater things and Jesus will be the one who enables them to accomplish this.
What does this mean for us? It means that you and I as we go out into the world go as the agents of Christ. We are to go and do his work. We must not be focussed on our own mortality but see the bigger picture. Christians should be motivated to secure justice and human rights to look after the weak and the vulnerable, to be engaged in the structures of decision making, authority and government.
I spent a very interesting evening on Friday with the Yarlswood Befrienders. hearing about their work and listening to asylum seekers who were awaiting news of whether they were going to be deported and saying that they faced death if they were returned to the countries from which they had escaped. One woman speaker was in tears pouring our her heart about her fear for the future. The Yarlswood Befrienders are an example of a Christian voice in action, as are the Kings Arms project and Bechar, working with the homeless.
Our society is currently facing many difficult challenges and choices. There are difficult decisions to be made and we can all see were cuts will have to be made in expenditure of government both nationally and locally. There is an undoubted bias in the teachings of Jesus towards those who are weak and vulnerable, the poor. Christians therefore surely have an important contribution to make towards the debate. In 1971 Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter said
‘In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.’
This sort of message might be the kind of thing that Christians have to bring to the debate.
The point which I am making is a general one rather than a specific one, that the gospel of Jesus is not simply a personal interior message or experience which changes the way we feel. Genuine belief leads to works. Spirituality is connected to action. As Jesus says in today’s gospel,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.”
The work of the gospel is about service and especially service to those who are most in need.
Christianity lived out in our world is about caring for the weak and vulnerable, helping the asylum seeker, providing care for the homeless, making sure that those who come out of prison are welcomed back to the community.
Jesus does not want the disciples just sobbing around and mourning, he wants them out there working showing people, they way to life through his name and making a difference. This is an inspirational piece by Jesus - not just consolation. This is a call to service and commitment. To have faith in Jesus, trust in Jesus and carry on his work.
Additional Sermon Notes
‘In my Father’s House’
The words which Jesus speaks today in John 14 come in the context of a meal just before the Passover. We are told that Jesus knew that the time for him to die was fast approaching (13:1). Jesus has started the evening by washing the disciples feet (13:4). Then he goes on to predict that he will be betrayed and he tells Judas to 'do it quickly’ and Judas leaves the gathered disciples (13:30). Jesus tells the faithful ones left that they must love each other and that by their love people will come to know that they are disciples of his (13:35). Effectively Jesus is saying that he will live on through the lives which his followers live as an example of his teaching. Jesus then has the sad task of telling Peter that he will disown him no less than three times (13:38).
Imagine perhaps you are Peter, you have just heard Jesus tell of his impending betrayal, and you have been told that you will deny Jesus three times in the early morning even before a cock has crowed. How do you feel? Undoubtedly this was a low point for the disciples, they are on the verge of catastrophic failure, their hopes and dreams lie shattered. The scene is one of anxiety, indeed Jesus himself uses the word ‘orphans’ to describe them. The disciples had expected that they would be following Jesus until he established his reign and they would share in that. A future without Jesus was a shattering thought. It is to these despairing disciples when they are profoundly upset that Jesus says the words we read this morning in which he seeks to move the disciples from their fear to faith,
‘Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.’
So Jesus is heading for the agony of the cross, we know that he is deeply troubled in heart (12:27) and spirit (13:21). Yet in this time of enormous personal trouble we find Jesus not thinking of himself and his own woes, but rather giving emotional and spiritual support and comfort to the disciples. They are in a state of confusion and fearful, so he is seeking to give them truths which will help them overcome their grief and despair in the days ahead.
We use these words at funerals, because the way that the disciples felt that evening is how we feel when we lose somebody at death. Like them our hopes and dreams feel shattered and there seems utter despair at the separation from our loved ones. We too feel angry, guilty and hopeless all at the same time. Jesus makes it clear that the answer to such anxiety and troubled spirit, is to trust. Worry loses its power when we are in the presence of Jesus. To the disciples, what is about to unfold is a disaster and there is no future worth living for, however Jesus realises that the events which will take place will end ultimately in a magnificent future.
That future is described in simple, although not simplistic terms. Jesus goes on to say
‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to be with me’
The reading in the AV uses the phrase. ‘In my father’s house there many mansions’ Mansions is a lovely word, it comes to us from Tyndale’s translation of monai, it means 'dwelling places'. It is always difficult for us to read scripture because we do so through layers and layers of interpretation which have conditioned us to understand certain things about what we read. This is true in the passage today. We hear the words of Jesus ‘In my Father’s house’ and most of us jump immediately to thinking that Jesus is speaking about heaven. It is important for us to try and put ourselves right back to the occasion when Jesus spoke those words.
Can you think when was the first time in John’s Gospel when Jesus used the words ‘Father’s house’? .
The answer is in Chapter 2:16, Jesus attacks the traders in the Temple and he says
‘How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’
The disciples would have heard the phrase "God's House" used over and over again in the Scriptures to refer to the Temple in Jerusalem. The words would have brought to mind the place where God's name is to be worshiped and praised. God’s 'house' was the place where God’s presence dwells among his people. It's the place where the heavenly realm and the earthly realm (the heavens and the earth) meet together. The point to be made here is that Jesus is doing more than just promising his disciples that there will be space for them in heaven ! Jesus is speaking about a new order, a new world, a time and place when there will be room for everyone.
So Jesus prepares the disciples for the fact that he will be going away, yet he makes it clear that it is all a part of God’s wider purpose to change things for the good. His death will be something which brings clear benefits, he is not abandoning them, rather he is going to prepare a place for them. Quite explicitly, there is no reason to give up hope at all, even when the world seems hopeless, Jesus is preparing a new order of things.
As a result of the questioning of Thomas Jesus goes on to say
‘I am the the way, the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
These are words of comfort and reassurance to desperate disciples. However, they have become the source of much disagreement in the church. The point made is that if Jesus is the only way to come to the Father, then all other ways must lead to destruction! The words of reassurance to the disciples therefore become a statement of exclusivity and exclusion intended to strike fear into the hearts of followers of other religions. Unless we follow Jesus we are not following the way.
Whilst we all recognise that Christians can learn much from other religions it would be foolish for us to pretend that Jesus is just a way to God like many others. The idea that all faiths are just different roads up the mountain to reach the summit is contrary to the very special claims made by Jesus about himself. In calling himself God, Jesus is as much the mountain himself! However condemning all who do not ascribe to faith in Jesus to the tortures of hell is not a necessary conclusion. Universalists believe that everyone is "saved." Christian history is punctuated with the names of many who held such a theological position, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Naziansus, on down to Teilhard de Chardin, Jacque Ellul, Jurgen Moltmann, and Paul Tillich in the modern age.
There is some breadth of Biblical support for the idea which gives hope that the new order of things which Jesus seeks to bring about is more successful in the breadth of its embrace. It is worth looking at some of these passages which some believe demonstrate that Jesus and his disciples believed salvation was something brought to all creation
- Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. (Colossians 1: 19)
- When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself (John 12:32)
- To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:10)
- God so loved the world (cosmos) that he gave his only Son (John 3: 16)
- This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
- The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter3:9)
- If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
- Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Peter (Acts 3:21).
- You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ (Romans 14:11)
- Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10)
Exactly how the universal love of God and the particularity of Jesus fit together isn't clear. Christians struggle with such things as whether Gandhi in hell because he wasn't Christian. C.S Lewis said
'It is clearly unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him. But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him'.
This point is often used when appealing for the salvation of people who lived before the time of Christ, adults with severely limited cognitive abilities, babies and children who die young, and people today who have no reasonable opportunity to hear the Gospel — they are saved by Christ even though they can't call upon Christ.
There is much that we simply do not understand and I prefer to leave God to decide how to exercise judgement. Saint Augustine advised that we should do our best to seek answers to difficult questions. Having done that, he said we should "rest patiently in unknowing."
However what is clear to us is that in the passage today Jesus seeks to reassure his disciples of his ability to save. Jesus is speaking in terms of reassurance to specific individual, he might as easliy have said 'none of you.' There is no imperative to read into his words a doctrinal exclusivity. He is not telling his disciples what will happen to faithful Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists or indeed to the majority of people who have never heard the Christian Gospel. Jesus is talking to his Jewish followers and re-assuring these faithful disciples. We too are saved by Jesus, not by ourselves and our beliefs. Jesus Christ is the way – his path is the way to wholeness, salvation, and shalom—and this graceful and forgiving path may surprise all of us.
Hear the passage today and hear the words of comfort that Jesus speaks. His words are meant to reach out to us in whatever kind of distress we might find ourselves and speak reassurance. When Jesus says, 'I am the way the truth and the life and nobody comes to the Father but by me', he is effectively saying that he has the authority to save whoever he likes. Jesus is not making a statement about who cannot get in, he is rather making a commitment that he is able to pull off what he is promising to dispirited disciples who have a terrible couple of weeks ahead of them. There is nothing of which we need be afraid. Just like the disciples we can find that our fears and disappointments can be trusted to Jesus.