“In My Father’s House Are Many Rooms”
The text for this sermon is John 14:1-14, a portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on April 20, 2008, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you noticed that when we Christians speak of heaven, we often use architectural imagery? In the gospel reading today, Jesus says there are many mansions. The heavenly Jerusalem is portrayed in the Revelation as having streets of gold. The Revelation also tells us that God and Jesus sit on thrones in heaven. We popularly think of entering heaven through the Pearly Gates and being greeted by St. Peter. Finally we’re told that there will be a gigantic banquet table in heaven for the feast of victory.
Today, you and I have a chance to think about heaven and what we do believe about the eternity with God that Jesus promises. I have often used today’s gospel reading in funeral services, but this is the first time I have the opportunity to use it as the basis of the sermon on a Sunday morning. I’d like to think that there is merit in addressing death and heaven at a time when we are not overwhelmed with grief.
The setting for Jesus’ words is the evening of the Passover Meal. This is Jesus’ last time with his disciples before his death. So he takes the opportunity to tell them what is to happen, what it means, and what they are to do when he is gone. Bible teachers call this Jesus’ Farewell Discourse and it is contained in chapters 14 through 17 of the Gospel of John. It is common in ancient literature to close out a hero’s life with such a last testament.
There are two phrases from Jesus in today’s gospel that I want to lift up for us:
· In my Father’s house are many rooms
· Whoever has seen me has seen the Father
Why do you think Jesus described heaven as a house or mansion with many rooms? It carries the idea of plenty of room for everyone; it picks up the idea of “y’all come.” It implies permanence. Earthly existence has been for a time; we’ve been temporary residents on earth. In heaven we will be forever, in a place provided by God.
My 7th grade Sunday school teacher tried his best to explain to me and my fellow classmates what heaven would be like. I chuckle now, thinking of this well-meaning but theologically unsophisticated teacher telling us that heaven would contain all the things we enjoyed best on earth. He said he knew that he would continue to enjoy driving his Chevy Corvette and watching Ed Sullivan on TV. and going to Dodger Baseball games.
Was he all wrong? I think he had the right idea that we will really enjoy heaven, that God would make sure we are taken care of. I also understand how limited now is our understanding and vision of heaven. We’re given images in scripture that start us on the road to understanding, but cannot give us the whole picture. In our limited mortal nature, we could not possibly grasp what heaven is really like. Houses, mansions, streets of gold? It’s going to be so much better!
Jesus told the disciples that they would know the Father through him. The disciple Philip spoke up and asked Jesus to show them the Father. And so Jesus makes it plain, “I and the Father are one.” In other words, “I am God. In me you see God.”
I am pleased that the first lesson for today was the story of the first Christian martyr. As he was dying, Stephen looked into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Christians ever since have laid claim to this wonderful understanding of who Jesus really is.
Where does earth stop and where does heaven begin? Is heaven a place or is heaven a relationship? Do we have to come to the end of our earthly life in order to experience heaven?
Jesus tells us in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” I Peter 2 encourages us Christians to grow into our salvation by how we think and act in this life. I believe that heaven and eternal life begin here on earth and is brought to completion on the other side of death. We don’t have to wait to start enjoying being in the very presence of our God.
Let me conclude this sermon with an idea that I think has merit. Do you know what an ethical will is? It comes out of Judaism. It is a will that is different from listing the disposition of financial assets. Rabbi Jack Riemer wrote Jewish Reflections on Death. He explains the Jewish practice of writing an ethical will: You are trying to summarize the faith you have lived by and the goals you want your children to cherish. The document you leave then will tell your children and grandchildren who you were and what you stood for.
Here is one such ethical will. These are just some excerpts:
To My Wife And Children
To my children –In material things I have seen to it that you will not want. These are the least important things, although the lawyer has prepared a megillah to safeguard them. Remember to be Jews, and the rest will follow as day follows night. Our religion is not ritual but a way of life. To us as Jews, life is it own raison d’ętre, its own self-justification; we await neither heaven nor hell. Ritual is only a tool to remind us who we are and of the divine commandments. Jews do not lie, steal, nor bear false witness – past nisht, as our parents used to say – such things are simply unbecoming for a Jew. Take care of one another, and in honoring your mother, honor yourselves. I know the love she has lavished on you without thought of self.
Marry within your faith. Not to please me but so that you may be happy. Not because Gentiles are inferior – they are not – but because marriage is complex enough without the complicating variables of different viewpoints. You are the bearers of a proud tradition of four thousand years. Do not let to the torch drop in your generation.
Turn not away anyone who comes to you for help. We Jews have seen more suffering than any other people. That which you give away, whether of money or of yourselves, is your only permanent possession…..
To all of you – Let you word be your bond. Those mistakes that I regret most keenly are the times when I let human weaknesses forget this. Unfortunately, it is always difficult to learn from the experiences of others, particularly of parents, but if there is one thing I beg of you to take to heart, it is this:
Say Kaddish after me but nor for me. Kaddish is the unique Jewish link that binds the generations of Israel. The grave hears not the Kaddish, but the speaker does, and their words will echo in your heart. The only immortality I seek is that my children and my children’s children be good Jews, and thereby good people.
God bless you all and keep you.
W.L.A., Jerusalem 1963