I go to prepare a place for you. At this point in my life, those words have become some of the sweetest words in the English language. Some of it has to do with the fact that I am getting older, and that as I age, I am discovering that I am becoming less and less comfortable living in this old and broken world. But most of it comes from working through the Scripture passages that we have been exploring for the past few weeks. I’ve realized that I’m really looking forward to that inheritance, kept in heaven for me, that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Every day, all around us, we struggle with that which is perishable, defiled and fading. I’m ready for something different, and as far as I am concerned, it can come anytime. I’m tired of watching things come undone.
In our passage this morning Jesus introduces this imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance to his disciples. In John’s Gospel these words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples on the night that he was betrayed, not long after the betrayer had departed to accomplish his dastardly deed. And while none of the other disciples really understood what Judas was up to…they did not realize that evil doings were already afoot, it had already been a surprising and difficult evening, because Jesus had very plainly announced to them that he was leaving them. I am sure that this was deeply troubling to the disciples. They had, after all, committed three years of their lives to him. They had left home and family to become his followers. And now Jesus was telling them that the gig was up; that the end had come, and that he was leaving them. What a shock that must have been. I am sure that they were not only astonished and stunned, but also deeply saddened. None of the disciples would ever have considered that their relationship with Jesus would end. That possibility was inconceivable. Jesus was the Messiah. In their minds, he was going to rule and reign forever. And now it has all come crashing down to an unexpected and horrific end.
And so in verse one, Jesus tells them to stop letting their hearts be troubled. It is often translated, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, but the force of original language makes it more of a command. And it is quite obvious, with the news of Jesus’ departure from them that their hearts are already troubled. And so Jesus tells them to stop being troubled, because in spite of the bad news that he has just delivered, he has some exceedingly good news. He says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”
As good Jews, Jesus’ disciples already believe in God. It is a deeply ingrained part of their heritage. But now, Jesus also invites them to believe in him. And this is absolutely stunning. Jesus is equating belief in God with belief in himself. As twenty-first century Christians, I don’t think that we can fully appreciate the impact that that statement would have had on a first century Jew. This statement, and a couple others like it, were what ultimately led to Jesus’ death. Unless it is true, it is pure and unmitigated blasphemy. But in the intimate and private setting of the night that Jesus was betrayed, Jesus wants his disciples to understand that he is much more than the Messiah that they imagine him to be. In this private setting, Jesus has boldly proclaimed his divinity.
And then, seemingly without comment or objection from his disciples, Jesus begins to tell them about the inheritance and the home that is in store for them. Apparently, at some other time, Jesus had already told his disciples that his purpose in leaving them was to prepare a place for them in the house of God, but now he reinforces that idea. He tells them that there is plenty of room in his Father’s house. Within the scope of God’s home are many dwelling places that Jesus will make ready for those who take the extraordinary step of believing in him.
We’ve been talking much about exiles and refugees lately. Exiles and refugees are people who’ve left home or who have been forced from home and who are looking for a new home. The exiles to whom Peter wrote were political refugees who had run away for the sake of their lives. But Peter gave added dignity to their situation by reminding them that their true home was to be found not on this planet, but rather in their eternal inheritance.
This world in which we live is filled with refugees and exiles, political and otherwise. And because we have responded to the good news of the Gospel, we count ourselves among them. But we do so joyfully, because like Peter’s readers we know that we have a place prepared for us. We have an eternal inheritance.
But sadly, there are many people in this world who do not have this glorious hope. They are merely exiles and refugees. They do not have a promised place whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual. There are many people in our midst who’ve grown world-weary. They are tired of living, tired of grasping, tired of struggling, and unfortunately they are looking for salvation in all the wrong places.
Later this week I have a funeral for a young man who died of a heroin overdose. It is not my first drug overdose funeral by a long shot, and it will certainly not be my last. What lie of salvation did this young man believe? What hopelessness raged through his soul that caused him to believe that he would find hope and peace and contentment and satisfaction by releasing a deadly drug into his bloodstream time and time again? Was the euphoria of the drug the only thing that released him form the sorrow and pain of being an exile and a refugee in this world? Why does this world breed so many exiles and refugees? These people are our children in our schools, they are our co-workers and loved ones. The world is full of living and dying souls who have been left behind, excluded, ignored, mistreated and abused. Hatefulness reigns all around us, and the victims of this hate are legion.
And so we bypass the way, the truth and the life, and we look to our political leaders not just for a cure for the brokenness of this world, but also for salvation from it. And we do this in spite of the fact that this course of action has failed time and time again. The world has a long and inglorious history of looking to its leaders for salvation. But it also has a long and inglorious history of choosing hateful, despotic and tyrannical leaders who only further the hopelessness and loss that plagues us.
Two thousand years ago the Son of God left the joy and the peace and the unimaginable contentment of his Father’s home to become an exile and a refugee on this planet of exiles and refugees. In coming, he called a small band of followers away from their homes and families to join him as fellow exiles and refugees. And wherever he and they went, he preached the message of hope and peace and joy. And he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And he filled that small band of disciples and many others with the unshakable hope of a new home and a new place where all persons would be accepted and loved, and where there would be no sorrow and no loss and no death and no grief. And this was good news indeed for all who had been forced out of society, left behind, excluded ignored, mistreated, abused and hated.
But this message of love and hope and acceptance was intolerable to some and so they put him to death, because he had the audacity to say things like “Believe in God, believe also in me”. And, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And sadly, even today, our Lord’s message of love and peace and hope remains intolerable to many. And so we continue our own search for salvation in whatever pitiful refuge we can find and wherever we can find it. And despite the thorough nature of our search and our best efforts, the world in which we live continues to devolve into a chaotic morass of hatefulness, loss and death. The world is breeding more and more refugees and exiles who have no joy, no peace, no contentment and no hope.
There are many right here in our own community who are searching for salvation in all of the wrong places. The salvation they find may provide some peace and hope and escape for a while, but the end result is always death and loss, because artificial means of salvation, however attractive they may be, are riddled with wrong and misleading paths, lies that sound suspiciously like the truth, and ultimately death.
We have the way, and the truth and the life. Will we proclaim it? Is our hope in the one who said, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” And, “I am the way and the truth and the life?” If it is, then let us bring that good news to those who have not yet found their way, and who do not yet know the truth, and who have not yet found real life.
Our hope is this: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” This is our hope as exiles and refugees and it is the only hope of exiles and refugees everywhere.