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the sermon for

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

14 May 2017

John 14:1-10
God loves us; we love one another!

04302017Well, last week was going to be the week! I came in here, Monday morning, to pick up a few pieces I'd left behind, the day before. My hymnal. The sermon. And for the first time – the first time in a long, long time – I, actually, looked up at the cross and saw the burlap arrow hanging there! It had become so much a part of the scenery that, for all interests and purposes, it had become invisible! Just like the pictures we hang on the walls at home. They become so much a part of our world that, after a while, we just don't see them, anymore. So, I decided to take it down. Fortunately, I didn't get around to it.

I forgot when, exactly, I put it up. Even why. My guess would be it was something I did to highlight something in one of my sermons... a year ago... two... I do know it was meant to stand for the essence, the spirit, of believing! The bottom line, so to speak, of our faith. Everything is a gift from god! Absolutely everything! How's the song go? "All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above!" And that arrow represents it all! Baptism is a gift from god! Forgiveness is a gift from god! The supper is a gift from god! Daily bread! Family! Neighbors! It's all a gift! Free and clear! Nothing we have to do to earn it! Nothing we have to do to deserve it! It comes to us, simply, from the goodness, from the greatness, of god's own heart! That arrow! Pointing down!

Well, I got back to my office, sat down, and began thinking about this morning's sermon. And the arrow did its work! Because that arrow – more than anything else – sums up John's gospel! "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us!" That's how the story begins. He came down! Jesus gave sight to the blind! Jesus fed the hungry! Jesus raised the dead! It's all a coming down from heaven! At that last supper with his disciples, on the eve of the cross, in John and in John alone, Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, and he kneels down before his friends! And being glorified? Being glorified, according to the fourth gospel, means descending to the land of the dead! And then, at the end of the New Testament, the Revelation – another book from John's community – comes to a climax as the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven as a bride for her husband! The arrow always points in one direction! Descending! Entering into! Becoming a part! And so, it was with that arrow in mind that I began reading the passage from John...

'Do not let your hearts be troubled,' [Jesus said to the disciples,] 'Believe* in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that 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.

And as you might expect, on seeing those words, I, naturally and automatically, began to go in the totally and completely opposite direction! I read the words and I, immediately, lifted my eyes toward heaven! Up Jacob's latter! Through the pearly gates! Onto the golden streets! And I left everything I knew – everything and every body – far, far below!

In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places... 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.

Like rubbing a magic lamp, those words conjure up images of heaven! Up high! Far away! You know what I mean! You've heard the sermons! Read the descriptions! And they're all around us! So much so, it's the only picture that comes to mind! Pie in the sky! Sweet by and by! And the arrow, always and forever, points up! Above! Beyond! But that's not the direction of faith! The tendency of believing!

Stop and think about it, for a moment... Chapter fourteen in John's gospel isn't something that happens AFTER Easter! It's not, even, something that comes AFTER Good Friday! It's something that is spoken, the night in which he was betrayed! Around the table! At the last supper! Of course, in John, there is no supper. Just a lot of words! So Jesus hasn't left his disciples the first time! To suffer under Pilate! To be crucified, to die, to be buried! To descend to the dead! So, if he leaves now, it's to do THESE things! And to return – to come again – would mean the resurrection! It would refer to Easter! Coming again, in this context, would be coming again in the garden, outside the tomb, on Easter morning! Coming again would be coming again to the house where the doors were locked for fear! It would mean the same house, a week later! And along the lake shore! Events where the arrow points down! Again! And again! And again!

But that seems to imply that "his Father's house," the house in which there are many dwelling places, the place to which Jesus will take us when he comes again... It seems to imply that place is right here, smack in the middle of creation itself! Not outside! Not beyond! But right here in the midst of it all!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is your spot in that pew, this morning!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is the place you were given in this community the moment you were baptized!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... is your position in the mission, in the ministry, of god's own people!

What if his Father's house wasn't something in heaven... but what if it's us! What if it's the church!

What if that place Jesus was preparing... isn't so much a place, as it is a purpose, a reason!

All those what-ifs demand an arrow just like the one hanging on that wall! An arrow representing, an arrow symbolizing, god's love, god's charity, god's grace! An arrow that points in one direction! Down! Down toward the lowest and the least! Down toward the down and the out!

"Love," Jesus said! "Love just like me!" I never noticed until this morning, but those words are spoken just five verses before the start of today's gospel, before the start of this week's good news! This is where Jesus is! This where Jesus has always been! Right here between us! Between us and beside us! Behind us and before us!

In John's gospel, there was no ascension! There was no second coming! Because, you see, Jesus never left! He came! And he stayed! Because that is what love does! Love comes down! And love never, ever goes away!

So, I guess, for now, the arrow will stay. At least, as long as it does what it was meant to do! Remind us of where love comes from! Remind us of where love goes! Reminds us of where love is found! From the Father to the Son! From the Son to creation! And here it stays! It never returns! It never leaves! God loves us and that will never change! And because of that, we love one another! Arrow on the wall or not!

 
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