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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

My Father's House Has Many Dwelling Places - 05/10/2020

John 14:1-14 - Jesus the Way to the Father
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. 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 you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus says. (John 14:2)

We often associate this text with funerals. In my relatively short time as a pastor I think I’ve already preached on it 3 or 4 times at funerals.

Perhaps people think of it for that life experience because it is a comforting way to understand God’s love, God’s presence and care in our eternal lives.

It’s one of those readings that reminds us that we cannot fully understanding just how far our Peace-be-with-you/Good Shepard Savior will go to in order to bring us into our dwelling places in God’s house.

And this makes a difference.

I imagine we can all think of people who have wandered very, very far from Jesus’ initial instructions to us at the beginning of his earthly ministry – Repent! God’s realm has arrived! People we know, people we have only heard tale of. People who are just downright mean, permanently peeved at everything, seemingly bent on hurting or squashing others … maybe even themselves. People who make it really hard to get beyond their relationship-breaking behaviors and maybe help heal the wounds and trauma, the brokenness that is most likely underneath it all.

Or maybe, like so many of us, you just worry about your own worthiness for one of those dwelling places. Have I repented and lived life like a repentant person?

I think of a time I was busy with my own stuff and ignored a phone call from a friend and I wonder … Have I loved my neighbor enough?

I think of how much I love travel and adventure and life in the U.P. and I know I don’t thank God for it nearly enough, let alone first and foremost, and I wonder … Have I just completely blown it on worshipping God and God alone? Is there really a dwelling place in God’s home for this imperfect person?

And so, especially when marking someone’s death or thinking about our own, this teaching reminds us that it is Jesus who promises us this residence – the very same Jesus who sacrificed himself to a Roman lynching, defeated death and destroyed the grip of the tomb so that our brokenness, our worthiness is no longer part of the equation. When it comes to finding room in God’s house, Jesus has already reserved it. It is done.

And when we read “many dwelling places,” I think we can assume that Jesus is eternally seeking ways to bring all of God’s children to dwell finally and mercifully in God’s home, no matter how far they wander – maybe even when they wander into death.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus says.  (John 14:2)

When I first read this passage this week, my mind’s eye instantly lifted up to an eagle-eye view of Munising and all the areas that surround it – all along the streets of town, out to Christmas and AuTrain; east on H-58; Alger Heights and up to Wetmore and Shingleton; down Hwy 13 and to the lakes, up in the hills along 94 and out to Chatham and Trenary. I could see all the littles dots of dwelling places and spaces that hold the friends and family of Eden Lutheran right now – they glimmered like little points of light among all the trees.

 They are like little seeds of hope and life planted in this new reality we head into now. Little dwellings where God is preparing people, caring for them. Places and spaces where people shine and sin and God is working diligently through it all.

It is in these places and spaces this week that I saw things like a dad trying to learn some competition-level dance moves from his Cheer Team daughter. It is from one of these spaces I got a picture of a little school project one of our parents found in a packet of stuff that had been sent home from preschool. It was a St. Patty’s day clover and it had a writing prompt on it that said “So lucky to …” The preschooler finished the sentence “go to church.” So lucky to go to church—who knew how prophetic those words would be?

It is from these dwellings that I’ve received countless email and text messages and pictures of finally-finished projects, beautiful food, kitchen updates, fresh paint, art projects, raked and then shoveled and then raked-again yards.

It is in many of these dwelling places  so many of us have been going through those long-neglected boxes of old photos, only to find ourselves remembering people and events with friends and family, or telling our children stories of their ancestors, or thinking about passions and inspirations we haven’t stopped to think about in way too long.

And it is in these dwelling places that people are still dealing with difficulties too … some of us have lost loved ones in this strange time. Some of us worry about where money for food and rent will come from. Some of us are dealing with illness or addiction or brain health issues or abuse in a very strange and challenging time.

If you need help, please reach out.

Many of us are wishing we could kiss and hug our mothers today, and like every Mother’s Day, some are reminded too painfully that they were not hugged or kissed by their mothers at all.

And then I think, well there’s more to this community – there are our snowbirds, transplants, regular visitors and one-time visitors who are living elsewhere – and my mind’s eye rose to an even higher perspective – like the International Space Station or something, and again, so many glimmering points of light, seeds of hope and life, so many quarantines stories, so many dwelling places and spaces where God is breaking in somehow, right now.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus says.  

So you see, although we often think about this text in terms of our eternal life, it is also very much about our now life. We are assured of this dwelling place, we are called to this dwelling place, not only for our lives in the heavenly kingdom. We are assured and called to these dwelling places in our lives here and now too … in our roles at home and in the community – in our vocations.

And if that is the case, then we can trust that God is also preparing our dwelling places in the future … the short term future in which we learn to manage keeping each other alive and well while we live with the presence of COVID-19, and the long-term future in which we have a vaccine and the ability to protect the people of God’s world from the virus.

We don’t know with much clarity what either of those futures will look like yet, but we are assured that there are dwelling places for all of us in God’s house in that future, nonetheless.

And I’m here to tell you, I think I saw a glimmer of that future on the news yesterday morning. It was a story out of a hard-hit New York hospital of a man named Raymond Sangster. He’s been through hell. His mother died due to COVID-19 in April, and just a few days later, he became critically ill with the virus. He was on a ventilator for three days, but he survived, thanks be to God. And he recovered and was being discharged. The video included the scene of him leaving the hospital to go home. The halls of the hospital were lined with health care professionals and essential hospital workers – head-to-toe in PPE, every race, background, level of education you can imagine, probably. One hundred or more people cheering and weeping as Raymond left the hospital. Raymond. An older black man with a Caribbean accent, in the middle of New York City who was, for all intents and purpose, invisible to the world before that moment.

And whose healing brought every single person around him together in thanksgiving …

Whose healing instantly crushed any walls or division created over skin tones or religion, identity or politics, wealth or power …

Whose healing is a sign of the future we walk toward.

It was an amazing scene – and here is where I saw the glimmer of the future dwelling place in God’s house prepared for us in the days and lifetimes ahead: As Raymond left to cheers and tears he said very naturally, very authentically, “Love you guys,” and without hesitation someone shouted back “Love you too!”

Best hospital discharge ever.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, Jesus says.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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