David A. Davis
December 11, 2016
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.” (KJV) Many mansions. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (NRSV) Dwelling places. “My Father’s house has many rooms.” (NIV) “My Father’s house has room to spare.” (CEB) “In my Father’s house there are many places to live in.” (NJB). Many mansions. Many dwelling places. Many rooms. Room to spare. Many places to live in.
Most who have heard John’s Jesus say it longer than they can remember have their preferred setting when it comes to these familiar verses from John 14. It’s like picking the favorite voice on your GPS. A soft spoken, female, British voice makes trying to find your way through an unknown city a bit less stressful. Hearing your translation of choice when it comes to John 14 is almost part of the promise. Mansions. Dwelling Places. Rooms. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase goes for a chummy Jesus. “There’s plenty of room for you in my Father’s house.” (The Message) Sort of like Jesus is trying to convince the disciples to stay the weekend.
A week or so ago I was teaching a Presbyterian worship class over at the seminary and the topic for the day was funerals and memorial services. I shared with the class my thought that some verses of scripture pretty much have to be included, just have to be read. Psalm 23 and John 14. Not because there aren’t others appropriate to the occasion. And acknowledging that there may be times and seasons for the pastor when those selections might feel a bit tired and worn. And sure family members may ask specifically that they not be read. But Psalm 23 and John 14 function at such a profound, beyond meaning, words can’t quite express it, kind of level when it comes to the church’s witness to God’s promise at the time of death. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.” Some things a pastor ought not to mess with.
Last summer Cathy and I were spending one last day in London before heading home after a long stay in the UK. We decided to head out from our hotel and walk until we got lost or tired and then check the GPS to find our way back. At one point we were somewhere on a crowded sidewalk in Soho, walking along at a pretty good clip, in the middle of a block when I thought I heard a voice say “Dave Davis?” It wasn’t a shout. It wasn’t a whisper. I’m not sure how I even heard it. It didn’t register right away. It was so jarring that I took a few more steps before I stopped. “Did I just hear my name?” And as we stopped, the voice came again, “Is that Dave Davis?” We turned around and sure enough, there was a retired Presbyterian minister and Princeton Seminary trustee John Galloway along with his wife on sidewalk in London. He probably didn’t raise his voice because he didn’t want to look foolish if it wasn’t me. It was a jarring juxtaposition; hearing my name on a London street.
I know I am going to be reading the opening verses of John 14 a few times from this pulpit this week and next. But to hear from Jesus, not at a memorial service, but on the Third Sunday of Advent, to hear these words from Jesus when we’re lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath and when we’re singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”, it’s a bit of jarring juxtaposition. “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.”
I prepare a place for you. Prepare a place. Prepare. Prepare. That sounds like Advent to me. Advent: preparing for him, making room for him, “let every heart prepare him room.” We’re preparing for him. He’s already prepared for us. And you know from John, from the gospel of John, that his preparation started a long time ago. “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people….In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That’s John sort of giving a call out to Jesus on a crowded Advent street. Not a whisper. Not a shout. In the beginning was the Word.
John’s Jesus never met an “I” he didn’t’ like. As in I am the bread of life and I am the light of the world and I am the good shepherd and I am the gate and I am the resurrection and I am life and I am the vine. So many in John that the tradition calls them “The I am’s”. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” A bit later the Samaritan woman said to Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming. His response; “I am he”.
Jesus and his “I, I, I, I”. “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….I am the way, and the truth, and the life…The words that I say to you I do not speak on my; but the Father who dwells in me does his works…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…I will do it…I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” I go. I am. I say. I tell. I do. I ask. I. I. I.
You get the Johanine trajectory here, right? John and the “I am’s” Jesus and the life and the light and the water and the bread. He is the dwelling place. Christ is our dwelling place. “Abide in me as I abide in you” Jesus said to the disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Mansions. Dwelling places yet to come. A dwelling place now. God’s promise for then. God’s promise for now. Just that side of glory. Just this side of glory. Our dwelling place. Christ is our dwelling place. That’s the Advent promise.
When I meet with couples in my office to talk about their wedding plans, often I hear reports about the tasting. I have never been but it sounds like you go to the venue or to the caterer and they provide samples of various menu items so you can plan and prepare and imagine with your mouth and taste and experience and know. Notice they don’t call it a foretasting. They call it a tasting. Maybe Fanny Crosby wasn’t quite right. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine.” According to Jesus in John, it’s not just a foretaste, it’s a taste! Prepare. Imagine. Experience. Know. The very glory of God. The very love of God. The very promise of God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” With just a dash of Advent.
In the Greek, the word for “hearts” here in John 14:1 is actually singular. Did you hear that in the King James? “Let not your heart be troubled”. Interestingly, the “your”, the possessive of “you” is plural. “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God.” I have no idea where the “ye” in the King James is plural or not. Let not your (plural) heart (singular) be troubled. When Jesus repeats the phrase later in the chapter, the Greek is the same. One commentator points out that here at the beginning of this long speech from Jesus in John, the beginning of his “final discourse” with his disciples, Jesus has shifted from a personal conversation with Peter at the end of chapter 13 to now addressing the whole group. Thus, the “you’ plural. But, in the scholar’s words, they only have “one heart.” In the flow of John’s gospel, Jesus is addressing his departure, his death and resurrection. He is addressing how in his absence, their collective heart should not be heavy, not be broken, not be troubled. There is the comfort of the Holy Spirit, of course. But there will also be work to do, and belief to do, and love to do. And when it comes to belief, and when it comes to acts of faith, and when it comes to what Jesus calls “greater works”, and when it comes to love, you can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone. The promise is to you… plural. The ministry is for you… plural. Giving a shout out to Jesus on a crowded Advent street. That’s you… plural. Proclaiming the love of God in word and deed on the edge of campus, in the heart of town. That’s you… plural.
This whole Advent season, and actually since we started thinking and planning for the Advent season as a church staff way earlier in the fall, I’ve been trying to figure out why Advent is like the comfort food of the liturgical year. Yes, there is a rhythm to a congregation’s life that is familiar. The opportunities, the sights, the sounds, the hymns, the candles, the flowers. The church has a homey feel this time of year. But its more than that. When the feverish pace of life never stops, when the chaos of the world continues to rage, when family dynamics inevitably come with a capital “F” and a capital “D” this time of year, when your routine of following the news and current events is no longer tenable, when the needle of loneliness is pinned, when the reality of death just won’t stop, when the pace of the social calendar runs you down, when faith hitting a dry spell doesn’t even begin to describe, when the days get shorter and the nights get longer, when its Advent, you and I get to come here together and feast on the promise of the Christ Child as if for the very first time. Prepare. Imagine. Experience. Know. The very glory of God. The very love of God. It is as wonderful, as life giving, as filling, as the very first time you tasted it.
You and I get to come here together, look toward Bethlehem, look toward that little child who will lead them, look toward the one who will be the sign, Immanuel, God with us, look toward the one Mary named Jesus, you and I get to come here together and hear him say, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.”
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission.