The Gospel text was John 14:1-14.
In 1990, I was about to get on a plane for the first time, ever. I was 17 years old and had joined the Marines, and was about to go off to boot camp. I was terrified.
I had woken early the day before, and my parents had driven me the 50 miles or so into Memphis, where they were supposed to drop me off at a motel the Marines had paid for. But before we went there, we went to my favorite Chinese restaurant, and shared a last supper together.
It was our last meal as parents and son, our last meal where I was totally dependent on them, the last meal we would share where it was clear that I was wholly part of them and not on my own. A last time for me to be able to relax and know that I did not have to worry.
At one point, over the sweet and sour pork and the egg drop soup, my false bravado drops and I turn to my Dad and tell him, “I am not sure I can do this.”
“Of course you can,” he says. “I believe in you.”
At that moment, I knew I could go on.
In the passage we just read, Jesus is about to go away. After three years of their following Jesus around, of loving Jesus, of sacrificing things to be with Jesus, Jesus was about to go away. And here they are, at their last meal together, and the disciples are not sure they can make it.
Jesus tells them that of course they can. And that if they believe in God, believe in him too.
When I was growing up, I heard a lot in the church about how much I had to believe. That there were these certain things I should know, and if I only believed that they were true, than Jesus would be happy with me. And people used this very passage to justify that.
I am no longer so sure I think that way.
The more I get to know and spend time with this Jesus we see in the Bible, the more I see believing in him to be a lot like the way my Dad believed in me in that Chinese restaurant. My Dad knew what I was capable of. He knew my inner strength, he knew of the goodness he had modeled for me and knew that I had been paying attention.
He knew who I was. He knew where I was going. And he had hope that I would be coming back.
Jesus is telling the disciples, asking them, actually, to believe in him that way. To trust him. To know what he is like.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at funerals. And I always heard the first part of today’s passage preached there. In the words of the King James Bible of my youth, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions.” I always thought Jesus was talking about heaven.
But then I learned a little bit about what it meant to the people who heard it from Jesus.
See, the house I grew up in had three small bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. It was tiny. But in Jesus’ day, houses would be much larger. When a son would decide to get married, he would go and make the arrangements with the woman – sort of like getting engaged. But then he would leave her there and go back to his Father’s house and get busy putting an addition on that house. He would add a bedroom and a living room to his Father’s house – making another apartment, if you will.
He was preparing a place for her. And then, after the apartment was ready, the groom would come back for the woman, and they would go and live in the Father’s house as part of the family. If a family had many children, they would, over time, have many dwelling places attached to their house.
In my father’s house are many dwelling places…
Jesus is telling the disciples that he is bringing them to live in the Father’s house. He is telling them that there is an apartment for them there – that God has room for them. Jesus is asking them to trust in who he is, and to believe that they are being brought into God’s family; just like that bride is being brought into the groom’s family.
The people who heard this would go on to call it Good News, using a word that we have translated as Gospel.
In this passage, Jesus reassures his friends.
You know who I am. You know where I am going. And I will be coming back.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.