Rev. Doug Floyd
Easter 5 2020
St. Brendan’s Anglican Church
Acts 17:1-15; Psalm 68; 1 Peter 2:1–12; John 14:1–14
When my nephew was young, he told his mother that he asked God to leave His heart. He said, “Jesus can stay but God has to go. He scares me.” In his childlike way, he was expressing a common confusion in the church: Jesus is comforting but the Father is stern and judging. From time to time, I still hear this misunderstanding appear among Christians, and this has even caused some folks to have a distorted picture of the atonement. This distortion creates a division between Jesus and the Father, and it fails to convey the communion of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus reveals the love of the Father to a world blinded by sin. In so doing, he opens blind eyes and deaf ears to the unfathomable love of God. Our Gospel today opens with words of comfort to the first disciples in the midst of encroaching threats. “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus is offering comfort to disciples who sense there is danger in the air. In story after story, the Gospel of John sets up a stark division between Jesus and His disciples and the powers that be. John even opens the Gospel with this division by saying, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Throughout the Gospel, a tension builds between those who hear and follow Jesus, and those who reject him. Even those who follow Jesus seem to misunderstand His miracles.
In chapter 3, we hear from Nicodemus the great teacher of God’s people. He wants to believe but even he struggles to understand the words of Jesus. In this discussion, we hear one of the most popular passages from all of Scripture, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Just a few verses after this beautiful passage on God’s love for the world, we read, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).
As the Gospel proceeds, the tension builds. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and the leaders are seeking to kill him all the more. At one point, many disciples cannot bear the words of Jesus and walk away. Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?”
When the crowds hear Jesus speak, they are even divided. Some believe, some think he’s a prophet, some want him arrested. Jesus is accused of having a demon and of committing blasphemy. Some even pick up stones to throw at him. Even those blessed by the ministry of Jesus come under threat. When he heals a man born blind, the man is kicked out of the synagogue. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and the authorities want to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. The disciples surely feel the tension in the air as Jesus no longer walks around openly among the Jews.
Finally, we come to this dramatic meal with Jesus where he washes the disciples’ feet, speaks of a coming betrayal, and even says that Peter will deny him. If I was watching a movie, I would be waiting for that moment when suddenly everything turns around. When it looks like all the armies of darkness have arrayed on the hillside and sure defeat is coming, then suddenly reinforcements appear, and the good defeats the bad. This moment doesn’t come.
Instead, Jesus speaks words of comfort and indicates that he is going away. In the moment, Jesus’ words of comfort seem almost baffling. Thomas and Philip and the other disciples do not understand what Jesus is trying to say. It does not sound like hope and comfort. It sounds like Jesus is leaving them at the very time of maximum crisis.
They will only begin to hear the hope and unspeakable glory of Jesus’ words from the other side of the Resurrection. Today, we hear these words of hope and comfort in light of the Risen One who is present even now. By His Spirit, Jesus speaks to us and opens our hearts to the truth of the witness in the Gospel writers. Jesus says to the disciples in the midst of the impending threats and his coming departure, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Then he gives a reason for this comfort. First, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” He is explicitly connecting the relationship between Him and the Father. He is asking the disciples to trust Him in the way that they would trust Creator God. In this short dialogue with the disciples, he will reinforce teaching from the past and reiterate that to know Jesus is to know the Father in heaven. This is true and real comfort because by living with Jesus, abiding with Jesus, dwelling with Jesus over these last few years, they have come to behold the very nature of God the Father. They watched Jesus welcome the Samaritan woman, heal the blind outcast, raise the lame man, and love them and teach them. They are being told that all the while they have been beholding to works of God the Father. Jesus reveals the Father.
This first word of comfort is a word the emphasizes how Jesus both reveals the Father and how He participates in the life of the Father even as the Father participates in His life. While this is still a mystery to them and even to us at some levels, Jesus is revealing a perfect loving communion at the center of all things.
As Paul writes in Colossians,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:15–20).
No matter what happens over the next few days, the disciples are called to rest in this absolute faithfulness of God within this creation.
After asking the disciples to trust Him, believe in Him, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. 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, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” (Jn 14:2–4).
Sadly, the word for rooms or dwellings has often been translated as mansions. This emphasizes glory and reward, but it fails to emphasize communion. Jesus is telling the disciples, in Father’s house there is plenty of room for all of you. This is speaking of being welcomed into the family, into the great communion. Jesus is already hinting at what he will continue to develop on 14 and 15: he is going away so that they can enter into this communion of love.
Jesus is going away to the cross and to death, but this is not the end, not the defeat. It will look like complete defeat. In fact, Peter and most of the disciples will deny Jesus and run away. They will lose hope. They will be ready to give up. Instead of the end, this is the beginning of all things made new. They won’t understand that in the midst of crisis, but the Gospel of John reveals that in retrospect they did come to believe it and rest in it.
Jesus the Risen One will return to them. He will restore their faith and He will send the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, the way the disciples will enter the family of God is by His death and resurrection. The disciples, on the other hand, will not have to die to enter into this communion of love. They enter the way by trusting in Jesus. Following Jesus. The Holy Spirit will communicate the truth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will lead them into the fullness of life.
And finally, in our reading today, the Holy Spirit will into the very works of Jesus. These discouraged, defeated disciples will know the life and power of Almighty God. As they proclaim the story of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the truth of Jesus, the way of Jesus, the Spirit will work through to expand Jesus’ ministry beyond Jerusalem, beyond Galilee, beyond Palestine, and into all the world.
In this sense, we might tease out a third hope and comfort. The sweet communion of love they have enjoyed with Jesus and to some extent with one another is the beginning of a communion of love that will reach throughout the world and into to future generations. This is the family of God; the Temple made of living stones; the Holy Catholic church. But don’t simply think of an institution. Think of an ever-growing communion of love. It is the hope that all things are being reconciled to God in Christ.
In this sense, the disciples will do even greater things than Jesus. They will discover that there is room in the Father’s house for all those who will heed the witness of the disciples, and the witness of the Church, and the witness of His Saints in our community and across the world.
This passage speaks not only to the Apostles, but to us today. By His Spirit, Jesus continues to draw near to us, to reveal the Father’s love to us. Like the first disciples, we discover that there is room for us in the family of God. Jesus prepared a way for us through the cross. Now we enter by trusting Him and resting in His lead. As we grow into loving communion with God and one another, we are also learning how this hope and comfort continues to grow through the world. We are witnesses in the midst of our world, our situations, our struggles, and even our pains. We are witnesses to the love of God and the hope of reconciliation for a world in need, in fear, in struggle, and in anger.
In this sense, we continue to do the greater things Jesus promised. By His Spirit, we continue to bear witness to Jesus and the Father. As we follow the Risen One who walks in in midst and leads us by His Spirit, the Spirit leads us into the truth of Jesus and into the depths of love that the Father has for us and for all his world. We no longer have to pit Son against the Father, but we simply rest of the great love that has been made known to us in Jesus Christ. By His grace, the communion of love continues to grow from strength to strength till we all appear before God in Zion.