I was recently talking to a pastor friend about homes. He said that our homes tell a story about who we are and what we value. They are an expression of our true self. From the books on our shelves to the pictures and art on our walls, we tell the story of what matters most to us, where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
My home is much like my office. I have lots of pictures of family, friends and places I’ve visited. I have things I’ve collected from places I’ve traveled. There are 2 differences between my home and my office. I don’t have many books at home, because I have a library in my office. And, I have no wine in the office, because I’m not on an episode of Mad Men and drinking in one’s office is now frowned upon.
I love visiting people in their homes. I like to learn about your story and the people you love. I have visited Eleanor Snyder often in her home. She has a great story to tell about her home. The story goes that her father built her home from wood reclaimed from her old country school house. She said she went to school every day.
Now, there is much work around building a new home in town. We’re all pitching in to help feed the Care-a-vanners working on the Habitat for Humanity house. The pastors are praying each morning with the workers. I had the opportunity to meet Kyle the high school senior who will move into the home. He was putting in sweat equity this week.
Each morning, the Care-a-vanners gather for prayer and say, “Habitat is not a hand out. It is a hand up.” The family will mortgage the house when it is completed. But, the home is very affordable because lots of work is volunteer. There are some donations of supplies and there are funds from the ReStore in Sullivan. Plus, the family and their friends will invest 300 hours of sweat equity in their home. This Fall the Buford family will move in and fill their home with their stuff that will tell their story and begin to build new memories.
The proverb says, “Home is where the heart is.” I think our hearts are tied to our homes because that’s where our loved ones and our treasured things are. Our stuff isn’t just stuff. Last week, at our offering, I told the story of an auctioneer telling a family that he would get rid of a person’s life in 4 hours at an estate sale. I said that we don’t value our lives by our stuff because our treasures are in Heaven. We look forward to Heaven yet have things that are dear to us here. If you’ve ever had a fire or flood or had your house broken into, you know what it’s like to lose things that you value, especially a sense of security and sanctuary.
When we think of home, we may sometimes think of our eternal home as being with God up there. At the beginning of Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that His Father’s house has many dwelling places. Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place for us. He will come and take us there. These words are comforting at a funeral hoping in the resurrection of our loved one; however, there are comforting words for the living of this life at the end of that chapter.
Yes, Jesus is preparing a home for us. Jesus also tells us God is coming to us. Jesus says that for those who love Him God will love them and will come to make His home with us. As the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Father has come to us to dwell with us, make a home with us.
This message to the Disciples may have been important to the readers of the Gospel of John. The readers would have read the Gospel and heard these words after the Temple was destroyed and when they were searching for God’s presence outside the Holy of Holies. The Jews had always struggled with confining God.
In the Old Testament, there are lots of prophets that warn Israel and her kings that doom is coming if they don’t return to God’s justice in caring for the vulnerable and trusting in God’s care. Eventually, the nation is overthrown by Assyria then Babylon then Persia. Each time, people were displaced. The prophet and priest Ezekiel prophesies one of the great messages the Old Testament has for the people.
In a vision of four living creatures, like a human, lion, ox and eagle, with wings on wheels with eyes, the prophet Ezekiel envisioned God’s throne as mobile. To a displaced people far away from their Temple who believed their God lived in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, this was good news. God is the God of Israel even when there is no Israel because God is a God of the people. He promised to be their God and asked them to be His people. He did not abandon them when they reached the borders of Israel. God could not be confined to the Temple; God is everywhere. They continue to be God’s people wherever they lived.
Our homes are full of memories of the things that happen in our lives while we live there. There are pictures of celebrations and vacations. There are places where we feel closest to God like in our garden or mother’s chair. Our homes are where we raised kids. They may be your first place when you moved to Bethany. They may be a place you retired to. They may be a farm, in town, or out in the country. No matter where we call home, God is there.
This passage from John chapter 14 promising the coming Holy Spirit through whom God will continue to live among us comes from what is known at the Farewell Discourse of the Gospel of John. This conversation happens after Jesus has washed the Disciples’ feet and before His betrayal, but we don’t know if it was before, during or after the Last Supper. Jesus gives the Disciples His parting words in the Farewell Discourse. It is His attempt at preparing the Disciples for what will happen over the next 24 hours, but what can really prepare the Disciples for Jesus’ departure.
Jesus starts this discourse with the words, “do not let your hearts be troubled…I am going to prepare a house for you…I will come and take you there.” Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, challenges His followers to keep His commands and offers peace. Jesus moves into the teaching about His followers being grafted into the Vine. He talks about the work of the Spirit and once again offers them peace before a long prayer for their unity.
Our reading today is Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, His challenge to keep His commands, and His gift of peace. The promise of the Holy Spirit is that One who will come to the Disciples when Jesus leaves them. The Disciples had done everything in the past 3 years to leave behind their old lives to devote themselves to Jesus’ teaching and ministries. They had given up so much to be a part of His life and follow Him.
If you’re watching the mini-series AD The Bible, you saw last week how deeply committed Peter was to Jesus and how much he missed Jesus when talking to Paul about his road to Damascus experience. These Disciples were whole-heartedly devoted to Jesus and now were faced with the news that He was leaving them. They slowly leave Him throughout the next day’s events, because they don’t understand yet what He is saying tonight.
They don’t understand who the Holy Spirit is and what She’ll do, even though He tries to explain. The word translated as Advocate is the Greek paraclete which can be translated as Companion, Intercessor, One who comes along side, or Advocate. This Spirit will be the presence of God in the absence of Jesus. God came to dwell among the people as the incarnation of God, Jesus the Christ, Immanuel. When Jesus goes to be with the Father, God is not going to leave the people. God will continue to dwell with them, us, through the Holy Spirit. You can imagine that this continued presence of God in the absence of Jesus was as difficult for the Disciples to believe as Ezekiel’s message to the people of Israel that God dwelt with them outside of Israel.
The Spirit will continue to teach the Disciples as Jesus had taught them. Jesus says, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” And, Jesus tells His Disciples that if they love Him they will keep His word or command. Jesus this commandment, a new commandment in chapter 13 verses 34 – 35. Jesus said, “… 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is important in carrying out this commandment. The Holy Spirit will come to those who keep the commandment, but the commandment cannot be kept without the help of the Holy Spirit. We need help if we want to live out the commandment and the Holy Spirit will be the One to teach us and remind us.
After the promise of the Holy Spirit who will be our present companion in Christ’s absence and help us in loving others as Jesus loves us, Jesus offers His Disciples peace. Then, he closes the chapter as He opened it. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
I can’t believe this peace and love and Holy Spirit thing is all that comforting or easy to understand as their beloved Jesus is saying I’m going away. But, there must be something about this peace, because the Apostle Paul writes about it in Philippians 4: 7 – “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s hard to talk about peace with this text from John, because John doesn’t tell us anything about peace. Jesus says I’m leaving you peace and I’m going. Maybe that’s where we get the phrase “Peace out.” I’m going to talk about peace in a few weeks when I preach Philippians 4 because I think we can understand peace in relation to prayer and the things of God.
We can understand peace better in the Philippians 4 text than in this text with the stress of the Disciples who are obviously worrying that their Savior is leaving them. We also have to think about how Jesus is telling the Disciples this news that He is going. I can’t imagine this is in a joyful tone. I imagine Jesus is saying these words much like a person dying might be saying goodbye to his loved ones. I suppose Jesus was as much in need of peace for the coming day as the Disciples were in need of peace about His departure.
I think the important message of this text from John is that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God. Wherever we are, whether home or an unfamiliar place, whether in times of trouble or times of peace, in sunshine and in rain, God is with us. He has made His home among us.