‘In my Father’s house,’ John 14:2
In one of the episodes from American writer Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, there is a story of a church service in which the Lutheran pastor has struggled to find inspiration for a sermon. All he has on the postcard for his sermon notes is a Bible text and the word ‘conclusion.’ The pastor is baffled when the congregation congratulate him on his sermon as they leave the church at the end of his service. It is thought to be one of the best sermons that he has preached.
While it is fictional, the story has always been one that has prompted thoughts about sermons. Isn’t it sometimes a case of letting a text speak rather than to try to add to it? Sometimes, there are Bible verses where attempting to add anything seems a superfluous exercise.
‘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?’ says Jesus in Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 2. Perhaps there is little that any preacher could add to the words of Jesus. Sometimes it is the case that less is more, sometimes there are preachers who can take half an hour to say what Jesus said in thirty seconds.
Thinking briefly, then about today’s text, ‘in my Father’s house,’ what is there that might offer us some thoughts for today?
The word John uses to record the words of Jesus is ‘oikia,’ it is the word for an ordinary household.
When we think of the word ‘house,’ it can suggest to us a picture that suggests something warm and welcoming. It suggests the sort of space that is open to everyone who wants to be there, there is plenty of room in the place for all of the guests who accept the invitation.
How often are churches like a house where everyone who comes through the door feels welcome and wanted and how often are they more like businesses which are only interested in people for what they might bring in, or like clubs which are interested only in their members? Does the church feel like an ‘oikia’ to those who come along? If it did, might not more people come along?
Having spoken of his Father’s house, Jesus continues, ‘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’.
In the space of two sentences, Jesus uses the word ‘you’ five times. He is not concerned with abstract principles or abstruse theological doctrines, he is concerned with people. He is concerned with those who are his friends.
Jesus speaks to his friends in a personal way, ‘for you,’ he says. I am doing this for you. In the following chapters of Saint John, his friends come to realize how costly it would be for Jesus to prepare that way.
Is this the way in which the church speaks to people? Is the church prepared to sacrifice itself for the sake of people? Or will the church serve itself, be concerned with its own affairs. consider itself to be above having to worry about those whom it treats as mere people?
Is there much that one can add to the words of Jesus? Not really. The words he speaks today are discomforting to the church. It will continue to ignore them.