1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4 You know the way to the place I’m going.”
5 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (CEB)
Trust in God
John 14 is a text that we often hear at funerals or beside freshly dug graves. In fact, our pervasive use of this text during times of death and loss almost makes it strange for us to hear it read on the fifth Sunday of Easter. Afterall, the Season of Easter is about resurrection and life. So why would we read a passage from Scripture that is so deeply associated with death?
One reason might be that death is kind of a prerequisite to resurrection. We don’t get to experience the joy of Easter without the horror of Good Friday. Good Friday isn’t exactly a popular holy day. One can see that in the attendance record at Good Friday worship services. We can say we revere Good Friday, but very few people actually show up to bear witness to the agony of our God as we walk through the account in Scripture. That’s one of the reasons why the church has moved to include the Passion narratives on Palm Sunday. We call it Palm/Passion Sunday now. We slip the Passion in there because we know most people are not going to experience it during Holy Week.
Another reason why we read this text during the Easter season might be that the church today finds itself in the same predicament that the disciples were about to find themselves in of Jesus-in-absentia (at least physically absent). John 14 begins Jesus’ lengthy farewell discourse in which he prepares his followers for his absence. Things are about to radically change. Jesus knows he’s going to die. But he also knows he’ll rise from death and ascend to glory. He’ll return to God whence he came. He also knows that we will follow him in this pattern. Jesus, in this passage, is about to go ahead of us. But the relationship doesn’t end with death.
Still, the hearts of his disciples are troubled. Remember, all of this is taking place in the upper room. Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples. He has just announced that he will be betrayed. He has just finished telling Peter that he will deny him three times before the rooster crows. The growing anxiety in the room must have been thick enough to cut with a knife. And Jesus next words to this group of troubled disciples is, “Don’t be troubled” (John 14:1a CEB).
Now, this feels a little like being told to calm down. I saw a meme once that said, “Never in the history of calm down has anyone who was told to calm down ever actually calmed down.” Being told to calm down usually raises our hackles, doesn’t it? Unless the person speaking is someone we know, love, and trust. If it’s a random person, them’s fightin’ words. If it’s a parent or spouse or loved one whom we know and trust is in solidarity with us, who is ready to walk through fire and flood with us, that trust enables us to listen instead of react.
I don’t know whether the disciples were able to listen right away, but it seems by their questions and comments that they were struggling to understand their present and their future. They had just been told that they would betray, deny, and abandon Jesus. Their hearts were definitely troubled. So, Jesus tells them to trust; to believe. “Trust in God. Trust also in me” (John 14:1b CEB).
In John’s writings, trust, belief, or faith, however the Greek word is translated, is never a person’s inner intellectual assent or agreement. Faith, belief, trust is almost exclusively an active commitment that is outwardly displayed in how we behave. If we believe, trust, have faith in Jesus, then our actions will display the love and compassion of Jesus. The well-dressed words that come out of our mouth matter very little if our actions fail to live up to the standard Jesus set by his example. Jesus didn’t teach intellectual agreement. Jesus taught love, acceptance, and forgiveness by loving, accepting, and forgiving.
So, when Jesus tells his disciples to trust in God and trust in him, he’s telling them to live like they trust in God and in him. Again, it’s important for us to remember the context of Jesus’ words. “After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, ‘Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do’” (John 13:12-15 CEB). We have faith, belief, or trust in Jesus by continuing to serve each other and those outside our community of faith as Jesus served. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35 CEB).
What are the things that trouble our hearts? The whole world is in a difficult season of life right now. The pandemic we’re facing has caused innumerable fears and concerns. Some of us are worried about paying our bills. Some of us are worried about our health. Some of us are worried about loved ones and friends who are in medical professions. Some of us are worried about our retirement accounts and whether we’ll have enough to sustain us in the coming years. Some of us are simply struggling with the isolation, itself. The Indiana 211 hotline has gone from about 1,000 calls a day to 25,000 calls a day. I read that the national suicide hotline saw an 891% increase in calls. People are struggling to cope. We can get through this difficult time by living out our trust in God. That means we continue to love each other and continue to serve as Jesus taught us.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure, he reminded them that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place. He says his Father’s house has room to spare. There’s a lot of room in God. God is eternally roomy. God is expansively available. Eternal life is entrance into God’s vast and roomy being. Our place, the place to which Jesus will gather us in resurrection from death, is eternal life in God. The place to which Jesus will gather us is God’s own self. Probably less a location than a relational presence. It’s impossible to know the fullness of what this means, but we can trust that where Jesus is, we will be also.
This is ancient Jewish wedding imagery. A groom would go and prepare a place for his bride. Then, he would formally come to her parents’ house and take her to where he lives, so she can live with him as part of his larger family. Jesus makes room for us as part of his extremely large family. He gathers us together in a new household.
Yet, like Thomas, there are times in our lives where we find ourselves lost enough to say, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 CEB). That’s when Jesus reminds us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 CEB). Now, there are some who take this to point to a kind of Christian exclusivity or triumphalism. But that’s not what this means. God can save anyone that God wants to save. God can invite anyone into God’s household that God wants to invite, and there’s not a dang thing that you and I can do about it. Except, perhaps, rejoice.
If Jesus wanted the disciples to aim for a narrow exclusivity, then he would have told us how his Father’s house has only a few rooms, and those will be set aside only for those who are good enough. After all, Jesus can’t let just any old riffraff into his Father’s house. What would the neighbors think?
No! Jesus said that his Father’s house has room to spare. Jesus came to save the riffraff: people like you and me, if we’re honest about ourselves. There’s room for all of us, and Jesus will come and take us to that place. We have a home in God, so there’s no reason for us to be troubled.
Or, like Philip, we might ask Jesus for more specific directions: “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us” (John 14:8 CEB). That’s when Jesus reminds us of his oneness with the Father. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11 CEB).
What we are invited to hear as we read through this passage is God’s initiative in Jesus Christ for us to come to God. None of this is our doing. None of this is our acting. God has acted in Jesus Christ on our behalf. Salvation is God’s initiative. God has revealed God’s self to us in Jesus Christ. God’s self-knowledge is revealed in God’s love, God’s self-emptying, God’s self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came to be Emmanuel, which is God With Us. It should be a source of amazement and comfort to know that God has unequivocally chosen not to be God Without Us. Trust that God has space for you. God has prepared room for you, no matter how messed up, troubled, hurting, broken down, or unfinished you may be. We are invited to trust in God and trust in Jesus: to live as a member of God’s house according to the ways members of this household ought to act.
The way we follow the way, the truth, and the life, is by living the way Jesus lived. It means we embody the values he embodied. It means we hold fast to the truth he exemplified. It means that we spend our lives giving of ourselves and sharing with the world this life-altering, love-centered, abundantly roomy good news.
Jesus said that whoever believes in him will do the works that he does (c.f. John 14:12). Following Jesus means we live our story as if it’s Christ’s story. We live as though we’re family. We welcome others and make room for them the same way God has welcomed us and made room for us. We get to create space for others the same way Christ has made space for us. This is the greater work to which we’re called. God is always making room. And since we’re people of God’s expansive and ever-expanding household, that’s what we’re called to do as well.
It’s fitting that this is a text we use so often at funerals, because it’s a text that invites us to new, abundant, and eternal life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Rev. Christopher Millay