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?
John 14:2, RSV
My third grade Bible came from the Presbyterians, a classic RSV with a black cover and my name stamped in gold on the cover. It’s the version that comes to mind most often when I try to call up the gospels from memory. In my deeply-internalized remembrance, Jesus promises not mansions or dwelling-places, but a welcome to his Father’s house, in which there are many rooms.
At my house, there are enough rooms for everyone, even if during the Stay at Home order it doesn’t always feel that way. We’re all mindful that we are safe, sheltered, and relatively secure for now, as long as we follow the guidelines for our state. Sermons have been preached in my living room and at my kitchen table, benedictions recorded in the driveway with the steeple in the background. Work from home means something different now, a revealing of our previously inner workings to the people we serve. Tonight, my oldest son will arrive after driving across country; we have room for him to quarantine in the youth center next door and will find room for him, somehow, in the manse when that time is up, the end of his relationship now a topic to be shared with church leaders instead of a private matter.
We’re not the only ones whose vulnerabilities have been exposed.
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’
In an ideal world, home is not just the place we will go when this life is over, but a safe space or a safety net we can rely on in times of need. In Robert Frost’s poem, “Death of the Hired Man,” a couple talk over the man who they take in again at what proves to be the end of his life. They are not in agreement about whether to make room for him, based on past history.
In the context of this week’s gospel lesson, I am not wondering who will be received by God; grace assures us it is “Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” My thinking instead is about our hospitality to others. Even in a season when we cannot open our literal doors, we can encourage support of the people who are in need and the ones who go out into the world every day to serve in material ways, ensuring not only medical care but food and shelter to those without resources.
It’s also worth considering who in our congregations and communities may have a physical home but be at risk of emotional or physical violence, and those who are struggling emotionally because they are physically isolated, particularly people who are at risk due to age or health conditions.
Jesus’ answers to Thomas’s question and Philip’s demand open more questions, but his statement about home promises something we all want to hear. There is a place for us. Meanwhile, let’s make sure there’s room here for everyone who needs it.
Other thoughts for preachers:
If you’re seeking an angle that doesn’t hinge on the concept of home, look to the Acts text. Saul stands by and holds the coats of the other persecutors who stone Stephen. How are we standing by and watching harm done to the vulnerable when we could be intervening instead?
I’ve also written about the gospel text as part of Westminster John Knox’s Lectionary Sermon Series, Volume 2, with an emphasis on the freedom to ask questions as an essential characteristic for healthy faith communities.
We come to worship you. We proclaim your glory. We consider your power. We ask for your mercy. We trust you to be our refuge, our place of safety, our home beyond all homes.
We come carrying the burdens of work and school and home and family. We come feeling busy and lonely and overwhelmed and grateful. We bring these responsibilities and emotions with us when we worship you. We cannot take them off like the shoes we wear outside and leave them by the door of your house.
We bring our whole lives and our whole selves to be with you.
We offer this prayer from our living rooms or our back porches. We participate by casting onto a TV or streaming on our smartphones. We are digital natives and iffy tech adopters. We are all glad to come home to you.
You are our rock and our refuge, our safe place in all times and places. Look on us with love, O God. Let your face shine on us. Amen.
You are welcome to use this prayer in worship. The scenes in the image above are from my living room.