Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 12, 2019
By Dr. Dean Nadasdy, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 14:1-7
John 14:1-7 (Jesus said) "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. 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. And you know the way to where I am going." Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him."
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, my home is with You. Still my fears that You are distant, and I am alone. Quiet the demons who would have me wander aimlessly through life. As I move through all the chances and changes of life, may You Lord be my place to stay. In Your Name. Amen.
In one of the churches I served as pastor, we hosted the homeless in our facilities for one month every year. We provided cots, two meals a day, showers, and even bedtime stories for the kids. I remember how my stereotypes of the homeless were obliterated by all the homeless women and children who stayed with us. I remember one grandma who must have been in her 80s, putting her thumb and index finger about a half inch apart and saying "Pastor, people need to know that they are all just about this close to being homeless."
I thought about that homeless grandma as I read the words of Jesus to His disciples the night before He went to the cross. He had told them that the time had come for Him to leave them. He knew they were anxious. "Let not your hearts be troubled, He said, "Believe in God; believe also in Me." So, He repeated a promise He had made that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would return and take them to be with Him.
"In My Father's house," He said, "are many rooms." That word "rooms" literally means "places to stay." In other words, Jesus was saying that, though His disciples would miss Him greatly, they would always have a place to stay with Him, a place where they could rest and thrive. They would have a home.
I read recently that on average Americans will live in 11 homes in their lifetime. That's a lot of moving. We may move to start a new job or to up-size a home for a growing family or to right-size a home in retirement. People may move because of health issues, for a better school district, or just because they believe a new house will make them happy.
Eleven homes in a lifetime! I laughed when I first heard it. Then I counted the homes Susie and I have lived in since we married—it was 11, right on the head! Isn't it great to be average? The time is gone when generations of a family stay in the same house and are content to call it home. Add to that all the hotel stays and vacation rentals, all the time spent in the car and on airplanes, all the miles of travel rewarded with more miles of travel.
I remember the film Up in the Air. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who spends most of his time on airplanes with the lofty goal of reaching 10 million miles in the air. Bingham says, "Moving is living. The slower we move the faster we die." We are on the move all right. We are nomads, roamers on the fly, moving from one home to the next, one relationship to the next. The Germans called it Wanderlust: a passion for wandering.
I suppose this shouldn't surprise us too much. After all, the Bible's holy history is a story of God's wandering people. Right out of the gate, so to speak, right out of Eden, we lost our home, the home God intended for us. We've been living and traveling east of Eden ever since. Whether it was Abraham or Israel or the exiles in Babylon, we see God's people on the move.
Some of us can spend a lifetime running from memories of a home that only bring pain. Running from home can be life consuming. And for those of us who grew up in a home rich with peace, security, and love, we may try as best we can to go back to what was, only to discover that things change, or people change ... places change.
I stopped by a few years ago to see my childhood home on the south side of Chicago. I could hardly recognize it. The city block of well-kept homes and manicured lawns had gone the way of urban blight. Where homes once stood there were many empty lots. The remaining houses, ours included, were in really bad shape. How does the saying go? No one can ever step into the same river twice.
Years ago, just before WW II, American author Thomas Wolfe told the story of a writer named George Webber who had authored a successful novel about his family and hometown. When Webber returns to that town, he is shaken by the anger and hatred that greet him. His family and longtime friends feel exposed and betrayed by what they have seen in his books, and their anger drives Webber from his home. Outcast, George Webber begins a search for his own identity that takes him around the world and finally back to America. The title of Thomas Wolfe's book? You Can't Go Home Again.
Dante's famous quest for paradise begins with the words, "Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off the straight path." Could that be true of us as we move about from one house to another, from one town to the next, from this relationship to the next? There is this sense, isn't there, that we may be missing something important, something that should be there, but isn't.
Think of the story of the runaway son which Jesus told. It took a while, but when that runaway hit rock bottom, what came to his mind? Right, it was home, even home as a servant. And he would soon find right there at home in his father's arms, as his father's child, was where he always belonged.
Now listen, I believe that when Jesus said He would prepare a place to stay for us, He was giving us more than a promise for life after death. Surely, He wants us to know that our place with Him in the new heaven and new earth is secure. But there is more. I believe that Jesus wants us to know that we have a safe and permanent place with Him already here and now. Listen to Jesus speak again just a few moments later in John 14:23: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
With those beautiful words, Jesus is saying that what waits for us in the new heaven and the new earth can be ours in part already here and now, as we travel through life, before we die, before He comes again. If we are going to find our home with Him, it will be His doing, not ours. He and His Father, He says, will come to us and make Their home with us.
That's where all the striving for home ceases. Our abiding place, our place to stay is with Him, Jesus is the way home. Jesus is the truth about home. Jesus is life at home. Jesus is home. He is where we belong.
Again, listen to Jesus in this same chapter, John 14:18-20. "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." Jesus invites us home, into a relationship with Him and with the Father and with the Spirit.
A 14th-century Russian icon by Andre Rublev shows the three Persons of the Trinity sitting at table together, the scene reminds us of Abraham hosting his guests at the Oaks of Mamre. As each of us looks into the icon, we notice there is room for us at the table. God—Father, Son, and Spirit. God is inviting us to come home.
In the United States today, we celebrate Mother's Day. As we give thanks for moms and grandmas, it is a good day to talk about what children need in their homes today. Yes, they need security and provision and love in their homes. In many ways, that's what moms are for. Children need something more, though. They need to be at home with Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit. They need a place to stay that transcends the changes and chances of life.
How blessed children are to have parents who give them a safe and sure place to call home. Even more blessed, though, are children who know that Jesus makes His home with their family. There are few memories more precious to grown children than recalling their parents' faith or a cross on the wall or prayers at meal and bedtime, or stories told from the Bible—all in their childhood home. For so many, our moms and grandmas are spiritual heroes and mentors.
In a song by Phillip Phillips from a few years ago has the ring of a psalm to it. It's titled simply "Home." The words could be those of Christ bringing assurance to us as we wander our way through life. You may remember them.
"Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home
"Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble, it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home"
With Jesus, we have a home. That's the good news for today. Jesus, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus, the One who said that the Son of Man has no place to rest His head; Jesus, the One whose own hometown of Nazareth turned on Him; Jesus, who journeyed to the cross, through death to life; to conquer sin, death, and the devil for you; this Jesus is going to make His home with you, forever and right now! Amen.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Your resurrection victory gives me a place to stay. You are that place. You are the permanence I need. You are home. You are love. You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without the way there is no going. Without the truth there is no knowing. Without the life there is no living. So Lord, today, bring me home to You. Amen.
Reflections for May 12, 2019
Mark Eischer: Now here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Michael Zeigler: Thanks Mark. I have joining me today in the studio, my good friend, the Rev. Dr. Jason Broge. He works with the Global Ministries team here at Lutheran Hour Ministries as the director of design and development. I'm really excited to talk to him about this.
How are you doing, Jason?
Jason Broge: I'm doing well. I'm excited to be here, Mike.
Michael Zeigler: All right. Well, we're concluding a series on the Gospel of John, and you know this well, you and I sat down and talked about this about five, six months ago, and you helped me think through this on how we would present these extended readings of John's Gospel that we went through in this series.
Jason Broge: The first time I did an entire reading of the Gospel of John, all in one setting, was actually an accident. My grandfather was near death in his 90s, this was a few years ago, not doing well, not responsive, in the hospital. I had come to visit thinking this is going to be saying goodbye.
I had decided I was just going to read Scripture, and I wasn't sure what to read since he couldn't respond. So I opened up the Bible, and I went to John and started reading John. I got, I guess it was probably the first time I noticed it, I got about two chapters in and I went to stop, and my grandfather who was not ... his eyes weren't open, he wasn't responding, just said, "Keep going." He kind of croaked that out.
My dad, who was in the room kind of looked at me, and we're like, "Oh, I better keep going."
Michael Zeigler: So you were reading it out loud?
Jason Broge: I was reading it out loud, yeah. And I got to the third chapter, and we get to John 3:16, and he joins in and starts mouthing the words with me. Then I kept reading and I tried to stop then around maybe chapter four, and he said, "Keep going."
Before I knew it, my mom was in the room; my dad was in the room; nurses had come in and out, and we made it through the entire Gospel. Anytime I would try to pause or stop, he would say, "Keep going." Every so often you'd get to, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and he would join in. "No one comes to the Father except through Me," and he would join in.
There are so many passages that are so well known by lifelong Christians, that are a part of the very fabric of our faith, sometimes at least I forget just how much there is and how beautiful it is.
We had this time where we read the whole thing, and everyone who was there agreed this was something we'd never done before. It was something that was powerful. It was something I came away from and was really struck by how much it affected my grandfather even in this late stage, how much he got from it.
But then I realized that even as a pastor, I don't know that I'd ever done that. I've read John so many times I can't count, but in reading it all in one setting like that, it struck me as fundamentally different. There were connections I made between the Exodus, that I knew in theory but didn't realize just how much John is pulling from the Exodus narrative and from Moses, and from all that's going on there, and the links he's making; there were things I had never heard before in quite that way.
Reflecting on it, I realized we tend to treat reading Scripture as though it's this solo sport. Go in your room, hide in your closet, read the Bible, or listen to it in an app; do your morning devotion with your cup of coffee on a chair by yourself. That's not bad, I want Christians to be doing that, but that's a rather new phenomenon.
Historically, that was a rare option. You had to have the ability to read; you had to have your own copy; you had to have all these things that just didn't exist. And historically what happened actually was people gathered around, and they heard large chunks of text read at one time, and sometimes entire books or letters in the case of Paul, right? They did it as a community and they would sit there, and they would listen to it and then they would say, "Okay, let's hear that again."
That got me started on a process of saying, "Well, what would happen if I did that, and if I brought some Christians together to hear this?" So I was working with another pastor friend of mine, and we got excited about this idea. It was during the elections in 2016, and we thought, a lot of people had very strong feelings going into that election one way or the other about who was going to be the next president, and we thought either way, you go cast your ballot but then come to this congregation, and we're going to read the Gospel of John, and we're going to leave everything in the hands of God.
Going into that, people were "I don't know if I want to do this. This is going to be kind of boring." By force of will, my friend kind of brought people there, and they came, and every one of them when they left said, "I didn't expect it to be like that."
Michael Zeigler: What do you think they meant by that? What things stood out to them? Did they share any of that?
Jason Broge: Well, yeah. We actually had a lot of conversations with various people, both that and the other times I've done this. The first thing is that they thought it would be boring. Everybody thinks it's going to be boring to just sit there and read an entire book out loud. And I suppose if I read like a robot it would be.
Michael Zeigler: Which you don't, so.
Jason Broge: Thanks. But, I mean, you try to read in an engaging way, just like you would any text.
Michael Zeigler: Right.
Jason Broge: Any book, anything out loud.
Michael Zeigler: Like reading to your kids before bedtime.
Jason Broge: Exactly. So that's part of it. But the other part is, we don't realize just how engaging Scripture is. Every time people would say, "You know, I never noticed this. I never noticed how Jesus talks about this again and again and again." Everyone would make connections on a book that they thought they knew really, really well. The one big common denominator is everyone would come away and say, "I don't know if I ever really knew it."
Michael Zeigler: So there's certainly a sense of the whole story comes together or coheres in a new way. What about personally for you, the impact it's had on you and your faith and devotional life, or your picture of Jesus?
Jason Broge: You know, every time I do it, and I've probably done it with groups of people five times now, six times, and every time I do it, I think, "Okay, this is the time where I ... I know the book now, and I'm not going to be struck by something new." And to be honest, every time I do it, I am struck by something new. It can be how a theme like light plays its way through the entirety of the text, and I thought I understood what John was doing with light, and what it meant that Jesus was the Light of the world.
But now I see it play itself out throughout the whole text and I realize, "Wow! It's a lot deeper than I recognized," and what its implications are for my life. The fact that I see anything and understand and know anything apart from Christ is impossible. It tends to make me more grateful. It's easy sometimes, I think, for us to think, Jesus impacted me by dying on the cross and rising again, and I have eternal life because I'm baptized into that, and that's all there is.
But when you go through that entire text and see the impact of the Gospel and how huge it is and how deep it is, you realize—you know what—it's affecting my everyday life. Be it the way that Jesus meets a woman at the well or be it the way He grieves with those He's close to and offers a comfort and is there, or seeing all of that together, it makes it more real and not just one verse that you've memorized. That one verse becomes part of a larger narrative.
Michael Zeigler: Dr. Nadasdy in his message spoke of Jesus as home. He's the One in whom we abide, and this seems like an excellent practical illustration of what that means to abide in Jesus.
Jason Broge: Absolutely. That's such a weird phrase, right? "And you abide in Me and I will ...." What in the world do you mean? How do we do that? Well, when we immerse ourselves in the Word that way, and really do immerse for extended periods of time, you start to see the world in a different way, and you start to see its connection to Christ and your connection, and it doesn't end.
Just like when you go see a movie and you find yourself thinking about that movie continuously, and suddenly situations in life start to remind you of the movie. Well, that happens if you spend five minutes in Scripture, but if you spend two and a half hours, three hours reading a book with a group of other people, and then you're talking about it, when you go out you carry that with you, and it shapes the possibilities of the rest of your day.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)