The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
On a particularly miserable day of my childhood, for some reason, I arrived at the conclusion that living at home had become unbearable. So, at the age of six, I announced that I was running away. My Mother—who I suspect had had enough of my six year self, announced that she was willing to help me pack. Up the stairs I stomped, throwing items willy nilly into my 1970’s flowered suitcase. Once I got started, I realized there was no way to back down without losing face. I marched out the front door and headed down the street to find a new home. I actually got a good ways down the block before my Mother came up behind me and suggested: “It’s been a bad day. Why don’t we run away together.” And the two of us headed to the park. What began as a horrible day, ended as one of my fondest memories of childhood.
The beautiful words of Jesus, spoken in today’s Gospel lesson, are his farewell speech to his followers. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 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? 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. And you know the way to the place where I am going…” Ever the practical disciple, Thomas isn’t going to be satisfied until he has GPS coordinates in hand, and so he says: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Thomas, you see, is anxious—remember, this is a farewell speech—it’s taking place at the Last Supper. And Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also…” Think of it this way. “Home is not a place…it’s a person.”
We know this—even though we tend to get distracted by the phrasing of verse two: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”—variously translated as mansions, rooms, etcetera. However, before we get preoccupied with architectural detail and deciding where the master bedroom is to be located we need to reacquaint ourselves with the point of this verse—because the Good News in this passage isn’t where we’re going to live, it’s who we’re going to live with. And that is Jesus. As I said earlier, Heaven isn’t a place, it’s a person. To live in Heaven means to dwell in the presence of God.
Take a moment to consider what is “home” for you? For most of us, the physical structures that make up a dwelling aren’t “home”. Houses only become meaningful based upon the people and events that took place within their walls. The smell of your grandmother baking bread in the kitchen, the Family Room where the Christmas tree is placed—just so. The bedroom where secrets are shared. Home is made up of places where we share important memories. It’s the people who make a home, not the walls themselves—those walls, they’re just part of a house. “Home” for some people can just as easily be a garden, a school, a library, a pub…or a church. Home is not necessarily the place where you rest your head at the end of the day. So, what Jesus is saying—is that heaven is “home”—it is the place where we are most truly known and loved.
The second distraction in an exquisitely beautiful biblical passage comes in verse six where our Savior says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Some people hear this as a barrier to other faiths, a narrow, exclusionary passage, intended to keep people out of the kingdom of heaven. I say unto you, Stop! Back up! Reverse! Look at the context. Think of Jesus, as a teacher, wrapping things up, in a sense, with reminders and coaxings and reassurances to his much-loved but weak disciples. This is a passage of reassurance—Follow me, follow what I have taught you and you will find your way, you will not be lost. Think of this as the GPS coordinates bestowed upon an anxious Thomas who wants to be certain he will get to where Jesus is going. Jesus here isn’t making a statement of eschatological determinism—he’s offering guidance and reassurance to people who will soon have to find a way in the world without him being physically present to hold their hand.
In the end, the decision to follow Jesus is always a choice—Jesus doesn’t force us to follow him, he invites us, in essence, he invites us to find our home in him.
My memories of that childhood day, long ago, as I made my way down Haverhill Street are fuzzy. I don’t recall what had made me angry enough to pack my bag and leave. What I do remember is the heavy sense of dread as I picked up my suitcase and walked away from my family. Where would I go? Who would love me? What’s more, I remember the remarkable sense of relief when my Mother arrived and suggested that we run away together. At some point I left my anger and disappointment behind. I gave up whatever point I had been trying to make and ran into her arms. And once again, I was at home.
What Jesus offers us in this passage is the opportunity to know that wherever we are and whatever we might be facing, we are always at home with the Lord. There’s a reason we have turns of phrases such as “rest in Jesus”. Peace is not found by going our own way, it is found by returning, again and again, to walk with our Savior by our side. For when we walk in the way of the Lord, no matter where we might be, we are always at home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.