Prepare a Place
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
1 Peter 2:2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
[Jesus said:] “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.” 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 know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
I don’t know whether you have a special place in your life? That may be a physical place… a place where you like to go by yourself and feel nice and safe and secure.
It might be a geographic place. There is a place near Hampton, New Brunswick called Frost Mountain. It was part of the land deeded to my ancestor William Frost, a loyalist. It was also part of the farm where my grandmother Leah MacGowan lived as a child.
The mountain which is really just a big hill, was for a while a public park and it was a place I climbed a few times and looked out over Hampton and the Kennebacis River. It was special to me because it was beautiful, because it looked over my home town and because of the ancestral connection, and because it was high, and for me high places with a view over God’s creation, somehow help me fell closer to the Creator.
Sometimes one’s special place might be a special armchair or a special room.
Over the years we have had a number of dogs and we would crate train them. That is when they were puppies, we would put them in a crate so they wouldn’t go to the bathroom in the house. They would be in the crate all night and for parts of the day.
But that crate over time would become their safe place. Even when they were older and you didn’t have to lock them in, they would go there at night to sleep or when they were tired, or when afraid.
I remember with Pokey, a border collie that one time I was yelling at my miscreant children, and there was Pokey hiding in her crate. Dad was yelling, so Pokey went to her safe place.
A special place could be a place of beauty, or solitude. It could be about how it makes you feel.
It could be where you go to think, or where you go to pray, or where you go to relax, or where you go to escape, or where you feel close to God, or where you go to be thankful, or to appreciate life, or where you go to confess sins, or where you go to grieve, or where you go to be happy.
Or any combination of those, I suppose.
Do you have a special place? What makes it special to you?
So maybe that is why when Jesus says that he is going to prepare a place for us…
It sounds very intimate, very special, very safe and very wonderful.
“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.
It is a wonderful thing that Jesus says. I am so in love with it that I use this passage of scripture just about at every funeral.
It is so comforting to know Jesus has a place for us and that he will take us to that place so that where Jesus is, there we will be too.
The only problem is that I do not think that Jesus is talking about heaven.
It is not that Jesus doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but I don’t think that this is the message he is trying to give here and now, even though we like to think it is about heaven, or the place we go after we die.
As I have said on a number of occasions the primary message of Jesus was not about what we have to do to get to heaven, the primary message of Jesus was that God loves and accepts us and he wants us to love one another and therefore have God’s kingdom of love come on earth as it is in heaven.
And in today’s gospel lesson Jesus is giving what is called, his “Farewell Discourse,” to the disciples. It is a big long speech to the disciples in John’s gospel the night he is to be betrayed and the day before his death and he is talking to them about something much bigger than where they go after they die.
Remember, it is not the disciples who are facing death. Jesus is the one who is facing death.
And the disciples in typical disciplean (disciplean is not a word. I just made it up)… in typical disciplean fashion don’t understand. They don’t get it. They misunderstand.
Jesus has been telling them that he is going away, that he is going to be killed. They don’t understand. If he is the Christ, or the Messiah, the anointed one, the one come from God to save them, how does dying or leaving save anybody.
They do not understand the cross. They do not understand the Christ. They do not understand that the human Jesus is going to be glorified in his death and rise to be something completely different…
…because they, like us, like all humanity cannot completely understand divinity…
And so, they ask completely human questions hoping for completely human answers.
Peter asks just before this text: Where are you going? Why can’t I go with you now?
Thomas asks: Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?
Philip’s question is more of an implied question. He says: Show us the Father. The implied question is: Where is the Father?
And then Judas has a question. Judas and Jude are the same name actually translated from the Greek. And there is not complete clarity about this disciple. Some say that this Judas also called Jude is the brother of James, the brother of Jesus, and the author of the book of Jude. Some scholars think there was a disciple Jude or Judas who was the son of James and he was different than the author Jude of the book of Jude, who was probably the brother of Jesus.
Judas’ question is about how Jesus will reveal himself to them, and then wonders why Jesus will reveal himself to some and not to others.
And all these questions are what I call human questions, in that they assume that while God is greater than they are, and can do mighty things, that in some ways God is like a human and is in a physical place and will reveal himself in a physical display of power.
They think of where Jesus is going is to some other physical place, like a heaven up in the skies. They want to know if they can go with Jesus. They want to know if there is a specific way to get there.
They wonder how Jesus will reveal to the world that physical place and to whom it will be revealed.
It is the same mistake most of us make when we talk of heaven. We just understand it as a place where we go after we die as if it is another physical place somewhere.
But Jesus says: I am the way and the truth and the life.
Jesus said that he is the way. What is that way?
Brian McLaren writes in his book “A New kind of Christianity”
“If you want to know what God is like,” Jesus says, “look at me, my life, my way, my deeds, my character.” And what has that character been? One of exclusion, rejection, constriction, elitism, favoritism, and condemnation? Of course not! Jesus’s way has been compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, and love from beginning to end — whether with a visiting-by-night Pharisee, a Samaritan woman, a paralyzed man, a woman caught in adultery, or a man born blind.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to believe intellectual truths about him, but to practice his way and know him.
For he himself is the place, the abiding place, the home, the house, the mansion…
He says that if you look at him you look at God. He says that if you know him you know God.
He himself is the place where the divine and the human intersect.
He is not dying, and going to another geographical place called heaven to prepare us a mansion in the sky where we can retire to after we die.
He is dying and rising to prepare himself to be the place in which we live and move and have our existence.
He is dying and rising to prepare himself to be the place who lives in us and in whom we live.
He is dying and rising to prepare himself to live in his new body called the church, which is us.
He is dying and rising to prepare himself to live wherever there is love, wherever there is human need.
He is dying and rising to live as the image of God in the images of God that God created. Humans.
It blows our minds to try and think of what scholars call the Indwelling Christ.
That Jesus is not like a human. That Jesus is divine.
And what that means for us in real and very practical terms is that Christ can live in us and we can be Christ to every person we meet.
And that Christ lives in others and every person we meet can be Christ.
Christ lives in you.
Listen to some words written by Mirabai Starr from the Introduction to her translation of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle
There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget.
This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. … Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Slip away. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.
Christ is in you and all you have to do is talk to him and know him.
And Christ is in others.
Listen to the words of Caryll Houselander an English mystic from her autobiography, A Rocking Horse Catholic published in 1955.
I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging—workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too . . . all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.
I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ.
I had long been haunted by the Russian conception of the humiliated Christ, the lame Christ limping through Russia, begging His bread; the Christ who, all through the ages, might return to the earth and come even to sinners to win their compassion by His need. Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact . . . Christ in [humankind]. . . .
I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his [or her] sin, which is in reality [their] utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in [them]. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. . . .
Christ is everywhere; in Him every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life. . . . Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.
After a few days the “vision” faded. People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight for me each time I was face to face with another human being. Christ was hidden again; indeed, through the years to come I would have to seek for Him, and usually I would find Him in others—and still more in myself—only through a deliberate and blind act of faith.
In 1911 the book The Secret Garden was published in book form after it had run as a serialized story in the American Magazine.
Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett is was the story of an English girl, who had not been particularly loved by her parents. When the parents died of cholera in India, the 10 year old girl Mary is sent to live with her wealthy hunchbacked uncle in Yorkshire, England.
Mary doesn’t like it at first and is lonely because the uncle doesn’t pay much attention to her either. She likes the maid, Martha who becomes her friend, and from her she learns of a secret garden that he deceased aunt used to keep. She learns that the aunt died of an accident in the garden, and that her uncle locked it up and hid the key.
She becomes obsessed with finding it and eventually finds it.
She also finds in the huge mansion in which they live a boy. It is her cousin who has been very sickly and is in a wheelchair or his bed.
Mary starts visiting him every day and telling him stories and Colin wants to see the secret garden.
He is put in a wheelchair and Mary takes him to the secret garden. It is the first time he has been outdoors in years.
They start going to the garden every day and every day Colin gets a little better, until one day Colin’s father comes home from a long trip and hears the sound of children having fun in the middle of the garden.
The uncle walks in the secret garden just in time to see his own son Colin running a race with Mary.
It is a resurrection story. A story of the universal Christ in people and a story of love that brings people back to life.
Mary and Colin who have been neglected… The Uncle who has grieved his wife… all need love and care like a garden needs love and care..
And if you give love and care to people, sometimes even the dead come back to life.
And when you love someone and they come back to life then Christ is alive.
Because the truth is that the house that Jesus is talking about with many rooms, is not just in heaven…
But we ourselves who practice the way of Jesus are built up like living stones into a house that has room for all, and has love for all, has forgiveness for all.
I hope you have a secret garden or a special place, or a special someone where you feel safe, loved, secure, and you can be yourself totally, because that’s the place called Christ in your life… the place that Christ is in you.