Have you thought about the type of house you’d want in heaven? Have you considered who you’d like to meet when you pass through the pearly gates and find yourself in God’s everlasting realm, a place where there is neither sunset or dawn, but life everlasting?
I don’t give heaven a lot of thought in the course of any given day, I must confess, but I take comfort in Jesus’ words, “In my house there are many mansions,” whenever I read them at a funeral or memorial service. I know that these words promise that love never ends, that death is not the end, but that God has a vision for our future and those we love beyond the grave. Whatever lies ahead, it will be good, or as Jeremiah says, “I have plans for you, for good and not for evil and for a future and a hope.”
No doubt, these were reassuring words to Jesus’ followers. They were anxious; trouble was in the air; violence was a possibility, and they worried that their lives were in danger. Like a parent tucking her child or grandchild into bed, Jesus promises, “I’ll be with you. You’re safe. Just call out and I’ll be there. You don’t have to be afraid because I am with you.”
Jesus wanted to give his followers confidence that whatever happens, God is with them, now and forevermore, and that they can face bravely the challenges that lie ahead. Jesus is not counseling escape from the world, but trust in God’s companionship and care, regardless of what the future may bring. They can be bold, for they are in God’s hands.
Of course, scripture can be confusing and even troubling, and the next few sentences have led to as much fear as hope: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Many see these as a clear indication that only those who say the right words of faith, are baptized, take holy communion, and die in the church, are saved. The rest are cast into utter darkness. Such an interpretation led a student to assert the following: “I know my parents are good people, but they’re not Christians, and if they die today, they’ll be in hell with Buddha, Mohammed, and the Dalai Lama and all those other so-called good people.” Now there are times when a child would their parent to “go to hell,” but this is taking it to the extreme.
I believe the passage is full of promise and not threat for us and those we love. It says that Jesus is the Way, and when you follow you can be confident you are in God’s care. I see the passage this way: the other day, James climbed up on one of the life guard stands at Craigville Beach, and then couldn’t figure out how to get down. I stood in front of the stand, opened my arms, and said, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” Or, perhaps it’s like, the statement a husband makes to his wife, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” Now there are lots of beautiful women in the world, but this is the One for me, this is the one I notice in a crowd, this is the one who still warms my heart. It is not about exclusion but affirmation.
My teacher John Cobb referred to Christ as “the way that excludes no way.” In other words, wherever you find truth and healing, even if Christ isn’t mentioned, it comes from God’s wisdom and love in Jesus our Savior. God prepares a path to salvation for everyone, in every culture, and in every season of life. God even has paths for those who claim that they don’t believe in God. Or, as you’ve heard me say, quoting another teacher Ernie Campbell of Union Seminary and Riverside Church, “there are only two kinds of people in the world; those who are in God’s hands and know it, and those who are in God’s hands and don’t.” Our task at church is to shout from the steeple, you are in God’s hands, don’t be afraid, do something beautiful for God. Our task is to say that as far as you fall, God is here to lift you up, and when you hit rock bottom, you might just discover the Rock of Ages.
The passage ends with one of the greatest promises of all – “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. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
This is a really big deal, spiritually and theologically. It says that God wants you to do great things. God wants to share love and power and is overjoyed at your gifts and achievements. God doesn’t want you to think small or for this church to think small. Imagine, the joy many of us felt when our capital campaign advance pledges were nearly $200,000. I was convicted – when Jay brought out five figures and no “1” I felt a little depressed. We didn’t even make it to $100,000, but when he brought out that “1”, I thought “wow.” I couldn’t imagine $194,000!
What big things does God want you to dream about? You can do ordinary things with great love and watch the wonders emerge. In our prayer series on Wednesdays, we were challenged to “ask, seek, and knock,” or to trust that whatever we ask in Christ’s name, God will deliver. By this, I don’t mean the prayers of Janis Joplin, “O Lord, please give me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have Porches and I must make amends.”
I mean ask for the deepest desires of your heart for this church, your family, and your own personal life. I do a lot of asking: when I turn the corner and see the Steeple, I pray, “God bless this church with love, vitality, spiritual growth. May it be a place of welcome.” I pray that I might serve with grace and integrity, and be worthy of my call. I pray for my grands and Arybella and Elizabeth and Victoria and all the children and youth of the church that we might love them and that they might grow up in a beautiful world, a world of justice and peace, and that we do what is necessary to preserve the earth for all God’s children.
What do you pray for? What dreams do you share with God? What possibilities lure you toward tomorrow?
Today, let us claim the promise: God has a heavenly home planned for you, made to order for your gifts and experience; God has prepared a home for your loved ones; God’s love includes everyone, without exception; and that God blesses your dreams, the dreams of this church, and the highest aspirations of all our brothers and sisters. Hopeful of heaven, we can be earthly good; bringing God’s realm right here to earth as it is in heaven. Thanks be to God!