"Your Mansion Reveals Much"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 28, 2002
1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-12
In the King James version of
the Gospel we find these words, "In my Father's house are many
mansions." In the Revised Standard version we read, "In my Father's
house there are many dwelling places." When we search the scores of
available translations of John's Gospel, we find numerous labels
that describe the place we transition to when we experience physical
How many of us have spent
time thinking about the possibilities that lay in wait beyond this
life? Most of us have. Since the earliest civilizations, people have
thought about it. Yet we have to confess that our thoughts have been
influenced by symbols that represent the ultimate in human luxury
and opulence. For example, in the Book of Revelation, we read the
following description of the author's vision of a New Jerusalem:
The foundation stones of the city wall
were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first
foundation stone was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate,
the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh
yellow quartz, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth
chalcedony, the eleventh turquoise, the twelfth amethyst. The
twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single
pearl. The streets of the city were paved in pure gold, transparent
as glass. (Rev. 21:16-21)
The author's words encompassed many rare and beautiful creations found in nature. People have often idealized Heaven with such images. Even when we are telling a humorous story about someone going to Heaven, we always describe St. Peter as standing at the Pearly Gates. When we think about what Jesus meant by his "many mansions" and we begin to describe Heaven in physical terms, the images we create can cause more questions than they answer.
For example, why would Heaven need gates? Presumably gates and walls are needed for protection or to separate people. If there were souls starving for love on the outside of such walls, what would that say about those living on the inside who might not want them to come in? Such a possibility would communicate that once the righteous "have arrived" from their sojourn on earth they will be protected from having to deal with others who could not fit God into their priorities. When we think about it, a place with walls and gates might not be Heaven at all.
When we find ourselves thinking about a Heaven where streets are paved with gold, we must remember very different images that Jesus provided. He said, "The Son of Man had no place to lay his head." We remember the rich young ruler who could not follow Jesus' instructions because he was a person with many possessions. Jesus praised the widow who put into the Temple treasury everything that she had. Clearly, the Heaven Jesus lived in every day showed no hint of grandeur or opulence.
As we expand our thinking about
Heaven, a more significant issue must be dealt with. What expectations
do we have because we have chosen to live by faith? If we are waiting
to be rewarded, if part of our motivation for loving anyone has to do
with being given special treatment by God, it will serve us well to
consider what Jesus taught about such thinking.
Jesus said that God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. God's love is so universally applied to every created thing that none of us can earn any of it. Divine love comes to us just like the rain without requirements. It may be that our expectations of Heaven do more to reveal what is within us than anything else. "Where your treasure is," Jesus said, "there will your hearts be also."
As challenging as this lesson is for some people to grasp, it nevertheless governs central aspects of our spiritual growth. When we have expectations of anything or anyone, we are setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.
No one is consistently going to do what we want them to do, or say what we want them to say, or think the way we want them to think. The Kingdom of God has nothing to do with receiving anything. The Kingdom Jesus pointed to with his life had to do with the spirit of how and what we create as we allow ourselves to become extensions of God's presence.
As we return to our lesson, what
was Jesus communicating to those around the table? He was speaking to
men who had been with him on a daily basis. They had watched him
perform miracles. They had observed his skill in dealing with the
authorities. He spoke with a knowledge no one else had. Jesus wanted
to reassure his friends that ultimately they would be fine even though
their understanding and faith were clearly not on the same level as his.
Listen to several of their comments. Thomas said, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?" Later in the same conversation Philip said, "Just show us God and we will be satisfied." We cannot imagine what must have entered Jesus' mind when he heard such thoughts surfacing from his prized pupils!
He could have asked, "Have I been with you this long and you have understood so little?" It appears that their level of awareness or competence with what he taught did not matter to Jesus. What mattered was that a place in the Kingdom had been established for them.
This is the greatest hope any of us can have. Again, just like the rain, God's love for us does not depend on what we accomplish, what we believe or how we respond to anything. God's love does not establish boundaries, build walls or create gates. Love does not do that. If you and I can withhold our love when others do not conform to our wishes, it becomes obvious that what we are extending has nothing to do with love.
People who insist that walls and
gates must exist in the Kingdom will one day have the opportunity to
expand their awareness of God's nature. In one respect, we could equate
Heaven with our experience on earth. We are all here even though our
skills and awareness are on different levels of refinement.
As we examine our Scripture passage further, we notice that Jesus' notion of the Kingdom had its roots in the physical world. With intuitive confidence he said to those disciples, "I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do -- yes, they will do even greater things than I have done because I am going to the Father."
His confidence was not in the fragile, often mistaken, fear ridden-beliefs of his disciples, but in God's incredible ability to move mountains with people who have even a little faith, to build huge shrubs from a tiny mustard seed, or to raise an entire batch of dough by a small amount of leaven.
Before their death, the disciples
did what they knew how to do as they passed their understanding to
future disciples. The Apostle Paul did the same. Every generation
since then has made their contribution to future generations. As future
disciples have continued to create with their loving energy, Jesus'
vision of the Kingdom continued to evolve, expand and spread.
For example, Jesus never could
have built universities, libraries and hospitals as his followers have
done. He never could have produced a Magna Charta or a Constitution
around which the human condition has improved. Jesus could not have
printed the Scriptures in hundreds of languages and had them distributed
to people around the world. But he knew such things would happen by
those who followed his teachings. He said, "Those who believe in me
will do what I do -- yes, they will do even greater things than I have
done." We have seen the meaning of those words.
Once we grasp that we have never been without God's power in our lives, we will understand that there is nothing more that we need to receive. Looking forward to anything more means that we are looking for completion beyond the grave. Is that what we expect? Must we wait for Heaven to complete us as though it were a divine piece of real estate that will give us more than what we received at birth? Heaven is an awareness within our spirit. Loving spirits always know how to create wherever they are.
Thursday evening Lois and I received a call from a long time friend of ours. It was from Jim Robison, a high school classmate of mine. His wife had just died after a two year affliction with cancer. She had remained active and was going to work until 30 days prior to her death. During our conversation he said, "Now she is in a much better place. She is with Jesus."
We use such expressions to comfort ourselves
during moments when we grieve. Such words also affirm that our
experience at death will be very different from what we know now. There
will be no more physical pain. The human drama with all its challenges
and changes will conclude much like the ending of a play.
We have known Sally since she and
Jim were married. She spent her life in a very noble profession. She
was a highly creative, innovative teacher. My thoughts are that she
knew she was in Heaven already. She did not have to go anywhere to be
with Jesus because while living here she was never without him. We must
always remember Jesus' words, "Lo, I am with you always, even
until the end of the world."
The only time our lives feel as though we are without God's presence is when fear has come to the center of our stage and starts screaming that no one cares about us. Fear reminds us how many times we have failed and how our lives are not going anywhere. Fear tries to convince us that we have disappointed God. Fear causes us to doubt our worth. Never ever doubt your worth! If Jesus did not think we were worth it, he would not have wasted his energy teaching his listeners more creative ways to respond to life's many challenges.
The true Johnny Appleseeds of the
universe never took time to consider whether they were in Heaven or Hell
before they planted their seeds. It is on the shoulders of such as
these that the Kingdom of God has grown in the minds and hearts of men
and women who became inspired by what others had done before them.
They were not motivated by the
prospect of being with Jesus when they left their bodies because of the
amount of work still left to be done on earth. They were not interested
in being rewarded in Heaven unless "the least of these"were equally
cared for by God. When there were walls separating the "haves" and the
"have nots," they found a way to minister among those who had not
learned about life's many possibilities to create.
Such Johnny Appleseeds always
found a way to get into Hell so they could plant a Heavenly seed. It
was such a desire that inspired Jesus to be in ministry to anyone and
everyone who would listen.
case we have not noticed, earth is not Heaven. Here only the
possibility of Heaven exists. Again, Heaven arrives for us when we
learn how to perceive with love. Such perception brings its own
rewards. We are at peace and we can see alternatives others may not
When we finally leave the earth experience, our new awareness will be filled with opportunities to continue creating just as we could when we lived in our physical forms. Jesus was only guaranteeing that each of us would have a place where our adventure would continue. As we continue to create with our attitudes and loving energy, the Kingdom Jesus pointed to with his life and words will evolve here on the earth just as it does in every realm.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Help us reflect on our
lives, O God, so that we might make more creative decisions in the weeks
ahead. We can remember when our words to others were sterile and spoken
in haste. We recall times when no smiles of affirmation were on our
faces. There were moments of distraction when we felt alone. We
confess to having thoughts of worry, times when we allowed little issues
to overwhelm us, and moments when we felt discouraged. Lead us, O God,
to let go of thoughts that cannot and will not serve us. Remind us that
we are teachers of our faith. Please enable your light to shine through
us. Encourage us to join you in making this world a more peaceful and
loving place to live. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever merciful God, we are grateful
on this Sabbath morning that we can pause and refresh ourselves
spiritually. We wonder what our lives would be like, were it not for
our spirits being nourished by the still waters of your abiding
We thank you for giving us strength when our
steps falter. How easy it is to stop forgiving ourselves for the
mistakes we make. We thank you for the encouragement of your
inspiration when our vision appears more attracted to the results
generated by troubled, unhappy people. We thank you for your presence
in others. Their firm handshakes, their smiles, their support and their
laughter remind us constantly of how nurturing others are to us. We are
thankful for the correctives that enter our lives. You have allowed
their many forms to direct us back to the paths that serve us by their
creativity and wholesomeness.
O God, we live in a world that needs our caring attention so much. We thank you for giving us the power to love others, to absorb what has the potential to hurt us and to be humble in our remembrance that there is so much we do not yet know. Enable us to remain faithful disciples and kindred spirits of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .