"Your Mansion Reveals Much"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 28, 2002

1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-12

     This morning our Gospel lesson lends itself to a discussion about the experience that awaits us when we leave our bodies.  Jesus fueled our imaginations when he told his disciples, "Do not be worried and upset.  Believe in God.  Believe also in me.  There are many rooms in my Father's house and I am going to prepare a place for you.  I would not tell you this if it were not so." 

     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 death. 

     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.  In 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 see.

     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. 


     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.


     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 presence.

     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 . . .