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Tomorrow’s Sermon: Going To The Father

John 14:1-14

Introduction
‘Are we there yet?’ If you have ever had small children in a car, you will
be familiar with that persistent question. ‘No,’ you say, and try to encourage
them not to be impatient, even though you know you’ve only just set out and
have hours to go. You will have planned a route, knowing where you are starting
and where you intend to arrive. Perhaps you will also have thought about
stopping places on the way.

And life is a long journey, too. Noticing the Old Testament
language of pilgrimage, we speak of the Christian life as being on a journey. However
certain we are of our faith, we have not arrived yet. We are still travelling. In
the spiritual journey, we again need to know where we are going, where we might
stop and how we get there.

I believe these verses from John 14 are to some extent about
that journey. These days in the Church, we don’t spend so much time thinking
about our ultimate destination. We so focus upon the ‘now’, with our concerns
for social transformation and the like, that we forget something important
here. Where we are going, the stopping places and the overall route will all
affect how we travel now. So this passage – which overlaps so much with the
main Gospel reading at a funeral – should give us direction, as well as the
comfort it provides at funerals. I want to bring together, then, both what we
do now with where we are going for eternity.

1. Destination
Jesus says he is going to the Father. It’s important to get the destination
right. You will go off course if you plan to head for the wrong place. If I think
I have booked a summer holiday in the Mediterranean, but end up in Moscow, I am
going to have all the wrong clothing with me!

In the spiritual journey, I want to suggest we sometimes
mistake the final destination. Just to say we expect to go to heaven when we
die is not to anticipate our final
destination. That may sound strange, if not a downright heresy, but let me
explain – and let me also assure you I am still going to talk in this sermon
about where we go when we die.

According to that great New Testament scholar Tom Wright, the current Bishop of
Durham, John has in view in his Gospel the death, resurrection and ascension of
Jesus[1].
And something similar is what the New Testament has in vision for human beings
and the whole creation. The Book of Revelation looks forward to new heavens and
a new earth, with a new holy city where resurrected human beings will worship
God.

Our overall destination, then, is not simply heaven: it is
an utterly recreated universe. We shall have resurrected bodies, just as Jesus
had. The idea that the body is just a shell and that the real person is inside
is not a Christian one, however much we repeat it. Historically, it comes from
strains of Greek philosophy, which disdained the body. If the body had little
or no value, then it didn’t matter what you did with it. Abusing it didn’t
matter. Infidelity and perversion were of no consequence. Only the soul
mattered.

But the biblical hope is different. It sees people as
integrated bodies, souls and spirits. What we do in the body is a spiritual
issue. That’s why many Christian ethical issues are about physical actions. The
body matters to God. He created it, and he made it good. Fallenness and sin
have damaged it. It rots in the grave, or is burned in cremation. But God’s
plan is to restore it. We believe, as the Creed says, in the resurrection of
the dead. We shall have what Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 calls a ‘spiritual body’ –
not just a spirit, but a spiritual body, a body animated by the Holy Spirit[2],
again just as Jesus did at his Resurrection.

And in a sense, God plans something similar for creation –
there will be new heavens and a new earth. The new holy city will come down out
of heaven from God. The Bible may begin in a garden, but it ends in a city. You
can understand the appeal of the rhyme that says you are closer to God in a
garden than anywhere else on earth. In the city, the dirt, noise and violence may
make you feel far from God. But God is in the business of renewing and
redeeming cities. Our ultimate destination is citizenship of God’s new holy
city!

Now is this pie in the sky when we die? Only in the sense
that we are eating some of the pie now! It is cake on a plate while we wait! My
point is this: if our ultimate destination is resurrection to a body animated
by the Holy Spirit, and citizenship of the new holy city in God’s new creation,
then that has practical implications now. The pie and the cake are not all in
the future. We anticipate them now, by our lifestyle. This is why we care about
healing and social justice: because God will make all things new. It is about our Christian hope.

Not for us the bleak vision of a Dylan Thomas who wanted to
rage against the dying of the night and urged us not to go gently into that
dark night. For Christians, we pray for healing knowing that even God heals
someone, they will die later. But that is not the end. There is the new
creation to come. Healing is a foretaste of the resurrection body. Likewise, we
may campaign to correct social injustice, and we may or may not succeed. Even if
we do, our achievements may later be reversed. But again, we are anticipating
God’s ultimate future. Social justice is a foretaste of the new earth. Our final
destination motivates our action today.

2. Wayfaring Stations
Every now and again, Rebekah brings up the subject of death. She knows I deal
with it quite a lot, given the number of funerals I take – especially recently.
She doesn’t want anyone to die, although we explain to her that God will bring
them all back to life one day. It’s our equivalent of when I asked similar
questions as a boy of my parents. My Dad would say, ‘Imagine the bank [he
worked for NatWest] sent me to work in Australia. I might have to go there
ahead of you, but one day you, your Mum and your sister would all join me in
the house I had been living in, and had been preparing for all of us.’

His answer was reminiscent of what Jesus says in John 14,
when he promises to go and prepare one of the many dwelling-places in his
Father’s house for us, and then come back to take us there (verses 1-4). But
what does Jesus mean by his Father’s house and the dwelling-places? After all,
isn’t this where we get the idea about going to heaven when we die?

‘My Father’s house’ is an interesting figure of speech. Can
you remember what Jesus also called his Father’s house? It was the Temple in
Jerusalem[3].
The Temple, where Jews believed heaven and earth met, had many apartments in
its complex. Pilgrims used these apartments as temporary dwellings when they
arrived in town. Jesus uses these ‘dwelling-places’ as an image of

‘safe places where those who have died may lodge and rest,
like pilgrims in the Temple, not so much in the course of an onward pilgrimage
within the life of a disembodied ‘heaven’, but while awaiting the resurrection
which is still to come.’[4]

So the dwelling-places in the Father’s house signify not our
ultimate destination, but a wayfaring station, a place of rest before we reach
the end of our journey. This would be, then, what Jesus meant when he told the
penitent thief at Calvary that on that very day they would be together in
Paradise. They would be at the divine wayfaring station. It is what Paul says
with different metaphors, when he talks of going to be with the Lord, or when
he and Jesus both refer to death as being asleep. Death is a place of rest
before the resurrection of the dead. Blessèd are the dead, for they rest from
their labours.

What is the practical significance of this for us today? Obviously,
it gives us some comfort to know that our loved ones who are disciples of Jesus
are at peace – especially if their life had been unhappy, they had suffered from
a cruel disease, or the manner of their death was distressing. However, there
is more. In a world filled with strife, friction, argument, bitterness and war,
God wants to grant rest and peace. Again, this gives us a vision for how we may
live in partnership with God’s purposes. Is there a situation where we could
please God by helping to bring rest in place of strife? Is there something we
can do to bring reconciliation in place of fighting, justice instead of war?

3. Route
More and more I find that if people want to come and visit us for the first
time, they don’t ask for directions, they ask for our postcode. Why? Because they
have satellite navigation in their car. They can type in the postcode from which
they are beginning their journey, and our postcode as their destination. Then the
device will guide them through pictures and voice instructions from door to
door. Hopefully, it won’t take them the wrong way down a one-way street, or
down a jetty to a river. Even with perfect sat-nav, we still tell our new
visitors about our house being up a hidden drive.

Our route is also guided by a voice. ‘I am the way,’ says
Jesus (verse 6). He doesn’t simply show the way, he is the way. It is by
listening to his voice and by walking with him that we find the route he has
opened up to our initial temporary resting-place after death, and to our
ultimate destination of bodily resurrection in the new creation. He has already
travelled through death to the temporary wayfaring station of Paradise, and the
Holy Spirit has raised him from the dead. His death and resurrection have
opened up the way to the Father, as he was condemned in our place, freed us
from accusation and brought us new life. Not only that, he shows us the Father
to whom we are going, because if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father
(verse 9). If we want to know what the God to whom we are going is like, we
look at Jesus.

Jesus is the route, then. He has cleared the blockages on
the road by his own death and resurrection. The same death and resurrection are
also models for the way we shall travel. And to travel with him, we need to
listen to his voice. The route we take is the way of discipleship. Fundamental to
living in hope in the face of death is that we are committed to listening to
Jesus. Listening to him does not mean we listen and then weigh up whether we
fancy doing what he wants, as if God just made the Ten Suggestions and we can
arbitrate the rights and wrongs. Listening to Jesus only works with a prior
commitment to following him and imitating him. In John 7:17 he says,

‘Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether
the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.’

We need to resolve to do God’s will, if we are to be true
listeners to Jesus who is our route, our way. There is no point in hearing the
voice on a sat-nav telling us to take a particular road and then ignoring it. The
sat-nav will recalibrate the route in a few seconds, and give some revised
instructions, just as if we fall away from the will of God, Christ will
graciously find a way to get us back on our travels with him. But if we
persistently disregard or disparage the voice of Jesus telling us his way, then
eventually we shall no longer hear the voice.

Our ultimate destination, then, is the bodily resurrection of
the dead to live in God’s new creation. This involves a commitment to social
justice and healing now. Before we get to the resurrection, we rest in death at
the wayfaring station of Paradise. This means a commitment to peace-making now.
To make the journey means a commitment to following the voice of Jesus, who has
built the road and travelled it. And as we follow obediently, we call others to
join with us on the pilgrim way.


[1] N
T Wright, The
Resurrection Of The Son Of God
, pp 445-7.

[2] I
owe this insight to my research supervisor many years ago, Richard Bauckham.

[3]
Luke 2:49; John 2:16.

[4]
Wright, p 446.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on April 19, 2008, in Religion, Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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