Living into Christ

Read John 14:1-14

One of my favorite slogans – one that’s popular on bumper stickers and on refrigerator magnets and whatnot  – is “Jesus is coming: Look busy.” I get a laugh whenever I see it. It’s funny that people dread Jesus, like he’s some overbearing office manager who just can’t tolerate you standing around talking by the coffee machine, the kind who keeps track of your bathroom breaks, the kind that requires someone to be on the lookout, so when he does start heading your direction everyone can scatter and “look busy.”

There are Christians who have such fear, I fear. They’ve been strongly affected by a particular belief in Judgment Day, when Jesus calls all his good sheep to him, and all the bad goats are sent to the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And so to ensure that you’re a sheep and not a goat you stay busy doing all the things Christians are supposed to do, and not doing the things Christians are not supposed to do, but you wonder if it’s ever enough. Have I been kind to enough people? Have I spent enough time feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison? And no doubt, to the outside observer these Christians appear to be really busy, and much of their business may be prompted by a fear of divine judgment sometime in the future.

But then we have verses like the first one we read today: Jesus says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” He doesn’t mention any judgment or any prerequisites; he doesn’t tell you not to forget your Bible and your certificate of baptism, he doesn’t present you with any pop quiz on Arminian theology. No, Jesus just tells us that he’s coming to get us – and not in a bad way. He’s coming to take us to where he is, wherever that is. We don’t have to “look busy” in order to get there. Jesus is coming to take you there, and that’s all there is to it.

But where exactly is Jesus taking us? Is he taking us to an actual place, or is he taking us to another level of existence? It’s quite confusing because while Jesus says, “I’m going to prepare a place for you,” and we all assume that that’s a room in the Father’s house, at the same time Jesus says that the Father dwells in him, and he’s going to the Father. Does that mean that Jesus is going to himself? Is he taking the disciples into himself?

Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, cuz nobody in John’s gospel understands what Jesus is talking about. That’s one of the fun facts about John’s gospel; Jesus speaks in riddles, and his audience is left to puzzle over them, as we often do when we read John’s gospel.

But John is not trying to confuse us; rather he’s trying to teach us something that is very difficult for people to understand, through all these cryptic dialogues that go on between Jesus and his disciples. John wants us to understand what the disciples fail to understand about Jesus and at the same time show us that Jesus’ message may not be as simple as we think. If the disciples have a hard time understanding what Jesus is talking about, we are prone to have the same difficulty, and that’s okay, because in the end, God loves us and invites us to fellowship regardless of whether we understand or not.

And that’s one thing about Jesus that we can glean from today’s lesson; it’s obvious that Jesus really loved his disciples. The disciples don’t know exactly where Jesus is going, and they want to go with him wherever he’s going, but Jesus knows that he will face the cross alone, and he will die. And so he consoles them by saying that he will come back to take them to where he is. His disciples do not understand him, and they will not stand beside him during his darkest hour – they will run and hide and deny even knowing him – but they are afraid of what will happen if Jesus leaves them, and so they want to go with him.

And the disciples really do love Jesus. They’re like children who dread the thought of their parents going out for the evening and really don’t want to be left alone, and they need to know where exactly Mom and Dad are going. And it doesn’t matter how nice the babysitter is, or how good the dinner is that Mom and Dad have prepared for them, because the only thing that will bring them peace and comfort is their parents’ presence.

And we should take a moment to embrace that thought. The disciples really love Jesus and want to be in his presence. A lot of people imagine that their faith in Jesus will lead them to a place, “a mansion in the sky” where there are endless pleasure and a giant buffet where you can eat all you want and never gain a pound, where there will be all the delights of the world without any of the sadness or pain or suffering. They want a heaven to be a place where they find comfort and escape from all that bothers them. But the disciples aren’t interested in going to such a place, a place we often call ‘heaven.’ The disciples want to be with Jesus!

If you know what it’s like to be in love, you know that location is not important; what matters is the person who you’re going there with. If you love someone enough you’d go anywhere with that person, and that is why the disciples want to go where Jesus is going, wherever that is.

And that is, in essence, the key to discipleship. It’s to love Jesus as he loves us. That is the key commandment that he gives his disciples as he prepares them for his departure, as he prepares them to deal with his death.

I think that one of the most unfortunate errors in the way that we imagine eternity to be is that it tends to be a place where all of OUR  problems are solved, all or OUR tears are wiped away, all of OUR mourning is turned to dancing. We imagine it to be an eternal Club Med in some exotic resort, and the problem is that we’re stuck in ME thinking; what’s going to satisfy MY longings? What going to keep ME entertained for the next million years? Certainly not a harp, though it might take me a million years to learn how to play it.

The problem is that we are imagining Jesus to be a gatekeeper who checks your ticket and lets us into a heavenly place We imagine this paradise – rather than Jesus – to be the real attraction. We’re stuck in that ME thinking, the kind of thinking that focuses on what I can attain for my own pleasure, and it puts us in the mindset that I have to work in order to gain this pleasuredome after I die, or at least I have to profess the proper belief. It’s the kind of thinking that would have you “look busy” in order to receive some reward that will make you happy for all eternity.

But what greater reward is there than love? And what greater pleasure can you attain that the pleasure that comes from being in the company of someone who loves you deeply and who you in turn love deeply? THAT’S HEAVEN!

And the good news that Jesus is telling us here is that we don’t have to wait until we’re on our dying bed to be with Jesus, because there is Easter. Jesus does return to his disciples, and he breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and in a mystical sense he remains with them always.

And when we remain in Jesus we remain in God. “Believe in God,” Jesus says. “Believe also in me.” “Philip, have you not yet understood that if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father?”  This powerful love of God is incarnate in Jesus, and it is incarnate in us. Jesus is calling us to that place where the love of God animates us and guides us. Jesus, this man who has fed thousands and healed the blind and the lame, who has even brought a dead man to life, this Jesus tells his disciples, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”

The invitation for us is not to go to heaven sometime in the future; it’s to dwell in Christ here and now, to love him, and thus to love God, in the here and now, TO LIVE INTO CHRIST. The disciples ask Jesus, “Which way do we go?” and Jesus answers, “I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life.”

So I encourage you NOT to look at Lent as a time of personal sacrifice in order to pay respect to Jesus for giving us his life so we can go to heaven. It’s far more personal than that. Lent should be a time to nurture our love for Jesus, a love that strives to come close to Christ’s love for us, God’s love for us. Because when we are in love with Christ, in love with God, we are in heaven in the here and now.