Meditation on John 14:1-7; 25-27
In Memory of Lois Sharpe
Jan. 23, 2016
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
Rev. Karen Crawford
“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
I did not plan on visiting Lois the day I met her. Or, I should say, I didn’t know that I would be visiting Lois that day until shortly before seeing her. It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was actually on the way to visit her sister, Rose, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was receiving hospice care. I was with one of our deacons, Marilyn Smoot, visiting the sick and elderly, serving communion to those who would not be able to make it to our communion services on Christmas Eve.
If I weren’t a person of faith, I might say that it was by chance that I ended up visiting Lois that day. But of course it was God’s plan all along. The Spirit led me to call Arleigh, who is Rose’s nephew and Lois’s son, just as he was leaving Rose’s home and was on his way to visit Lois. His mother, like her sister, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The disease had progressed so that she, too, was receiving hospice care at a different location.
So, hearing that Arleigh was going to visit his mom, at the last minute, Marilyn and I decided to go with Arleigh.
Turned out, it was a good day for Lois. She had just had her bath and was lying in bed, her blue eyes bright and alert. She was more responsive than she had been for a while. She spoke only a few words, but she seemed to be following our conversation with interest. Later, I would learn about her strong faith, her many years as an active member of Palm Chapel, now River of Life Assembly of God. I learned that she had taught young children in Sunday school, enjoyed going to Bible studies, and sought to apply scripture to her daily life. She was involved for a number of years with in an outreach ministry to senior citizens in Brevard County called “Golden Life.”
Family was always important to Lois. She and her husband, Roy, and their two children, Arleigh and Peggy, moved from New York to Merritt Island in 1960. Lois’s sister, Rose, and her parents, James and Martha, moved with them. Lois worked as a secretary for many years at Rockwell – Kennedy Space Center, while Roy worked as a barber in Titusville. Lois did not have a college degree, but she was “forever a student,” taking continuing education classes at the community college, and nurturing the love of learning in her children. She liked crossword puzzles, crocheting, taking walks, and playing solitaire on the computer. She loved birds and had a collection of 2 or 3 dozen porcelain birds. After Roy died in 2002, Lois continued to live in the house they had bought when they first moved to Merritt Island, across from Divine Mercy Catholic Church, until her health became more fragile. She moved in first with her daughter, Peggy, then Asbury Arms (now Westminster Asbury) in Cocoa, and then, as the disease progressed, she moved to the place where Marilyn and I visited her the day before Christmas Eve, a group home on Merritt Island where she was cared for by hospice workers.
During that visit, I watched as she gazed at her son’s smiling face as he talked about how she used to play the saxophone. And how she participated in East Coast Christian Church’s 5K walk/run here on Merritt Island as recently as 5 years ago with Arleigh and his wife, Ok Sun. Arleigh finished the run, then went back and ran alongside Ok Sun, encouraging her to the end. When Ok Sun completed the run, Arleigh ran back for his mother, who was walking the race. He walked beside Lois, encouraging her to the finish line. Lois was 1 of only 3 women in her age group—75 and up—to attempt the run. She placed second.
I didn’t know that it would be the only conversation we would have together, that Lois would go home to be with the Lord three days after Christmas, four days after her sister, Rose, had gone home to be with the Lord. Because of my faith, my certainty of God’s plan and purpose for all of us, and for God alone knowing and keeping the number of our days, I am sure that it was no mere coincidence.
As I prepared to leave Lois with a prayer for healing, comfort and peace, I asked, “Can I come and visit you again?” She nodded and answered with one word, softly spoken. She may have said, “Visit” or “Come.” Arleigh assured me, “I think that’s a ‘yes.’” Joyfully, I promised that I would. Then I took her hand, she closed her eyes, and we sought the Lord in prayer.
We encounter an intimate conversation between Jesus and his disciples in our reading in John today. Jesus has just told the ones who left their old lives behind to follow him and learn from him that he will soon be leaving them. The time has nearly come for Jesus to go home to be with the Father. For several years, they have lived together and actively participated in Christ’s ministry. Jesus is trying to encourage his disciples to keep going, keep believing, keep up the good work, and hold fast to their faith, despite the trials, sorrows, and hardships that lay ahead.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus says, sensing their fear, feeling their distress. The word translated “hearts” in the NRSV (kardia) is singular, not plural, while the word that precedes it (your) is plural, not singular. Jesus is addressing this tight community of believers who share the same heart, same faith, same God.
He says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” But I want you to think of the verb translated “believe” (pisteuo) as “trust.” Jesus is saying, “I know you are scared and sad, but you need to trust God and trust me.”
Our Lord promises that they can also go where he is going — to his Father’s house (oikos), which is not just the word for a building, but a household or family. And the many dwelling places in the Father’s home are not the kind of houses with rooms we have in this world. Jesus is speaking of a spiritual dwelling place, an abiding with God–who has enough space within Himself for all people to dwell and truly desires to draw all people to Himself. This passage in John assures us of the promise that Christ will return for His Church. Jesus says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”
Poor Thomas. He is kind of the Eeyore of the disciples. But he is the only one with the courage to express his doubts and fears that are very likely shared by the others–and by many who will hear God’s Word in the generations to come. When Thomas says, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” he is really saying, “No, we don’t want you go, we aren’t ready for you to go, we are afraid to lose you. We cannot imagine life without you here with us!”
The way of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with our worldly accomplishments or even our good works or good intentions. The way of Jesus to which John refers is about being in intimate relationship with Him–and we are, because of the grace of God, who sent His Only Son so that the world may not perish, but might believe on Him and have everlasting life. “I am the way,” Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
The way of Jesus is learning to trust in Him who is the very revelation of God. “If you know me,” Jesus says, “you will know my Father also.”
The way of Jesus Christ leads to everlasting life from the moment we first believe.
Knowing Christ IS knowing the truth–not just an intellectual knowing, but an understanding that is God’s gift to us. This is an understanding that Christ promises we will have when we need it from the Spirit that abides with us now, teaching us “everything,” as Jesus says, and reminding us of all that he has said.
Knowing Christ means seeking the Lord in prayer and allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our teacher, helper, and comforter during times such as these, when even believers may struggle with fear and doubt, like the father of a boy whom Jesus healed, who cries out in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”
Knowing the truth, knowing Jesus Christ, means possessing life, abiding in the One who longs to give us his peace, a peace that the world cannot give.
Listen again to the One who has gone to prepare a place for all of us with his own death and resurrection, so all may abide in God–not just after we die, but in this world–here and now. Listen to the words of the One who promises to come again and take us to Himself, so that where he is, we may also be.
“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.”
Let us pray.
Loving Lord, we come to you now with all our doubts, fears, and sorrows. We seek your mercy and grace. Please heal us, Lord, and make us whole. Open our hearts and minds to receive your peace, a peace that only you can give, a peace that you desire to give to all who seek you. Teach us your loving ways and reassure us that we do know the way to eternal life–and that’s through an intimate relationship with you. Help us to trust you as we live out our faith, abiding in you, now and forever. Amen.