A Place For You

A sermon on the 5th Sunday after Easter

“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 be also.
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.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
–John 14:1-14

Children’s time: When was the last time you went on a trip? I mean a road trip? Did you bring a map? Probably not. Most folks these days have a GPS (global positioning device). It sits on your dashboard and basically tells you which way to go. And if you don’t follow it, it will recalculate another route and keep telling you which way to go. Pretty cool! I still use an old fashioned map (show). Can you find your place on it? Where’s Minnesota? When it comes to our faith, we have something much better than a map or GPS: we have Jesus to guide us on our life’s journey. Every day we make decisions about what to do / where to go / who to play with / how we spend our money / how to serve others. When we pray and read the Bible, we’re letting Jesus guide us on that journey. He told the disciples: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” When we’re not sure what to do, let’s remember to first ask Jesus.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, I must admit, I’m happy to be preaching this morning to all of you. Although, I did have my doubts whether any of us would be here on Sunday, with the news that the end of the world coming on Saturday. “Should I even bother writing a sermon,” I wondered. Then it dawned on me. If the world ends and we’re still here – we’ll need a message more than ever!

What is it with the end of the world predictions that fascinate us so? I mean, this has really caught on. Isn’t it interesting to me how much traction this story got over the last week. Harold Camping, the 89-year-old church leader from Oakland, CA predicted that it would all end at 6 o’clock Saturday, May 21st. They spent millions in advertising and getting the word out to folks around the world! Just think what that money could have done for the poor and to prevent Malaria in Tanzania?

There are plenty of folks who spend a lot of money trying to get our attention with disastrous predictions. Just last night, as you probably have heard, the MN House voted to put a marriage amendment to the Constitution on the ballot in 2012. That means we’re in for a year and a half of divisive political ad campaigns with millions spent for and against this matter – while our school and basic infrastructure face cuts once again. Just think what that money could be spent on to benefit seniors, the poor and the vulnerable among us!

So, these “end of the world” campaigns are nothing new… in fact, most people ridicule them, though I did hear some thoughtful self-reflection: “Well, am I ready?” “Is there a place for me?”

When I was a kid, author Hal Lindsay had taken the country by storm with his apocalyptic predictions. His book The Late Great Planet Earth became a national best seller. Worries about the rapture (or as some have called it: the mystery of the missing masses) drove some people to Christ simply out of fear.

But that’s not how Jesus operates. He has a different approach in our lesson today. “Fear not,” he says. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He’s just finished telling them about the hardships to come – of how one of them would betray him – and of how he would be handed over to be killed, and would no longer be with them.”

Of course they are troubled. Wouldn’t you be? If the person you’ve come to trust as your leader says good-bye… now what? Notice how Jesus doesn’t leave them alone. He understands the human longing to belong. “I am going to prepare a place for you…”

These are troubling times in which we live. No matter what your station in life is (upper class, middle class, working poor) you know that we’re on some turbulent waters. Some of our boats are more seaworthy than others… but we’re all afloat on the same sea of cultural change. And how do we navigate those waters? How can we “find our place?”

Just what is “your place”?
You can have your place at the table (or your pew when you come to church).
You may go to that “happy place” when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
I might smugly “put someone in his place” with a self-righteous “I-told-you-so!”
Or, in a romantic moment, one might say, “My place or yours?”
There’s first place and last place.
At fine restaurants there’s an entire place-setting!

But is there ever a place Jesus isn’t?

“I go to prepare a place for you,” says Jesus. I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve read this scripture at – and it has brought enormous comfort to those who are grieving, or tending to a dying loved one. Just the thought that Jesus is preparing a place for us – it’s a promise he makes to his disciples, and to all who claim the name of Jesus as our Lord and savior.

But what if Jesus were preparing a place for you here and now? After all, the book of Revelation doesn’t end with the faithful rapturing up into heaven – instead, God is raptured down – as a New Jerusalem.

To me, this means creating a sense of Belonging here and now – for our brothers and sisters who long for God as we do. What if that “place” Jesus speaks of is here and now… as well as “not yet?”

What is my place if I’m losing my job or my house with a mortgage valued more than my house is worth?
What is my place if my spouse has died and it’s just me coming to church these days? How do I fit in?
What is my place if my child’s marriage is falling apart? Does anyone else know what that feels like?
What is my place when my child is out of control and need medication / and hospitalization to get back on the road to healing?
What is my place if my son is gay and is being bullied, fearful of his life?
What is my place as a new pastor, coming to Oakdale, MN – wondering just what all we would be in for in ministry with the people at Holy Cross?

I heard this morning that one of our families is moving to Grand Rapids, MN this summer… and you can rest assured that God is preparing a place for you there – to grow as a family, to connect with new friends, and a worshiping community to grow in your faith.

All along – as people of faith – we stake our lives on that promise: “I go to prepare a place for you.” It’s not just about “some day” or having to worry and fear that we’ll be left behind. It’s about here and now. The now and the not yet of Jesus’ promise to prepare a place for us.

O Jesus, build us into a house of living stones – with YOU as the cornerstone – holding us all together – difference and all – with varying beliefs, worries, doubts and fears. With you, Lord Jesus, at the center, our church will stand. We will have a place here now – and on that glorious day – when we will see clearly and stand in presence of the Almighty.

Amen. Thanks be to God!

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