No Room in the
With the sagging US dollar and fuel costs steadily
climbing, we would expect the hotel chains to be suffering from low
occupancy rates and in many cities that is true but not in New York
and along the Pacific Rim in the high end luxury market. Supply just
has not kept up with demand. There is just not enough room in the
hotel for the luxury traveler. Later this year, the Mark Hotel will
open in Manhattan. The cost of one night's stay--$1000. Travelers to
New York should not expect to receive any discount offers from the
Mark Hotel either. The owners are anticipating that the demand will
continue to remain high. In the gospel reading today, John records
Jesus talking about the availability of heavenly rooms for the
spiritual traveler. His message is designed to offer words of hope
and comfort for his disciples because they would soon be in need of
The promise of many rooms in his Father's house comes
after Jesus has just shocked his followers by predicting Peter's
denial. The impact of that foretelling can be seen if one reads
between the lines. Peter is not one of the two disciples to ask Jesus
a question. He is silent during the rest of this conversation. This
is completely out of character for the apostle who was constantly
susceptible to the proverbial foot-in-mouth disease. Peter had a
reputation for talking before thinking. Yet, in this particular
interaction Peter says nothing. Not only that, he is not even
mentioned until chapter 18. The entire band of men were undoubtedly
startled to learn that the foremost among them would fail in his
moment of trial. If Peter could not stand firm in the faith, who
among them would have the strength and wisdom to remain loyal. I
wonder if Jesus could see the fear and anguish his words produced in
their hearts? I wonder if he could have heard the quiver in their
voice or seen the looks of panic on their faces? He must have
detected something because Jesus then moves to the message of hope
and reassurance that forms the substance of this morning's passage.
Jesus begins by telling his band of followers that they
should not let their hearts be distressed and then essentially gives
them two reasons why they should not fear. First they were to trust
in God. The NIV paraphrases the Greek text to read, “Do not be
afraid, but trust in God.” These were not cheap third person words
of advice. Jesus had personal experience with fear and a distressed
heart. Jesus told them that his own heart was troubled just knowing
what events were before him. But that he could face them because of
his trust in God. This trust was not simple, wishful thinking or a
positive outlook on life but had a solid foundation. Jesus had seen
on numerous occasions God the Father demonstrating his power through
His Son. Demons had been silenced at his command. Crippled men stood
up and walked for the first time because of his words. A woman had
been healed just because she touched his garment. Storm winds obeyed
his commands. Jesus had put God to the test and the Father had
delivered. He was not asking his disciples to hope in hope or have
faith in faith. He was telling them to rely on someone who had
already demonstrated his trustworthiness.
Jesus also reminds his disciples that not only are they not to be
afraid because they trust in a trustworthy God, they are not to be
afraid because God the Father has many rooms in his house for them.
Scholars have debated the meaning of the term that we translate to
“rooms.” Some would seek ways of interpreting very broadly so
that all the religions of the world; all the people of the world
would be included in the Father's house. While such a interpretation
is reassuring, it is not consistent with what his subsequent response
to Thomas is in which he limits access to the Father by saying “I
am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except
through me.” it is also not consistent with the message he is
trying to convey to his disciples that they should not have any
doubts, God has a place for them.
The best sermon
that I ever heard on this passage from John 14 occurred this past
winter. I have shared it with you some months ago, but would like
to briefly retell the story because that tragic event belongs with
this passage from the Bible. My friend, Jeff Barstow and I, were
coming come from skiing up at Crystal Mountain when a car accident
happened right before our eyes. It was a terrible, awful tragedy in
which two little girls, Jessica and Jennifer R., ages seven and
three, Smiley 1 and Smiley 2, were severely injured if not killed.
As the aftermath of the accident unfolded and the helicopters took
off for the hospital in Tacoma with the bodies of the two little
girls, Jeff and I ended up in my car with the two parents of the
girls and their surviving son. We were to take them to the hospital
in Tacoma. At that moment, none of us were sure if their little
girls were dead or alive. None of us will forget that terrible day.
As time evolved, Jeff and I vowed we would attend the funeral if
either child died. Both children died. It was awful, one of the
worst days in our lives, in that family’s life.
It was the day
of the funeral and it was packed with children and families and
friends. The preacher that day preached on the story where Jesus
said: “I am going to prepare a place for you in heaven.” He
then asked all the children who were up on the chancel area, (what
seemed more than a hundred children), “Who has their own bedroom?”
Most of the hands of the children went up. “How many of you share
a bedroom?” The rest of the hands shot up. “How many of you
like your bedroom?” All the hands of the children shot up. The
pastor then told how Pat Rhoades, the father of Jessica and
Jennifer, was not only a youth pastor but a builder of homes. He
told the story of how Pat, the father, recently built the first
floor of their new family house where everyone lived, and then he
started on the second floor of the house, upstairs, where he went
all the time to build the three children their three bedrooms. Pat,
the father, built the bedrooms for his children because he loved
them so very much. About that time in the sermon, there was a loud
booming noise of hammering coming through the walls, and before you
knew it, you remembered that you were in the middle of a children’s
sermon and suddenly there was a carpenter like Jesus with a
carpenter’s apron around his waist and hammer in his hand,
standing before all the children. The Jesus-carpenter began to
speak and tell all the children that he was up in heaven, preparing
a living space for each one of them, like a bedroom for each one of
them. Jesus asked the kids, “Do you think I am preparing a nice
bedroom for you in heaven?” The kids all nodded “yes.” It was
stone quiet as Jesus spoke. And the children? They believed. They
trusted. No doubts. Not one trace of doubt. They believed that
Jesus was preparing a place for them to live someday in heaven; that
he had already prepared a place for their good friends Jessica and
Jennifer. They believed. They trusted. They knew Jesus was true
to his word.
In the 17th Century, the Puritan pastor, the Rev.
Richard Baxter wrote a tract for his congregation entitled The
Saints Everlasting Rest, in which he encouraged believers to
meditate on heaven. The booklet also contained instructions on how to
do that. Baxter believed that the pastor's role was to prepare his
people for eternity. After all we shall be spending more time there
than here. Baxter believed that by contemplating our heavenly home,
we would enjoy that reality more and more in our lives. However,
meditating on heaven has fallen out of vogue. In his article, “Heaven
Can't Wait,” Phillip Yancy gives three reasons why meditating and
talking about heaven is seldom done.
1. Affluence has
given us in this life what former generations longed for in
anticipation of heaven. We now have (most of us in the Western
church, at least) relief from pain, plentiful food, and surroundings
of beauty and luxury. The biblical promise of such a state has lost
some of its luster.
criticized religion as the "opiate of the people" because
it promised the lower classes "pie in the sky" in order to
lull them away from wanting it now. Marx's critique sounds quaint
today, because few people are promising pie in the sky anymore;
religious organizations such as the World Council of Churches and
evangelical relief agencies instead encourage us to redistribute the
pie here on earth.
2. A creeping
paganism invites us to accept death as the culmination of life on
earth, not as a violent interruption in an eternal life. Elizabeth
Kubler-Ross (who happens to believe in an afterlife) described five
stages of death, with an implicit assumption that the "Acceptance"
stage is the most healthful and appropriate.
I have watched
in hospital groups as dying patients worked desperately toward a
calm stage of acceptance, denying the impulses of their instincts
and conscience to reject the unnatural act of death. Strangely, no
one ever talked about heaven in those groups; it seemed
embarrassing, somehow cowardly. What convulsion of values can have
us holding up the prospect of annihilation as brave and that of
blissful eternity as cowardly?
3. Older images
of heaven, the biblical ones, have lost their appeal. Walls of
emerald, sapphire, and jasper, streets of gold, and pearly gates may
have inspired Middle Eastern peasants, but they don't mean much to
the world of Bauhaus. And religious leaders and artists have failed
to create satisfactory new images. What will heaven be like? A place
where "all a body would have to do was to go around all day
long with a harp and sing, forever and ever" sounds as
unattractive to most of us as it did to Huck Finn.
I think that we need to recapture the practice of meditating on
our heavenly destination for several reason. The most obvious is
because we will be spending more time in heaven then we'll spend on
earth. Secondly, we need the reassurance that God has a place for us.
People don't always look out for one another. It is easy to be caught
in a strange city and all that you see on the hotel sign are the
words “No Vacancy.” We need to be reminded again and again that
God has a place for us. In a world of economic instability, political
turmoil, and as we were reminded, this physical upheaval there are
few completely safe places. Yancy in the article that I previously
cited explains the difference our understanding of heaven makes in
our perspective on life.
I have seen the
electrifying results of what can happen when the concept of heaven
comes alive. My wife, Janet, works with senior citizens in a part of
Chicago recently judged the poorest community in the United States.
About half of her clients are white, half are black. All of them
have lived through harsh times: two world wars, the Great
Depression, the waves of social upheaval that have affected major
cities. And all of them, in their seventies and eighties, face the
inevitability of death.
My wife has
observed a remarkable difference in the way the whites and blacks
face death. There are exceptions, of course, but the trend is this:
many of the whites become increasingly more fearful and uptight.
They complain about their lives, their families, and their
The blacks, in
contrast, maintain a good humor and spirit of triumph even though
most of them have greater reason for bitterness and despair. Their
lives were three-fourths over by the time the civil rights bills
the difference is hope, a hope that traces directly to the blacks'
bedrock belief in heaven. "This world is not my home, I'm just
passin' through," they say. These words and others like them
came out of a tragic period of history, when everything in this
world looked bleak. But black churches managed to instill a vivid
belief in a home beyond this one.
neglected saints have learned to anticipate and enjoy God in spite
of the difficulties of their lives. When we get to heaven, many of
us may be shocked at what it means to enjoy God. For others, such as
these elderly blacks, that joy will seem more like a long-awaited
homecoming than a visit to a new place. Who knows, they may save a
few hundred years' awkward transition.
ChrisitianyToday ran a story several years ago on the most
Frequently Asked Questions about eternity entitled “What will
heaven be like. They sought to answer important questions like:
But they also tried to answer the unimportant like:
What age will we be in Heaven?
What language will we speak in Heaven?
Will there be privacy in Heaven?
How do you think all these questions and answers will look to
you in Heaven?
In reading through those questions I was reminded of the only
question with which I am personally concerned. Is there room for even