May 10, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Pastor Javen Swanson
Today’s scripture readings: 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Each time we read a piece of scripture we hear it a little differently depending on what’s going on in our lives or what’s happening in the world. This week, reading this Gospel lesson from John, the verse that struck my funny bone was verse two: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” I got to thinking about all the “dwelling places” I’ve been seeing lately. Whether it’s watching the evening news on TV and seeing journalists give their reports from their living rooms, or going to all sorts of Zoom meetings where each person is sitting at their dining room table, in their study, or hiding from the rest of their family somewhere else in the house, I think we’ve all gotten a little glimpse into a lot of different dwelling places in the past few weeks.
My favorite Twitter account these days is this hilarious account called Room Rater. It’s someone who apparently just watches cable news all day, and since all the reporters and all their guests are now joining the television feed remotely from somewhere in their homes, this Room Rater tweets out reviews of these various people’s rooms. Like this one of Imelda Staunton’s kitchen. Room Rater writes, “Just OMG. Rustic chic perfection. Love the wood on wood tones. Lighting is very cool. 9/10.” That’s one of the nicer ones. There are some real doozies, like this one from Kevin Bacon: “Hostage video with three pillows and a couch. 4/10.” The fan favorite seems to be this one; Al Roker received a perfect score. Room Rater says, “Nailed it. Depth. Color. Composition. And cool glasses. 10/10.” Those glasses even give Pastor Bradley a run for his money.
It’s good to have something to laugh about these days because if we weren’t laughing, we’d probably be crying. Most years on Mother’s Day, many of us would be looking forward to brunch out somewhere special after church today, and now, of course, that’s not happening. I think my grandma would be the first to say that phone calls and video chats are a poor substitute for hugs from her grandkids and great-grandchildren. (Though it is true that, now that we’re worshiping online, my grandma can actually tune in from her apartment a couple hours away and watch our services—happy Mother’s Day, Grandma!)
Of course, Mother’s Day traditions are just one of the things this pandemic has taken away from us this year or at least delayed for the foreseeable future. There’s also confirmation, which was supposed to be last weekend; graduations; weddings; funerals; baptisms; mission trips; vacations; sabbaticals; birthday parties. I saw on Facebook recently that one of our college students spent her 21st birthday at home with her parents, which I’d guess isn’t how she had hoped to spend that birthday.
Missing all these milestones would be hard enough if we weren’t also surrounded by so much illness and death, filled with so much fear and uncertainty. Dr. Mike Osterholm is one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists who leads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He is also an active member of Edina Community Lutheran Church, and this week I tuned in to a webinar for pastors hosted by the Minneapolis Area Synod where he provided a sobering reality check about what still lies ahead and what that means for our churches. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that this thing is just getting started, that we could see multiple waves of infection in our communities until 60-70% of us have contracted the virus, and that it will be a very long time before Gloria Dei’s worship life gets back to normal.
The very first words Jesus speaks to his disciples in today’s Gospel reading are, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It’s maybe helpful to set this passage in context. One chapter earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus shares his last supper with his friends. He washes their feet and gives them a new commandment, to love one another as he has loved them. He tells them he is about to leave them, and his mission is now going to be their mission. Judas gets up and leaves the room when Jesus announces to the disciples that one of them will betray him. Chapter 13 ends with Jesus saying even Peter will deny him three times. Then we turn the page to chapter 14 and that’s where today’s Gospel lesson begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” You can understand why their hearts would be troubled. The disciples must have felt like the wheels were coming off the wagon. This wasn’t going the way they had planned. Now they are left wondering, what is the way forward? How will we go on?
Our circumstances are different but we have some of those same questions. What is the way forward? How will we go on? When will there be a treatment, or a vaccine, for this disease? When will life get back to normal? What will normal even look like when all this is over? Will I be able to go back to school in the fall? Will there be a job waiting for me when the economy is up and running again? Can my small business survive an extended shutdown? I’ve been wondering, what happens if it’s months before we can worship together in person again? Online worship might be novel and interesting now, but how long before some of us start to realize this just isn’t working anymore? (Maybe some of you have already gotten to that point.) We have so many questions—and so few answers. We are uncertain. We are afraid.
We’re like those earliest disciples: We want a roadmap. Jesus, just show us the way! Jesus says to his disciples then and now: There is no roadmap, but you already know the way. I am the way. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust me. Trust yourselves. Trust one another. Trust that you already have what you need. Trust that you know the way forward because you know me. And I am preparing a room for you—an Al Roker-level, perfect-10 dwelling place. Because you have known me, you know God, and you know God is good. So trust me. Trust that you know the way and there is a place for you. There is a future for you.
This passage is most often read at funerals. It’s probably because we like the picture this story paints, something like the artwork Kaisa created to go along with the Gospel reading today—heaven as a huge house with rooms for each one of us, specially prepared by Jesus. But I also love that, at a funeral, on a day when we are confronted by death and tempted to believe that this one we’ve loved has reached the end of the road, Jesus tells us that our present reality is not the end of the story. God has more in store for us than what we can see or imagine ourselves. With these words to his disciples, Jesus holds open the door to the future and beckons us onward. There is no roadmap, only the promise of Jesus who assures us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Holden Village is a Lutheran community and retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. They have a beloved prayer they say together each time people leave the village, called the Prayer of Good Courage, originally published in 1941 by the Anglican priest Eric Milner-White. I’ll leave you today with those words.
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pew Edition, prayer, page 304, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006).
Room Rater, Twitter post, May 5, 2020, 9:29pm, https://twitter.com/ratemyskyperoom/status/1257860065396056065.
Room Rater, Twitter post, May 3, 1:33pm, https://twitter.com/ratemyskyperoom/status/1257015467157438464.
Room Rater, Twitter post, May 2, 9:29pm, https://twitter.com/ratemyskyperoom/status/1256772773394907140.