Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dwelling places

John 14:1-14

Today’s gospel reading is about dwelling with Jesus. How many places have you lived in during your lifetime? … 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, more? I counted up the places I’ve lived, and discovered I’ve lived in a total of 25 places so far. Some of these places were short term, just a few weeks or months; some were several years. In some, I just lived there; in others, I dwelt with Jesus there.
… We often hear this Gospel text at funerals, and think about the dwelling place Jesus has prepared for us after we die. We look forward to that time when we can be with God. We look forward to a time when we are not in pain, not struggling to pay the bills, not grieving a lifetime of losses. Looking forward to being with God after we die gives us hope, and keeps us going in in this world. Some days, we can hardly wait to be in God’s dwelling place beyond death. Most of the time, we are in no hurry to get there.
It’s important to remember that John’s gospel usually has several meanings for just about everything Jesus says. So, this is not just a promise of life with God after we die, it is also a promise of life now, as we walk this earth.  With his birth as a human, Jesus is God incarnated, God with skin on, who has come to earth to dwell with us.
In this text, Jesus promises that in the Father's house there is "room to spare," as the Common English Bible interprets the Greek; there is room for all of us. The Greek word "mone" has the sense of dwelling. In the ancient world, "mone" meant travelers’ resting places, a hostel or an inn or a room to rent, a place for travelers to dwell for a short time.
Over time in the Church, the concept of dwelling places developed into stations on a spiritual journey. Instead of physical locations, “mone” refers to a time of life. In this understanding of dwelling places, each era of our lives can be a dwelling place.
Childhood Sunday school classes; confirmation class; high school and college; young adulthood; being single or married, having children or not, having pets or not; these are all dwelling places.
Being widowed early, or being married for 50 years, or divorced, these are all dwelling places.
Renting an apartment or buying a house, living in the same town for a lifetime, or moving every other year, these are also dwelling places.
Health challenges can be their own dwelling places.
Where we live, how old or young we are, who we are with, how we feel, and so forth, these conditions shape our lives and influence our spiritual nature. In each and every era of our lives, Jesus is present, dwelling with us and experiencing life with us.
Some dwelling places are very short term. On our vacation last week, Mike and I dwelt briefly in 3 different hotels and one retreat center. More important than the location were the experiences we had.
Some of my cousins and their children gathered on Saturday for a family reunion. It was a time of remembering, of getting acquainted and re-acquainted. Since we grew up far apart, we have only recently been able to be together as family. On Sunday, Mike and I worshiped with some of the family at their congregation, a rare treat for us.
Monday through Wednesday we were at a retreat center for a conference where Mike was the keynote speaker and I led workshops. During this brief time of dwelling in the Columbia Gorge we were constantly reminded of God’s power and presence in the beauty that surrounded us. As we prayed and worshiped and learned together, Jesus was dwelling among us, drawing each of us closer together, creating memories.
At one of our hotels, a one-night dwelling place, a woman was walking from the pool to the elevator just as we were checking in. She seemed proud to be showing us the way to the elevator. It turns out, she was a homeless person, housed temporarily at the hotel. Our guide had been enjoying the luxury of the swimming pool, a rare treat. And she was enjoying being the host at a party, lovingly and proudly showing her guests around her home. Chances are good that the woman was able to live at the hotel because of the local congregations’ ministry efforts, serving God through serving the needy among them.
A member from another congregation, Esther, worked in a memory loss facility. She loved her job, because each room was decorated as the world the resident lived in, whether it was a Florida sunroom, an auto assembly plant, an army barracks, or a Wild West town. Each person lived in what felt like familiar place, home. Jesus lived there too.
At the suggestion of Bob, a regular visitor to Hope, I have been reading a book named “Pastrix” by Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a 45-year-old recovering addict, much-tattooed, and a passionate follower of Jesus. While she loves Lutheran liturgy, much of her way of doing church is in strong contrast to the way most of us Lutherans “do” church.
Most of the folks in her congregation are young, single, and often rejected by us “regular Lutherans”. They are gay, bisexual, transgendered, addicted, and searching for God’s grace in a world that rarely offers it to them. One year, she decided to hold a rally day, to increase membership and hopefully add children to the congregation.
The rally day was, in her mind, a bust. Despite all her preparations, her prayers, and her good intentions, attendance was less than on a usual Sunday. No new folks came, no one pitched in even one dollar to pay for the food she bought. Worse, her back was a tight mess. They enjoyed the activities she had planned, ate the food they could, and gave away the rest.
Stuart noticed how tense and unhappy Nadia was, and offered to gather a few members to pray for her. They stood around her, laid hands on her, with Stuart’s hands massaging her lower back. Suddenly, the tense knot let go, the spasms ceased, releasing from a tight fist to an open hand. But it was hours before Nadia paid any attention.
It was in the middle of the night when Nadia startled awake, and made the connections between what had happened that day and her angry response to it. Twenty-six people had showed up for her rally day event and had a great time. The folks who usually barely had enough to eat had an opportunity to feed others. And while her back was not healed, she was at that moment experiencing no pain from it. Jesus had dwelt with and among them, even though she had failed to notice it.
Jesus lives with us whenever we acknowledge that Jesus is God incarnate, God-with-skin-on, who lives among and within us, guiding our lives. Jesus dwells with us when we follow Jesus by living Jesus' way, knowing his truth, seeking life with him as our Lord and Savior.
Where have you dwelt, over your long or medium or short lifetime? How has Jesus dwelt with you at those times? Were you always aware of his presence, or was he just there in the background? What excites you the most about dwelling with God after you die? What excites you the most about Jesus dwelling with you now, today, in this world?

Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, you chose to come and dwell with us, in the flesh 2,000 years ago, and in Spirit every day of our lives. Help us to dwell with you, living your way, your truth, knowing your love in our life. Lead us to share you with those who need you. Amen