By Pastor John Johnson

Houses and Dwelling Places and Mansions

May 12, 2020

NRS John 14:1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 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'? 10 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. 11 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. 12 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. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

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If you are at all like me, when faced with the “At home” guidelines from your states — I realize many of you are not in Arizona right now, — if you are like me, you expected you would get a lot of projects done and be productive as you stayed home.

For I did indeed expect that at the very least I would get a lot done in the hours I would normally spend driving. But it was not to be; my home desk and office are still an awful mess and it has been far more difficult than I imagined to get things done in my capacity as a pastor, let alone in that other part of life I call being a “house-hubby,” though I have in fact made modest steps forward in a project or two in Patricia’s and my house.

Part of that was out of necessity. We have had to have tile flooring installed over our painted concreted floors whose sealing was all scraped-up by ten years of the toe nails of our dogs, and no one had told me that those floors needed near annual resealing. We just completed the second of three phases of that installation during this “At home” period— a year and one-half after we started. While most of the work itself was done by a flooring contractor, both preparation and some follow up led me to a number of visits to Home Depot, where, one sales person told me, they are as busy as ever and are actually controlling entry into their stores: to go inside, I had to wait until someone left.

Home repair and home improvement projects make a lot of sense during a time one is forced to be home, and I readily admit I get a sense of satisfaction when I complete a project. Mine have ranged from removing a really heavy deposit of lime in a bathtub that accumulated over several years because of a dripping faucet from a leaky valve in a seldom used guest bathroom — we are expecting guests in the form of my sons and their families or parts thereof in two separate visits — from removing lime to replacing some plumbing fixtures to, well, beginning, barely, to organize the garage by assembling some shelving I picked up at Home Depot.

Truly, a house is not a home, it is more of a deep hole into which one sinks time and money, yet, well, our house is Patricia’s and my earthly dwelling place. It is the first “house” she has lived in since she was living with her grandmother while in pharmacy school more years ago than she would allow me to mention to you, and while our house is not a big house, compared to the tiny place her grandparents owned and that she lived in back while growing up, it probably seems like a, well, like a mansion.

I suggested moving out of it a few years back — it’s more house than we really use or need, —but she likes it, and does not want to leave. And I’m no dummy; even though it would probably be impractical to leave the house while we have two dogs, that she wants to stay means that I repeat to myself those two words I teach every would-be-husband in pre-marital counseling, “Yes, dear.”

But our house is something beyond our needs; it represents a term I always use in our pastoral prayer, abundance; in that sense, it really has aspect of a mansion; our earthly dwelling place has aspects of a mansion.

OK; that was quite an exercise to make sure that at least twice I got in those words, dwelling place and mansion. My motivation was not to be corny, however, but to rejoice in our Gospel Lesson today from the Gospel According to John. It’s a passage you have probably heard using both of those words, dwelling place and mansion. I use the more modern translation in every Memorial Service or Funeral I conduct:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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.” [italics added]

I think that is an absolutely beautiful and comforting passage; it is part of a lengthy section of the Gospel According to John known as the “Farewell Discourse,” and we shall be visiting it again in future weeks.

But I remember clearly my first encounter with that passage in the King James Version’s English back when I was a senior in high school:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Holy home improvement store, what an incredibly powerful — and beautiful — image; they don’t write — or rather, they don’t translate —them like that any more.

House, dwelling place, mansion. This was one of those weeks I simply had to try to visit the original Greek in which the Gospels were written. House is a fascinating word in Greek, well, maybe not a fascinating word, oikos, one form of which is oikon, but a word that also can mean dwelling place, or, interestingly, it can mean family. But what has long intrigued me is that the words economy and economics and the like come from it (think, oikon, which, once one pauses, makes some sense: economics is a science that studies how people live and have families and homes or houses. So when Jesus speaks of “In my Father’s house,” he is not saying anything highly unusual in the translation from the Greek of the New Testament into English.

But then the writer of the Gospel records Jesus as using another word that allows for the difference in translation between the sixteenth century King James Version and the late twentieth century version I most often use. The Greek word is monai  [monai] and has a range of meanings, mansion, abode and, well, its Greek root ironically seems to relate as well to alone, or sole, or only. And those words suggest to me something unique, specially prepared.

Now, that may just be me, and Jesus, after all, did not speak Greek, and yet that unique, special suggests something that I believe we do find in Jesus, which is that there is nothing common or general or commodity-like or factory produced about our relation with Jesus, and mansion sort of fits that, Levittown does not, not because of grandeur or size or luxury, but because what Jesus offers each of us is uniquely tailored — I suppose if I am sticking with Home Depot, I should say not “uniquely tailored,” but architect designed and custom built for us!

There is something about this passage that to me emphasizes our personal, intensely personal, relation with God through Jesus — indeed, the balance of the passage does support the orthodox Christian belief that one can only know God through Jesus, but I always qualify that to meaning that one can only get the fullest possible knowledge of God through Jesus, and I think even Calvin would agree with me on that.

But the meaning of the Greek word yielding mansion, then, goes even further, I believe. If our relation with Jesus is custom built, we have a unique relation with the Father, as well.

Now, it is indeed common to take Jesus as referring in this passage to heaven and to life after death, and I think that He was doing so, but let me get away from dwelling places and mansions for just a minute, and go back to the earlier word that is the same in all English translations, house; “In my Father’s house.”

House held for the Jews of Jesus’ time and before — and still does for us moderns in certain ways, think of how the royal family in the United Kingdom is known as “the house of Windsor,” — the meanings of house included and include and still can mean “family,” which, you’ll recall, is one of the possible meanings as well of the Greek word, oikos, mentioned earlier.

So let me try to put a different spin on what Jesus said, “In my father’s family there are many . . .” well, many what?

“In my father’s family there are many. . .” No; let’s exercise some theological flexibility here. “In my Father’s family there is a lot of room;”

In the Father’s family there is a lot of room; there is in fact room for everyone, specially prepared, architect designed, custom-built room for everyone, for everyone is indeed a child of God and a member of the family.

As we — which is to say, as the world, and it truly is the world that is experiencing it, — as the world is experiencing this pandemic, let us remember that we are part of the same family as all those others, whether or not they so recognize, and whatever our doubts as to the necessity or rationality of some of the restraints on us and our movements and activities might be, we are enduring those because families stick together.

How is this as a possible interpretation of what Jesus was saying: “In my Father’s family there are lots of children, and I come to gather them together.” Although that may appear to be playing fast and loose with what the writer of John has Jesus saying, there is enough support for it elsewhere in the New Testament that I feel confident in saying that Jesus wants us to embrace the fact that all those who are enduring this world shattering situation are, indeed, members of the family of God, children of God, and not “merely” neighbors, and moreover, that we have a mission to them.

I say this because, interestingly, in what the Lectionary editors have as today’s epistle lesson, a reading from the letter known as 1 Peter, we find this:

let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood,

We are a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a spiritual family of priests called to take Jesus to others of God’s children.

Let us seek for all of those children what we seek for ourselves whenever we pray: joy, peace, comfort, freedom and abundance, even the abundance of an architect designed, custom-built mansion in the house of God.

. . . and we do not have to wait to dwell in that house, in that family.

In Jesus’ name. Amen

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