Easter People – Easter Promise Week 4
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: JOHN 14:1-14
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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’? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
A few years ago, our family adopted an Australian Shepherd puppy, Lola. She is specifically a red-tri from a line of quite fancy titled parents and grand parents but she ended up with us so, alas is not actually destined for show dog fame although she certainly has the sass and the instincts to pull it off!
Anyone know anything about shepherd type dogs? They really are wired for herding, for rounding up little things, big things, anything that is moving and causing any kind of chaos in their world. When she was only a few months old, she would walk with us to school. John was a 1st grader at this time and had quite the bounce in his step. He did daring things like skip ahead … and walk next to the sidewalk instead of on it… and sometimes even run back behind to pick up a rock that grabbed his attention. This was a lot of chaos for Lola and she instantly would run up behind him when he strayed and bark him back into his place. She has others ways she displays this herding instinct besides keeping the boy in line, at dog parks she doesn’t play, she just keeps the dogs either huddled in a group or far away from her people, with my brother’s big golden retrievers, she figures they are sheep and she can herd them into a corner pretty quick. And with rabbits… oh the rabbits are really out this year! She does not want them getting comfortable in our yard and we always thought she was chasing them out- then one day she caught one. A baby one, right in her mouth and gently held it there for a moment and then let it go… and started to chase it again. This happened a couple of times and then Rob couldn’t take it and made her let it go!
But here is the thing. Lola was doing what a shepherd dog does. She was not out to harm or destroy with her quick feet and big bark, but she was out to shepherd… to round the chaos up and gently make a way for peace to come back into the yard. She cannot help her herding instinct. It is so ingrained in her, even though she has never actually seen a sheep, she lives, barks, acts, and in her way cares for her people, her space, her world in a way that is funny at times but also creates great assurance and security that there is always this Shepherd dog guarding her flock.
What we hear in these passages from Psalm 23 and from John is the human attempt to describe the very nature of God. A God who shepherds–gathers, protects, cares for all those in her care and all are in her care. A God who leads and guides and holds us gently. These are both scriptures that may seem out of place today because their familiarity to us often comes in the saying goodbye and celebrating the life of a loved one at funeral. So we tend to think of them and end of life words of comfort and grace to help us to walk that new path into eternal life with God–and they are words for such a time.
AND they are also words that were not written at a time of death, but at a time of new life! Jesus has risen and is preparing to ascend to God and so he begins with a promise that there are many dwelling places with God and that the disciples have already seen God since they have seen him. Often times this passage gets painted as a big mansion with fancy rooms in a far away other world kingdom that fulfills our material desires and fantasies of an easy life. But when we go back to the roots of the words we find that the word dwelling is not so much a stationary ‘hang out in a room’ kind of word but a vibrant, moving, come dance in the light, the way, and the truth kind of word that encompassing the present and is ongoing, we can start to see a different picture of Jesus calling us to dwell with God in life now as God dwells with us not just in death or in life after death, but in and with our life right here and now.
Andrei Rublev, a Russian painter in the 15th century who created an icon depicting what so much of scripture aims to tell us with words about the Trinity, the nature of God as three and one. This painting has three figures around a table with food and uses three main colors of gold, blue, and green throughout each figure to highlight God as creator/father (gold), Jesus as human with us from sea and sky (blue) and the spirit as flowing through all parts of life (green). Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Contemplation and Action, writes in his latest book, The Divine Dance, about this icon painting as another way for us to understand the very nature of God. He says, “The holy one, in the form of three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves… so In the beginning was the Relationship.”
The very nature of God is to be in relationship, to be a part of a divine dance of all the ways that we see God revealed in the world. God cannot help but be a part of us and our world just as God cannot help but dwell in all places. Even the places of chaos—because Life has chaos, this is unavoidable. For Lola, chaos is children and bunnies running amok. For us, that chaos, well there is a certain chaos of just surviving the month of May it seems! Whether we are in the chaos of parenting or living on our own, the chaos of navigating the news and social media to find what is real or the chaos of our own illness or tragedy. Whether we seek to round up chaos and bring peace to the yard or whether we hide away into our own nest, the very nature of God is to dwell with us and stay in relationship no matter what ensues around us.
Rohr goes on to describe how this painting has a kind of odd hole right up at the front of the table where there is an open space at the top of the table and this is where we find ourselves as the fourth person at this table. The story goes that at one time there was a mirror there on the painting that was removed in later centuries but that originally the artist was clear that the open place at the table was for you, for each person who gazes at this image, who seeks God, who comes to dwell in this grace. This grace, as explained by Rohr, that is flowing, it is like water that comes down as rain, as waterfall, It always seeks the lowest place, and then there it pools.
See we too are a part of this flow of grace. Our very nature, our essence, comes from this place. We are created in and from relationship with God, from a place of wholeness and goodness. This grace that flows and pools is in us and for us too. We are called to live into our nature of reflecting this grace of God in our communities, in our daily life, and in the lowest places of our world in our words and actions. To do what we will do to bring new life to the places of chaos and despair, to be who we are in joining this divine dance of God. And yes, we will step on toes at times and get the steps wrong at times and other times we will spin and step with grace and love from our very core. But God still sends us and dwells with us in our chaos and sends us in that very flow of grace.
And all through this dance, God remains in relationship with us. God our Shepherd, gathers us up and brings us to those same pools of grace, inviting us to catch our breath, to rest for even a moment, and remember that we are gently held in God’s mercy, in the Jesus promise of truth and way and life, and in the spirit of love and grace.