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Thomas J Parlette

“Jesus’ Greatest Hits”

John 14: 1-14

5/14/17

There are many wonderful things about spring. The flowers start to pop up, everything gets green again and the golf courses open for business. But with all the signs of re-birth, there are also come the ants. I don’t know about you, maybe it’s just that we have two boys in the house who tend to leave pizza crusts all over the house – but in the spring we seem to get a lot of ants.

So when we made a trip a Target this weekend, we made sure to “ant-traps” on the list.

While Juliet and the boys went to shop for summer clothes, and of course shoes, I went off on my own to work out a suitable ant-trapping strategy – on my way back, I stopped off in the record section. And I do mean “records” – because if you haven’t heard, vinyl has made a comeback. A few Christmases ago, Juliet got me a record player, so every once in a while I’ve been buying some of my favorite LP’s from days gone by, reliving my youth, I guess.

What caught my eye in Target was that they had a display up featuring a whole bunch of “Greatest Hits” albums. And what was really great was I actually knew all the bands. These were my favorites from my high school and college years. Bands like The Police, U2, INXS, Queen and REO Speedwagon. I spent more than a couple of happy minutes standing there with my ant traps looking over the songs that had defined my teenage years. A flood of memories washed over me with every song. High School football games, cruising the streets of Bloomington, Illinois with my friends, having pizza and playing real video games like Frogger and Space Invaders – ah, a simpler time. As each tune played in my memory, a different scene played itself out in my mind, and I enjoyed the show. It’s amazing the power that music has to transport us to another place and time.

You don’t often experience the melancholy glow of nostalgia in the aisles of Target – but I did that day as I remembered those Greatest Hits from my youth.

I wonder if there was a similar mood that night after this little dinner party with Jesus and his disciples. I wonder if Jesus was feeling a bit nostalgic as he looked back over his ministry, knowing that his time was growing short.

If you think about it, these verses here today could almost read as Jesus’ Greatest Hits. There are so many well known verses, familiar images and comfortable concepts in this passage today…

“In my father’s house there are many rooms…”

“I go to prepare a place for you…”

“I am the way, the truth and the life…”

“Those who have seen me have seen the Father…”

There is a tremendous amount of theology in this passage, as well. Here at the dinner table over a glass of wine, Jesus gets into some pretty deep Christology – a fancy way of saying that Jesus is telling his disciples who he is and what being “the Christ” is all about. But as Karl Barth used to say, “all theology is finally Christology.” For the only way to fully know God is through Jesus Christ.

This passage marks the beginning of what scholars call “The Farewell Discourse.” These are Jesus’ last words to his disciples, the last teachable moment, before his arrest and trial. These chapters, from 14-17, do sound very much like a last will and testament. Which is not too surprising since many other biblical figures, such as Jacob, Moses, and David, have all engaged in similar discourses. Jesus actually begins his last words at the end of Chapter 13 by saying, “My children, I am to be with you for a little longer…”

When they heard that, I’m sure the disciples were more than a little bit taken aback. Jesus had been dropping hints for quite some time now, but the disciples never really picked up on it. They were probably very confused, maybe even alarmed that Jesus was talking this way. And then the questions start…

“Where are you going?”

“Can we come too?”

“How are we going to get along without you?”

“What are we going to do now?”

But Jesus has an answer to all their questions.

As he does so many times in the Gospel of John, Jesus says “Trust me.” As Peter has written, whatever situation you find yourself in, follow Jesus, use Jesus as an example, follow Jesus lead – and you will be fine. Trust him.

“Trust me – I’m going to prepare a place for you. And you now the way where I am going. Trust me. Trust what I have shown you.”

But we all know, “Yeah, you may be fine in the long run – but it won’t be easy.” Following Jesus, trying to live as he would have – well, that can be very difficult.

And Jesus knows that. He knows that his disciples are going to face challenges, they are going to go through some rough times. They are going to feel lonely, deserted and hopeless. There will be times when it seems the world is against them. There will be times when their call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps will seem impossible and even foolhardy.

That’s why there are so many comforting images here among Jesus’ greatest hits. His final words to his disciples are full of comfort and assurance, for that is what they needed most.

There is a time and a place for stirring words and calls to action and invitations to social justice. There is certainly a time for calls to repentance and words of prophecy and even pronouncements of judgment.

But here, in the final days of Jesus’ life, with time winding down and the sun slowly setting – well, this is not that time.

Here around the dinner table is the time for words of comfort and assurance. Something we all need.

And perhaps the most comforting image here is that we have a place, a room waiting for us. There is a place set aside for us, a place that is ours.

I think of some of the young adults I know who leave home for college, only to discover that their younger siblings have begun casting lots to see who gets the vacated room. “You mean, you’d give my room away?, these young adults ask their parents. “But where will I go when I come home? Where do I belong?” Many a college student is reduced to toddler-like fits and tantrums at the thought of losing “their” rooms.

And it makes sense when you think about it. Leaving home is a stress-filled process. You grow up, set aside childish things and shoulder new responsibilities. You leave the nest and make do with some very “in-between” sorts of spaces – a dorm room here, a shared apartment there. You need time to grow into your new self. You need to learn what it is to create your own home.

But it helps, in the midst of all that anxiety, to know that you have a room waiting for you somewhere. Knowing that it’s there gives you the courage and the strength to leave it. Knowing that you have a place gives you the courage and the strength to carry on, to keep working your way through life, following in Jesus’ footsteps.

These words of comfort make it possible for us to keep going on our journey of faith, working to accomplish the great things God has called us to do. For Jesus assures us that those who believe in him, those who live in the comfort and strength he offers, will do greater works than these, because Jesus is going to the Father.

One of my favorite of the classic preacher stories is the one about the traveler from Italy who came to the French town of Chartres to see the great church that was being built. He encountered a workman, covered with dust and asked what he did. The man replied that he was a stonemason. He had spent his day cutting rocks. A second man responded that he was a glassblower, and he spent his days making colored glass. Still another replied that he was a blacksmith who hammered for a living. Finally the traveler came upon an older woman with a broom in her hand. She was sweeping up some stone chips, wood shavings and bits of broken glass. He asked her what she was doing, and she said, “Me – I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God.” A great work indeed.

Jesus has prepared the way for us to eternal life. He has given us an example to follow. There is no need to worry, for he has gone before us to prepare a room just for us. And he has left us with the ability to do even greater works.

And what are we doing? We are building a cathedral, a church, a Christ following community, for the glory of God.

A great work indeed. So let us be about our business.

May God be praised. Amen.