Everyday Faith for Toms and Phils
By Bishop Chris Giesler
What follows is a portion of a sermon that I preached at Emmaus Moravian Church while I served there as pastor. I hope and pray it gives you some ideas. Please adapt as you see fit!
Preaching Text: John 14:1-10
Maybe we are all Thomas’s here today. Can I call you Tom?
Our namesake, Tom, the disciple, was there when Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t be troubled, believe in God, believe in me. I am going to my father’s house where there are many dwelling places, and there I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come and get you. And you do know the way that I am going.” Tom responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?
I am glad that Tom spoke up and asked that question because all of us Toms are thinking the same thing.
And Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
So, let’s continue to follow him. When we don’t know which way to go, let’s follow Jesus to servanthood. When we look at the front page of the newspaper and we don’t know what truth is, let’s look to Jesus for the truth. When we don’t know how to live our lives, let’s follow Jesus and allow our lives to be an invitation to a relationship with God.
I am so glad that our name-sake Tom asked that question.
But wait, maybe our name is really Phillip.
Our namesake Phil was there when Jesus said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” But Phil said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
I am glad Phil said that because all of us Phils are thinking the same thing. And Jesus replied: “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.”
If we want to know what the heart of God is all about, let’s follow Jesus.
Today we are the Toms and the Phils sitting in that Upper Room, and Jesus is speaking these profound words to us.
Over the years, as I have officiated at several hundred funerals, this text has been used at most of them. Words like “I have gone to prepare a place for you” and “Where I am, you will be also” are life-giving and can provide hope for a family grieving the departure of a loved one. But if we limit this text’s meaning only to our eternal lives, we’ve missed its true impact. Let’s remember that Jesus is speaking these words in the Upper Room just after he has washed his disciple’s feet and just before they will leave for the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus will be arrested. These disciples are now figuring out that Jesus will not be with them for much longer. Knowing the disciple’s fear and knowing Jesus’ love for them that gives these words their true meaning, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places, and I am going to prepare a place for you.”
Since I grew up in a pastor’s family, my family lived in a number of houses, but in all that time, we only had one home. That home was found wherever my family resided at the time. That home has always been a place of refuge, a place where I could be myself without worry or judgment. That continues today at the house that I currently reside in at 1531 Madison Avenue in Bethlehem, PA. Yes, it is a physical structure that we would call a house. It has a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and living spaces, all of which families might need to live safely and comfortably from one day to the next. But within that physical structure is the place that we call home. In our text for today, Jesus talks about a heavenly home, an eternal dwelling place, a home where we can be whom God created us to be without worry of judgment.
Let’s back up just a bit and look at the big picture of who Jesus is and what his mission was. One can easily say that Jesus came to assure us of God’s unconditional love, as it has been shown in the living of his life. Jesus will later say, I am in the Father, the Father is in me, and now you are in me, and I am in you.
Too often, the focus gets pinned on what this means for our eternal lives, and it does contain good news about that. But Jesus’ words give us the broader perspective with which God looks at our lives and the love that God has for each of us. Jesus also said, “The one who believes in me will do the works that I do, in fact, will do greater things than me.” Wow! Does that mean that I can now walk on water? Does that mean that I can cure a person with cancer? Does that mean that I can feed 5,000 today?
Not exactly! It does mean that we can serve the simple needs of those around us with the gifts we have been blessed with! Provide food for our families, read to children, visit a loved one in the hospital, send a card to share your love, and work together with other Christians to provide housing to the homeless and food for them to eat. Show somebody that God loves them.
If it was Jesus’ mission to show just how much God loves the world (think John 3:16), then should not this be our mission as well? This is a vocation that begs expression every day of our lives!