Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Question

Not everyone has a room of their own. Where would you go if you didn’t have a place to live?

Many Dwelling Places

With many people’s travel plans on hold across the country, the hospitality industry has been left with millions of empty hotel rooms. Many are concerned that the spread of the corona virus poses an inherent danger to the homeless, who stay in cramped shelters. Many immigrants who are seeking asylum or citizenship in the United States have been put in detention centers and are also in danger of contracting the corona virus, by simply being placed in close proximity to others who are detained. Large cities are finding creative ways to use these empty hotel rooms to house the homeless or those recovering from corona virus. 

Despite protests from locals in the area, a judge in California allowed a 76 room hotel to be converted into a shelter for the homeless. It will temporarily house those without an address and who are more susceptible to contracting the corona virus. Numerous elderly already living in the community raises a question: Whose safety is more important, those who already have a room, or those who still need one?

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you need to feel safe and free from worry where they live?
  • What would it be like to be in another country, unable to speak the language, and looking for a place to live?
  • Would your family open your home to someone who needs a place to live? Why or why not?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In the passage right before this one, Peter asks Jesus where he is going. Jesus responds by telling Peter that he cannot follow Jesus at this time. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow Jesus and insists that he is ready to die for Jesus. That is when Jesus tells Peter that he will deny that he knows Jesus and turn his back on him in his hour of greatest need. Then  Jesus says, in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” In another translation it says “Do not be worried or upset.” We can assume that after Peter heard Jesus say he would deny him, Peter was pretty worried and upset. We can also see from these passages that there is a connection between following Jesus and knowing Jesus.  With this temporary separation coming near, Jesus tries to reassure them of his presence.

Jesus tries to comfort them by saying that in his Father’s house there are many rooms or dwelling places, and that he goes to prepare a place for them. We often hear this text at funerals.  People begin to get visions of having their own lavish mansion in heaven when they die. In many ways that understanding misses the point that a dwelling place is truly home only when it is with God. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Having a room to ourselves is nice, but God making room for us to be in the Triune presence is even better.

Pretty soon the disciples enter into a time when they do not know where things are headed, similar to the temporary separation we are experiencing now from friends and loved ones.  Such separation can cause us to rethink our relationships and goals. We begin to ponder where we think we should be, and where we think God should be. 

Jesus says, “you know the way to where I am going.” Their trusted teacher, on whom they have relied to not only teach them how to live out the scriptures, but also who has also given them life and hope, will no longer be with them in the same way. Thomas echoes some of the same concerns we may have when he says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Unable to learn from our favorite teachers or coaches we too may feel ourselves wandering or fear we have lost our way. Everything had been planned out for us by someone else,  and now our work, sports, and school schedules are out the window. 

Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  This passage can be divisive, used to separate people into categories of saved or condemned. Jesus meant these words to be a message of hope. The disciples can take comfort, not condemnation, from the knowledge that they have known Jesus, and because they have known Jesus, they have known God the Father. Jesus is the way to whom? Jesus is the truth about what? Jesus is what kind of life? Remember that everything Jesus said about himself and did in his earthly ministry pointed people to what God the Father was like and was doing.

Philip just wants things to be simplified. “Just show us the father and we will be satisfied” he says. Philip just wants to get back to basics and know where God is in all this craziness. Jesus points Philip back to the work they did alongside him as they ate with Jesus in peoples homes, healed the sick in numerous houses.  In time they spread the good news while living among people in their dwelling places. Jesus reminds them of all that God has done through them to that point and encourages them that God is going to do even greater things through them. 

It is scary when our teacher leaves us and we must trust our training. But Jesus reminds the disciples and us that, through the Holy Spirit, he is still here guiding us, going ahead of us, and dwelling with us, and making room for us. Like the disciples we yearn to be face to face with our closest friends.  After this struggle we will look back and think, “Jesus was with me and I didn’t even know it.” God is here and knows that we are worried, upset, lost, and wanting to see face to face. This is where faith comes in. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you feel like Peter, who is worried and upset?
  • Do you feel like Thomas, who isn’t sure where to go next?
  • Do you feel like Philip, who is struggling to see where God is right now?  Which of the these three disciples do you most feel like?
  • What things do you want to ask God to do for you in this moment?
  • What would you like God to show you so that you would be satisfied?

Activity Suggestions

The Way Activity – One way to deal with worry is to center ourselves in God through prayer. Use this prayer by Thomas Merton this week: 

O Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going,

I do not see the road ahead of me,

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

And that fact that I think

I am following Your will

Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe

That the desire to please You

Does in fact please You.

And I hope I have that desire

In all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything

Apart from that desire to please You.

And I know that if I do this

You will lead me by the right road,

Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always

Though I may seem to be lost

And in the shadow of death.

I will not fear,

For You are ever with me,

And You will never leave me

To make my journey alone.

(Source: Thomas Merton, Pax Christi, Benet Press, Erie, PA.)

The Truth Activity – Much of our worry or sense of feeling lost comes from not believing that God is with us in any given moment or situation. The truth is God is always here with us. One way to remember God’s presence with us is through something called the “Game of Minutes,” created by missionary and  mystic, Frank C. Laubach. The goal is to pick one hour out of your day and bring God to mind once during each minute of that hour. You can then write down your “score” for the percentage of time you were able to remember God.  Thee goal is to improve your “score” each day. Another variation would be to set a timer to remind you each hour during the day to stop wherever you are and remember God’s presence with you in that moment.

The Life Activity – When Jesus talks about leaving the disciples it probably felt to them like their lives were over. Find things this week that bring you life, whether it is a hobby, walking through nature, cooking, music, or art. Before you begin that activity pray a prayer of thanks to God for the life it brings you. After the activity offer up another prayer of thanks for God’s grace that gives you new life in Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer

God of all troubled hearts, help us to believe in you when we feel worried, upset, lost, and cannot seem to find you. Jesus, remind us each day that through your words and actions you point us to God. May we point others to you, Lord, through the work you have given to us today. Through the Holy Spirit help us make room for you in our homes and our hearts, and to know that wherever we dwell, you are there living in us. Amen.