Sunday Drivers

Sermon Series: Lent 2005--Olivet Discourses from John

Sunday Drivers

February 17, 2005 - February 20, 2005

John 14:1-14

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Kate Kotfila

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Sunday Drivers!. We don’t hear much about Sunday drivers anymore, those slow pokes that are just out for a ride who drive us nuts when we’re in a hurry. Maybe Sunday afternoon drives these days are done at breakneck speeds trying to get wherever we’re going. Crazy schedules and all the other entertainment options have diminished the attractiveness of lazy afternoon drives. Growing up, my family would regularly pile into the car and go for a Sunday afternoon drive.


One of our favorite roads was along the coastline of
Lake Michigan. It was called the Gold Coast. The industrial tycoons of the late 19th century built their magnificent mansions there in all their gilded glory. I loved to plaster my face up against the window and dream about what it was like to live in one of those houses. They were huge. I’d think about playing hide and go seek through the rooms, walking down magnificent staircases in glorious gowns.  My mother, an imminently practical woman, would wonder how many maids and groundskeepers the owners employed. Dad would estimate the cost of taxes.


Last Fall I was in
Ashville, North Carolina. If I’d had just a bit more time I would like to have visited the
. Now that’s what I call a country retreat. Rightly named its Biltmore not Bilt-less. It is the largest house in
. George Vanderbilt had it built at the end of the nineteenth century It took 11 million bricks to build the four-story house with 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms. Hmm, maybe my mother was right. Forty-three bathrooms to clean! George, his wife and only daughter must have needed twenty minutes notice from the cook and maps to find the dining room – excuse me – rooms.


Some translations of John 14 had Jesus going to prepare a place in the Father’s mansion. So my early images of heaven were of those Gold Coast mansions. I used to think about which room I would get – whether I’d get to decorate it or not. Now remember this is the 70’s. We’re talking shag carpets, avocado green, harvest gold, lava lamps. Yeah, that’s my idea of heaven!


I wonder what the disciples were imagining when Jesus told them that he was going to prepare a dwelling place for them. I’m guessing they weren’t imagining much of anything. Their minds were in shock. They weren’t hearing “prepare a place” they were hearing Jesus was leaving them. Even though he had been saying that for months, they were finally starting to hear it. Soon, Jesus would be gone. He was going to his death and they were deeply troubled.


No words are adequate to contain death’s reality. It’s so much easier to deny it than to describe its impact. Wednesday we gathered here to give thanks for Shirley Salisbury’s life. Back in December, when we feared Shirley would not wake up, that she would slowly slip from us, death’s burden weighed us down, It hurt, it sucked the energy out of us, we ached in heart and body. When she woke we thought we’d all awakened from a bad dream, until Sunday when a heart attack ripped her from us.


We comfort each other reminding ourselves that she is in a better place. Do you wonder what it looks like? Is there a sewing room for all her projects? Where’s her computer desk and stacks of composition notebooks? How big is the kitchen? How many clocks are in it?


Thomas wasn’t having any of the comfort Jesus was offering. Jesus tried to tell the disciples that he would return, that while he was gone he would be working on their behalf. Thomas wasn’t having any of it. And when Jesus said, “You know the way to the place I am going,” Thomas burst out, “We don’t know here you’re going let alone how to get there.” It was an emotionally charged moment. I see Thomas eyes welling up, his hands clenching and unclenching out of frustration and fear.


I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what tone of voice Jesus used to respond to Thomas when he said, “I am the way the truth and the life.”  Jesus response gives us the key into his uniqueness, his character, and his mission. But how did he say it? Was he exasperated? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Did he take on a professorial tone? I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Did he eyeball Thomas trying to drive through Thomas’ panic? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Or did Jesus’ eyes have a distant stare and his voice a deep solemnity because he knew what he had to endure to be able to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”


The cross was just around the corner.  The wood that Jesus would use to build the place he was preparing was in the form of a cross. Nails had to pierce his flesh to bite the wood. Life was only possible by walking into and through death. He knew the truth. As he answered Thomas, was he cementing his resolve?


No one comes to the Father but by me. I am the way, the truth, and the life.  In that moment Jesus carried the weight of his responsibility. If he shrank from his mission, if he turned from the cross no one would have a chance at an intimate personal relationship with God. We know the depth of his struggle in
Gethsemane. Perhaps this was the affirmation that led to the acceptance of “not my will but yours be done.


Way, Truth, Life. These are things. They are concepts. A way: it’s a path, a road, a means to move forward. Truth: the opposite of falsehood, propositions, that which is consistent with reality. Life: existence, vitality, meaning, connectedness. These are concepts that philosophers have discussed and debated through the centuries. But Jesus says no!  Way, Truth, Life, these aren’t concepts to be debated. Jesus says these are “I am.” Jesus embodies the way, truth, and life. These are not things, these are personal. And the personal sacrifice necessary to extend truth and life will demand he walk the way to the cross.. The way to the place Jesus is preparing is Jesus himself. The place is really a person.


But this is simply too hard to grasp, too hard to get our heads around. Certainly too hard for shell-shocked disciples who can’t get past, ‘you’re leaving.’ Philip steps in. He tries taking another tack. Perhaps Jesus could just show them the Father, then they would know where he was going.


Ah Philip, Ah Thomas, don’t you see? The Father and Jesus are one. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. All those years Thomas and Philip have been with Jesus, they have been with the Father. All those signs and wonders, the water walking, and demon destroying, all those healings, and teachings, and forgivings, where did they think they came from? “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”


“I am in the Father . . . The Father in me.” But wait, how can Jesus be going to the Father if the Father is in Him and He is in the Father? What do we do with this? It’s like that strange thing we do at the beginning of worship services in which we invoke God’s presence, the “invocation” that prayer in which we ask Christ to be present. But he is already here – he’s everywhere and he is here in our worship. So why are we asking him in? How can a person be “in” and be going “to?”  How can Jesus be in the Father and going to the Father so as to provide a place so that I can be in the Father as he is in the Father and we can do the works that he does because we do them in his name and he is in the Father. And if he is in the Father why does he have to leave? Do you see the steam coming out of their heads?


I don’t have an answer to that question. But remember this, Jesus begins this conversation with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled believe in the Father, believe also in me.” I am going to the Father and I am coming back. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me I am going to the Father. And I will return to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled.


There is a truth here that I haven’t fully comprehended but it is this. We are in Christ. We are in Christ as he is in the Father. He has placed us in this relationship through the cross. Heaven is more than a place. Heaven, is more than a person, Jesus Christ. Heaven isn’t heaven for us without a preposition. We’re back to Thomas’ question, how can we get there? Only one way,  a preposition.


Do you know what prepositions are?  I thank my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Maher. Prepositions are words that show the relationship between a noun and pronoun and any other word in the sentence. I could also tell you there are eight parts of speech and can even tell you the definitions of those. But that’s enough for now. Different sermon.


“In,” it’s a preposition that shows the relationship between Christ and us. We are in Christ. And he is in the Father. He is going to the Father. “To” is another preposition. Jesus is going to the Father and we are in him. There is an essential connection between “do not let your hearts be troubled” and being “in Christ” who is “in the Father.” Next week Carl is going to help us to see that connection as we are called on to abide in Christ.


The words of comfort that Jesus was giving his disciples, the ones that were causing them so much steam time. Words that they remembered and held on to such that they were written down even for us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” There’s that preposition again “in.” “Believe in me.” The end of the passage there’s these works in me. Believe and work, in Christ. This has been a week full of doubts, questions, anger and frustration at God and anybody that came into my path.


In Christ, I am facing Shirley’s death. Shirley is alive in Christ. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Amen

To contact Kate Kotfila about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180