A Place to Hang Your Heart
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
May 18, 2014
John 14: 1-14 (CEB)
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4You know the way to the place I’m going.
5Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
9Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
Home. It’s a word we tossed around all the time; a word we say all the time. When you hear the word “home,” what comes to mind? When you say the word, “home,” what are you trying to convey? At the end of the work day, we inform our colleagues that we are “going home.” A lonely college student navigating freshman year might say to his roommate, “I miss home.” We distinguish the place that is our “hometown”, and we center our activities at “home base.” Home can be a building, or it can be an entire community. It can be the center of activity, or it can just be the place where we are most comfortable—whether that’s with certain people or in a particular atmosphere. We’ve even created these now common adages that describe home. Some people say, “Home is where you hang your hat.” While others view home in a different way, saying, “Home is where the heart is.”
Whatever specific definition we may give to “home,” I believe it is generally true for all of us that home is a space of comfort, peace, and rest; a place where we can relax and be ourselves. And if that’s not true for us, then we spend our lives seeking such space. And in our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is guiding us on “the way” home. Jesus is making his final preparations for the end of his bodily life on earth, and he wants to give assurance to his disciples. Christ is going home, and he wants his followers to know that they have a home too. Christ knows the distress of this life; he has experienced it firsthand, as we know. And remember, the prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” So as he addresses the disciples now, he gets straight to the point. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
But our hearts are troubled, aren’t they? We deal with it on a weekly basis, if not every day. We have financial troubles, or marital strife. We are overly stressed by our work or our child’s well-being. We fret and worry about the lack of time. We are burdened by medical issues, whether in our own lives, or the lives of people we love. We navigate this earthly existence, regularly reminded of our own mortality, and our hearts are troubled. It’s amazing how well Christ knows us, isn’t it? So he looks at the people he loves; believers, disciples, people just like us, and he says to them, “Don’t be troubled.”
“Fine,” we think. “But that’s a whole lot easier said than done.”
And Jesus knows that, too, because in the very next sentence he gives us the key to freedom from troubled hearts. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Still a lot easier said than done, no doubt, but it’s a starting point. And it’s a lot less complicated than trying to navigate all the supposed solutions offered by the world. You know what I mean. The world tells us to go to a therapist, to change our diet, to exercise more, to watch less TV, to find a hobby, and on and on. I ran across an advertisement online this week that read, “You deserve to be happy. Start e-counseling now!” E-counseling? What? We could practically make a career out of trying to rid our lives of worry and trouble, and in the end we’d only have mixed results at best. Jesus just says, “Believe in God and believe in me.” At least it’s focused. Now to figure out exactly what that means.
The words of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, come to mind. In one of his writings, Luther asks the question, “What does it mean to have a God?” Luther then goes on to answer his own question by saying, “God is what you hang your heart upon.” In other words, the heart that is troubled is a heart not hung upon God, but one set in the ways of the world. So Jesus tells the disciples in this time of deep uncertainty: hang your hearts on God; hang your hearts on me. It sounds little like home, doesn’t it?
“Home is where the heart is.” “God is what you hang your heart upon.” Listen again to Jesus’ words: “In my Father’s [home] there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a [home] for you? And if I go and prepare a [home] for you, I will come again and will take you to myself[, home], so that where I am there you may be also. And you know the way [home,] to the place where I am going.” Now, I stuck “home” in there a few times where Jesus doesn’t use that word, but do you see what he is saying? What a blessed, comforting, beautiful message!
But what does Jesus mean when he says these things? I think that’s kind of what Thomas is getting at when he asks, “How can we know the way?” Which is when Jesus responds with that widely quoted description of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Sadly, we often shove this down people’s throats, or we use it as a way to exclude others from our own special church “club.” But I don’t think Jesus meant this to be exclusive; in fact, I know that was not Jesus’ intention. God’s grace is never exclusive; it’s offered to all without price, precisely because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. No, when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the light,” I think what he is seeking to convey to the disciples above all else is that he and the Father are one, and that’s why he can prepare a place for us with the Father.
So what is this place that Jesus has prepared for us? It sounds a whole lot like a house, doesn’t it? A mansion even, with enough rooms for everyone! But the thing is, a house is just a building. Remember, a home is something so much more than a building; it is a space of comfort, rest, peace, and joy. And I can imagine that God in Christ Jesus desires nothing less than that for each of us. When Jesus talks about many rooms, I think he’s talking about the room that God makes for us. Perhaps he is describing the room of eternal life; the time that God has made to be with each of us—time that is not ever rushed or hurried, but is always all that we need. The disciples’ hearts were troubled because of the very real sense that their time with Jesus had come to an end. We deal with that same sort of trouble, don’t we? We never have enough time with those we love. But Jesus has changed that—the place that he is preparing with God is God himself, God’s own life—time, room, eternal life.
When I was in high school, I climbed in the church van one Friday after school to head to the North Carolina mountains for a retreat with fellow members of the youth group. If I remember correctly, it was late February or early March, and as we made our way into the mountains, it started to snow. We eventually exited the interstate, and started the final leg of our journey up a winding gravel road. We had only been a couple of miles, though, when we hit the snow line. The wheels on the van were just spinning. We stopped, unhooked the trailer, pulled it to the side of a road, and turned the van around on that precariously narrow mountain road. We started back down the mountain with no idea where we would go.
Well, my grandparents lived in Lake Junaluska at the time, only about 20 miles from where we were. That was in the earliest days of cell phones, and we luckily had one with us. I picked up the phone and called my grandparents, asking their permission for about a dozen high schoolers to “crash” at their home that night while the leaders made a plan for the rest of the weekend. They graciously agreed, and so we headed toward their home. As we went, though, my friends were concerned. Where would they sleep? Would there be enough room? How would we all fit into a simple house? Well, it was a simple house, but between the extra beds, the couches, and room on the floor, everyone found a place to rest their head that night.
I think it’s true for all of us. We find it hard to believe that there is a place with all the “room” we need—time, space, peace, forgiveness, grace, love. We can hardly imagine a life free of worry. And so our lives are troubled as we engage in an endless, and yet fruitless search. But as Christ speaks to his disciples, we need to hear his words to us as well. Everything that worries us can be set aside. All the time we need is available to us. Each longing of our spirit can be satisfied. We can let go of our troubles because Christ has prepared a place for us with God.
Here’s the thing, though, it’s up to us to follow “the way.” My friends, I don’t often say this, but that’s not because it’s not important. If we want to experience the “roominess” of God’s own life, we have to follow Christ in faith. It’s our decision to make. He really is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” And as I said before, that is not an exclusive claim. Christ’s grace extends to every person. But if what we want is to free our lives of the many troubles that ruin us, there is only one way to do that. It is a matter of life and death. Worry kills us. There is physical evidence now to prove that. Worry causes stress and anxiety and depression; it shortens our days, robbing us of time, that “room.” And what Jesus wants us to know is that when we are troubled, it’s because we are following the wrong way. “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in [Christ].”
We must understand that the only true home is with God, and that there is room enough for all of us. God’s promise to love us, to make room for us, to know and be known by us never ends. And it can begin even now, if we are willing to put our lives in his hands, and to follow the way that Christ has prepared for us. We just have to “hang our hearts upon God.”
Are you ready to head home?