Sermon for Sunday, May 10th, 2020, the Fourth Sunday after Easter
The Lessons: Psalm 31:1-6, 16-18; Acts 7:55-60; John 14:1-14
The Text: John 14:1-14
The Topic: Looking to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, in whom true joys are to be found
Here is what might be to some a surprising turn of events:
A cab driver at the pearly gates is invited to take a silken robe and golden staff with him into heaven. A preacher next in line is offered only a rough robe and wooden staff. Astonished, the minister argues, “But I’m a minister! You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely I rate higher than that.”
Saint Peter responds matter-of-factly: “Here we are interested in results,” he says. “When you preached, people slept. When that cabbie drove his taxi, people prayed.”
– p. 367, The Big Book of Church Jokes, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
In thinking about events and times which are unanticipated and seem to run counter to what one might logically expect, I came across this passage in the ninth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
(Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, KJV)
There is something about the course of life that defies human logic, and things happen unexpectedly, and at times, it seems, by chance. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes admits elsewhere in his book that “no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b, KJV). It is impossible for the human mind to grasp all of God’s purposes in creation and in the course of this life.
In the face of the perplexities and changes of life, the Church, in today’s Collect, prays that “so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, p. 174, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). But in setting our hearts where true joys are to be found, God’s people must both love what God has commanded and desire what he has promised, since this is part of loving God with our whole being, and this leads us to obey him.
ST STEPHEN’S TESTIMONY TO JESUS CHRIST AS LORD
In today’s First Lesson, St. Stephen testifies to seeing the Son of man standing on the right hand of God in heaven. This testimony, though it so angered the Jews that surrounded him that they cast him out of the city and stoned him, was sure evidence of St. Stephen’s whole-hearted love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and of looking to the One in whom true joys are to be found.
THE SECOND LESSON: JESUS CHRIST IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE
In our Second Lesson, the Lord Jesus Christ in his farewell discourses is directing his disciples’ attention away from themselves and from their grief at his imminent death to the heavenly mansions that he will prepare for them. When Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled (John 14:1), he implies they have control over their emotions. Christians must not simply let themselves become troubled and upset over events which they cannot control, and come upon them suddenly. Christ calls them not to let their hearts be troubled, since they have such a wonderful future with the Lord in the kingdom of heaven that they must not allow the trials of the present time to outweigh the joyful prospect of everlasting life with Christ in heaven.
Now when the King James Version uses the word “mansions,” it uses it in the archaic sense of “dwelling places,” a meaning that it had in the fourteenth century that came from the Latin word “mansiones,” meaning “dwelling places.” This, in turn, translated the Greek ‘monai,” which means “rooms”. It is clear, then, that “mansions” are simply “homes” in heaven that the Lord is preparing for us. The fact that there are many homes is a comforting thought, since each believer who perseveres will have his own home in heaven.
The Lord Jesus Christ so much wants every believer to be where he is, that he will come again to receive the Church to himself (John 14:3). This will be the first resurrection, or resurrection of the faithful. But in the meantime, Christians are called to follow Christ as the way, believe in Him as the truth, and receive Him as their life (see John 14:6). As we make our way to heaven, following Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life, we shall gradually come to know Him and know God the Father in Him (John 14:7,10,11), even as we believe this.
OUR FAITH IN CHRIST DURING ADVERSITY
What difference, then, does faith in the Lord Jesus Christ make for the Christian? If he continues to follow Christ as the way, by obeying Him, then he is less likely to experience calamitous events in his life as a sudden and senseless trap in which he is caught, and more likely to receive from God through the Bible and his daily reading of it, the wisdom he needs to begin to understand these adverse events from God’s perspective. He is also less likely than others to be distracted from the main purpose of his life as love for God and neighbor. He will begin to see everything from the perspective of eternity.
God’s call to each of us is to let nothing distract us from following the Lord Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life, and from living life to please God. Will you obey God’s call faithfully?