18 May 2014
“‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?’” (John 14:2) In the name …
Two weeks ago Sharon and I had to start emptying the rectory kitchen of all contents in preparation for the kitchen renovation project that will be completed this week. I imagine that many of you have been through this sort of thing before. Everything in the cupboards and on the countertops had to be stored somewhere else. We have kitchen stuff stacked in the dining room, the living room, upstairs and down in the basement. This means that not only the kitchen, but the whole house is in disarray. After the stuff was emptied out of the kitchen, last weekend some of the guys from the YMSofR Men’s Club came in with sledge hammers, saws and crow bars. They smacked everything to smithereens. The once most-used room in the house had been turned into an empty and ugly cave. It’s hard to believe how messing-up one room in a house can upset the entire routine of the house. Normal becomes unusual. Habit becomes confused. If I want a sandwich for lunch, I have to search through three rooms, want to wash a glass, I have to walk over to the church. I can’t wait until the rectory kitchen becomes a kitchen again in a few days.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about the house of God, the place where the Almighty dwells. And Jesus tells us that it is not only God’s house. It is our house too, which I think is pretty impressive. In God’s house there are rooms prepared for us. They are our rooms. Their only purpose is that they have been prepared for us, for each of us. Now there’s a lot of hope and promise tied-up with these words of Jesus. This selection about God’s house is often read at funerals to comfort a grieving family. It offers us the reassurance that our loved ones have moved from their homes with us here to their home with God in heaven. But there’s something more in these words of Jesus than comfort. And this is why I started off by mentioning the on-going kitchen renovations next door. The kitchen is a room in the house with a purpose. Disrupt the kitchen and you disrupt its purpose and then the entire house gets knocked a bit out of whack. It’s a pain to go to three different rooms just to make a sandwich. It’s a pain to walk over to the church to wash a single glass because you don’t want a used milk glass sitting in the living room. It’s not only the kitchen that’s affected. It’s the whole house.
I think Jesus is trying to tell us today that our lives are meaningful and have purpose. I think part of the story of salvation is us figuring this out. I think the message of salvation is so much more than the idea of being pampered. I believe people have a greater desire for purpose. We want to know that we matter, that what we do counts and that our lives make a difference. One of my favourite Church Fathers is a teacher by the name of Origen. He taught back in the first part of the Third Century. He was wonderfully creative in the way that he experienced and expressed his relationship with God, and he was unabashedly honest too. He wondered out loud what the saints were supposed to do for an eternity that wouldn’t eventually become boring. Too many religious people are afraid to think, never mind say, such things as this. The self-righteous may act offended and say, “God is enough,” and not let the thought experiment go one step further. But Origen lived at a time when the church was still very young and a person could take chances like this. A Christian could let his or her spirit and mind explore all sorts of rich and daring ideas. And Origen came to the conclusion that the only way to keep eternity, even eternity with God, from becoming boring was by letting us become more and more like God. A later Church Father said it this way: “God became man so that men might become gods.” Theosis, it’s called. Deification. Not just sitting and watching what God does, but working with God.
A room has been prepared for us. There’s purpose in that statement. Live without a kitchen for a couple of weeks and the statement becomes even more real. Jesus is inviting us to make a difference. Think about it. Thomas asks the question, “‘How can we know the way?’” Jesus responds with those famous words: “‘I’m the way, the truth and the life.’” You want to get to that room prepared for you, Jesus is basically saying, then I’m the way. You have to do what I’m doing. Salvation isn’t about watching; it’s about doing. Or think about what we heard in First Peter. Jesus is a “living stone” that becomes the cornerstone of God’s new temple. Then this inspired book of the Bible goes on to call us the exact same thing. We’re living stones too. Therefore, the Bible continues, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” It’s that same message of becoming like God.
Perfect is a goal that the Bible and guys like Origen could believe in. Too often though perfect is now used as an excuse to call us sinful because we’re not there yet. Becoming like God and sharing in His work seems a far cry from so much preaching today that calls us inherently sinful. This message is too often preached at people to keep them from thinking exactly like Origen did when religion stressed the motive of hope rather than fear. Topics like hell are thrown around casually as threats by preachers and teachers too afraid that Jesus is not enough. These kinds of messages defeat the whole purpose of Jesus’ calling us to “the way” or Peter urging us to become the living stones that will build God’s house. Both of these images stress movement and progress toward a goal. You can’t condemn a person because they’re not there yet. What’s daring and challenging and transformative is the gospel message of what we can be. We all have a purpose in God’s house. There’s something that each of us and only each of us can do to make sure that the house runs as it should. That’s empowering and that’s what believing in Jesus can do. So let us do our part for the good of the house of God, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo