5th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 14:1-14 Sermon
April 20, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
204 "Father We Praise Thee, Now The Night Is Over"
171 "Our God To Whom We Turn"
390 "Thou Art The Way,To Thee Alone"
566 "Thine Is The Glory, Risen Conquering Son"
I’VE GOT A MANSION, JUST OVER THE HILLTOP
TEXT (vs. 1-6):“[Jesus said] Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
It was back in 1962 that CBS Television introduced the American public to a new situation comedy, created and produced by a man by the name of Paul Henning.The program began with a ballad sung by Jerry Scoggins, and accompanied by the bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.The words of the first verse were:“Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed; and then one day he was shooting at some food, and up through the ground come a bubbling crude—oil, that is; black gold, Texas tea…”
If you haven’t guessed already, the situation comedy to which I’m referring is the very popular “Beverly Hillbillies,” a show that aired for nine years for a total of 274 episodes.Even today, it is still in syndication, thanks largely to the cable and satellite television stations devoted to classic shows from the past.
The premise of the show centers around Jed Clampett and his family.They are from the mountain country, near the fictitious town of Bug Tussle which is supposedly somewhere in the Ozarks.Jed Clampett accidentally discovers oil on his property, and winds up becoming very rich because of it.
For various reasons, the family decides to move from their mountain home to Beverly Hills, California.So they load up their battered old truck with their meager possessions (which happens to be a 1921 Oldsmobile, converted to a flatbed truck during the depression, just in case you’re interested).
Once in Beverly Hills, they discover that their new home is a gorgeous 32 room mansion, the likes of which they have never even imagined before.The only home they had ever known was a two-room log cabin in the hills.
This mansion was so incredible and unbelievable to them, that they had a difficult time adjusting to things we would take for granted.There was running water, and bathrooms, and a kitchen with a stove, and even a swimming pool they called “the cement pond.”And in one episode after another, the Clampett family tries to somehow meld their country lifestyle into Beverly Hills and this mansion in which they lived.Naturally when you try to merge these two opposing lifestyles together, it makes good fodder for a situation comedy show.
Let’s leave “Jed and all his kin” for a bit, as we look at our text for today.As you may have noticed, I read the few verses from our Gospel reading at the beginning of my sermon from a different version of the Bible than what you have printed in your bulletin insert.This is one of those times that I have chosen to use the King James translation of the Bible, and I did it for one reason.
In verse 2 of our text, Jesus says:“In my Father's house are many mansions…”Other translations, like the NIV translation which was read before the sermon say, “In my Father's house are many ROOMS…”And there’s nothing really wrong with that; in fact, the literal translation is in fact “rooms” and not “mansions.”However the translators of the King James Bible attempted to better portray the absolute grandeur and splendor of what Jesus is promising his disciples.
When we think of a room, we perhaps have an image of the bedroom we had in our parents’ home as children.It was our own private little space.It was a place we could hang out and have some privacy. Or in a different sense, if we misbehaved, we might even get sent to “our room” as a type of punishment.
Or we could kick it up a level or two.We might picture a room in a dormitory, or a health care facility, or maybe even a room in a hotel.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is attempting to describe to his disciples the heavenly reward he has waiting for them.They will have an eternal dwelling in heaven, and it will be something that will be above and beyond anything they could ever imagine on earth.
The lyricist and composer Ira Stamphill wrote the words and music to a Gospel song, the refrain of which goes like this:“I've got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old; and some day yonder, we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are purest gold.”
Mr. Stamphill attempted to use many of the descriptive metaphors and illustrations from the Bible to describe heaven, that “mansion over the hilltop.”That’s the way God describes heaven to us.We can’t even begin to imagine what heaven is like.And so all of the words like jade, and jasper, and gates of pearl, and streets of gold can only be a small inkling of what heaven will be like for us.
As Jesus is comforting his disciples with this image of heaven, I can only imagine it would be like someone trying to explain that mansion in Beverly Hills to Jed Clampett and his family before they had seen it.They had no point of reference, nothing in their experience to which they could compare it.How can one adequately explain a 32 room mansion on an estate in Beverly Hills to someone who has only known a two-room log cabin in a remote mountain location?
We’re really no different.We have no point of reference when it comes to heaven.There is nothing in our life experience that would even come close to it.Even the word “mansion” employed by the King James translators is far from adequate.
Garrison Keillor, the host of the PBS radio program “A Prairie Home Companion,” has frequently talked about heaven on his show.One time he talked about what he thought it would be like for Minnesota Lutherans in heaven.He said that the women would think it was church, and they would be looking for the stairs which go down to the basement, where the kitchen is.The men would be standing around outside, looking at the heavenly mansions and debating whether the roof had asphalt shingles or cedar shakes.Then they would look at the rolling hills and valleys and say something like, “You know, if we level off those high places and fill in those low places, we could make a beautiful lawn in the springtime; you know when all the snow would be gone.”
Garrison Keillor’s humor has some truth in it.People reference things in terms of what they know and with what they have become familiar.Nobody on this earth has ever seen heaven, and so using the various Biblical references, people have created an image in their minds of what heaven will be like.
Over the years, I have fielded many questions about heaven.When I was a vicar, or student intern, one little boy in the congregation approached me with a question.He asked me, “Will I have a sand box to play in when I get to heaven?”As it was explained to me, his father had just built him a sand box, and he absolutely loved playing in it.In his way of thinking, heaven needed a big sand box for him to play in.That was his point of reference.
Adults have those types of questions too.Even though the points of reference change and the questions go far beyond a little boy’s sand box, people still want answers to their questions about heaven.Will I see mum or dad or grandma?Will I know and recognize everybody?Will it be a fun place?Will my dog or cat be there too?
My answers to the heavenly questions might sound rather simplistic, but it’s the best answer I can give.In heaven, we will be eternally happy.So if there is something that is essential to our eternal happiness, then God will see to it that it will be there.
Over the years, people have gotten a rather negative picture of heaven in their minds as well.They think of it in terms of being in church for all eternity, maybe listening to a sermon that never ends.Or they picture heaven as a place where people wear long white nightgowns and float around on clouds playing the harp all the time.
So faced with that choice, people look at hell thinking that it is just one big gigantic party where they can do what they want.Satan has tricked them into thinking that his way is the way of fun and that hell is really the place that offers people the most.
But the reality of it all is that heaven means eternal happiness, and that’s what many people fail to recognize.Likewise, hell means eternal torment and suffering.Nothing we can fathom in our own minds or anything Satan can use to tempt us will ever change those facts.
We know Jesus is in heaven; and in our Gospel reading for today, he promises his disciples, and us as well, that he will come and take us to be with him in his father’s house for all eternity.Thomas asks him where he is going and how we can get there too.In verse 6 Jesus replies:“…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
This presents another fact.If you don’t want to be in heaven when you die, you don’t have to be.You have the choice to reject Jesus as your Saviour, and choose hell instead.You have the choice to forfeit all eternal happiness in heaven and elect instead an eternity of misery and pain and torment.But if you die having made that choice, there’s no turning back once you’re there.
As I look at my own life, being the dirty rotten scoundrel that I am, I know that the words Jesus speaks in John chapter 14 have special meaning.And as each of us look at our lives of sin and how many times we have deserved God’s wrath and punishment, those words of comfort Jesus speaks in our Gospel for today can give us a real sense of secure hope for the future.Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”
Jesus is preparing a place for us, and just for us.It will be our own individual mansion in heaven.While we are on this earth, we can’t adequately fathom exactly what it will be like.Even with all of the illustrations and metaphors the Bible uses, we still can’t fully comprehend the glory that awaits us.But we can be sure of this much:we will like it, and we will be eternally happy.
So how do we know the way?In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Faith alone is the answer.Through faith, Jesus comes into our lives.Through faith, we accept him as our Saviour from sin.Regardless of what we’ve done in the past, we know that our sinful record has been completely obliterated.King David even says in Psalm 130 verses 3-4: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”
Faith in Christ alone is our entrance into heaven.Jesus is the key to our heavenly mansion.And even though we can’t fully comprehend all of what God has in store for us, we can trust what Jesus says.Where he is, there we shall be also.And we will enjoy an eternity of happiness and joy.
We need only briefly look at other religions to see how their brand of eternity is severely lacking.Some teach reincarnation, where you might come back to earth and live life as a better person if you’re good, or you might come back to earth and live life as a toad if you’re bad.Some teach that you might reach a state of nirvana, which is a state of nothingness.Some teach that if you are a martyr for your faith, you will have a host of virgins in the afterlife at your disposal.Some teach that you become a part of nature.And some teach that you might be a god of your own celestial planet someday.It doesn’t take much to see how all of these theories are severely lacking.There’s always a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not you’ve done enough good works to merit various rewards, so people live their lives in a state of fear and apprehension.
But the Christian knows differently.The Christian has the promise of Jesus, which is sure and certain.Therefore whenever uncertainty may appear, or some other way might seem more appealing, we have the words of Jesus telling us the only way to heaven and eternal happiness:“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Therefore, we can exclaim the words of that old Gospel song with confidence:“I've got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old; and some day yonder, we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are purest gold.”