This week we engage the second of four declarations made by Jesus in his final words to us: today Jesus reassures us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Listen once again to the larger context of this powerful statement: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” As Jesus prepares for his death, he assures us we have found a home in him and through him. A permanent home. A home we will always have.
Home stirs up deep feelings in us. Home is a primal need, isn’t it? Two movies about home dominate the landscape of my childhood and remind me of our struggle to find a place we can call home: the renowned Wizard of Oz which I watched faithfully every year since I was about six. The other movie is The Incredible Journey, the original 1963 version tells how three pets are accidentally separated from their human family – and they journey 250 miles in the backlands of Ontario, Canada to find their home. They are attacked by other animals, starved, temporarily separated and nearly drowned until finally – tired, hungry, limping -- but together – they arrive into the loving arms of their human family. Who remembers these movies? How about that other popular movie E.T.? Do you remember his famous words? (Phone Home!!)
Home, feeling like we belong, laying down roots -- all these themes run deep within our human psyche. We all take internal and external journeys to find home, our place in the world. On those journeys there is need for trusted companions along the way. On those journeys there are dangers and challenges to be overcome. On those journeys we confront our fear of getting lost and even separated from those we love. Finding Home, as Jesus teaches us - is ultimately about love and connection with others.
In our gospel lesson from John, Jesus is about to embark on the ultimate journey of his life – as it is the night before his passion and death. The disciples are rightfully worried. Just prior to this passage Jesus had spoken that “his soul is troubled.” His hour had come. Jesus astounded them by washing their feet – taking the role of a servant. He speaks of a new commandment of love. He foretells that one of them would betray him. And that Peter would deny him. They are clearly agitated at how this meal is unfolding.
Almost at the height of their confusion Jesus tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me.” This passage is one of the most used scriptures for funerals – assuring those in grief of a heavenly home --- where Jesus is, preparing a place, and where he will personally take each of us on that day, we are called home. There is a place for us and our loved ones. It is prepared. All is ready. These are verses of comfort and reassurance for most of us of faith today, but to the disciples Thomas and Philip, the seekers and questioners, Jesus is not making sense. Where is he going? How can they follow? How can they know the way? Can you show us the abba/father, Jesus? That will satisfy us. The disciples are terrified of the journey that is unfolding for them before their eyes – the journey Jesus is about to embark on to the cross. They are losing their anchor, their compass. They will never be the same again. How can they find a way forward – when their community is about to be tested in the worst way possible – torn apart—scattered, their beloved leader murdered?
Jesus tells them all they need to know about home: He says: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.” The disciples don’t need a treasure map or a yellow brick road. They have Jesus, even when he is not physically there. That is because they have been with him for three years and he is in their heart. They have crisscrossed Galilee, Samaria and Judea with him. They have listened to him, ate with him, watched him heal, confront, comfort, teach. There is a Jewish saying from Jesus’ time that is telling: “may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi”. Rabbis taught as they walked around, and their students, their disciples, followed them. As the rabbis walked and talked they would kick up the dust as they made their points. By the end of a day, their disciples would be covered with the dust of their rabbis. Jesus’ disciples were covered with the dust of many journeys. Now, they too, will continue this fateful journey – a journey where they would discover all that they lived and witnessed would not disappear when Jesus died. It would continue to live within them. The way was etched into their hearts by love. It is a way that is both a journey and our home. Wherever we are, we are home. Home is wherever we are.
We are all seeking home. All that we do is toward creating a home on this earth. Some mistake house or apartment for home. I’m not knocking have a beautiful or cozy place to live. I’ve been in 5th avenue penthouses, ogled at the stunning homes of Bay Ridge and in Great Neck where I used to work – and I ‘ve seen lean-tos made from scraps of metal on the mountains of Colombia, the slums of Chile and shanties in Nicaragua and Mexico -- entire families living in houses smaller than an average Manhattan living room – and we know that is small. I frequently visited tenements of the South Bronx smelling of urine and marijuana, with rat droppings on the landings mixed with the crumbling plaster and covered in graffiti. We’ve all seen the homeless – living out of their cars, or carrying everything they possess, living in cardboard boxes wherever they could find a grate conveying warm air. Every place I’ve been and everyone I have met the search has been the same -- for a place to belong. Some of us spend our lives trying to create out of furniture, paint swatches, expert landscaping, fancier zip codes, good school districts, a sense of finally making it. Obtaining something no one can take from you. But if our efforts are focused entirely on the external, sooner or later, we know deep down it’s not going to cut it in the end. Material things do not love us back – at worst they reflect how far we have been misled in our journey home. There comes a time in the journey when it’s time to go house hunting on the inside. To put down Architectural Digest and pick up the scriptures and listen to Jesus. It’s the only way we can find the map Jesus prepared for us: the map of his life. That’s because he is the Way.
Peter in his letters tells us what the disciples learned from their life with Jesus: that we are each living stones, chosen and precious in the sight of God, and our journey in this life is to create a spiritual home together. That may be church. That’s just the start – where we come together to worship, pray, learn to grow in faith through study, service and developing our faith together, discover that in Jesus we have the way, the means, to create true home. Home where everyone feels safe. Home where everyone is affirmed and loved. Home where there are real connections among people. Because we are a living building, Peter says, home spreads out to our neighborhoods, our cities, our country and the world. That is Jesus’ vision: there are many dwelling places that encompass heaven and earth. It is our task as home builders to forge heaven on earth as the way to heaven. St. Catherine of Sienna put it this way: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, I am the way.” The feminist theologian Nelle Morton coined the famous phrase “the journey is home.” So, on this journey we build housing for the homeless. We bring food to the hungry. We visit prisoners, the lonely, the sick. We work for just ways of living and relating – where there’s a place for everyone -- because these things are the furnishings of the living home Jesus prepared here on earth – the blueprint Jesus taught his disciples – so that home – built with the tools of love and justice – is the culmination and the result of our journey together – a journey where just as Jesus and the Father abide in each other – so too our spirits abide together – one family bound together in love.
Life throws us out on a journey, prepared or not. We need to gather and make this journey together because none of us on our own has all it takes to get where God is calling us to be. Together we find our Way – Jesus who guides us steady and sure. And this is a blessing. We don’t have to be alone. Together we face the dangers. The longing. The fear. We discover a capacity to care for each other, to lean on each other, to leave no one behind – to build a living house on the cornerstone, Jesus our Way, and in love we discover we have found heaven, here, right on this journey of life, a journey with Jesus, a journey that is home. Amen.