Heavenly Baggage

John 14:1-14 – The 5th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 18, 2014

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” (John 14:2)

Do you have plans for a future trip to heaven?

Where will you unpack your baggage upon arrival?

Will you be shown to a mansion, room or dwelling place?

The King James Version, first published in the early 1600s, translated Jesus’ claim with, 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.

As a Sunday-school-attending, baby-boomer, I was raised on the Revised Standard Version’s, In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Much of my preaching and teaching used 1989’s New Revised Standard Version, In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Welcome to heaven?
Welcome to heaven?

Of course, John’s 14th chapter, regardless of translation, doesn’t mention heaven as the post-death zipcode for a “mansion” or “room.” Still, we think that way, don’t we? (Okay I think that way.)

With my current hospice ministry, I often hear grieving families declare a once-suffering spouse, parent or child is now “in a better place.” Isn’t “better place” another phrase for “heaven?” Continue reading →

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In The Tombs

John 11:1-45  – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, April 6, 2014

“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:39)

Jesus had left for Ephraim with his disciples.

Mary was tending to Lazarus, by his bed while he slept. (And ate and slept and ate a little more.)

Caravaggio's "The Raising of Lazarus."
Caravaggio’s “The Raising of Lazarus.”

The crowds had dispersed. So many of our neighbors, along with the curious and suspicious, had traveled from the tomb to our home. They’d asked questions, whispered and schemed. There were those that loudly boasted they’d now follow Jesus to heaven or hell or Jerusalem or wherever he led. There were those already exaggerating my brother’s rebirth, telling of Jesus’ casting magical spells or seeing bolts of lightning before the rock at the tomb was removed or hearing angelic mutterings. And there were those who silently watched, never joining in the backslapping and cheering. They skulked away after they’d witnessed Lazarus emerging from the darkness. I knew they despised my brother and resented Jesus. I knew where this last group would go. They may have been close-mouthed here in Bethany, but a few hours later—mark my words—they’d conspire with the priests in the Temple or the Roman soldiers . . . and more likely both.

There was no safe place. Not in Bethany. Not anywhere.

But there was one place where I could be alone. I needed to think. Needed to pray. Needed to ask for forgiveness.

And so I’d returned to my brother’s tomb. Now empty, the hordes gone, and with this long, disturbing, divine day coming to a close. I reassured Mary I’d return before dark. Tonight, I’d stay by Lazarus’ side and give my sister a chance to rest.

In the cool shadow of the tomb’s threshold, its wide opening like a mouth forming a shout, I recalled the last days.

I told everyone, especially when the night of the third day came, that the stench from the tomb was a dead animal. A rat. A mole. A bird dragged inside by a feral cat. The stench was not my brother Lazarus. Continue reading →

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The Jar

John 4:5-42  – The 3rd Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 23, 2014

“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city…” (John 4:28)

6-SamaritanWomanAtTheWellShe usually waited at the well to meet them. It was easier, and safer.

Though none stayed long, she didn’t mind. None of the men, and it was usually men, wanted to spend much time with her. They only sought a quick version of her story, and a guess at where Jesus might be now. A few lingered to debate her, to prove she knew less than she did. She didn’t mind. Let the fools argue her credibility or memory or honesty. If they wanted to waste time and breath on her, rather than seeking the Nazarene, that wasn’t her problem.

From the coast, they came. From Jerusalem, they came. From faraway cities she’d only imagined like Damascus and nearby villages (though she’d never been to them) like Tirathana and Neapolis.

By now she could describe meeting Jesus in a handful of sentences.

Which wasn’t too different than telling about her last “husband,” except everything about Jesus was good. Not long after her last husband disappeared, instead of talking about how he stole her money, how he demanded she position meat on one side of the plate and vegetables on the other, or how he stunk like swine no matter how often he bathed, or the bruises after a beating that were hidden by her clothes, she could sum him up in one spare sentence: he slunk out one day to tend sheep, fell off a cliff and died . . .

(Which wasn’t true. But he’d screwed her and left her, like every man who only wanted to take and take and take. End of story.)

When sharing about Jesus, her first accounts weren’t brief. The villagers—even the old rabbi at the synagogue who’d spit on her more than once—had wanted the long version. They milked her for every detail, word, pause and gesture that she’d witnessed at the well with the Nazarene. What did he say? How did he say it? Did he talk about the miracle at Cana? Did he know your name before you told him? Continue reading →

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