Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Funeral Sermon on John 14

Once more I have had the unpleasant experience of having to listen to a "pastor" expound on the John 14 text in a way which focuses exclusively on "what we get when we get to heaven." Central to this position is the insistence that "you better believe in Jesus - have a personal relationship with Jesus" or else you won't be getting one of those nice mansions." This is not the Gospel and it is not what this text is saying. In fact I find this approach to funeral sermons to be reprehensible as it subjects vulnerable and grieving men and women to a manipulative religious diatribe which is totally irrelevant to the occasion - the loss of a loved one. Not only that, but I have experienced also the dishonesty of evangelical "pastors" enlisting the deceased in their manipulation (e.g. Mildred believed in Jesus so you all should be like Mildred and believe in Jesus). This is NOT the Gospel. This is manipulation and it is irresponsible. So, for all who may have had the terrible experience of having to sit through a "God's going to give you a mansion when you get to heaven" manipulative sermon at a funeral I humbly offer this meditation.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ.

Someone once wrote that the lives we live are like a pebble tossed into a pond, which causes ever-widening rings and ripples.  The ripples in the water can often continue on for a while and will touch everything in the path, and not only that but those ripples will continue on even after the stone has disappeared from view.  In the same way those who we love and those who have gone before us have touched us with their lives – their character, values and the things they have given to us will continue to touch us and affect us for years. 
At this point it would be appropriate to remember your loved one - who he/she was, what they did, how did they affect you in both positive and negative ways. Remember no one is perfect and we all have both our positive and negative parts of our lives. And not only that, but what are some of concrete things this person did that reveal the kind of person (s)he was.
Some thoughts on John 14:
The passage is set during the Last Supper.  Now this is the last time Jesus and his disciples spent together and the entire experience ended up being a very difficult and emotional time for all of them. Jesus had started off by washing the feet of the disciples, predicted that Peter would deny him and that all of them would run away and he again reminded them that he would soon be arrested and crucified.  These were difficult words for the disciples to hear and as Jesus shared some final teachings it is obvious from the questions that the disciples are upset and confused.  In the passage from John 14, Jesus is trying to comfort the disciples as they struggle with their confusion and impending loss.  “Trust in God – trust in me” Jesus tells them and then he tells them this:
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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
            Now, the King James version translates the beginning of this line as "Mansions" – in my Father’s house are many mansions.  But this is not what the original text says - at all.  There are no mansions in the text, and even the phrase “dwelling places” is a little vague.  What is Jesus telling his grieving disciples here?  In the 1st century, goods and merchandise were usually transported from one place to another in large caravans, which consisted of a large number of animals carrying goods, accompanied by an equally large number of men.  Well, these caravans didn’t travel very fast and there were no hotels along the way so they would need to set up camp each night along the way.  So, a couple men would always go ahead of the caravan to scout out places to rest and camp.  These places would need to have water available and provide as much rest and refreshment as possible.  The idea was that when the caravan finally arrived, the camp would be set; rest and refreshment would be waiting.  You see, Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going ahead of them and will prepare a place of rest, refreshment, grace and love.  At the same time assuring us that he has gone ahead and has prepared a place of rest, refreshment, grace and love for __N__. 
Dust to dust; ashes to ashes! “How can we know the way?” asks the Disciple Thomas.  To this Jesus responds - I am the way, the truth and the life.  We believe and proclaim that through Jesus’ presence, God has transformed death and grief.  _____ now rests in the light of Christ; held in God’s grace and presence and love forever.
In the name of the Father, the Son+ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen!
More about the Gospel's understanding of heaven - Click here for an excellent article by NT Wright.