Sermon for Sunday, May 18, 2014

John 14:1-14

“The Status Of Affordable Housing In Heaven”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail:

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:

To watch a video of today’s sermon, go online to:


In my trusty New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, there is a line reads, “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?” You probably are more familiar with the King James language, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, would I have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”


My childhood Living Bible reads, “There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming.” The New International Version shifts from street to a single abode, “My father’s house has many rooms; if there were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” Eugene Peterson’s The Message expands us beyond specifics to a broad generality, “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?”


In whatever version, I love reading this line, and wish it were read more often than simply in funeral services, although it is perfectly beautiful and powerfully reassuring in that setting. There is something so comforting in the thought of heaven being constituted as one big ol’ residential street with more than enough room for all of us. If you take the King James interpretation, still the choice for poetry and imagery, then we all have mansions in the sky.


Reminds me of the joke of the very wealthy man who had died and gone to heaven. As he is getting his welcome tour from St. Peter they walk down a street and he sees his housekeeper, Mavis, who had preceded him in death. She’s sitting on the porch of the most exquisite opulent gigantic mansion. She sees her former employer and waves and smiles, and he waves and smiles back. As they walk away the man says to his host, “Wow! If that’s what they provide up here for my housekeeper, then I can only imagine what I her boss, am going to get to live in!!!

As they rounded the corner, St. Peter and the man came upon a rickety old shack, barely fit for beast to live in, let alone human. St. Peter stopped in front of it and ushered the man in. Looking confused, the man questioned St. Peter, who indicated this would be the man’s eternal home. “How on earth could this be?” he sputtered and fumed. “You’ve given my lowly housekeeper, Mavis, a mansion beyond description, and you provide me, who made 10, 20, 30 times her income with a filthy shack? How can this be?” St. Peter quietly replied, “Well, sir, we only use the resources you send on ahead!”


But if you move beyond the specific image of a mansion, to the more scripturally plausible idea of many rooms in one big household of God, oiko in Greek, from which we get our word “ecumenical,” then you begin to imagine one large house with a family where every child gets her or his own room. Isn’t that always a big deal for growing young families? Having to share your room with one, two, or more siblings? I haven’t thought much about it until now, but the house my father had built as he neared the end of his military career, included two rooms for his two adopted step-children, even though they were adults, as well as a separate room for my brother, who had just been born. (I, as the retirement afterthought, got to share that room with my brother.)


I love the fact that dad had the desire, as well as the financial resources, to make a place for my older sister and brother to come back home from college or wherever they were in the world and find their own place to rest their weary heads (or fight with each other, which was more the reality). Of course, over time those rooms would house a variety of folks, probably never imagined by my father, including my grandmother for many years as well as one of my brother’s best friends when life in his home became difficult.


In abba/mamma God’s house, there is always room for just one more! In the heavenly household of God you will always find a room available, and the light on the front porch on I might add. As Jesus was talking to his disciples that fateful night, after the disciples had been humbled with their master washing their feet, after the bread and the cup had been shared, after Judas had slipped out into the cold night to complete his painfully tortured deal, Jesus tried to prepare his beloved for his departure. What can one do but speak in metaphor and poetry to try to ease the pain?


And lest we think this lectionary text is woefully out of place here several Sundays after Easter, following all of our talk about resurrection and new life, we must listen to the gospel writer more closely. For John, as really for all the evangelists, resurrection is as much a good bye as was Maundy Thursday. The first good bye was to the earth-bound expectations of what Jesus was and might do to bring about the Beloved Community, which is less about power and privilege and more about grace and love. This second good bye, priming Jesus’ followers for his ascension into heaven, is a farewell to the belief that this new life will be something bestowed upon us, but rather will be something we will together work toward. Verse twelve says this clearly: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”


I realize that this understanding of housing is so very different for the world this side of heaven. That’s actually the sad backstory to the joke I told. Just being a good person, even a faithful Christian, doesn’t insure someone will have a roof over their head or a safe place to lay down at night. Housing this side of paradise is a complex equation, which includes family history, politics, neighborhood forces, race, class, gender, economics, and a huge dose of fate. Craig and I went to see Clybourne Park at Playhouse Square recently, which is the reimagined “next chapter” to Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, with redlining practices and gentrification melded into one painful story. Likewise, have we so quickly forgotten the not-too-distant mortgage crisis when well-meaning, fully employed people discovered homes shuttered and their life’s belongings on the tree lawn and banks “too big to fail?”


So this brings me to Eileen Kotyk. Most of us here in the church met Eileen and Ron when they came to Cleveland to say goodbye to her mother, Eleanor Kieran, who was long connected with our congregation, and to do as so many of us have done: manage her affairs and dispose of the contents of her household. Having done this myself, and having been with so many who have had to do this, I can easily imagine Ron and Eileen walking through the house thinking “How will we ever get through all this stuff?!” But, the intrepid adventurers did manage Eleanor’s household affairs, and quite faithfully.


And, in fact, this is where their story begins to sound a bit like what Jesus was talking about. For you see Eleanor and Ron chose not to see that house as simply theirs to do with as they please, but a treasure to be shared with the community. They quickly connected with Franklin Circle Christian Church which they knew was near and dear to Eleanor’s heart, and not only asked how this generation of “stuff” could be disposed of, but, rather, who could benefit most from Eleanor’s belongings? Who would find her beautiful cards and stationary most helpful to have? Clothes ended up on our Disciples Closet racks for distribution. This piece of furniture or that household item were noted to church staff, who would then try to find a home for them. Over several visits, a bond began to form between Eileen and Ron and this church, and even though their own home was miles away, they found another home here.


I think Eileen, and Ron, were trying to live out in this earthly life what Jesus was pointing to in our eternal life. How can we help make a dwelling place for every child of God here, in the now, so that we will find comfort in our own dwelling place when we arrive there? Can what we have, rather than be walled off behind fear and gated by our guardedness, be made accessible and affordable to more and more of the people of God? Can we live as good neighbors now so that, having rehearsed so well, when we reach the ultimate beloved community we will know how to behave with the neighbors God will make sure we have in heaven. Whether it is through political action and policy changes, through being a good neighbor and community organizing, or through sharing our resources in benevolence and charity, we can ensure there’s always enough room in the household of God here on earth. And, if we live more giving lives, like Eileen Kotyk, will we coincidentally be sending more ample supplies ahead for our own eternal comfort and peace? I’m willing to give it a try.


And by the way Ron, I have it on pretty good authority, Eileen is living in one sweet mansion and she’s got tons of room for all of us one day. Thanks be to God.