— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ Fifth Sunday of Easter ~~~
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.
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 will take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you may be also.
I do not come from a handy family. I am grateful to have married into one, but none of the Montgomery Prims were good at fixing cars, home maintenance, woodworking, wiring, carpentry, general assembly of any kind. I am proud to tell you, however, that during my sabbatical I created a patio of stone to the side of our house – a job consisting mostly of pulling weeds and laying stone – and I painted our side door just last week. I’m spending some of my extra home time trying to be more handy, but, truly, it is an uphill climb. Prims are not handy.
My father had a philosophy about such work, handyman work. I learned it early on, but it was made crystal clear one weekend when I was home from college and, for reasons of small resources and some vague notion of self-reliance, I was under my car changing the oil. My father, pulling in the driveway from a week on the road selling furniture, gets out of his baby-blue Lincoln Continental and tells me – “Son, pay someone to do that!”
He later gave me the grand economic theory behind his instruction. “We all have a part to play,” he told me, “and if you do the work someone else is meant to do, then you are taking work away from that person.” My father could be very creative when it came to assigning theory to his preferences. He also had a hard time saving money!
My mother, on the other hand, had a desire to be more handy; she just didn’t have the aptitude. She was a fine writer, a good painter, a wonderful organizer of programs, the smartest person in the Prim home, but a handy person around the house she was not. She and I, however, tackled a few projects in our day. I was the only person willing to give it a go with her. We put wallpaper on the ceiling of the grandchildren’s nursery. It looked really good as long as you didn’t look up. We built a little, egg-shaped pond about four feet by three feet out by the front door of the house with a little statue of boy with water coming out … of his head (I know what you thought!), and for the most part the pond held water. It was meant to be inspirational and it was, if it did not take much to inspire you.
One time my mother decided she wanted a shed. There was a lot of construction going on around our neighborhood, and we knew the guys doing the building – so they gave us some scrap lumber. Mom and I went to work. We bought some nails, pulled out the hammer, and began construction. It would be right next to the metal storage house we had at the end of the driveway. There was a cement pad next to the metal house that would be perfect in size. We nailed together a base, and started to raise the walls.
Our neighbor, a very handy man, came over and asked us about our project. I know now that the smile on his face was the “knowing” smile of one who loves watching people without ability attempt to do something that would be easy for him to do. I think he knew even then that our project was doomed.
We went to bed that night with a great sense of accomplishment.
During the night, however,
there must have been a terrible wind storm.
Funny that none of us heard it.
There must have been great rain and thunder and lightning.
I don’t know how we all slept right through it.
When we came out for our second day of work
the storage shed had blown over.
The boards were partially separated from each other,
and the whole thing looked like it had been run over –
like a crumpled plastic jug. It was pathetic.
Mom and I gave up.
To the very day the house was sold after the deaths of my parents that concrete slab stayed without a structure atop it.
Mom and dad were not handy people with physical things, but with spiritual things and human relationship things, I believe they knew how to build dwelling places for their children. Mom and dad were not handy around the house, but they knew how to build a home!
No home is perfect. Our home had its fault lines. But there was one important ingredient that kept it together, kept our home sturdy even through storms. I’ll get to that one important ingredient in a minute or so.
Jesus knew that his death was imminent. The chapter from which we just read those three verses is a part of a four chapter narrative called, by scholars and others, “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.” Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what would come. They would have to live without his physical presence, but Jesus assured them that he would not leave them alone, and that where he was going they would be able to come too at a later time. Jesus assured them that he was going to prepare a dwelling place, build a home eternal in the heavens, for those who would come after him.
The disciples were probably puzzled by what Jesus was saying, but later I suspect they started to get a picture of what heaven would be like because they had experienced some of it on earth.
And that leads me to the ingredient that made our house a home and one that could endure storms of disease, death, disagreements. The ingredient is the same one Jesus gave to his disciples – my parents gave us and Jesus gave his disciples “loving attention.”
Mom and dad paid attention to us.
When things went wrong they were not far away with comfort.
When things went right, they were there to celebrate.
No matter the circumstances,
we were surrounded by loving attention.
Jesus was lovingly aware of the disciples and their needs. He sought to prepare them for what would happen next. He had been lovingly aware of their needs for some time, and he sought to live with them in a way that would show them the extent of his love, God’s love, for each of them. Jesus wanted them to know that they were loved – come what may, they were loved.
Jesus wanted the disciples and each of us to know that God is lovingly aware of us. God is not some way-off Ruler in the Sky without connection to human beings. God is in love with us. Nothing can change that fact. Nothing can change the deepest reality of the universe – we are cherished by God.
It is a powerful thing to know that someone is aware of our needs, that someone loves us. When people die who have shared this with us, who have paid loving attention to us, it causes a very deep ache. To be known and to be loved – these are the things that make life wonderful. When those who have offered us this type of dwelling place are no longer here, it is difficult. But Jesus promises that our relationships do not end with death. He has gone to prepare a place for each of us. And Jesus continues to build dwelling places for us here on earth through the love that is embodied in the church, in our families, in our friends, in the animals with whom we share the planet. In this world and in the next Jesus is a carpenter of dwelling places of loving attention.
I believe that the framing of the dwelling place in heaven is the same as the best framing that can be done here on earth. The two by fours of Jesus’ construction are the same here as in heaven – Jesus builds with loving awareness of the needs of each of God’s children. Jesus invites us to be part of his deeply competent construction crew.
Let us pay attention to one another.
Let us build a dwelling place here on earth
that will reflect the dwelling place
that Jesus has prepared for us …
I believe my mother has her storage shed in heaven.
She built one here. Right here.
Lots of love is stored away; enough for a lifetime
Thanks be to God.