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In My Mother's House

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers’ Day! Today we celebrate the compassionate nurturing power of mothers. We honor that loving energy that lives in each one of us, whether we identify as female or male or some variation in between, it is that power of love that Jesus lived and died in order to express. It is the mystery of that Spirit that lives in everyone of us, and throughout history has been identified with the Feminine Face of God.

Jesus called God his Father, or more intimately, Abba, his daddy! Not because God is male but because he felt deeply connected and close to God.
For some of us it is easier to imagine God’s presence as symbolized by the nurturing power of the Mother. As one of our Quiet Meditations this morning from Luke’s Gospel, such an understanding of God is entirely Biblical! Jesus says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34)

So today I invite us to imagine God as Our Mother and in her house there are many mansions.

John’s Gospel attempts to give voice to this mystical vision. It is the most beautiful and most misunderstood of all the gospels. Written at the end of the 1st Century or early in the 2nd Century it almost didn’t make it into the canon because just like the Gospel of Thomas it was seen as too “Gnostic.”

The Gnostic label was given to any philosophy that tended to be too esoteric, too dualistic, too abstract, too mystical. There were gnostic groups that denied the existence of the material world and condemned women as the embodiment of evil. Certainly there are elements of dualism and abstraction in John’s Gospel as in the Gospel of Thomas, but thankfully neither gospel was lost; and both reveal a way of understanding Jesus, the Christ, as the spiritual embodiment of God’s love. Both are more appreciated today than ever before because they reveal the mystical side and teachings of Jesus.

Today’s reading offers us plenty of challenging concepts in the midst of beautiful promises. Let’s see what good we can find here!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1a) We begin with an encouraging word from Jesus. He has just told his disciples that he will soon be leaving them. Now he begins his Farewell Address.

He continues, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1b) and immediately uses that word “believe” that has been turned into a litmus test of faith. What does he mean by ‘believe’?

John Shelby Spong, in his powerful book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic,” tells us:
         "Faith is not believing in creeds, doctrines, or dogmas; faith is trusting         the divine presence to be in every moment, in every tomorrow. Faith    is having the courage to walk into the unknown, to confront whatever         life brings one’s way without having our humanity destroyed in the process”
Jesus is asking his disciples to trust him as we would ask our dearest companions, our children, our family, to trust us. He is calling on the depth of their relationships with one another.

Then he makes a beautiful promise to them, and by extension, to us:
“In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? ” (John 14:2-3)
So many questions are raised here: Where is “my Father’s house?” Is it the afterlife, in heaven? Where does Our Mother live? Out there somewhere? Or within our hearts? What mansions or abodes or dwelling places is he talking about?

The word we have translated as ‘mansions’ is, in Greek ‘abode’. The NRSV translates it ‘dwelling places’. I chose the King James ‘mansions’ for its grandeur but it is the same Greek root that is found in the verb ‘to abide’ which is John’s way of expressing our deep relationship with the spirit; it is our home. It is within us! Jesus is not talking about the future in some far off heaven, he is asking us to realize that God abides with us in every abode we might find. But he knows we won’t learn that until we begin to take our eyes off the material/literal presence of the historical Jesus and begin to experience God’s presence in our hearts.

But Thomas is the literalist in the world of John’s Gospel. He is the archetype for the modern mind that requires logical proof. “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.   How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) And Jesus answers him with a mystical statement that has ironically been turned into one of the most literal, narrow, judgmental quotes found in all of scripture: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one     comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

According to John Stanford in his book, “Mystical          Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John::
         “John’s Gospel is the most unliteral document one could imagine.    For John, Christ is the (mystical) way, the road that leads to the Light   and to understanding. The way of salvation is the Way of following    Christ.”

As John Shelby Spong tells our Doubting Thomas, “The journey is not an outward one, Thomas, but an inward one. God is not up there; God is in here. The only way into the reality of God is to live into the meaning of the Christ life, to discover the freedom to give yourself away."

In “The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus,” Neil Douglas-Klotz reminds us that “Focusing on the teacher as a doorway to the divine is a spiritual practice that still exists today in Jewish and Islamic mysticism.” (and I would add in virtually all world religions). When we chose to follow Jesus, as the Christ, we are invited to see him as a mirror, a model for the Spiritual life. “In him humanity was combined with divinity, and those    who follow that way find that not only within Jesus but also within themselves there is a presence which is extraordinary.”

But Thomas is a literalist and speaks for our prevailing way of seeing the world. When he asks “How can we know the way?” his Greek word for “know” is “oida” which refers to knowing something because you have physically seen it, that is, to outer, objective      knowledge. When Jesus answers him he is using the word “gnosis,” which is the word that refers to knowing through intimate experience of something, the word for all mystical knowledge.” We need to learn this wholistic and mystical way of knowing

Philip, though not so completely a literalist, is still looking for answers outside of himself. He wants a vision!: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” (John 14:8) “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
Everything that Jesus has done and said has been because of his deep relationship with God, Our Mother, Our Father. He thought his disciples understood that, but like all of us, they learned slowly, perhaps galacially. As Christianity continues to be seen as a religion of worship of Jesus rather than a religion of following ‘the way’ of Jesus!

“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the        Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:11) Again, Jesus uses the Greek word “abide” when he tells them that God dwells in him. He wants his disciples to learn to dwell, to abide in God’s ‘Mansions’ here and now!

And Jesus goes on to say, “but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. You will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, … If in my name you ask for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:11b-14) He tells them, and by extension, us, that we will do great works of love and power, when we ask not from our small ego-self, but from the center of the Spirit of the Christ that abides. The name of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior is our own deepest true self that abides in God. This is not just praying “In the name of Jesus,” this is living in the Spirit of the Christ!

W. Johnston in “The Mirror Mind” tells us, ‘If we have the courage to answer the call to look into the mirror of our own souls, we will see our own beauty and the beauty of God. And that will be a great enlightenment.”

This is the path Jesus calls us to, “the Way” as he teaches it. The Way, Thomas Brodie, in his Commentary tells us, ”In Hellenistic religions refers to ‘the process by which the initiate became divine; in the OT the way guides us to living the true law; and in Qumram and Acts it designates a community and its life. But in John, Jesus uses it of himself, and he thus indicates that, above all, it is by focusing on the human person that one discovers the reality of God.”

We are invited to see the Christ spirit in ourselves and in each other, to learn from each other the ways of the Spirit, “the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and self-contro” (Galatians 5:22) that are the hallmarks of a spirit filled life, the courage and boldness and creativity that is our birthright as children of God.

In times of challenge like these, not so different from the          challenges of 1st Century Palestine, or of American following the Civil War, when the first Mothers Day Proclamation was declared, Jesus taught his followers how to live! May we remember who we are and follow the Way as Jesus’ teachings continue to inspire      us. Amen!