I have in my library, a book that is very dear to me and treasured.
It was written over twenty years ago by Father William J. Bausch who is now a retired priest of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, who is still writing, lecturing and mentoring people in faith.
The book is called “The Yellow Brick Road” and is subtitled “A storyteller’s approach to the Spiritual Journey.
In the book Father Bausch uses his all-time favourite film, “The Wizard of Oz” to explore the spiritual journey. He says that the storyline is as old as the hills, in that it is about a person on a quest, who searches for a goal, or a treasure, or the Emerald City. On the journey there are problems and trials and opposition, and the hero/heroine returns home wiser.
Bausch says that this is a metaphor of our spiritual journey as we evolve from self-centredness to an awareness of the spiritual self.
There is a chapter called Glinda about blessings in life. There is chapter about imperfection called Munchkinland. There is a chapter about wounded hearts called the Tin Man. And of course there are chapters about the Cowardly Lion and Fear; and about the Scarecrow and failure and guilt. There is even a chapter about Flying Monkeys and sin.
And throughout the book Bausch regales us with story after story, over 60 stories, not for entertainment, but to help think and ponder and move deeper into our faith.
I was thinking about the Wizard of Oz as I thought about our gospel lesson today, because our gospel lesson is set in the discussion of a journey or journeys.
The gospel lesson is set in the long piece of John’s gospel which is called the Farewell discourse. Traditionally we Christians have understood this to be at the last supper where Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples.
It is a little confusing though, because John’s gospel talks about the day before the Passover, and doesn’t make it clear that this meal is the Passover with the disciples. In John’s gospel there is no institution of communion. Instead there is a footwashing.
And in John’s gospel this last meal is 4 chapters, or about one fifth of the gospel. This is the longest speech of Jesus by far.
And the whole theme of this speech is about where Jesus is going, and Jesus comforting the disciples and answering questions. But in typical Johannine fashion, there always seem to be deeper meanings than the surface meanings.
And typical of this are four disciple questions, indicating that they really are misunderstanding what Jesus is saying.
Of course, we are reading the gospel from the perspective of Jesus going to the cross, of Jesus dying, or the resurrection and resurrection appearances and of the ascension.
We have a little more idea today than the disciples did about where Jesus was going, but in other ways, we can be just as lost as the disciples about where Jesus is going and where Jesus is.
Peter starts with the first of the disciples’ questions.
When Jesus tells the disciples that he is going and they cannot come with him Jesus gives them the new commandment to love one another.
Peter says: “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus instead of answering directly says that Peter cannot come at this time, but later.
“Why can’t I go with you, Lord. I am ready to die for you?
The next disciple to ask a question is Thomas. Jesus tells them that there are many rooms in his Father’s house and he is going there to prepare a place for them. And Jesus tells them that they know the way.
Thomas says: Hey we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way.
Jesus tells them that he is the way.
And then Philip confused about where Jesus is going says and this is my paraphrase: Well if you are going, Lord, could you at the very least show us the Father, so we will have some assurance that all is good?
And Jesus tells them that if they know him, then they know the father.
And then Judas has a question. John makes it clear that this is not Judas Iscariot. Some think that this Judas had two names and his other name was Thaddeus, because that is the name of a disciple in the list given in Mark’s gospel which doesn’t contain Judas son of James.
Judas’ question comes after Jesus telling them that they will see him again but the world will not see him.
And Judas’ question is this: Lord, how is it that you are revealing yourself to us but not to the world?
It is all very confusing. Is Jesus going? Where is he going exactly? Is he coming back? When is he coming back? Is he just coming back to the disciples? Why doesn’t he make it clear to the whole world where he is going?
And it is further confusing to us because we know Jesus is going physically to a cross and to his death, and to be raised and then to his ascension.
And the disciples too are thinking a lot about where Jesus is going physically.
And yes, there is a sense that Jesus is going somewhere and his physical body is not going to be here with us.
But the deeper sense of where Jesus is going is found in our gospel lesson today.
I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you.
The King James version of the bible has: Abide in me and I in you.
The Revised Standard Version of the bible has: Abide in me as I abide in you.
The Good News version has: Remain in me and I in them.
J. B. Philips New Testament has: you must go on growing in me and I will grow in you.
The Message has “live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”
The key root word is a Greek word transliterated “Meno” (long o)
It is translated as Stay, or Remain, or Abide, or Live among others. John uses this concept a lot in his gospel. It is one of the themes of his gospel that we can stay, or live, or abide in Jesus and Jesus in us.
In Chapter 1 of John’s gospel. He saw the Spirit descending like a dove and it remained on Jesus. It Menoed on Jesus.
Again in Chapter 1. Where do you live Jesus? Where do you meno? Come and see. And that day they went and menoed with Jesus.
In chapter 8:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples:
If you meno in my word.
In chapter 4, So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.
He menoed there two days.
In chapter 15 Jesus said: I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I will live in you. Meno in me and will meno in you.
Again in chapter 15 Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Abide in my love. Meno in my love.
And in chapter 14
In my Father’s house there are many mansions, rooms or abiding places. There are many menoing places.
The key, I think to understanding all these places where Jesus is going to and coming from is stop thinking of a literal place, and in particular to stop thinking of a place called heaven.
Instead think of a relationship. Jesus is not so much going to and coming from a physical place.
Jesus is going physically to the cross and physically to die to make it possible for Jesus in relationship to go to you, to be your friend, to be your family, for you to know him and for him to know you.
Jesus is going to you, to live in you and you can live in Jesus.
You can abide in Jesus. You have a relationship with Jesus. And every time you pray or think about Jesus, or love, or help people, or be a safe place for people, Jesus is abiding in you and you are living in Jesus.
And every time you worship or read the bible, or read books about faith or about Jesus, or tell someone about your life and your faith, you are abiding in Jesus and Jesus is living in you.
In my father’s house there are many mansions. That is what the King James version of the bible reads. For years and years, I thought of the diversity of heaven and just how diverse heaven was going to be. I understood there would be many people in heaven, and I started widening my understanding of just who was going to heaven. And I started to believe that God was going to have many people in heaven, that I was told weren’t going to heaven. I understood that Jesus was going to heaven to prepare a place for us, and it was vast and large and diverse with billions of spaces for us different humans.
And not that I don’t think that there is a very big diverse heaven, but I wonder if there is another meaning to “in my father’s house there are many rooms, or mansions, or abiding places, or dwelling places.”
And that what Jesus means, is that in God’s house or God’s body there are many different dwelling places and that Jesus is referring to us, here on earth as the many different dwelling places for Jesus.
Instead of the dwelling places being heaven for after we die, the dwelling places are the vast diversity of people on this earth who in the words of John in his first letter are explained as these: Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
You are a dwelling place for Jesus. I am a dwelling place for Jesus and literally there are millions upon hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of dwelling places for Jesus. When Jesus says “Many” Jesus means a lot.
And just for an instance, the lectionary writers give us one of these dwelling places, when they give us the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in his chariot on the road leading out of Jerusalem into the wilderness. A road John writes, that is now lost and unused. (John includes that notation for a reason.)
And on the road is an Ethiopian official who has been to Jerusalem to worship and presumably is on his way back to Ethiopia.
He is an Ethiopian. He is a stranger, a foreigner. He possibly has a different skin colour than the people in Israel. He is a eunuch, which means his sexuality does not fall in the usual categories of male and female. He probably is quite rich, in that he has his own scriptures, his own chariot and he works for the queen of Ethiopia, as the finance minister for the whole country.
To say the least he is different. And what is even crazier is that the scriptures say that he had been to Jerusalem to worship.
The scriptures are pretty clear that as a eunuch and possibly as a foreigner he wouldn’t have been allowed in to worship.
And as the story unfolds Philip comes alongside and he is reading from the book of Isaiah. He is reading some of the suffering servant passages.
And I think this Ethiopian eunuch is resonating with a story of someone who was treated miserably like a little poor sheep about to be killed, who was treated as someone with little worth, a man who was killed and had no children to carry on his name.
Maybe as someone who is different, he himself struggled with persecution and hardship and torment and vulnerability and people saying things behind his back and treating him as less than a man, or as someone worthless.
And yet he says to Philip” What is to prevent me from being baptized? What is to prevent me from belonging to the family of God? What is to prevent me from being a place where Christ lives? What is to prevent me from living in Jesus? What is to prevent me from breaking down the barriers and walls and fences and obstacles that keeps Jesus from the outsiders, the different, the strangers and the sinners? What is to prevent me from being a friend and family with Jesus? What is to prevent me from being Jesus’ home? A menoing place for Jesus? An abiding place for Jesus?
And the answer is this: Nothing. Not a single thing.
And we would do well to just stop and drink the living water in right here and savor it.
What is there to say when the Spirit has already said it.
Let me quote from Debie Thomas article, “When all are welcome” from the Journey with Jesus Webzine:
This is a stunning post-Easter story. If only we, the Church, could find our way into its silence, its answer, its vivid picture of a liberation that leads to the expansive waters of baptism and belonging. But we hesitate, don't we? How long have we pondered the eunuch’s question, worrying over it, theologizing around it, policing its borders because we find the Holy Spirit’s answer too unruly, too frightening? How many barriers have we erected around the font, the communion table, the altar, the Word? How often have we (consciously or unconsciously) communicated the message that those who don’t look, think, worship, live, speak, work, love, and practice like us do not and cannot belong? How many times has the Spirit invited us to a "wilderness road" of faith for an encounter that might convert us to an authentic post-resurrection ethos and hospitality — only to have us resist and turn away?
I don’t ask these questions lightly, as if they are without cost or consequence. Because the fact is, if the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is true, if the post-resurrection world really is a world where all are welcome, then we are going to have to change. A lot. Let’s not kid ourselves: change is hard. Change hurts. Change makes demands on our hearts, minds, lifestyles, and liturgies that we’d rather avoid. But this is the work of conversion. This is the ongoing work of growing in faith. So, let’s be consistent. Let’s practice integrity. Let us not demand the hard work of conversion from others when we remain unwilling to engage in it ourselves.
(https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/lectionary-essay-index?jwjyear=2021 posted April 25, 2021)
Being a home for Jesus is not easy. Being an abiding place for Jesus and abiding in Jesus is not always easy.
It is easier to comfort ourselves with Jesus going to heaven and making a mansion for us, or a cottage or even a room.
It is harder to be the room where Jesus hangs out and loves all people, with emphasis on all.
And so, the question today is not where Jesus is going. Jesus is going to make his home in people wherever there is love.
The question is where are you and I going? And I don’t mean physically, or mean after we die.
I mean are we going to go with Jesus, and stay with him, and live in him, and be his home, for after all: There’s no place like home.