Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Am Going to Prepare a Place for You

A reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter 14.

John 14:1 [Jesus said, ]"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

2 In my Father's house are many rooms [mansions]; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NRSV)

I wonder what Jesus was thinking about when He spoke these words!

He had just finished telling his disciples that someone in their number had betrayed Him, and that He would be leaving them, going to a place where they could not follow. Jesus had looked Simon Peter in the eye and told Peter that he was going to deny even knowing him. News like this was sure to upset his followers, his closest friends. So Jesus moved quickly to comfort his disciples. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I am going to prepare a place for you.”

If I had been there, if I had heard him say those words, I’m sure that I would have been tempted to respond with something along the lines of, “Really? You drop a bombshell on us like that and then expect us to move on with life as usual? What do you mean, ‘I am going to prepare a place for you?’” I wonder if Jesus had any idea that we would be here this morning, so many years later, desperately needing to hear once again those words of comfort?

“I am going to prepare a place for you.” Jesus was going to engage in a heavenly construction project—He was going to build dwelling places for His people. Jesus knew something about construction. He was, after all, the adopted Son of a carpenter. He knew that this project was going to take some time. He knew that the followers He loved so much would need comfort, would need hope. So He assured us that no matter how lonely we felt, no matter how much we grieved, no matter what moments we wished that we could live over again, He promised that while He was gone, while He was building, God would send the Holy Spirit to abide with us forever.

“I am going to prepare a place for you.” I remember so many times as a kid watching Dad leave for work. Dad was a builder, a carpenter. He built houses, and office buildings and gas stations and bridges. His handiwork was present in the homes of each of his children. Building was his passion. He could look back at a completed job and see what he accomplished. He had this unique ability to see how things fit together. He couldn’t go into a building without looking around to see how it was constructed, to notice the artistry of the finish carpentry work. If there was a problem with the building, he would notice. His eyes could spot the tell-tale signs of a leaky roof or a foundation problem. But his eyes also could appreciate a job well-done.

As a builder, Dad knew that he had to be organized, to set priorities, to follow a plan. No one who looked at Dad’s pick-up truck would ever accuse him of being organized, but he was. If you doubted it for one minute, you should have seen him getting ready for a concrete mixer to deliver six yards of concrete for a foundation. He knew that you had to be ready. So he had a plan—a plan for building and a plan for living.

Dad taught his plan, his priorities to his kids. On the day in 1988 that we celebrated his retirement, he gave each of us a hat that summarized his priorities. He had these hats made up to remind us of the three important parts of his life: God, family and Frosty. Three priorities. The third priority, Frosty, was his dog. Although most of us would not accuse Dad of speaking in metaphors, Frosty was Dad’s metaphor for friends and Dad was a friend to everyone he met. When Carol catches me talking with a complete stranger and that I am becoming just like Dad, I can’t think of a higher compliment. Dad’s second priority was his Family. Love your family. Take care of those around you. Every one of us experienced that love. And we saw his example of loving and caring in the way he loved Mom. And Dad’s first priority was God. He lived his creed: Honor God and God will honor you. It sounds so simple but it is so profound.

Building on a sure foundation was Dad’s theology. Long before I went to Seminary, I received a theological education by working with Dad. Dad’s interest in construction and how things fit together gave him a very simple, down to earth theology. Love God. Love your neighbor. Do the right thing. I remember riding home from church one day and we were talking about the sermon—probably it was a sermon on what Jesus meant when he said to “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” In my childlike ways, I was wondering how I ever could qualify. Dad responded with such a simple but eloquent explanation of redemption, salvation and atonement by quoting the words of Jesus: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:10). He was telling me “Don’t make things complicated. Don’t get caught up thinking that you have to earn your way into righteousness. Forgive, and receive God’s forgiveness.”

His interest in building also gave him a one-of-a-kind understanding of our Christian hope. He was so impressed by the words that Mr. George Brickley spoke at the funeral of his own father more than forty years ago. Mr. Brickley’s dad, also named George, was a preacher. At the funeral service for his dad, Mr. Brickley spoke about how his dad spent his lifetime building a scaffold that reached right up to heaven’s gate. When he got to the top, he simply stepped off the scaffold into heaven.

That story serves as a pretty good description of Dad’s entry into heaven. All his life, Dad had been building the scaffold that would lead him into the presence of God. When Mom went before Dad, he had even more incentive. Although Dad had many virtues, patience was not one of them! He couldn’t stand just waiting around. I don’t know how many times I heard him tell me to “do something, even if it’s wrong!” When his time had come, he wasn’t going to have anything to do with waiting around. He had been building his scaffold to heaven for eighty five years and when he reached the top, he just stepped into the City that was “not made with hands” (Hebrews 9:11).

I am going to prepare a place for you. Because I live, you also shall live. What a promise! What a reason for living. What better way could we honor our Dad, than to rededicate our lives to the One whom Dad served so very well. The One who just last Saturday greeted Dad with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; … Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21--NKJ). I suspect though, that Jesus also told him that there was work to be done and gave him a hammer! Thanks be to God!

Tom Frost

December 9, 2011[1]

©2011 Thomas E. Frost. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Delivered at the funeral of Raymond A. Frost on December 9, 2011 at the First Church of the Nazarene in Mt. Vernon, Ohio.