On that bright day so long ago Jesus was speaking directly to us when
he said: "I will not leave you desolate. For on that day, you will know that I
am in (God) and you are in me, and I am in you." I realize this may seem impossible.
We are so accustomed to living in the absence of God that we cannot even imagine
being that close to our Creator.
"I am in (God) and you are in me and
I am in you."
See how easy it is to miss the clear meaning of these
words. Right here in the text from St. John's gospel a disciple named Judas asks
a question which reveals his complete misunderstanding. This is not Judas Iscariot;
this is simply one of the many millions of Christs followers, then and now, who
have a problem conceiving that we can actually be in such a direct, personal relationship
with God. Rather than taking Jesus at his word, Judas asks: "Lord, how is it that
you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world."
Judas seems to
be imagining some kind of cosmic spectacle, lightening and thunder perhaps, or
some gigantic eruption of the aurora borealis, lights flashing across the sky,
voices ringing from the heavens, maybe a celestial choir thundering out, "This
is the voice of the Lord speaking, listen to me!" And Judas wonders how it is
that if God spoke in such a clear voice we Christians would hear but the rest
of the world would not?
The God Judas imagines is still that remote and
distant God, that deity who rules from on high, whereas Jesus has something very
different in mind. Having failed to communicate the first time, Jesus tries putting
it another way: "Anyone who loves me will keep my word and we will come and make
our home" in that person's heart.
Here's an image that blows the circuits
of the imagination.
Here Jesus paints a word picture that is so vivid
and so bright that it may be difficult for us to see. It's a scene of homecoming
to beat them all. Typically Jesus puts it all in a phrase. "We (God and I) will
make a home within" you. Note that Jesus is using an image similar to the one
he used in the opening verse of this same chapter in St John's gospel. "Let not
your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's
house there are many mansions."
That opening verse, beautiful though it
is, pales by comparison to the passage that we are grappling with now. For in
a way it's easier to grasp the idea of God's heavenly mansions. In the life after
death, when we are at last freed from the trials and temptations of life, when
we are no longer shackled by the limitations of our mortal bodies and our slow
witted brains, then, maybe then, we can find the room that he been prepared for
us in God's house and be welcomed into God's everlasting kingdom.
our present verse, it's not a question of being lifted up to some supernatural
realm. Quite the reverse. Here Jesus is speaking of the here and now. He is referring
to our own hearts, our minds, and our bodies. These frail vessels of flesh shall
be the dwelling place of God. It's so radical a thought, so stunning a conception,
that our minds almost recoil from it. Like Judas, we back away from the clear
meaning of the words.
In this short passage Jesus alters our whole frame
of reference in thinking about God.
It's no longer our spirits ascending
after death to some higher realm of spiritual being; it's God making a home in
our hearts, here and now. Suddenly we find ourselves sitting in a room bathed
in light. We imagine that it is dark and dangerous out there in the world beyond,
but in the room which God has created within us, it is completely peaceful. It
is tranquility and tenderness itself. And one can actually feel God's love pervading
that whole space, just as the warmth and aroma of candlelight pervades the whole
interior of a small cabin, or a crackling fire fills a room with its warmth. We,
each of us, have this peaceful room within us, whether we are conscious of it
or not. It is a room filled with the memories we hold most dear, a room decorated
with the hopes we hold most passionately, it's a room filled with the people who
are connected to us in their love.
This room which God creates within us
is not just a hideaway, a refuge, or a sanctuary where we retreat from the storms
that rage in the world without, though it is all these things. It is also a source
of life and energy and vitality radiating outward. Just knowing that God is there
waiting for our return to the room within, this knowledge is a source of all the
peace, hope and courage we will ever need.
Often, of course, we do not
feel it this clearly. We do not feel God's presence within and we do not see the
manifestations of God's power in the world without.
So what's the problem?
How do we enter the room that God has prepared for us? "If anyone loves me," said
Jesus, "then we will make our home within them." It all falls into place in the
simple act of loving the one who first loved us. How slow we are to comprehend
the most basic and the most simple things. This passage reminds me very much of
the question which Jesus put over and over again to Peter. "Peter, do you love
me? Do you love me? Do you love me?" This was the most important question of all,
and yet Peter kept evading it.
Do we really love the Lord and take Christ
at his word?
Our doubt about this basic question is perplexing. What
more could any of us ask than the knowledge that we have been chosen as the dwelling
place of God? So what's keeping us from experiencing this sense of closeness to
the creator? I don't think it's because we're particularly evil or pernicious.
I don't see many of us leading lives of crime or corruption such that the Lord
would withdraw from the room within , never to return.
As I look out across
any congregation or any group of people for that matter, I see a people who are,
by and large, seriously trying to be right with God. But what I also sense is
a reluctance, perhaps even a fear of taking Jesus at his word. "Be not anxious,"
said Jesus, "I will not leave you desolate." Actually, spoken in Aramaic as Jesus
would have spoken, the word is even more powerful. "Be not anxious, I will not
leave you an orphan."
Whatever happens, we shall not be cut off from the
love and protecting care of the Creator. God loves us in a way that is more direct
than our own parents can love us. For the very reason that God can reach inside
our hearts and hold on to us through the very bones and sinews of our bodies.
God can get to us from the inside. God can reach out to us even before we are
aware what is happening. The problem is we hold back from such intimacy.
wanting to admit our fear of God, we focus our anxiety on lesser things.
won't be enough money to make me happy! I'll be ripped off, robbed or cheated!
They won't like me when they discover what I'm really like! In our anxiety we
devote ourselves with greater and greater intensity to the task of holding on
to what we have, instead of risking what we have and allowing God to occupy that
anxious space at the center of our hearts.
Right now in your own life there
is probably a great deal of anxiety. Some of us are anxious about health; some
of us are at a stage of life when good health is something we are thankful for
every single day and the possibility of losing our health makes us anxious every
day. Some of us are anxious about our work, whether we will be able to succeed
at what we are doing, whether we will even have a job. Some of us are anxious
about problems in our families, relatives who are in trouble, who are sick, who
may be dying, children who are doing things that make us very anxious indeed.
But in the face of all our fears and anxieties, Christ's words are simple
and his words are clear: "Let not your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you
desolate." Well, if you are to mature in your faith, you've simply got to take
Christ at his word. If you do put your trust and confidence in the Lord, then
I can assure you that your future does bear promise in its wings. If you begin
to act in the confidence that flows from a direct relationship with the creator
of the universe, you will find the solution to your problems.
and every one of us the question for today is this: "Are we prepared to take Jesus
Christ at his word?" "Do you love me," asks Jesus. "Do you really love me?" Somehow
we've got to answer with the resounding affirmation that question calls for. Somehow
we've got to arrange it so your love of the Lord becomes evident, becomes alluring,
becomes appealing, I might even say seductive. As soon as you allow yourself the
faith to speak and to act in the assurance that God has made a dwelling place
in your heart and mind, then your most serious personal problems will suddenly
seem far less intimidating.
Have you ever spent the night in a warm and
comfortable room, with great curtains drawn against the night? You know what I
mean - those heavy opaque curtains that shut out the early morning sun so that
you catch a few more minutes of sleep after the sun has begun its morning rounds.
Well imagine you've had your long, restful night of sleep and you roll out of
bed. Slowly you make your way over to the window and pull the cord that throws
back those curtains. The warm light of the sun comes pouring in. Startled by its
warmth and brilliance you throw open the sash and you are greeted by the fresh
air, the smell of flowers, the song of birds. It's a wonderful day. Suddenly you
feel conmpletely alive. You want nothing more than to be outside taking it all
in. Well its that way when God makes a home in our hearts. The presence of God,
comforting and peaceful like a long night's rest, also inspires us to move on
When we allow God to occupy our hearts, we not only experience peace
within, we also have strength and energy to address the problems of the world
without. Are you ready now to pull back the curtains and let the light come streaming
in? Because God has already made a home in your heart, you can pull back those
curtains of anxiety, let the light come streaming in, and then step on out into
the light of day!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.