Many dwelling places

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

Opening Prayer (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.34)
We pray, we ask, we act, we believe, in your name, Jesus.
Today, we sit in our own spaces,
but we are still a people, a community.
Though we do not see you first-hand, we know you as the Creator,
Though we do not see you first-hand, we know you as the Son,
Though we are not together we are still in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
together in faith, and we trust in you and in the Way.
We pray that your life will be our guide,
that we will have the courage to follow you,
to know the way forward through your example,
that our lives will be inspired and led by what we know of you.
We ask for courage, that your love will be our standard,
that we will love in your name, in your way,
without condition, without fear,
that we will show love to all, in the promise of a better world.

We believe, even though we are gathered in name and not in person,
in you, in your life, death and resurrection,
in the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
We live our lives in this belief and trust always in your way.
We pray, we ask, we act, we believe
in your name, Jesus. Amen.

Reading: John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In 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? 3And 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.

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus 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. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Woodcut entitled In my father’s house there are many mansions by Irving Amen.

Reflecting on the Word: “In my father’s house there are many dwellings”

Today we will explore what this verse might mean.

The Uniting Church has always been committed to interfaith dialogue with other religions. For many years, I was involved in one of these groups, the Uniting Church’s national Jewish-Christian dialogue.

One of my fellow travellers in the group, Bob, used to speak of a poster (the picture is above) he saw as a theological student, one that he coveted.  He described it as a cartoon-like drawing of a large, complex building – a building with many domes.  Each of the domes was topped with a religious symbol.

Some of the domes had crosses that represented the three branches of Christianity: Orthodox; Roman Catholic, and the plain cross typical of reformed “Protestant” churches. On other domes, various religious symbols were found, such as a Star of David representing Judaism; a crescent moon representing Islam; and other symbols of other faith communities.

On the poster were words from today’s gospel reading, taken from the old King James Version, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”. 

Bob told us that he coveted the poster because it paid tribute to the people of God in its wholeness: not only the Christian people of God, but also the other religions of the world which were seen to make up the many rooms, dwellings or mansions Jesus talks about.

This idea of “many dwelling places” seems to indicate that there is a room, or a space to dwell, for everyone in the Father’s house. It suggests that there is a space for all people of faith, including faiths which are not necessarily Christian, or the same as ours. John’s Gospel has a number of stories where unexpected people are highlighted as part of the children of God, such as Samaritans and adulterous women and blind beggars. “In my Father’s house there are many places to live” implies that there is room for all the people of the world, the people that in the first chapter of his gospel John claims Jesus came to bring life and light to.

In a pluralistic world, where many are  born into faiths other than Christianity, and yet still live grace-filled and God inspired lives, surely it is tribal thinking to claim that it is we Christians alone who possess the absolute truth on the way to God.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Could this show that John’s Jesus was offering an expanded vision of a God whose grace was offered to all the world’s people, in a very literal sense?

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger was once asked: “how many paths are there for reaching God?” His answer was simple: “as many as there are people.” (interview with journalist Peter Seewald cited in Salt of the Earth, 1997).

When we think of Jesus, we tend to imagine an inclusive Jesus who had enough love and generosity of spirit for all. If we all lived in a way that accepted that God loves everyone equally, and that we have an obligation to accept all people as part of God’s family, our world might look very different, and be a kinder and better place to live.

Reflecting on the passage

The passage starts with Jesus saying , ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ This implies that Jesus knows we experience troubles and sorrow, and though many things can go wrong for us, we are not abandoned. Pray the following prayer, and think about what it means for you:

Lord, I often wonder what way to go in life. May I always turn to you for guidance, and whatever way I choose, may I try to live out of your commandment to love.

This passage also contains Jesus’ guidance on how the disciples should live in a changed world: guidance which sheds light on how we might live today.

Think about how things are different at the moment. What has changed the most for you? What things would you like to be the same after the social isolation is eased? What things would you like to be different? Is there any lessons we can learn about Jesus’ guidance on loving others from this time?

Prayer for ourselves and others

Loving God,
In this time of social distancing, we pray for each other.
We still worship you, we still open our hearts in prayer.
We pray for ourselves, and for our congregation of believers.
Grant us the grace to accept each person as they are.
We pray for our communities,
for our families, friends, children, parents, neighbours, and enemies,
each one your child and our sibling through the love of Christ.
Grant us the power to love all others as you love us.

We pray for the Christian church and all communities of faith.
In these times of declining Church numbers,
grant us the wisdom to remember the purpose of your church,
which is not numbers, but the good news of your name.

We pray for the many other faiths that make up our world.
In these times it is important that we work together
To bring light, care, courage and love to a world darkened by disease.
grant us the wisdom to remember that we are to love as you loved,
not discriminating against others because they are different.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Blessing (adapted from a blessing by Clare McBeath and Tim Presswood)

May the God who created a world of diversity and vibrancy,
Bless us as we embrace life in all its fullness.

May the Son who teaches us to care for stranger and foreigners,
Bless us as we try to be good neighbours in our communities.

May the Spirit who breaks down our barriers and celebrates community,
Bless us as we find the courage to create a place of welcome for all.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth was minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, between 2018 and 2023. Elizabeth retired in December 2023 and has moved to Dungog in the Hunter valley, with her husband Rev Dr John Squires.

Over the years, Elizabeth has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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