Salem Lutheran Church


Gathered to Make Room

Everyone wants to know that there is room for them, regardless of where they are, or the group they are with. Here at Salem do we have room for everyone? Is there room for everyone, those who are already here and visitors & guests? I’m not just talking about physical space, although that is important, but is there room for their ideas, for their needs, and their dreams? And these same questions should be asked in our neighborhoods, in our places of business, in our schools, in our social groups and on and on. Is there room for everyone, or have we placed arbitrary barriers for some who we would prefer not find room I “our” space? This is where our story begins today.

Jesus has been teaching the disciples and all who would listen about God’s kingdom. This kingdom that Jesus had been teaching about was really different, though. Jesus talked about how everyone was welcome and how God loved everyone. To those of Jesus’ day, they couldn’t quite believe it, so they continuously asked about the rules. How could this be? What must I do? By whose authority do you make these claims? And the list of questions went on and on. Finally, just as Jesus was preparing for his final days before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In 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? And 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” (John 14:1-3). In other words, I know this is hard to understand, but the work I have been doing has been about making room for you, and everyone, in my Father’s house and since you know me you now know the way to my Father’s house. To which Thomas replies, but Lord, we don’t know the way. Now one of the things I find fascinating about Thomas’s response is that it is probably the last time a man asked for directions.

In all seriousness though, Jesus then gives his directions to God’s place when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (14:6-7). Now I know this text well, because it is one of the most popular texts that I read at funerals. It is a comforting text and one that assures the family and loved ones of the deceased that the one they have lost is in the presence of God. But this text is not just about our afterlife. No, in John’s gospel, the good news is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has made a way to us. We will hear more about how this is next week, but the fact is, even now, Jesus continues to be with us. We don’t have to wait to be with him until after we die. The resurrected Jesus is with us, giving us abundant life now and into eternity!

And there is a real incredible promise here that is often over looked and also can be a stumbling block for us Christians. In the translation we read this morning, the NRSV, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” But, in a different translation, The Common English Bible, the translators worded it slightly differently, “My Father’s house has room to spare.” Wow, I like that because when I hear that I think, there’s nothing tiny about God’s house! There is room for everyone!

But, is that really true? I mean Jesus did say it, but he also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This makes it sound like there are limits on “everyone.” Is Jesus saying there is room, but only for Christians? With billions of people in the world, and only a part of them Christian, it would be tempting to think that the Father’s house, though not tiny, might be smaller than we previously thought.

If that’s where we are, perhaps our understanding of God’s house needs to change! We know that at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gave the Great Commission; that is it is our job, those who believe, to make disciples of all nations, it is our job to issue the invitations to God’s house. We might feel unqualified for this task, but Jesus commanded us to do it and, he has promised to be with us when we do it. We have all we need. Our job is to invite everyone to come, to issue the invitation and then we are done. The fact is, God has already come and our job is not to convert people, it is not to deny participation, it is not to tell others that they are not worthy, no all we have to do is invite them and God, or God’s spirit will do the rest. We gather each week so that we might be reminded that we have all the tools we need to grow the church, all we need to do is make room for all those who will come.

So, if we believe Jesus’ promise that there is room to spare in God’s house and if we are going to grow the church, as commanded, then we need to start with changing how we view the church. The church is not about how we prepare people for an afterlife. No, the church is about how to prepare people to live in God’s house in this world. So, first and foremost we must remember that we are the church, those who gather in Christ’s name. Secondly, we have to be willing to invite others to come be part of God’s house. And then, thirdly, we have to trust that God, in God’s way, will bring all those who are meant to be in the house to the doorstep. We just need to make sure that we’re not missing the opportunity to invite people in. After all, it might be hard for us to do at first, but in Jesus own words, because we believe, we will be able to do greater things than he did. That’s our job!

If we want things to change, if we want the church to grow, and I am not just talking about Salem, then we have to change. We have to be willing to issue the invitation to the world to come to God’s house, to live as God created us to live, because in God’s house there is room to spare and there is room for those who are different.

If you want to know how to change, look to mothers. To become a mother, a woman must first allow her whole body to change. Then when the child arrives, she must then change her whole life to accommodate the child. Through a mother’s loving changes, the world changes with new life.

So, is there room? From God’s perspective there is always more room, it is up to us to make the invitation and to do that, we have to be willing to change. (Pour water in the cup.) We need to be willing to change and when we change, others change, too.

As has become our practice, each summer we issue a challenge and today I have a new challenge for you. I am asking you to take one of these cups with you and use it. As you saw, when you pour cold water in it, it changes from opaque to red, the color of love. As you use it, remember, when you live in the ways of Christ, you too will change, and when you change, you have the power to invite others to change. So, here is the hard part about the challenge, invite others to be part of the church. Invite them to help with Pantry Pack, invite them to help with Children’s Memorial, invite them to attend VBS, invite them to worship, and invite them into something new. As you do this, prepare yourself to be changed and prepare yourself to make room for more people. Amen.

Tags: Sermons