Sunday, May 22, 2011


(Preached Sunday, May 22, 2011 at All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles)

In my Father’s house are many rooms… many mansions… many dwelling places. It’s a popular scripture to read at the bedside of a dying person, at funerals and memorial services. It’s comforting to imagine that after we die there’s a beautiful place awaiting us, a city where “the wall [is] built of jasper, [and] the city [of] pure gold, clear as glass, [its] foundations … adorned with [semiprecious] jewels; … and the [gates of pearl] … the street of the city [paved with] pure gold...”[1]

Surely we don’t take that description literally. Like the prophets in the Hebrew Bible – Ezekiel’s description of four living creatures appearing out of a cloud, for example – John, in his Revelation, was attempting to describe something that is beyond words. But we can be confident that God loves us and wants good for us and that whatever the afterlife is like – and no one knows for sure – it is good.

Eight years ago I received the tragic news that a young woman I had known, for whatever reason, dived off of a multi-story parking garage. She was beautiful, talented, and loved… and I imagined that she leapt from whatever darkness was chasing her into the loving arms of Jesus.

I like to imagine that when I die… in some form or another everyone I have ever loved, and Jesus first of all, will meet me with open arms and joyful embraces.

But whatever does happen to us when we die… I’m o.k. with it, because I trust in God.

But what if Jesus was talking about something more immediate? What if he wasn’t talking about the afterlife at all? What if that dwelling place he prepared for us is much closer at hand… right here?

“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.”[2]

For two thousand years Jesus has gathered people to himself, not at the time of their death but by showing them how to live.

In our Creator’s house are many dwelling places… and we call them Church. A place where we can always find Jesus. A place where we can see God. A place where great things are done.

As long as I can remember, I have loved going to church. I’m at home worshipping amid the “bells and smells” of a Roman Catholic High Mass, or on a hilltop in the mountains surrounded by teenagers with guitars and hand drums. I have felt welcome among Methodists and Presbyterians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have sung and prayed in ecumenical and interfaith gatherings. I guarantee that in each setting, God was present… but my experience of belonging is not a universal experience.

I remember the shock and sadness I felt when I commented that I expect to be welcome in church, and a man looked at me – a gay man – and said, “That has not been my experience.”


You know, and I know, that of all places church is where everyone ought to feel welcome – where the God of the universe waits for the hurting and seeking and lost to answer the invitation to the banquet.

Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”[3]

So many people are dissatisfied. They long for anything but what they find in this world. No one has shown them the loving God Jesus talked about, a God whose house is so big that there is room for everyone. Some, like the young woman who dived to her death, choose to give in to despair. Others live a life that is no life at all, paralyzed by dreams of an afterlife.

Someone wrote, after the non-event of yesterday’s predicted judgment day:
We are ready for the rapture--not because we are waiting for it to happen,
but because we discover it unfolding, continually, all around us. We are
enraptured by the revelation that we have NOT been taken. We are Left
to attend to the holiness with which the tattered, beautiful world is
already imbued.[4]
She’s right. This is a beautiful world, and within it is the potential for enough rooms for every man and woman, boy and girl.

In their book Compassion: a reflection on the Christian life, Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison talk about displacement as a requirement of the gospel call to community. They say, “The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places.”[5]

In a way, they are saying that we are called to give up comfort and complacency for the sake of God’s realm. It just may be that we have to step aside in order to allow the Christ to prepare a dwelling place for everyone – that we may have to experience discomfort in order for others to be comfortable.

We may have to be willing to accept people whose presence makes us uncomfortable.

Very 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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be
glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.[6]

We have the opportunity to build on the foundation already laid for us. Now, Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us, and that because he was going away, we could do even greater works.
Look at what has already been built at All Peoples – a gathering of people of diverse races and life experiences who embrace and celebrate our differences and love and respect one another despite differing or diverging beliefs. A gathering of people who are not so focused on the hereafter that we neglect the needs of our brothers and sisters here. A gathering of people who are not shoving and jostling for position in line because WE KNOW that in our Daddy’s house are enough rooms for everyone.

There are other dwelling places – other churches – besides All Peoples, in other communities and other languages, maybe where the worship is better suited to some peoples’ tastes. Dwelling places where God may be found, not just through the Christian gospel but through Judaism or Islam or any one of a myriad of faith traditions. But we have been placed here, in this house – and we are the ones who are responsible to fling the doors wide and say, “Come on in!”

We may find that we have to give up something dear to us. We’ve talked about how the beloved All Peoples tradition of hugging may be frightening to some, and maybe we need to think about what a church will look like that is a safe place for newcomers but still fills our own need for closeness.

We may have to be willing to sit in fellowship next to someone who is homeless and hasn’t bathed in a while – and it may not be pleasant.

Father Greg Boyle tells a story of what happened when his local parish decided to allow homeless people to sleep in the church pews at night.

Come Sunday morning, when it was time for Mass, the odor of unwashed bodies still lingered. And one day he asked the parishioners, “What’s the church smell like?” An elderly man responded, “Smells like feet.” They decided that letting homeless men sleep there was a commitment they had made because it was what Jesus would do. And eventually one of the women responded, “It smells like roses!”[7]

We may have to occasionally sing or tell the good news in a language few of us understand, so that those who do not understand our language will know that they are loved.

In God’s house – in God’s heaven on earth – are many dwelling places. No one need be left out in the cold. Fling wide the doors, and do mighty things!


[1] Revelation 21:18-21, RSV, paraphrased.
[2] John 14:3, RSV.
[3] John 14:8, RSV.
[4] CowGaels in Tir Na Blog. Accessed May 22, 2011.
[5] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison. Compassion: a reflection on the Christian life. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 63.
[6][6] John 14:12-13, RSV.
[7] Gregory J. Boyle. Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless love. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 74.