[Texts: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14]
Please pray with me:
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, so that where I am, you may be there also.”
What do you suppose He means by that?
Well, I’m sure many of you have heard this whole passage talked about in terms of Heaven– and I agree with that to some extent; it’s entirely possible that the afterlife is at least part of what Jesus is talking about.
τόπος (TAW-poss), the word translated here as “place”, is the root of “topography”, as in a topographical map. So, I think it’s safe to say there is nothing wrong with interpreting this passage as being about a physical location.
But here’s something interesting: τόπος can also mean “place” in the narrative sense. For example, in the fourth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus is about to preach His first sermon in the temple, we are told in verse seventeen that He “opened the book and found the place– τόπος– where it was written…” and then He reads that famous passage from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, and has anointed Me to bring good news…” and so forth.
So τόπος can refer to a physical location– a place in the world (or perhaps in the Hereafter)– but it can also mean the “place” where something is located within a story.
Any story– any interesting one, at least– has a pretty wide variety of “places” within it– you know, there’s good and bad. The overall trajectory, though, tends to point toward what my seventh-grade English teacher called denouement— that is, the new normal, the different way of being that the hero now experiences as a result of the events of the story.
The scriptures are certainly no exception. The story that the Bible tells spans many centuries as well as multiple different genres of literature, including mythology, poetry, wisdom, and visions as well as law and history– but ultimately, it is the story of God’s people learning to live in right relationship with Him.
Of course, this story isn’t without its bumps and bruises. Covenants are made and violated, kings rise and fall, wars are fought, and, at times, things seem pretty hopeless. But throughout this seventy-three-part narrative, a recurring theme is that God shows His faithfulness in constantly inviting His wandering flock back into that covenant relationship with Him, again and again—no matter how horribly they’ve screwed up this time. If there is one thing that Scripture consistently demonstrates, it is that we worship a God who is always inviting us back to the table. That is our collective story as Christians.
And by the time St. John the Divine had written that last verse of Revelation, the Gospel was beginning to be spread throughout the world, and humanity would never be the same.
Throughout the liturgical year, we live out the Gospel story together as a Church as we make our way through the readings and the seasons and the colors year after year. We find ourselves entering into the anticipation– the anxiety, even– of Advent as the nights get longer, and the fulfillment and joy of Christmas. We live through the penitential journeying of Lent, the emotional whiplash of Holy Week—how quickly we go from “crown Him” to “crucify Him”—the abject horror and emptiness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, shattered by the first “Alleluia” of Easter morning.
All of those things– and everything in between– they’re all very real, valid parts of our own individual stories, too, and we do no one any good by trying to deny or sugar-coat any part of the vast range of the human experience.
We all feel hopeless and anxious sometimes. We all wonder whether God will really triumph in the end. We all have our Lents and Advents, and our Good Fridays. And we all have our Easters, too, and our Christmases, when we are reminded that God is indeed faithful to His promises, and He actually is with us, and love really does win.
We are called, as Christians, to walk with God and with one another through all of the many seasons we experience as part of our journey.
Jesus said, “In my Father’s House, there are many dwelling places.” Any chapter that we are writing, any space that we occupy, any place in our story where we might be at any given time, we dwell in the Father’s presence.
And wherever any of us might find ourselves today– whatever “you are here” means to you right now, “here” is a perfectly good starting point from which you can respond to His call to you to follow Him– what a very dear friend of mine often refers to as your “engraved invitation from God”.
What is God inviting you to do? Who is He calling you to be?
There is only one way to the Father– Jesus was very clear about this; “no one can come to the Father unless he comes through Me,”– but the way that has been prepared for us can begin from wherever we are. There is only one way, but there are infinitely many starting points.
Look at the stories that the Gospel writers tell about various people’s encounters with Christ. Some of His followers began their journey while they were on a fishing boat or out herding sheep. Some started from a place of privilege; others, from abject poverty. Some were sick, injured, or disabled. Some were possessed by demons or haunted by a troubled past. Some were what we might think of as “nobodies” while others struggled with the burden of a notorious reputation.
St. John the Baptist bore witness to the divinity of the Christ Child before either of them was even born, when he leaped up in his mother’s womb with joy at the presence of the Son of God… and then we have the story of another man, whose name we don’t know, who came to believe in Jesus while hanging on the cross next to His, in the very last moments of both of their lives.
All of these people– and countless more– found Him wherever they happened to be, and all were transformed by their faith in Him.
I invite you to think about your own story– your own journey with God– what has that looked like so far? Where did you begin? Where are you now? Where do you imagine your journey might lead? Where might God be calling you to serve Him next?
Wherever you are today, know that you stand on hallowed ground. This place has been set apart for you and made holy by the Holy One, and you are exactly where you need to be. You will find and fulfill God’s call to you to become all that He intends for you to become. And you will know the joy that can only come from living into the purpose for which you were created. Your story is not over—in fact, a new chapter has just begun.
With God’s help, through faith and obedience and trust, you will move mountains. It will be beautiful beyond anything you can comprehend– and it starts right here, right now, right where you are. Right in this place.
As you ponder those things, I will leave you with the words of famed children’s author Dr. Seuss, who said:
“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting!
So, get on your way!”