Sermon on John 14:1-14
“Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”
Anybody recognize that line? It’s from this book—Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
This was one of my favorite books as a small child, and over the past two years and eight months, I’ve had chances to rediscover it again and again and again…
Perhaps you know the story? Max is sent to his room without dinner for causing trouble for being a wild thing, but his room is enveloped by the world of his imagination, and he travels to where the wild things are, and he becomes their king, but, then “all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.”
But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go-we’ll eat you up-we love you so!”
“And Max said, “No!” The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye.”
One of the things that I love about this story, at least as an adult, is that it really captures the difficulties of saying goodbye. Goodbyes can be bittersweet, like graduation season, as we say goodbye to one chapter for ourselves and still look forward to what comes next.
They can be painful or even tragic: as we mark Mother’s Day, we remember that there are those here whose mothers are no longer with us or who had to say goodbye to their own children too early or never got a chance to know them at all.
We all say goodbye all the time to things that we love, whether it’s by choice or it’s out of our hands, whether it’s temporarily or for a long, long time. And frankly, when it’s the latter—well—we really just want to pitch a wild fit. No matter how many times we say goodbye, no matter how well versed we get at its rituals, goodbyes are never easy.
Today, we read from the part of John’s Gospel known by scholars as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. It’s the point in time in the story where Jesus says his own goodbyes. He says to his disciples, I have to go. I’m leaving you.
We’ve rewound the clock just a little bit. We’re back at Maundy Thursday. Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet. He’s foretold his betrayal and his death. And he says to them, “I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me. . . [but] Where I am going, you cannot come.”
But the disciples…they “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” Thomas blurts out, “Where are you going Lord? How are we going to know the way?” “Oh, Jesus,” we say, “please don’t go!”
The disciples are confused, they’re a little bewildered by what Jesus has told them. They can’t wrap their minds around what’s going on. They can’t seem to imagine what life will be like without Jesus walking with them.
And that’s really why we’ve stepped back in the story—because at this point in the Easter season, as we get further and further away from those euphoric Easter moments, as the Easter lilies fade and the high attendance levels out…we start to wonder what our lives are like without the constant evidence of Jesus’ presence, whether it’s all true, whether or not we really are saying goodbye forever.
Jesus senses this. He says to his disciples and he says to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Luther once said that our god is what we hang our heart upon. Now that could mean a lot of things. Often times, we hang our hearts on the wrong things—material possessions, power, influence, the idea that we can control every aspect of our lives, the idea that we can avoid goodbyes. And we can ease our troubled hearts with these thoughts and things for a while…but eventually, well, those “goodbyes” can’t be ignored forever can they?
Jesus is calling us to hang our hearts on something else, something not of this world. Jesus is calling us to hang our hearts on God’s promises, the promise of the Resurrection, the promise that goodbye is not that last word.
“My Father’s house has many dwelling places,” he says.
God is always making a place for us. God is always making room. Calming the wild things within us and welcoming us home. Imagine the transformation we experience within ourselves when we hang our hearts on God’s grace and love, when we place our trust in a God that has all the time in the world, all the space in the world, all the love in the world for ourselves and for the ones that we love. This is what we mean when we say eternal life: it’s a life that knows no bounds, its life that cannot be taken from us, its life we do not have to say goodbye to. Eternal life, in other words, is just another name for God. The thing that we hang onto in times of pain, in times of doubt, in times of joy.
It’s not about being in an exclusive club. It’s not about agreeing to the right dogma or doctrine. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about placing our troubled hearts into God’s hands, holding up our lives to God, trusting in the promise that we hear through Jesus, and following him as best we can.
So at the end of the story, this story, Max gets into his boat:
“and sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot.”
Max, that wild thing, even though he was sent to his room without dinner, even though he journey far away from home, returns to find it waiting for him. That’s called grace. That’s called love. That’s the promise of the way, the truth and the life.
In God’s house, there are many room—rooms with supper there for us.
So come and find it. It is waiting for you and it is still hot.