There is plenty of room for you in my Father's home. If that weren't so, would I have told you that I'm on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I'm on my way to get your room ready, I'll come back and get you so you can live where I live.
I love this Gospel text that Vince read to us. People forget that the context for John’s Gospel is a fluid community in the process of establishing new norms for itself, a sisterhood and brotherhood, a new family, where widows and large families, rich and poor, men who collect taxes and women who run businesses, Samaritans, Gentiles and Jews all came together out of a deep connection to Jesus whom they experienced in resurrection. These are people who found life to be a struggle, lacking, something to be endured until they either met or heard about Jesus. But from this connection to Jesus in life or in Easter resurrection they found a new identity, a new family, a new lens on a hard and often cruel world. Rodney Stark in his text “The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries” chronicles this fluid development of persons with seemingly no connection into a movement that rose on its belief that Jesus made them one.
This movement was diverse, it found expressions in a wide variety of contexts, rich and poor, Roman and otherwise, but because it was an underground religious expression it gathered in secret in simple homes. Thus John’s Gospel would focus its conviction that life was eternal and everlasting on the model of a house, with rooms for everyone. It was a model in contrast to other public expressions of loyalty, namely state and religions that posited rules and birthrights that made clear who was favoured and who was not. In Jesus’ house there was room/space for all. Thus in our Message translation (thank you Eugene Peterson) there is a sense of something/someone getting “a room ready for you”.
Who or what “gets the room ready for us/others?” This notion of “getting the room ready” is important, it opens up for us and others the possibility that we are both ready and worthy of this treatment, of this relationship, of this eternal reality.
I first met Lorne in the minister’s office, I was sitting behind my desk working on my first sermon at Bethany when I noted someone was in the room with me, someone I could not see. I only became aware of this presence when suddenly a light came on in my darkened office, the light of plastic red candles that illumined the rotary outside the window. Kneeling on the floor was a 93 year old Lorne, his pride was giving those who drove or walked by the Hall a glowing image of light and wonder. As he stood he told me that he loved to install these decorations, in part as a tool to lift the spirits of those passing by. He saw it as his Christmas gift to the community.
I would come to see Lorne as someone who was constantly evolving, discerning, learning, how to “make things ready” for others, for himself. Lorne loved the Gospels and he loved Gospel music. He liked those simple messages of redemption, of new life, of forgiveness and transformation. Among the topics we discussed in good times and hard times were sin, forgiveness, and new life. Lorne knew all of us are sinners, we all fall far short of the glory that is God, we all choose the easy over the hard, self over other, grudge over love, my way over THE WAY, over and over again. And thus we needed that jolt of Gospel words, of Gospel song, that pulls us despite our best intentions into that redeeming new life. More often than not Lorne would remind Muffin Club members, “we are sinners, we need to be forgiven, and we need to accept Jesus and his new life.”
But Lorne was not so intense and serious that he could not laugh at himself or find new life in just being with others. He would take me out for lunch (at Jim’s) or offer to spend an afternoon with my daughter Lucy just sharing stories and listening to her life experiences. Lorne was deeply interested in others (he knew all the staff at Jim’s and their stories), in all of the new people coming to Bethany (“are they from the Island?). Lorne used his gift of humour and insight to bond. Even last night a relatively new member of Bethany, Robert Buchans, recalled how he would sit next to Lorne and discuss theology and share a laugh. Getting the room ready means knowing the other, what s/he needs, giving the other space and encouragement and laughter to be aware of God’s presence now, that love is present in relationship, in community and to demonstrate that in word and deed. Lorne was a great source of hospitality.
Another way we make “the room ready” is to know the diversity that is present in our human condition. Lorne took a very keen interest in other religions, in other ethnicities and other generations. Lorne took former missionary professor/Council Chair David Rackham aside and wanted a tutorial in other religions because new people were appearing in his neighbourhood. While Lorne had an “old time religion” sweet tooth in terms of forgiveness and transformation he also had a deep awareness that we are not all alike and that the world is simply too large and expansive to arrogantly assume our life is normative for all life. Lorne was humble and open.
Many of you are aware that Lorne’s passion for radio, sound and short wave communication was unparalleled. There was something about finding that right frequency, that right sound, that right connection, that made Lorne deeply curious and committed. I believe Lorne did this became he intuitively understood that we could not offer love, receive love, be redeemed in love, unless we heard the sound, felt the energy and saw the other in the light that God made us. Lorne was a source of adjusting that frequency, of channeling that energy, of embodying that connection so that everyone would know there was room, there was space, in God’s house.
Jesus would tell us that this love is eternal, that it never ends, and that Lorne’s presence to us remains. What that looks like is a mystery I am not able to provide in detail. But I can tell you that those whom we have lost to death are present to us in sacred moments when that eternal frequency finds our mark, that energy is felt in our souls and the deeper connections make us whole and one. And I pray we all share in that experience with our dear friend Lorne. Peace be with you and with Lorne. Amen.