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Can't Go There

John 13:31-35

The Rev. Jon Roberts

2 May


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


The Last Supper, Dieric Bouts, 1464-1468, Altar piece, oil panel,
St. Peter’s Church, Leuven, Belgium

"Christians busy themselves on this earth
but their citizenship is in heaven."[1]

You could say we are somewhere between heaven and earth. We are passengers, made of body and soul, holding our passports, making do with our time in this place until we hear our flight is ready to leave. The relationship of our bodies with our souls leads us to an even greater concourse on how Christians relate to the world. "To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members in the same way, but Christians must learn to love those who hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together. The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven."[2]

These words were spoken by one of the Johannine disciples. Around the time of the Evangelist's death, one of them, we don't know who, saw what the beloved disciple saw. The relationship of the Christian to this world and the world to come as he or she relates to Christ. We pay particular attention to the words, "Christians are restrained in this world as in a prison". This is true, as many Christians have wondered when will the end ever get here. When will we ever be permitted to pass into eternity?

From January 2004 to November 2004 in a country known as Krakozhia, a man named Victor was trying to return to his homeland but unfortunately told the "Cant' go there." He had his passport. He just wasn't allowed to leave. It's a fictitious story, made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, and we find Victor imprisoned of all places in an airport terminal for nearly a year.

Called the Terminal, the scenes are set in busy JFK airport. People are busy going about their way, traveling here and there, all the time.[3] Victor came to New York to collect pictures of jazz musicians for his father back home who admired them. The problem arose when a civil war broke out in his homeland. It was not safe to travel. Not yet at least. What made matters worse, is that the airport officials denied him to board any planes due to the circumstance. He couldn't get on a plane, and he couldn't leave the airport. He was literally a man without a home. If he stayed in the terminal, he didn't break any rules. When his money ran out, he became resourceful.

He turned in unchecked baggage carriers for the $.25 reward. He found nutrition by eating mustard and ketchup from those little bags that are found with the condiments. Later he acquired an airport construction job after hours earning him enough money to take one of the airline attendants, he admired out on a date, to the airport eatery of course. With all the time he had on his hands, with airport security always trying to get him to step across the line and leave the airport, Victor had lots of time to think about his life. He missed his father. He missed his country. He missed his home. The moral of this story was this: When too busy, here on earth, we can miss what matters most.

Jesus is giving some last pieces of advice along to his eastertide disciples of what matters most. The ascension is nearing. He tells them, "Where I am going you cannot come." To put it simply: He is going to be glorified. You know what I'm talking about. It's the doxology we say every Sunday, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below; Praise Him above all ye heavenly hosts;" Within God the fullness of all love is found, found in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. By leaving a new commandment, he grants that we may perfectly know him, to be the way, the truth and the life; to follow his steps.

When he says, "Love one another as I have loved you" that means we, as Christians, are to love this world.[4] We are scattered through all the cities of the world. Dwelling in it yet not belonging to it. At times, being hated by it, yet loving it. At times, being restrained, shut up, like a prison, yet holding it together.
Indeed, Jesus is telling us what matters most telling us where to go, and He is also telling us He goes where we cannot. He is going into the glory of God. None of us will be permitted to go into His glory as He does. But we can reside, we can go, into His heavenly country which he has prepared the way for us.

In the meantime, we must continue to live on this earth, sharing with others what is important. Reminding others of where our "home" is. By the love that God showed us in His Son, teach them, the soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and we dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. In a way we are like that man in the terminal. We can't afford to step out and belong to the world, yet we can't ascend with Jesus thinking we can be one with God as He is one with Him. But we can keep sharing with others that we follow the living Son of God, Jesus Christ, the righteous, who keeps us and leads us to the departure gate.

We are somewhere in the middle. Here on Earth, we wait. We busy ourselves with the Lord's business until our final departure when he leads us to that heavenly citizenship, our home and final destination.

[1] Anonymous, The Epistle to Diognetus, "The Church in the World" (c. 124AD).
[2] Anonymous, The Epistle to Diognetus, ibid.
[3] The Terminal, Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2004.
[4] John 13:31-35

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