Fifth Sunday of Easter  |  John 14:1-14

We think we are working magic. You can hear it in our prayers: “In the name of Jesus we pray.”

The online Oxford Dictionary defines magic this way: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Christians ask things of God in the name of Jesus, based in large part on John 14:13-14, “And whatsoever you may ask in my name I will do, in order that the Father might be glorified in the son. If you ask of me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Moonlight pine and planetAnd so we use the magic words, believing that if we say them, if we truly mean them, then God will respond. Such is the power of a name.

The ancient world commonly held that knowing the name of a thing gave one power over it. To the Hebrews (and to some modern day Jews), the name of God is so holy that it cannot be spoken. That, by the way, is why we have the word LORD, usually printed in all capitals or a mix of large and small capitals, in our Old Testaments—it is a placeholder for the name of God.

Names are powerful. Speaking someone’s name asserts a claim. If you think it does not, the next time you hear your own name shouted in an airport or spoken on a city street or called out deep in a forest, see if you can resist the urge to turn and find out who is calling.

There is power in a name, but surely that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. He is not suggesting that we practice magic. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in the person, true purpose and being of Jesus. God responds to the prayers of our hearts because we speak them from within the heart of God.

In the house of my Father are many rooms, Jesus tells us. He doesn’t mean it is the Hyatt, and before you say that we do not think of heaven as a hotel, may I ask what we do think? We might envision huts, or houses, or tents, or some other personally designated spiritual space, but that is really just a hotel in disguise. Dwelling in the house of God has nothing to do with space and time. Asking in the name of Jesus and dwelling in the Father’s house are the same thing: to do the one is to do the other.

Luke’s gospel put it this way: the kingdom of God is within you.†

In this passage we also hear Philip asking simply to see the Father. “And we will be satisfied,” he says. It is a simple request. Jesus responds that Philip has already seen everything he needs to see, but I don’t think those words were meant for Philip. Those words were meant for us. Don’t we have the same request, that the heavens open and give us some irrefutable sign, so that we can rely upon our senses and our reason and our memory rather than faith?

We have already seen everything that we need to see of God. God is beside us on a train, in a hallway, in a field, on a street, the face of a stranger, the call of a mockingbird. Why would we believe in God more for having seen God? We explain away all sorts of things. Given time and perhaps some therapy or medication, I imagine that we could tell ourselves that a vision of God was only a mental phenomenon, some sort of hallucination.

Having knowledge of a thing is not the same as having faith in it.

One of the most famous verses in scripture is John 14:6. “And Jesus said to him, I myself am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.” Many Christians have used these words to tell people of other faiths that they were outside of God’s grace—if you do not believe in our Jesus, then God will not have you. I think that once again we have managed not to hear what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that God is the one who determines who comes to God.

We don’t get to turn people away from the door to the heaven, whatever heaven may really look like. We are permitted to invite them inside. And when we find ourselves dwelling in the heart of God, we may find that our prayers are already answered, and that many whom we did not expect to see were already waiting there for us.

† Luke 17:21