The above phrase reminds me of Jesus’ most unique promise in John’s gospel: My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am. There’s never been a time when I feel more assured about my faith than when I read this particular text.
This is a promise that provides me with so much hope - not only for a future life in God and with God, but also in the human story - that if there are many rooms in God’s house, then I surely bet that I would have a next-door neighbor. Even if the rooms are so distant from one another, which I believe they wouldn’t be, I would still have a neighbor and you would have a neighbor. But as to who our neighbors would be, we may never know until we finally get our keys to our individual rooms.
I am sure each one of you has spent a night or two at a hotel. The good thing about a hotel room is that each has a neighbor, either to the left, right, or across the way. You may never get to meet your neighbor; you may hear sounds coming from your neighbor’s room, but you may not meet that neighbor. And nine times out of ten, we really don’t care who our neighbor is.
There’s a story of a Rabbi who when he was a student at a Rabbinic school, his wife got a deal to spend a night at the Ritz Carlton - one of the fancy hotels. That was his first time at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. When they arrived, they were met with a red carpet and a host of people who were all ready to help them. They took their luggage and helped them to the lobby, where he saw a lot of people who looked so beautiful. Everything in the lobby was beautiful, including the flowers and the pianist who serenaded guests with beautiful music.
The Rabbi was so gripped by the beauty of this hotel that he didn’t have the courage to cross the lobby to check in, so he asked his wife to check them both in. After checking in, they went into their room, located on the club floor. When they arrived in their room, they were greeted with a bunch of beautiful, big strawberries coated in chocolate.
After a long day, they eventually retired to bed. But at 2:00 a.m. that night, the hotel fire alarm sounded. The first thought that came to mind was what to wear to a fire alarm at the Ritz Carlton. He opened a closet and saw a big puffy white bathrobe with a big lion on the lapel which said Ritz Carlton. After putting on the bathrobe, he hurriedly descended the 12 floors down towards the lobby.
It was at the lobby where he had his aha! moment, a learning moment - he saw hundreds of guests who didn’t have their make-up on but were all wearing the white Ritz Carlton robes. He then turned to his wife and said, “Look honey, all these people are just like me-all wearing white bathrobes. What a great equalizer.”
His point was that we walk around daily wearing make-up, all dressed up, and hiding our persona. We want others to believe what we want them to believe about us. But at our core, who are we? What’s at our core? Are we the sort of people who can provide a room in our hearts for others? Do we look at our lives through the prism of scarcity or the abundance of a Ritz Carlton hotel?
I can only picture that scene in the lobby where all residents, whether on the club floor or any other floor, wore their white bathrobes and hurriedly descended to the lobby. A fire alarm that summoned everyone obscured any kind of allegiances that separated those on the club floor from those on regular floors.
For those of us who have been watching TV and hearing stories of all the turmoil that is going on in the Middle East, nothing breaks my heart more than the violence that we inflict on another. It is as if we all wear different robes or that because we are on different floors at the same hotel, we don't respond to the same fire alarm blaring from the hotel. There's something about the human story that always seeks to create in the heart a room for others because when all is said and done, we come to realize that it is the same alarm bell that summons us, and it is the same bathrobe that we all wear.
Hundreds have been kidnapped. Thousands have died, and thousands more may die. Thousands have been injured, and thousands more will be injured. The question isn’t why. We all know why. The question is, how can we stop all these atrocities from happening? How can we assure all those on each side of the conflict that we will all wear the same white robe, or at least, each has a room in the father’s house?
We may not be dealing with these sorts of violence on our own streets or in our neighborhoods, but that doesn’t make our task any easier. Our job is to always serve as the constant reminder to everyone that in so far as we all have rooms in the father’s house, we can also create rooms in our hearts for everyone. We can argue that in so far as we all have rooms in the father's house, we will have next-door neighbors and those next-door neighbors could be anyone.
How big is your heart? How many rooms can we create in our hearts to accommodate as many people as possible? We may ask ourselves. The reality is that just as the father’s house isn’t measurable, so are the hearts of each one of us. For that reason, we can dare to create as many rooms as we can to accommodate all who need us in their lives, and even those who may pretend to have no need for us.
One of my greatest joys in serving you has been the pleasure of encouraging each of us to create a room in the heart. Through our many ministries, we create that room in our hearts. Through our many ministries, we create rooms in our community. Indeed, our hearts may not be big, but yet it can hold many lives. And we can hold all these lives together in our lives because we believe in God’s eternal promise.
Emily Elliot’s poem There’s Room In My Heart For Thee which has been turned into a hymn has this refrain:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee
If there’s ever a room in our hearts for the Lord Jesus, then there’s a room in our hearts for anyone.
To pledge to Christ Church for 2024, please visit www.christchurchcolumbia.org/2024-pledge