“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus’ disciples had reason to be concerned. Jesus was not being well received by the authorities – church and state – in Jerusalem. They had reason to fear for his life – and for theirs. And yet Jesus says to them – actually commands them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus is not denying that bad things happen. In the Gospel of John Jesus knows he is on the way to the cross. But Jesus does not want his disciples to get stuck in fear and anxiety. Instead, he calls them – and us – to trust in the promises of God that he has come to share.
What does Jesus promise? Jesus promises: There’s a Place for You. Jesus calls you into relationship with God and promises a place for you with him, with God, forever. I imagine this is like what I see happening at camp every year. A new kid arrives looking a little lost and sad – but then a counselor comes and says hey –come and stand by me, there’s a place for you right here – and suddenly the kid is playing 4 square next to his counselor – and grinning from ear to ear. Oh, and this doesn’t just happen to kids… People of all ages need a place to belong. That’s what Jesus says to you: I’m glad you’re here – whether you are new or have been here forever. There’s a Place for You – right beside your counselor.
So who is our counselor? In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us with “I AM” statements, statements that help us understand why on earth God would put skin on and come into our troubled world. In today’s Gospel (John 14:1-12), Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Jesus has come so that we may know God. Jesus shows us the way, tells us truth – not spin – and gives us life. Jesus came because God’s purpose is... love. And so Jesus invites us into relationship. There’s a place for you – Jesus shows us the way – it’s with Jesus and it’s filled with truth and life.
And yet… despite the graciousness of Jesus’ words, and the wide open invitation, and despite the command by Jesus, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – still...the words that stick out are the next ones: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
A wise pastor once told me – you can preach GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, LAW, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE… and the word that people will hear – and remember - is Law. The “Law” - words that point out the ways that we are not worthy - are the words that stick to us. These are the words that we lose sleep over – even though we have heard Jesus’ command: Do not let your hearts be troubled; even though we hear God’s gift of Grace and love; even though we hear that Jesus has not been sent into the world to condemn the world but to save it; even though we hear Jesus say, “I have a place for you…Still… we hear words that to our ears sound like exclusion…like we don’t belong and our hearts are troubled.
Jesus knows it. And so Jesus invites you, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in me…”
Believe. This got me to thinking: Is belief something that happens here (in our heads) or here (in our hearts?) or here (in our gut)?
When we study scripture it can sometimes be very much a “head thing.” At our pastor text study, for example, we look at the words carefully, sometimes looking back at the Greek or Hebrew as we seek to understand Jesus’ message for us. So, for today, I looked up the Greek word for “believe.” It turns out it can also be translated as “to put your trust in.” So… Jesus is saying, “Put your trust in me.”
Trust. Imagine a little girl standing on the edge of a pool and her dad says, “Jump. I’ll catch you. Trust me.”
Suddenly, trust is no longer a head thing. It moves right to the gut, the place where we experience fear, anxiety, angst. But.. if that father and daughter have a loving relationship, trust moves the response right up to the heart. She knows that her daddy will do anything in the world for her. And she jumps.
Her daddy catches her and swings her around. She knew he would. Jesus is like that. Jesus will catch you. He invites you to trust in him.
But sometimes it’s hard. I’ve recently attended two powerful funerals. The first was for a mentor and professor, Rev. Dr. Omar Otterness. As friends and family gathered, we mourned his death. But the mourning was for our sake – when someone is 98 years old, it calls for a celebration!
The other funeral was this past Friday for Chris Stanley. And that was hard. Chris was 22 years old – and had gotten washed into the Mississippi river by St. Anthony Falls. This was a devastating, painful loss for his family and friends. It is the type of challenge in which people wonder, “Where is God?” And yet… it is into those very times that Jesus walks even closer to us… in many ways. The service was held at Central Lutheran church – a huge sanctuary --and it was packed. It was filled with friends and family – but it was also filled with the body of Christ. We showed up to grieve our loss and to support and surround his family with Christ’s love. We came to give thanks to God that Jesus had taken Chris home –even though we all wished it wasn’t so soon.
There were lots of tears as people got up to speak. But then Chris’ mother – Melissa – she’ s the pastor of Tapestry, a new Latino ministry of the ELCA, – shared some of his poems and some of his hope for a better world. And that was remarkable – not many moms can speak at the funeral of their 22 year old son. But then she did something even more remarkable. She sang the 23rd Psalm. She sang – reminding all of us that even in the midst of the worst trials imaginable… God is with us – shepherding us, caring for us walking beside us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember what Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” For God is with you – and you can trust in Jesus – and the body of Christ around you – to love and support you no matter what happens. After all, since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth – how can we keep from singing?
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
May 14, 2017