John 14:1-8

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

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John 14:1-8

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

The Rev. Dr. Roy W. Howard

When you are in your most severe crisis, the last thing yoiu can hear is often the one thing you need to hear.

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

There you are in the hospital waiting room pacing back and forth in a room full of strangers whose faces suggest they are there carrying the same burden you are. Clutching a Styrofoam cup, flipping pages through a magazine you would otherwise never read – or at least not be seen reading in public – but it’s what’s there on the table and you’ll do anything to keep the fear at bay and the minutes moving rapidly along.

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

The funeral is finally over, the ground all covered, the ashes scattered, the prayers recited and the hymns sung. Now you are left in the living room, platters of food everywhere, flowers in every corner, notes on every table. It’s over. You are sitting now with a dull ache or maybe it’s a searing pain in the heart place where she – he – once lived. The future? Impossible to imagine. The heartache is easier than the daunting task of living into a future without the one who created the past and the present. What’s the future without him? Without her?

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

You hear the devastating news of terror, rush for your children, rush for the phone, race home all in a blizzard of movement. At home, you hold the remote with one hand and the phone with the other, a doubled-fisted reach for connection. Clicking channels one after another – an addict for more, more community, more news, more assurance, more – and the channels all over the same thing again and again. Crashing in front of you are not just towers and markets but something far more profound is being shaken. A security once assumed secure is unmasked as an illusion. What’s coming next, when and where? In the water, in the air, on the train. Where are we safe anymore? So we rush out to the hardware store to make sure we have tape, plastic, batteries, food and water. It makes perfectly good sense to be prepared, but even preparation and evacuation plans don’t take away the unsettled-ness of our inner lives. This may be with us for a lifetime in an age of terror. Nevertheless in the midst of it all:

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

Jesus’ assurance is hard to hear and often we don’t hear it. On the lips of anyone but Jesus it can sound sentimental or too much like a nervous attempt at consolation by someone who can’t bear the silence of anguish. We’ve all experienced the simple and well meaning “don’t worry” as less than comforting when the person offering it has no clue of the actual reason for the worry that is presently eating up your stomach. When you are holding on to a “memo of termination” at age 52, without a job in sight, it doesn’t help when your securely employed buddy pats you on the back and says, “Don’t worry. It will work out.”  He may be right, of course, but it’s hard to hear it at the moment.

Jesus himself had a troubled heart when his friend Lazarus died. He wept. And when Judas was preparing to betray him, he wept again – only this time with such anguish that drops of blood spilled from his brow. Jesus knows trouble and he knows a troubled heart.  But he also knows your heart and he knows mine.

Preparing his disciples for a future after his death – something incomprehensible to them – he offers precisely the word they and we need to hear – the word we have the most difficulty hearing and yet the one we most need to hear for our freedom. This is not the sentimental consolation of a person uncomfortable with grief – or the Hallmark message one is obliged to give and receive because … well, just because it’s the thing you do in circumstances where you can do nothing else. In other words, this is not a human word – this is God’s word for a troubled heart. God’s word is not a momentary escape from pain, but a gift that allows you to live with eyes open and with courage.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus says.  “Believe in God, believe in me.”

Will you hear this today as an invitation to trust your life – the whole of it – your present, your past, your future – in God’s care?  This is the message some of us find the most difficult to embrace – truly to embrace as the truth, not merely a religious sentiment – because we want something more secure. Yet, if anything has become clear it is that nothing we can construct is secure. Living with honesty about the ultimate insecurity of human security is the freedom that allows you to trust your life in God’s care.  This is true security and true freedom.


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In the wake of September 11, there was an increase in church attendance – we all experienced that blip – but I read in The Christian Century that there was also an increase in gun purchases. That strikes me as an odd combination and very telling. Perhaps we believe that God will preserve us beyond the grave if we show up in worship but worry that God may need some help in the short run. The essay noted, “We find it hard to affirm with the psalmist, “My time is in your hand” – when the times are so dark and frightening. And so we feel tempted, compelled, to take matters into our own hands. I suspect the same thing is occurring now as we face the possibility of war and other threats.

I believe it is a good thing to be prepared for disaster – to have food, water and communication plans. I would like our congregation to have such a plan so that if something were to happen we could stay in touch with each other.

But Jesus would have his disciples to do something other than take the future into our hands. He wants us to entrust our lives into God’s hand and then to allow the fruit of our lives to made visible in deeds that point toward God.

Thomas is the only one honest enough to tell Jesus that he has no clue what Jesus is talking about and where he is going. Thomas is always missing things, but he is always honest about it. He is like the one who in a group of stargazers bends down to swat a mosquito at the exactly the wrong time – at the exact moment when the long-awaited meteor flashes across the sky. Thomas is always missing out – so he confesses his cluelessness by saying, “We don’t the where you are going and we certainly don’t know the way.”

Jesus doesn’t offer us a map, a set of directions and a compass.  Jesus offers himself. The way is personal – Jesus is the way.  The truth is personal – Jesus is the truth.  The life is personal – Jesus is the life. You will find life not in propositions but in a person – a particular person – Jesus of Nazareth who came to announce and inaugurate the worldwide reign of God. This Jesus is the friend of sinful, unbelieving, and differently-believing people who were rejected by law-abiding, morally respectable members of the establishment. He came not to condemn the world – not even his enemies – but that the world in general and those at odds would God in particular would be reconciled by his self-giving love. Jesus is the one who heals the broken-hearted without regard to eligibility, who opens his arms to the vulnerable, to lepers, and to all those on the margins.  To all, period.

This is the astonishing news of the gospel – God has opened the way to life through the living Christ who invites you to cast yourself on him.  We gain life by believing him, by following his way and by trusting him more than all the powers of this world. This is what Clark Pinnock calls “the boundless generosity of God” in Jesus Christ who lived, died and is risen for all. This is one who invites you to be free.

Therefore, sisters and brothers, hear the gospel and be set free:

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus says.  “Believe in God, believe in me.”

— Copyright for this sermon, 2003, the Rev. Roy W. Howard, Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, Rockville, Maryland.  Used by permission.