Sunday’s sermon on John 14:1-14 after the jump.
I, for one, am glad the world didn’t end yesterday. I didn’t really take the predictions seriously, but as I was paying bills on Friday, I did think maybe I should just wait until Monday. Maybe it wasn’t going to be necessary to send that last check to AT&T after all. I wonder how today feels for folks who were more convinced than I was. Did they wake up this morning and feel lost? Did they think, what do we do now?
What do we do now? That’s what the disciples wanted to know.
Or, more exactly, what are we going to do next?
It’s the night before Jesus’ death. He’s telling his dearest friends goodbye. And they are, understandably, a little bit freaked out. What do we do when you’re gone? What’s going to happen to us? What’s coming next?
We’re in a different position than they were that night, of course. We know how the story ends. So why does this text still speak to us deeply?
These words from Jesus were timely. They spoke directly to the fears of that night. But they are also timeless.
Jesus speaks not just to the fears of that night, but also to questions that the disciples had to face on Monday morning and that we’ve all had to face.
How do we live as followers of Jesus, in the midst of this world, this world where Jesus is not around for us to touch, to hang onto? It’s five weeks past Easter, and still we find ourselves with the disciples asking, what next? What do we do now?
The word troubled here in the first verse gets at how serious this question is. It’s the word that described how Jesus felt when he learned of his friend Lazarus’s death, and he declared death shall not have the last word. I am the resurrection and the life.
It’s a word that describes how we feel in the face of deep suffering or how we feel when we find ourselves on the cusp of tremendous change. We can see the old passing away in front of our eyes, and we do not yet know what the new will hold. Do you know how it feels to be troubled like this?
We feel troubled like this when the earth shakes and the waters overwhelm, when the mighty Mississippi rises too high, and tornadoes swirl unceasingly across the southland. If the world is this uncertain, to what can we cling? We’re troubled.
We feel troubled like this as we flounder under mounting debts or medical bills and even so know that millions more struggle simply to find clean water. If the scale of suffering is so great, where can we turn for help? We’re troubled.
We feel troubled like this following a diagnosis that we dreaded, or after the death of someone we don’t think we can live without. We feel troubled like this when unemployment stretches from weeks into months into years. If life is so radically changes, who are we now? Where do we stand firm? Our hearts are troubled.
Like the disciples that night, we know that things have changed, although we may not even quite know how or how much. We hear word of a different future, but we don’t know what that’s going to look like, and we can’t yet see what our part in it will be. This is what it is to be troubled.
I wonder if our experience as a congregation right now might have something in common with the disciples. Oh, I don’t think we’re nearly as troubled as they were. Not at all. I don’t want to suggest that. We’re not.
It seems to me that we’re mostly filled with a sense of excitement, something verging on giddy, or at least hopeful, expectant, curious about what the future will hold. You have called me to be your pastor, and I have joyfully said yes to that call. I am so very glad to be in your midst and traveling with you on the way.
But maybe we all feel a bit of what I felt Monday morning when I came into the office for the first time. Okay. Now what? What do we do now? That’s where our experience as a congregation might connect with the disciples. They too wondered, okay, now what?
One author described the disciples as being both hospice chaplains and midwives.
That night they bid good-bye to one way of being with Jesus and began to labor for the birth of something new.
God is at work in Bethany in powerful ways. I am sure of that. The Spirit is blowing, calling us forth into new life, calling us out to minister to our city, calling us together in ever more faithful community.
But we don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. Many of you have dreams. I hope you’ll share them with each other and with me in the months to come. But I’d wager that many of us have fears, too, just like the disciples did that night.
What will change? Will the church we love still be a place we recognize? What if a way of doing things that I hold dear passes away? To what is the Spirit calling us? Can we trust the new life our God offers us? And if we say yes, well, what then? What do we do now?
There was tremendous new life taking shape right before the disciples’ very eyes. But things were also passing away. Jesus had, just moments before this, washed their feet. But he wasn’t going to be right there, reaching out to touch them much longer. How would they know what to do next?
As they wonder how to go on he answers them, and us, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” And a little later he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” “If you know me, you know God.”
These words of comfort can be stumbling blocks for our post-modern pluralist ears, can’t they? “Believe in me.” What does that mean?
So often we equate belief with having an opinion about something. To say, I believe that deficit reduction is the best response to our current economic crisis means I am of the opinion that this is a sound intellectual proposition.
That’s not what Jesus is saying. He is not saying, be of the opinion that I am a sound intellectual proposition. He is saying believe in the deeper sense–to give one’s heart and soul to, to trust, to cherish, to stake one’s life on. He is saying, your hearts are troubled. The world will offer many, many, many answers about how to address that trouble. I offer one. Trust in me. Give your heart and your life to me. Follow me.
In Luther’s Large Catechism it is asked, what does it mean to have a god. And the answer is “God is what you hang your heart upon.”
That’s what Jesus is getting at here. Do not let your hearts be troubled, he says. When you face the unknown, hang your heart upon me.
In me, he says, you have seen what God is like. This is the core of the gospel. We have come to know the love that lies over and above and behind it all; we have come to know that love made manifest. If you’ve gotten to know me, says Jesus to his troubled disciples, you’ve gotten to know the love of God. Hang your heart on that love. Don’t let your heart be troubled. Trust in me because I am the way and the truth and the life.
That verse is also often a stumbling block for us isn’t it? In this time when we’re surrounded by people we love who do not share our religious convictions. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through him. This verse is sometimes used as a bludgeon with which to batter those who do not subscribe to a particular form of Christianity.
To use this verse in that way is to answer a question with it that it’s not asking. The author of this gospel was not writing as the leader of a major world religion saying our way is right and the rest of you are wrong. The author of this gospel was writing in a time when following Jesus was a very new thing, when he and his friends were still very much an under-the-radar minority crowd. This verse is a joyful affirmation of their faith in Jesus. The community out of which this gospel arose remembered Jesus saying, I am the way and the truth and the life, and found themselves saying, yes! Jesus’ way is the way of truth and life for us. In him and his way, we have seen God.
Jesus is talking to his closest friends when he says, no one, meaning not one of you, has come to know God except through me. And that, that is something we too can nod our heads at. We too are people who have come to know God through the love of Jesus Christ, the love that welcomes all at the table, that bends down to wash dusty feet, that opens its arms wide and gives up its life. That is indeed the way of truth and life for us as well.
So when our hearts are troubled, deeply grieved, or simply overwhelmed by the future, we will trust this way, this way we know in Jesus.
After reminding them of their core identity Jesus gives his disciples a charge. You who trust in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these. What’s that part about?
The work he has done has been to make God’s love manifest, to put skin on God’s love. He has welcomed outcasts and losers to his table. He has wept with friends and rejoiced at weddings. He has taken little and fed a multitude. And he will, just after this, give up his life for this very love he has made incarnate, thereby robbing death of the last word for all time.
And now a new time is coming, when that love that he has made incarnate will need some new skin. And so he says to his followers–it’s your turn now. You are to be my body in the world. Trust in me, trust in the love you have come to know in me, and do the work of that love in the world. This is Jesus’ word to his disciples when their hearts are troubled. Hear it again: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in me, trust in the love you have come to know in me, and do the work of that love in the world.
In the face of all we can’t control, in the face of change we do not understand, in the face of new life we can’t yet grasp, Jesus’ words still speak to us. Do not let your hearts be troubled, he says.
As we ask what do we do now as a congregation, as the people of Bethany, Jesus says do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God your maker and mother; trust also in me and the love you have seen. Give your hearts to that love, that self-emptying, death-defying love. Believe in it. Stake your life on it.
There will be many other answers that the world offers as you seek out the future. Do not believe them. Trust in me. My love will not let you go. New life will yet spring forth. Be part of that new life with me, Christ says to us today. Do the works that I have done in your midst. Trust in the love you have known in me and share it with the world.
What do we do now? We hang our hearts on Christ, and we get busy doing the work of his love in the world. We trust in God. We trust in the love we’ve come to know in Christ. And we share that love with all we meet.
In Christ’s name, may it so be. Amen.Bethany Presbyterian Church May 22, 2011