Sermon: "Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Acts 16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; John 14.23-29
Over the past few weeks, we have examined portions of Jesus farewell discourse to his disciples. Last week we noted how God would be glorified through the Son of Man. We read Jesus touching words, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me . . . where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13.33; NRSV). Jesus then gave his disciples a new commandment that they should love one another just as he has loved them, for if they love each other in this manner, everyone will know they are Jesus’ disciples. When we love as Christ loved, people see the Christ living in us, and God is glorified.
Peter then asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward” (John 13.36; NRSV). As you may recall, Peter then vows to lay down his life for Jesus; Jesus tells Peter he will deny him three times before the cock crows. Immediately after this, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14.1-2; NRSV). Jesus further tells the disciples they know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas objects they do not know where he is going and asks how can we know the way? Jesus replies: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14.5-8; NRSV).
The disciples are troubled; Jesus is leaving, and they are concerned they do not know the way to follow him. Jesus is trying to allay their fears, to comfort them. A few verses later, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 15-17; NRSV). Note Jesus’ promise that the Father will give them another advocate – Jesus has been serving as their advocate.
Jesus then gives the disciples another promise: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14.18-20; NRSV). Here Jesus is portraying a mutual indwelling; Jesus dwells in both the Father and in them, and they in him. By extension, the same holds true for us.
Despite knowing the crucifixion lies ahead, Jesus continues to teach and comfort: “ They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14.21; NRSV). Judas (not Iscariot) then asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world” (John 14.22; NRSV)? Judas must have been thinking in terms of a physical revelation as opposed to a spiritual revelation. If Jesus were to physically reveal himself, wouldn’t the world also see him? And this is where today’s gospel reading picks up.
Jesus now addresses Judas’ question: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me” (John 14.23-24; NRSV). Jesus answer points to the spiritual nature of his revelation and the indwelling. Jesus Christ is alive in those who love him and keep his word, the word which comes not from him but from the Father.
Jesus then said, "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14.25-26; NRSV). Another translation for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is the Comforter. Jesus is promising that he is not leaving the disciples alone, that the Comforter will be with them to guide them into truth and to remind them of all Jesus has told them.
Jesus then promises them his peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives” (John 14.27a; NRSV). And how does the world give? The world typically gives as little as possible; the world would keep all it can for its own. Jesus gives with abundance out of agape love; Jesus pours himself out, empties himself, for those whom he loves.
John now reiterates Jesus’ words we encountered at the beginning of chapter 14 (“Do not let your hearts be troubled”) but Jesus adds, “and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe" (John 14.27b-29).
Jesus’ love for his disciples comes through so strongly in this farewell discourse; though facing the agony of the cross, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his deep love and concern for the disciples.
We know what happened. After the arrest, and during the trial, the disciples all deserted Jesus. But the desertion was temporary! They came back together, experienced the risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. If anything, I suspect their desertion helped to seal an even stronger commitment. We have all deserted Jesus at various times; we have all broken relationship with God; we have experienced the immensity of God’s love and forgiveness upon our repentance and return. We grow stronger in the broken places.
Is your heart troubled? I confess, there are days when my heart is troubled. I find myself longing for greater manifestation of the kingdom of God. I lament the current state of politics – the flagrant disregard for truth, the constitution and rule of law. Climate change adds to the list of woes – e.g., flooding, farmers unable to put their land in production, and routine outbreaks of severe weather. In the meantime, we are confronted with an attitude that says, ‘Let’s fiddle while Rome burns!”
Anxiety and depression are increasing. According to CBS News, “adolescents reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months rose from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 13.2 percent in 2017” and “the rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts, plans, attempts, and deaths by suicide . . . increased from 7.0 percent in 2009 to 10.3 percent in 2017” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/suicide-depression-anxiety-mental-health-issues-increase-teens-young-adults/). One in every ten young people are either contemplating or acting on suicide. Furthermore, “’Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U. S.,’ affecting around 40 million adults” (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322877.php).
In the midst of all these things, we need to remember the disciples uncertainty and concern as Jesus went up to Jerusalem; we need to remember Jesus’ words to his disciples – words he repeated to make sure they understood: “ Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe (trust) in God, believe (trust) also in me . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14.1, 27; NRSV).
Too much anxiety, too much worry, is not a good thing. Perhaps it may also be said that too little anxiety, too little worry, is not a good thing. This reminds me of the words of the Christian existentialist, Miguel de Unamuno, “May God deny you peace, but grant you glory” (The tragic Sense of Life). A healthy amount of unease spurs us to action; too much unease may be debilitating.
In closing, let’s again consider the words of the collect: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.