Lenten Meditation: March 20
Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” The fourteenth chapter of John, from which these reassuring words come, is part of a longer discourse—prayer really—of Jesus which lasts through chapter 17. What is to come is extremely troubling. Judas will betray, Peter will deny, and Pilate will wash his hands of the whole affair. Throughout history there has been plenty to trouble the hearts of Jesus’ followers. The disciples feared the religious authorities that denied Jesus’ identity and his claims about eternal life. The disciples of John’s day feared the same authorities as well as the ongoing Roman presence. Today we fear the dark places of human hearts as well as the private fears we carry within our own: fears about the future, about relationships, about health.
I will always remember a man in the first church I served who offered me reasons to fear the future when our daughter was born. I was so eager to announce to the congregation that Jamie had been born. I was so excited that I misstated her length…and some people thought that perhaps we had given birth to a lizard. But the part I will surely never forget was the kindly grandfather who met me at the door following the service. He looked me in the eye and said, “you worry about your children and then they grow up and have children and your worry about your grandchildren. Its all worry.” And it certainly can be if we want to look at it that way. But I believe Jesus was saying something more than turn your back on your worries and think only for your Father’s house. I think Jesus was telling the disciples and therefore all of us that because their heavenly Father was already prepared to receive them and because Jesus had already prepared the way, we are free from fear and worry and are equipped to meet the world and its challenges with hope and confidence.
There is a really remarkable moment in this discourse when Jesus acknowledges doubt—the kind of doubt he would later encounter in Thomas after the resurrection. If you don’t believe my words, Jesus says, at least believe my works. Today he might say talk is cheap. But see what I have done. Jesus says to his disciples “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” We will do as Jesus did. Greater things. And what did Jesus do? In John’s story of Jesus he turns water into wine—exchanging scarcity for abundance. Jesus promises springs of living water flowing up to eternal life to the Samaritan woman. Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus fed a multitude with trace amounts. Jesus did many signs and wonders the likes of which even the gospel does not exhaust. And these are the works that Jesus tells his disciples they will do. Greater things indeed. So clearly the disciples are not being encouraged to be absent from the world. So what is Jesus promising? What does Jesus mean when he says "Do not let your hearts be troubled."
Believe in God. Believe in Me. Believe in the mighty works of God. This element is the key to understanding the assurance that Jesus is giving to us. Jesus is not simply encouraging us to believe in him as the answer to eternal life, an idea that leads us to turn our backs on the world to embrace the promise of heaven beyond. Jesus is telling his disciples that they should have confidence in the face of adversity. There are many things in our lives and in our world that lead our hearts to trouble. We feel the pain of the suffering of the world. We feel the pain of the discouragements and disappointments of those close to us. Jesus, with his words of assurance, wants us to take all of fears and our troubled hearts and believe in God. Beleiving in God means to acknowledge that Jesus is the word of God, the incarnation of God, the way God has provided for us to gain access to him. But even if that is not enough, Jesus says believe in the works of God. Believe in the power and presence of God active in the world. When we do this we are encouraged to turn and embrace the world and not to leave it. We are encouraged to turn to our own fears and insecurities and dismiss them in the name of the powerful God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Do not be afraid of the future. Do not be afraid for two reasons: because the work of salvation has been accomplished for you in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. But also because Jesus has graced his followers with the same power and Spirit to do not only his works but greater works. So embrace the future. Embrace the difficulties of your life and the world and know that they can be transformed by the power of God in Christ. This is what Jesus means when he says not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. Believe that there is a place for your in God’s eternal home. Believe that there is a place for you here…working the works of God and fearlessly and confidently growing into both your own gracious life but also the gracious kingdom of God. Amen.