Do not let your hearts be troubled. John 14:1
Of course, our hearts are troubled. We are in the middle of a global pandemic that’s lasting far longer than our attention spans, our ability to cope and our capacity for patience. I feel this acutely every time I step into the pulpit to preach to a camera and our small production crew of Bill, Dale, Tom and Jen. I miss worshiping face to face with you, the beloved people of St. John’s and many of you have shared that you miss doing so too. It’s one of our many sorrows. Our hearts are troubled and appropriately so.
Just as were the hearts of Jesus’ disciples at their last supper together. What began with Jesus donning the role of a servant, lovingly washing their feet ended with his beloved disciple, Judas, receiving a piece of bread from his hand and then fleeing the room to betray him. On top of that, bold, brave Peter is told that before the rooster crows at the break of dawn, he will deny his beloved Jesus, not once, but three times. No wonder their hearts were troubled. And appropriately so.
Have you noticed that when your heart is troubled it doesn’t help when a well-meaning friend tell you “this is part of life,” or “it will be better in the morning.”? The troubled heart knows the well-meaning friend is probably a fair-weather one. Not that they don’t care, they do. Though perhaps it would be best not to trust them with your deep sorrows and grief. Something, someone more is needed.
When I was in seminary, I took the required course in Pastoral Care from a professor who was working through his late-life crisis in our classroom. At 23, I was too young to learn from his wisdom and angst. About into five years into being a pastor, I decided I needed more training and enrolled in a course taught by Professor Donald Capps at Princeton Seminary. He introduced me to the concept of reframing. To reframe something is to shift how we look at things, to see from a different perspective. When we do so, everything can change. Today, that’s what Jesus is doing – he’s reframing, shifting the disciples’ perspective. And he does this by getting them out of the room of betrayal even as they remain gathered around the table.
After telling them not to be troubled, he says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Another way of translating the Greek here is “trust” – trust God, trust me. Jesus isn’t concerned about doctrine, what the disciples think. He’s focused upon their troubled hearts and invites them to trust God, to trust him. When he does this, he shifts them from the room of betrayal and places them in his Father’s house, a place of love where there is room for them and for us.
I’ve seen this shift happen right in my office during planning funerals with families. Hymns are chosen, prayers decided upon and scripture readings picked. Our Gospel for today is often selected. It’s comforting because it reframes their beloved one’s death –moving them from one place to another, from death into a new place in God’s kingdom that has been prepared for their beloved one. Sometimes they imagine what the room is like, the color of the walls, the type of furniture, who is already there to greet the one who died. Others are more skeptical, much like Thomas saying, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going?” “We don’t know what to hope or believe or trust.” In the Pastor’s office this tends not to be confessed out loud, but I’ve sat as a grief-stricken daughter in the pastor’s office and so I know that it’s true. We don’t know. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Dare we trust this? Dare we not?
While Thomas asks the question, Philip wants proof. He wants a consult with the Father, the big guy who’s in charge. I don’t blame Philip for this. I think deep down we all want proof, but proof is not faith. If so, it becomes certainty and that inevitably leads to death – of ourselves and others. With certainty, it is all too easy to consign people to hell – to decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s expendable and who’s not. Certainty is the theology of Nazi Germany, the Taliban and the Klu Klux Klan. So again, Jesus reframes the situation and in doing so offers Philip a way to shape a living faith – one not based upon proof, but trust. Jesus says, “See me, see God…See God, see me.” And then he goes beyond our expectations to say, “if you do not see God and if you cannot see Me, see the work done by those who believe in me.” And not just see it, do it. God’s work. Your hands. My hands. Our hands. How would your life be reframed, reshaped and renewed, if every evening you asked the question, “Where did I see God today?”?
But what if, like Philip, you aren’t sure you saw God and you don’t know the way, the truth and the life? Be honest about that. There’s no reason to pretend. Sometimes all we can see is death and not the promise of the resurrection rising out of it. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished,” brings down the curtain on Good Friday. Yet this too is a reframing – for what’s finished is the power of death. It no longer has the last word. Death’s now broken. From his prison cell in a concentration camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “the miracle of the resurrection and new life shines right into the world of death…Within the risen Christ the new humanity is borne, the final sovereign Yes of God.” He goes on, “The human being, accepted, judged, and awakened to new life by God – this is Jesus Christ, this is the whole of humanity in Christ, this is us.”[i]
Us, with our troubled hearts. Us, trusting God. Us, believing in Jesus, the one who goes to hell and back for you and me and the whole broken and beautiful world. Us, bearing witness to God, by the work we do, the people we love, the hope we bear. In Jesus, God reframes us – moving us from fear to faith, from anxiety to trust, from death to life. Amen.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, “Ethics,” Volume 6, Augsburg Fortress, 2005, 92.