Let not your hearts be troubled? Is that what Jesus said? How many times have I met with a family who is in shock over the unexpected death of a family leader? Troubled hearts? When there is war in Syria, random killings in our own country, or when natural disasters get bigger every year and take thousands of lives? How can our hearts not be troubled by disappearing savings, drug-fueled crimes, and more unwanted babies born to unwed irresponsible parents?
Not be troubled when TV sex and violence are major entertainment for so many of our young people and older people who should know better?
Is God a source of comfort in a stormy, battle-scarred world? But that is what Jesus said to the disciples, even as he was a wanted man, just before Passover.
In that famous upper room in Jerusalem, he told the disciples, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. Don’t be worried. You will join me in my Father’s house where I am going.”
Certainly, I have said to many a grieving family in their home or during the funeral, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
But the same text has other uses and messages, especially in times of personal and national trauma. Who among us does not look at the headlines of misery and ask, “Where is God that we should believe his mercy and love and feeling for us?” Does anyone have a troubling matter right now? Or should we ask, “Is there anyone who does not have a troubling matter tucked away in your heart?” Is Jesus serious? Did he know what he was saying? “Let not your hearts be troubled” is useful when we face life as well as death. What we are often looking for is a safe place.
“Safe place” has taken on a great new meaning. Women want to know whether employment dominated by men is a place where they are safe from sexual harassment.
Men who work with women want to know if they will be free from a false accusation. And children who are victimized by their own parents want to know if the school or church is a safe place for them. Is it safe to count on God? Can we trust him? Where is God when we need him? Can we believe Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled?” The Pharisees were the guardians of how people and God could get together. They perceived God as being far removed from daily living, and He expected his people to relate to him in a highly formalized way, they said.
After all, he had adopted this people at Mt. Sinai. He took tribes of wandering Semites and forged them into a nation all his own. The Jews then believed that they were the only people God really loved. Maybe he was tolerant of other tribes and religions, but the Jews felt they had a corner on God.
The early Christians weren’t sure about God’s love for the Egyptians or the Romans, or the Greeks who had become Christians. Whether God loved all people was a great question in the early church. A few years after Pentecost, Jerusalem suffered a famine. The Christians began to look after each other, so that those who had groceries shared with those who had less. They even set up a common storehouse and made a distribution daily. But then the Greek Christians complained that the widows in their group were being neglected while the Jewish widows received a generous share.
Whether the accusation was true is not the point. Rather, the Greek Christians felt they were being left out because the Jewish Christians in charge were not sure that God loved the Greeks. But they were all Christians. The duty of the first church council was to be certain that the distribution of food was fair. God expects our earthly actions to reflect the impartial nature of His love. We want to reflect to all people the love of God in the resurrected Christ Jesus who is equally generous to all.
The result of Christ’s intervention in human affairs is that all people, Greeks and Jews, blacks and whites, Hispanics and Anglos, Thai and Sudanese and all others are God’s people. And where we once had not received mercy, now we have received mercy. But until the conversation in the upper room, the disciples had missed seeing Jesus as the Son of God through whom they and we have all received that mercy. The whole work of Christ was to make people acceptable to God who is equally generous to all. Jesus said, “I am going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for you. I am the way, the truth, and the life through whom you know the Father and come to him.”
Phillip wanted more. He thought there was something inadequate in what Jesus was saying. He thought Jesus ought to show them the Father so they would finally be satisfied. Jesus patiently explained that there isn’t any more than what he has already said, that they should not be troubled.
We are in much the same situation today. We would ask God for a better sign of his presence, a bigger expression of his power, a more visible indication of his reality, and God becomes very quiet because he has no more to say or do than what he has been saying and doing for thousands of years.
God promised deliverance after the sin in the garden. He nurtured the Jewish nation to become the ancestral crib for his son.
Jesus came, healed, preached, loved, chastised, and left us the legacy of his body broken on the cross, given to us in the Lord’s Supper, calling himself the bread of eternal life. He rose from death to a glorified condition available to all.
The Spirit established the fellowship of Word and Sacraments, these holy actions in which God calls and nourishes his people today. Through the ordinary life of a congregation, God calls – (this is from First Peter)– God calls us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
We would judge God by human standards if we said, “God, show us more of yourself, and then we’d believe more deeply.” “God,” we would say, “Why don’t you prevent some of these awful tragedies?” Such an attitude would be lusting after the mystery of God and a lack of faith. All that would prove our own unwillingness to let God be God, nothing less than trying to put ourselves ahead of God. And gently but with thunder in the background, we come again to Mt. Sinai, “You must have no other gods before me.”
God’s love shines through that commandment as well as all the others. He is saying, like a father to his children, “Here is how life works. “Let me be in charge of all the mysteries of this world. Let me take care of all those unanswerable questions. Whether in life or death, I will keep you under the shadow of my wings. I will not dessert you. I am the Lord, your God.”
Martin Luther wrote in his own personal prayer book, “I put my trust in no person on earth, not in myself, my power, my skill, my possessions, my piety, nor in anything else I may have. I place my trust in no creature, whether in heaven or earth. I take the risk of placing my confidence only in the one, invisible, inscrutable and only God, who created heaven and earth and who alone is superior to all creation. (Still from Luther…) I would believe in God not a bit less if everyone were to forsake me and persecute me. I would believe in God no less if I were poor, unintelligent, uneducated, despised, or lacking in everything. I trust in him steadfastly, leaving all to his divine will in a free, honest, and genuine faith.
“If he is God, he can and wishes to do what is best with me. Since he is Father, he will do all this and do it gladly. I am assuredly his child, servant, and eternal heir. And it will be with me as I believe.” Can we reach that kind of faith? Our faith may simply remind us that we are baptized, and that God gives us himself in the worship life of a congregation. We are God’s people. He welcomes the opportunities to give us himself in Jesus Christ, the living bread come down from heaven. As we face anxiety, or worry, or hard decisions, or sickness, loneliness, depression, it is in those conditions that the living Jesus Christ says to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus is our eternal brother. We come to the Father through him and with him, as much as those who were at Mt. Sinai or in the upper Room, we have received his love. We could look backward, wondering why we were not lucky enough to have seen him in Galilee. We could also look forward because we are in the safe place of God’s care. Jesus Christ lives, and through him, we see the love of the Father. We are the Father’s holy and chosen people. Through the Risen Christ, day-by-difficult day and night by sleepless night, we receive the mercy of our Lord.
In the human situation we know too well, whatever our condition, the living, resurrected Jesus Christ says to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
May the Risen Christ be with us all.