Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14 Let not your Hearts be Troubled John 14:1-14

The text today is well, it is a farewell speech.  Pretty much John 13-17 is Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples.  I think it is a little strange that we should hear Jesus giving a farewell speech and offering assurance to his followers after the fact, I mean after the fact for us, but this is what is happening.

Karoline Lewis, a preaching professor at Luther seminary, gives us:
A brief Johannine theological summary: Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples in this discourse anticipate and assume the events that lie ahead: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. Each one of these realities is the result of the primary theological event in the Gospel of John, the incarnation. The disciples are going to be faced with the end of the incarnation, the end of Jesus’ presence on earth as God. Jesus needs them to know that there is more beyond the crucifixion which, for John, is the inevitable outcome of being human. That which becomes human must die.
At the same time, the resurrection and then the ascension are the next realities in store, for Jesus and for his believers. Note that even the resurrection is not the end all. The resurrection presumes that there is something even beyond itself, the ascension. The beginning of chapter 14, in fact, a good portion of the Farewell Discourse as a whole, describes not resurrected life but ascended life with God. Just as Jesus will ascend to the Father, so also will Jesus’ believers, where he goes to prepare an abiding place for them. It is from this particular theological perspective that we need to hear and interpret these introductory claims of the Farewell Discourse.[1]

John is writing for a particular set of Jewish believers who, have just been kicked out of their synagogue for believing in Jesus.  The temple has been destroyed.  There is confusion, fear and suspicion in the Jewish community and the ones on the margins are to be feared.  At the time of this writing that would be anyone in the Jesus movement.

So, if we look at the mindset of the people who John is writing for and the setting of the context of this story itself, we see similarities and may hear, the emotion, the promise and the love John is offering through Jesus words.

The disciples were incredibly confused.  According to the narrative of John’s Gospel starting with chapter 12, Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, only to immediately tell his disciples that the mountain top experience was a mirage and he was going to die a brutal death.  Then he takes the role of a slave and washes their feet, indicating that they are called to do the same.  Finally, he rebukes the favored disciple Peter in front of them by saying Peter will reject him three times.  The heads of the disciples must have been spinning.  In an effort to comfort them and bring them peace Jesus speaks to them in language of love.[2]

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”   Ahhhh that is comforting

“I am the way the truth and the life…no one comes to the father except through me.”  these are words of comfort

We Christians for so long used this text as exclusionary, to say who is in and who is out; “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”.  yet these are just a continuation of I am going to prepare a place for you… Listen to these words in this context. In ancient Jewish times a man would bargain with a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage and then during a twelve-month waiting period he would return to his father’s house and make ready a room for her, sometime this was literally building a room onto the house for the married couple.  Jesus followers would have known and recognized this language of marriage and love.  He was reassuring them that he was true to them and that his love would reach way beyond the troubled future.

Throughout John’s Gospel are a series of statements that Jesus makes called the “I am” statements. Actually, what is interesting is after the opening of John’s Gospel we get to John’s I am not statements.  Basically, John the baptizer explains that I am not the messiah, I am not Elijah and I am not worthy to untie the sandals. (John 1:20, 21, 27)

After john has clarified who the baptizer is not, Jesus starting in John 6 starts making the “I am” statements.  He makes 5 statements referring to himself as the bread of life or that came down from heaven.  “I Am the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35).  Jesus goes on to proclaim; “I Am the light of the world” (John8:12). “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58)  I am the gate as we discussed last week.

John is using these I am statements intentionally.  “It might help to note that the form of “I am” in the Greek of John is the exact form of the Greek translation of Exodus 3:14”[3] “God said to Moses; ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) “In effect, John is saying that the same God who was at work revealing himself to the Israelites in the exodus, is now again at work in human history revealing himself in Jesus who is the Christ.”[4]

These “I AM” statements now become something more than just a metaphorical saying or an affirmation of Jesus.  These statements “that the same God who has revealed himself throughout human history, and who has been known by those self-revelatory actions in history, is now revealing himself yet once again in Jesus as the Christ.”[5]

With all of this in mind “I Am the way, the Truth and the Light” (John 14:6) Not only are words of comfort but can also be a challenge to us. As Jesus the Christ, the I Am, is the way we must ask what is that way and how are we called to participate in the way.  How are we called to participate and honor Jesus’ way, the way of an active, participatory God who has been active in human history since the beginning of time and is still active today.

We do this by being good Christians and showing the world that Christianity is still relavent today. ““Christianity matters because it reveals the deep mysteries of God and the meaning of all life. It shows us what life is for and when it is at its best. And what is this ultimate revelation? The answer is surprisingly and profoundly simple: Christianity reveals the life of God and therefore also the meaning of life as a way of love.”[6]

Kara Pearce writes;
Everyone is in favor of love. Great. But it is a word thrown about so much it barely means anything anymore. I love that movie! I LOVE that restaurant. We mean we appreciate an attribute of something else – the movie stirred up emotion, the restaurant’s atmosphere or salmon filled us. Media and television and movies are soaked with love stories, too often about warm fuzzy feelings or misplaced sexual expression. But these simple words, spoken and backed up, change the world. I bet many of us remember the first time we expressed our love to the person we would one day marry, or the first time it was really said to us. The vulnerability that is required to tell someone you love them is both thrilling and terrifying.[7]

Saying I love you is challenging enough but then living into that love.  Walking with someone and loving them though they just said something so stupid you cannot believe it even came out of their mouth.  Staying with someone when only one can work and finances and thus relationships become strained. Staying with someone and slowly watching them fade away as this journey comes to an end. But the Way, the way we are called too is more than that.

This way of Love that we are challenged into goes beyond the personal relationship.  We are called to try to find a way for all of us not only to live well together on this planet but seek out the least of us and figure out what we can do to make this a better place.

Our life together can be better.  Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion- from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good.  Jesus issued the call and announced the kingdom of God-a new order of living in sharp contrast to all political and religious kingdoms in the world. That better way of life was meant not to just benefit his followers but everybody else too.[8]

All of Christ’s message was about breaking down barriers.  Seeking out those who had less or were marginalized and lifting them up. Inviting them to table or better yet he invited himself into the homes where no one of any reputation would be seen. Christ’s message and ministry was not some magic formula where one claims to be a Christian therefore they have a passport to heaven and a license to demean or alienate the other.

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, It’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.  Jesus told us a new relationship with god also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. But we don’t always hear that from the churches.  This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good, which has fallen into cultural and political –and even religious—neglect.[9]

I believe we went through a radical shift on the occasion of 9/11.  Suddenly, more than ever in my lifetime, it was okay to make all things about us or them! I was living alone in downtown palm springs at the time and I awoke to watching the crash over and over again then the 2nd plane hit and I just watched for hours till the towers collapsed.  I was numb and decided to go to the local gathering place to be around some from friends. Hoping to find comfort in our time of national grief. The first thing I heard someone say was we need to go bomb the heck out of them.  My heart sank.

Someone once said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth si a very quick way to a blind toothless world!”      

I think in many ways this world has not recovered from that.  That tonality that it is either us or them.  In today’s culture the language is much the same.  It is a war on the middleclass. It is they are stealing your jobs.  It is the top 1% vs the 99.  It is the big city vs the small farm.  Our language our cultural way of looking at stuff has become so dichotic that everything is measured against the other.

We have forgotten the greatest commandment of them all. Love one another.  Jesus’ way is Love.  I think we need to start addressing some of these issues from a place of love.  We have to find a way to leave the us vs them behind and reach out in the purest and simplest and honest place of love.  Then it is it is about serving and caring for something that requires no comparison.

I am not sure this is coming out right.  I do not reach out to serve the poor.  The poor is an objectified term where one human is measured against another.  I am called to love my neighbor to serve my neighbor and in that we are all neighbors and the language of lesser than or greater than diminishes. I serve because I am called to serve period.  I reach out to the stranger, the marginalized, the person in pain because we are neighbors and I am called to act in the language of love.  This is the way.

In the same way when I address some views that I know are harder for some than others I must approach it from a place of love.  I know this world is changing fast.  Faster than many can keep up with or may choose not even to try.  I am not going to change their heart by forcing my version of the truth down their throat.  We change hearts and lives by living into what we believe, by living into who we are called to be.  Not by preaching but by acting.  In this way, we can be as a river is to a stone, slowly rounding out the sharp corners.

The Truth.  Jesus is the Truth.  The truth is we cannot do it without Jesus’ example.  The truth is we cannot do this work if we do not maintain an honest and constant relationship with God.  Jesus taught us to pray.  Jesus told us to pray.  Prayer needs to be a daily exercise that feeds you and inspires you and strengthens your resolve to love your neighbor.

I have said this to others and now I am going to tell you, it is hard to love your neighbor.  What is even worse It is hard to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Quite frankly you do not want me to treat you like I treat myself because somedays I am really bad about my self-care, I bet you are too.

We allow ourselves to be over worked, we neglect our health or put off our own care till It’s too late. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed about bad news, bad habits and bad posture.  I would not encourage us to treat each other as we do ourselves and that is why it actually says as you would.

It is through a prayerful relationship with the other, the creator, with the one who cannot be named, with the great I Am, with God, with Jesus Christ.  That we can see how we should be treating and caring for ourselves. It is through prayer a good relationship with God that we can see how we should be treating and caring for our neighbor and even how we should be treating and caring for our most challenging enemy.

When we are frustrated with ourselves.  When we are frustrated, scared or even angered by the world we live in, by our neighbors or even when we are angry with ourselves we must turn back to today’s Gospel.  We must turn back to the most gentle and comforting words of Jesus.  “let not your Hearts be troubled.”

I find todays words even more comforting than “Peace be with you!” when I am hurting my silent prayer becomes Jesus words to us.  I listen to hear these words in my heart and encourage you to do the same.  The first words of today’s scripture I will leave with you as my final words in this sermon and my prayer to you and to the world. Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Amen.

[1] Karoline Lewis, Commentary on John 14:1-14, 05, accessed May 9, 2017,
[2] Scott Hoezee, ed., The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 73.
[3] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[4] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[5] Dennis Bratcher, "I am" in John's Gospel, 10, accessed May 10, 2017,
[6] Norman Wirzba, Way of Love: Recovering the Heart of Christianity (New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016).
[7] Karen Pearce, The way of Love as the way of Jesus, March 5, 2017, accessed May 10, 2017,
[8] Jim Wallis, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2013).
[9] Ibid.

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