At the end of last Sunday’s service I
mentioned that I will be taking an eight-week sabbatical this
summer. Most of the
people who have talked to me about it since then have been very
gracious, wishing me the kind of deep rest and refreshment that can
only come from an extended period of time away, but a few have
wondered whether now is really the best time for a sabbatical, when
there’s so much going on in the church.
After all, we’re renovating the sanctuary this summer, which
will require moving to the gym for worship.
We’ll all have to give up our regular places on the pew; the
deacons and ushers will have to re-think the way they hand out
bulletins and take up offerings; and who knows what will happen the
first time we try to serve communion!
Some have wondered: “With all those winds of change blowing
around, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a steady hand on the tiller?
Do you really think now is the best time for a sabbatical?”
It reminds me of that moment in John 13, when Jesus tells his
disciples that he won’t be with them much longer.
“I’m going away,” he says, “and where I’m going you can’t
come, at least not now.
So I want you to do this for me: I want you to love one another.”
It’s a good word, and some of them are able to hear it, but
others can’t get over the shock of Jesus’ leaving.
You can almost hear their questions, can’t you?
“You’re going away?
Now? When there’s
so much going on?” And
you can almost see their faces as they wonder: “What about us?
What will become of us?” Jesus
could hear their
questions, he could see
their faces, and that’s why his next words are these: “Don’t let
your hearts be troubled.”
I think I could preach an entire sermon on those words, because
so much of my work involves people with troubled hearts.
One person is afraid he’s going to lose his job, and his
heart is troubled.
Another person has just lost her spouse, and her heart is troubled.
Another person has found out he has cancer, and his heart is
troubled. Another person
has realized she doesn’t have much of anything, and her heart is
troubled. And those are
only the ones who are brave enough to tell me about it!
How many more are out there, nursing their troubled hearts in
silence? So, I love the
way Jesus says to his disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be
troubled.” As if that
were possible! He uses
the imperative mood, as if it were a command, but he uses the
passive voice, which complicates things.
How do you keep your heart from being troubled?
When the plane begins to bounce around at 32,000 feet until
you think the wings are going to come off how do you convince
yourself that it’s only a little turbulence?
You can talk all you want, but your heart will keep on
pounding. It’s a little
bit like saying, “Don’t let your heart fall in love!”
You may find that you don’t have much control over these
So, what do you do with your troubled heart?
You do the very next thing Jesus commands: “Believe in God.”
This verb is also in the imperative mood, but it’s in the
active voice, as if to remind us that while there are some things we
can’t control, there are other things we can.
Even in times of trouble, we can put our faith and trust in
God. I remember standing
at the corner of 14th and K Streets in Washington one
day, getting ready to cross that very busy intersection, when I saw
a little boy holding on to his father’s hand.
As the light changed and we all began to cross the street
together this little fellow pointed toward the sky and said, “Look!
A squirrel!” And
I did look, and sure enough, there was a squirrel, hopping along a
power line. It struck me
only later that he was the only one who could have seen that
squirrel, the only one in that crowd who wasn’t watching the lights,
and looking right and left, and trying hard not to get hit by a car.
He was holding on to his father’s hand, and because he was he
was free from all other concerns.
He could look up and see a squirrel.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says; “believe in God.
Hold onto his hand the way that little boy held on to his
father’s hand while crossing a busy street.
And if you can’t do that, then hold onto my hand, because I’m
holding on to the Father’s hand.”
If I close my eyes I can almost see it: that same boy
crossing the street at 14th and K, but this time he’s not
alone. His father is
holding onto his hand, but he’s holding onto his little sister’s
hand, and the three of them are crossing together.
And maybe this time it’s the little sister who says, “Look!
Because she is the one who is completely free of concern.
She’s holding onto her brother’s hand, and he’s holding onto
the father’s. Hold that
image in your mind for a moment, and put yourself in the place of
that little girl, because it’s there, when you are connected to
Jesus, who is connected to the Father, that you find the cure for
the troubled heart.
Everything else Jesus says in this passage seems to depend on that
- The Father is reached
through him. In
the next part of this passage Jesus begins to talk about his
Father’s house and how to get there.
Because we’ve heard this passage read at funerals so many
times, we assume he’s talking about heaven, and because we’ve
heard it from the King James Version we assume we’re all going
to live in mansions up there.
But in Greek the word is
monai, and it simply
means “dwelling places.”
There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house,”
Jesus says (or, as I like to translate it, “In my Father’s house
there is plenty of room”).
He’s talking to his disciples, and I love what he says
next: “If it weren’t so would I have told you that I go to
prepare a place for you?”
Well, no, they mumble.
You probably wouldn’t have.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, won’t I come
again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be
You probably will.
“And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
But Thomas, whose heart is still troubled, says, “Lord,
we don’t even know where you’re going.
How can we know the way?”
And that’s when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and
the life. No one
comes to the Father except through me.”
Often we interpret this verse exclusively, as if Jesus
were saying, “I am the only way to heaven.”
But notice that he doesn’t say “heaven”; he says
“Father.” “No one
comes to the Father but by me,” and even though he’s been
talking about the Father’s house and how to get there you can
see that it’s not so much the place as the person that makes it
heaven. I know we
don’t usually interpret this verse this way, but I think Jesus
may be saying (as that boy might say to his little sister),
“Now, don’t worry.
I’m holding the Father’s hand, and you’re holding my hand, and
if we can just stay connected we will get where we’re going.”
- The Father is known
Jesus says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Can you see how Jesus is still working to reassure his
Philip, whose heart is still troubled, says, “Lord, show us the
Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus says, “Philip!
Have I been with you all this time and you still don’t
know me? How can you
say, ‘Show us the Father?’
If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.
I’m in him and he’s in me.
The two of us are one!”
Again, I get the feeling that if we can just stay
connected to Jesus, we will get to know the Father.
That knowledge will pass from him to us through Jesus in
a way that is both life-giving and life-changing.
As Jesus himself says, “This is eternal life: to know the
only true God” (John 17:3).
- The Father works
“These words that I’m speaking to you come from the Father,”
Jesus says, “and these works that I’m doing come from the
Father. Believe that
I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you can’t
believe that then believe because of the works themselves.
I’m telling you the truth, those who believe in me will
do the works that I do, in fact, they will do greater things
than these.” And
again, there’s that reassurance.
Jesus seems to be telling his disciples in every way he
can that if they will just hold onto his hand, if they will just
stay connected to him, then they will also be connected to the
Father. They will
end up in the same place where he is—his “house” if you will;
and they will get to know him, intimately, even as Jesus knows
him intimately; and they will find his power working through
them even as it has worked through Jesus.
At the end of this passage Jesus says, in essence, “Listen, I’m
going to the Father, but that doesn’t mean you are going to lose
your connection to me or to him.
In fact we will be more “connected” than ever before.
I will be with him, so that all you have to do is ask me for what you need,
and I’ll ask him. You
will have access to the Father, who is the source of all power, and
the answer to every prayer.
So, how do you keep your heart from being troubled?
You put your faith and trust in Jesus, who puts his faith and
trust in God. You hold
onto his hand and he holds onto the Father’s hand and the three of
you cross the street together.
And you, for the first time in forever, don’t have to watch
for the lights to change, or look to the left and right, or worry
about getting hit by a car.
You just hold onto Jesus’ hand, which leaves you with perfect
freedom to look around, and take in the sights,
And maybe even see a squirrel hopping along a power line.