Sermon on John 14:1-14: For troubled hearts

Do not let you hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

I wonder how many times I’ve read and spoken those words. I’m sure you’ve read and heard them countless times. They are familiar and favorite words in difficult times. They’re the right words for times like today.

I love the encouragement, hope, and promise that stand behind those words, and I never tire of hearing them. But today I find those words a tad more difficult, given the past weeks conversation with people I have met on my daily walk about, and the fear that is brewing or resurfacing.

Hearts are troubled about in-person worship, about not continuing in-person worship. Troubled by those who are out and about acting as if the virus is gone. And hearts are troubled by another day in the house and a life lived in increments of distancing. Troubled by all the things we can’t do. And trouble by all the things we’re starting to do. Troubled by millions of job losses and more than 50,ooo deaths in the UK alone. Hearts are troubled by the pain and hurt of the world because the virus continues, because things aren’t like they used to be, and we are probably never going back to the way things used to be. Hearts are troubled because many don’t know the way.

Whether it’s the coronavirus or a thousand other heart troubling things, I suspect every one of us is living with some form of troubled heart. It seems to be what happens when we don’t know the way, or what is going on.

What troubles your heart today? What does it feel like? We all experience it in our own ways but does any of this sounds familiar: isolated, paralyzed, overwhelmed, anxious, powerless, off balance, out of control, disconnected, afraid, thoughts spinning in your head, no stability, despair, grief, tears, frustration, anger. Do you recognize yourself in any of those?

Spoken or unspoken, I think there’s a question every troubled heart is asking. Will the centre hold or is
everything collapsing around us? These are some of the questions I hear from folks.

That’s my question and maybe it’s your question too. I think it’s one many are asking. And today Jesus answers,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

As much as I like those words, wouldn’t it have been great if Jesus was a little more specific but we all know, Jesus was never much for Q &A sessions.

What’s going to happen? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

How will we get through this? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

When will it be over? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

What will life, the world, the church be like? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Is everything going to be ok? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus is telling us to not lose our centre in the midst of what’s going on. That’s what happens when hearts are troubled and we don’t know the way. We lose our centre. We start living outside of ourselves, and when we do life is defined by and focused on external things. Jesus is calling us back to our centre, telling us to re-centre and rebalance. He’s inviting us to live from the inside out, instead of from the outside in.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be troubled. There were times he lost his centre. He too has felt the weight of a collapsing world. He was deeply moved and troubled when he saw Mary weeping at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33). And then Jesus wept (John 11:35).

“Now my soul is troubled,” he said as he faced his own death (John 12:27).

And John says that Jesus was “troubled in spirit” when he told the disciples that he would be betrayed (John 13:21).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Is that not the cry of every troubled heart?

I wonder if Jesus’ heart was troubled even as he was telling the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s the night of the last supper, feet have been washed, and Judas is about to get up and leave the table. I wonder if Jesus was talking to himself as much as to the disciples. I wonder if he was reminding himself as much as them that the Father’s house is a sanctuary and
home for troubled hearts, and that there are as many dwelling places in the Father’s house as there are troubled hearts.

What if today’s gospel (John 14:1-14) is a story about finding and recovering our true centre? What if re-centring is the front door of the Father’s house – for Jesus, the disciples, and us? And what if we sometimes have to lose our centre so we can find a new one, a truer one?

Every re-centring, every change, every re ordering offers us the opportunity to take a closer look at where we are with the one who is the centre of our being.

Jesus says “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

If our heart is troubled then it’s probably time to reconnect with God. we begin by looking within and seeing the ways in which we are living, is Christ our centre, or are we centred upon the troubles of the world.

Of course this change won’t eliminate the virus and it won’t necessarily take away our worries or fix our problems, whatever they might be. But it gives us a place of stability on which to stand. It tethers our heart to faith, hope, and love. It means loving our neighbour as ourselves; valuing the needs, hopes, and concerns of others as much as our own; being gentle with ourselves and others; forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven, whether it’s ourselves or another. It helps us to
know what to hold on to and what to let go  of. It connects us to the abundant life and to each other. It opens our eyes, ears, and hearts to the way, the truth, and the life, and reminds us that we are not the centre but that the centre lies within each one of us.

Hearts are troubled and the world seems to be spinning crazily and out of control, but there is a still point at the centre – that is not spinning crazily, a still point of peace, of stability. “God,” writes Julian of Norwich, “is the still point at the centre.”

In what ways are you living off centre and what in you today needs re-centring? What does re-centring look like for you today? What is just one thing you can change or do today that will help bring you back to your centre?

Clarissa Shaw-Notice
All Saints Day. 1st November 2020