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5th Sunday of Easter

Heart Matters, May 22, 2011


John 14:1-14

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

 

Anthony DeMello, author and retreat leader, wrote in one of his books:

“The master became a legend in his lifetime. It was said that God once sought his advice. “I want to play a game of hide-and-seek with humankind. I’ve asked my angels what the best place is to hide in. Some say the depths of the ocean. Others the top of the highest mountain. Others still the far side of the moon or a distant star. What do you suggest?”

Said the master, “Hide in the human heart. That’s the last place they will think of!”
 

Billy Graham is quoted as once saying, “We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed.”

In today's gospel text, Jesus gives his disciples - and us - this clear command: "Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 14:1, ESV).

Can we have an untroubled heart? Really?

Today’s reading, John 14:1-14, is part of a larger section of John's gospel often designated as The Book of Glory (chapters 13 -20). Within this larger section, however, John 14:1-14 is a significant piece of a smaller unit, known as the Farewell Discourse (chapters 13 - 17).

The Discourse in these chapters corresponds in form to the "last words" or "testament" genre found in several places in the OT in which a dying leader speaks words of comfort and instruction. Jacob's farewell speech in Genesis 49, Joshua's address in Joshua 22, 24 and Moses' words in Deuteronomy 33 are all examples of this type of literature.

…. Some characteristics of farewell discourses include the dying person gathering together family and/or followers, announcing an impending death and imparting blessings, prophecies or promises, final instructions and a prayer.

Jesus' farewell discourse includes all these elements and, therefore, it seems likely that the writer of John's gospel uses this form to relay Jesus' final hours.

(see Gail R. O'Day, "The gospel according to John" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, eds. Leander Keck, Thomas Long, et al. [Nashville: Abingdon, 1995], 737)

Can we really have an untroubled heart? Let’s be clear that Jesus isn't talking about cholesterol levels or bypass surgeries. No, he's talking about a different kind of heart trouble: the kind that can also be classified as worry, fear, anxiety or stress.

--The kind of heart trouble that can feel like a loss of hope, a lack of faith, a panic attack or pangs of uncertainty.

--The kind of heart trouble that keeps you up at night thinking about money, biting your nails when you're worried about your child or on the phone with a friend craving advice for a crumbling marriage.

Perhaps already today you've had heart palpitations of worry or fear about some financial issue or family problem? That's the kind of heart trouble Jesus is talking about. It's the kind we've all experienced. It's the kind of heart trouble, faith trouble and lack-of-peace-trouble that tends to run rampant in our lives.

It's clear that heart trouble - of the physical, emotional and spiritual kind - is a major threat to our well-being. Thanks to the Mayo Clinic, we know a bowl of oatmeal will help our arteries.

But what about our hearts of faith, our worries and anxieties? What about those gnawing fears? Let's be honest: Is it even possible, as follower of Jesus in an extremely confusing, violent, and uncertain world, to heed his command and have an untroubled heart? Really? Sure it is.

What are you feeding your heart?          According to God's Word - according to Jesus himself, in fact - having an untroubled heart of faith all comes down to what you're feeding that heart. Just as an omelet makes a difference physically, what you're feasting on or depriving yourself of makes all of the difference spiritually.

Ask any doctors, and they'll tell you there are two keys to physical well-being: a good diet and regular exercise. Neglect either of those, and you're headed for trouble. The same is true with your heart of faith. It must be well-fed and well-run in order to be strong and healthy.

Take another look at Jesus' words. He says, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (v. 1, ESV). What our hearts need to stay healthy is regular nourishment from Christ and an active life of following Christ.

Far too many followers of Christ have heart trouble stemming from the fact that their lives involve no regular consumption of Christ and no actual exercise of their faith in Christ.

 As a result, they're unable to withstand the anxieties of life that come up daily. Starving for a sense of direction that comes from Christ in his Word or craving some lasting peace that can come only from standing on his promises, we look for nourishment in all the wrong places.

We skip the spiritual meals in favor of earthly solutions. For example, you might religiously consume cable news, thinking the talking heads from your preferred political tribe will give you lasting wisdom in a crumbling world.

You may join the neighborhood gym and begin obsessing about your physical appearance and calorie count, wrongly believing that regaining control over your body will give you control over your startled soul.

Meanwhile, our unfed hearts of faith are going through prolonged periods of disengaged laziness. Our troubled hearts of faith that were once tested in tough conversations with unbelieving friends in college and put to use through prayer in times of stress now sit on the couch and consume nothing but junk. No wonder we feel ill-equipped for the worries of life!

If you suffer from actual heart disease, the Mayo Clinic prescribes an array of "easy" steps to help establish a healthier existence. Simply stop smoking, control your cholesterol, manage your diet, get moving for 30 minutes each day, manage your stress, practice good hygiene, maintain a healthy weight, take your vitamins and be sure to get a flu shot. That's all.

But when it comes to our hearts of faith, it's once again about just two things. Our troubled hearts need to be fed with Christ and exercised in a life of following him.

Remember Christ's own words immediately following the command that our hearts be trouble-free. Five times - five times in just two verses - Jesus uses the words or me. It's nothing less than a plea for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that he gives and the work he'll one day return to complete.

So what's a Christ-diet look like?  So how do we feed our hearts the power of Christ? It comes down to being connected to the promises of his Word, found in the Scriptures, and the power of his presence, found in his people.

Just as someone who's cultivating physical heart health by taking up running might subscribe to Runner's World for insight and join a local running club for accountability, God's Word and his people are essential for a strong heart of faith.

In verse 18 (ESV), Christ makes a promise, saying, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Quite often, when our hearts are troubled and we feel furthest from Christ, it's simply because we are far from the two places - his Word and his people - where he's promised to always be found.

What's more, we live in a world in which access to God's Word has never been easier. … Various translations and paraphrases; study bibles, recovery bibles, devotional bibles, etc.

At the Web site youversion.com, one can read the Bible in hundreds of languages and translations, take notes that can be shared with others and use an endless number of reading plans that make connecting with Christ easier and more accessible than ever before.

Feed your heart. Exercise your faith. Once your heart of faith is fed with Christ, the essential element is to make sure it's regularly stretched, exercised and put to the test in a lifestyle of relentlessly pursuing Christ. Immediately after telling his disciples to feast on him, Jesus boldly proclaimed that they would be living lives of faith in which they achieved more amazing things than he did!

“Truly, truly," said Jesus, "whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these he will do ..." (v. 12, ESV). The disciples needed hearts that were fed with Christ because they'd be thrown into lives of doing incredible, frightening, heart-straining works in the name of Christ.

Could it be that one reason your faith feels so weak is because it never gets off the couch? Could it be that the very reason you feel so ill-equipped to face life's obstacles is because you've only attempted to avoid them? Could it be that the very means of strengthening your heart of faith is jumping at opportunities that will test it?

* What if, rather than avoiding that difficult conversation with your sister-in-law, you prayed for courage, sought God's people for counsel and then approached her in an attempt to reconcile?

* What if, rather than worry about your finances, you trusted Christ to be King over your treasure, set an actual budget and attempted to tithe?

* What if, rather than feeding your heart with excuses to stay where you are in life, you took bold steps to train, engage and grow your heart? What if?
What can we possible do when our bodies no longer cooperate with our will to be active in our work for the church? We can pray. We can make a phone call; write a letter, or send a note. Too often we think that prayer is NOT doing anything, while, in fact, prayer is allowing God to do the work that we cannot do ourselves.

--Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.
--I am going to prepare a place for you in my Father's house.
--I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.
--I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

The Lord be with you, Amen.


 

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