Year A, Easter 5
“Do not let your hearts me troubled.” I have preached this text more than any other text in the Bible, but only once on a Sunday. Every other time it has been a funeral. It is appropriate for a funeral. Not only does it provide these comforting words by Jesus, but Jesus assures his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them—which most people interpret as the afterlife, heaven. When I read it this week, I had to laugh. Because the way I wanted to start this sermon was, “Be troubled, be very troubled.”
We are in the midst of the greatest crisis of my generation, and probably several generations. Just this week we learned that the unemployment rate is 14% and 78,000 people have died…in 3 months. I will not bog you down with numbers and statistics—my job is not to depress you more. It is to provide hope—to find the good news. That is what the Gospel is—the good news. Right now, I am having a hard time with that.
Have you ever noticed that typically, when people tell you not to worry, it’s because there is something you should definitely be worrying about? When Jesus told his disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” there was something very troubling that was going on. This gospel reading is part of the farewell discourse. In the Gospel of John, Jesus spends several chapters preparing his disciples for his death, more time than any other gospel does. It was a very long good bye. This farewell discourse occurs at the end of the Last Supper. It comes after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples— after Judas leaves to betray him — after Jesus confronted Peter and told him that he would deny him. It comes the day before Jesus was to die a horrific death. Jesus had much to be troubled by. This is not some platitude coming from someone who is safe and secure. This is coming from someone about to die a violent death.
He could have easily said, “Be troubled. Be very troubled.” But he didn’t. Granted, he is God, but he was also human. How was he able to provide such an assurance at a time like that? Jesus is not known for empty promises. God always kept his promises. The next words out of his mouth were, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Another translation, is trust. He is asking his disciples to trust him. He is asking them to trust that whatever may happen, he will not abandon them. Not only that, he is preparing a place for them.
Then Thomas (good old Thomas) asks the question that was probably on everyone’s mind. “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way.” Jesus responds with, “I am the way, and the truth and the life…” It is a beautiful statement, but I don’t think it clarified things for disciples. They still had more questions. Philip wanted Jesus to show them the father. Jesus seemed a little baffled by this question. After trying to explain himself he finally said, “Believe me…” Once again, it comes down to trust. Every time they pushed him for more details, he told them to trust.
Right now, we are all about plans. The federal government is planning. The state government is planning. The local government is planning. And even the churches are planning. Our bishop recently put together a task force together to create a plan with various scenarios. At our last staff meeting, we talked about different plans. We want to know the way out of this hellscape we are in. I get it, I like plans. I really like plans. I am not one of those “go with the flow” kind of people. I want to know where the flow is going, how fast it is going and whether there any alternate flows. But right now, I am having a really hard time with all these plans. Maybe it’s because there is so much conflicting information. Maybe I just don’t like the plans. I am not sure.
However, I find comfort in this reminder from Jesus when he is asked about his plans. He doesn’t explain the plan. He says, “I am the plan….” Actually he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That is better than a plan. That is what I am holding on to right now. That is the good news we need.
At the very beginning of this sermon, I said I was having a hard time finding the good news. That’s not quite true. I know the good news, but sometimes, I have hard time holding on to it. However, in this moment, I am confident, that (the way, the truth and the life) is what we should be clinging to. I am not telling you to ignore all the experts out there. I am definitely not saying that. What I am saying is that when you are in the depths of despair, plans and details are not the good news that will drag you out.
I talked to someone yesterday who told me he felt lost. I reminded him of Jesus’ words here, not because I was trying to save his soul, but to let him know his soul was already saved and the path was before him. It was only in reminding him that I realized how lost I felt and how comforting and life giving these words truly are. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” That statement wasn’t meant to be some litmus test for salvation. It’s an affirmation for each one of us, that we are not meant to have all the answers. We are not meant to know the exact plan and the path. Like the disciples who were with Jesus, our job is to follow the light, the light that is Jesus. We are in a dark time when nothing looks the way it should. Our land seems foreign and ever so lonely. Everything is changing so fast (yet somehow times goes so slowly). But our God remains a constant. The way. The truth. The life of Christ are our constant. God is the only plan, the only way that really matters.