Back in the day when I wrote a full manuscript for my Sunday sermon, I preached on John 14:1-14 (this Sunday’s Gospel reading) on a visit to Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is not the same sermon I will preach this coming Sunday. But, I am glad to see it is not entirely embarrassing from my current perspective.

Here is the text of that sermon:

JOHN 14:1-14

It is a curious command Jesus gives in John 14:1 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It does not appear to be the most pastorally sensitive statement ever made.  When someone comes to you feeling distressed I suggest you don’t simply respond by saying, “Oh don’t let that trouble you.”  What was Jesus thinking?

Notice the context in which Jesus gives this command to “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  It follows immediately after chapter 13 which is filled with horrible troubling news.  In chapter 13 Jesus predicts his betrayal by Judas.  He tells his disciples about his own immanent departure and he foretells Peter’s denial.  In chapter 13 Jesus speaks of the reality of violence, evil, loss, human failure, and suffering and pain.  Then chapter 14 opens with Jesus saying, oh and by the way “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

The puzzle of Jesus’ command to “Do not let your hearts be troubled” becomes even more curious when you consider that in John 13:21, after having washed his disciples feet and having spoken of his betrayal by Judas, John the Gospel writer reports Jesus “was troubled in spirit.”  It is what Jesus commands his disciples not to do in 14:1.  The same  Greek word tarasso is used in both places It means agitate, cause inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, disquiet, make restless, stir up, render anxious or distressed.  You probably have some experience of tarasso in your life.

There are not too many of us who have not encountered circumstances at one time or another that have caused us to feel agitated, disquieted, restless, stirred up, anxious, and distressed.  So it is comforting to know that Jesus shared that experience.  But, how is it helpful for him then to turn around and suggest that we should not have these experiences?

There are many things in our world that might legitimately be expected to cause us to experience tarasso.  The world is a troubling place.  I recently viewed the video tape of Stephen Lewis’ speech to the Anglican General Synod on the AIDS/HIV pandemic.  He paints a horrifying picture of a world gone completely mad and asks again and again, “how can this moral outrage be permitted to continue?”  Almost anywhere we look we can see trouble.  So what does Jesus mean by glibly instructing his followers to “Do not let your hearts be troubled”?

I think that what we need to understand is that in the complexity of the human condition, it is possible to be both troubled and not troubled at the same time.

I have been visiting for some time with a woman who is terribly sick with cancer.  She is at home but is desperately ill and terribly weak. She has one young adult daughter. Mom and daughter have been really close over the years.  The daughter was there with her mother recently when I went for a visit.  During our conversation the daughter said to me, “You know my mom and I have had the best relationship.  We have been such good friends.  And this is absolutely the most horrific, terrible, and difficult thing I can ever imagine happening.”  Then she paused, looked over at her mother lying on the sofa and with tears running down her cheeks this loving daughter said, “But I know it is ok.”

That is the place Jesus is urging his disciples to find within themselves.  He is urging them to find that place where, even though the most horrific thing is happening, there is a part of you that still knows it is ok.

Yesterday we were discussing the medieval English spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing.  I pointed out that that book, written towards the end of the fourteenth century, emerged during a time of enormous turmoil in England.  It was written at the same time as the bubonic plague, or the black death was ravaging the whole of Europe bringing untold death and destruction wherever it went.  There is another book that comes from this same period.  This book was written by a woman we know as Dame Julian of Norwich.  It is called Revelations of Divine Love.  There is a refrain that runs through this book that says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Julian was not in denial of the pain and suffering she saw all around her.  But she knew that there was another dimension to life, another realm.  And she believed that, in this other dimension of her innermost being, it was all ok.  This is the awareness Jesus is urging upon his disciples.  He is trying to remind them of what they already know in their deepest hearts.

Having instructed his followers that they should “not let your hearts be troubled,” he goes on to say, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”  In most translations this second half of verse one is translated using the imperative mood as if Jesus was giving two further commands. But it is possible to translate the two uses of the Greek verb believe in the indicative mood.  Jesus may be saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You do believe in God, you also believe in me.”  I like this idea.  It is as if Jesus is simply calling his followers to open to a deeper reality within themselves, to see that in their heart of hearts there is a part of themselves that does trust, that does have faith, that does rely absolutely upon God.

This is what we need.  We need to be reminded of our deeper selves.  We need to be reminded that there is something in us that is touched by God.  There is a part of our lives where we know that God dwells.  And that part is steady, reliable and faithful no matter what may be happening on the surface of life.

There is a show on television to which I and my family have become addicted.  It is called “Joan of Arcadia.”  Each week it recounts stories of Joan’s life as a highschool student.  It is quite an ordinary life.  The only really unusual thing about Joan’s life is that she keeps running into God.  God appears in a variety of human forms in Joan’s life and whenever they meet they share wonderful conversations.

On a recent episode Joan is deeply hurt by her boyfriend Adam’s betrayal.  At the end of the show with nothing resolved Joan leaves Adam and gets on a bus.  She sits down next to God and says,

Joan – You knew and you didn’t tell me. That’s your idea of justice?
God – I don’t interfere. You know that.
Joan – Yeah, well maybe free will wasn’t such a great idea. I believed in him.
God – I know. That’s what makes it hurt so much.
Joan – What did I do to deserve this?
God – Nothing. This isn’t punishment, Joan. It’s simply part of being alive, of being involved, of loving.
Joan – Yeah. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m never doing that again.
God – I know how painful this is. But what you and Adam had was beautiful, too. And that was every bit as real as the pain that you’re feeling now. You experienced how deeply two people can be connected.
Joan – So what do I learn when someone I trust destroys all that, huh? Maybe it was never real. Maybe you’re not even real, you know? This whole morality thing, right and wrong, it’s all just junk. We’re all just animals, taking what we want.
God – Do you know what innocence is, Joan?
Joan – You know, I don’t want a mock trial right now.
God – Well, it’s more than an absence of guilt. It’s having faith that there’s goodness in the face of cruelty and pain. Someplace, you still feel that way. And that’s me. And I’ll always be there.

God is reminding Joan to open to what she already knows.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus is reminding us to connect with that which is deepest and most true about ourselves, to listen to the voice of truth that tells us that, even in the midst of trouble, we do believe, we do trust, there is light, hope and truth.  So, even when trouble comes, and when at one level we are deeply troubled, there is something deeper that is true within our being.  It is in that deepest part of ourselves that we are able to fulfill Jesus command that we should “not let our hearts be troubled.”