Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
This is a difficult text. In order for me to preach the Good News to you that your hearts are not to be troubled, I have to trouble them first. Troubled hearts abound, but they're troubled by the wrong things. Rather than being troubled by the fact that we must all stand before the judgment seat of God, we like Martha, of Mary and Martha, are troubled by the things that have to do with everyday life. We have a greater fear of the days of our lives than we do of judgment day. Where Luther spoke of being troubled in the face of the divine Judge, we're anxious about the dreadful possibilities of life. Yeah, yeah we know. Good Friday took care of eternity, but what about today?
Sinful hearts ought to be troubled by is sin, death and the devil. But we're not troubled by our broken relationship with God because of sin but our ongoing relationships with others. We're not troubled by the judgment that death brings but the dreadful diseases that might lead to death. We don't see the devil troubling us but unwanted thoughts, bad feelings, wrong emotional responses. If you're troubled by earthly things rather than eternal, your earthly troubles can be addressed without ever addressing your eternal ones. Jesus can be presented as your savior from social, physical, or emotional troubles without ever mentioning what He really came to save you from, and you'll embrace that Jesus because He seems to address your troubles.
This is the Jesus of the Church Growth movement. This is the Jesus of practical, relevant sermons. This is the Jesus that has been preached in America since the days of Dwight Moody in the middle 1800's. This is the Jesus you get in virtually every single book you pick up at the Christian bookstore. Not the Jesus of the scars, but the Jesus of reaching for the stars. Not a Jesus who defeats sin, death and the devil but a Jesus who addresses your felt needs, a heart troubled by social, physical and emotional things.
How does Jesus address such felt needs? Not by suffering and dying for you. Not by keeping the Law for you. Not by paying for your not keeping the law. Not by draining the cup of God's wrath against your sins. Not by actively keeping God's Commandments for you and passively suffering the punishment your sins deserve. No, the Jesus who deals with your felt social, physical, and emotional needs does so by teaching you "how to."
If what troubles your heart is that you have an out of control 2 year old, then a Jesus who teaches 12 ways to discipline your child is a godsend. If what troubles your heart is a lackluster marriage, then a Jesus who shows you how to have a great marriage is a godsend. If what troubles your heart is a poor family medical history, limited career prospects, or finding a spouse, then you don't really need Jesus at all. The Christ-less God of providence who works everything out is just fine. You'll be satisfied with a faith that confesses no more than what any Disney film does, "I believe everything will work out." This is where most Protestant Christianity is today and this is why sermons, worship, and Bible studies that address "life" issues rather than sin, death, and the devil issues are burning like a wildfire through the Church. And you are in danger of getting burned.
This is where the apostles in our text are. They're content to believe in God apart from Christ. Jesus says, "You believe in God; believe also in Me." They had great faith in God. God would work everything out. But they needed to believe in Jesus who was about to suffer and die. Our text takes place in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. Jesus has just told them that one of them would betray Him. They said, "Surely it wasn't one of them!" Jesus has just told them the Shepherd would be struck down and they would all abandoned Him. They said, "That would never happen." God was too great, too mighty, too good to allow that to happen. Peter would admit that everyone else could run, but not him. Then God in Christ, then the revealed God nukes Peter, "The rooster shall not crow till you have denied me 3 times."
After this scathing judgment on all the apostles and particularly on Peter the chief, what are the very next words out of Jesus' mouth? The ones our text begins with, "Let not your hearts be troubled." Who troubled their hearts? Jesus did. As they sat there all confident the cross wouldn't come, Jesus would not suffer and they wouldn't abandon Him, Jesus tells them that the strongest one among them would deny that very night not once but 3 times. Now that's troubling. And now let me trouble you.
You may think you have social problems, troubles in work, home, life, but your real trouble is not social dysfunction but sin. However your fallen heart would much rather believe your trouble is something you can do something about rather than something you can't. While you can address your social troubles by doing, you can't address your sinful ones that way. Try harder, do better, promise God that you'll do or be better, and you'll still fail. Your heart will still be fallen. The judgment of Jeremiah 17 on your heart will remain, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." Training a heart that is desperately wicked, giving a desperately wicked heart to Jesus, believing in your desperately wicked heart that God will work everything out, doesn't help one bit.
Let me trouble that wicked heart of yours. Your real problem isn't that you're facing a physically troubling thing in life such as disease, retirement, empty nest, or children. It's the fact that you and that desperately wicked heart are going to have to stand before the judgment seat of God. The God of providence solving physical troubles or God in Christ showing you how to cope with them does not deal with judgment day. Neither the God of providence nor the Jesus who teaches "how to" can help with that.
Let me trouble that desperately wicked heart of yours that thinks your greatest need is thinking good thoughts. What really hounds you in life is not a bad childhood, a bitter divorce, or this or that neuroses. What really hounds you is the devil. Relentlessly, he tempts, torments and troubles you with the goal of giving you hell. In fact, he'll gladly give you happiness, hope, and victory over all sorts of emotional troubles, just as long as you don't think your real trouble is sin, death and him. The devil leads legions of people to hell as they confidently believe in their desperately wicked hearts that some nameless, faceless God has worked everything out.
The Christ-less God of providence whom Scripture says all but fools trust in, is no help against the sin, death and the devil that really trouble your heart. A God in Christ who teaches you how to overcome social, physical, and emotional problems is no help either. You need the God in Christ revealed in this text who says that even though hearts are sinful they still don't have to be troubled. Why? Because the Father has a room for them. What? Sinners like me, wretched, damned sinners have a room in heaven? How can that be? Look at my heart. Should such a heart as this black with sin, misbelief, unbelief, doubt and trouble go to heaven?
But the God of providence doesn't tell you this, only God in flesh and blood. Trust not only in the God of providence, but also in Him. And what does Jesus say? He says, "My Father has many rooms in His house, and I am going there to prepare a place for you." Dear Friends, Jesus is there. The place has been prepared for you. Jesus gave up His place in heaven. He took on your flesh and blood in order to go to war with the sin, death and the devil that hounds you all your days. Guilty of no sin Himself, He could die your eternal death on the cross, thereby removing any claim the devil had on you. The devil can't say, "His or her's sin mark them as belonging to my place." There is no commandment Jesus didn't keep in your place, no sin of yours Jesus didn't die for which the devil could claim marks you as his. Jesus' holy life and His innocent suffering and death have made a place for you in heaven. Not all the sins in the world, not the most wretched death in the world, not all the demons of hell can prevent you from having that place.
Your hearts don't have to be troubled, but when they are, go to a church that deals with the true troubles of the heart. Go to a church where you sing, "Create in me a clean heart O God," so you regularly admit that you need God in Christ to cleanse your heart. When your heart is troubled, go to a church where before Communion the pastor commands you to, "Lift up your hearts!" Regardless of your troubles on earth that threaten to swallow you in despair the Jesus who comes in Communion says you can lift up your heart off the grime and dirt of this earth. When your heart is troubled, go to a church where after you are given pardon peace in the Sacrament you are reminded that the Holy Spirit now will evermore rule your heart.
Yes friends, when your heart is troubled, go to a church which prays the ancient Collects which recognize what your true trouble is, and so asks things like "that among the manifold changes of this age our hearts may ever be fixed where true joys are to be found." What true troubles are and the place where true joys are to be found hasn't changed since Genesis 3. You need a God, a Savior, a Church which focuses on both the true troubles and the true joys.
True joys are not to be found in the mysterious God of providence who one day sends relieving rain and the next troubling floods. True joys are not to be found in a Jesus who acts like Moses telling you how you must live or what you must do to not be troubled. True joys are to be found in the Jesus who took your place under the law, so that He might give you a place in heaven far beyond all troubles. True joys are to be found in the Jesus who says the only God you ever need to know is revealed in Him, His Words, Water, Body, and Blood. There's no trouble at all in these. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday after Easter (4-24-05); John 14: 1-12