The emerging church, parachurches, and contemporary churches like to use shock just as the Jesus Freaks of the 70s use to. Recently it has been sermon series on sex. Currently it's a pastor named Bell denying there is a hell. Always it's been radical commitment, sacrifice, or service in Jesus' name. The shock usually involves denying a genuinely accepted teaching of the church, asserting a statement of the Law, or pushing the envelope of decency. I've never heard anyone use our text even though Jesus says 3 of the most shocking things ever recorded. You want shock theology? Let's go.
Jesus says, "Your heart doesn't have to be troubled." He says this carte blanche. He says without qualification, exception, disclaimer or small mice type, "Your heart doesn't have to be troubled." I don't care what's on your plate, what's on the table, what's going on in your life. Your heart doesn't have to be troubled. I don't care if your sins are scarlet, the Devil has you on speed dial, and Death is standing on your chest. Your heart can stop being troubled right now.
I can say this to you whatever your situation because of the situation Jesus said it to His disciples in. They're in the upper room. It's the night Judas will betray Jesus. It's right before Gethsemane and its agony. It's right before the powers of darkness are given their hour and Jesus is given over to the hands of sinners. Jesus has just told them one of them would betray Him, and that He would only be with them a little while longer and they couldn't come with Him. Peter declares, "I will lay down my life for You." Jesus answers, "Truly, truly I say to you, a rooster shall not crow, until you deny Me three times." Then right after these words. No change in setting; no change in speaker; no pause at all Jesus says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled."
This is either a joke or one big theological shock. Imagine me telling you that I'll be going away; you can't come, and by the way you will deny knowing me 3 times. I'm not God in flesh and blood. I'm just a pastor, but it would shock you if I said these things in a sermon. It would shock you even more if I followed, "You will deny me three times" with, "You don't need to be troubled by that."
Grace, glory, gospel, and more must be afoot in our text. How else can Jesus declare that sins aren't to trouble the sinner and neither is His being handed over to Death and the Devil? And what could possibly be going on in your life now that could or should continue to trouble you if sin, Death, and the Devil weren't to trouble the disciples?
If you aren't shocked, you're just not listening. Maybe you'll hear this. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Get that? Jesus doesn't say. I am a way, a truth, a life. Or I am one way, one truth, one life. No He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There is no way, truth, or life apart from Him.
This shock theology is both law and gospel. It's law because there's only one telephone line to God Almighty and His name is Jesus. Those praying in some other name or in their own name are trying to talk on a disconnected line. There's only one highway to heaven. Those on the path of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, or Hinduism are heading up a highway that ends like an incomplete flyover. They feel, maybe even look like they are going up, up, and away but really it will end for them in a ring of fire.
But this shock theology is Gospel for those of you who know Jesus. Not only don't you have to sort through many ways to heaven, you are to know Jesus won't fail in getting you there. Got sins? Sure you do. Got guilt? Even more so. Got fears, worries, doubts, and the willies about death and dying? You bet. We'll you've got Jesus.
Jesus went away from the disciples as a Lamb bearing the sins of the world. He in fact went away with a troubled heart. Three times in John it says Jesus was troubled - the last one just moments ago. Jesus goes away bearing the trouble that should be in your heart because He bears your sins. Jesus bears trouble, being forsaken by man and God, damnation, Death, and the Devil too. And His shed Blood paves the way, the only way to heaven. The suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying of His Body not only are the only way to the Father, they are the certain way.
Shocking, utterly shocking. Jesus is not only the Way but the Truth too. In a world where all things are true, then nothing is true. It all melts away in a sea of opinions, hopes, dreams, and private truths. Jesus says, "Nope, I am the Truth." When Jesus says, "I baptize you into the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," that's the truth. When Jesus says, "I forgive you," you are truly and certainly forgiven. When Jesus says, "Take eat this is My Body given for you; take drink this is My Blood shed for the remission of your sins," then you truly have His Body given for you, and His Blood shed for you.
And not only is Jesus the Way and the Truth, He is the Life. You have the life of Jesus on you in Baptism and in you in Communion. That means the life you have right now be it poor or rich, happy or sad, painful or painless, successful or unsuccessful, fulfilling or draining, whatever your life there is none fuller, better, or richer for you. When you lie in bed and think of what might have been, you are not embracing the life of Jesus. You're looking for greener grass over there. You're saying the abundant life might be there or there but it's not where you are. Repent of thinking there is a life for you outside the nail holes in Jesus' hands and the spear wound in His side. Repent of thinking there is more to life than Jesus who is the life.
Shocking, isn't it? Jesus isn't done yet. Jesus says here that anyone who has seen Him has seen the Father. For the Gentiles God was The Invisible. He only dealt with the world through a series of lesser gods. For the Jews it was a doctrine that no one could see Jehovah and live. We're no different here in America. There is no face to the "God We Trust" or to the one God we are under as a nation. The God that blesses America in the mouths of politicians is the god of the Masonic lodges "the nameless one of a thousand names." He is the Supreme Being the Boy Scout must believe in. The God of America exists but no one has ever seen Him or can see Him.
And that's whom everyone really longs to see; needs to see. None of us ever really grow beyond that desire we have as a child to see God. I mean the big One. The one in charge of everything. The one who controls everything. We ache to see Him. So does Philip and so he says to Jesus, "Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Show us the God behind the curtain. Show us the God in charge of all the machines that move my life. And Jesus does, and how it shocks us. Jesus replies to Philip's request, "Don't you know Me even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."
Don't be so shocked you don't follow where these words lead you. Think of the Jesus you see in the Bible. The Jesus who was near to the broken hearted. The Jesus who invited little children to come to Him. The Jesus who wouldn't put out even a dimly burning faith. The Jesus who didn't lift up His voice in the streets but went to the cross as a sheep goes to shearers with not so much as a bah of complaint. Think of the Jesus you see in the Sacraments giving life to the dead in Baptism; giving forgiveness to the sinner in Absolution; giving His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine. There is no other God than Him. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. All that you can see and know about God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is seen and known only in Jesus.
Stop lifting your eyes to heaven in search of God Almighty. He's there on your skin in Baptism. He's in your ears in Absolution. You hold Him in your hand and have Him in your mouth in Holy Communion. Stop looking for God Almighty in the surging Mississippi River or in the rain starved land of Texas. Stop looking for God Almighty to do something for the sicknesses, the suffering, the sorrows of your life because God Almighty has done all things, He has done everything already for you in the Person and Work of Jesus.
Apart from Jesus look at the mighty Mississippi, apart from Jesus look at this drought stricken land, apart from Jesus look at your age, diseased, or sorrowful life and you can only be very troubled. Apart from Jesus look at what God is doing in the world or in your life and you'll fall into a dizzy array of ways, truths, and lives. Is this the way God wants me to go? Is this the truth God almighty wants me to believe? Is this really the life the Supreme Being has in mind for me?
Apart from Jesus all you will find is God Almighty speaking in a howling wind, in a devastating fire, or in quaking rocks, and you won't be able to understand a Word. In Jesus, God speaks with a still, small voice, and what does He say in the face of 10,000 sins, 1,000 Devils, and 1 Big Death? He says, "Your hearts don't have to be troubled." And what does the God you can see in flesh and blood, touch in Baptism, hear in Absolution, and eat and drink in Communion say about the 10,000 ways you could approach tragedy; the 1,000 truths about suffering, and the 1 truth about your life? He says, "I am the Way; I am the Truth; I am the Life."
Sometimes I think shock pastors are no different than shock jocks on radio. They say things just to shock people. Biblical shock theology is to shock troubled, palpitating, arrhythmic hearts back into correct rhythm. That's the rhythm of confessing absolving; hearing believing; calling answering; dying to self living in Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (20110522); John 14: 1-12