The Rev. Kathi Johnson
Easter 5 – 14 May 2017
Text: John 14:1-14
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Grand Prairie, Texas
+ INJ +
Hidden away in the heart of today’s gospel lesson is a message about relationship – specifically, the trust that is required in order for a relationship to exist. Today’s gospel lesson from John 14 is a part of what we call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse – a long speech (of sorts) that Jesus gives to his disciples before his arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. By this point, Jesus has already told them that he will be killed and raised again, so in this discourse, he is trying to help his disciples see that they’re going to have to have some trust.
The word “believe” comes up a lot in the Gospel of John, but it doesn’t always mean what we think it does. When John talks about “believing” in Jesus, he isn’t talking about a head-belief. He’s talking more about a relationship that must exist. Belief in John has to do with trust. So when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me,” that second part could very well also be rendered as, “Trust in God, trust also in me.”
So let’s back up for a second and look at the first part of what Jesus says here – “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
OK, Jesus, you got it.
As much as that seems like an unreasonable expectation for us, imagine how it must’ve come across to his disciples. Guess what happens in John 13 right before Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled?
Jesus tells Peter, “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Oh, and right before that is when Judas Iscariot leaves Jesus to betray him to the authorities.
So, into this emotionally challenging evening filled with betrayal and prediction of denial, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
This statement of Jesus, then, is not exactly spoken into a time of certainty – a time in which the disciples would find it easy to trust God or, even, to trust Jesus. Rather, Jesus is speaking this word to them at one of the most challenging points, emotionally – and one of the most critical points in terms of his own life and ministry. Lest we think that Jesus speaks this as a platitude from a place of utter comfort and security – no, we have to look at all this context to see that Jesus says these words after being betrayed by one disciple and after predicting the denial of another.
Someone once said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” The person who said this knew about trust – she knew about hard trust – she knew about trust that is worked out in difficult times. The person who said this was Holocaust survivor and Dutch resistance leader Corrie ten Boom.
Ten Boom and her family hid Jews and resistance workers in their home after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, making sure that these people were not only kept safe, but had ration coupons to buy food. The ten Boom family was arrested for their work and held in concentration camps.
Corrie was eventually released because of a clerical error, and she went back to taking in those who needed shelter – especially caring for the mentally disabled, who lived in fear of execution by the Nazis. After the war, she cared for the many refugees who emerged from the concentration camps – alive, but often ill and jobless, and through no fault of their own. She tended to the forgotten victims of the war – those whose lives were deeply impacted simply because of who they were when they were born.
All of this work was done out of her deep and abiding trust in God. “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” Words spoken by someone who knew better than most about dark tunnels and abiding in trust.
In whom do we place our trust?
When writing about the First Commandment in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther said that “[a]nything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your god.” But, as opposed to all the things in which we might be tempted to place our trust, Luther goes on to say that, instead, our hearts are to cling to God, to grasp ahold of God, so that we entrust our lives to God completely.
Even as we place our trust in God, sometimes our lives will make us question that trust. But today’s Gospel lesson contains good news for us, hidden in all of the questions and uncertainties expressed by Jesus’ own disciples. Why are these questions and uncertainties good news for us?
Because they show us that God can handle our questions and uncertainties.
In God’s house there are many dwelling places, Jesus says – a statement that is very much about the expansive love of God for us. God has room for us, and for our questions, too. Sometimes, the best way to learn is to ask a question. And really, our questions don’t demonstrate a lack of trust. If anything, questions are a show of trust: it’s easier to ask a question if we trust someone than if we don’t!
In whom do you place your trust?
Trust in God, who will still your troubled heart and who will never fail you. Amen.
+ SDG +