About the Author: Sunday Sermons from Sell Chapel are written by Rev. Preston Van Deursen, Director of Pastoral Care at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.
I keep hearing that the average age of our residents is getting younger and I know this for sure. I am old enough this year to come and be a resident so I want to start with a fellow that was around musically when I was young but not sure how many of you have heard of his name it is Eric Clapton, and he is arguably the greatest living rock guitarist, well he wrote a heart wrenching song about the death of his four-year-old son (March 20, 1991). He fell from a 53rd-story window. Clapton took nine months off and when he returned his music had changed. The hardship had made his music softer, more powerful, and more reflective. You have perhaps heard the song he wrote about his son’s death. It is a poignant song of hope:
Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.
Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand if I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day,
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven.
Time can bring you down; time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please.
Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure,
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.
Jesus has just had the Passover meal with his disciples. He has washed their feet in an act of servanthood. He has foretold his betrayal which Judas will soon perform. He has predicted Peter’s denial. He has told them he is leaving. But he adds this word of hope: Some of the most beautiful and well known words in all of scripture, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you and will come again and take you to myself. So that where I am, you may be also.
Hardship has a way of getting our attention. Doesn’t it. Pain slows us down. It can even soften us. Very few us, after facing a trial, come out the same way we entered in. Jesus understood this and attempted to prepare his disciples for the road ahead. He wanted them to know first of all:
If you have faith in me you can overcome your worry. It seems almost impossible doesn’t it? Getting rid of worry. But let me tell you it is absolutely essential that we be free of worry. Worry distorts reality. Worry often times leads us to false conclusions.
There was a plane ride where the pilot came over the intercom: We have lost one of our engines. No need to worry, we will be arriving 1 hour later than anticipated. Pilot 30 minutes later: We have lost another engine; we will be arriving 2 hours later at our destination.
Pilot one hour later: We have lost our third engine. We will be arriving 4 hours late at our destination.
Passenger to her husband: I’m starting to get worried, if that last engine goes we will be up here all night.
Have you ever known anyone with a troubled heart?
Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon series once said, “Sometimes you lie in bed at night, and you don’t have a single thing to worry about . . .”
Then he added, “That always worries me!” Troubled hearts.
In her book, Real Wealth Sarah van Gelder said something that I think is interesting. She writes, “The [United States] is among the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet it is filled with people, rich and poor, who are anxious about their future and who feel that they don’t have enough.”
Are you among those people who are anxious about your future, fearful that you don’t have enough? “Do not let your hearts be troubled . . .” said the Master. Boy, that would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? To be totally untroubled?
If I asked you to describe a troubled heart, what are the words you would use? Fearful? Angry? Envious? Stressed out? Bitter? The list could go on and on. A heart may be troubled by many things. My guess is that most of them could be boiled down to one word, though: fear. What is envy, but the fear that we don’t measure up because we do not have what someone else has? What is greed, but the fear that what we have is not enough, that somehow we are incomplete? Our basic problem is fear. Think how many times our Lord says to us, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s what he is saying to us here: “Do not let your hearts be afraid. You believe in God; believe also in me . . .”
If you want to be distracted from reality, work yourself up into a good state of anxiety. If Jesus had any concerns it was that his disciples would do exactly that. Let’s look at the story. Jesus has just finished having dinner with his disciples. It’s early Thursday evening. Jesus has approximately 24 more hours to be with his disciples. He will be crucified the next day after an exhausting evening of arrest, interrogation, and torture. If anyone had reason to worry it was he. But what does he do? He introduces peace. He brings calm to the situation.
He looks at his disciples, who have just watched Judas leave the dinner table on a mission of betrayal, and he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come…but don’t let your hearts be troubled.” He tells them don’t be afraid. At this moment when the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife, he says there is a haven for troubled hearts within my Father’s home. And there is a room for you there.
I love what happens next in John. Look at how Jesus spends the last few minutes he has with his disciples. He calms their fears. Chapters 14, 15, 16, 17 record an after dinner conversation which strengthens their souls. Listen to our Lords promises:
-First, he says: Yes I am leaving but don’t let your hearts be troubled. I am sending the Holy Spirit to help you remember what I have taught you.
-Second, he says, don’t have troubled hearts because I leave my peace with you. Not the peace of this world but “my peace.”
-Then he says, don’t let your hearts be troubled because I am the vine and you are the branches. You will bear fruit as long as you remain in me. Make me the source.
-Fourth, and this is wonderful, he says, I love you. Let me ask you: Have your heard your Lord say that to you? If you have not I want you to hear it this morning.
-Fifth, he is frank with them, he tells them, the world is going to hate you, but don’t have troubled hearts about it, you don’t belong to the world. Remember they persecuted me first and no servant is greater than his master.
-Next he is honest. He tells them they will grieve when he leaves. But one day… Oh, one day, he tells the, your grief will turn to joy!
– And finally he prays. He prays for himself. He prays for his disciples. And then he prays for us.
Isn’t that a remarkable after dinner conversation? The gospel of John has 21 chapters and five of them record the events of Thursday night around the dinner table the day before his death. Jesus wants them to be ready, to be calm, to be free of a troubled heart.
He wanted them to know: If you have faith in me you will overcome your worry and, secondly, you will have direction in life.
Now, there are many ways to find direction in life: knowing whom we will marry, what profession we will choose, what monies to put in the retirement plan. These are all important decisions but none are more crucial than the spiritual decisions we make. Who is going to help you make those kinds of decisions?
Karl Barth was lecturing to a group of students at Princeton. One student asked the German theologian “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” Barth’s answer stunned the crowd. With a modest thunder he answered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
In no uncertain terms let me say to you this morning that there are three great religions in the world today: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. But there is only one Son of God; only One through whom God has revealed himself and only One whose teachings stand above all others. He is the way the truth and the life for all men and women.
Finally he wanted them to know: If you have faith in me you will have help along the way.
Of course, some of us have legitimate problems, including legitimate fears about our health, about our family, about our future. But there are some of us who are troubled far beyond what we need to be. We need to open ourselves to the Great Physician and ask Him to change our attitude toward life. Jesus said to his followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me . . .”
Let me give you a simple formula for a troubled heart. All of these are contained in the teachings of our Lord. They are simple, but they are powerful.
First of all, ask God for a new perspective. Many of us are blessed beyond our wildest dreams, and yet we have no peace. If only we could step back and look at our lives through the eyes of faith.
You and I need to step back from time to time, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves if the things we are concerned about really deserve so much of our time and energy.
It reminds me of something the old baseball pitcher Tug McGraw once said. Tug had a wonderful philosophy of pitching. He called it his “frozen snowball” theory. “If I come in to pitch with the bases loaded,” Tug explained, “and a heavy hitter [like] Willie Stargell is at bat, there’s no reason I want to throw the ball. But eventually I have to pitch. So I remind myself that in a few billion years the earth will become a frozen snowball hurtling through space, and nobody’s going to care what Willie Stargell did with the bases loaded!”
That’s a pretty good philosophy. If we have a troubled heart, pray that God will give us a new perspective about our life.
Also ask him to give us patience so that we do not jump ahead and worry about a problem that may never come. But most important of all, ask God for more faith. Faith in God is the best remedy for all our problems. Jesus put it plainly, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”