‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
John 14: 1-14
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God believe also in me.’ Amen.
This reading from John’s gospel, has given bereaved loved ones comfort, during the many funerals I have attended and, during the many more I have led, yes a great deal of comfort and hope.
On Friday, the 75th commemoration of VE Day offered us the opportunity to lay aside our concerns, and celebrate with Veterans, the end of WW2 in Europe. Seventy five years ago, the population were given a brief respite of comfort and hope, from the deprivation and fear that war brings. That comfort and hope is something we all need now, as we navigate the effects of Covid-19 and the manys months, perhaps even years, that it will take for the world to heal. Of course we are worried and not without cause.
The disciples were worried; after all Jesus had just told them he was going to be killed, that they would be left to carry on without him. In his response Jesus began with reassurance. But both Thomas and Philip continued to be troubled. First Thomas said straight out, “We don't know.” We don’t know where you're going, we don't know how to stay on the way or even find the right road. It almost feels like Thomas was saying, “Jesus, get real. Please. We don’t have much time.” Thomas and Philip were both puzzled about how to follow, how to spot the trail when they didn’t know where Jesus was going, or what the Father looked like.
This anxiety about being left alone is understandable to us right now, but it was clouding their vision, their perception, and their hearts. Suddenly Jesus changed tack from talking about going away and returned to asking them to trust (or believe), that he and the Father were one. To see Jesus is to see the Father. Of course they had seen Jesus’ face, heard his voice, and even more importantly, they had seen what he did, his works. It should have been clear enough, that to know Jesus, is to know the Father.
We can imagine Thomas and Philip and the other disciples, thinking back over the works Jesus had done. What could they say about him, or about the Father, or turning Water into Wine, bringing Lazarus back to life, or turning a small lunch bag of bread and fish into a banquet, or all the works that brought healing, delight, abundance, or even life itself? These were the works of God, The Father and the Son together. We can see Jesus in the twenty third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It is much more difficult for us to picture or to recognize ‘The Father God’. Lord “Show us the Father.”
There are other important threads to follow in this passage. If we do believe and trust Jesus, we need to listen, and here is the stunning point of this whole passage. All those works we were just encouraged to recall, along with Philip, Thomas, and the others, they will all be insignificant compared to what we will or can do ourselves. We are promised insofar as we ask in Jesus' name, as one of his sheep, as people abiding in him, just as he abides in the Father, we, yes we “will do greater works than these.” Jesus promised his help, his support and his power to do so.
This is a really difficult passage, because there are always those we know, whose heartfelt prayers have gone unanswered and whose hearts have been broken, those whose trust has been shattered by Jesus’ apparent failure to keep this promise. We come up with things to explain it, usually words that blame the “unsuccessful” pray-ers, for not praying fully in Jesus’ name, or not praying in line with Jesus’ will, or doubting, or being impatient, or not being able to see the real answer to prayer. These answers may all be accurate, but they are not very helpful.
As one wise Christian once said, all we can do is to pray for “our heart’s desire”. Like Thomas and Philip and even Peter at the end of John 13, there is room in this relationship with God, both the Father and the Son, for an honest acknowledgement of our confusion, our lack of power, our frustration, when our requests seem to go unheard. Why hasn’t God got rid of the corona virus, why have so many people died, why have so few been cured?
What young person has not felt this frustration with his or her parents or teachers? What spouse has not known this grief? Who among us has not had to deal with some petty regulation, and not come away with some of these feelings? But in most of these human experiences, our trust is not destroyed. How much more do we feel our Lord’s care when we are called to continue to trust and abide in him as we make our requests in prayer?
The message for us, as it was for our honest forbears, may well be for us to look again into the faces in front of us as if we can see God, whose image we bear, Jesus and the Father. We might remember the great works, the blessings that have been accomplished for human healing, delight, and abundance, and see the Father at work among us? We might think about the work to find a vaccine for Covid-19, research months or years ahead of any known before.
Since we know in our hearts that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life...the true door into the sheepfold, where life abounds, in all those places where truth and life are served, we can see him. Therefore we have every reason to have confidence in his words, to trust in the most frequent command in the Bible, do not be afraid.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 10/05/2020