My first sermon for this summer:
May 22, 2011
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, San Antonio
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These are words that ring true to all of us. It is something everyone knows about. We live in a world of troubled hearts – economic troubles, natural disasters, political corruption, family issues, job issues, relationship problems … the list could go on and on. The world has a troubled heart and there are many, many solutions given to settle our hearts. If we own the right house, or the right clothes, drive the right car, get that better job, buy the right beauty products, drink the right coffee, if we can destroy those groups who make us feel threatened or if we could change, by force if necessary, those who don’t meet our standards. If we satisfy our every longing or do away with those things that cause trouble in the world then our hearts would not be troubled. The solution to the trouble in the world is somewhere in the world, isn’t it?
Those who believed in Harold Camping’s prophecy that the world was going to end yesterday, I’m sure had troubled hearts in the weeks and days leading up to 6pm on May 21, 2011. Their hearts were troubled by the thoughts of doubt that they were one of the chosen or by thoughts of loved ones who don’t believe in God, and I’m sure they were quite troubled by those of us who didn’t put any credit in what their teacher had convinced them of. Their solution to ending their troubled hearts was to convince themselves and others that the troubled world was coming to an end; God had had enough as was ending it. I’m sure that today, when it is obvious his predictions didn’t come true, their hearts are even more troubled. They are troubled by the thought that if their teacher was wrong about what he claimed was a biblically based prophecy then how could they trust the Bible and if they can’t trust the Bible how can they trust God? I’m sure Mr. Camping is cleaver enough to find the words to convince them he was not really wrong and so their hearts will remain troubled by his false teaching. And nothing of this world will settle their heartache, nor ours.
But why is Jesus telling his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled? Let’s put the passage in context. It is what we call the Last Supper. The disciples, at the time, though didn’t know it was their Last supper with their beloved teacher, they thought they were having a festival meal together as a community. But, they were troubled. Things were not going well for Jesus and his band of followers. A lot of the Jews who professed belief in him as the Messiah kept quiet for fear of being thrown out of the temple. Jesus knew that the religious authorities were seeking to kill him. So, here they find themselves, retreating to a private place during the busy and crowded Passover festival in Jerusalem to share a meal together. But, as it turns out, this is to be no ordinary family gathering. Jesus, their leader and teacher, washes the disciples’ feet, and after humbling himself to them, he reveals to them that one of them will be the one to hand him over to the authorities; and then he tells Peter, his right hand man, the one he said would be the rock of the church, that he will deny him not just once but three times. The disciples have to be a bit perplexed at this moment. And at the climax of Jesus’ discourse, he tells them “do not let your hearts be troubled”. Can’t you just imagine them thinking “how on earth are we supposed to not be troubled after what you’ve just told us!?” Their response reflects their apprehension.
And then he gives them what should be a very simple set of instructions: Believe in God, believe also in me. He knows it will be excruciatingly difficult for them to hold onto this belief over the next few days. To reassure them, he tells them that they know the way to the presence of God. He is the way. They know the Father, whom they have not seen because they have lived in the presence of Jesus the Son who is one with the Father.
And he tells them that if they can’t, if WE can’t quite grasp the concept of Jesus abiding in the Father and the Father in him, then the works of Jesus we have witnessed should convince us. And when we believe in him we will do those things that Jesus does.
Our first work is to believe in Jesus and then to let ourselves be transformed by that belief into being the incarnated presence of Jesus in this world just as Jesus is the incarnate presence of God. We are to believe and trust in God as Jesus believes and trusts in the Father; to allow him to work in us to align our desires so closely with the Father’s that whatever we ask, we will be given.
Just as Jesus revealed to the world who the Father is, so we are to reveal God to the world by how we live - living in this time and this place, being attentive every moment to God’s presence in everything and everyone around us; Abiding in God and allowing him to abide in us so that we can be his presence in the world. And that means we live in this world, conscious of every moment and every day. We don’t live in fear of what might happen in the future, we don’t ignore those in need around us because we are too busy thinking about the life after this one. We do the things that Jesus did, we care for our neighbors and love our enemies.
Our culture tells us it is okay to be wrapped up in our own needs, that if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? Our culture tells us that it is the things of this world that will settle our troubled hearts. Jesus tells us it is only in a relationship with God that we can find comfort for our hearts. It isn’t that we won’t have troubles in this world, it’s a troubled world we live in. But through our belief and in our relationship with God, our hearts can be at ease abiding in God’s presence and knowing he abides in us.
I have no doubt that the followers of the latest rapture prediction believe in God and love him and want to serve him. Jesus even tells us to watch and be ready for his coming again. The fact that Jesus will come again and we will live out eternity in God’s Kingdom is the hope of our belief! As St. Augustine tells us, we should plan our life as though he isn’t coming back for centuries but live our life each day as if he is coming back today. Jesus tells us that we are not only to do his works but that we will do works greater than his in this world. Jesus was the incarnate presence of God in the world because he is God, one person of the Triune God that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are to live in his abiding presence while he prepares a place for us in the time to come. It is not for us to prepare that place; it is for us to be Christ to the world in this time and place.