The Questions of Troubled Hearts
It's funny; the Sunday after Easter we had the trouble with doubting Thomas. The next Sunday it was the trouble with disappointed disciples. Last Sunday it was the trouble with wandering sheep. The highest festival of the Church Year is followed by Sundays of trouble. You know why? Because as Job says, "Man is full of trouble." Luther said, "Every Christian when baptized and dedicated to Christ, may and must accept and expect encounters with terror and anxiety which will make his heart afraid and dejected." We confess in the explanation to the Lord's Prayer that we are attacked by the Devil, the world and our sinful nature. These can only trouble our hearts and cause them to ask questions.
The foremost question of the troubled heart is, "Where does God go when you need Him most?" What precedes Jesus saying, "Let not your hearts be troubled," is Him telling the disciples that He is going to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. He is going away from them. The Devil, the world, and sinful nature are apparently going to win. And they seem to win over us. No one has yet answered the question raised in "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" When you need God most He seems least present. As Jesus was carried away by sinful hands to the world's cheering and the Devil's delight, so God seems carried away from us when sinful nature, a fallen world, and the evil Devil attack.
In George Strait's new song he claims he saw God today in a flower growing in concrete, in a couple's love, and in his newborn baby. Well, that's easy, isn't it? Let him see God in weeds growing, in couple's fighting, in babies that nobody wants. I easily find God in the good times: He's here, there and everywhere, but where is He in the shipwrecks of life, in the accidents; tragedies; ugliness, and pain of life?
He is someplace, so how do we get to where He is? You already know the answer to this. Jesus. The text makes this clear. God is in Jesus and Jesus is God. The works of the Son are the works of the Father. Jesus not only prepares the way to God the Father; He is the Way. But again I ask, "How do we get to where He is?"
Many say they can put out their hand and touch the face of God by slipping "the surly bonds of earth." The go where God is by rising above the pain, brutality, and senselessness on earth, by escaping this domain of sin, death, and the Devil. There is truth here.
Colossians says, ""Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." We slip the bonds of surly earth when we chant the Gloria in Excelsis. We go to "Thou that sittest on the right hand of God the Father" asking Him to have mercy upon us and receive our prayer. Also before Communion the pastor tells us, "Lift up your hearts." Cyril of Jerusalem explains this, "In effect therefore the priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God."
This is all true. What we asked in the Collect "that our hearts may ever be fixed where true joys are to be found" is answered by Jesus above. However, before we can ascend we must descend. Jesus points this out in the text. "You believe in God." They believed in God above, the One who reigned and ruled over all things. "You believe in God; believe also in Me." They believed in a God they couldn't see, touch, taste, hear, or smell; they needed to believe in a God that could be apprehended by all 5 senses. They needed to believe in a God born of the virgin Mary who could suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, dead, and buried.
You think we've reached the stumbling block, but what I've just said is a mole hill compared to the mountain I'm about to show you. The God whom you are to believe when He says, "Let not your hearts be troubled," the place you are to find God when you are most troubled is the God who is troubled Himself. At the tomb of His friend Lazarus, John 11:33 says Jesus was greatly troubled just as we are at the graves of our loved ones. Before His passionate suffering begins Jesus says in 12:27, "My soul is troubled" even as our souls are troubled by suffering. And right before He speaks of being betrayed, it says, "Jesus was troubled in His spirit." As you are troubled by friends letting you down, so you're God and Savior was.
Through this troubled Man is the only way to where God is. And it's by Him being troubled that He prepares a place for you with the Father. His soul, spirit, and body are troubled not just to sorrow, not just to suffering, but to hell and death. You and I deserve no comfort, no solace, no peace in the midst of our troubles. Being sinful, breaking every command of God multiple times rightly calls for a band of angels to trouble us, torment us, afflict us. That's not how it was for Jesus. He was perfect in Body and Soul, yet He was troubled to death in place of us. His troubled heart paid for, and prepared a place for us in heaven.
When our hearts our troubled by the grave, by senseless suffering, or by the things we depend on in life unraveling, we aren't able to lift up our hearts; we aren't able to fix on Jesus seated at the right hand of God. Our hearts and minds are tied to the ground. But what do we find here? Jesus in the manger, on His mother's lap, troubled by temptation, by death, by betrayal. Jesus went through all this trouble not just for you but to pay for your sins. Therefore He must be with you in your troubles and your troubles can't be to pay for your sins!
Still troubled hearts have their questions. Where does God go? How do I get where He has gone? And what is God really like? How am I to view this God who passes me through such times of trouble? Can you see why Hindus have many gods? How convenient to have the goddess Kali; she's responsible for the death and destruction that trouble you. But we don't have many gods but One, so when the way Jesus leads us is troubling, we are right there with Philip saying, "Show us the Father and that will be enough." There is always the thought in fallen human hearts that more could be done to make God known than has been done. This thought, however, is straight from hell, literally. The damned man in hell demands Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham says they have the Scriptures and that's enough. "No, that's not enough," shrieks the damned soul, and our troubled hearts nod in agreement.
But see how gently Jesus deals with this hellish spirit when found in His children? He doesn't threaten, doesn't yell; He asks a question Philip knows the answer to, "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?" Yes, that's exactly what Philip and all Christians believe. In 10:38 Jesus preached, "I am in the Father and the Father is in Me." You believe it too because not only does Jesus tell you this, so does Paul. He says, "All the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus." Jesus says, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father" because He is the Father's final and full revelation of the Godhead. Hebrews 1 says, "In many and various ways God has spoken to our forefathers but in these last days He has spoken in His Son."
Apart from the Son, God is shrouded in the unexplainable. Apart from His Word, God speaks in ways we can't fully understand. Apart from Jesus, God, even the Father, remains a blinding light and a burning fire. God is only known as Father when the Son tells us of the waiting Father. The Spirit of Sonship, which is the Spirit of Jesus, is what enables us to cry, "Abba, Father." Knowledge of the glory of God, useful knowledge, knowledge that doesn't kill you or make you go crazy, is only found in the face of Jesus. The only way we find out that we are not at the mercy of our sinful nature, death, or the Devil is in, with, and under Jesus. The only way we know that God is on our side against all that troubles us is because Jesus who is in the very lap of God the Father, tells us.
This teaching that the only correct view of God is in Jesus is repulsive to Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and America in general. Everyone can say, "God bless America," but only Christians can say, "Jesus bless America." All agree we're "one nation under God," but only the Christian can say we're "one nation under Jesus." All creeds, all religions, all spiritual people can say, "In God we trust," but only the Christian will say, "In Jesus I trust."
What is God really like? Like Jesus. You will go blind or get burned if when your heart is troubled you look elsewhere for God. You can't get your head around the God who drowns a city with a flood, but you can get your head around the God who gives Water to save you. You can't get warm and fuzzy over a God whose says things unsearchable and past finding out, but you can find peace in the God who says your sins are all forgiven. You can't bear the God who places famine here, earthquake there, disease here, but you can bear, worship, and adore the God who places His Body and Blood in your mouth for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
At the beginning of the text Jesus promise us, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me." In that Font, in these Words, and on that Altar, Jesus comes back for you. Here is where He rescues you from your troubles, sustains you in your troubles, gives you a new heart that looks upon your troubles differently. He gives you a new heart that says with St. Paul that your troubles are not only light and momentary but work for you a far more eternal weight of glory. Our present troubles are heavy on our hearts, but they are light as a feather compared to the glory that awaits not just in heaven but here in Words and Sacraments. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter V (20080420); John 14: 1-12