Look how many times heart is used in our liturgy: "Let us draw near with a true heart," "heartily sorry," "create in me a clean heart," "lift up your hearts," and the second Communion Collect "evermore rule our heartsby Thy Holy Spirit." And today's Collect of the Day, "Grant thatour hearts may be fixed." We pray for fixed hearts.
We want our hearts fixed of their troubles by Jesus' eternal words to us on the night He was betrayed, "Let not your hearts be troubled." There are many things that can trouble our hearts. The Collect mentions "the manifold changes of this age." You could be troubled by all things homosexual which have swept across our society faster than a wildfire. You could be troubled by the drought. You could be troubled how evolution, climate change, and feminist assumptions are not allowed to be debated let alone challenged in popular culture.
What is troubling the disciples in our text? It could be Jesus quoting the Old Testament saying that the Shepherd would be struck and they would all scatter; it could be Him saying one of them would betray Him; it could be Him saying His chief disciple would deny Him 3 times. But based on the reason Jesus gives for their hearts not having to be troubled we know what's really troubling their hearts and ours.
Is there really a place in heaven for you? Oh sometimes you can comfort yourself the way the world does: everyone goes to heaven. Going to heaven is as sure as dying. But other times you're not so sure. You do things, say things, think things that have no place in a Christian let alone heaven. What a troubling thought not to know what your eyes will open to once they've closed their last time here.
Again based on Jesus' reason for saying our hearts don't have to be troubled, we know that our hearts aren't really troubled by the sins of others, the acceptance of unprovable scientific statements, or unseasonable weather patterns. No we're troubled because not only aren't we sure there is a place for us in heaven, we're not sure how to get there.
Before you say, "O yes, I do," consider that Thomas wasn't sure and neither was Philip. After 3 years of instruction Thomas says, "How could we be expected to know the way?" Philip, based on what Jesus says realizes it's all about the Father and wants to cut to the chase. Just show us the Father. He thinks he knows the way to heaven but he is wrong, and he will remain troubled until he does know the way, and so will you.
We're talking about troubled hearts and we're talking about fixing them. Of course, when we prayed in the Collect "that our hearts may ever be fixed" we used fixed' in the sense of fixated on something, someone, some place. In the Collect it is "where true joys are to be found." These troubled hearts of ours need fixing, and the answer given in our text is to be fixated on God in Jesus. The text can be translated the way the insert does, "Jesus says, Trust in God; trust also in Me.'" That takes "trust" in both cases as imperative. You must trust in God; you must also trust in Me. But you can take the first as an indicative and the second as imperative as the King James does: "You believe in God, believe also in Me."
You believe in God; bully for you. James 2: 19 says the devils believe; it's the same Greek word as here. Psalms 14 and 53 say that only fools don't believe in God. You see this in popular culture. Politicians can close addresses with "God bless America," and anyone can sing the same or say "God bless" and nary and eyebrow is raised. Only a fool doesn't believe in a higher power; only a fool doesn't believe there is a being supreme to man.
But belief in God isn't enough. It secures you no place in heaven and gives you no path for getting there. Remember the devils believe and they have no place in heaven; and the person who uses "O my God" in every other sentence in some sense believes there is a God, but he sure isn't on the path there and has no idea where it is. "You believe in God," Jesus says. "Great, you must believe in Me too." This is imperative. There is no place in heaven for you, let alone path there, apart from this Man born of the Virgin Mary, crucified at Calvary, and raised from the dead on Easter morning.
Jesus says to the apostles, "I am going to prepare a place for you in My Father's house." Jesus said that almost 2,000 years ago. Don't think Jesus is still carrying stuff out of a room, sweeping the floors, and wiping windows. Jesus began that very night to prepare a place for you in heaven this way: He who was the best friend ever was betrayed and deserted by friends as you deserve to be. He who was never guilty of a crime was arrested for the crimes you have committed but have never been arrested for. He who never had misused the name of the Lord is slapped, beaten with clubs, and whipped for your misusing the name of the Lord religiously. He who never did anything to anger God, bore all of God's wrath against you for the sins you know you're guilty of and the ones you pretend not to know.
Jesus said almost 2,000 years ago, "I go to prepare a place for you," and on Good Friday, He finished cleaning out your room, sweeping and dusting. That's what He said on the cross after hours of being damned in your place, "It is finished." The Father declared the place was yours by raising Jesus from the dead on Easter. The Father checked His books and couldn't find one Law, command, demand, or should that Jesus failed to keep which would have kept you out of that place. The Father checked His accounts due; quickly found your name, and there it was plain as day: Paid in full by the suffering and death of Jesus.
Let not your heart be troubled; you have a place in heaven merited for you by Jesus; paid in full by Jesus; and guaranteed by His blood, sweat, and tears. But how do I get there? Jesus says, "Everyone who comes through Me (and Me is emphatic in Greek) goes to the Father." Jesus is the Way, not a way, not knows the way, but He is the Way.
Repent. Repent I say of wanting to deal with the hidden God, the unrevealed God, God in His majesty. You can't get to this God no matter how much you think; how deeply your feel, or how hard your work. The only way to Him is Jesus. Jesus is the only Way the hidden, unrevealed, majestic Father wills to be seen. And where does Jesus point you: "Baptize all nations," He says. "Forgive sins," He says. "Do this often to bring Me back to you," He says. But you look at your Baptism and see only Water. You hear the Absolution and hear only words. You look at this altar and see only bread and wine.
You want more than Jesus. You want a God of majesty and might not a God hanging crucified on a cross. You want a God who will spout truth that will ooh and ah the world not a God who speaks things that bore the world. You want a God who brings excitement to your life, makes you feel something real, something powerful; not a God who points you to Words that don't excite; Water that you can't feel; and bread and wine that don't appear to do anything. The trouble is if you plug into God apart from Jesus and the means He gives you, you will blow every circuit in your brain and never find the way to your place in heaven.
Do you have a troubled heart? Of course you do. This can be fixed by being fixated on God as revealed in Jesus. He is capable of fixing anyone and anything. You know how in politics, in sports, in business, in power, riches, prestige there is always a whole other level that you probably weren't aware of till you saw it? Jesus doesn't end with fixing troubled hearts but at that next level.
Anyone who believes in Me not only has a place in heaven, not only knows the way to get there, but "will do what I have been doing." What Jesus has been doing is making the ordinary extraordinary. 5 loaves and 2 fish feeds thousands. A storm tossed sea becomes walking on water. A trip up a mountain becomes the Transfiguration.
The one who believes in Jesus will do what He has been doing: They will turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Using His Word and Sacrament this auditorium is transformed into a sanctuary of God almighty where He comes personally in His Body and Blood. Using His Baptism children of darkness are reborn as children of light. Using His Absolution sins that have stained, pained, and reigned in the heart of men for decades, days, or despairingly are sent away, forgiven, removed, and they are free. Using His Body and Blood eternity, life, and forgiveness are put into the mouths of sinners doomed to die but now won't die forever.
But this isn't' the next level. Jesus doesn't just say "anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing." He says, "He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." Here Jesus takes us out of the shadow of the cross and even beyond the hallelujah of the empty Easter tomb. Here He takes us to Ascension where the Man Jesus, a Man with your flesh and blood, is accepted, welcomed to His rightful place in heaven. And from there Jesus pours out His Holy Spirit on all mankind through Baptism's Waters, Absolution's Words, and Communion's Body and Blood. And these change everything.
You know how in science fiction the goal is often transcendence. The person seeks to rise above all this, to get to a whole other level? It almost always goes badly, doesn't it? The person becomes a power mad demigod or blows a gasket, his body physically unable to handle the power. Jesus invites you with a heart fixed by Him by being fixated on Him, to rise above all this to your place in heaven. Look down from that place. As people look like ants from eyes in airplanes, so troubles look like annoyances to hearts in heaven. Yes, in Christ even sickness, even sorrow, even sin, death, and devil become that small, that much less troublesome to hearts that have been fixed. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (20140518); John 14: 1-12