Places for the Heart


The sermon title “Places for the Heart” is not the 1984 movie “Places of the Heart”. We mention the heart a lot in the liturgy. We begin the service with the invite, “Let us draw near with a true heart.” We are “heartily sorry for our sins.” After the sermon we pray, “Create in me a clean heart.” The Communion liturgy invites us “Lift up your hearts.” Luther’s 2nd Collect at the close of Communion prays for the Lord “evermore to rule our hearts and minds by Thy Holy Spirit.” And the 5th century Collect for Easter 5 prays, “grant to Your people that they may love what You command and desire what You promise that among the manifold changes of this age our hearts may be fixed where true joys are to be found.” Where do you suppose that is?

Jesus tells us in the opening words of our text. “Believe also in Me” Most translate this as a dual admonition to believe in God and in Jesus. KJV, NKJV, and St. Augustine a 1,000 years before, got it right. The first is an indicative. It indicates that the disciples do believe in God. The second is an imperative, “You must believe in Me.” Augustine translated, “You believe in God, believe also in Me(ACC, NT IVB, 120). And see the Me in thick, dark bold letters. The Greek shows that Jesus emphasizes that it’s in Me, no other; Me, the Man before you, is the one you are to believe in as you already do God. How freely, how easily do we believe in the God we can’t see. With the rest of America we’re proud to believe our nation is one under God, to state in God we trust, and with every politician to declare, “God bless America!” But who would substitute Jesus? One nation under Jesus; in Jesus we trust; Jesus bless America. 

So we keep Jesus out of the picture, but look what we keep in the picture when we do: troubled hearts. That’s the deal Jesus says, “Don’t continue to let your hearts be troubled, agitated,  disquieted, restless, stirred up, distressed.” And Jesus knows whereof He speaks. At Lazarus’ grave, “He groaned in the Spirit and was troubled” (11:33). Just a day or two before out text Jesus had looked at His own torturous death and said, “Now My soul is troubled” (12:27). And just moments before the words of our text, right here in this upper room, He speaks of His betrayer and the Holy Spirit reports, “When Jesus had said this, He was troubled in Spirit.” In order to redeem us from the Sin, Death, and Devil to whom we had sold our souls by our sins and sinfulness, Jesus had to be troubled, bothered, riled up in our place. We don’t have to be. Jesus says this at the beginning of John 14 and again in verse 27 He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

In verse 27 Jesus says that you don’t have to continue to be troubled by your sins, your job, the world, politics, people, weather, or health, because He leaves you His peace. Not that peaceful easy feeling the Eagles sang of, but that peace I bestow on you at the end of sermons. A peace that passes all human understanding. But this peace Jesus gives is based on the fact that there are many mon? in the House of His Father. This word, mon?, is only used here and verse 23. It comes from the verb men? which means to remain, abide in a place, time, or condition. In later times, the noun was used for monasteries. The KJV translation ‘mansions’ comes from the Latin Vulgate translating this mansiones, which meant ‘lodging places.’ The phrase means that there is more than enough room in heaven for the redeemed (Morris, 638-9). Jesus knows this because He’s the one who has prepared our place. Don’t think of Jesus doing that today: No that was what His Holy living and His guilty death as a Man did. He bought and paid for heaven “not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” And don’t put Jesus coming back in the future. He doesn’t say, “I will come” but, “I come.” This present tense refers to His continual coming and presence. He comes right there in the font. Here in the absolving words. On the altar in His Body and Blood. 

But don’t misunderstand; despite what Jesus says, you will be troubled. Luther said bluntly: “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” (LW 24:11). But Luther tracks this down to the Devil saying that “a faint, fearful, and disquieted conscience’ is invariably the stench the devil leaves behind” (Ibid., 13). But there’s help, and you know where and who it is. Jesus says, “You forever know the way and the place where your heart doesn’t have to be troubled.” This is the Greek word oida which means to know by revelation. People think because they have in their heads certain facts they know the Way to heaven. It’s not a matter of that kind of knowledge. You can only know the Way by revelation and you only keep in that way by trusting Jesus. You can’t do either on your own. Those who absent themselves from Word and Sacrament, will remember Jesus, where He went, and the Way there, but it all stops at their head and doesn’t reach their troubled heart.

The answer to your troubled heart is to know that seeing Jesus is seeing the Father. But don’t be a Modalist. That’s what you are if you think Jesus crying out on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me” is Jesus talking to Himself. So here, when Jesus says, “If you really know Me, you will know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him”, He is not saying there is no distinct Person of the Trinity named Father. He is saying that those who recognize Me as God in the flesh will know in Him the Father. This ‘knowing’ is that other Greek word for ‘know’: gin?sk?.  It’s an intimate knowing. It’s the Hebrew euphemistic word for intercourse. But it’s recognition not revelation. It’s acknowledging something not trusting it.

Christianity does not a focus on knowing the God of power and might. True, the First Article of the Creed focuses on Him, but for Lutherans the Second Article, confessing the Person and Work of Jesus, is our emphasis. All theology is Christology for Confessional Lutherans. We don’t start with the God who dwells in light unapproachable, as a consuming fire, who, as Isaiah 45 says, hides Himself. God is not hiding in the crucified Jesus. He is revealed there. The invisible God, the God who hides Himself in predestination, in damnation, and in troubles is revealed by what Jesus says and does. You know you’re stuck with an unknowable God when your questions circle around the drain of ‘why’. Sudden deaths, disfiguring births, doomed lives, open up big and wide shouting ‘why?’

Two Psalms don’t come back to the revealed God but remain trapped in the unknowable God. Psalm 77,” I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.” Psalm 88 is bleaker: “Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide Your face from me?” But they both know the answer. Psalm 88 knows it’s the face of the Lord, the One that blesses, keeps, and lifts up to give us peace. Psalm 77 pushes this through to Confessional Lutheran theology. The hidden God is revealed in the Office of the Ministry. Psalm 77 ends saying, “ Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen. You led Your people like a flock  by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” My hands have no nail holes but when I baptize, it’s Jesus’ hands that touch your baby. When I absolve you it’s as if Jesus stood there with His hand on your head. When I distribute Communion it’s Jesus’ mouth that says, “Take eat; take drink.” When I speak in Jesus’ name, it’s His voice you hear and in hearing Him recognize and know you’re hearing the voice of the invisible Father in heaven. 

Now Jesus blows it, right? From your heart finding a place in and with Him, to seeing Him means seeing the Father, Jesus ends with those solemn words: “Verily, Verily, I tell you: The one who believes in Me will do the works that I am doing. And he will do even greater works than these because I go to the Father.” What has Jesus been doing without fail: not miracles of healing but casting out demons and gathering sheep by preaching and teaching. But what greater things than this could there be? Place your heart right HERE. Jesus says it’s based on I, emphatic again, go to the Father. Jesus reigns and rules in heaven and on earth having overcome the strong man. Because of God’s Law and our Sins the Devil wielded the power of Death and Hell. But in Jesus there are no unkept laws or unpaid sins that we can be held accountable for. So we are free to walk right out of hell. Now that’s a greater thing indeed!

Because in Jesus we’ve won, He can invite us at every Communion service to “Lift up your hearts”. You’re not welded to this fallen world. You can leave your cares, worries, fears behind. The Reformed Church think this is an admonition to ascend in faith to Jesus in heaven and commune with His body and blood not here with their mouths but in heaven with their believing hearts. This phrase begins the Preface. Luther, along with the rest of late medieval scholars took the word ‘preface’ in a temporal sense as that which comes before what really counted. But the Latin praefatio is to be understood not in a time sense but a space sense. “We are speaking praise before God, in His presence” (Oxford History of Christian Worship, 401). That is, His presence right here and now. Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th century said this was a call “in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties” (NPNF, VII, 153-54) and to set our hearts on Jesus whose Body and Blood are now present before us. The body and blood of Jesus present here now is the right place not just for our hearts but for our bodies and souls, our cares and troubles too. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Fifth Sunday of Easter (20230507); John 14:1-11