By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 10, 2020
John 14:1–14 (ESV)
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” There are few words more encouraging than these, but all too often my heart is troubled. What does this say about me and my faith? Some might say that I do not have enough faith, that I do not trust enough. That might be true. I might need more faith; I will go so far as saying I need a great deal more faith. I do not want to stand here and lie so I am being honest with everyone listening. I am human, I have concerns and even fears. At times I can let those fears get loose within my mind and they start to take over. This happens to us all. It does not matter who we are or how devoted we might be, we are human, and we all have areas of weakness that can cause our spiritual life to spiral at times.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” I preach mainly out of the gospels because the words of Jesus are so profound to me. I appreciate the letters of Paul and the other disciples, I agree that they have authority, but the words that are attributed to Jesus are the ones that challenge me the most. Jesus speaks these words during the discussion that he had with his disciples just prior to his arrest. He knew what was about to happen, and they like most of us had no idea as to the extent of change they were about to experience. If someone would have told me a year ago that the main form of worship that we would have over the past few months would be over the internet, I would have laughed. I knew and even embraced the concepts of having content online. I have had my sermon transcripts on my blog for over five years, and we have recorded and posted sermons on YouTube for about a year. But I never thought that there would be a portion of our existence where we would meet online for services for an extended amount of time.
My heart is troubled. I do not know what to think or expect. I have a variety of opinions rattling around in my head that are often conflicting and I am left wondering if every decision we make will be the wrong one. My heart is troubled. If my heart is troubled, that means that those around me have troubled hearts too. Each and everyone of us are living in a state of existence where our life experiences do not really dictate how we should proceed.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells us. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” I want us to imagine this scene for a moment. The last supper, which is what this discourse was a part of, was the traditional Passover Feast. This was the meal that Jesus and the disciples had eaten together just after the celebration in the streets that we call “Palm Sunday”. The disciples go into the city and the secure a place of lodging, and they brought back with them the donkey’s colt that Jesus told them they would find. Jesus gets on this colt and rides into the city while the people cheered and proclaimed Jesus as the long-anticipated King that would restore Israel. The people cheered but Jesus rode into the city weeping, because he knew the reality of the situation. I wonder if the disciples saw the tears. I wonder if they recognized the emotional trial Jesus was experiencing at that moment. Then the religious leaders approach and demand that Jesus tell the people to be quiet, but Jesus informs them that if they were silent the rocks would cry out.
The group moves from the streets and they gather in the “upper room”. They take their various places at the table, but Jesus is not there. Jesus should have been at the place of honor, but somehow, he had slipped away, and the disciples are just wondering what to do now. Then near the door they see a figure approaching dressed as a servant and he comes to the gathered men and kneels before them to wash their feet. The twelve look at this man, it is not a servant but it is the one they and half the city had been singing praises about just moments ago, Jesus was kneeling before them about to wash their feet.
After a few choice words, the disciples submit to this anomaly and Jesus takes his proper place, but then he begins to pronounce the feast liturgy in a different way. Instead of just reminding them of their share history, he says that the wine and the bread are his body and his blood. They participate in the feast, but can you sense the discomfort that they might have had. They were excited for this day, yet Jesus is kind of being a wet blanket. He is washing feet and speaking about brokenness when he should be proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” We sometimes read this passage out of context to some degree and as a result we can look at the questions that the disciples raise with some arrogance. How can Thomas say, “We do not know where you are going,” and how can Phillip say, Lord, show us the Father.” But we often forget about the confusing day that they had just had. They lived in a world of customs and ritual. That day Jesus had basically turned everything upside down. They had to accept their Rabbi as a servant. They had to let him do to them what they should have been doing for him. And then he redefined something had had been in their history for centuries. I think it is safe to say that the questions they asked were coming from a confused mind.
But these things had to happen for them to be able to accept what they were soon going to experience. In a matter of hours, Jesus knew that he would be taken by force and begin to experience shame and injustice. These disciples were about to have everything they hoped for in their life taken from them, and everything they lived for was going to be shattered. And Jesus was there with them, he was preparing them for that moment.
He said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” When we are facing those things that seem to cause our lives to spiral out of control, Jesus is encouraging us to take a step back and remember. Believe can mean many things. I have said before that there are three types of belief: knowledge, trusting, and entrusting. When Jesus is encouraging us to believe, he is encouraging us to face those situations that threaten to upset our lives and go through the stages of belief or faith. He is encouraging us to examine our lives. What do we know? What can we trust? And what areas do we need to entrust?
We all face trials of various sorts. We currently share a common trial, Covid19. Jesus is still telling us the same things, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” But how can we face this trial using these words? First, we need to recognize that our hearts might be troubled. Most of us know that the first step to recovery is to admit that we have a problem. If we do not recognize that there is anxiety in our lives how can we overcome? Ok, so we are troubled, now what?
Jesus then tells us to believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? This tells us that there is revelation. There is knowledge and wisdom available to us for the situations that we are in. Let us consider what is troubling us about our common situation. Can we find some knowledge to what is troubling us? The answer is yes. We know a great deal about the virus and every day they are learning more. If you are concerned, then read about it. I say read because those that do research write down their findings before they do interviews. If you want to know how this virus spread or the symptoms you can find what you are looking for. And once we have knowledge, we can adjust our lives to incorporate that knowledge.
God encourages us to reason and gain knowledge. To gain knowledge is just as important in our spiritual lives as anything else. But there are places where knowledge is not enough. At this point in time we do not know how to “cure” Covid19. We do not have that knowledge, yet every day researchers keep working. This is faith. They believe that they will find something that will turn the tables in this crisis. They may not recognize that they are operating in faith, but they are. They believe and hope for something unseen and that is faith.
The problem is that we do not yet know all we need or want to know. This is also troubling. How do we move forward when the things we hope for are not yet seen? I do not know for a fact that there are many rooms in God’s house. I do not know what color God’s house is. What I do know is Jesus said he is going to prepare a place. This is where the faith of the researchers and the faith of those of us within a Church might differ. In what are we placing our trust. Or to whom are we entrusting our future? I trust science, but I do not entrust my future to it. I trust modern medicine, but I do not entrust my future to it. I say this because in my life I have been told that we should not eat eggs and that we should eat eggs. I have been told to not eat butter and then I have been told that butter is ok. I have been told many things that have a great deal of scientific research attached to it, but a few years down the road I am told something different. Science is based on observation and those that observe are human. At times we might interpret things differently, or maybe we were interpreting an observation without all the information. I trust the strength and wisdom of humanity but only to a degree. There is always room for improvement. People have asked me, how I can hold onto my faith and still trust science, and my answer to that is I see God in what is still unknown.
I say this because with every bit of knowledge we gain, more questions are asked. No matter how hard we search or how much we know there is always something just beyond calling out to us. One of my favorite stories is The Last Battle, which is the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. In this story the characters are encouraged to go further in and farther up. I have often contemplated that concept. While I was studying crop science, I found the concepts of genetics beautiful and how the coding of simple microscopic compounds could form wheat, or corn. It amazed me that the genetic code of most living things differs by only a small amount. Yet, that small variance can result in something profoundly different. The more I studied the more I found myself in awe of the concept of God. I went further in and farther up. I have read about other that have had similar experiences when they study the vastness of space. There is more and for me that more is God.
When I am faced with the trials of life, I examine with the knowledge that I have and I adjust, but in those areas that I see lacking on my part I trust the more. And I trust the life and lifestyle of Christ. I trust because I have seen that lifestyle lived out in front of me. I have watched as my parents have faced challenges in their lives, challenges that I would not want to endure, and yet they face them in faith believing that God will show them a way forward. I have watched my grandfather, and the picture on today’s slides is a picture along the road leading to my grandpa’s farm, live his life filled with joy, but knowing that there was much struggle there as well. I hope to live a life half as full as my grandpa’s. I have read about people throughout history who got to the end of their knowledge yet move forward in faith through their struggle and in their own small way changed the course of history as we know it. They did this because they believed one simple phrase. “I am the way the truth and the life.”
Jesus said those words, the evening before his arrest and trial. He said those words before his unjust execution and before his resurrection. He said those words after he had lived as a common construction working for seventeen years, and after spending thirty years within a family of construction workers. He said those word after three years of ministry where he showed us how to live a life of worship, prayer, and service to others. I have spent years examining the life of Christ, observing, and attempting to put them into practice. Jesus lived a full life within a community. He builds relationships and he struggled. He lived a life like the ones that we live. Yes, there are differences because of various advancements but life is life, our basic needs are the same. Jesus understands life. And he showed us a life and lifestyle that was different from so many in the world. He showed us a lifestyle that is abundant because it looks at the further in and farther up. But his lifestyle was not abundant in the way the world sees abundant. His further in and farther up shows the great potential within us all and even greater potential when we come together in pursuit of a common goal.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” He goes on to say look at his works and believe. And goes even deeper and says those who believe will do even greater things than he. We live in a world filled with trouble, but do not let that control you. Use the trouble you see to inspire you to go further in and farther up. Let it drive you to pursue a way to serve others. We see it all around us. From video conferencing applications like Zoom becoming the classroom, companies like SHIPT and Instacart delivering our groceries to our doorsteps. These innovations began as little things that troubled someone, and they came up with a solution, but there is always more. God is there in the more. His life and lifestyle are where we can find rest so we can look at the problems we face and reengage from a different perspective. His lifestyle reminds us that we are more than individuals but a community working together. And his lifestyle shows us that there is something beyond our greatest fears, there is hope.
He is the way. And as we enter this time of open worship. This period where we as Friends sit in holy expectancy and communion with God, let us consider what is troubling us. And let us sit with God and allow him to use what we know and what we hope for to move forward through the shadows of doubt and fear, as we embrace and trust the God of more.