Do Not Be Troubled- Sermon for May 10, 2020 from Pastor John
Do Not Be Troubled
Sermon for May 10, 2020
My favorite Pharmacist Technician waited on me not long ago. We have a natural and shared affinity for foolishness and we tease one another. But when I asked her how she was doing, she paused and looked tired. She was tired of hearing of the devastation in the land caused by sickness, the pandemic, the covid-19 virus. The constant bad and sad news weighed heavily upon her spirit. Many of us are similarly burdened and tired. The news often shows a map of covid-19 infections in red—the brighter the red the more numerous the infections, a hot spot it is called. The impression for me is like a shroud of death and mourning over the country. There was a full-page ad in the New York Times paid for by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an organization of free-thinkers, mainly atheists and agnostics. The title, in large print stated
“We need Reason, not Prayer, to Combat the Corona-virus. Nothing Fails like Prayer.” Prayer was called superstition and magical thinking and there was a call to support a National Day of Reason, and not a National Day of Prayer. Pious politicians were advised to get off their knees and get to work for God will not end the virus, only reason and the work of science. There was a cartoon of Jesus on a stretcher headed into an ambulance asking “Is there a doctor in the house?” Many of us are hurt at the mockery of our faith and would disagree that God has nothing to do with stopping the virus. Yes, we listen to science and still pray that those doctors and scientists, with minds gifted by their creator will find a cure. But it can be true in our troubled times, in our troubled lives, we have many questions and wonder,( have you ever wondered), if prayer actually works?
This is the 5th Sunday of Easter and many are not feeling like saying or singing “Alleluia!”. Jesus was speaking to his followers and everyone was in a somber mood. Jesus spoke words that troubled them: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to others I now say to you, where I am going you cannot come”. Jesus then told his followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” What Jesus meant by ‘believe’ was a constant and active trust in both God and him. To encourage our trust Jesus said “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.”
Over the years I have officiated at many funerals; in one particularly tough period there were 39 funerals over a 16 month period. When I would talk to the bereaved about the funeral service, they wanted their loved one remembered with a eulogy. Of course that would be important, and I was glad when a family member or friend would speak comforting words of remembrance. I do recall that today’s gospel text was the favorite choice for a scripture reading. It is comforting to hear Jesus speak of the Father’s house with room enough for all. It is a comfort to think of heaven as a home complete with God’s loving welcome. The book of Revelation ads to the comfort by saying God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death will be no more. The word ‘dwelling places’ in the original language is a form of the word ‘abide’, ‘remain’, or ‘make your home.’ That word is used over 40 times in the Gospel of John. The picture is hopefully clear: heaven is making our home with God, heaven is abiding in Jesus. Jesus has made this so. Easter’s eternal proclamation is the good news of Jesus is living, he has overcome death, and this does not mean Jesus has finished his work and gone to heaven and shut the door. It means that Jesus is ever at work, coming to us so that we know he is with us. This Gospel text is not only appropriate for a funeral; it is a powerful promise of grace during our troubled time here on earth. Whatever the trouble, Jesus has room for you. Last week the church calendar remembered Julian of Norwich, a woman who devoted herself to prayer and contemplation of God’s Word. Appropriate on this Mother’s Day she called Jesus our Mother. She wrote “A mother is the most intimate, willing and dependable of all services, because it is the truest of all. None has been able to fulfill it properly but Christ, and he alone can. We know that our own mother’s bearing of us was a bearing to pain and death, but what does Jesus, our true Mother do? Why, he, All-love, bears us to joy and eternal life. Blessings on him!”. She then wrote, “Jesus might die no more, but that does not stop him working, for he needs to feed us, an obligation of his dear, motherly love. The human mother will suckle her child with her own milk, but our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself.”
Jesus told his followers “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Here the disciple Thomas spoke up and thankfully he did. He told Jesus flat out, “We haven’t the foggiest idea where you are going so then how can we know the way?” Is that not a question we share? In this time of pandemic we may feel that we are lost, and faith does not help. And then we hear the Freedom from Religion Foundation encouraging us to put our trust in science and the secular constitution. Many may leave the church figuring it does not offer clear direction for life. But Jesus has come to us with the fullness of his guidance and grace to say “I am the way”. As has been pointed out Jesus does not suggest a way, but he himself is the way. Jesus is the way to knowing the truth about God. When Jesus stood before Pilate soon to be condemned to crucifixion, the Roman governor asked “What is truth?” Truth stood before him, for Jesus came to reveal the truth of God’s love for the world. Jesus death on the cross revealed that is it not God’s will to condemn sinners, but to save sinners, and to take away the sin of the world. Follow Jesus. Trust Jesus. Listen to Jesus. He is the true GPS of the Father’s love. Jesus’ resurrection gives us the grace and gift of life with Jesus, life with God, a welcome into the Father’s Home. Unbelievers may mock our prayers laughing that they are nothing more than magical incantations, totally ineffectual. But prayers are no laughing matter. Prayers are not just requests, but the assurance that we are carried by Jesus in the strength of his love no matter what we face at the time. Prayer is conversation with Jesus, connection to his grace, and being blessed with his compassion.
Also in the New York Times was a full-page ad, a letter actually, signed by a whole host of medical professionals, professors and scientists. It was addressed to the founders and chairmen of Social Media sites, calling them to put a stop to what they called a global mis-info-demic. Too often social media passes along false information about the covid-19 virus with bogus cures and dangerous ideas. Our gospel lesson for the 5th Sunday of Easter wants to make clear no false information about Jesus. He is no fiction but the truth of the Father’s love for a hurting world. He is no figurehead but the head of the Church providing hope and courage for us. Jesus is no false-hope dreamed up in a superstitious time, he is our true living hope who is ever at work to come, teach, and sustain our faith with the eternal food of his faithfulness.
But some might think Jesus was wrong when he said in our text today “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.” How can anyone do greater works than Jesus? What is Jesus talking about here? His words are a wonderful promise. Jesus, as a human being, God in the flesh, still was limited to Israel with his time on earth. But now the church, his faithful followers, is doing wonderful works in his name. The faithful are feeding the hungry. The faithful are walking with those who grieve to give comfort. The church counters the all too common judgments of the world and seeks to affirm the God-created worth of all. In this promise is Jesus is at work himself, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
There was this touching story in last Thursday’s New York Times. A woman named Tanisha supervises a morgue at a New York Hospital. What a depressing job in this time of so many deaths due to the virus. The hospital morgue was full, and so she is in charge of three-refrigerated tractor trailers, filled with the dead. It was all too much and getting her down, until she came up with an idea. Tanisha spends $100 a week buying fresh flowers; they must be yellow daffodils to be exact. She enters the trailers of the dead and places one or two daffodils on each body. It was an act that was inspired by her exhaustion which guided her to provide a moment of dignity for those who had died. The article was titled “Amid the Body Bags, She Bestows a Quiet Touch of Grace.”
Many of us are feeling exhausted and depleted by the pandemic and the problems of business, school, and church closures. Jesus comes not offering any magical solutions, but encouraging us to continually trust God and him. He assures us of room in the Father’s house meaning room for all in God’s heart of grace, we can cast our burdens on God, on Jesus. He is the way the truth and the life. And may we be inspired by his love, to show grace, acts of compassion, for others in this difficult time. Let us ask Jesus and he will work through us.