“Holding the Center” John 14:1-6
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/21/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/21/20
“Holding the Center” John 14:1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
This is one of my favorite passages of scripture in the Bible. I wonder how many times I’ve read and spoken these words. I’m sure you’ve read and heard them countless times. They’re familiar and comforting words that are spoken and heard during difficult times in hospital rooms, in funeral homes and at gravesides. They’re calming and consoling for hearts beating in troubling times. They’re certainly the right words for times such as today.
There’s encouragement, hope, and promise behind these words of Jesus, and I’ll never tire of hearing them. But today I find them somewhat difficult. It’s difficult to say those words to you when my own heart is troubled.
My heart is troubled by the pain, hurt and division in our nation and around the world today and I truly wonder what’s really at the core of it. My heart is troubled because the virus continues. My heart is troubled because people are fearful to get on and live their lives. My heart is troubled by living in a cancel culture, with book burners and mask charades. My heart is troubled because racially charged conflict continues. My heart is troubled by the people of every stripe and color that continue to inflame it. My heart is troubled by national amnesia and the new Woketopia. My heart is troubled because things aren’t like they used to be. And my heart is troubled because some things are probably never going back to the way they used to be for a long while. As Thomas, my heart is troubled because I don’t know the way, because we don’t know the way.
I don’t think I’m the only one with a troubled heart these days. Whether it’s the threat of the virus or a thousand other heart dividing, disturbing things going on around the world, I suspect every one of us is living with a troubled heart in some way. It seems to be what happens when we don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know the way.
What troubles your heart today? It could be any number of things. We all experience troubles in our own way, but see if any of this sounds familiar right now—isolated, paralyzed, overwhelmed, anxious, powerless, off balance, out of control, disconnected, afraid, instability, despair, grief, tears, frustration, anger. Do you recognize in any of those in or around yourself today?
Spoken or unspoken, I think there’s a question every troubled heart is asking; Will the center hold or is everything collapsing around us? That’s my question and maybe it’s your question too. I believe it’s one many are asking these days. And today Jesus answers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
As much as I like those words, I wish he would’ve been a little more specific, but Jesus was never much for Q & A sessions.
What’s going to happen next? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
How will I get through this? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
When will things get back to normal? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Can our nation find social and racial healing? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Is everything going to be ok? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus is telling us to not lose our center during what is going on. That’s what happens when hearts are troubled, and we don’t know the way. We lose our center. We start living outside of ourselves and when we do, life is defined by and focused on external things. We become overwhelmed by things beyond our control. Jesus is calling us back to our center, back to himself, telling us to re-center and rebalance. He’s inviting us to live from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. He says to center in him, for he is the way, the truth, the life.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be troubled. There were times he lost his center I think. He too has felt the weight of a collapsing world.
He was deeply moved and troubled when he saw Mary weeping at the death of her brother Lazarus. Then Jesus wept.
“Now my soul is troubled,” he said as he faced his own death.
And John tells us that Jesus was “troubled in spirit” when he told the disciples that he would be betrayed.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Is that not the cry of every troubled heart?
I wonder if Jesus’ heart was troubled even as he was telling the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s the night of the last supper, feet have been washed, and Judas is about to get up and leave the table. I wonder if Jesus was talking to himself as much as to the disciples. I wonder if he was reminding himself as much as them that the Father’s house is a sanctuary and home for troubled hearts, and that there are as many dwelling places in the Father’s house as there are troubled hearts.
What if we look at John 14 as a story about finding and recovering our true center? What if re-centering is the front door of the Father’s house – for Jesus, the disciples, and us? And what if sometimes people lose their center so they can find the Truer one? The way, the truth, the life.
Isn’t that the Easter story we tell and celebrate every year? Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose to new life. That seems to be the universal pattern of life – order, disorder, reorder; centered, de-centered, re-centered.
Every resurrection, every reordering, and every re-centering opens us to new life and keeps the present moment from closing in on us. That’s the promise of Easter and every day. That’s the promise of Easter in the midst of whatever troubles your heart. And that’s why Jesus can say to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
If your heart is troubled then it’s probably time to re-center. Re-centering begins by looking and seeing the ways in which we are living outside of ourselves and are allowing external circumstances to trouble our souls.
How do we re-center? We stay yoked with Christ and rest during troubling, perplexing and anxious life events. A friend of mine calls it ‘floating’. Instead of swimming against the tide of troubling, perplexing and anxious life events, she floats. Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Resting in Christ won’t eliminate the virus, or cause bigotry in whatever form it exists to cease. Resting in Christ won’t immediately take away our worries or fix our problems, whatever they might be, but—and it’s a big but—resting in Christ brings clarity and wisdom in handling the external. Resting in Christ gives us a place of stability on which to stand. It tethers our heart to faith, hope, and love. Resting in Christ means loving our neighbor as ourselves; valuing the needs, hopes, and concerns of others as much as our own; being gentle with ourselves and others; forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven, whether it’s ourselves or another. Resting in Christ helps us to know what to hold on to and what to let go of. Resting in Christ connects us to the abundant life and to each other. Resting in Christ opens our eyes, ears, and hearts to the way, the truth, and the life. It reminds us that we are not the center but that the Center, who is Christ, resides within us. Resting in Christ helps us hold the center, because he is.
Hearts are troubled and the world seems to be spinning crazily and out of control, but there is a still point at the center – a still point that is not spinning crazily, a still point of peace, a still point of stability. “God,” writes Julian of Norwich, “is the still point at the center.”
A few questions in closing. Can you identify circumstances that have you living outside of yourself? If there are ways that you’re living off center, what in you today needs to rest in the center of Christ? What is one thing you can change, or do today that will begin to bring you back to center where you may find rest and your soul may be well?
This is the Word of the Lord for today.