St. Pauls – Easter 5 – 5/7/2023
What troubles your heart today?
For me the list is long and it’s not pretty. It’s a crushing and excruciating heart attack. I think about all the litanies and prayers we have offered in recent years for the violence and suffering in the world: Syria; Aleppo;
Orlando; Istanbul, Bangladesh, and Baghdad; Beirut and Paris; Pittsburgh, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and El Paso, Buffalo, Uvalde, Nashville, Louisville, Cleveland… America following any election; January 6, and persecuted religions. Covid. Ukraine. Yemen. I think about the protests around the world and in America. I think about healthcare, immigrants and the dropping of Title 42, and refugees. I think about gun violence, racism, and poverty. I think about stories of bullying and suicides. I think about ISIS, Russia, North Korea, and increasing tensions around the globe. I think about the nightmare of our political dysfunction in both parties. I think about those grieving and mourning the death of a loved one. I think about families that are struggling, spouses that are divorcing, children that are hungry, and people that are hanging on by a thread. I think about my own sorrows, losses, and disappointments. I think about the ways today’s gospel gets interpreted and used to exclude, condemn, and bludgeon others.
Despite what Jesus says about not letting our hearts be troubled, my heart is troubled and I suspect yours might be too. What would you add to my list? What is troubling your heart today? None of us get through this life without a troubled heart. I don’t think we can look at the pain of the world today, the suffering of a loved one, or our own wounds and hurts and not have a troubled heart. At least, I hope we can’t.
That’s the context in which I hear Jesus say, Do not let your hearts be troubled. It’s not that different from the context in which Jesus said those words. It is the night of the last supper. Jesus has announced his departure from this world, his death. Feet have been washed. Judas has left the table and stepped into the nighttime of betrayal. Peter will break his silence with a threefold denial. Thomas is lost and asks, How can we know the way? Philip has lost his center and can’t see what is right in front of him. Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied, he says.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. Do not let your hearts be troubled? Are you kidding me? Is Jesus really serious about that? Does he know what is happening in our lives and our world? How can Jesus say that with a straight face when he was troubled at seeing Mary and the Jews weeping at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33), when he said that his own soul is troubled (John 12:27), and when St. John tells us that Jesus was troubled in spirit (John 13:21)? What is Jesus telling us? It’s not as if there is an on-off switch for troubled hearts. How do we begin to make sense of today’s gospel in a world whose heart is constantly troubled?
It’s not hard to understand why this text is so often used in a burial liturgy. Death troubles our hearts and we want to find some balance, stability, and harmony. This text, however, is about more than the after life. It has something to say right here and right now. It’s speaks to the very circumstances that trouble our hearts today.
Think about times when you heart has been troubled. Maybe it is now. What does that feel like? We all experience it in our own ways but see if this sounds familiar: isolated, paralyzed, overwhelmed, powerless, off balance, out of control, disconnected, afraid, thoughts spinning in your head, no stability, despair, grief, tears, anger. Do you recognize any of those?
In the midst of a troubled heart the unspoken question is this: Will the center hold or is everything collapsing around us. Thomas and Philip are feeling the collapse. Much of the world is. Maybe you are too. Will the center hold? That’s our question.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus recognizes that our hearts are troubled. He is not warning us about a future condition. He knows the troubling has already begun. He can see it in us because he’s experienced it within himself. He also knows that our lives and the world are not defined by or limited to what is troubling.
What if not letting our hearts be troubled begins with looking into our hearts and seeing and naming what it is that is troubling? That means facing our selves, our lives, our world. That may be the first and most difficult thing Jesus asks of us in today’s gospel. I don’t know about you but sometimes I don’t want to see. I don’t want to name. It’s too difficult and too painful. It’s takes me too close to the edge of the abyss and a free fall into a collapsing life and a collapsing world. Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Thomas speaks for us all. We’ve lost our center. How do we recenter? Where do we go when it seems everything is collapsing around us?
Here’s the paradox. Sometimes we have to lose our center in order to find it. I want to be clear about this. I’m not suggesting that God purposely de-centers us. De-centering happens. It’s a part of life. It’s a part of the human condition. Sometimes it comes out of circumstances we didn’t create or choose. Other times it is a consequence of our choices or actions. Regardless, Jesus says that is not a place to stay or a way to live. It is not the life he lives or offer us.
If your heart is troubled then it’s time to re-center. Re-centering doesn’t mean our hearts won’t be troubled. It doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, whatever it might be. It means that our lives are tethered to something greater than ourselves. It means that our hearts are held secure by the Divine Life and we are not free falling into the abyss. Jesus is reminding us that there is a center and it is not us. It is not America and her laws and constitution. It is not the church and her creeds and doctrines. It is not our success, accomplishments, position, or power. We do not have to be the center nor do we need to establish it. In fact, we can’t. Instead, we awaken to it. We already know the way to and the place of this center Jesus says. Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied, Philip says to Jesus. He’s bought into the lie that the Father is apart from, outside of, and distant from himself. The center, however, is within. The Father’s house is within. The kingdom is within.
Wherever you go, there is the center.
Whatever you face, there is the center.
Whoever you are, there is the center.,
Regardless of what troubles, there is the center.
Wherever you are, there is the center.
Not because you are the center, but because God is within.
In the language of today’s gospel the center is the Father’s house and there are many dwelling place in this house. In the Father’s house there is a dwelling place for every troubled heart. I am not talking about the after life, and I am not thinking of this as some sort of celestial dormitory for those who have enough right belief and right behavior.
I am taking about the dwelling places as the ways God’s life intersects our own: mercy and forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, healing, love, beauty, wisdom, hope, courage, joy, intimacy. These are the dwelling places for troubled hearts, places of re-centering. Every time we live into and express the divine attributes in our way of being, with our words, or by our actions, we regain our center, restore balance, and take up residence in the Father’s house.
What in you today needs re-centering? In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
How might centeredness, balance, and harmony within yourself help you see and respond to your troubles or the troubles of the world differently? In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
What if in the midst of troubles your heart could maintain a normal rhythm and beat with God’s life? In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. I hear those words and I imagine a sign blinking like a heartbeat:
As you leave church today and head into your world this week: Hold on to your hat. Get ready to be surprised. You’ll see Jesus’s promises fulfilled in the coming week.
Let us pray:
forgive us for constantly doubting who you are
and what you are doing.
We cannot always see clearly the ways
that you are at work in our lives and in the world around us.
And even when we do see,
we cannot always understand what you are doing.
Maybe it’s our thin faith.
Maybe it’s our modern, enlightened skepticisms.
Maybe it’s our fear that you will actually come to us
and expect something from us.
Whatever it is, clear our hearts and minds by the power of your Spirit, so that we may see you in your glory
and follow you wherever you would have us to go.