5 Easter Proper A5
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 14:1-14 Sermon
May 18, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
191 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today, Hallelujah!"
201 "Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won!"
193 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"
47 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"  


TEXT (vs. 1-6):  “[Jesus said] Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

            One of the things we notice when reading the Bible is how God communicates human feelings and emotions.  These feelings and emotions are the internal result of various situations people experience.

            Let's have a brief look at the parable of the prodigal (or wasteful) son.  When the father saw his son off in the distance, he experiences what is known in Greek as "splagnatoi."  English Bible translations simply call this "compassion;" but in Greek, it literally means "an intense churning of the bowels."  We would be inclined to call that a "gut-wrenching" experience.

            Other emotional experiences may not be quite that graphic, but they are very real nevertheless.  For example, Jesus experiences intense sorrow as he weeps overJerusalem.  Jesus experiences mourning at the loss of his friend Lazarus, and so he openly weeps.  Jesus experiences anger when he encounters the merchants and money changers in the temple court stealing from the people.  Jesus experiences frustration (amongst other things) when he encounters the stubbornness of the Pharisees.  We could continue this list, but I think you get the idea.

            As we turn our attention to our Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus having a great deal of understanding when it comes to what the disciples were feeling, or would feel in the near future.  Jesus calls this having a troubled heart.  The disciples' hearts would indeed be troubled as they witness first-hand what Jesus would have to endure.  To see a friend betrayed, lied about, unfairly tried, convicted, beaten, flogged, and then finally crucified would be very unsettling to say the least.  And his death would tend to kill the last glimmer of hope they might have had.

            So Jesus begins to comfort his disciples.  He says, "Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me."  If the disciples would listen to Jesus, if they would believe what he is telling them, if they would just trust that God would do the right thing, then they would experience the cure for troubled hearts.  "Believe," says Jesus.  Just have faith.  He assures them that he does indeed know what he is doing and what he is saying.

            A troubled heart is a difficult thing to comprehend at times.  When my dad was deteriorating with pancreatic cancer, he would have times of despondency and a troubled heart, even though he was well aware that Jesus had prepared a mansion for him.  My mother experienced this when she was in assisted living and realized that she would never see the inside of her home again.

            And then I think of the situations that I've experienced with church members and other people I know.  There are the people that have gone through hospice.  There is the aging person who is experiencing dementia or the onset of Alzheimer's, knowing full well what is happening to them, and they are helpless to do anything about it.  And then there are people who have various heartaches when it comes to members of their own family.  The list is long when it comes to the things that will trouble hearts.

            This past week, very late one evening, I happened to meet Pastor Irwin from Holy Savior at the supermarket.  He asked me if I had been informed of the tragedy that had happened that day.  Then he informed me of the tragic suicide of Koby Hruza, a 16 year-old junior atLincolnLutheranHigh School, and a member of Messiah Lutheran.  He was a classmate of his children, so it affected them very deeply.  In fact, one of his daughter's friends was so distraught that she wound up spending the night at his house.  Pastor Irwin of course knows what the cure is for a troubled heart.

            It was only a matter of a few hours until I received official notification of this tragedy.  His parents, Todd and Teresa are both Lincoln Police Officers.  And being a Police Chaplain added yet another aspect to this.  We had chaplains on duty at every roll call at every precinct.  And in case you're interested, there are 8 roll calls per day.

            So what happened?  Koby was home alone.  He was distraught over a troubled relationship with a girl.  So he sat down at his computer, wrote a tearful suicide note, and hanged himself in the basement.  His parents found his lifeless body when they returned home.  Indeed it's a tragic story with a very sad ending.

            When I consider this suicide, I cannot even begin to imagine how troubled the hearts of these parents are.  If we add the other family members, the classmates, the teachers, the friends, and others, a lot of people are hurting in a wide variety of different ways.  And when I think back of the suicides I've encountered in my 15 years of chaplaincy, I have seen a lot of different troubled hearts.

            So here comes Jesus in John 14.  His words seem almost too simple, almost like a platitude, like a "one size fits all" solution.  He says, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."  So we feel like saying, "Okay Jesus, why don't you give me some real help here?  How can I get rid of this burden on my heart?  How can I continue on?  Oh God, why did you do this to me?  What did I ever do to deserve something like this?"

            There's one very important thing we have to always remember, and this is probably the best place to start.  God is not the problem; he is the solution.  Just think about that for a minute.  God is not the problem; he is the solution.  And that's where so many people get hung up.  They can't get past blaming God for everything that is wrong.

            In every instance, Jesus directs us to look forward.  He wants us to see the broader picture, and what awaits us on the horizon.  If we apply this to the teenage boy that committed suicide, he couldn't see it, even though it was right there in front of him.  He ignored the promises Jesus gave him, and instead believed that his world ended when his teenage romantic interlude ended.                 

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is attempting to describe to his disciples the heavenly reward he has waiting for them.  They will have an eternal dwelling in heaven, and it will be something that will be above and beyond anything they could ever imagine on earth.  Whatever problems they are facing how, and regardless of how troubled their hearts are, they will all pass.  The mansion in heaven is forever.

            We do have one problem with this.  We have no point of reference when it comes to heaven.  There is nothing in our life experience that would even come close to it.  Even the word “mansion” employed by the King James translators is far from adequate.  Nobody on this earth has ever seen heaven, and so using the various Biblical references, people have created an image in their minds of what heaven will be like.

            Over the years, I have fielded many questions about heaven.  One story I like to tell happened when I was a vicar, or student intern.  One little boy in the congregation approached me with a question.  He asked me, “Will I have a sand box to play in when I get to heaven?”  As it was explained to me, his father had just built him a sand box, and he absolutely loved playing in it.  In his way of thinking, heaven needed a big sand box for him to play in.  That was his point of reference.

            Adults have those types of questions too.  Even though the points of reference change and the questions go far beyond a little boy’s sand box, people still want answers to their questions about heaven.  Will I see mum or dad or grandma?  Will I know and recognize everybody?  Will it be a fun place?  Will my dog or cat be there too?

            My answers to the heavenly questions might sound rather simplistic, but it’s the best answer I can give.  In heaven, we will be eternally happy.  So if there is something that is essential to our eternal happiness, then God will see to it that it will be there.  The thing we need to always remember is that Jesus is the cure for troubled hearts.

             Over the years, people have gotten a rather negative picture of heaven in their minds as well.  They think of it in terms of being in church for all eternity, maybe listening to a sermon that never ends.  Or they picture heaven as a place where people wear long white nightgowns and float around on clouds playing the harp all the time.

            So faced with that choice, people look at hell thinking that it is just one big gigantic party where they can do what they want.  Satan has tricked them into thinking that his way is the way of fun and that hell is really the place that offers people the most.

            But the reality of it all is that heaven means eternal happiness, and that’s what many people fail to recognize.  Likewise, hell means eternal torment and suffering.  Nothing we can fathom in our own minds or anything Satan can use to tempt us will ever change those facts.

            We know Jesus is in heaven; and in our Gospel reading for today, Jesus explains that through faith in him and what God has promised, we will have the cure for our troubled hearts.  Thomas asks him where he is going and how we can get there too.  In verse 6 Jesus replies:  “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

            This presents another fact.  If you don’t want to be in heaven when you die, you don’t have to be.  You have the choice to reject Jesus as your Saviour, and choose hell instead.  You have the choice to forfeit all eternal happiness in heaven and elect instead an eternity of misery and pain and torment.  But if you die having made that choice, there’s no turning back once you’re there.

            As I look at my own life, being the dirty rotten scoundrel that I am, I know that the words Jesus speaks in John chapter 14 have special meaning.  And as each of us look at our lives of sin and how many times we have deserved God’s wrath and punishment, those words of comfort Jesus speaks in our Gospel for today can give us a real sense of secure hope for the future.  Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”

            Jesus is preparing a place for us, and just for us.  It will be our own individual mansion in heaven.  While we are on this earth, we can’t adequately fathom exactly what it will be like.  Even with all of the illustrations and metaphors the Bible uses, we still can’t fully comprehend the glory that awaits us.  But we can be sure of this much:  we will like it, and we will be eternally happy.

            So how do we know the way?  In our Gospel lesson, Jesus says: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

            Faith alone is the answer.  Through faith, Jesus comes into our lives.  Through the faith that the Holy Spirit gives us, we accept him as our Saviour from sin.  Through faith, our troubled hearts find a calm and peaceful cure.  Regardless of what we’ve done in the past, we know that our sinful record has been completely obliterated.  King David even says in Psalm 130 verses 3-4: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”

            Faith in Christ alone is our entrance into heaven.  Jesus is the key to our heavenly mansion.  And even though we can’t fully comprehend all of what God has in store for us, we can trust what Jesus says.  Where he is, there we shall be also.  And we will enjoy an eternity of happiness and joy.

            We need only briefly look at other religions to see how their brand of eternity is severely lacking.  Some teach reincarnation, where you might come back to earth and live life as a better person if you’re good, or you might come back to earth and live life as a toad if you’re bad.  Some teach that you might reach a state of nirvana, which is a state of nothingness.  Some teach that if you are a martyr for your faith, you will have a host of virgins in the afterlife at your disposal.  Some teach that you become a part of nature.  And some teach that you might be a god of your own celestial planet someday.  It doesn’t take much to see how all of these theories are severely lacking.  There’s always a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not you’ve done enough good works to merit various rewards, so people live their lives in a state of fear and apprehension.

            But the Christian knows differently.  The Christian has the promise of Jesus, which is sure and certain.  Therefore whenever uncertainty may appear, or some other way might seem more appealing, we have the words of Jesus telling us the only way to heaven and eternal happiness:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”