Rev. William H Lamar IV, Senior Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church
Sunday, May 18, 2014; 7:45am Service
Scripture: John 14: 1-14
Most of us are familiar with this passage that is ubiquitous at funerals:
1“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.”
Chapter 14 of the Book of John begins the long farewell discourse of Jesus; the cross is before him, his ministry is behind him, and he is preparing his disciples to live on in his absence. His message to them is: Life must go on.
In this farewell, Jesus seeks to encourage the disciples to keep on doing the great works he has empowered and commissioned them to do. As a pastor, I have had the privilege of sitting with many people during their transition. I’ve heard folks say things like: “Make sure all my business is in order;” “Watch out for that person—you can’t trust them.” I’ve heard folks say “Lord, forgive me.” In the scripture, what is it that Jesus says to prepare his disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The phrase taken out of its context, sounds like a syrupy sweet religious platitude designed to erase our pain.
When the Lord says “Let not your life be troubled,” what I want to say to the Lord today is, when I know there is pain in my life, I want the Lord to tell me more than “let not my heart be troubled.” Is that what we say to Relisha Rudd’s family, to the mother of those daughters of Nigeria, to Jonathan Newton, to the Johns Family, the Green family, to my family who lost a loved one last night? When you know all that we have endured over the ages, is that all He can say? I got amproblem with this; I need God to tell me something more than something obvious and sweet.
As I prepared for the sermon this morning, and read what scholars and thinkers say about this, I learned that the only reason Jesus can say “Let not your heart be troubled” is because he knew humans have trouble on every side, all around us. Somebody here has lived long enough to know you cannot outrun trouble.
No matter what you have achieved you cannot outrun trouble, pain, grief, affliction.
I get tired of preachers who don’t preach the gospel of difficulty and challenge and who make people think that stuff is just going to go away. Church is not the place where stuff goes away, where God removes the thorn in my flesh. Paul says “I prayed to the Lord three times and He would not remove the thorn.” And God said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient.” No matter what you have achieved in life, you cannot outrun trouble, pain, grief or affliction.
We have ripped this verse (“Do not let your hearts be troubled”) out of the gospel of John and put it on greeting cards and in funeral sermons and church billboards; let’s take it and put it back into the gospel of John. When we read it John’s way—and not Joel Osteen’s way—and not the positive-power-thinking-Christianity way, we see that this is the 4th time Jesus has used this word “troubled.” Now Tom Long says, if we put it back in context we see this is not escapism; Jesus is not advocating that we run away. The first time that Jesus utters the word “troubled” is with Lazarus. “He was greatly troubled at the death of his dear friend.” That ain’t no easy situation.
Another time he uses it is when one of his friends, who sat at a table with him, heard him laugh, the one named Judas, who had hooked up with the leaders of the government and the leaders of church to betray him: “Jesus was deeply troubled.”
Finally, as Jesus faced the cross, knowing the pain that was before him, it says that he quoted scripture by saying: “My soul is deeply troubled unto death.”
This trouble about which Jesus speaks is not easy. And I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to know we will experience trouble, or we are living through that kind of trouble right now, or we are in sickness, disease, death, relationship and economic problems – we are living through trouble. I wanted Jesus to be more like Bob Marley or Run DMC and speak about trouble the way musicians sing of trouble. I have moved five times but trouble always knows my forwarding address. Wherever I go, trouble meets me there.
Everyone needs to understand that no one has permanent residence, that life is a series of goodbyes, and in the scripture, Jesus is preparing his disciples to continue his work in his absence.
I get tired of us when we want to stop because someone has moved off the scene. I get tired when folks want to leave a church when the pastor that you loved got moved and you don’t want to work no more; when the boss that hired you got moved, and you don’t like the new boss, so you have an attitude. Maybe I need to park right here… We cannot allow transitions to paralyze us in the midst of what God wants us to do.
The disciples had an advantage over us because they knew Jesus personally. They knew what his breath smelled like. But even so, Jesus told them “I have to go, but I have to get you ready for what is coming.”
It bothers us that we don’t prepare for the next generation. We act and work like we are going to be here forever. No matter how bad you are or how beautiful you are or how connected you are, you aren’t going to be here forever. So the best thing you can do is to prepare someone for when you are not going to be here. If you love your family, if you love your church, don’t wait until you get into the hospital to get your business right. We need to work while there is day; Jesus did not want his disciples to get caught of guard.
Jesus is saying “My heart is breaking along with you now; I have to transition, but I have something to tell you that if you hold on to it, even while I’m gone you will be able to do the work that I ‘ve called you to do.” What Jesus is saying is: “Let not your your life be troubled, believe in God and believe in me. In this moment, when your faith is compromised, you’ve got to keep on believing.”
I got an email from a wonderful young sister whom I have had the privilege of pastoring who is going through some horrendous stuff. She said, “I just don’t believe I can trust God anymore.” Has anybody ever been there before? I don’t trust church people who have never fallen out with God. If you don’t fall out with God sometimes, you don’t really love God. You only argue with those you know love enough to know they have the power to change a situation – people who you know can do better; you fuss with your husband, your children because you know they can do better.
We know God is able to extract from the mountain of despair a stone of hope. So we get angry we get messages like: “Keep on believing,” even though the evidence looks like God has disappeared, keep on believing and trusting even when it looks like God has gone on vacation to some sunny shore in Florida. Because with eyes of faith, God will never fail you, and will never let you down. Keep on believing; I know your heart is troubled, but believe anyway.
Trouble tries to squeeze the life of God out of us.
Here is the proposition for us in the text today. Jesus says: “In my fathers house, there are many dwelling places;” this statement about trouble is backed right up against the statement about the dwelling places or the mansions in God’s house. This is my proposition to you this morning: What trouble tries to do is to squeeze the life of God out of us. It tries to wring the life and power of God out of you. I have been in moments in my life when the life of God inside of me has been wrung so that it appears that there is no God left. Have you ever been squeezed so hard or has Life backed you in such a corner that the space that is available for God in your life feels like it has been squeezed.
Let not your heart be troubled; because no matter how pressed you are, there is still room for you in God’s grace, mercy, salvation. You know the worst people in the world are those who tell you there’s no room for you. You can’t come here boy, there’s no room for you. Sam Cooke sings: “I go to the movie and I go downtown…folks tell me they don’t want me hangin’ around.” The people who exclude you and who tell you there’s no room for you are the worst kind of people. Even when Jesus was born that innkeeper said there is no room even for Jesus in the Inn. They are on a demonic mission to keep you away from the grace of God.
I want you here at Metropolitan to know there is still room for you today. Our mothers and fathers said: Plenty good room, there’s plenty good room in my father’s kingdom, let not your heart be troubled. You are dealing with death, with sickness, I don’t care who you are, where you came from, what you did last year, what you did last month, what you did last week, how about what you did last night, there is still room for you. There is trouble in my way. You don’t know what trouble you will encounter when you leave these doors, though you heard the sermon, and sung the songs, and read the scripture, trouble will still find you. Trouble is looking for you, all you have to do is open up your email, and if you read long enough, there’s some trouble; there’s trouble in those text messages.
With all your mess, there’s still room for you in God’s house.
I want you to say, come on trouble, there is still room for me in God’s house; God has not abandoned me, there is still room for me! With all my mess, there is still room for me. Trouble is real, but the room is also real. Anyone found some peace in that room, some joy in that room? Anybody realize that life is still worth living when you got to that room. Let me tell you why I love this church—because when I’m down and I come in here I know there’s still room for me, when I hear the choir singing, when I hear the preacher praying, I know there’s still room for me. Look at somebody shake there hand and say there’s still room for you, there’s space for you, with your troubled heart, with your broken heart, there is still room for you. There’s a vacancy with your name on it.
I want to know even if this church were full there would still be room for you. There’s enough room for everybody in Washington, DC, in the United States of America, in South African in Antarctica, in Asia, in Africa—there’s enough room for every-body.
Come on up here with your addictions, there’s room for you; come on up here with your with your legal trouble, with your sexual confusion, there’s room for you. Come on up here with your…problem, with your financial difficulty, there’s room for you. Come on up here; you don’t have to be trouble-free to enter that room, in fact you can take your troubles with you. Come on in here; the doors are wide open.
Scripture: John 14: 1-14 New International Version (NIV).
Jesus Comforts His Disciples: 14 “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.” Jesus the Way to the Father: 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. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.