Sermon notes 05-14-17   Remedy for Heart Trouble

[John 14:1] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.” [5] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

            [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? [10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. [11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

            [12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. [13] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (ESV)

 Our Scripture passage begins with Jesus saying the words, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and I want to talk with you today about “heart trouble.”  Heart trouble can of course be a very serious subject, but I want to begin on the lighter side, and confess that one of the things I think of when I hear the term “heart trouble” is the TV program “Sanford and Son.”  Many of you remember the 70’s sit-com starring Redd Foxx, who played the role of Fred Sanford.  I’m thinking that maybe even some of you youngsters, who were not even born yet in the 70’s, might have seen reruns of “Sanford and Son.”  If you know the show, you almost certainly remember that one of the running gags on the show was Fred using ‘heart trouble’ to try and gain pity.

Fred Sanford was always exaggerating his heart trouble to try to manipulate his son Lamont.  It seemed that at least once in every episode, there would be a moment when Fred would clutch his heart and stagger backwards and say, “This is the big one.”  And he would look toward heaven and say, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth.”  Then he would add a few melodramatic words of farewell, to which his son Lamont would respond by rolling his eyes and letting his father know that he knew he was faking it.

Now, on a more serious note, we all know that real heart trouble is no laughing matter.  Typically, when we hear of someone having heart trouble, we think of a serious physical problem.  We almost certainly all know persons who have experienced heart trouble in the physical sense, and more than a few of us have lost family members due to some form of heart disease.  There are likely even some of you watching who have experienced a heart attack or coronary bypass surgery or have had a stent or a pacemaker installed or have undergone a cardioversion treatment, or are taking blood thinning or cholesterol lowering medication to address heart trouble.

Heart trouble, or heart disease in the physical sense, is an all-too-common experience.  In fact a Google search of heart trouble will tell you that according to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in nearly every racial and ethnic group in the United States.  That fact may come as no surprise to you, but what you may find alarming is that cardiovascular disease claims more than 647,000 American lives annually, which is more than all forms of cancer combined, and roughly eight times more than the 77,000 Americans who have died so far from the coronavirus.  That makes me wonder about the relative degree of precautions we have been taking to prevent the coronavirus versus those we take, or don’t take, to prevent heart disease.  One out of every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease.  Someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease every 37 seconds.

Yet even more common than heart disease or heart trouble in the physical sense is the emotional or spiritual experience of having a troubled heart.  I think it is safe to say that we have all known what it feels like to have an emotionally or spiritually troubled heart.  Some of us may get through life without physical heart trouble, but virtually all of us will have a troubled heart in the emotional or spiritual sense at some time or other in our lives, if not frequently throughout our lives.

Our hearts can be troubled over any number of things—relationships, finances, our physical health and well-being and the health and well-being of our loved ones,

the prevalence of evil and pain and suffering and disease and death in the world, the unpredictable and unknowable circumstances of life, COVID 19—all these things and many more can trouble our hearts.  Yet Jesus tells his followers—we might even say Jesus commands his followers—“Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Those words of Jesus in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel are part of what is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.  Unlike Fred Sanford, Jesus is not being melodramatic; he knows he truly is at death’s doorway and he really is saying farewell to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.  We can imagine just how troubled are the hearts of Jesus’ disciples as he is breaking the news that he is going to be leaving them.  But Jesus, knowing full well the trouble in their hearts, seeks to reassure his disciples that his death will not be the end.  He wants them to see that his death is rather a beginning of the way that will lead to eternal life.  So Jesus says to his followers, and that of course means us, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

I don’t know about you, friends, but for me that can sometimes be a tall order.  How are we supposed to keep our hearts from being troubled?  Isn’t that easier said than done, Jesus?  In the case of physical heart trouble, we know there are certain things that can be done in an effort to prevent or remedy or minimize the problem.  We can eat a heart-healthy diet or maintain an exercise program or take medication to lower our blood pressure.  We might need to undergo surgery to insert a stent or repair a valve or bypass an artery.  These can all be effective measures for addressing physical heart trouble.

But what can be done to address emotional or spiritual heart trouble?  The options are not nearly so scientific.  People try lots of different ways to address the problem of a troubled heart.  Oftentimes they try to cover it up, by denying it, or by dulling it with drugs or alcohol, or they try to fill their troubled hearts with worldly things, or they attempt to counteract a troubled heart with various forms of self-indulgence.  The world offers an abundance of answers and solutions to a troubled heart, but worldly answers and solutions are as fake as Fred Sanford’s heart attacks.

Jesus offers the one true remedy for troubled hearts, in one simple word—believe.

Jesus uses the word “believe” six times in this passage.  So it must be pretty important to Jesus that we believe.  After telling his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, his very next words to them are, “Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Jesus is saying to his followers, ‘the heart that is troubled is a heart that is not focused on God, but is focused rather on all the false things that the world offers to soothe a troubled heart.’  Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that in their time of trouble and ours, we are to focus our hearts on God.  And he describes how a heart focused on God can become an untroubled heart.

Jesus tells us first to believe, then he tells us what we will receive.  He says, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.”  Friends, this means there is room for us in heaven.  Jesus tells us that he is preparing a place for us there, and that all we have to do to receive it is to believe in him.  He even promises that if we believe, he will come again and take us there himself.  In fact, he tells us that he is the only way to get there.

When Thomas asks Jesus how we can know the way to get there, Jesus says to him, “I am the Way.”  He does not tell Thomas the way by providing directions; he claims to be the way.  If we ask someone for directions to a place we want to go, and they only tell us how to get there, we could easily lose our way.  But if they say, ‘come with me, I’ll show you,’ then we are not likely to get lost.  This is what Jesus does for us.  He does not give us only advice and directions, he takes us by the hand and leads us, he strengthens and guides us personally every day.  He does not merely tell us about the way; he is the Way, the only Way to the Father.  Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus alone is the way to our ultimate destiny; he alone is the way to God.  Jesus alone can lead us into God’s presence without fear or shame, because he took our sins upon himself on the cross.

Jesus follows that by saying, “I am the Truth.”  Our Lord is the source of all truth, the one who embodies the truth.

And Jesus says, “I am the Life.”  Jesus is the Word of life, the author of life.  He created all of life.  He invented life.  He is the source of life, the origin of life, the reason and purpose for life.  He makes life worth living.  He gives life meaning.  And he is the goal and destiny of our lives.

Jesus tells Philip and the other disciples, believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me.  In Jesus, we come to know God the Father.  To see Jesus is to see what God is like.  The words of Jesus were God’s words speaking to humans; his works were God’s power flowing through him to humans; Jesus was the channel by which God came to humanity.

Jesus goes on to say some words that can be very puzzling.  He says, ‘the one who believes in me will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.’  What did Jesus mean by saying believers will do greater things than he has done?  How can anyone do greater works than Jesus?

One way of understanding this is to realize that in the days of being in human flesh, Jesus was limited in his humanity to the area of Palestine and Israel, but when he died and rose again, he was freed from those human limitations and his Spirit could work through his Church with mighty power anywhere and everywhere.  As an example of this, on the day of Pentecost alone, more believers became followers of Jesus than during his entire earthly ministry.  When Jesus was in human flesh, his influence and his triumphs were limited, but after his resurrection, the message of the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth, even as far as Surf City, North Carolina.  That is why Jesus says, you will do greater things than these.

Jesus says one more thing in this passage that I think we are inclined to misunderstand.  He says, ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name.’  We should be careful to consider what this means, and what it does not mean.  Jesus does not say here that all of our prayers will be granted.  He says that all of our prayers in his name will be granted.

But Jesus does not mean we can use his name as if it were some magical incantation like “abracadabra,” that works merely by pronouncing it.  To pray in the name of Jesus is not a formula for prayer that requires only that we add the words, “In Jesus’ name” and thereby obligate God to answer our prayers. To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray what he would pray, in accordance with his character and his will.

The test of any prayer should be, can I make this prayer in the name and Spirit of Jesus; in other words, would Jesus pray this prayer?  Is this prayer consistent with what the Bible teaches us about the character and the will of Jesus?  When we pray, we should always ask ourselves, can I honestly make this prayer in the name of Jesus?  We cannot expect a prayer that is based on selfish desires to be granted, but a prayer that says in the end, ‘thy will be done’ … that prayer will be answered.

So what would we say we have learned in this passage from John’s Gospel?  In his last hours with his followers, Jesus gives them words of comfort and instructions for living after he is gone.  His disciples don’t understand everything he is telling them, and we don’t understand it all either.  But maybe the main lesson for us is that we do not need to understand it all now.  As the old hymn says, we will understand it better by and by.  For now, the one thing that really matters is that we believe.

Jesus knows that we are prone to have heart trouble, but he gives us the remedy, the prescription, for troubled hearts.  Believe.  Believe in God.  Believe also in Jesus.  Believe and receive his promises.  Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.  There is plenty of room.  We do not need to understand everything or to know when he is coming again; we need only to believe that he is coming.  The day for our “big one” will come for each of us; whether it be heart trouble, cancer, COVID-19, some other illness or injury, or Jesus coming again, something will take each of us out of this world.

And on that day, brothers and sisters, our belief will be fully realized and validated … and our hearts will never be troubled again.  Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, you not only show us the way to the Father, you are the Way.  Help us to believe so that our hearts may be kept untroubled.  Help us to work for good in the world until you come again. Help us to pray as you would pray.  May your will be done.  Amen.