Troubled Hearts Find the Way

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter 5
May 7, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: These words, from Jesus to his closest followers in his final days on earth, are words of assurance for any who respond to his life in the world. They are not words of condemnation, meant to divide us into those who are "in" and those who are "out."

"Do not let your hearts be troubled," Jesus says.

He is speaking directly to his disciples, in a time that is nothing if not troubling. He is facing imminent, violent, torturous death. His disciples face being bereft of their leader, who is charismatic like no other they (or the world, as it turns out) will ever know. Jesus' words to his disciples, in this parting conversation, are called by many the Farewell Discourse "because it resembles the common literary form of the farewell or last testament of a famous man."1 Yet Jesus' words are meant for assurance, not trouble.

There is no need for your hearts to be troubled, Jesus says.


Because you believe in God. You believe that this world - the world of those earliest disciples, and our world, too - is not just a random and meaningless explosion of energy, but creation; a world created by the only God there is, was or ever will be. Yes, as wildly divergent as our understandings of the universe might be, we disciples, all of us - the living and the dead - believe that. We believe in God. We believe in God's creation. We believe in meaning and purpose. Let not your hearts be troubled, in these troubled times ... these are words of assurance and not trouble, for us, as well as for our brothers and sisters of two millennia ago.

You believe in God; believe also in me, Jesus says. Believe in God, Jesus says. Believe also that I am the one sent by God, I am the Truth of God, I am the Way. I am Son of God, Child of Humanity - I am what God had in mind when God created us, male and female. And I am not going away forever; I am going on ahead of you, to prepare a place for you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

Preparing a place

I am going to prepare a place for you, Jesus says - and not only for you. In my Father's house, there are many dwelling places; not one, many. I go to prepare a place for you, and for many - know this! And know this, too: that you already know the way there.

And Thomas - sometimes called "doubting" Thomas, but more accurately called "questioning" Thomas, if you will, for he is the one of those faithful followers who is not afraid to ask questions, to question anything - Thomas is nonplussed by this. "How can we know the way?"

And Jesus answers forthrightly: "I am the way ...."

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

How shall we understand these words, today - or any day? These are meant to be words of assurance, words that soothe us, words that take us away from trouble. But how assuring, really, is it to be told that we who follow him are on the way if the same statement also seems to exclude people we know, people we love, who do not follow Christ's way? These are good people, people as committed to loving neighbor, to loving God, people as committed to this world of meaning and purpose as we are, but who do not profess our faith in this Christ. Is it "assuring" to assume that they are lost?

And yet, here we have it: the one we call Lord saying, "No one comes to the Father except through me." Are you "assured"? Does trouble now depart from your heart? How is it "assuring" to know that one who, however venal and corrupt, makes the right noises about believing in Jesus is welcomed in the Father's house, while those committed even unto death to building the world implied throughout Jesus' gospel are condemned? How does it offer "assurance" to be told that those who faithfully follow the world's magnificent other religions - religions as God-centered as ours, even if they don't share our convictions about God-in-Christ and the Holy Spirit - are lost for, and to, eternity?

Knowing the way

Jesus is the way - but how shall we understand that "way"? How shall we find it? How does that way truly offer assurance - in times that continue to be as troubled as ever - to all people of undeniable good will?

If we understand Jesus as God; if we understand that seeing Jesus is seeing God - and if we understand the Christ that we see as a particular expression of God's universal, physical presence in the world, these words of John 14 become words of assurance, and not words of exclusivity and condemnation. "Do not let your hearts be troubled," Jesus says. These are not words meant to bring about strife and contention between those who "believe" and those who don't, to set one group up as superior to the other. These words are meant to bring peace to troubled hearts. These words are meant as assurance to those of us who have chosen to cast our lot with Jesus. Jesus is giving assurance to his closest followers, in this most difficult time. He is not condemning unbelievers.

"No one comes to the Father except through me." This does not say, "no one comes to the Father except through the Christian religion," or through "sound doctrine," or through belief, or through having correct opinions, or through being "scriptural" or through regular church attendance (not that we want to discourage regular church attendance!).

So, how, then, does one come to the Father through Jesus? Oneness with the Father comes through commitment to the way of being human that Christ shows us - through loving our neighbor as our self, through proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberation to those oppressed - and then leaving judgment to God. The Christ that we Christians see in Jesus is a particular expression of the universal presence of God, in the world, in flesh, actively reaching out to all flesh. People respond to this presence of God in a variety of ways - some recognizable to us, and some not.

Knowing Jesus

"If you know me, you will know my Father also." Knowing Jesus is knowing God. And how does one "know Jesus"? It is a commonplace that one can be an expert on the Christian religion, and yet know nothing of Jesus. Christians of every persuasion accuse one another of that very thing, all the time, and regardless of how unfair that accusation so often is, there is nevertheless an element of truth to it. So how can we be sure that we know Jesus - not just know about him, or have opinions about him, but know him? What does that mean?

"Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing," Jesus says. This is the test of how one comes to the Father through Jesus: through the heartfelt desire to do the works Jesus does, even if one doesn't profess faith in Jesus himself. Wherever we see the works of Jesus being performed, there we see one who is on the path to the Father, through Jesus.

Is this just a shallow and simplistic "universalism" that wants to let everybody in so that we don't appear judgmental? No, it is not. This acknowledges the actual presence in the world of the Christ that we Christians see in Jesus. This insists that we must be committed to being human in the way that Jesus is human. If we are not - then we are not on the way to the Father. There is no way around this.

Is this just another example of salvation by works? No, it is not. Salvation comes from God alone, accessed through faith in the actual presence of God, on earth, in Christ. But the faith that saves can come in many ways, some recognizable to us, some not. We can acknowledge many ways of responding to the Christ that we Christians see in Jesus, and that there are many ways to the Father through Christ.

Don't use this passage to condemn others for supposedly refusing to come to the Father through Jesus. We cannot know the deepest motivations of others who may very well be relating to Christ in ways unfamiliar to us. Let us not concern ourselves overmuch with what others do - except, where possible, to see them as allies in our own quest for a genuine oneness with God.

May this passage call us into ever deeper communion with Christ. May we see him more clearly. May we follow him more closely, with ever deepening commitment. No one comes to the Father except through me, says Jesus. Hear this as an admonition directed solely to you, as I need to hear it addressed solely to me. Am I truly following Jesus, and him alone, on the path that leads to oneness with God?

And may we not be too quick to count someone outside the pale because they don't think as we do, or because they have different ways than we do of occupying their time on Sunday morning.


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