As many of you know, Shannon and I have a small dog named Lucy. I love Lucy, for a million reasons, but today I want to focus not on her many stellar qualities, but rather on one of her defects. Lucy is nervous little dog. She is forever nervous that we might leave her alone in the house, or that we might not have heard the baby crying in the nursery. But what worries Lucy the most is a thunderstorm. Lucy hates thunderstorms. They send her into a panic. She paces back and forth, she follows you to the bathroom and hides behind the toilet, she attempts to burrow underneath you on the couch. Thunderstorms terrify Lucy. She acts as if we are taking artillery fire and she is the only one bright enough to run for cover. What is odd about all of this, is that in the 6 years I have known her, nothing bad has ever happened to her in a thunderstorm. She is inside, she’s dry, she’s safe. Nothing bad is even about to happen to her, she’s going to be just fine. The only trauma that she is actually experiencing is her worry and her fear. If she could just calm down, if she could just trust that everything was going to somehow be ok, she would be fine. The problem isn’t really the thunderstorm, the problem is her.
This dilemma is rather easy to diagnose in poor little Lucy, but it is unfortunately, not unique to her. Human beings are remarkable for our capacity to think ahead, to plan, to reflect and project, and to imagine all sorts of different scenarios and outcomes. This is both a blessing and a curse. While our imaginative abilities allow us to create incredible structures, organizations, and societies, they can also cripple us. For our imaginations always outstrip our ability to control events, things, and people. Realizing what little control we have can have the effect of setting our imaginations off, allowing them to run wild with all the negative responses, actions, and outcomes that the future could hold for us. We begin to worry, not just a little, but a lot. Think about the last time you drove yourself crazy with worry. Maybe you were away from your child for a period of time and you began to think about all the terrible things that could happen to them. Or maybe you had an important interview or meeting and you began to doubt yourself, began to think about all the ways you might mess it up. In either situation, the problem isn’t with the child or the meeting, its with your worry. You cannot control what will happen to your child in your absence, you cannot control the outcome of the meeting, but the thoughts of what might happen can cause you to suffer. Your troubled heart is what causes you the pain of this anxiety. The problem isn’t the thing you are worrying about. The problem is with you.
This realization, that you yourself might be the cause of your pain, can be a terrifying one. Because I can run away from many problems, but I can’t run away from myself. I can ignore many problems, but I can’t ignore myself. If I am my problem, than my problem can seem inescapable.
The portion of John’s Gospel that we heard this morning comes from what is often called Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus is fully aware that he will soon die. He knows that the time between his death and resurrection will be a difficult one for his disciples. Since he has been with them, they have found a new way of living. In following Jesus, each of them started a new life, and he had been there every day to help them along the way. In the days to come, they will have to get used to life without his visible presence. If they wish to continue in this new way of living, they will have to do it without Jesus walking by their side.
I don’t have a great sense of direction, and I although I call St. Louis home, I didn’t grow up there as a child, and I left there shortly after learning to drive, so I don’t actually know my way around my hometown very well. My favorite way to drive around St. Louis, is to drive with my friend Adam Wise. Adam is a native of St. Louis, and he has an incredible sense of direction. He once told me that he sees the city and the streets from a bird’s eye view, that it’s easy for him to visualize where our destination is and the route to get there. I believe him, because I’ve never been lost with him in the car. Driving with Adam in the car is wonderful. I go along without a care in the world, never paying attention to the route, because I know that he knows where we are going, that he will indeed get us there. As lovely as this feeling is, it can lead to real problems when I’ve had to drop Adam off somewhere. Getting there is of course, no problem. Adam gives me directions and I’m good. But once he leaves the car, I have to remember how to get back. All of sudden I have a moment of panic when I realize that I’ll be alone on the way back. I have this feeling that now its all up to me, and I am not up for the task, I am lost.
I imagine that this is how the disciple’s felt after Jesus’ death; lost and panicked. How would they continue without their leader? Were they up for doing this new way of life by themselves? Was it even possible to do it by themselves? I bet they started to really worry, to paralyze themselves with fear and uncertainy, thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
But Jesus has no intention of leaving them, or leaving us, all by ourselves. In his farewell discourse Jesus makes this most amazing promise, “Those who love me keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus the Christ and God the Father will come to us and make their home in our hearts. For those of us who have discovered that we can be the problem, that it is our own troubled hearts that can cause us to suffer the most, this promise is life changing. I can’t fix myself, I can’t escape myself, I can’t grant myself the peace that I need when I am the cause of my suffering. But I am not alone. If I love Jesus Christ, even it be only faintly, only haltingly, only as best as I am sometimes able, Jesus Christ has promised that God will be with me. That God will make Her home in my heart.
We hear this promise from lips of the living Jesus Christ, but it is kept by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the term Jesus and the Church use to describe God’s continued, active, moving, and miraculous presence in our lives right now. A lack of attention to the Holy Spirit, can leave us with the impression that the greatness of God is in the past. God once created, God once took on human form in the life of Jesus, God redeemed us through Jesus death, and resurrection. While I believe all this to be true, all of these actions can be thought of as past tense. That God once created, once redeemed, once worked miracles in the lives of people, but no more. Yet that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is saying here in John. Though he won’t physically be with them after the death and resurrection of Jesus, God will be truly and actually present with the disciples and with us, in the Holy Spirit. This Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of everything that Jesus has said. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father, come to live in our hearts, to make their homes with us. The miracles did not stop with Jesus’ death, they continue to this very day through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the Holy Spirit we receive Jesus’ promise, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” This is the first miracle that we experience in our lives. The miracle of God’s peace in our hearts. The miracle of our fear and the trouble in hearts being cast out by the Holy Spirit and replaced with the peace of God in Christ. There are a million things to worry about in this world. Our families and loved ones, our church and its stability, our country and where it is headed, the fate of our planet with a rapidly changing climate. To overcome any of these challenges we will need the miraculous and wondrous workings of God, for each and every one of them are beyond our control. But the first miracle of God, the miracle of peace coming to our troubled hearts is the one that must proceed all the rest. It is the miracle that makes possible the others. If we are to be a part of God’s transformation of the world, if we are to be a part of God’s coming kingdom, we must first welcome the peace of Christ into our hearts. For that is what saves us from ourselves. That is what sets us free from worry and the need to control. That is what ends the paralysis of our anxiety and liberates us to be a part of God’s liberating and loving action in the world. May we pray for the love of Christ that brings that peace to our hearts and may we go forth to share it with the world. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Greenhaw
Eternal Student, Christian Minister, Buffalo Wing Enthusiast