Do not let your hearts be troubled
Mary Copping, 10 May 2020
Acts 7: 55–60; John 14: 1–14
In our gospel reading Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death, comforting them in their time of fear and anxiety as he tries to explain to them what is going to happen to him. He says something that could be puzzling: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’.
There are three instances in John’s gospel when we are told that Jesus also had a troubled heart. The first was when he heard of his friend Lazarus’ death; we’re told, ‘He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled’. The second was when he was telling Philip that his hour had come, and Jesus said, ‘My heart is deeply troubled’. The third is when he told the disciples that one of them would betray him, and we’re told again, ‘His heart was deeply troubled’. So if Jesus had a troubled heart at various times then it is okay for us to have troubled hearts, and right that we should do so.
Our hearts are troubled over many things – over all that is happening during the coronavirus, and over what the future looks like for each of us. Many hearts are troubled over what is happening to our world in this very frightening time of climate change. Many hearts are troubled over what is happening to the poor of the world, especially for the vulnerable countries and people living in poverty.
But it is what we do when our hearts are troubled. Jesus knew he would be going to the cross to save the world, to bring us back to God. Those concerned about climate change are actively promoting the good of our world, and we ourselves do what we can to help in this. People working for Christian Aid are troubled by climate change and poverty affecting people in many countries, and they are doing something about it – as we will see by the film that follows this. We also are troubled about the inequality in this world and perhaps find something we can do to help. As we have troubled hearts about Covid-19 perhaps we phone someone who may be alone, perhaps we shop for someone housebound, perhaps we say a prayer for all those working in the NHS and those suffering.
So there’s nothing wrong with having a troubled heart – it is part of life. What is important is how we deal with it; and it sometimes urges us to do something about the thing we are troubled or concerned about. When my husband got cancer, and eventually died of it, my family and I had a real concern to help raise money towards cancer research. We did what we could to raise money, and still do. Others who have lost family or friends in terrible situations will have a concern for that situation and work to make things right for others.
In our gospel reading we hear of three things Jesus gives that can help us in our troubles. Firstly he talks about the place he has prepared for us in heaven. This passage is regularly used for funerals and brings great comfort to those who mourn. And we can gain comfort in these troubled times by knowing that we have a place in heaven, just for us, regardless of what happens on this earth, and Jesus will be there waiting for us. In our reading from Acts, we are told about the stoning of Stephen and told that he looked up and ‘saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’. Stephen saw into heaven and saw the wonder that was waiting for him.
Secondly Jesus talks about knowing the Father, through him. The disciples are confused; they don’t understand how they can know the Father and they question Jesus on this. We too are often puzzled about how we can know the Father, how we can have friendship with him, through Jesus. But each one of us as Christians has some awareness of God being with us, or God helping us in a situation, or things happening that can only be of God.
The third thing Jesus said to his disciples to encourage them and help their troubled minds was to remind them to pray. He says to them, ‘You may ask anything in my name and I will do it’. That sounds a recipe for disaster – ‘Lord, let me win the lottery’, ‘Lord, give me a new house’. The key is ‘in my name’. When we pray, what would Jesus want us to ask for? Of course he is troubled about all that we are going through, and of course we pray, ‘Please bring this Covid-19 to an end; please bring world poverty to an end’.
I do believe that Jesus answers our prayers, but in very different ways to what we expect, and sometimes in ways we cannot see – and we are often the answers to these prayers. As we pray for an end to Covid-19 he may put on our hearts to be making personal protective equipment for the NHS or to pray for them. As we pray for an end to poverty and injustice in the world he may put it on our hearts to support the work of Christian Aid. God does bring good out of all the situations that we bring to him in prayer. And in prayer and silence we can be close to our Father in heaven.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ As we hear these words of Jesus, let us ask him to help us to trust him in these difficult times, to know his presence with us and to live our lives each day in thankfulness for his love and care.
As I prayed one morning I saw in my mind a picture of many people struggling in a dark and dangerous sea, hands waving for someone to rescue them. I then saw a light streaming down and saw that God was reaching out his hand to all those in trouble. He pulled them out of the water and brought them onto the rock on which he was standing, to safety. I felt this was a picture of us all struggling in our different situations, and urging us to call out to God for help, strength and grace to get us through. The valuable work of Christian Aid is the hand of God reaching out to those in need.
From Psalm 62: 1, 2: ‘My soul finds rest in God alone: my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation: he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.’ Amen.