The Gospel appointed for this Fifth Sunday after Easter sounds so sad. One would wonder why is there portrayal or representation of death at the same time, when we are still celebrating the feast of Easter!!
The narrative of the Gospel of John 14 1-14 starts with “Let not your hearts be troubled”. Oh! Oh! These words are a set up for sorrow! Is this a designated day of mourning? No, no, no! Before we get into the good news for today, let me first give you a brief historical account of John, the writer of this Gospel.
First, he is not John the Baptist who baptized Christ. According to biblical scholars, John was a fisherman and was one of the original twelve apostles. He is thought to be the only one to have lived into old age and not be killed for his faith. Matthews 4 21 tells us that John and his brother James, sons of Zebedee, were on their fishing boat with their father, mending their nets; when Jesus called out the two brothers to follow Him; and they followed Him. Of the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; John portrays Christ in His divinity to spark our believing faith.
The Gospel starts with what is called Jesus “Farewell Discourse” where He gives His most passionate and important instructions to His Disciples. In John 13, we learn that Jesus is leaving and His Disciples need to know the Way. He celebrated the Feast of the Passover with His disciples, and thereafter washed their feet. For Jesus, the clock was ticking. He didn’t have much time left. There was so much to tell the disciples before he was taken away: love one another; stay connected; God will be with you, and don’t be afraid. The clock has run out and after all the teaching, the disciples still don’t get it; they are still asking questions. “Lord, where are you going; who is the Father”? Now I’m sure we are on the same page when I say none of us could be Jesus. We would be at our wits end and tell the disciples to get on with the program!! Don’t you guys get it?? What a difference it would have made if just one woman was amongst the twelve!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The good news for today’s lesson is the call for us to “trust in God and not be afraid”. This is a call to a personal relationship with Christ. It is a command to step up to our faith and respond to the call of God with trust in Him through times of danger and fear, as this story displays:
A couple was returning home from their honeymoon. They were crossing a lake in a boat, when suddenly a great storm arose. The man was a warrior, but the woman became very much afraid because it seemed almost hopeless. The boat was small and the storm was huge, and any moment they were going to be drowned. But the man sat silently, calm and quiet, as if nothing was happening.
The woman was trembling and she said, “Are you not afraid?” This may be our last moment of life! It doesn’t seem that we will be able to reach the other shore. Only some miracle can save us; otherwise death is certain. Are you not afraid? Are you mad or something? Are you a stone or something?
The man laughed and took out his sword. The woman was even more puzzled: What is he doing? Then he brought the sword close to the woman’s neck, so close that just a small gap was there, it was almost touching her neck.
He said,” Are you afraid?” She started to laugh and said, “If the sword is in your hands, why should I be afraid? I know you love me.” He put the sword down and said, “this is my answer”. I know God loves me; the storm is in His hands and I’m not afraid because I Trust in the Lord.
Trust in the Lord. Jesus is not only preparing a place for us in Heaven, He is preparing us in our journey of faith in the here and now.
Don’t be afraid. The disciples had plenty to be afraid of: The Roman soldiers, the temple guards, and the fickle nature of the crowd. Remember less than a week before; the people had waved palm branches to welcome Jesus into the holy city. In another day or so, they would demand that he be crucified.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t let the political and environmental challenges that we are experiencing shut us down.
Of course, there are fears that often keep us awake at night and seem trivial by comparison … like the little boy who was afraid of the dark. One night, his mother asked him to go out to the barn and bring in a mop bucket. He protested. “Mom,” he said, “its pitch black out there.” “Oh, honey,” she said, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus is with you. He’ll help you, if you ask.” Reluctantly, the little boy ventured out into the dark night. When he got to the barn door, he pushed it open just a tad and whispered, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me the mop bucket? “
Seriously, the fears that cause us the greatest anxiety might seem insignificant to talk about, but they’re real and often debilitating. Left unchecked, they can paralyze us and keep us from living the abundant life God has promised in Jesus Christ. And so, I’d like to ask you what are you afraid of?
Some people are afraid of failure. They avoid making serious commitments because they’re afraid of failing. They refuse to take risks and become too vulnerable. They’re afraid they might fall on their face and become the laughing stock of the community. So, they play it safe. Are you afraid of failure?
Other people are afraid of losing control, and that’s related to the fear of change. I got a taste of this back in 1990, when I had to relocate to this country. Even though I had come here when I turned 18 to matriculate to university and spent the next 6 years earning my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I never realized the cost of living, because my parents took care of all my expenses. When I returned home after completion of my studies, life was a bed of ease. It did not take me long to realize after I returned to the US, family in tow, that I could not maintain stability in the midst of a dwindling bank account, so I had to quickly seek employment in the storm of grief I was experiencing. Some people, like me at the time, have an inordinate fear of losing control.
Others are afraid of rejection and criticism. They tend to be overly adaptive to the expectations of others. Instead of being themselves, they mask who they are and overly try to copy and be like others.
The point of naming all these fears – and these are only the tip of the iceberg – is that, in the face of it all, Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”
SERMON, MAY 14, 2017
TEXT: JOHN 14:1-14