Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014, Lectionary A
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr.+ Rector Scripture: John 14:1-14
“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit that we might experience life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit vanquishes all our troubles. Amen.
A lonely frog called the Psychic Hot Line to find out if he had any hope of ever meeting someone special. His Personal Psychic Advisor told him, “Good news! You’re going to meet a lovely, intelligent young girl who’ll want to learn everything about you.” Thrilled, the frog said, “This is great! Where will I meet her – at work, at a party?”“No,” the psychic said, “in a biology class…”
Jake had proposed to young Gina and was being interviewed by his prospective father-in-law. “Do you think you are earning enough to support a family?” the older man asked the suitor. “Yes, sir,” replied Jake, “I’m sure I am.” “Think carefully now,” said Gina’s father. “There are twelve of us.”
Undoubtedly, you heard in the news this past week where two upstate New York boys were thrown from an inflatable bouncy house that went airborne Monday afternoon. The boys, ages 5 and 6, remained hospitalized at Albany Medical Center after the wind-swept children’s play structure sailed at least 20 feet in the air, then drifted away. A 10-year-old girl was also inside the bouncy house, but suffered scrapes and a minor shoulder injury, according to her family.”
“The 5-year-old boy hit his head on a parked car, while the 6-year-old was dropped in the street. The boy who hit the car suffered a serious head injury and was placed in a medically induced coma. The other boy who fell onto the street had two broken arms, a broken jaw, an eye socket fracture and possible ruptured spleen, the newspaper reported. The Little Tikes bouncy house floated over a stretch of woods, reaching as high as 50 feet before dropping behind a nearby middle school.”
In another story, “the end of the walkway, where it was attached to the plane, fell 6 to 8 feet. Some passengers were on the bridge at the time, but it was unclear how many, said airport spokesman Perry Cooper. The cause of the drop was described as a mechanical failure. Thanks to a backup system – the bridge fell slowly, and those who were on it walked up to the gate.”
“About half of the passengers – 60 people – had exited the aircraft when the walkway fell. The rest left by a stairway brought to the other side of the plane. The plane was taken out of service pending inspections for possible damage, a Southwest Airlines official said.”
In the gospel this morning, we heard Jesus say to His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Is Jesus kidding – not worry? The frog had trouble. The young man, wishing to marry, had trouble. Children in a bouncy house had trouble. Even passengers disembarking from a plane had trouble. There is plenty of trouble to go around. So, if you are not troubled by something this morning, please raise your hand. If you are not raising your hand because you would feel self-conscious, then you are troubled by the prospect of people looking at you.
It is hard to escape being troubled, is it not? How much trouble was it for you to get to church this morning? Some are not here this morning because coming to church was too much trouble. All of us have probably been there – it can seem like too much trouble to go to church.
Now, I know for some of you women the trouble is with your wardrobe. What shall I wear today? This is not a criticism. It simply is. For you guys, you may be troubled by going to church because you would rather be fishing, playing golf, or even sleeping late. Then, there are the children. If you have small children, getting ready to go anywhere can be a lot of trouble. Sometimes it is just plan easier to hunker down at home. Who wants to ask for trouble?
Life, it would seem, is full of trouble. As the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth chanted, while stirring their brew, “Double, double toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” There is housework, yard work, school work, the job. There is the matter of taking care of our health. We are troubled by our weight and waistline. We are trouble by our blood pressure, cholesterol, bad back, and a whole host of physical problems. We are troubled by our various relationships. There is the husband, the wife, the children, the parents, the friends, the enemies. There is the government. Darn, there is a lot of trouble. Spare me the trouble we say. Right?
Then, there is the matter of financial troubles. Can I pay my bills? What if the car breaks down? Will the insurance cover my medical expenses? What about retirement? Will I have enough? Trouble, trouble, trouble. Yes, we are troubled, and Jesus has the audacity to tell us not to be troubled. Who is He kidding?
I remember years ago someone saying the reason that Jesus had to die at age 33 was because if He had lived any longer, He could not have taken it – interesting observation. Did Jesus die at age 33 because to live any longer would have been too much trouble? Of course, on one level that might be said of those who terminate their lives early. They could no longer manage the trouble of living, whatever the source of their trouble.
It would seem that it is almost impossible to escape trouble while on this earth, but who knows? There may be trouble for us when we leave this earth – what a frightening thought. If we carry the psychological components of what troubled us here on earth with us after we die (Why shouldn’t we?), then suicide is no answer at all.
People: Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Gotta figure out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…
So sings Robert Preston in the musical, The Music Man.
Not all trouble is the same, though, is it? There are little troubles, medium-sized troubles, and big, big troubles. What one might think or feel is a little trouble, another might think is big trouble. For me, going to the dentist is pretty big trouble. For you, it may be something else. You are probably thinking of it right now. We might wish some cat, name Tara, would come along and chase off that dog of trouble before it tears us to pieces.
I assume most of you saw the story about the four year old, being viciously and potentially fatally attacked by a dog, when his cat ran off the dog. Yeah, cats! Interestingly, the minor league baseball team, The Bakersfield Blaze, announced that Tara, the cat, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch — an honour given to celebrities and local heroes of all types. How she’ll throw it, I do not know.
On an even more serious note, I am currently getting to know a man, whom I was asked to visit. Not long ago he was to have surgery to remove a lump in his lung. Prior to the surgery he was required to get an EKG and have his heart checked out. In the process, it was discovered that he had three nearly blocked arteries – might have killed him at any moment. Subsequently, he underwent surgery to remove the lump and to have triple bypass heart surgery. Also, the circulation had gotten bad in his right leg, wounds would not heal, so his leg was amputated just above the knee. Then, then, it was discovered that he has throat cancer. He told me this past Wednesday that it is difficult for him to swallow. He has been told he has two to three months to live. One might say that this man has trouble. Most of us would probably say so.
In the gospel this morning, Jesus wasn’t referring to just any ole trouble. He was not talking about the dentist, getting ready for church, or any of those everyday troubles that trouble us. He was speaking of a very specific trouble. If you were to turn to page 495 of the Prayer Book, you would see that the first six verses of this morning’s gospel from John are suggested as a possible reading for a funeral.
Most of us would agree that the biggest trouble of all is death. It bothers us, it scares us, it depresses us, it cajoles us into asking why, what is it all for? It seems to mock us. It baffles us especially when a child dies or when there is some meaningless act of terror, killing people by the hundreds of thousands. Death brings us to our knees. It is inescapable. Everyone will perish.
Some have suggested that the fear of death is the ultimate fear behind all trouble. It is the fear of loss. It is the loss of losses, the trouble of troubles. It is the ultimate trouble, which none escape, that Jesus is speaking of this morning. He was telling the disciples, and He telling us to not be troubled by death. There, again, is He kidding? It is difficult for us to consider our death or the death of a loved-one and not be troubled. Next to the prospect of our own death, the death and loss of loved-one may trouble us the most. Grief may be the most burdensome trouble of all. Ask someone who is grieving. Grief is not a trouble that can be cast off easily or at will.
Yet, we do know that there are those individuals that look the trouble of death square in the eye, and do not blink. They are not troubled or if they are, the trouble to them may be no worse than going to the dentist. The man to whom I referred , who has been given 2 or 3 months to live, tells me that he is not worried. He is not troubled. No, he does not want to leave family and friends, but he is not trouble by death. If you know Barbara Milligan and her situation, well, she has told me the same thing. She is not troubled by the prospect of her demise, though she does not want to leave family and friends.
On a related note, I would be sinfully remiss if I did not mention a Christian sister of ours. “A pregnant Sudanese doctor has been sentenced to death after refusing to recant her Christian faith. Meriam Ibrahim Ishag was born to a Muslim father but married a Christian man in 2011. The 26-year-old, who is eight months pregnant and has an 18-month-old son, was convicted of apostasy – or renouncing her faith – by a Muslim court in Khartoum.”
“‘We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death,’ Judge Abbas al-Khalifa told her. He also ordered her to be given 100 lashes. Earlier in the hearing, she calmly told the judge: ‘I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.’ The sentence will not be carried out until her unborn child is at least two years old.”
It would seem that Meriam is not so troubled by death that she would renounce her Christian faith. Her Christian faith, in fact, gives her the strength and consolation to face death – what an example!
Jesus tells us not to be troubled by death, ours or others, because in His words: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. 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 preparea place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Are we to believe what Jesus is saying? Are we to take Him at His word that there is something to look forward to even after death? How can we?
One bit of commentary I read on this morning’s gospel noted that John’s gospel was the exception in that it gives some instruction – a “how-to” if you will. In other words, Jesus doesn’t just talk about eternal life or heaven, He tells us how to get there. Now, that is extraordinary. How does He tell us to get to heaven? It is simple and clear, but nonetheless an instruction. He tells us, as we heard, “Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Believing in Jesus gives us entry into heaven, into eternal life.
Now, we have heard this before. There is nothing new here except, except do you know it as well as believe it? Do you know through your own experience that believing in Jesusgives you entry into eternal life? Do you know that? Have you come to know like the man who has a few months to live, like Barbara Milligan, like the young, pregnant Sudanese woman Meriam, that the trouble of death is vanquished by believing in Jesus? Do you know that?
If I asked for a show of hands here, I wonder how many would go up? Does the question make you uncomfortable? Can you honestly say that in your own experience that you have come to know that believing in Jesus admits you into the “Father’s house [where] there are many dwelling places?” I want you to know that, and you can know that. How you may ask?
You come to know that by believing in Jesus, that is by putting that belief into practice. You see, Jesus is the “anti-trouble” when it comes to the troubles of this world. Recall His words in Matthew 6:25, 26:“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
The more we put into practice believing in Jesus, the more we see His provision and care for us. Also and wonderfully, there will be those special times when you encounter Jesus Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, then, you will know for sure by your own experience that eternal life is your destiny, and the trouble of death is no longer trouble. You will indeed be living and breathing if only for a moment the spiritual, not some metaphor, but the spiritual. That moment, however, is sure evidence of life eternal and death no more.
So, the trouble of death and all matter of troubles will begin to fade by the daily practice of believing in Jesus, or as Jesus says in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him ( That is Jesus) whom he has sent.” Let it not escape your attention or memory, that Jesus says in this verse that believing in Him is work.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.