The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled—A Sermon Easier Said Than Done

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen! [Christ is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!]

As you’ll recall, every morning is Easter morning, from now on. And here we are in the fifth week of the season of Easter, about ⅔ of the way through our 50 days of celebrating that life wins and love wins, and that death does not. Our scripture for this week, though, maybe didn’t totally get the memo?

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we witness the death of St. Stephen by stoning. Yikes. And in the Gospel According to John, we are back in the Farewell Discourse, the words Jesus leaves his disciples with at what would turn out to be the Last Supper. So Christ is risen and not-yet-risen, today. It’s...complicated. As Lutherans and Episcopalians, we like to live in that mystery, though. We’re all about those both/and paradoxes. So it shouldn’t really bother us that we’re in this limbo with Jesus. Because we’re in it with Jesus.

We often get all discombobulated about this text, because it has been used in a variety of ways in our Christian history. Our dear friend Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” and Jesus replies, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

These words have been such comfort to so many, as Jesus folds us into is community by ensuring us that we are on the road together. These words have also been used to exclude folks from the fold by emphasizing the sentence that follows—“no one comes to the Father except through me.” This can be a “proof text” argument against the validity of all non-Christian religions, and it has been used as one for centuries, “to damn a good two-thirds of the human population.” [1]

But my friend Matthew, an Episcopal priest in North Carolina, wants us to hear Jesus more tenderly. Jesus is talking to his disciples, who are grieving already, even though he is not yet dead. He has told them that he is going to leave them, and they are distraught. We’ve watched them fumble their way around the known world with Jesus, shouting out answers they haven’t thought through and getting in fights they shouldn’t and altogether struggling. And now, Jesus tells them that he’s going away and that they’ll know what to do to get there, too. Understandably, they are not convinced. Jesus smiles and sighs, I imagine. “‘Your heart knows the way to where I am going—I am the way, you have seen it embodied in my life. Just stay on the path, keep walking, and I promise you will not come to God without me.’ These words are meant to soothe an aching heart, not to be used as a weapon.” [1]

Like the disciples, we are followers of Jesus the Christ, and so it’s fairly reasonable to expect that we understand Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life—or are on our way to understanding that. We have been baptized and perhaps confirmed into traditions that proclaim this boldly and clearly. We are part of the saving community of Christ, hallelujah, thanks be to God.

But last week, we played tic-tac-toe relay races and prayed for peace with the communities that make up the Interfaith Campus Council. By saying that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, are we denying the goodness and truth of our friends’ traditions? I don’t think so. I don’t think that that’s what these words from Jesus are about, at all. He didn’t say them to a crowd of people of many religions, in the midst of a speech meant to convert them all to his way, truth, and life. He said them, around a dinner table, to his terrified friends.

When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” the disciples are so distressed trying to wrap their heads around the words, but Jesus is just trying to make it plain for them. He thinks he’s making it easier, but they think it’s an intellectual exercise. “Since you know me,” Jesus says, “you know the Father. Don’t worry about it.” This isn’t a test. You don’t have to prove anything. When Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he’s saying “what gets you there is who I am, not what you do.” [2]

And so we head back to the very first sentence Jesus spoke to us tonight: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” There is a lot to be troubled about. In the time between me deciding to write this sentence and the time I am saying it out loud, who knows what news will have come our way from the White House, alone. In addition to a volatile geopolitical scene, we all have intricate inner lives, full of turmoil and tough decisions and all the joys and challenges of relationship and self. Certainly, our hearts are troubled over and over about small things and about big things. But there is one thing about which you need not worry: you are beloved of God, and the risen Lord Jesus Christ has made space for you in the community of saints. He said so, right here! “‘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?’ (John 14:2).”

Here and now, and there and then—wherever and whenever that time is—there is room for you in the family of God. There is room for you in this beloved community of sinners and saints. There is room for you, here.

There’s no guarantee that it will be simple or easy or great all the time. Jesus does not promise us anything close to an uneventful life. But Jesus promises us life. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Thanks be to God.



[1] The Rev. Matthew Wright, "The Only Way to God," via soundcloud

[2] The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," via HFASS

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