God's Word: Live It!

Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Yesterday we listened in as Jesus began his long goodbye to his beloved disciples. The setting was the Last Supper. Wine and bread had been shared, Judas had slipped out the door and Jesus had just finished washing his friends’ feet. Now it was time for the always uncomfortable words of goodbye to dear friends. Of course, they were frightened and confused and needed directions and explanations. Jesus began his speech with the powerful and comforting words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” 

This passage, which goes on to say that Jesus has prepared a place for us in his Father’s house, is the most frequently requested lesson for funeral sermons. However, it is not a passage about death and going to eternal life; it is about living life fully in the midst of changes and goodbyes. We all have a series of goodbyes and departures in our lives: graduations, leaving home for school or military service, getting married and carving out a life of our own apart from parents, moving to another part of the country or world. As we age we say goodbye to what once was easy for us, physical labor, eyesight, hearing, memory.

Jesus tells us not to be troubled by this. Every goodbye is an opportunity for a hello. Every challenging loss or change is an opportunity to use our imagination, flexibility and, most importantly, our faith in God that not only will we survive goodbyes, losses and changes, but we will thrive. Why? Because Jesus has shown us the way. Each of these situations gives us the opportunity to cling to Jesus who says he is the way, the truth and the life. None of these life events are faced alone. We face them with Christ. He has gone into the jaws of death for us and returned alive to equip us with strength and faith, love and compassion, mercy and justice — all the tools we need to get through. For those saying goodbye to loved ones whether it be at the airport, military base, campus or hospital room, we are handing our loved ones over to the care of Jesus. And, just in case that isn’t enough, Jesus finishes his goodbye instructions with this: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Not bad.

The Good Shepherd

Yesterday we talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The challenge is not to trivialize this phrase and turn it into stained glass theology like that familiar scene with Jesus carrying a lamb across his shoulders with a benign smile on his face. Though reassuring, the Good Shepherd has a lot tougher job than carrying lambs. He’s also fighting for their lives, protecting them from predators, liars, thieves. We are the lambs and Jesus knows we are vulnerable.

There are those who would steal us away from Jesus, seducing us with the same promises and lies Jesus faced in the wilderness when he met up with Satan. Power, influence and authority are seductive voices. The superficiality of our bodily and cosmetic appearance can be another way we are robbed of our authentic selves and all of us are bombarded with the idea that material wealth can provide us with safety.

It is these voices and cultural temptations that find their way into the sheepfold. That’s where Jesus is called to do his best and hardest work. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who can and will protect us from the thieves and liars, the seducers and predators. He will stand at the gate of our lives and protect us, helping us to stay safe in his arms and grounded in the belief that it is the one who died for us who will provide us with abundant life. This abundance takes the form of eternal love and life, unity in the Spirit and enough to get through life. It is Jesus' voice we must listen to for his is the voice of love and safety, the voice ultimately of victory over death. That is a tough job for a tough shepherd who continues to love us no matter what it takes.

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