Recentering Life – A Sermon On John 14:1-14

"Occupy The Center" by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0 1.0

The Fifth Sunday in Easter – John 14:1-14

“Occupy The Center” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0 1.0

“Do not let you hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

I wonder how many times I’ve read and spoken those words. I’m sure you’ve read and heard them countless times. They are familiar and favorite words in difficult times. They’re the right words for times like today. 

I love the encouragement, hope, and promise that stand behind those words, and I never tire of hearing them. But today I find those words difficult. It’s difficult to say those words to you when my own heart is so troubled. 

My heart is troubled about resuming in-person worship. And my heart is troubled about not resuming in-person worship. My heart is troubled by those who are getting out and acting as if the virus is gone. And my heart is troubled by another day in the house and a life lived in increments of six feet. My heart is troubled by all the things we can’t do. And my heart is trouble by all the things we’re starting to do. My heart is troubled by 20 million job losses and more than 80,000 deaths in the United States alone. My heart is troubled by the pain and hurt of the world. My heart is troubled because the virus continues. My heart is troubled because things aren’t like they used to be. And my heart is troubled because we are probably never going back to the way things used to be. My heart is troubled because I don’t know the way, because we don’t know the way. 

I don’t think I’m the only one with a troubled heart. Whether it’s the coronavirus or a thousand other heart troubling things, I suspect every one of us is living with a troubled heart. It seems to be what happens when we don’t know the way.

What troubles your heart today? What does it feel like? We all experience it in our own ways but see if any of this sounds familiar: isolated, paralyzed, overwhelmed, anxious, powerless, off balance, out of control, disconnected, afraid, thoughts spinning in your head, no stability, despair, grief, tears, frustration, anger. Do you recognize yourself in any of those? 

Spoken or unspoken, I think there’s a question every troubled heart is asking. Will the center hold or is everything collapsing around us? That’s my question and maybe it’s your question too. I think it’s one many are asking. And today Jesus answers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

As much as I like those words, I wish he would’ve been a little more specific but Jesus was never much for Q &A sessions.

  • What’s going to happen? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
  • How will we get through this? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
  • When will it be over? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
  • What will life, the world, the church be like? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
  • Is everything going to be ok? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus is telling us to not lose our center in the midst of what’s going on. That’s what happens when hearts are troubled and we don’t know the way. We lose our center. We start living outside of ourselves, and when we do life is defined by and focused on external things. Jesus is calling us back to our center, telling us to recenter and rebalance. He’s inviting us to live from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. 

Jesus knows what it’s like to be troubled. There were times he lost his center. He too has felt the weight of a collapsing world. 

  • He was deeply moved and troubled when he saw Mary weeping at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33).  And then Jesus wept (John 11:35). 
  • “Now my soul is troubled,” he said as he faced his own death (John 12:27). 
  • And John says that Jesus was “troubled in spirit” when he told the disciples that he would be betrayed (John 13:21). 
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Is that not the cry of every troubled heart?

I wonder if Jesus’ heart was troubled even as he was telling the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s the night of the last supper, feet have been washed, and Judas is about to get up and leave the table. I wonder if Jesus was talking to himself as much as to the disciples. I wonder if he was reminding himself as much as them that the Father’s house is a sanctuary and home for troubled hearts, and that there are as many dwelling places in the Father’s house as there are troubled hearts.

What if today’s gospel (John 14:1-14) is a story about finding and recovering our true center? What if recentering is the front door of the Father’s house – for Jesus, the disciples, and us? And what if we sometimes have to lose our center so we can find a new one, a truer one? 

Isn’t that the Easter story we tell and celebrate every year? Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose to new life. That seems to be the universal pattern of life – order, disorder, reorder; centered, de-centered, re-centered. 

Every resurrection, every reordering, and every re-centering opens us to new life and keeps the present moment from closing in on us. That’s the promise of Easter today and every day. That’s the promise of Easter in the midst of whatever troubles your heart. And that’s why Jesus can say to himself and to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

If our heart is troubled then it’s probably time to recenter. Recentering begins by looking within and seeing the ways in which we are living an eccentric life, a decentered life, a life on the periphery.

Recentering won’t eliminate the virus and it won’t necessarily take away our worries or fix our problems, whatever they might be. Recentering gives us a place of stability on which to stand. It tethers our heart to faith, hope, and love. Recentering means loving our neighbor as ourselves; valuing the needs, hopes, and concerns of others as much as our own; being gentle with ourselves and others; forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven, whether it’s ourselves or another. Recentering helps know what to hold on to and what to let go of. Recentering connects us to the abundant life and to each other. Recentering opens our eyes, ears, and hearts to the way, the truth, and the life. It reminds us that we are not the center but that the center lies within each one of us. 

Hearts are troubled and the world seems to be spinning crazily and out of control, but there is a still point at the center – a still point that is not spinning crazily, a still point of peace, a still point of stability. “God,” writes Julian of Norwich, “is the still point at the center.”

In what ways are you living off center and what in you today needs recentering? What does recentering look like for you today? What is just one thing you can change or do today that will help bring you back to your center?

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