Saturday, May 9, 2020


“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said.
Some ancient manuscripts say he went on.
“Neither let them be afraid.
Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

The world has a way of troubling our hearts.
It isn’t just the pandemic.
War keeps killing and killing.
The economy puts our financial security at risk.
Global warming approaches the tipping point
     after which it will just keep going
     even if the carbon emissions are reduced.

The global troubles reverberate with our private worries 
that insinuate themselves
     into our hearts, disturbing our sleep, 
--  the ups and downs of work, concern for our children,
     fretting over health, money, relationships.

“Trouble?” Zorba the Greek said, “Life is trouble.
     Only in death is there no trouble.”
But Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
How is that possible? 
That’s how St. Thomas responded,
when Jesus said,
       “Don’t worry. You know the way where I am going.”
And Thomas blurted out, 
        “We most certainly do not know the way.
         We do not know the way to a peaceful heart.”

Like Thomas, we may resist such peace. 
Our anxieties are familiar -- like old friends. 
Worrying is what we do.
If we stopped worrying,  
         what would we do with our minds?

There’s a fable from India about a mouse
who was afraid of cats.
God took pity on the mouse
and turned him into a cat.
But the cat was afraid of dogs,
so God turned him into a dog.

But the dog was afraid of panthers,
so God turned him into a panther.
But the panther was afraid of hunters,
so God turned him back into a mouse
and said, “There is no helping you.
Whatever body I give you,
     you still have the heart of a mouse.
We cannot find inner peace 
by changing our outer circumstances.

Take crime. 
No matter how dramatically crime rates decline,
     studies show people remain just as afraid as before
     and many refuse to admit things are better.
Fear is greater in safe well-off communities
     than it is in the hood where there’s real risk.

“Let not your hearts be troubled”
     is Jesus’ invitation to keep the core of your being
     stabilized, on track, despite the actual turbulence
in your outer circumstances and the habitual fear
that isn’t grounded in facts.

Another fable:
An orphaned lion cub was adopted by kindly sheep
     who raised him as a sheep.
Although he grew into a powerful beast,
     he still thought of himself as a sheep 
                 and acted accordingly.
He grazed, bleated, and bah’d.
One day, a wild old lion came across him
     and was absolutely disgusted 
     by his unleonine behavior.

So he tried to teach the youngster to act like a lion.
But the young lion kept acting like a sheep
     until one day the old lion showed him
     his reflection in a clear pool,
     and at last, he roared.

Buddha called the attitude of daring to face 
whatever the world throws our way “the lion’s roar.”
The Buddhist icon of courage is a lion with four faces,
     gazing fearlessly in all directions.

If we think of Jesus only as the Lamb of God,
     and forget he is also the lion of Judah
we don’t know Jesus.

He says in Hosea, “For I will be like a great lion . . . to Judah”
Revelation says,  “Do not weep! 
     See, the Lion of . . . Judah . . .  has triumphed.”

Jesus holds up a mirror to show us our lion nature.
It is himself living in us.
Jesus shows us what authentic humanity looks like.
It’s daring. It’s bold. It’s calmly heroic. It roars at danger.

The Bible says, “ Be not afraid.”
It doesn’t say it once.
It says it precisely 365 times 
-- once for each day of the year.
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Thomas responds, “How is that possible?”
In a world that is full of trouble 
– always has been, always will be –
how can our heart, our core self, be still, 
          stable, calmly heroic?

Jesus tells us how.
“Believe in God,” he says. “Believe also in me.”
He doesn’t say, “Believe that God exists, and my mother was a virgin.”
He says, “Believe in God. Believe in me.”
That means “trust us with your life.”

So what do we believe in?
When the chips are down,
     what do we trust to get us through?
The secular world tells us what we can trust
     and what we cannot trust.
Our sheep families and our sheep culture
     tell us who we are and what to expect of ourselves.
They tell us to lay low,
     or to trust in our wealth or our power.
The secular sheep tell us to trust in
     things we know good and well are not trustworthy.
That’s why with all our locks, security systems,
and panic buttons, we are still afraid.
But suppose we decided we had had enough of futility
     and chose to trust God instead.
Suppose we took a flying leap 
     into the Grand Canyon of divine mystery
because we trust that the mystery is friendly.
Suppose we made our relationship with Jesus
     the most important thing in the world 
– and that no amount of sickness, war, or crime 
– no amount of family discord, or poverty, 
or loneliness could shake that relationship.

I grew up singing 
“On Christ the solid rock I stand.
        All other ground is sinking sand.”
Suppose we sought the Kingdom first,
     and trusted God to give us everything else as gravy.
When disaster strikes,
     suppose we trusted God to redeem it 
– to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, 
and yes to raise the dead.
Suppose – just hypothetically – we really believed in God.
What if we trusted in Jesus?

Some people might say, 
     if we aren’t troubled, 
we won’t care about the world and its people.
But read the rest of the lesson.

Jesus points to his own works in the world 
– healing, forgiving, reconciling;
     feeding the hungry and freeing the captives.
Then he says, “You will do these things too 
                           – and even more.”
Herein lies the paradox of service.

We cannot serve people effectively 
     until we stop fussing and fretting over them.
Anxiety-driven helping, for all its good intentions,
     makes the people we help 
     feel more vulnerable and afraid.
Our fear is contagious.

Faith pries loose the frozen fist of fear
     from its icy grip on our hearts.
This isn’t just the metaphorical heart.
It’s the energy center in our literal chest 
-       not just a blood pump but a neurological
 and energetic center of power 
           – it is the Coeur d’Leon, the lion heart.

Hindu yogis, Pentecostal Protestants, 
and Eastern Orthodox mystics all agree.
When faith unleashes the power of the heart,
     we can heal people.
We can live out the prayer of  St. Francis,
     bringing light where there is darkness,
     joy where there is sorrow,
     love where there is hatred.

We can serve people in tangible material ways
     when we are not afraid.
We can serve people with prayers of power
     when we have faith.
We can serve people with our simple presence
     when we carry inside us “the peace of God
which passes all understanding.”

All things are possible.
But faith comes first.
Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. 
Your hearts will not be troubled by the turbulence.
And you will perform calm, courageous acts of mercy.