Monday, May 19, 2014


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

There is so much to trouble our hearts --
so much happening in the world.
War keeps killing and killing and killing.
The economy puts our financial security at risk.
Global warming is approaching the tipping point
            after which the warming will just keep going
            even if the carbon emissions are reduced.

 The troubles of the wider world
            reverberate with our private worries
– the fear and loathing that insinuate themselves
            into our hearts, disturbing our sleep,
--  the ups and downs of work, concern for our children,
            anxieties 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?
Essentially 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.
We do not know the way.
We do not know the way to a peaceful heart.”

An old fable from India tells 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.
Life is like an airplane flying through turbulence.

Jesus’ advice isn’t to be a Pollyanna.
It is more like fasten your seat belt.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
            is advice to keep the core of our being
            stabilized, on track, despite the turbulence.

A second fable:
A lion cub was left orphaned when hunters killed his parents.
The cub was adopted by kindly sheep
            who raised him as a sheep.
Although he grew into a powerful beast,
            he thought of himself as a sheep
                        and acted accordingly.
He grazed, bleated, and bah’d.

One day a wild old lion came upon him
            and was absolutely disgusted
            by his unleonine behavior.
 So he kidnapped the young lion
            and tried to teach him to act like a lion.
But the apprentice still acted like a sheep
            until one day the wild old lion showed him
            his own reflection in a clear pool,
            and at last he roared.

We don’t know Jesus if we think of him
            only as the Lamb of God,
            and forget he is also the lion of Judah.
Jesus came to hold up a mirror for us
            and show us our lion nature.
Jesus shows us what authentic humanity looks like.
It is daring. It is bold. It is calmly heroic.

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.”
But we ask with Thomas, “How is that possible?”
In a world that is full of trouble
– always has been, always will be –
in a world of trouble,
how can our hearts be still, stable, calmly heroic?

Jesus tells us how.
“Believe in God,” he says. “Believe also in me.”
He doesn’t mean something we do in our heads.
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 all your heart.”

So what do we believe in?
When the chips are down,
            what do we trust to get us through?

 The secular world will tell us what we can trust
            and what we cannot trust.
Our sheep families and our sheep culture
            will tell us who we are and what to expect of ourselves.
They will tell us to believe in lying low,
            or to trust in our wealth or our power.
The secular sheep will tell us to trust in
            things we know good and well are not trustworthy.
So we will stay afraid.

But suppose we decided we had had enough of that futility
            and chose to trust God instead.
Suppose like Abraham on Mt. Moriah
            we stood ready to sacrifice all our security blankets,
            and trust God to make it alright in ways we could not see,
            somehow someway beyond our control or comprehension.
Suppose we took a flying leap
            into the Grand Canyon of divine mystery.

Suppose we decided that our relationship with Jesus
            was the most important thing in the world
– and that no amount of war or sickness or crime
– no amount of family discord, or poverty, or loneliness
           could shake that relationship.

Suppose we sought the Kingdom first,
            and trusted God to give us everything else as gravy.
And when disaster strikes,
            suppose we trusted God to redeem it
– to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to raise the dead.
Suppose we really believed in God.
Suppose we really 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
– the acts of 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 can serve people effectively
            only when we stop fussing and fretting over them.
Anxiety-driven helping, for all its good intentions,
            is about as effective as American foreign policy.

But faith pries loose the frozen fist of fear
            from its icy grip on our hearts.
And 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 energy center of power
-       – it is a Coeur d’Leon, a lion heart.
Hindu yogis, Pentecostal Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox mystics
            all describe the same thing.
When faith unleashes the power of the heart,
            we can heal people.
We can live out the prayer of your patron, 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 the presence of Christ with us.

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 do calm, courageous acts of mercy.