“Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled” (Funeral sermon on John 14:1-6, 27, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled” (John 14:1-6, 27)
Let not your hearts be troubled. That is my message to you today–to you, the friends and family members; to you, the fellow members of Redeemer; and especially to you, Robert–to all of you who mourn the death of our dear sister, Edith. Let not your hearts be troubled.
What? How can you say that, Pastor? A death has occurred! Edith has been taken from us! We’ll miss her. We’ll miss her pleasant company and conversation. We already miss her. And you’re telling us, “Let not your hearts be troubled”? And another thing, Pastor: Maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, maybe we’re a little scared about this whole death thing happening to us. So how can you tell us, “Let not your hearts be troubled”?
To be sure, this would just be an empty platitude if it were not backed up with some reality, some substance, behind it. But that’s the point. There is reality, there is substance, behind these words, because these are the words of Jesus, directed first to his disciples, and now directed to us: “Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled.”
And these are important, real, substantive words for us to know and believe, because the reality of death is all around us, and to have someone near and dear to us die, like Edith–that brings death all too close to home. It’s kind of like the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch says that the conditions are present for a tornado to occur at any time. A tornado warning moves it up a notch. It says that a tornado now has been sighted in your area, in your immediate vicinity, so this is the time for you to take cover, to take shelter, right away.
That’s how it is with death. The conditions are present–the conditions are ripe–all around us, all the time, for death to occur to any one of us, at any time. A literal tornado could come through in the night and flatten our house. A traffic accident could occur to even the young and healthy among us. Yesterday one of my wife’s coworkers, 43 years old, told the staff that what she thought was an ulcer turns out to be cancer. Death is all around us. A tornado watch is in effect, so to speak. The conditions are present.
And here we are at a funeral this morning, mourning the loss of a loved one, someone we know and love. The tornado watch has just been upgraded to a warning. The alert has been sounded. The siren is going off. This is the time to take cover, to take shelter.
And that is what this service here today is all about. It’s telling us all where to find that cover, where to find that shelter, and that is, in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the cover for all our sins. He is our shelter in the midst of the storm. In him we are safe, even in the face of the fierce winds of death that would sweep us all away.
Today Jesus is telling us, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” But along with that, he is also telling us the reasons why. He is saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled, for there is a place I am preparing for you.” And again, “Let not your hearts be troubled, for there is a peace I am giving you.” A place and a peace from Jesus, to untrouble our fearful hearts.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” These were the words Jesus told his disciples. Their hearts were troubled. Their hearts were fearful. Jesus was talking to them about his going away, and that was troubling to them. They would not have him around like they were used to these past several years. They were perplexed. What did he mean?
Jesus here is speaking to them on Maundy Thursday, that day during Holy Week, on the night when he was about to be betrayed and arrested and handed over to the authorities. The next day, Good Friday, he would be sentenced to death, even death on a cross. Jesus knows what is coming, and so he is preparing his disciples for what is coming–his being taken from them. But not merely in that he will die. Indeed, if that is all that it were, there would be no comfort for them. All the happy talk in the world–“Don’t worry, be happy”; “Death is just a part of life”; or “At least you have the memories”–all that would be just a pile of pious rot, wishful thinking, if that’s all Jesus had to offer. But it isn’t. There’s more, much more, real comfort for all who follow Jesus in faith.
Jesus is going away–yes, he’s going the way of the cross–but that is precisely to their, and our, advantage. For on that cross, Jesus has won the forgiveness of our sins, and that is what defeats death for us, takes the sting out of it. You see, it is our sins that create the death problem. It is our rebellion against God that brought the curse down upon us. All of us are guilty, every one of us, every day. In our thoughts, words, and deeds, we disobey God’s commandments, namely, to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t do that as I should. You don’t either. And guess what, neither did Edith. Neither did those disciples of Jesus, Peter and James and John and the rest of them. All of us, all of humanity–guilty as charged.
But God would not leave us there, stranded in our hopeless situation, strangled by the cords of death. So God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to be our substitute and our covering and our shelter. Jesus came on a search and rescue mission, and he was successful. He took our sins on his sinless shoulders and carried them to the cross. There he died, there he shed his sacred blood, on our behalf, for our salvation. “It is finished,” Jesus cries, and it is done. Sins forgiven, covered and paid for, all of them. And with sins forgiven, death is defeated and destroyed.
Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning shows that this is so. Mission accomplished. After Good Friday and Easter, then Jesus is going away, not in defeat, but in victory. The victorious Son returns to his Father. He ascends into heaven, there to prepare a place for us. He prepares a place for Edith, and for you, and for all who trust in him.
And what a place it will be! Our reading from Revelation describes it. The holy city, the new Jerusalem: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Here is what is in store for us, my friends. Take shelter, take cover, in Christ, and this is what awaits you. Jesus is your way there. And there is no other. As Jesus told the disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is no other way to safety. Nothing else will forgive your sins and rescue you from death. Not all your works or relative “goodness.” Not all your wisdom or high education. Only Jesus. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.” But Christ Jesus is to us “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
Yes, Jesus Christ is our way to the place he is preparing for us. He is the only way, but he is the only one we need. It’s not anything we do; it’s what he has done for us. Trust in him, and you will be saved, saved unto everlasting life.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, for there is a place I am preparing for you.” And again, “Let not your hearts be troubled, for there is a peace I am giving you.” Listen again to those words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
This is the peace that will sustain us when our hearts are troubled. This is the peace that will support us when our hearts are fearful. This is the peace that will surround us when our hearts are lonely. And it is a peace that no one can take from us, even as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death.
Let me close by telling you a little story about Edith that illustrates this peace. A week ago Thursday, I went to see Edith in the hospital. It was the last day that she would be awake and conscious and able to have a conversation. I went into her room, and she was lying there in bed, cheerful and glad to see me, but also clearly in some pain and looking very gaunt and frail. I asked her how she was, and she reported, as only Edith would do, “They’re very concerned about my vitals.” She wasn’t sure why they were concerned about her vitals, but they were. And then Edith and I had a good time sharing Scripture and prayer. The main Scripture I shared with her was this one that is part of our text today, John 14:27. As I started to read it, “Peace I leave with you”–as I started to read it, I noticed that Edith was saying the verse with me. She had had it memorized, and she spoke it along with me: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
It was very clear to me at that moment that these words of Jesus were very near and dear to our sister Edith. And rightfully so. For these words are trustworthy and true. These are words of promise, words of hope and salvation in Christ. Words of a place and a peace from Jesus, to untrouble our fearful hearts, Dear friends, today I invite you to do what Edith did, and take these promises of Christ to heart. And this is why I can say to you today: Let not your hearts be troubled.