Do not let your hearts be troubled

Sermon 05.26.17 Easter 6

Before I was ordained and still working as a police officer in New Scotland Yard, London in the UK I used to work as a volunteer bereavement counsellor for a local hospice near where we lived in south London. Amid all the grief and tears of the bereaved relatives the one common factor I discovered was fear – fear of what had become of their loved one, fear of what life was going to be like alone (one of the specific fears of widows in particular was the finances – “my husband had always looked after all that”), fear of being abandoned by friends and just about afraid of everything to come in the future, especially their own deaths.

And fear is not just confined to those suffering bereavement, it is endemic in our human natures and it pervades our society – political parties play upon it (especially on the immigration issue), adverts on TV and in the media use it to sell their products (particularly in the medical field), bullies in school and on the Internet delight in it and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are all influenced by it to a greater or lesser extent. It can become like a cancer in our systems and can lead to low self-esteem where bullying, paranoia, stress and an inability to trust others become the norm for those suffering badly from fear and lack of self-confidence.

It is not surprising then that Jesus tries to deal with this matter not only in our Gospel reading this morning but elsewhere on many occasions. As we saw in Ian’s sermon last week this 14th Chapter of John’s Gospel is all about Jesus wanting to reassure us that there is nothing to fear. You will recall from last week that the chapter opens with his saying to the disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and towards the end he repeats those words in verse 27 and adds “and do not be afraid”. And in our reading this morning he seeks to reassure the disciples who were anxious and worried about his predicting his death and eventual Ascension from this world which we celebrate this coming Thursday. In his stead he promises to send them another Advocate who will be with them and us forever – the spirit of truth. I will not leave you as orphans, says Jesus, I will come to you and because I live, you also will live.

Lovely words of encouragement aren’t they? And, of course, they were not just for Jesus’ disciples then, they are for his disciples down the centuries to us, his disciples today. Jesus affirms this both in his words to Thomas after the disciple had felt the wounds in Jesus’ resurrected body and declared his faith. ”Blessed are those”, says Jesus, “who have not seen and yet have believed”. Also in his great prayer in the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus states “My prayer is not for my disciples alone, I pray for those who will believe in me through their message.” That’s us, wherever we are in our fears and worries, we have Jesus’ blessing and reassurance that he prayed for each and every one of us and he is with us through his sending to us His Advocate, the Holy Spirit, The Spirit of truth.

If we require more confirmation of this, we need look no further than our other readings this morning. In his speech to The Areopagus in Athens Paul tells his hearers all about their Unknown God, ‘how he gives all of us life and breath and everything else and how in Him we live and move and have our being’. And Peter in his letter to the church in Rome, “Do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”. Encouraging words for the disciples but what about the “they” Peter talks about? From what he says elsewhere he is talking about people who are anti God and anti-faith in Him and His Son Jesus Christ – the very same people Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading who cannot receive the spirit of truth who comes from Jesus – “This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.”

And this brings me back to my bereavement counselling days – the reason so many of my clients could not come to terms with their fears was that they were stuck in the secularist norm of neither seeing nor knowing Jesus through His Spirit. I longed to tell them the reassurance we and they all have in our Lord and Saviour but realised it was not the time to do that. However, they were constant sources of prayer and I know many of them became aware of and came closer to God through the reassuring Spirit of Truth emanating from His Son Jesus. May we in our spiritual journeys come closer to Jesus, receive Hi Spirit of truth  in our hearts and minds and know that we have no need to fear or worry because of what he has for us and continues to do. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid”. Amen.