Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled
John 14:1-7

We’ve just heard again a text that is probably the second or maybe third best known (in my humble opinion) after Psalm 23 and John 3:16 to people who don’t regularly attend a church.  When I am called on to conduct a funeral for a person I have never met, or may have met once or twice it is the text I usually start with when making recommendations for the funeral service.  Why do you think that is?  Because it speaks words of incredible comfort as it proclaims the Gospel to people in one of the most difficult circumstances in their lives, saying goodbye to a loved one.

At first glance it looks and sounds like an admonishment, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, it’s a command, a directive, something designed to snap you out of where you are at and think about something in a focused way.  But if you change the tone of it, you realise that it also provides great comfort as you complete the sentence, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “She’ll be right mate, I’ve got it sorted, there’s nothing to worry about, I’ve got a place all ready for you when you get there.”

Jesus was preparing his disciples for a time when he wouldn’t be with them anymore, at least not in the regular sense that you would think about with one of your normal run-of-the-mill friends, he was going to sit at the right hand of his Father, and so wanted them all to know that he would be back one day to take them (and us) to be with him in the place where he was going.  He was all about providing comfort for his mates in their hour of despair.

Thomas was the one who was game enough to say, “Hang on, explain things to us a little better.”  And Jesus replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  Once again these are words of comfort, we know Jesus, and he made us his children through our baptism, and so we also know the Father, who sent him to bring about victory over death.

The somewhat gruesome story of Stephen being stoned to death that we heard earlier shows an incredible faith and the heart of a man who was not troubled by death.  He knew the victory had been won for him and was able to proclaim what he had seen and heard even in the face of his certain death.  As he was being stoned he was able to pray for Jesus to receive his spirit, and even cried out in a loud voice for the Lord not to hold their sin against them.  He was a true witness to the grace and truth that is Jesus.

Like Jesus, his example is almost impossible to follow, we couldn’t imagine ourselves in a situation like that, let alone be able to call out in prayer and then ask for the forgiveness of our killers.  Yet because they were relying solely on the strength of God they were able to.  God is our rock and our refuge in times of difficulty.  We will begin our prayer this morning with the first two verses of Psalm 31, “In you, O Lord I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.  Incline you ear to me; rescue me speedily.  Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.”  and then conclude it with verses three to five, You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

Stephen was simply following and quoting scripture, he was relying on God for his strength, his hope and his witness.  You can call out to God using his own words too.  The Psalms are a great place to start.  When your own words fail you, God’s word will never let you down.  Trust in God, trust also in Jesus, and his word, given for you to build you up and give you strength.
We never know what life will throw at us.  I was reading this week an account of an early Christian martyr who was tortured and killed before a crowd of blood thirsty onlookers, purely because she would not renounce her faith.  You and I may never have to do that, but how can we really be sure, these are changing times, who knows what is around the corner.  There are Christians today around the world being persecuted for their faith, we just rarely get to hear about them, so it’s hard for us to imagine.

I would love to think that in that circumstance I could be like Stephen and call out to God to ask for forgiveness for the perpetrators, until the time came I wouldn’t honestly know how I would react, do you?

What we do know though is that Jesus has told us, through his word to trust in him, don’t let your hearts be troubled, seek refuge in him, at all times and in all places, and give thanks to him for being there for us.

When things around you are gathering up and bringing you down, don’t rely on yourself and your own abilities, call out to God or turn to him to give you strength, courage to face the road ahead, ask him to give you the strength to trust in him, call on his name and he will listen to you and answer.

Ask him for the strength to proclaim to the world what God has done for you through his son, and allow you to be a blessing to others through your faithful witness, even if you are not going to be sentenced to death for your confession of faith, there are doubts and fears that keep us from doing so, trust in the Lord with all of your heart, do not let your hearts be troubled, rest in the arms of Jesus.

Amen