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Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled

May 24, 2011

A sermon preached on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at St. Hilary’s Episcopal Church in Ft. Myers, FL.

Easter 5A, May 22, 2011
“Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled”
St. Hilary’s Episcopal Church
Fort Myers, FL
Acts 7: 55-60   •   Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16   •   1 Peter 2: 2-10   •   John 14: 1-14

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Well, we made it to Sunday and it doesn’t appear as if Judgment Day has occurred as a certain pastor out West predicted would happen last night.  I, for one, was going to be somewhat upset if it had, because today is my birthday and if Judgment Day happened one day before my 30th birthday and 4 days before my grandmother’s 90th birthday, I would have to do some grumbling about us getting the short end of the stick!

For a while now, and I’m sure most of you have heard about this already one way or another, this pastor out in California has been proclaiming a message that on May 21, 2011, at around 6pm, God’s Judgment Day will begin.  If he hasn’t succeeded in convincing the whole of the Christian church that he’s right, he certainly has succeeded in one thing: getting a lot of people worked up and anxious.  What will Judgment Day be like?  Will I be spared?  Will it be terrible and scary?  What should I do?  What about my family?  And into the midst of that anxiety, fear, and desperation, our Gospel lesson this week speaks an incredibly powerful word, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And like a deep exhale, we should all feel a sense of calm and comfort presiding over us, stripping away whatever anxiety we may or may not have had surrounding these troubling pronouncements.

I never for a second believed that what this pastor was proclaiming was true, and I didn’t believe it for a great many reasons, but I’m not going to go through all of those with you today.  I’m sure you have been able to reach your own conclusions.  I do, however, want to go over two of the reasons, but before I do that, I need to say this: we should not denigrate the pastor who made these proclamations.  In the spirit of Christian charity, we should give him the benefit of the doubt that he was doing only what he believed and thought best, however misguided it was.  It does absolutely no good to decry his name.  That only serves to separate him and his congregation further from the Christian fold; division was never a goal of the mission and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Certainly his words have caused a great deal of stress and complication in many people’s lives, especially financially, not the least of which in the lives of his congregation members.  And, he needs to be held accountable for that.  But we should seek, if anything, to bring them back to the flock, not drive them away even more.

Ok, that being said, let’s get into it.  The first reason I want to mention to you is the simpler of the two and in a way, I have already said it.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Gospel of fear and anxiety, but a Gospel of love and peace.  Certainly there are parts in the Gospel that will cause you to take a closer look at your life, that will cause you to want to come to Jesus and repent of your sins, but even in those passages, the end is always an end of hope, of restoration, and of ultimate love.  Any proclamation of the Gospel that ends in fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and loss is a proclamation that misses the ultimate point.  We hear this clearly in one of the more famous of Gospel passages, John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believed in him would not die but have everlasting life.”  But it is the unfortunately lesser quoted verse 17 that really drives home the point, “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the whole world might be saved through him.”  And, of course, later in that same Gospel we come to today’s passage, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

The second reason why I knew that this “end of the world” proclamation was false, and any “end of the world” proclamation is false is slightly more complicated.  If we really do our homework and we really read what Scripture actually says, rather than what we wish it said or always thought it said, but what it actually says, we will discover that God never intends to utterly and forever destroy the world, even in what the Old Testament prophets referred to as the Day of the Lord and what many other people somewhat errantly call Judgment Day.  The world will not be destroyed in the fulfillment of God’s plan, but will be changed.  Right now we know and experience that earth and heaven are two distinct and separate places: simplistically put, earth is where we are, and heaven is God’s space.  But if we read and believe the vision of John in Revelation 21, we know that at the end of time as we know it, the old earth will pass away and the old heaven will pass away and that the new earth and the new heaven will become one and that at the center of that vision is the new city of Jerusalem.  The new city of Jerusalem will not move from the earth into heaven but will come down from heaven to the new earth, and the space of human beings and God’s space will not be two separate spaces but one and the same space.

Phew!  That’s a lot to take in all at once, and that’s only two verses of Revelation.  What I’m trying to say though is anyone who talks about the so-called end of the world as a time when our space, the earth, is destroyed somehow and that the righteous few who will be saved from that destruction somehow go up to heaven with God, and that that is all that happens, is not reading carefully enough and is not going far enough.  The message of Jesus Christ is never one of fear, even to those he spoke to who were labeled “sinners.”  His message to sinners then and to sinners now is one of love and forgiveness.  He didn’t say, “Get away from me, sinner!”  He said, “Come.  Follow me.”  Getting folks worked up about a doomsday scenario where they have little chance of being saved is not just a message of fear, but a misreading or even a non-reading of God’s word.  Nowhere in that kind of a proclamation do I hear the words of Jesus saying either, “Come.  Follow me,” or “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

If we hear Jesus calling us by name and we respond to him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life then we are on the right path to putting our old ways of sin behind us and living fully into our true calling as God’s children.  Then, the Day of the Lord, when the old earth and the old heaven pass away and the new earth and the new heaven come together as one, becomes a day to look forward to, not a day to fear.  When God’s space and our space are one and the same, then can we rejoice in the answering of our prayer – the prayer Jesus taught us to pray that we pray every Sunday and maybe even every day, “thy kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”  “On earth as it is in heaven,” not “in heaven now that earth has been destroyed.”

Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life is never about fear.  Never about destruction.  But Jesus is about the old ways passing away and the new ways coming to fruition.  Jesus is about the kingdom of God coming on earth one day as it is right now in heaven.  And when that happens, heaven and earth will occupy the same space and God will dwell among us.  We will be his people and he will be our God.  “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  So, “do not let your hearts be troubled.”

            Amen.

Fr. Ryan+

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