Easter V (A)
May 21, 2011
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Let us pray. Most holy God, we come together in worship this day to proclaim your goodness and declare your greatness. Stir our hearts, that we may bring you the worship you deserve. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us in our worship. May all we do, say and sing bring honor and glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As this is the season of college graduations, I thought this story I found on the internet would relate well to today’s gospel lesson.
A young man newly graduated from business school answered a want ad for an accounting position. He found himself being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself.
"I need and want someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But primarily, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."
"Excuse me?" the accountant said.
"I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But I don't want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back."
"I see," the accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?"
"I'll start you at 80 grand."
"Eighty thousand dollars!" the accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that?"
"That," the owner said, "is your first worry."
We Americans are experiencing what appears to be an out of control epidemic of worrying. In connection with this, there is new research showing that skipping breakfast can have nasty effects on the health of your heart. Although a healthy diet overall is key, it looks like one meal might just be most critical of all. Mom always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day. As it turns out she was right.
So…Bring on the bacon. Grab the Pop-Tarts. Crack open the eggs. Squeeze the juice, smear some cream cheese on the bagel and pour yourself a big bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
Why? It's time for breakfast – and you'd better be eating it. Most of us probably grew up hearing that breakfast was "the most important meal of the day," but most of us assumed that was just Mom's way of guilting us into grabbing a banana as we burst out the door to catch the bus. Although there is probably a lot of truth to that, it also turns out that Mom was on to something.
According to a new study from Mayo Clinic researchers, breakfast is, in fact, the most important meal of the day, at least when it comes to the health of your heart. Throughout the course of 20 years, doctors tracked the breakfast habits and health statistics of some 2,100 individuals. The monitoring began in early adolescence and continued into adulthood. The goal of the study was simple: to determine the positive or negative overall health effects of skipping breakfast.
Respondents who grew up in homes where breakfast was skipped or who later in life chose to rebel against a pro-breakfast upbringing by passing on the meal as adults showed significantly higher levels of heart-wrenching health statistics. Their waistlines were larger. Their cholesterol was higher. Their insulin levels were out of whack. The bottom line? Their hearts were sick.
In fact, many doctors who have studied the report now recommend waking up and eating some kind – in fact, almost any kind – of substantial breakfast as an essential step in avoiding serious heart trouble later in life.
So, there you have it! Mom was right. Pass the pancakes and don’t forget the syrup! And as it turns out, Moms, doctors and the Mayo Clinic aren't the only ones concerned about heart trouble. So is Jesus. In our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus gives his disciples – and us – this clear command: "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (John 14:1, NRSV).
Now, to be perfectly honest, Jesus isn't talking about cholesterol levels or bypass surgeries. He is in fact talking about a different kind of heart trouble: the kind that can also be classified as worry, fear, anxiety or stress. The kind of heart trouble that can feel like a loss of hope, a lack of faith, a panic attack or pangs of uncertainty. The kind of heart trouble that keeps you up at night thinking about money, biting your nails when you're worried about your child or on the phone with a friend looking for advice and support for a crumbling marriage.
Perhaps already this morning you have had palpitations of worry or fear about some financial issue or family problem? That's the kind of heart trouble Jesus is talking about. It's the kind we have all experienced. It's the kind of heart trouble, faith trouble and lack-of-peace-trouble that tends to run rampant in our modern lives.
It's clear that heart trouble – of the physical, emotional and spiritual kind – is, in fact, a major threat to our well-being as followers of Christ. Thanks to the Mayo Clinic, we know a bowl of Cheerios is beneficial for our arteries. But what about our hearts of faith, our worries and anxieties? What about those gnawing fears and gnawed fingernails? Let's be perfectly honest: Is it even possible, as follower of Jesus in an extremely screwed-up world, to heed his command and have an untroubled heart? Really? Sure it is.
According to God's Word – according to Jesus himself, in fact – having an untroubled heart of faith all comes down to what we are feeding that heart. Just as an omelet makes a difference physically, what we may be feeding on or depriving ourselves of makes all of the difference spiritually.
Ask any doctors, and they will all tell you that there are two keys to physical well-being which I suspect we all know: It all comes down to a good diet and regular exercise. Neglect either of those, and you are headed for trouble. The same is true with your heart of faith. It must be well-fed and well-run in order to be strong and healthy. Take another look at Jesus' words. He says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (v. 1, NRSV). Jesus tells us the key to "heart health" as one of his followers is to trust in and feed on him. What our hearts need to stay healthy is regular nourishment from Christ and an active life of following Christ.
I realize that at first glance, that answer may reek of Sunday school simplicity. But there is a lot of truth to that statement. Far too many followers of Christ have heart trouble stemming from the fact that their lives involve no regular consumption of Christ and no actual exercise of their faith in Christ. As a result, they're unable to withstand the anxieties of life that come up daily. Starving for a sense of direction that comes from Christ in his Word or craving some lasting peace that can come only from standing on his promises, we wind up looking for nourishment in all the wrong places.
We skip spiritual meals in favor of earthly solutions. Later, we binge on earthly things, believing that they are a substitute for God-things. For example, you might religiously consume cable news, thinking the talking heads from your preferred political tribe will give you lasting wisdom in a crumbling world. You may join the neighborhood gym and begin obsessing about your physical appearance and calorie count, wrongly believing that regaining control over your body will give you control over your hungry soul.
Meanwhile, our unfed hearts of faith are going through prolonged periods of disengaged laziness. Our troubled hearts of faith that may have once been tested in tough conversations with unbelieving friends in prep school or college and put to use through prayer in times of stress now sit on the couch and consume nothing but junk. Is it then any wonder that we feel ill-equipped for the worries of life?
If you already know you suffer from actual heart disease, the Mayo Clinic prescribes a wide variety of "easy" steps to help establish a healthier existence. Simply stop smoking, control your cholesterol, manage your diet, get moving for at least 30 minutes each day, manage your stress, practice good hygiene, maintain a healthy weight, take your vitamins and be sure to get a flu shot. That's all there is to it.
But when it comes to our hearts of faith, it is also a short list of just two things. Our troubled hearts need to be fed with Christ and exercised in a life of following him. Remember Christ's own words immediately following the command that our hearts be trouble-free. Five times – five times in just two verses – Jesus uses the words I or me. It's nothing less than a plea for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that he gives and the work that he will one day return to complete.
So then, what does a Christ-diet look like? How do we feed our hearts the power of Christ? It comes down to being connected to the promises of his Word, found in the Scriptures, and the power of his presence, found in his people. Just as someone who's cultivating physical heart health by taking up running might subscribe to Runner's World for insight and join a local running club for accountability, God's Word and his people are essential for a strong heart of faith.
In verse 18 (NRSV), Christ makes a promise, saying, "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." Very often when our hearts are troubled and we feel furthest from Christ, it is simply because we are far from the two places – his Word and his people – where he's promised to always be found.
What's more, we live in a world in which access to God's Word has never been easier. Just one example: At the Web site youversion.com, you can read the Bible in hundreds of languages and translations that make connecting with Christ easier and more accessible than ever before.
Once your heart of faith is fed with Christ, the essential element is to make sure it's regularly stretched, exercised and put to the test in a lifestyle of relentlessly pursuing Christ. Immediately after telling his disciples to feast on him, Jesus boldly proclaimed that they would be living lives of faith in which they achieved more amazing things than he did! “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works that these…” (v. 12, NRSV). The disciples needed hearts that were fed with Christ because they would also be thrown into lives of doing incredible, frightening, heart-straining works in the name of Christ.
Could it be that one reason your faith feels so weak is because it never gets off the couch? Could it be that the very reason you feel so ill-equipped to face life's obstacles is because you are constantly attempting to avoid them? Could it be that perhaps the very means of strengthening your heart of faith is jumping at opportunities that will test it? What if, rather than avoiding that difficult conversation with your sister-in-law, you prayed for courage, sought God's people for counsel and advice and then approached her in an attempt to reconcile?
What if, rather than living in fear of life outside your community and of people who are different from you, you searched God's Word to discover Jesus' heart toward those who are different from you or on the fringes of society?
What if, rather than worry about your finances, you trusted Christ to be King over your treasure, set an actual budget and attempted to tithe?
What if, rather than feeding your heart with excuses to stay where you are in life, you took bold steps to train, engage and grow your heart? What if? What if?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year some 785,000 people suffer their very first heart attack. Heart disease is the number-one health issue among adults, both male and female. Each year, more than 630,000 of us will die of a heart-related disease. It's the number-one killer. It's time to start feeding your heart a little breakfast.
Each day, millions of disciples will feel a few shooting pains run through their hearts as their work-stress rises, a relationship gets rough, money gets tight or health grows weak. "Do not let your hearts be troubled." It's time for all of us to heed Christ's call, feed on his Word and begin flexing that faith.
If Mom was right after all about breakfast, then maybe, just maybe, Jesus is right about this. Amen.