By the Reverend Sally Weaver
A power that cannot be controlled ruthlessly changing the world. For the world of Jesus, it was the might of Rome. For us today, it’s the coronavirus. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
People displaced from their livelihoods. In first-century Palestine, taxation and absentee landlords caused peasant farmers to lose their lands and their living. Currently in the United States, 33 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
People going hungry. Under Roman domination the at-risk population grew; only those who worked that day could afford to eat that day. Today hundreds of cars line up for a trunkful of food from pantries across the nation. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Separation from loved ones and fear of being killed by the enemy. In the Gospel passage we just heard, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his departure from them, for his inevitable seizure and death by the Roman authorities. Distanced from our friends and extended family members, we live in fear that our at-risk loved ones will contract and subsequently die from Covid-19. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
As when Jesus was alive, this is an anxious time. As when Jesus was alive, political, social and economic structures are ill-equipped for the present challenges. What was once solid is vanishing, what was once sure is faltering.
What does Jesus say to us, living in a scared, shaken world? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And then he tells us how we can convert our hearts from anxiety to calm, from troubled to peaceful, from broken to whole. “Believe in God,” Jesus says. (The better translation is “trust in God.”) “Trust in God, trust also in me…I…prepare a place for you…so that where I am, there you may be also.” Because this is a text we hear so often at funerals, we hear it as Jesus preparing a place in the eternal kingdom for those who have died.
The meaning is broader than that. Jesus is telling us that we belong. Every one of God’s creatures has a place, no one is left out or left behind. Jesus loves us. We belong. We matter. Because this is true, we have nothing to fear. Wherever we go, whatever happens to us, we know that we are beloved by Christ. The love that Jesus Christ has for us is our one constant in this chaotic world. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus tells us that we are his. We are worthy of Christ’s love and belonging. What more do we need?
Jesus’ life and his actions speak directly to Jesus’ belief that all people are worthy of love and belonging. Jesus accepted whoever came across his path. He healed Jews, Samaritans, and Romans. He ate with lepers and prostitutes. No one was outside the circle of Jesus’ concern. No one was treated as unworthy of attention. As children of God, all human beings are worthy of love and belonging.
In Brown’s parlance, if we truly believe that we are worthy of love and belonging, we are wholehearted. Here’s what she discovered that wholehearted people have in common.
First, they have courage, which, as Brown points out, comes from the word coeur, meaning heart. So wholehearted people are willing to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart. They know that they are imperfect, just like everyone else. They are OK with admitting their imperfections.
Second, they have compassion. They are kind to themselves first. And they are kind to others. Brown discovered through her research what Jesus said was a summary of the law and prophets: Love yourself as you love your neighbor. Our ability to be kind and compassionate toward others is directly proportional to our ability to deeply forgive and take care of ourselves.
Third, the wholehearted have connection with others as a result of being authentic. They are the people they portray to others. And finally, wholehearted people are vulnerable. The wholehearted know that life is not predictable or certain. They embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. They’re willing to do something that has no guarantee attached. They’re willing to try something and have it fail. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may not work out. They’re willing to be the first one to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry.”
Wholehearted people are willing to be deeply seen because they know that we find connection with others only when we are open and honest about who we truly are. Wholehearted people are vulnerable people and, as Brown says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Instead, remember that you belong, you matter. Remember that Jesus has a special place for you. Jesus calls us to be wholehearted people, loving God, ourselves, and those we come in contact with with everything we’ve got, with every fiber of our being, whole-hog. We are to love vulnerably, recklessly, passionately. That’s what it means to be the people of God.
And so, loving and gracious Jesus, mend our troubled hearts so that we may love God, ourselves, and others wholeheartedly. Help us know that we are worthy of love and belonging, for all of us belong to you. In your name we pray. Amen.
Note: Throughout this sermon, I have referenced Brene Brown's "The Power of Vulnerability" TED talk, but have not always indicated it by quotation marks.
The Reverend Sally S. Weaver is co-priest in charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org