Fifth Sunday of Easter
Scripture: John 14:1-7
An activity growing in popularity these days is something called an escape room. You have to solve clues to get out a room. It’s not meant to be a scary experience. It’s meant to engage your mind and the strength of the team you are working with. The goal: solve the puzzle and escape the room in limited amount of time. Even the Waterloo Public Library has set up a virtual escape room called, Sherlocked. You are an apprentice of Sherlock Holmes and you put your skills to the test to unravel the mystery. Sounds like fun, especially for lovers of mystery. While I have not tried an escape room, I am curious.
It seems like we’re in an escape room these days. Sheltering in our homes, working as a big team to best tackle this virus together to keep each other safe. Some people are on the sidelines heckling but the team seems strong and committed to the common goal of protecting lives.
During this time of being house bound, you might have felt the need to ‘escape’ from your home. To be free in the world again. Sometimes, it feels like a long road trip where you are stuck in a car together. Life can get a little silly at times but we just go with the flow. Maybe you are fairly content making best of an awkward situation. You’ve found a sweet spot on more than one occasion and that carries you through the challenges. For those of you who have experienced the sting of death in your families, you likely long to escape to a time before the heartbreak.
For me, it’s strange and surreal. Before isolation, I would often get restless in my home. Wanting to be out in the world doing this or that. Almost an obligation to not be still, to accomplish a task or be productive in some way. There is a paradoxical freedom in not having as many choices and there is peace in that.
Our imaginations help to make the best out of a bad situation and carry us through this time of less in person physical interaction and even mobility. Many of us are being creative. We’ve camped in our bedrooms, gone on our favourite beach vacations, decorated our windows with art, surprised people with flowers on the porch, had Christmas Eve dinner just because. My children often visit our Patio Picnic Paradise Restaurant in the back yard which is open on almost all fair weather days. In these moments, life is manageable. Life is even good.
For many if not all of us, not all moments are manageable. Not all moments are good. For those who have lost loved ones, life can be unbearable.
And this is where the Gospels intersects with our lives today.
We hear in the Gospel words this morning, “Do not let your hearts be trouble”.
We might respond, yes. But often is the case our hearts are troubled.
Over the past month, when 5000 were asked about the emotions they were feeling during the time, the predominant emotion was by far anxiety.
Do not let your hearts be trouble. But often is the case trouble finds its way into our hearts.
Our hearts are troubled for those who had to say good bye to loved ones from afar.
Our hearts are troubled for the millions who have lost jobs.
Our hearts are troubled for our those in long term care.
Our hearts are trouble for Indigenous communities especially where covid is spreading in northern Saskatchewan.
Our hearts are trouble for those facing ongoing health concerns in the midst of pandemic.
Our hearts are troubled for people working in unsafe conditions.
Our hearts are trouble because of the rapid change and loss of our usual way of being in the world.
Our hearts are troubled by the kids set to return to school in our neighbouring province and the economy opening in our sister country.
Our hearts are troubled because we miss being in person with our loved ones. (Hi Mom Happy Mother’s Day. I love you. Hi dad. Same goes for you!)
The trouble in our hearts may not be the same for everyone.
But I think it is fair to say there are times when trouble in everyones heart, whether admitted or not.
So when, the Gospel writer John says, Do not let your hearts be troubled, we take pause, our hands go in the air in resignation or on our hips in questioning contemplation. We stomp our feet in frustration. Our head rests in the palm of our hand. Feelings are complex and many.
There is a great story about a little boy at school I heard this week on the Podcast called Permission to Feel with Brown & Brackett. When the teacher asked how he was doing, he said I am having 10 different feelings. The teacher rolled her eyes as if the boy was exaggerating. But when the boy was asked to tell more he communicated about his morning. I woke up excited about the day. I was frustrated when I couldn’t find my favourite pants. My mom yelled at me because I was going to be late and I felt sad. When I got to school I was happy to see my friends…It goes on and on. This little fellow was articulate and in touch with his feelings. And that’s a good thing.
Feelings are complex and many, especially for us during these times.
We know some helpful strategies to cope and not get stuck in all of this trouble.
Healthy eating. Exercise. Fresh air. Deep breathing. Decreased screen time.
Talking about our feelings. For some people, counselling is found to be of help .
What this little boy did was acknowledge the many feelings he had.
To accept those feelings as okay and not making judgements that they are bad.
It’s okay to have feelings.
These helpful strategies to cope.
But we can’t do it on our own. Relying on our own devices is part of the puzzle but it’s missing an important piece. Lord, help us with our troubled hearts.
In his book, How to Be Here, Rob Bells tells a story about a bus driver in New York City whose route takes him all over Manhattan. At his last stop everybody gets off before he parks the bus for the night. He drives the bus over the bridge into Long Island where the bus is parked overnight.
As he’s pulling the bus up to the last stop, he tells the people on the bus to give him their problems. He tells them he knows that life is difficult and many of them are taking home all kinds of burdens and anxiety and conflict - so why not leave all that with him.
He tells the riders that he’ll take their burdens and drive them across the bridge so that they don’t have to carry them around all of the time or anymore.
The bus driver says, I’ve heard your troubles. They are real.
It is no wonder your heart is troubled. I hear you.
Now release those burdens to me, if only for a moment.
Let them go.
In a sense, God for us is the bus driver. In prayer, in worship, even when we are unable to do these, God acts like the bus driver gathering the troubles of our heart, gathering the troubles of the world and saying, I hear you beloved child.
Cast your burdens upon me. I will help to lighten your load.
It’s far too much for you to bear on your own.
So when John writes, Do not let your hearts be trouble,
he is not writing that your hearts will be free of trouble but that God can help with the trouble. John acknowledges that in life there will be trouble. This text helps us to stop for a moment to acknowledge the feelings and to accept the feelings for what they are. Just feelings. Nothing bad or wrong about feelings. It’s healthy to know your feelings.
Our bodies and emotions are complex.
Yet, God wants us to live abundantly and freely.
Not weighed down.
By the grace of God, our hearts are not left in this turmoil of trouble.
God will listen to the pains of our heart and the world.
When you are overwhelmed, God hears
And the relentless wave of grace washes over us.
This is the promise.
I do not understand the mystery of grace.
Only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
It’s likely that each of us has hit the wall and reached our limit on more than one occasion during these weeks. It’s okay not to feel okay sometimes. You are not alone. We’ll get through this together.
The Gospel brings comfort. We are promised, God goes to prepare a place for you, we’re told, both in heaven and on earth. In God’s house there are many rooms. Some think of this as a great mansions designed even better than the likes of Wright, Erikson, Gehry , Safdie could create.
But what the Gospel speaks is less of a physical space and more of a place not marked by territory but by marked by presence of God with us. A dwelling place where God abides with us and prepares for us.
God prepares a dwelling place and abides with us during all types of situations. God invites us into a room in God's house. It’s not an escape from room. It might be more like an escape-to type of room. A place where we want to dwell and that we seek out. A place where we want to stay and remain. A sanctuary. An oasis. A safe haven. A retreat. A place refuge to abide with our loving creator, maker, sanctifier and friend. God’s dwelling place has to do with abiding in a deep and loving relationship with God.
God’s word often breaks us open a little,
to expose those most vulnerable areas in our lives
not to exploit them but to heal.
God has a room for you.