Letters From Our Pastor

Hearts Troubled, and at Peace

September 28, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins
Let your heart be not troubled. Don’t be afraid. You trust God. You can trust me too…. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give you peace unlike what the world offers. Let your heart be not troubled. Don’t be afraid.” (From St. John chapter fourteen)
We know so little. We don’t even know for sure where these words (traditionally attributed to Jesus) came from. When asked who wrote the Fourth Gospel, known to us as “The Gospel According to St. John,” the venerable early Christian martyr Polycarp, who had known the historical apostle John, was reported to have said, “It was a long time ago, and no one knows for sure.”

Wherever the saying from the Fourth Gospel originated, however, it has remained in the Christian canon of holy scripture because it rings true. But, I have to say, it also runs counter to the most common impulses of many Christians, and a lot of other folks too.

Jesus places the focus of our trust on God. Specifically, Jesus places our focus on the God who in Christ’s supreme act of self-sacrifice revealed God’s open, loving heart to all humanity.

Life is ever-changing, inconstant, unpredictable. It is contingent upon a multitude of factors beyond anyone’s control. And if we place the focus of our trust on the rising and falling fortunes of this world, our happiness, our hopes, and our joy inevitably we fall victim to the relentless changes of life, and to the turning of fortune’s wheel.

Jesus’s teachings in all four gospels touches on this point quite often. Do not treasure the things that are corruptible, the things that rust and rot or can be stolen. Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be found, says our Lord.

Is Jesus a kill-joy? No, he’s very much a pro-joy. He’s apparently even pro-happiness. He’s a fellow who knows how to have a good time, New Orleans-style. He is a wine bidder and a friend of sinners. I suspect he may have been something of a nuisance with the karaoke machine at the local bar too.

But Jesus’s teachings in all four gospels warn against the perils of hitching our hearts to the perishable. He warns us against the disquiet that rules the hearts of those who long to know and control their future. Jesus takes critical aim at our illusion that we can plumb the ultimate telos, the world’s end, the final judgement, his return and so forth. And, in these teachings of Jesus, in particular, I find a wisdom we need to recover if we want untroubled hearts.

The peace offered by the world is tied directly to one’s ability to control the changes of life and to see where the bends are in the road ahead. The peace offered by the world is the peace that says, “Put all your eggs in the basket; mark it breakable; and watch that basket as if your life depended on it!” The peace offered by the world promises us that as long as we can stay on top of everything, we’ll be just fine.

Of course, we all know, this is no peace at all. Indeed, this is the path of lifelong, debilitating anxiety.

I’ve noticed something happening to lots of us in recent days. Our moods are souring. Our hopes feel diminished.

I’m noticing usually gregarious friends avoiding conversation for fear that they will say something that leads to painful disagreements. Months of isolation, a world at the mercy of an unmerciful disease; political divisions that thrive on hostility and that have the ability to make even the most common-place actions and thoughts grist for a partisan political mill; civil unrest that has inspired soul-searching among many but has also provoked polarization among others, who, in fact, share far more than separates them; and a bitterly antagonistic election cycle that is being used as an excuse for threats of violence by various partisans: all of this is bad enough.

Making it all worse, however, is a cult of instant opinionating and prognosticating that dominates the various media, causing many people both to hang their hopes on (what the Book of Common Prayer called) “the diverse and manifold changes of this world” and on the unknowable future.

When I open the editorial pages of my favorite print news sources (I avoid television news except for the weather report and sports), overwhelmingly I meet civil prophets trying to read the tea leaves of the moment to determine whether this candidate or that one is likely to win election, whether the economy is unsteady but doing pretty well, fundamentally sound despite the restlessness of certain markets, or doomed to fall to historic levels, and that’s just for starters. Wars and rumors of war persist. The moon, if not turned to blood, is at least debated as a resource to be mined. History run amok. A planet in crisis.

If writers of editorials gave up the prediction game, they’d have almost nothing to say. And they would give it up, I am quite sure, except for one thing: most people enjoy torturing themselves by enthralling their hearts to that which will bring only more misery and disquiet.

I told someone several months ago that I now watch less news than I used to. Their reply assumed that I have become less concerned about reality and more irresponsible.

In fact, I feel considerably more in touch with reality and I feel even more capable of responding to the actual needs around me than when I depleted myself with the daily habit of worrying and wondering what was going to happen next in the world.

It seems to me that Jesus was more a sage than a prophet; and, according to ancient Jewish sources, the sage is more important to the life of faith than is the prophet. And Jesus’s wisdom lies in trusting God, and not placing our trust or hope in this changing world around us; it lies in loving creation and humanity with complete abandon; responding to the needs of others as we cross their paths or they cross ours, and examining the ways we live together to try to insure that goodness and justice and mercy can be wrangled out of (what Kant called) “the crooked timber of our humanity.”

That sounds wise to me, and it may just be the path to joy and peace.