Sermon: Is It Well with Your Soul?

March 18, 2018
Fifth Sunday in Lent
John 12:20-33

Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled.”

“Now, my soul is troubled.”

He had some reason to be exhilarated. He had just ridden into Jerusalem upon a donkey in a deliberate echo, a conscious fulfillment, of a vision of the prophet Zechariah. The city’s people had seen and understood the symbol, and they had shouted exultantly and waved palm branches and celebrated as if the best days of their lives were right around the corner. Jesus’ enemies were convinced that all the world stood with him, and against them, and they could do nothing.

Even better, foreign visitors wanted to meet Jesus: Greeks who were probably in the process of converting to Judaism. They came to Philip – he had a Greek name – and Philip and Andrew brought the word of their interest to Jesus.

Indeed, now the entire world, as the Pharisees had just complained, had come to Jesus. Or at least as much of the world as they knew. I’m afraid nobody from the regions of India or China or Japan or Polynesia appeared, or if they did, nobody got the word to John before he wrote his Gospel.

So, Jesus had good reason for celebration. And yet he said, “Now my soul is troubled.”

“Now my soul is troubled.”

There is a shift here in John’s gospel. Twice, earlier in the book, Jesus had announced that the hour had not yet come. But now, Jesus said, the hour has come. Before that hour, Jesus’ enemies could threaten, but they could not harm him. With the coming of the hour, Jesus’ enemies could strike. And he knew they would.

“Now my soul is troubled.”

We spent some time in Bible Study this week discussing the necessity or the inevitability of this moment. Jesus said repeatedly, and his closest followers remembered and repeated it, that his life’s journey led to death on a Roman cross. Jesus’ closest friends, as we’ve seen in other passages of the Gospels, didn’t want to believe it before it happened and didn’t even have a framework in which a crucified Messiah made any sense. They found ways to understand it in the Scriptures after the event – and after the resurrection.

But we still wrestled with that necessity or inevitability, as Christians have for centuries. The idea that resonated the best with most of us was that Jesus’ message and integrity would inevitably lead him into conflict with civic and religious authorities. He could not turn aside from that message and integrity, and they could not abide it.

It’s better than a lot of the alternative ideas, but it still leaves us wondering about ourselves, about human beings, who can’t endure such goodness and love, but must eliminate it.

Now my soul is troubled.

There’s a lot to trouble my soul in these days. Those of you who are older may laugh, but I’m not enjoying the change in the way doctors want to see me so often now that I’m over fifty. I get left with the sense that my body is in a state of rapidly progressing collapse, which must be closely monitored so that, if we can’t actually treat what’s going on, at least everybody gets the opportunity to watch.

I guess that only gets worse?

I’m overstating things here, but it does trouble my soul to think of my body ceasing to be what I’ve been accustomed to for so long: a basically reliable carrier that moves my heart and soul around.

And it troubles my soul because I can also see and sorrow for the health struggles of so many people I know: family, friends, church members, people with whom I strike up a conversation in an airport. I do what I can: pray, listen, chat, even sing a song from time to time – and sometimes that will ease a few minutes, and sometimes God will do something I can’t see – but often, it is what it is, and it will be what it will be. And so my soul is troubled.

My soul is troubled by the marginalization of people of color, of women, of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in this nation and around the world. My soul is troubled by people in power who refuse to see the hazards of rising oceans and a global changing climate, and prefer the riches of today to preserving the lands and homes that will be lost tomorrow. My soul is troubled by those who insist on a right to hold other people’s lives in their hands. My soul is troubled by the continuing efforts to ban entry to this country based on religion. My soul is troubled that the proposed budget for the Park Service ends funding for remembering the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. My soul is especially troubled that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke answered Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s question about that by first greeting her in Japanese.

Congresswoman Hanabusa and I are both fourth generation descendants of immigrant families. We both had great-grandparents who came to this country.

Do you think he would have greeted me in Swedish?

My soul is troubled this Lent. My soul is troubled.

How is your soul?

We will shortly enter the most deeply shadowed time of the Christian year. We will celebrate Palm Sunday next week, but we will also read Mark’s account of Jesus arrest, crucifixion, and death. On Maundy Thursday we will nourish ourselves at the table of Jesus Christ, but we will also watch the lights dim as we tell the story of betrayal and desertion. We will have the church open for prayer for three hours on Good Friday, and periodically through that time I will read the seven last words that Jesus spoke from the cross.

These do not comfort. These are acts of devotion that break open the heart. These are devotions that bring tears to the eyes. These are devotions that empty the soul.

I recommend them. They encourage us to follow the example of Jesus, maintaining our message of love and mercy in the face of opposition. They show us what the price can be, and they summon us to courage in maintaining our message of love and mercy. So I recommend them.

I also recommend other comforts for the soul.

There are two things I try to do every time I visit somebody in the hospital here in Hilo. First, on leaving, I turn in to Rainbow Falls. I just watch the water flow for a while. Just watching helps some of the stress and sorrow and concern drift away, and it gives me another space to pray for those I’ve just seen.

Then, as I drive back down, I lift my eyes from the hill, and look at Hilo Bay spread out below me. And I remind myself again: What a beautiful place we live in. What a beautiful world God has created. What a joy it is to be God’s creation myself. What a joy it is to be God’s creations ourselves.

These two things soothe my soul.

There are other things. We’ll be singing again this Friday evening. Singing together soothes the soul. We’ll be studying the Bible this week. Studying God’s deeds of love and mercy and power enriches the soul. We’ll worship next Sunday. Worship opens the soul.

My soul is troubled, but it is also comforted, and enriched, and opened.

How is it with your soul? Is it well with your soul?

What does your soul need to open, to blossom, or to sing?

How do you need to be comforted, to be enriched, to be opened?

What would it take for you to be well with your soul?


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

…and marvel at Pastor Eric’s commitment to improvisation. At least, we think that’s what it is.

The photo by Eric Anderson is of Rainbow Falls in Hilo.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on March 18, 2018

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