When I was in seminary I completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in a hospital setting one summer. My particular assignment was on a heart specialty floor where I related to patients and families identified as CABG recipients. In the vernacular of the medical profession CABG (pronounced “cabbage” – though it has nothing to do with a vegetable) stands for Coronary Artery By-pass Graft. In other words these folks (the cabbage patients) were having heart by-pass surgery. They were on that floor due to heart trouble.
In John 14:1 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” That was not always a good verse to share as a hospital chaplain on the CABG floor! Heart trouble had landed the occupants of that floor in those rooms. Often they were there post heart attack – perhaps the most troubled condition our hearts can physically endure.
Of course Jesus wasn’t addressing the physicality or anatomy of the human heart muscle when he shared these words in John 14:1.He was talking to his disciples as he was preparing them for his departure from them. In fact, when you look at John 13, there are multiple reasons why the disciples may have been experiencing heart trouble (of another kind). In sequence – and over just a matter of moments – Jesus washes their feet, predicts that one of them will betray him, shares the Last Supper, forecasts his departure and death, and rebukes Simon Peter – telling him he will deny him three times. Isn’t that a list that would cause more than a little emotional turmoil (heart trouble)? In my summer on the CABG floor I would discover that heart trouble of the emotional variety often accompanied the physical heart trouble that landed my patient’s and their families a space on the floor. Depression was a frequent companion to by-pass surgery. Guilt, grief, regret, sorrow, sympathy, resolve, determination, celebration and almost every other imaginable range of emotion made an appearance either in the person of the patient him or herself, or their loved ones.
Keep in mind this experience was now thirty years ago and medical science has learned a thing or two in that span of time. Most of the patient’s came through the surgery and moved on to full recovery. But on occasion it was touch and go, and sometimes death was the outcome. Much of my ministry was spent in the waiting room with families, spouses, and friends – consoling their troubled hearts and listening to their stories. More than once I stood bed-side with a family as they grieved the loss of a family member.
John 14:1 became my scripture verse of choice that summer. I prayed it, recited it, and – when appropriate – did share it. In 30+ years of ministry I have come back to it many times – sometimes when my own heart was troubled; more often as I sat, listened or prayed with someone in that condition. In fairness, you must read or hear the fullness of the verse to get it’s impact and meaning: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe (or trust) in God, believe (trust) also in me.” – Jesus.
As I prepare to preach this verse and those that follow it (John 14:1-14) this coming Sunday, I’m mindful of the troubled hearts that may be on the receiving end of the message. Church culture has conditioned us to hear these words of Jesus’ mainly in the context of bereavement. Certainly it’s an appropriate passage to share in funeral liturgy. But if you follow the passage through to its completion (at least verse 14), you begin to see that Jesus is inviting us into another way. It’s a way beyond, past trouble – a way into trust, belief, truth and life. Jesus is inviting his disciples (then and now) into his way of living and serving. It’s a way of abundance, rooted in Christ. A way of promise and purpose. Living into this “way” we are equipped to share Christ’s message and invitation with others.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in (Christ)!”
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