March 4, 2018

By Rev. Alan Strout, First UMC of Santa Barbara, North District

John 14:12

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

In January, the south coast was hit by the double devastation of one of the largest fires in California’s history followed by a deadly and devastating mudslide. The effects of that trauma and loss will be with us for months and probably for years to come. It colors the lens through which I read this scripture today.

John 14:12 is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” As the subject of a Lenten devotional, it invites us to imagine ourselves in the Upper Room and the shock of Jesus telling us that he will be leaving us, and giving us final instructions for when he is gone.

The section begins with John 14:1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” The word “trouble” connotes “agitation and disturbance in the face of the power of death and evil.” (See Gail O’Day, NIB, Vol. IX, p. 739f) That choice of words in this context depicts Jesus as sounding a Rallying Cry for Strength: “Prepare yourselves! A disaster is coming! I will be taken from you. When that “trouble” hits and the world as you have known it is utterly destroyed, stay the course. Even in the deepest darkness, love’s desire will continue to work its way. Believe it and God will be able to do even greater things through you.

It is not a huge leap to relate the traumatized victims of recent weeks with the horror of holy week: hurt; huddled; frightened; confused; disoriented; grieving; the world they knew swept away. What can John 14:12 mean to those whose sense of order, meaning, purpose, family, and direction in life has been decimated?

In the final analysis, John 14:12 is a rallying cry before the disaster hits: “The very ground you stand upon will slide out from under you. Many will be lost. I implore you even then, especially then, don’t abandon all that we have believed and labored, all that God has done in and through us. Stay the course, for I will be with you and working in and through you even then . . . in fact, especially then. Believe. Trust me! I won’t leave you orphaned. I will be there. Out of the searing pain of the ashes, out of the despair of the tomb, love will rise again. We aren’t done. Something new is just beginning.”

Such words are not ones you sing to a broken heart in the initial depths of grief and despair. However, they were ones the early church hearkened back to in its long term recovery as it tried to comprehend how love could even redeem a cross, and how the power of Christ’s resurrected presence could mobilize them to continue the work he had begun, and now on a whole new level. “Remember how he tried to prepare us at the last supper?”

Prayer: We pray for God’s healing grace, and strength to stay the course he has laid. Amen.