John 16: 16-33
16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ 17Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ 18They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’19Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”? 20Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23On that day you will ask nothing of me.* Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.* 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
25 ‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.* 28I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’
29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’
It’s not often that Jesus speaks plainly, so when it does, it makes a huge difference, especially for me.
I’ve devoted my life to becoming an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, and that means a ministry marked by Word, Service, Sacrament, and Order. The Word is my particular joy, because it is where my heart lies. Words are my first love. My first dream was to become a famous writer, an author. I wanted to write words of truth, of beauty, of challenge and of deep meaning. Now, as a pastor, I get to do that every week, and during Lent, I get to try every day!
This is not to say that I don’t love Service, Sacrament, and Order. Those hold just as much sway for me. I’ll be writing about those later, but Word is what I want to talk about today, because it is a word that Jesus gives us in this passage. That word is Courage.
Courage is a concept that has had countless books written about, but it’s something that stands out as something that is a high ideal. The word Courage comes from the latin word coeur, which means heart.
For science, the heart is simply the thing that circulates blood to the rest of the body, delivering oxygen, platelets, and antibodies to the cells. It’s an important part of the body, but has no bearing on the will. However, speaking culturally, the heart is where the will resides. Our hearts belong to ourselves, but we give our hearts to others as a sign that we devote ourselves to others, like our loved ones.
When I think of courage, I think about one particular scene in the movie Thor. (Spoilers ahead).
In the film, we focus on Thor, the god of thunder, exiled from his homeland and stripped of his powers because of his arrogance and pride. You see, he had made a fatal mistake. In mistook courage for the willingness to fight, which is absolutely the wrong thing.
Courage is not just simply the willingness to fight. An itchy trigger finger does not courage make. Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief, or even defeat. It’s not standing up to something that’s easy to defeat; it’s standing up to something that’s impossible to defeat, and being willing to stand up for those who can’t fight. It’s wanting to do the right thing, against all odds.
Thor had wanted to start a war because he thought it was the right and courageous thing to do. It took exile to teach him otherwise. It’s not fighting the war that makes you courageous. It’s doing what it takes to do justice, to make peace, and to live for your friends.
At the end of the film, he and his friends are faced with an unstoppable foe. All of his superpowered friends were easily defeated by the Destroyer, who was out for the sole purpose of killing Thor. In the end, Thor, powerless and weak, made the decision to accept his fate, and face the Destroyer alone. Standing up when you know you will lose was, for Thor, the definition of courage. When he was defeated, his powers were restored, because he had learned what it means to be worthy of power. It takes wisdom to wield it.
Jesus, in this passage, gives the word to his friends that soon they will be faced with persecution, pain, and even death, but that is going to only be for a little while. He makes the comparison to a woman giving birth; while there will be pain, there will be joy afterwards. What it will take is the courage to stand up to the pain, to the persecution, perhaps even death. Hope is coming.
There are many things in this world that I think take an immense amount of courage. Problems abound–death, war, sickness, slavery, abuse, violence, discrimination, take your pick–and it is up to stand in defiance of these things in the hope that one day the world will be made whole. It’s up to us to do the right thing, to be courageous against insurmountable odds, because it’s the right thing to do.
Christ gives us the word to be courageous. I choose to live up to this word, despite the cost, because in the end, there is always hope.