I still have thirty or so hand-written letters from my grandmother. With crystal clarity, I can imagine the sweeping flow of her loose cursive that told me of the weather in Indianapolis or news from the family. While I didn’t totally get it at the age of 18, my parents had encouraged me to write letters to her when I went off to college, and by God’s grace, I did. A child of the Depression era, her letters came on folded up notepad paper advertising some product or hotel that she got for free and wouldn’t dare waste. In every single one, she ended them the exact same way: “Read your Bible and stay in school.” As devout Christian with about an eighth-grade education, my grandmother placed high value on the thing that motivated her whole life and on the thing that she never got the opportunity to pursue. These are the words that I hold when I think of her: read your Bible and stay in school; an admonition and a blessing all in one.
Today in our gospel lesson, we hear Christ’s admonition to the disciples. Know, Christ says, that when I am gone, the Holy Spirit and Advocate will be present with you. Know that I leave my peace with you and that this peace is a gift. Know, Christ seems to say, that the messages of this world will trouble your hearts and will cultivate fear, yet it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that will extend this peace to you. Christ says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Christ says these words knowing what is coming not just for himself, but for the disciples who follow him as well. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
This week, as I sat and prayed through this text, I could not help but to settle on these words of Christ. I think my mind settled in on these words because when I read them, all I could think was, how are our hearts meant to not be troubled when fear is everywhere? This week has held eleven mass shootings in our country, only two of which I had heard about before I searched for the dates of the Buffalo and California shootings. Eleven shootings – nineteen people killed and forty-seven injured. How, as we witness shooting after shooting are we to not let our hearts be troubled? Do not let your hearts be troubled?
On Tuesday night, I began receiving texts from my people in Texas as they began to prepare to evacuate as wildfires ripped through farms and homes just south of Abilene; videos rolling in of ash covered ground that is so white, it looks like snow, this town has nearly doubled the record number of days above 100 degrees in the month of May. And in a tragedy too close to home, a rare northern Michigan town had a tornado rip through it unexpectedly, killing 2 and injuring more than 40. How, in a world wrecked by a rapidly changing climate are we to not let our hearts be afraid? Do not let your hearts be afraid?
These words of Christ, admonishing the disciples to rest in God’s peace and to not let their hearts be troubled or filled with fear seems painfully unavailable to us. How, with all that is happening in our world, can our hearts be anything but troubled when fear is all that we know? This is not simply a rhetorical question. It’s a question I’ve held tearfully in my prayers this week. I have sat with God and let my frustration at gun violence in our country rage, I’ve wept about the ways in which we legislate people’s bodies and healthcare with no attention given to the needs of the people, and the ways in which a changing climate poses new threats that we truly don’t know how to navigate. In prayer, I’ve held my fears about the ways in which we walk around this world terribly fragile and incapable of protecting ourselves from the pain of this world.
As I sat this week with all the pain and darkness in this world, all I thought was, “it is too much,” this is too great a burden to carry alone. Our troubled hearts simply cannot navigate this world full of things to justifiably fear. And then I remembered that the same Spirit that Christ breathed out before he gave up his last breath upon the cross is with us today. And I remembered that the same Holy Spirit that was present at Pentecost is hovering all around us as well. And I remembered that Christ did not tell his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled or filled with fear by sheer will. He did not expect them to buck up and be able to navigate this tragic world alone, but rather to lean on the Holy Spirit sent by God, to trust the Advocate who is with us, even when we feel painfully alone.
My friends, the only way— I’m convinced the only way—to not let our hearts be troubled and to be unafraid, to simply resist the pull to let our hearts be consumed with the fears and troubles of this world. Because it is unacceptable for followers of Christ to turn their hearts away from the troubles of this world, to pretend that the dangers and threats all around us don’t matter because this world is not our eternal home. But it is equally objectionable to let our hearts be consumed with fear because we are trying to walk this path alone.
My troubled heart this week prayed one of the prayers from scripture that I most rely on in times of darkness: “I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe that it is possible to not let our hearts be so consumed with trouble and fear despite all that is going on in the world today, help my unbelief that there is no real way that this is possible. I believe that we don’t have to carry the pain of this world alone, help my unbelief that the Spirit cannot help us carry it. I believe that the Spirit is with us—that God is with us when our hearts are troubled and fear is all that we know, help my unbelief and insistence that God’s peace is not really available to us. I believe that God’s peace truly passes all understanding and is more available than we can ask or imagine. I believe, help my unbelief.
 Mark 9:24