Monday, April 20, 2020

From Fear to Faith

The Second Sunday of Easter / Year A
John 20:19-31

Today is the Second Sunday of the Easter season, but it is also our sixth Sunday of virtual worship.  Today is the first time only Al and I are present.  I have really appreciated the gifts and talents offered by our readers, vocalists, and cross flowerers and I know they have enjoyed being here.  Each person adds so much to our virtual worship experience.  While up to ten people can gather to assist with the service, my feeling is this is way too large a group for the size of our chapel.  So, moving forward, Al and I will be conducting the services.  Al is working with software to allow us to incorporate pre-recorded videos into our live feed.  Hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to have pre-recorded readers, musicians, acolytes, ushers...  the possibilities are enormous. 

This is a brave and bold new world.  The Church has come a long way since the initial Sunday of the Resurrection.  Back then it huddled together in a single room.  Oil lamps and some kind of door lock were the only technology at their disposal.  Fast forward to the Church in 2020 and it is amazing what God’s people are able to do.  At the beginning of Lent probably less than 1% of congregations in America were live-streaming services.  Today, almost every church, regardless of size, is streaming some kind of service on Sunday morning.  Our weekday morning and evening services, as well as this Sunday gathering, have connected us to one another and welcomed back to our congregation people who have relocated to other parts of the country.  Many of you have invited friends to join us and some of them are now regular virtual congregants.  Who saw this coming, either a few weeks ago or during that first evening when the disciples crammed together in an anti-social distance room?

One thing connects our experience of worshipping in our homes with theirs.  We share with them a sense of Jesus’ presence.  And, like our ancestors in the faith, we are finding as Jesus is present in our homes our homes are becoming havens of peace.  “Peace be with you.”  These are the Resurrected Jesus’ first words to his gathered followers.  It is so much a part of the purpose of his presence he says it a second time, “Peace be with you.” 

Think about the situation those first disciples faced on that Sunday evening.  The world outside their doors was a dangerous place.  It was not safe for them to leave the shelter and security of that locked room.  Still, their life inside had been turned upside down.  Their leader was crucified and buried.  They were not free to come and go.  No one had any idea what to do or how to carry on.  The “blueprint” for their lives and their future was no longer valid. 

Certainly the atmosphere was chaotic, charged, panicky, and despairing.  This is the setting into which Jesus appears.  No wonder he says what he says and does what he does.  What could be more necessary, more valuable, or more precious than a deep sense of abiding peace!  It is terribly important to recognize nothing about the circumstances the disciples face has changed.  The outside world is still dangerous, they still don’t know what to do, and they still have no idea what the future looks like.  But now they begin to sense Jesus is with them and grants to them the blessing of peace; a peace passing all understanding.

This is what we have experienced every morning and every evening as we gather together for prayer in our individual homes.  We have sensed Jesus’ presence and in these moments we have felt the blessing of his peace.   

Yesterday, as it transformed from a miserably rainy and dreary day into blue skies and cool sunshine, Harper and I walked around Suffolk and were blessed to encounter some of you.  My favorite conversation was with 8-year-old Caroline Webb, who helped to flower the cross last Sunday. 

Me:        Caroline, thanks for helping to flower the cross last week.

Her:       No problem.

Me:        Did you go home and watch the video of yourself?

Her:       No.

Well, it is reassuring to know America’s children sense their 15 minutes of fame is yet to come and most certainly will not be limited to just ¼ of an hour!

As I talked with folks I had the sense we all are transitioning from an initial sense of fear, loss, anger, and confusion to an adaptive place where we are becoming grateful for our capacity to let go, to adjust, and to accept.  We are moving from fear to faith… faith in God and faith in ourselves.  And this, I think, is why so many our connecting with our virtual worship.  It is a pathway helping us to walk from fear to faith.

On this first Sunday after Easter we always read of “Doubting” Thomas.  He, famously, is not present the first time Jesus appears to all of his followers and he, famously, refuses to ‘believe’ unless he sees and touches the wounds.  From a theological and spiritual perspective, doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Many great and faithful Christians have had their ‘doubts’ about one or more of the doctrines of the Church.  You do not have to consent to every tenant of the faith in order to be faithful and you may have your doubts about one or a few.  Thomas should not be chastised for needing ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’ of what is difficult to accept, and neither should you.  Doubt and faith are so closely related it might be best to think of them as twins.

The opposite of faith is fear.  Faith says, “I and all I love are in God’s hands.”  The fearful opposite of faith is, “I am not in control and there is not telling what might happen to me and to those I love.” 

As much as this Sunday always seems to be about Thomas, maybe today we should make it about Peter.  Two weeks ago, as we read the Passion, he could not admit to a lowly servant child that he knew Jesus.  Peter, on that day, was the poster child of fear.  Fast foreword to today’s readings.  We hear Peter’s first ever sermon addressed to the people of Jerusalem:

Jesus, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.  But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

This is anything but a fearful proclamation.  In the face of trying times Peter is changing.  He is moving from fear to faith and faithfulness.   Years later, writing to those who look to him for guidance, support, and comfort, he says…

God has given us a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…  In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials…

These are the word of a person who has moved from fear (as we saw on display in the courtyard on the night of Jesus’ arrest) to faith.  It is a movement of God’s Spirit in an individual’s heart and soul.  And it is a movement I sense in so many of you.  God’s Spirit is guiding us from fear to faith, not because the situation and the circumstances of our lives have changed for the better, but because we have reconnected with an ancient truth: Our God is with us to deliver us and our spirits are being revived by God’s Spirit.