Sunday, April 3, 2016

Fear and Doubt

Church of the Epiphany, Winchester Acts 5: 27-32
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Revelation 1: 4-8
2 Easter: April 3, 2016 John 20: 19-31

Let us pray:

In the words of Samantha Haycock, “Transform our fear, that we might proclaim courage. Transform our doubt, that we might proclaim hope. Transform our uncertainty, that we might proclaim faith. Transform our sin, that we might proclaim forgiveness.”  Amen.

Have you ever been afraid? Afraid for your life? I mean heart-pumping, palm-sweating fear that makes you want to run home, close the door, lock it, and hide? The days following the crucifixion were just such days for the disciples of Jesus. On Good Friday, their leader and rabbi, the one that they had loved and followed, the one that they had hoped would be their Savior, had been crucified. As disciples of Jesus, they were clearly at risk. They too could be killed by the human authorities, who had sent a very clear message: Be careful who your friends are; be careful who you follow and obey.
And so, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked,” the disciples had gathered together because they were afraid. We know that fear is natural, and that it is a human response to real or perceived threats, which can be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Our fear will show up in our bodies (in stiff necks and hardened hearts.) Afraid, we will have worried days and sleepless nights. In short, our fear can restrict our freedom, diminish our joy, and disrupt our peace of mind.
Ultimately, we fear losing our lives, our possessions, our health, our jobs, our family and friends; and so we look for self-protection and self-preservation in an increasingly violent and unpredictable world. We don’t always know who are enemies are, and where they reside. We lock our doors and our hearts. We build up walls and create multiple defense systems. We fight. We flee. We hide. And, hopefully, we pray.
To be honest, at one point in my life, some 30 years ago, my spiritual director called me “Little Miss Much Afraid.” I was afraid of the dark, of being alone, of financial insecurity, of unexpected noises, of traveling alone, and of losing certain people that I loved. I was afraid to speak up, and I was afraid of silence. Fortunately,  over time and with help, I learned to actively confront my fears and replace them with faith; for faith is an antidote to fear. Courage is fear who has said her prayers. As the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Humor also helps me to face my fears; and fortunately I married a funny guy. A few years ago, our house was broken into, and the door was violently pried open; and so this joke has always had particular meaning for me: “A burglar got into a house one night. Shining his flashlight on the floor in the dark, he heard a voice saying, “Jesus is watching you.” The burglar nervously looked around, shook his head, and kept on looking for valuables. He again heard, “Jesus is watching you.” This time he shone his light all over the room, where it finally rested on a parrot.”
“The burglar asked, ‘Did you say that?’ The parrot admitted that he had, saying, ‘I’m just trying to warn you, that’s all.’ The burglar said, ‘Warn me, huh? Who are you? What’s your name?’  ‘Moses’, replied the parrot. ‘Well, what kind of stupid person names a parrot Moses?’ the burglar asked.  And the parrot replied, ‘I don’t know. I guess the same person who named his Rottweiler, ‘Jesus.’”
When I’m afraid, I like to remind myself that Jesus is in the house with me, as he was with his disciples on that day. Imagine that scene. Jesus shows up in the evening, not on clouds from on high, with Easter trumpets blaring, and people shouting “Alleluia! You have risen!” He doesn’t float down from his heavenly choir loft, polishing his golden halo, or dismount from his high and mighty horse, fist-pumping his victory over the human authorities. Neither does he break down the door in a display of kingly power, nor sneak into the house like a thief in the night. We don’t hear Jesus berating the disciples for their fears or Thomas for his doubts. Rather Jesus just shows up, not once but twice in that house, unexpectedly, gently, and peacefully....meeting his disciples right where they are.
We are all guilty of doubt and fear; it’s part of our human nature; it’s part of our faith journeys. As Joan Chittester said, “Doubt is one of the great spiritual challenges of life. It is doubt that brings us to wrestle with the very foundations upon which life is built”, which is why I take great comfort in today’s story about Thomas, and the stories about Jesus and his disciples. Even Jesus occasionally questioned God, especially right before his death.
I’ve lived through many death and resurrection experiences over the years, and have the scars to prove it. And I have come to believe that God doesn’t forsake us, even when it feels like that. Repeatedly, when I’ve been afraid or doubting, I have returned to my baptismal covenant, and asked myself, “Do you put your whole trust in His grace and love?” If God exists, and I believe that God does, then God is with us from cradle to grave and even beyond that. Jesus shows us that God is faithful even when we are not. Jesus shows us that we have nothing to fear, not even death itself.
Unlike that burglar who forced his way into our house, Jesus opened the door of my heart gently, and broke down the barriers that lay between me and God. As he did with Thomas, our Risen Lord steadied my wavering faith; through prayer, Jesus gave me courage to face my fears. He reached out his hand to me, and said, “Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Perfect love casts out fear; and Jesus loves us, this I know, not because the Bible tells me so, or because I’ve actually seen Him in the flesh. Rather, over the years I’ve come to know Him through prayer, in His Word spoken through the prophets, in His deeds recorded in history, in Holy Communion, and through communities of faith like yours. I have come to believe that Jesus stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of His saving embrace. I have come to believe in life after death.
Love is power, and God’s love is the most powerful force in the world. Love is active; it’s a movement that cannot be stopped even if the messenger is killed. Love is visible; it became flesh and blood in the person of Jesus, and it can be visible in you and me. Love forgives. Love heals. Love raises the dead to new life. And love sprouts wings. Breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples, Jesus empowered them to be messengers of God’s love.
We are part of a spiritual force called the Jesus Movement which was unleashed thousands of years ago and continues even today. People will know that we are Christians by our love. Do not doubt, but believe that our Lord is risen and that God’s Spirit is inexhaustible, incorruptible, and ever-present. When we tap into that power, we become faithful witnesses; we act like the apostles long ago.
Just as the Father sent him, Jesus now sends us. Receive the Holy Spirit, forgive as you have been forgiven, and go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.