Everything Changes: From Fear to Faith

Everything Changes: From Fear to Faith April 15, 2012

Everything Changes: From Fear to Faith

John 20:19-31

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen, indeed!

Well, everything changed for us last week, didn’t it? 

For one thing, we got the alleluias back in worship, something over which Harold Robinson is clearly extraordinarily relieved.  We heard the most beautiful music and we worshipped with the scent of the lilies wafting through the sanctuary.  Brunch was amazing and, at least based on what I could see from my vantage point near the dessert table, folks were really celebrating.

And for good reason!  Last Sunday was Easter, we were marking the resurrection of Jesus…and in a world where death is inevitable, that is no small thing to celebrate for sure.

This week we realize, however, that someone forgot to send a memo about the celebration to Jesus’ first disciples, whose lives we are able to shadow through the written memories of the gospel writers.  All of the Gospels talk about what happened to the disciples and Jesus’ other followers and friends on the day of resurrection and into the week following Jesus’ resurrection, and I think it’s safe to say that what they were doing was not celebrating. 

No, I think the word for it is more: cowering. 

On the day that the women ran to the tomb in the early hours of the morning to tend to Jesus’ body, that day they discovered, much to their shock and amazement, that his body was not there in the tomb and, in fact, he was no longer dead at all.  Depending on which account you read, the women either ran into an angel who told them the news or into Jesus himself, disguised as the gardener.  Either way their world was shaken to its very core and they tried to make sense of this new set of circumstances.  As you recall from Mark’s account last week, the overall news about the women was: they were afraid.

Cut to the male disciples, who did not go with the women to the tomb but instead were sequestered away, hiding behind locked doors, scared for their lives.

And, even more than the women, the men had good reason to be scared.  After the events of the past few days, the entire city was up in arms.  The temple leadership had done everything in its power to get rid of Jesus, stirring up the crowds and orchestrating a PR campaign for the record books. 

Still, so much dissention reigned that the Roman government had had to get involved and Roman governor Pontius Pilate placed guards at the sealed tomb to make sure the rebellion was squelched, once and for all.

The men should have been afraid.

If they were publicly recognized as followers of Jesus, not only were they in danger from the rulers of the temple, now the Roman occupation leaders were involved, too.  And if the women were right…if somehow the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was missing…then they surely would be recipients of the wrath of both the temple leaders and the Roman rulers; people would think they’d stolen the body to continue the rebellion. 

I don’t quite know to what kind of resolution the men thought hiding in a locked room would eventually lead, but they were scared, and their fear kept them hidden, unsure what would happen next.  Jesus had died—they’d seen it with their own eyes.  They’d given up everything to follow; they’d put their families at risk.  They had given up their professions; they’d thought he was the one to overthrowRomeonce and for all.  But as they sat there huddled in fear, listening with disbelief to the reports of the women, all they could see flashing before their fear-filled eyes were those images of his crucifixion, images burned onto their brains, images that totally changed the vantage point from which they each saw the world.  When death and tragedy are the lenses through which you see the world, see your own life, well then fear is a reasonable response, don’t you think?

I recently had to have my eyes examined.

I explained to the eye doctor at my appointment that I thought something was probably wrong with my glasses.  I have been having a hard time seeing things clearly, especially at night.  Sometimes I can’t focus well, and as of late preaching has been a little more challenging (thank goodness for easy font size changes!).  I thought perhaps it’s the type of glasses I’ve been wearing or maybe I needed a slight adjustment in prescription.

The doctor was so kind to me.

Choosing his words very carefully he explained that sometimes, as we age, the lenses in our eyes lose their elasticity.  This means they do not focus as quickly or as accurately as they used to.  It’s not really a problem that can be solved with an adjustment to the prescription, he told me.  Instead, it’s time to start thinking about: bifocals. 

Yes.

A minor adjustment to the eye’s normal focusing power is not going to cut it anymore.  Instead, I will need two separate lenses, one for work like, say, preaching, and one for tasks like driving at night.

The exam proceeded then to the part when the doctor makes you look through the lenses and starts all this flipping action.  Is it better with 1 or 2?  1 or 2?

As an aside, I hate this experience more than anything, as I am one who worries constantly about getting the right answer.  I’ll get so nervous that I won’t be able to tell, really, which lens is clearer.  1?  I’ll say hesitantly.  If all I hear from the doctor is silence then I’ll say, “Okay, maybe not.  2?”

After a lot of lens-flipping, the doctor finally settled on the right two lenses.  One would help me see far away and one would help me see close up, for tasks like preaching.  And it will take awhile, he explained, for me to learn how to navigate the double prescription.  One lens will help see the world more clearly in some instances; the other lens will work under different circumstances.

Think about this metaphor of lenses when you think about the disciples huddled in that locked upper room for that week following the Jesus’ death.  They were seeing their world through the lens of the crucifixion, which understandably left them filled with fear.  And when you’re filled with fear, a very normal response is to stop…to stop and to cower, to become incapacitated because the fear with which you see the world is so intense.

It’s into this kind of situation, one where the disciples were frantically thinking about what their lives would look like now that Jesus was dead, that Jesus showed up. 

John’s account tells of two of Jesus’ appearances, one to the group of ten disciples minus Thomas, and then again a few days later to the whole group.  Poor Thomas gets a bad rap here, known throughout all of Christendom as the fateful doubter, but we know from reading the other Gospel accounts that the same was true for all the disciples.  The women had run to tell them, but all of the disciples were so afraid, they were viewing the world through the lens of fear, that they adamantly insisted they would not believe the women until they saw for themselves.  All of them, not just Thomas!

I’d like to point out here that you’ll notice how everything changes.  It doesn’t change from doubt to faith, it changes from fear to faith.  Of course the disciples had doubts—wouldn’t you?  All of them had to see for themselves and even after they did you have to know they sat around in that room, rubbed their blood shot eyes, and stared at each other incredulously.  Was that really Jesus?  You mean he really meant what he said about spreading the Gospel message in the world?  You mean this is more than just a political campaign?  You mean he’s really (gulp!) the son of God?

Are you sure?

And you know they were having a hard time, because when Jesus appears the first thing he says is: “Peace be with you.”  Can you imagine?  All those disciples, crowded into that upper room, scared to death?  The physical affects of fear are real and very intense.  Although I am fairly sure I could have come up with these myself, I actually looked them up:

Difficulty breathing

Racing or pounding heart

Chest pain or tightness

Trembling or shaking

 Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

A churning stomach

Hot or cold flashes; tingling sensations

Sweating 

Fear…it was real and it was palpable, and, understandably, they couldn’t seem to figure out what came next. 

Jesus must have known that a group of fear-filled disciples who could only see the world through the limited lens of their own fear would never, ever change the world. 

The lens needed to change; resurrection needed to become real for the disciples to embrace the promise of what was ahead—a whole world that would be changed by the Gospel message.

So Jesus shows up.  And when they see him—both the 10 disciples the first time and Thomas the second time—a little click occurs.  Like seeing the illuminated letters on the wall in the darkness of my eye doctor’s office, it was like the correct lens was finally put into place and the disciples could see again.  Jesus was alive, and so fear—heart-stopping, life-crippling fear—was miraculously transformed into faith.

And so faith was born.  It may have been small at first…tentative and weak.  But faith is what fear became when everything changed, when the truth of the resurrection became real in the lives of the first disciples.  With the perspective of resurrection to change the way they looked at the world, the disciples were incapacitated no more.  They were miraculously able to move from fear—utter, disabling fear—to faith. 

And that faith was just enough faith to lead them to unlock the door to that upper room and head out intoJerusalem. 

It was just enough faith to turn insecure, unsophisticated fishermen into bold proclaimers of Jesus’ Gospel. 

It was just enough faith that they gave up their very lives, so convicted that this Jesus, this resurrected one, had the words of eternal life.

It took a little while, but when the truth of the resurrection had sunk in, finally, everything changed.  The disciples saw the world in a whole new way; their perspectives radically shifted; they moved from fear…to faith…and everything changed.

In the light of resurrection, what has changed for you?  Is fear still nipping at your heels, keeping you from stepping out in faith to whatever is next for you? 

Well, I have to tell you that Christ is risen…and because Christ is risen, everything changes. 

Unlock the door, come out of hiding, embrace the promise of the Gospel in your life, move from fear to faith.  Look around, through the lens of Jesus’ resurrection, will you? 

When you do you will see that everything has changed.

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