Sunday, May 12, 2019

In the midst of fear and Doubt

Most people are naturally curious. We wonder why things are the way they are and we investigate them, whether that’s exploring the great cosmos, simply checking IMDB to see where we’ve seen that actor before or seeing how many degrees, I am from Kevin Bacon.
I am 3. I worked with Lily Tomlin who was in Shadows and Fog with John Malkovich who was in Queens Logic with Kevin Bacon.

Some of the most naturally curious people are kids, which means they have awesome questions. Such as when cookies are baking “are the cookies loading?”

“If plants need rain and sun to grow, and rainbows are made of light and water, are rainbows plant food?”

“Why are you buying beer, Dad? Do you know how much candy we could get with that money?”

And of course, there is the satirized why? But why? Why?

In today’s Gospel “Jesus is walking through Solomon’s Porch during the festival of lights, or Hanukkah (verse 22-23). This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice -- something his life and teachings were all about.

And into this setting again comes the identity question: “Hey, Jesus, stop keeping us in the dark. If you’re the Messiah, just tell us straight out” (verse 24). My belief is that Jesus is getting pretty tired of these questions. This need to question Jesus’ identity is sometimes called the messianic secret of John. John has used the term messias two times to explain to non-Jews who Jesus is. It is the equivalent term to christos, or the anointed one. But the questioners still don’t get it.”

One has to give Jesus his due here.  How many times must he answer this question especially for John’s special people “the Jews.” Now remember in John “sometimes the Jews and the Pharisees seem to function synonymously; elsewhere the Jews may stand for the priestly classes. All this suggests the Jews refers principally (though not exclusively) to members of the establishment / leadership / hierarchy / power-wielding classes. It is well established from the Synoptic tradition that the Pharisees were Jesus' principal sparring partners during his ministry, and that the priests were instrumental in his death.”

Jesus is being asked once again prove to us who, exactly, he is. Jesus has over and over again given the people around him proof of who and what he is (verse 25). He has performed miracles, he has taught wisely, he has accompanied the most vulnerable of society yet he is still questioned.

“He has had others question his identity repeatedly. This was normal at the time. Folks who taught or prophesied were often asked to give proof of their deeds and the power behind their gift. But the questions in this passage go beyond that. They are questioning not only his identity but if his power is verifiably from God (verse 25). And as I hear that doubt creep into their questions, I am reminded that doubt is a constant companion to faith.”

There it is, the hard truth. We doubt!

Many in our communities of faith experience doubt. They doubt their abilities to overcome difficult situations, they doubt if they will make it through without succumbing to an old addiction, they doubt their friends or parents are aware of how much pain they are in, and they doubt God’s presence in their lives and their connections to God.

Others may see a need they could meet but doubt their own capabilities in the light of a faith setting.  This is where one may hear such things vocalized as I am just one person what can I do?  I am not a minister what do I know of these things?

We see doubt in the church as it grows and expands its knowledge, understanding and recognizes its call to the community around it.  There is doubt as the church hears it’s call to be of service the marginalized.  There is doubt in the Church as it tries to answer the call to love all and allow love to rule.  We hear doubt in the church as it is called to stand for a just world. We hear doubt in the church as it is called to care for the earth.

Many fall into fear and doubt because many of these things go against what they grew up believing. Many things the church is doing feels strange or out of the norm.  This is where we hear doubt raised in the form of regression…we have always done it this way (also known as the back to Egypt committee).  One can hear the fear and doubt when questions are raised if the church had the wrong approach in the past what makes it so correct at this time?

It is all okay.  We are human.  We will have doubt.  As soon as we have one thought, one idea, our minds tend to go in a hundred directions and most of those directions lead to some kind of doubt. I would even venture to say that this common to all of us. Of that I have no doubt!

Doubt leads to more questions and more questions. Such as; but why?  But How?  But if that then …what?  Then what??

I have two favorite answers… I don’t know and let’s find out together!  Where is God leading us? I don’t know. Let’s find out together.

Oh, oh if the pastor doesn’t know…

Doubt and questioning are normal parts of our lives as people of faith.

When we acknowledge that reality in our lives and in our teaching, we give permission for exploration and growth

We become empowered to claim our own journeys. To shape and plan a bright new future for the church, for our communities, for the world.

“So often in church we talk about faith and that is a powerful thing to talk about, but to not claim the flip side of faith, the perpetual travelling companion of faith -- doubt -- means we are not leaving room for the real-life experiences of people. Even the most faithful have moments of doubt.”

There is a saying that “God never gives us more than we can handle. I just wish God didn’t have such faith in me.” It’s a common saying and yet there is a cry of doubt in handling things all on our own. Yet when we look back on such instances in our lives we realize we really are not alone in the journey.

In this passage today Jesus is telling his detractors exactly who he is.  That he is of God, one with God and those who have chosen to follow him know this.  Jesus says my disciples know me. He is doing it the language that he used in the parable of the good shepherd.  He is saying in the language and metaphor of the time. In spite of the continued questioning, in spite of how frustrating the doubters may be Jesus answers them. Jesus gives them proof once again. Knowing this may not change their hearts but it will change and move hearts through the generations.

Jesus again uses the imagery of a thief coming to steal the flock.  Someone trying to lead them astray, coming into lead them away, lead them towards harm. But He also offers reassurance in this passage for he reassures that his flock is protected by one more powerful than the thief. Jesus is basically saying I know who you guys are, pretending to ask questions of my authority only in an attempt to build up your own authority. But I and mine stand against your powers and my sheep are protected by me.

No Matter what we may go through. No matter what may be thrown at us we persevere in faith through our doubts and fears.

I know some of us have had hard times. I know some of us have been tested by disease and lost loved ones. I know some of us have suffered through addiction and known loss. I know at times some of us may not have felt protected from loved ones who abuse or belittle them.

This is how we are called to bring the Gospel message of peace and grace. This is the place into which we are called to bring a word of hope. This is how We are called to help folks hear the voice of the shepherd and to follow him in their lives.

You see in-spite of all this pain and anguish.  In-spite of fear and doubt we are still here. We are not alone in our pain and anguish.

Walter Bruggeman speaking of the world reminds us…

“…There is considerable anguish among us.  The loss produces fear and anxiety, very often anger, sometimes hate, and violence. We now live in a society of resentment and alienation in which the greed to get a full share while there are still shares available, and neighbors are seen as rivals, competitors or threats. Or instead of facing the reality of the anguish, we divert our energy to the chase for more commodities…”  You know he who has the most toys wins.

But we are the ones who have been “baptized in the Gospel who now participate in the anguish in a different way, in a way that is healing, transformative, generative, and hospitable.”

We as Christians who have been through and live through fear and doubt and anguish that is filtered through the love of Christ comes a new way of being, new ways of seeing.

“instead of refusing the “the other” – gays, immigrants, Muslims, - as threats, we take them as neighbors.
Instead of greedy economics that serve our privilege, where all the others, especially prisoners and the disabled, are treated with dignity.
Instead of environmental self-indulgences that pollutes and destroys, we are committed to ecological responsibility, to accept discipline, limit, and regulation, even if they inconvenience us and lead to a revised standard of living.
Instead of strident nationalism, we take seriously the community of nations, knowing peace and justice is a shared task that requires participation rather than domination.”

It is our pain and struggles, our doubts and fears, that have slowly moved the church into these areas.  It is through doubts and questions we can learn and grow and continue to discover what it means to be Christian in a world that is always changing and growing around us.

We can be present to our anguish our doubts and fears in generative ways and seek out new God-given ways of living abundantly into our ministries.

Today we can look at the ministries we have and ask, boldly ask, can they be bigger?  Can they be reimagined into something brighter, more beautiful that serves the world around us in exciting new ways.

We can ask what more can we do, where are we being called to grow?  Yes, there will be fear and doubt, anguish and pain, but that is what we are called to.  We are called to step boldly into the fear, the pain and the suffering because on the other side of it is a bright Easter morning.


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