Monday, April 16, 2012

April 15, 2012 - Reflection by Rev. Carol Prochaska (ret.)

Easter 2 

Sermon: "Moving Through Doubt and Fear"

Scriptures: Acts 4:32-35Psalm 1331 John 1-2:2John 20:19-30

A favorite author of mine is Anne Lamott. I have especially enjoyed her personal chronicles of faith and reflections. In a book titled, Travelling Mercies, she tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and in herself. In her introduction she writes: "My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf, on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear... And in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear".
I think of those times in my own life I think of those times I've shared in the lives of others. And I'm wondering if this metaphor isn't also applicable to your own faith journey? And then — of course, this morning, there's Thomas! I think we can safely say that he was in the swamp of doubt and fear. He was there even though he was in the midst of those confident, excited voices —those other disciples who were one or two lily pads ahead of him.
Doubt, as we know, is uncertainty. It's the lack of confidence combined with suspicion. Most of us have known the experience of doubting, of being uncertain. We've been suspicious of what others are saying about matters of faith. For us their confidence just doesn't seem to ring true for us. Fear, in the biblical sense, is the opposite of believing in God and in God's Love, the opposite of trusting the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We may be afraid to take a chance that God is and always has been loving us —no less than anyone/everyone else.
We may doubt God needs us. We may be afraid God does need us. We may doubt the church will ever change. We may be afraid the church will change. Now tell me: Can it be all that bad being a kind of faith-caterpillar? Why not try to avoid the cocoon-times: those times of darkness and transition and transformation? Just suppose that we can through life without being a faith-butterfly?
Certainly some of us, like Thomas, want something solid to hold onto! Have you ever asked God to be more specific? "Tell me clearly God! Let the heavens open up and speak words I can hear and understand!" Of course—if that actually did happen I'd probably wet my pants! So how about an archeological find, for instance Jesus' hand prints with crucifixion markings and how about some DNA to test! I personally would like bones of women disciples!
And then!
And then?
Would it be easier to make our way through doubt and fear? Would we be a more trusting people? Could we better deal with those things in life that challenge our believing?
Some of you will have received and read the April edition of The United Church Observer. Inside the front cover are five headings and out of these five articles, four could be cause for doubt and/or fear. First Heading: The Crosses We Bear. Beneath this heading is the statement: "Today millions of Canadians shoulder the task of providing care to ailing loved ones". If we're not in this place of responsibility we may fear we will be or that we will be the one needing that care. Our oldest son and daughter-in-law live in Calgary. They have been caring for her father. They have spent weeks downsizing and moving him into an apartment. They are now in the process of unpacking and getting him settled. They have two sons. One is mildly Autistic and the other one is graduating and getting ready to go to college in the fall. They are the sandwich generation. Like so many they are at times overwhelmed.
Another Observer Heading: An Ominous Tide. On Ghana's Atlantic coast there is a centuries-old fishing village: Shama. As "climate change intensifies, rising sea levels threaten to swallow this town and its traditional way of life". This kind of reporting is certainly not new to us! What can we do? Will it be enough or soon enough?
The Third Heading: The Plight of the Honey bee. This article has to do with the mysterious collapse of bee colonies and so there's the question of where have our pollinators gone?
The Fourth Heading: Reconciling to a Hard Truth. You will remember that Canada is going through the process of compensating residential school survivors. It has now become apparent that the prevalence of abuse was far greater than anyone imagined. So much pain and so much loss; can there ever be healing?
So?... So we do as people of faith have always done: We turn to scripture, to the Living Word of God. We turn to that which can speak to our doubts and fears, to that which can touch us deeply and can summon us from stuck places.
Our four scriptures for this morning all emphasized that we do not travel our journey of faith as individuals. In Acts we heard how the whole congregation of believers was united as one and "great grace was upon them all". We stay together. We will take turns at being encouragers and being in need of encouragement. Sometimes we will have something to share Sometimes we will need what another has. And always we remember we're in this together — we need each other.
From Psalm 133 we surmised that those pilgrims were tightly packed together. Even so they were able to declare: "How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together". In close quarters we discover our differences -and our strengths! How many of you ended up doing something for the church which at first you thought couldn't or wouldn't ever, ever do! But you did! And you experienced joy. And you were transformed in the process.
From 1 John we remember the words: What we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you may be one with us as we are one with Abba God and with the Only Begotten, Jesus Christ".In Jesus Christ we have been made one. Even though some of us are on the lily pad over there and some of you are way over there, we are still one body — the body of Jesus Christ.
In our passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the disciples, "Peace be with you." The Greek word for "Peace" comes from the root meaning joined; at one again. Jesus seems to be saying: Be together; be joined with me and with each other so that you may experience wholeness and rest and plenty and well-being.
Thanks be to God for Thomas — and for this gospel writer! In this story we all are given permission (even encouraged) to be up front concerning where we are in our faith journey. We can speak the truth regardless of where we are: caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly or somewhere in between or we may not even be sure where we are.
In this reading did you notice how the other disciples did not withhold their love from Thomas? Their sin—their lack of love—could have been to exclude Thomas or ridicule him—but they did not sin against him. Neither did he give-up them. Scripture says: "A week later Jesus' disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them".
In the words of our United Church Creed:
We are not alone; we live in God's world. We believe in God: Who has created and is creating...

Over and over again we go from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.

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