Based on Acts 4:32-37, 1John1:5 – 2:2, John 20:19-31
A story is told of a man who was faithless – by that I mean that this man would not believe anything he couldn’t see with his own eyes or hadn’t experienced in his own life. One day this man, we can call him Tom, was riding his bicycle along a deserted stretch of road in the hills near his home. As Tom was rounding a curve, his bike hit a patch of loose dirt and it spun out of control, plunging off the road and down the embankment. Tom was able to fling himself off the bike and catch on to a stunted tree before he was injured too badly. There he hung, clinging to the tree, unable to go up or down and certain that no one would see him or come looking for him for quite a while. He didn’t know what to do, his life experiences hadn’t prepared him for this moment. So, he did what anyone would do in that situation…he started hollering for help.
Life often throws us a curve when we’re expecting a fastball. Who would have foreseen the events of the last 13 months and who of us was prepared for them? The unfortunate reality is that a small number of scientists did predict this type of event and they could get no one to believe them. Politicians and false prophets told us that a pandemic would never come to America and that the professionals were being melodramatic. Once the pandemic began, we had experts telling us that it would be quite bad and still many people didn’t believe them – they had never seen anything like this in their lives or the lives of their parents or grandparents. Many people had no faith in a world that they didn’t understand – in the biblical Greek, they were apistos, in English…faithless.
Our scriptures today have something to say about our faith in Jesus and our lives as Easter people. We hear about the believers in the early church and their selfless behaviors. We hear about how we need to believe and walk in the light of Jesus and put away the darkness of the world. We hear again how the Resurrected Jesus came to his friends in their fear and helped them to believe once again…even Thomas who was described as apistos…faithless. Here on this first Sunday of Eastertide, let us go to God now in prayer, thanking God for all that God has done from that first Easter to offer us a resilient faith…
The Book of Acts of the Apostles details events in the life of the early Jesus movement known as “The Way”. In our reading today we hear of the believers who “were of one heart and soul” and who shared everything they possessed. We are told that in this new movement there was no one who needed anything. All who had material wealth sold it and gave the proceeds to the leadership for distribution. We hear of Joseph who was renamed Barnabas (who would later be important in the training of Saul/Paul) selling a field and laying the money at the feet of the Apostles. We hear of a movement characterized by a unity of mind and purpose as well as great faith in what God was doing in the name of Jesus.
One of the key parts of the life and ministry of Jesus is the Resurrection. Without this miracle, none of what we say we believe makes any sense. In the letter we know as 1John the writer is teaching the audience about the importance of a faith in a God who redeems us from our sins, and not just us but the whole world. However, we must realize that we are sinners who need redemption. If we deny this fact then we lie to ourselves, others and God and we do not have God’s word within us. In other words, we are apistos – we are faithless in the way of God as shown through Jesus. When we choose to walk in the light with Jesus (the light of the world) and humbly admit our shortcomings, then we find ourselves in right relationship with one another and with God through the intervention of Jesus the Christ.
It is the evening of the first Easter and the followers of Jesus are locked up tight in the upper room, fearing that the Temple leadership would find and arrest them. Even though in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene has told them of her interaction with the resurrected Jesus, they themselves have not seen Him. Into this place of fear and unbelief appears Jesus – offering them His peace and breathing on them the Holy Spirit. In this act of breathing, Jesus confers on the Disciples the ability to provide to others God’s mercy and justice to forgive or retain sins. Thomas was not present and did not receive these gifts from Jesus. Once told of Jesus’ appearance, Thomas does not have the faith to believe what he has been told – until he sees with his own eyes and touches Jesus’ body, he will remain unconvinced. When Jesus shows up again a week later, Thomas’ faith is re-imagined and he pronounces that Jesus is for him “my Lord and my God”. Jesus notes that those who do not see him and yet develop faith are blessed.
We have left Tom hanging long enough – time to get back to our story. There Tom was, hanging to a tree and hollering for help. Suddenly, Tom heard a voice…“Tom, can you hear me?” “Yes, yes, I can hear you, I’m down here.” “I can see you, Tom, are you alright?” “Yes, but, who and where are you?” “I am the Lord, Tom, I am everywhere.” “The Lord? You mean God?” “That’s me.”
“God, help me, I promise that if you get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person and serve you for the rest of my life.” “Easy on the promises, Tom…first let’s get you down, then we can discuss those issues.” “I’ll do anything, Lord, just tell me what to do, okay?” “Okay, let go of the tree.” “What, said Tom?” “I said, let go of the tree. Just trust me and let go.” There was a long pause as Tom thought about trusting the voice and letting go of the tree. Moments later, Tom let out a loud yell…“Is there anybody else up there?!”
Tom and Thomas did not doubt, rather they did not have faith in the truth of what they heard. They were both apistos – faithless. Spending time reading the Bible tells us much about faith and highlights the faith of many people as they come to know and trust the God of the Bible. The writer of Hebrews 11:1 offers a definition of faith as, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen….” Tom and Thomas had both been hoping for someone to come along to save them – yet when salvation came near, they did not have the faith to trust in it.
It is safe to say that in America now, a majority of people do not believe in organized religion. Self-reported membership in churches has fallen to 47% of the adult population in the most recent survey. There is also a plurality of folks who do not believe in any religious doctrine and we can see that in the way that public discourse and opinions stray farther and farther away from what were “accepted” norms of communal behavior. Many people have no faith in government officials or policies at any level, either. They don’t trust the two foundations of American society, Church and State, because both have broken promises to them and their relatives for generations. We find ourselves in a time where most folks are apistos – faithless, because of their shattered hopes and inability to see their way forward.
How do we as Easter people speak the good news of Jesus into this time? The first way is to realize that this time is no different than the time of “The Way”. The new Jesus movement was not mainstream until the early 300’s – there were 250 years of tough sledding against the tide of popular culture and opinion. How did those early believers persevere and add believers, you ask? They showed the people around them the way of Jesus. They shared everything they had instead of looking to get ahead themselves. They admitted their sins to one another and asked God for forgiveness. They created a community that was healthy and generative for all people, especially the strangers, widows and orphans. They helped each other be faithful in all that they did. The population around them took notice and wanted to be part of what God was doing in their midst. Those outside the movement who were apistos discovered something in which they could see and believe in…they observed the transformative power of Jesus. It is way past time for us as Easter people to show our world how a faith-filled Body of Christ can once again help others believe in and trust what they hope for but have never seen. Amen and amen!