Hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear
Since Easter Sunday, we have been exploring Jesus’ resurrection and the events of the aftermath of that event. We have been studying faith and hope in the midst of troubles, disappointments, and fear, and we have tried to connect it all to our world today. I think now is the perfect time for us to spend some time focusing of faith in the midst of fear and anxiety. Have you been watching the news lately? Violence, scandal, trade wars, a new time of war, attacks, and shootings abound around us. We need some resurrection hope right now. We live in an unbelievably volatile time my friends, and fear and negativity is invading our peace and sense of security. When the headlines are so negative, when fear and uncertainty are near, where do we find hope? In God’s promises, God’s presence, and God’s peace.
Wikipedia describes hope as “an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes, with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.” Today’s gospel is set in the context of hope reignited. Today’s reading is a re-telling of John’s version of the story of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room post resurrection that we heard last week. This version of the story takes place after Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, where something incredible happened.
After an invitation to dine with these two weary travelers, Luke records, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Before these two disciples had encountered the post-resurrection Savior, they were dismayed, disappointed, lost, and untethered. Their Lord had been crucified and all hope seemed lost, but Jesus showed up and opened their eyes to hope. Then, through that hope and transformed assurance, they discovered their renewed vocational calling, which was to go and tell the story.
My Desire or God’s Desire
Now if you have ever been a part of any human organization, you will have experienced disappointment, just like Jesus’ early followers. Even in the church, we can become paralyzed to inaction and complacency, especially when unexpected things happen, when our comfortable places are tipped over, or when we become disappointed when things happen we do not understand, cannot control, or are outside our own desires. Like those early disciples who had great expectations of Jesus after the crucifixion happened, when they discovered his mission did not include the role of mighty ruler and over thrower of the Romans, and that he would be killed, they lost hope.
Negativity, fearfulness, uncertainty emerges in our disappointments. Despondency can be a syndrome in the church, and it can paralyze us from the calling God has in store for us. For example, when we encounter change that we don’t like, or something new happens, or when God bursts in unexpectedly, we might react with, “we’ve never done that before,” or “I’m not going to budge on this one,” or “this change will not stand,” or “why can’t it be like it used to be.” Maybe those are the times we should practice discernment and prayer. Maybe we should seek God through prayer and question our own motives asking, “Is my response or are my actions now, more about me seeking God’s desire or am I seeking my own desire?
The truth is “God is always making things new!” Thus, we must be willing for God to open our hearts and eyes, to change our mindset, and to transform our default responses. We need to move from, “we are not enough” or “we do not have the resources” or “we need more space.” We need to live in hopeful expectation. We need to dream big again and we need to invite God to give us a HUGE dream! Our conviction needs to move from “we are not enough” to “What if?” “What if” is a powerfully simple phrase, and it has the power to release in us, God’s renewed creativity and hope in which, we can expect the unexpected. We may even be able to expect a miracle or two.
Faith – Miracles
Webster’s online dictionary describes “Miracles” as an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. Last Sunday, I gathered with some very incredibly well prepared Christian young men from St. Monica’s, who will be confirmed by Bishop Howe next Sunday. Thank you Antoinetta, Mary, and Scott for your fine work preparing these young adults. I gave these young men an opportunity to ask me some tough faith questions and try and “stump the priest.” There were some really tough questions like, “If you were not a Christian, what religion would you follow?” But one awesome young man asked me a very profound and insightful question. He asked, “Fr. Eric, do you believe in miracles?” I first gave him the seminary non-committal answer which was “the early church’s experience of Jesus ministry included miraculous acts by Our Lord, and billions of Christians over the centuries have held these acts in high regard and considered them to be true.”
Then I thought about the question, searched deep in my soul, and I cut through the theological rhetoric and I offered this heartfelt answer, “In my own life, I have experienced things I cannot explain, and somehow through that mystery, I believe God was guiding and directing me and those around me.” I have seen people experience healing, I have seen people experience incredible circumstances, and I have prayed with people who have experienced new life in all things. Yes, I believe in miracles. You see, when we live in the mystery of God’s “What if,” the possibility of God bursting forth in our lives is real. It is then that Christian community discovers our true vocation, our purpose, and our mission.
Theologian Sarah Henrich once wrote, “Followers are made into witnesses who will have the power they need to understand and to teach, to speak of what they have seen and what they have learned, to share with others what God has been up to in Jesus: the keeping of God’s promise to be God of all people and bring God’s own reign into reality for us.”(1) In 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NRSV) we hear Paul’s encouragement to that early community, ”But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” I believe that when God leads us and we practice discerning listening, all things are possible, and we will find our vocation, our mission, our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Discipleship means believing that God’s desire for God’s people is to gather to be formed, spiritually fed, and prepared for service and then, to be sent out into the world as witnesses of the grace, through our local mission and through our daily lives. However, if we merely rely on our own initiative, ideas, plans, and vision, we will be limited in our mission and we will never reach the potential God has before us. If we rely on God’s spirit, we can accomplish anything that God calls us to do. We cannot do any of this ministry, without God’s leading and God’s support.
A New Day and New Adventure
My sisters and brothers, I believe God is calling St. Monica’s to a new day, a renewed way of life, a renewed vocation, and God has in store for us a future we cannot fully fathom today. So, “What if” God is calling us to gather together in new ways of fellowship and fun where we can support one another. “What if” God is inviting us to even more ways of service and local mission in which, we continue to feed those in need, where our current mission expands even more to provide for the destitute, where we can continue to help families in our midst who cannot care for themselves. “What if” God is calling us to renew and expand our Christian formation programs to grow our faith together for all ages.
What if God is already creating an exciting welcoming program that will help our new friends become active and engaged sisters and brothers. What if God is renewing our call to be a church for all ages and a place of spiritual healing for all people regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, orientation, or creed. What if God is inspiring each one of you, to find your own personal ministry call in the midst of all this new life God is bursting forth in our midst.
The two disciples on the Road with Jesus eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus does not abandon us in the mission before us, he walks the journey with us, and we must travel with Jesus seeking his leading, as we walk the road God has in store for us, we must do so with hope and expectation.
Erin Hansen wrote this beautiful poem of hope based on an imaginary dialogue between a Mamma bird and her baby who was about to jump out of the nest again. It is an encouragement for all of us, as we begin this new journey of mission with God. Erin wrote, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, “What if you fly?” St. Monica’s, God is calling us to a new day, we can no longer ask, “what if we fall.” We must have hope and expect miraculous new adventures, expect the unexpected, and expect Christ to burst forth on the scene with us. Our question from this day forward must be, “what if, with God’s help, we fly!”
(1) Henrich, Sarah S. “Between Text and Sermon: Luke 24:36 53.” Interpretation, vol. 68, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 431-434.