Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Trials of Faith”
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Yesterday I was a bit like Thomas. I went out.
I went out despite the fears and worries. I went out because we needed to get some more essentials. Was Thomas on a food run, too? Because of refrigeration it had been weeks since I had made the last one. Woohoo. But I think similar feelings were there. We know that Thomas was not hidden away with the other apostles. But we know that he was out.
Was he in disguise? Was he fearful? Not so long ago it was illegal to wear a mask in public, and now it is not only recommended it is the new norm. I took off my shoes before I came in the house. So many new ways of doing things. So different.
The disciples, who for three years handled crowds and were in the middle of it all, are now hiding away from the Romans and the religious leaders. And Thomas goes out into it.
I am trying to envision my family telling me when I got home that something world-changing had taken place in the hour and change I was gone. How would I respond?
God calls us all to faith. God wants us to be a part of this NOW. Doubts are natural, and they are part of the process for faith to grow. To build up our faith muscles, we exercise our doubts. Or should that be exorcise? God does not want our doubts, but I think God understands. Jesus is very patient with Thomas, inviting him to stick his fingers in his hands and side. I do not see Jesus being facetious here. He is taking it to as simple a place as it needs to be. “Here, Thomas, check it out…” Notice Thomas believes much sooner than that.
Each and every one of our doubts are our own. We all have things that we believe easier than others. As Frederick Beuchner said (and was made famous by John Irving in A Prayer for Owen Meany),
“Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”
Our doubts are uniquely our own. And God works through them to get us to where we need to be.
That is what Peter is getting to in today’s New Testament reading. I want to pick this apart a phrase at a time, from I Peter 1.
You… are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.Peter is telling us that no matter how things are now, ESPECIALLY NOW, that God is with us, molding us in preparation for eternity. Now we are so fixated on timing, saving it, wasting it, prolonging it, for it is precious. But when we enter Eternity, time is meaningless. “We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” In eternity, we have just as much 1,000 years into it as day one.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith...We go through things, trials of our faith, and in so doing, our faith is refined and is strengthened. Now do not see God as causing the trials. Too much to get into all of that today. Life hands you lemons, not God. But God helps you make lemonade out of the stuff that Life hands all of us. In those instances, and we all have them, we can grow. We do not suffer so that we can grow. We all suffer. That is life. We are all waging a war, mostly unseen, unknown. Ian MacLaren reminds us: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Going on…
the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire--“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 Our faith is refined in the crucible of Life. And our Faith is our learned response. When Steph and I have faced hard days, I knew I could count on two things. I could count on God, and I could count on her. Like calluses on my hands from hard work, they come through work and only through work. Faith is like that. It is easy to say we believe when things are easy. But true faith, genuine faith comes from refinement by trial.
[Our faith] may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.We would not want to be found wanting when Jesus comes again. I saw a button once, meant as a joke, but its implications are not funny. “Look busy, Jesus is coming.” But in our faith, it is so much more than “looking busy.” Our faith is real when it has been worked and tried. When we face the insurmountable or the impossible with a calm resolve that God is with us. Will God change things for us? Probably not. But in the chemo wards and prayer closets, in our ICUs and IOUs, God is with us. When Jesus comes again, we want to praise and glory with sincerity and joy when Jesus shows up.
Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,We wait in patience. We would have to be patient. We have been waiting for a hundred generations for his return. But will he find us faithful when he comes? We have not seen him, but we love him. But my whole life, and maybe a hundred generations more, we look with anticipation for his return and the “indescribable and glorious joy.”
for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.And here we have it. Our reward. We keep the faith, and the outcome of that faith, the salvation of our very souls. The only thing that we can take with us. The only thing that is truly our own. Every single thing you think you own. Every single relationship that is so important. Every single moment and place and thing that you cherish will one day be stripped away. All that you have is your soul.
And friends, like Thomas, our faith is tested. We all face trials. We all have doubts. We all are invited to take a step further into faith. We are invited to take those trials, and transform them by applying our faith. Do we choose to see through the dark and the shadows and envision the light? Do we embrace the light in the midst of the storm? That is our choice. That is faith.
One of the strange things that our technology has enabled, that now is a hindrance, is my phone. It is designed to look at me, literally, and through recognizing my face it lets me into my phone. On my quick trip to the store, I tried to check my phone for my list to make sure that I got everything I needed. I am so used to just picking up my phone, there is a muscle memory built in. I do not think about it, because I do not have to think about it. It just happens. But not with a mask on. It was not designed for these times of masks. That is what we are getting at. We were not designed to live in our doubts. We were designed to live in faith. With God, we can take off the protective layers of our doubts and see things for real, eye to eye, face to face.
Friends, in these uncertain and fear-filled days, have faith. Have faith in the one who loves you through your doubts and in your doubts. God has faith in you, that one day your faith will be genuine. God loves you so much that God is willing to play the long game, and work us patiently with us, even through our doubts. Thanks be to God! Amen