Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Make faith easier. . .

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (A), preached on Sunday, April 16, 2023.

From the beginning of life after the fall into sin, man has complained to God that faith is too hard.  The most common petition of our prayers is the request for the Lord to make faith easier.  People weep before their pastors about how hard their lives are, how hard it is not to fall into temptation, and how hard it is to believe when their lives are so full of trouble.  Pastors weep before other pastors about how hard their lives are, how hard it is not to despair, and how hard it is to believe.  Is there a pattern here?

The women who went to the tomb were not received with joy.  Instead the disciples had to go and check it out because who can take the word of mere women.  And when they return from an empty tomb that was just as the women said, did they believe?  No, they continued to meet behind closed doors, locked closed doors, to commiserate their circumstance.  They thought Jesus was it and then He died.  They scattered out of fear they would be next and then came together only when they thought the danger may have passed.  But did they believe?  No, they did not.  They heard the news but without joy.

Jesus had insisted that they know what was going to happen.  He would be betrayed into the hands of sinners, suffer, die, and rise again on the third day.  He had been betrayed by a friend, no less.  He had been falsely accused by sinful people.  He had suffered at their hands.  He died there on the cross.  They had all seen this happen, even it if was from a distance.  Did it help their faith?  No, they had the presence of Jesus and the words of Jesus fulfilled in fact and still they did not know what to make of an empty tomb.  Faith is hard, isn’t it.

Then on Easter evening, Jesus shows up in their midst without benefit of a key and a door handle.  Jesus is present among them and what do they think?  They thought Jesus was alive like Lazarus had returned to life.  They were not thinking what Jesus had said but only that now, finally, life was back to normal.  Everything could go back to the way it was.  But Jesus would have none of it.  He did not allow Mary Magdalene to touch Him and thereby hold on to the old way His followers had done.  He offered His wounds to the disciples not to prove anything but to show that He was not back to His old life but was among them in the new and glorious flesh of the resurrection.  Did they get it?  Probably not.  But this time they did pay attention.  Faith is hard, isn’t it?
They were all there save one – Thomas.  Thomas was more than a bit miffed that things had turned out the way they did.  In fact, Thomas had not simply left Jesus behind but left his brother disciples behind.  He was over it and had better things to do.  Faith was too hard.  Thomas was ready to move on.  Now I doubt it was quite that simple.  His fellow disciples had talked to him and urged him to reconsider and told him of their experience of the risen Christ.  But Thomas was done with it all.  I will never believe until I see for myself and touch with my own hands the wounds of the Savior.  Faith is hard, isn’t it?  Toooooo hard.

For whatever reason, nothing makes sense except the Holy Spirit, Thomas wakes up and packs up his pride to have supper with the rest of the disciples.  He did not expect that Jesus would be there.  Still behind locked doors, the rest of the disciples had told Thomas their story and just when they got to the good part, Jesus showed up too.  In a moment that stunned them all, Jesus thrust forth His hands and His feet.  Faith is hard, isn’t it?  Doubt is easy, rejection is simple, but faith is hard.  Even when Jesus shows Him His hands and His side, Thomas struggles to believe.  Finally, when it all comes pouring out, Thomas admits the obvious – My Lord and My God.

We wish that we could have been there for the miracle moments in Israel’s history but miracles do not make faith easier.  But we are here now and the truth is that faith is easier today than it was then – if we could see it.  We have grown so comfortable with the Word and the Sacraments that we no longer hear them as beng anything special.  In reality Moses and everyone with him right down to the days of our Lord’s death and resurrection think of us as the lucky ones. We have baptism, the absolution, and the Eucharist and still we complain.  We have the Scriptures that show us the example of unbelief and still we disbelieve.  Now is the easiest time of all to believe but we complain how hard faith is.

Our problem is not that we lack the means of grace nor the Holy Spirit working through those means of grace.  No, our problem is that we have the Word but do not read it.  We have baptism but act as if it were nothing special, Most of us cannot even say the day or time or place where we were baptized.  We have holy absolution but we do not confess.  We think of others as  sinners with a problem; no, sins are not that big of a deal.  We certainly do not need nor want to sit down and confess our sins to the pastor.  We have the Eucharist every week but every week more than half of us say to God, Thanks but no thanks.  

We have an embarrassment of riches every Sunday and still we complain faith is hard, too hard.  It ought to be easier.  Lord, make it easier to believe.  We are like the Thomases of this world who must be sought out when they are not where they should be, when they hear the testimony of the faithful and insist they still will not believe, and when they complain about how hard faith is and so are justified in their doubts and fears.  Ours is not a problem with God but a problem within ourselves.  We know what bestows faith, what strengthens faith, and what grows faith but we simply do not want to believe.  Period.

Every Sunday the Lord extends to us His hands and side and every week we see the wounds He said would come and every week we think this is too hard and ought to be made easier.  Every week God meets us where He has promised to be and we complain that faith is too hard and should be made more easier.  Every week He speaks to us by His Word and we complain that His Word is not clearer or more logical the way it should be.  Every week we are full of what God has not done and silent about what He has done for us and for our salvation.  God, make it easier to believe, we say.  But it is easy.  You are not the one believing but the Holy Spirit is working in you and through you.  Your faith is not the fruit of reasoned explanations but God showing you the hands and feet of Jesus.  You have more than enough to believe and more than enough to be sustained in this faith.  Just use it.   It is not as hard as you think it but it will never be easy.  In reality all God asks of us is to be where He Word speaks, where we remember His baptismal grace, where we rejoice at sins forgiven, and where we eat the bread of salvation and drink the cup of blessing.  Is that too hard?

In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.  Christ is Risen.

No comments: