Fear and Peace

Fear and Peace

April 11, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 20:19-31                                    Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 1:1 – 2:2

In his description of soldiers at war, in his novel “War and Peace,” Leo Tolstoy describes how disciplined and trained soldiers would be marched into battle, but once they came under fire would be seized by fear, become a disorganized rabble, and chaotically flee for their lives.  But, once having reached the rear, and being no longer afraid, would once again fall under the discipline of their command, reorganize, and march forward into battle.  But, once they came under fire, would again be seized by fear, and the process would repeat itself.  This observation led Tolstoy to conclude that,,,

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.” (Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

While the resurrection story doesn’t contain the same sort of warfare that Tolstoy was describing, we do see many of the same human reactions to fear at the beginning.  However, the power of Jesus’ resurrection allows us to see a transformative change in the disciples and other followers of Jesus, particularly as it relates to fear.  We rejoin the gospel story on Easter Sunday evening as described in John 20:19-31.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

When we join the disciples, they are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid that the church leaders who had rigged an illegal trial to convict Jesus would be looking for them next.  But in the middle of their fear, Jesus arrives and his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus knows that the disciples were missing something, and immediately shares two things with them.  First, Jesus gives them purpose by declaring that the mission that God had given to him was now being passed on to them, and second, Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that will empower them and give them the strength that they will need to do that work.

But not everyone was there.  Thomas was not among them when Jesus appeared and, as clearly as they tried to explain it to him, and regardless of the trust that they had built among one another over the last three years of their ministry together with Jesus, he remained skeptical.  And his skepticism remained until he met Jesus for himself and put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand where the spear had pierced him.  But Jesus knew that not everyone would be able to see him and touch him to cure them of their skepticism.  And of those people, to whom the disciples would be sent, Jesus declares a blessing for their ability to overcome doubt and skepticism and find faith.

John declares that his reason for writing this gospel was so that those people, people like us, could hear the story from the eyewitnesses who, saw it, felt it, and lived it, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing might find life that was unafraid, bold, and courageous.  That transformed life, that started in fear of the church leaders, ended with disciples and followers of Jesus who were unafraid to preach the gospel and share the stories about the things that they had seen, heard, and lived.  And Luke describes how that transformation changed them, as individuals, and as a group, in Acts 4:32-35 saying…

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

One transformation that was caused by the three years of living beside Jesus, and of the resurrection, was that the disciples and followers of Jesus became a family that not only shared their life experiences together, but a family that shared their finances together.  They shifted from claiming that they individually owned their possessions, to recognizing that God owned everything and entrusted their possessions to them.  I don’t think that’s the same as declaring that all their possessions were owned collectively, because the owners of those lands and houses still oversaw and administered the wealth and the possessions that they had, but they now shared that wealth in a new, and deeply generous, way so that everyone in their community of faith was cared for and had the things that they needed.

In 1 John 1:1 – 2:2, a letter that was written to circulate among established churches and gathering places of believers, the apostle John wrote:

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make ourjoy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from allsin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John reminds the churches that from the beginning, the disciples, apostles, and followers of Jesus took up the mission of sharing what they knew.  They shared their experiences, what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had lived, with the people, and the world around them.  They shared the story of Jesus Christ, they shared the story of the resurrection, and they shared the stories and lessons that Jesus had taught them.  John particularly notes that they do these things, not only as an act of obedience, but that by sharing their stories, and by sharing the story of Jesus, they receive joy.  It makes them happy to share with others the things that they had been given.

And just to be sure that no one was confused about what he was talking about, John drills down to the specifics, that the message we share is the message that we heard from Jesus, that God is light and cannot have any part with darkness.  That means that if we want to be a part of what God is doing, and be a part of God’s kingdom, and a part of God’s church, then we must do our best to walk in the light and live the way that Jesus taught us to live.

At the same time, John is clear that he was not perfect, that we are not perfect, and that the church itself is not perfect, that we sin, and that we fail to live up to the truths that we have learned.  But if we confess our sins, Jesus will forgive us and purify us.  It is John’s hope that the followers of Jesus will not sin, but if, and when, we do, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is our advocate.  He paid the price for our sins and stands beside the throne of God to speak for us in our times of need and to speak words of forgiveness when we fall short.

Just as the disciples were transformed by the events of the resurrection, when we put our faith in Jesus, our lives are similarly transformed.  Where we were afraid and tossed about by the events of the world around us, we become unafraid, bold, and courageous.  Our faith leads us to repentance, our repentance brings us forgiveness, and that forgiveness takes us to a place of hope, healing, recovery, joy, and peace.

Tolstoy may have been talking about something completely different, but the gospel story, and the story of Jesus’ resurrection assure us that there was truth in his words.

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

And, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer fear death, or life, or principalities, or powers, or peer pressure, or anything else because we know that our trust and faith can only lead to joy… and peace.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/M8cRsBa8GVI

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

How Can This Be?

How Can This Be?*

December 20, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                           Luke 1:26-38              Romans 16:25-27

If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, and from the last couple of decades of our national politics, it should be an overdeveloped sense of skepticism.  I once had an engineering co-worker say that if our management said that the sky was blue, he would have to look out the window to check.  And lately, that describes how many of us are consuming the news about both the coronavirus and politics.  As Ronald Reagan once told Mikhail Gorbachev as they negotiated a new nuclear drawdown, “Trust, but verified.”  If you think about it, our suspicions aren’t limited to politics and pandemics.  You have probably noticed that many of our non-church friends view the stories of scripture with that same sort of skepticism.  And, if we’re honest, even as believers, some of those stories strain our ability to believe them.  But we aren’t alone.  The stories of scripture remind us that the main characters of the story often wondered how such things were possible.  And as our first example, let’s begin with a story found in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where we find King David having just completed his ascent to power as the king of a united twelve tribes if Israel, and the construction of his new palace in Jerusalem.

7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leadersover my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:

16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

David rests from his warfare with Israel’s neighbors, from his political battles, and from his palace construction project, and how his attention turns to the idea of building a temple for the God of Israel.  But God denies his request, vetoes his idea, and says that David is not the man for the job.  But, rather than allowing this to be a discouraging word, God continues by reassuring David of his love for him and makes him an impossible promise for the future.  God promises David that his kingdom will endure forever, and his throne will be established before God… forever.

And, although it doesn’t say so, and although we know that David was a great man of faith, and we know that David trusted God and was a man after God’s own heart, we also know that David was not naïve.  David had been around the block more than once.  He had been a part of King Saul’s inner circle and then fled for his life after Saul turned on him and sent his entire army into the countryside to hunt him.  He had lived for a time as an advisor to the king of one of Israel’s neighbors, he had been betrayed by his friends, by his wife, and would later be betrayed by his own son.  David understood that kingdoms do not last forever.  And so, it isn’t difficult to imagine that even though David trusted God to keep his promise, he had to be wondering…

… “How can this be?”

And the same thing is true at the beginning of the Christmas story.  In Luke 1:26-38, God sends the angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she would be the one whom God had selected to be the mother of the messiah that would fulfill God’s promise to David, as well as many of the prophecies of the Old Testament.  Luke says…

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

God specifically selects Mary to be the mother of Jesus because of her great faith.  But even so, when she is told that she will bear a child, and she has never been with a man, she wonders aloud, “How can this be?”  And I suspect that even after Gabriel’s explanation, Mary still didn’t really understand how a woman could have a baby without a man, but she trusted that God could find a way.

And that sense of wonder, and of faith, continues in the amazing works of God today.  In Romans 16:25-27, Paul says this:

25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes fromfaith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

What Paul is saying, is that God is the one who can do things.  God was the one who could create a reality in which one of David’s descendants, Jesus, would rule over Israel, and over all the world, forever.  God was the one who could make a way for a virgin to have a baby and carry the creator of the universe, and the hope of the world, in her womb in the form a tiny baby human and, at the same time, fulfill hundreds of ancient prophecies and promises that he had made to his people.  And that same God is able to draw us toward him, to bring us to a relationship with him, and to establish us in faith and trust as he did with David, and with Mary, with the disciples, with Paul, and with countless others who now gather as a great cloud of witnesses to the unfolding of history.  As difficult as it is to believe, and as often as we ourselves might ask, “How can this be?”  God is the one who is able to reveal the truth and to unveil the mysteries of the Old Testament, to rescue all of humanity, and to give strength to his people as they struggle through the twenty-first century.  But as he always has, God does these tings so that all the Gentiles, all the people of the world, everyone, might come to faith and obedience to the God of creation and to his son Jesus Christ.

The answers to our question of “How can this be?”, is the same as it has always been, “Because God is able,” and “Because God cares for you,” and “Because of God’s great love for all people.”

How can this be?

Because…  God.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/q5ywQknu4os

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U*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.