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.

The Forgotten 93 Percent

    Today, Governor John Kasich added Ohio to the list of several other states that are refusing to accept even one refugee from the war torn areas of Syria and other nations.  This announcement is purely political and is entirely lacking in common sense and human compassion. 
    Judging by the Facebook posts I’ve been reading for two days, I’ve just offended many of my friends. 
I don’t care.
    Why? Because if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are completely ignoring nearly every instruction that Jesus ever gave.
Let me explain.
    It is obviously apparent that terrorists have infiltrated the flood of refugees landing in Europe and elsewhere.  But while estimates of how many terrorists might be among them range from a few to as many as 15 percent, most estimates go no higher than 7 percent.  Still, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, 7 percent is a lot.  Allowing 10,000 refugees into the United States could mean admitting 700 terrorists.
That is unacceptable.
So why do I think that Governor Kasich and a whole host of other politicians have it wrong?
    Because closing the doors on legal immigrants, even in the face of this enormous threat, conveniently ignores too much human pain and suffering.  Before I get around to Jesus, let’s first take a look at who these refugees are and why they are fleeing to other countries.
    The civil war in Syria isn’t just about one group of radicals who are fighting against the government.  We think that way because we think of the Confederate States fighting against the Union, but that example is just wrong.  In Syria, there are literally dozens of armed factions that are warring, not only with Syria’s government, but against one another.  And so thinking that this is like the Rebs against the Yankees doesn’t really do it justice.  Instead, imagine that every church that you passed this week represented the headquarters of a different armed group.  Imagine that, in your community, the Baptists are fighting the Lutherans, the Catholics are killing Pentecostals, and the Republicans are at war with Democrats.  Not only is your neighborhood a war zone, every week or two, another group tries to capture it from the group that captured it the last time.  Some towns have been blown up and shot up multiple times, churches have been burned, women raped, and entire towns lined up in the streets and murdered.
This is daily life in much of Syria.
    And so, not surprisingly, a lot of people, both Christian and Muslim, have left their homes, their families, and all that they own, to literally walk across several entire countries in hope of finding something better.
Are there “bad guys” mixed in with the “regular” refugees?  Yes.
But those of us who claim to follow Jesus are called to see the world in a different way.  Not through the lens of Democrat or Republican, but through the lens of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
    If we look at what Jesus taught, we won’t find words like revenge, retaliation, or retribution.  We won’t find instructions to hate our neighbor or to fear the foreigners.  Instead, what we find are instructions to be merciful, compassionate, loving, and helpful.  Our mission is to rescue the lost, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and help others find hope and a future so that they too might hear the message of the Prince of Peace.
    We have every right to be concerned about the possibility of allowing hundreds of jihadi terrorists into our country, but that fear cannot allow us to slam the door on the 93 percent who are only looking for a place to live that won’t get blown up next week.
    It is convenient and easy for politicians to preach from a pulpit of fear and xenophobia.  But as Christians, we are not called to follow the teachings of John Kasich or any other politician.  We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to be stupid or act foolishly.
We remember that Jesus teaches love, mercy, and compassion, but he also said, 
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”(Matthew 10:16 NIV)
We are called to be merciful, but to be smart about how we do it.
Governor Kasich and other politicians are looking for easy, and popular, solutions but in doing so they sell Ohio, and the people of the United States short. 
We are smarter than they give us credit for.
We are more than capable of sorting through the refugees and discerning which ones can be allowed in safely.
It won’t be easy.
But we can do it.
And it’s the right thing to do.

Pearl Harbor – A Story of Forgiveness and Salvation?

    Seventy-one years ago today the Japanese navy, led by 36 year-old “top gun” pilot of his day, Mitsuo Fuchida, attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The surprise was nearly total and the destruction was immense both physically as well as to the psyche of the United States.  The Japanese admiralty expected that such devastation would compel the United States to sue for peace and stay out of their plans for expansion in the Pacific.  Instead, our nation was filled with a “terrible resolve.”  Our reaction was not to surrender but to get even.  The death and destruction (on all sides) that spread across the Pacific and around the world was nearly incalculable.  Tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men and women went to their deaths for reasons that, even now, are difficult to explain.

    For his part, Mitsuo Fuchida, was plagued by the death that he had witnessed and that which he had been a part of and he struggled to find a way to bring a message of peace to the world.  A friend who had been a prisoner of war in the United States, told him an amazing, almost impossible, story that revealed a way toward peace.  Later still he encountered the message of Jacob DeShazer, a B-25 bombardier captured by the Japanese after the Doolittle raid.  DeShazer, despite being treated horrifically during his imprisonment, had learned an amazing lesson as well during his confinement.  He traveled to Japan and spoke in venues across the country telling of the peace that he had found in their POW camp.

    Nathan Naversen has written a great story about this and I used it as a devotion at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting this morning.  It is an amazing story of peace and forgiveness that grew out of ome of history’s greatest periods of death and destruction.  How is this possible?  Read the whole story here:

From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha