Sunday 16 April 2023 Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Context: a small, well-educated congregation in a prosperous area just outside London
Aim: to think about keeping faith and how difficult that can be
‘Keep the faith, Baby!’ That’s one of those phrases that the Hippies of the 1970s always seemed to be saying.
It seemed a glib phrase then and perhaps nowadays it sounds a really trite or superficial thing to say. And yet, all of our Scripture readings today in one way or another seem to be saying the same thing and there is nothing superficial about their intent at all. God’s promise given through Jesus to all believers is that all who believe will have everlasting life with God in the fullness of time — a wonderful prize for all to aim for.
However, long before Jesus’s time, God made that same promise to the early leaders of the Israelites. The Old Testament is filled with instances where the Hebrews abandoned or ignored their God, and God in turn punished them. Think of the Jews wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, or the Great Flood with only Noah and a few others surviving. The Hebrews’ loving God could also be a vengeful one. ‘Keep the faith’ was the message coming over loud and strong — or else.
With the advent of Jesus, the dynamic changed. Jesus spoke of his father as a loving God and worked hard to spread the Good News about this God. Jesus even went to the Cross so that the sins of true believers would not be held against them. And there lies the rub — ‘true believers’. Some are born into the faith, others come to it kicking and screaming, and still others find that belief in their God has come to them quietly, seeping into them until they all of a sudden realise that they are filled with the joy and the rock solid assurance that God is with them.
It sounds wonderful, but faith is not an easy thing to have and to keep. Some people, like Job, manage to keep their belief in God no matter what befalls them. Think of all the martyrs of old or more modern ones such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer — going to their death often in a very cruel and hideous manner, knowing that their God was with them. Situations like these usually go one of two ways — either you lose your faith, or it remains stronger than ever.
However, it is often the insidious, almost imperceptible things that can nibble away and even destroy one’s faith. It is those subtle things such as complacency, thoughtlessness and busyness with our everyday lives that can lead us to being more concerned with ourselves than with God. If something terrible happens or we want something, then we are likely to pray — but otherwise? All too often we think we are in control of our fate, and we are perfectly able to take care of ourselves — thank you very much!
Then too there is the problem of crisis of faith which I think happens to all of us at some point. It could be triggered by a seismic event. I was thinking about Doubting Thomas the other day. There he was needing to touch the nail marks in Jesus’s hands to prove to himself that what he had been told about Jesus was true: he had come back.
However, a crisis of faith doesn’t necessarily need to be triggered by some seismic event. It could just be something as simple as ‘My life is going along just fine — do I really need God? Does He really impact on my life in any meaningful way? Can’t I just keep going along as I have been?’
I’m sure that all of you can recognise that scenario. There are so many similar ones that can come up. And, of course, there is always that old problem — it goes back to the time of Adam and Eve — God gave us all free will, to use for good or not. Do we hear Jesus’ message or not? If we hear it, do we take it up and believe? If we take it up, do the roots go down deep enough that Christ’s message stays with us always no matter what befalls us? Choices, choices.
‘Keep the faith, Baby’ — it is such an important message for all us Christians. It may be easy or hard to do but the reward is great – life eternal with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit — it is surely something to work and pray for. And the corollary to that: spread the Good News about Jesus to all you meet so that they too can receive God’s blessing. ‘Keep the faith, Baby’ indeed!
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