Being a teenager in 2018, I have the opportunity to encounter people of all different levels of belief–whether that be through school or through various church activities. In both church and school I have met people my age who are struggling to grasp the teachings of whatever faith background they come from. I can’t speak for all of them, though I think that this question of belief is a product of the age in which we live. I think that many of my peers are wary of putting their trust in anything that they are not certain of. And can you blame them? In a time such as this, with people shouting “Fake News” at both legitimate and illegitimate news sources, it’s not easy to distinguish the voices that one can trust. That alone has led to many an existential crisis in people I’ve encountered. Add to that the political figures coming on TV and giving conflicting accounts of the “facts,” and the stars and moguls who have been facing slews of sexual assault and harassment allegations, and the reason for this lack of public trust becomes clearer and clearer.
But it doesn’t end with the media and the politicians. Many people I’ve talked to reject the whole idea of faith because of what they have seen so called people of faith doing in the world. They see people in both Church and State exploiting a Tradition of love and justice for their own personal gains. They see so-called people of faith turn a blind eye to the immorality of political leaders when it suits their agenda. They see that, and that is the image that many today associate with the Church. They cannot imagine that God is just or loving or accepting because that is not what the world has shown them.
It is difficult to imagine such a world as is described in the passage from Acts because that is the opposite of what we see in the world. I look around at where we are as humans, and we are not living into the vision that God has for the world. If we take Acts 4 as the vision for God’s Kindom, the ideal world, that is not what we see. I would say that what we see is quite the opposite, in fact. The passage speaks of a world without greed, a world in which every possession is held in common. It speaks of a world in which every need is satisfied. Why? Because their wealth, the capital, the means of production, are distributed on the basis of need. Not based on where you were born. Not based on the color of your skin. Not based on gender, or age, or who your parents are or who you love. Based on what you need. This is a world in which people take care of each other.
So, why is this so hard to believe? Perhaps it is because we are all Thomas, waiting for that visible proof, that wound we can touch to make us believe that God’s world is possible. But is it really so bad to be a Thomas? Yes, he questioned the accounts of the other disciples, but could you really blame him? Between Peter denying Jesus and Judas overtly betraying him, not to mention the Roman authorities who had just arrested and executed one of his closest friends, how could Thomas know who to trust? In a lot of ways, Thomas is just like all of us. Aren’t we all looking for something solid, a starting place? Aren’t we looking for some little glimmer of hope that this world that God envisions is not only possible but will happen? Even the most devout disciples look for that assurance. Even the most faithful amongst us looks for that sign of a worthwhile investment. Because that’s what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. It takes time. It takes people. It takes speaking out despite the consequences. It takes money, and yes, sometimes it takes your life.
But perhaps the most difficult part of being a follower of Jesus is that there isn’t always that tangible guarantee. There’s no promise of money or fame. Being a follower means suffering with those who suffer. It means resisting oppressors. It means working tirelessly to bring our reality in line with God’s reality. A reality in which no one has more or less. A reality in which no one starves. No one is left out. No one fears for their life, or their safety, or the safety of their children. A reality without fear. I think that’s the hardest part to believe for so many people today. We are surrounded by violence, in our schools, our places of work, our places of worship. Afraid to leave the house and the safety of like-minded people. Our doubt fuels our fears, making us like the disciples who cowered in that house. But there’s one disciple who wasn’t hiding with the rest. Thomas. Famous for the doubt that he had. We seem to overlook, however, that he wasn’t in the house where the disciples were hiding. Now, there could be any number of reasons as to why he wasn’t there, but I find it more than plausible that he was out in the world trying to do some good–in spite of the fear that confined the other ten disciples to that house. But even if he was just out grabbing a snack or visiting his mother, he left the house in spite of his fear. Any introvert here knows how challenging even that can be. But Thomas gets past the fear and does things. That alone is commendable. Thomas doesn’t let fear control his life. He pushes past it and lets his life go on.
For many, a life without fear is the hardest concept to grasp. Because the world sells us fear by the ton. Fear is what drives military spending, and discrimination, and war, and corporate greed, and personal greed. This is what the world looks like. Fear, everywhere you turn. People causing fear, and exploiting fear, and doubt, an unbelief to create chaos and to destroy any hope of trust or faith.
It is this fear that controls our lives, that keeps us locked in the house, afraid to speak out. It is this fear that closes our borders and our minds and our hearts. Fear is what isolates us from the rest of God’s world–fear is what prevents us from living into God’s reality. What I believe is one of the most significant parts of this Gospel passage is that despite the disciples locking themselves away, Jesus still enters.
Jesus cannot be kept out by any barrier–whether it be physical or mental. Christ cannot be kept out by fear. He is bigger than that. Where those in power use fear to divide us and to keep us under their control, Christ breaks through that fear and helps us to push out of the confines of the house and into the world.
But the question still remains: how? For all those struggling to find that reason to believe in the future that God envisions for us, there is one. Jesus. He is the proof, the symbol of hope. He is the sign that the world as it is now is not as good as it gets. He is the evidence that love is more powerful than death, and that God is more powerful than fear. Because it is only through Christ that we can overcome our fears and make God’s reality our own. And we can only do this by letting go of the material possessions that we hold dearest and following the example of Jesus and the apostles. We are called to take care of one another as children of God. That takes rejecting the way that the world works. That means rejecting the political and economic systems that lead to the inherent discrimination and disenfranchisement of women, minorities, and anyone that is different. It means rejecting a system that turns a profit by pitting individuals against one another using fear as an incentive to abandon fellow human beings. Because these systems are exploitative. These systems force us to dehumanize each other. These systems force us to compete rather than cooperate. These systems are obstacles along the path to God’s reality. It is our job to have hope, and to be the hope, for the world. It is our responsibility to be Christ’s body and, in doing so, to be the proof that God’s reality is possible.
There is no one I can think of who better embodies the resistance of fear or the rejection of these systems than my younger sibling. My sibling has been through a lot in the last year, starting at a point of crippling anxiety. They were only comfortable around a few people, preferring to keep to themself. However, about a year ago they felt so secure in themself that they came out as being non binary. They were feeling confident enough the be their own authentic self. Their new, authentic life has really helped them to become even less anxious all the time. In fact, they are so secure in their identity that they have become something of an advocate, both for themself and others like them. They are even advocating for more inclusive policy changes on the Conference level. They’ve come such a long way from their former anxious self. They’ve gone from anxiety to authenticity to advocacy, breaking out of the house and into the world.
We are people of faith. We have the responsibility, if we truly are followers of Christ and believers in God, to be the reason the people believe. We need to show the world the transformative love of Jesus, the transformative love that will bring about God’s reality. All we need to do is break through our fears and our doubts and and live fully into the community of believers that God intends for us. Maybe then, everyone will have something to believe in. Amen.