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That's Why It's Called Faith - By Pastor Thomas Engel



“April is the cruelest month” in T.S. Eliot’s 1921 poem, “The Waste Land,” because, as spring brought signs of new life and renewal, Europe was in a crumbling, dying mess in the wake of World War I.

Here, in Chicago, we are thinking as we get into April that we will have warmer weather. We will break out of the cold of winter, and we will start feeling the beginning of weather that suggests, “Let’s go play ball.”

It’s true that April gives us some nice spring days, but then, it is Chicago, and just as we are thinking that the warmth is here to stay, some days come that bring chilly winds and even snow again.

The winds of this past week did not produce the Arctic wind chills of winter, and the snow did not stick to the pavement, but they are showing us that winter is having a stubborn streak and is not willing to give a quick good-bye.

April is a month of hope for better days. And these better days are coming, but we also see some setbacks. In our talk about hope, April is usually when we celebrate Easter. Seeing flowers come out of the ground, we are hoping to see our lives bloom with new things.

But for right now, we hunker down and are sitting still and quiet. Everything is tightened up. We are trying our best to be safe and secure.

The danger will pass us, and we won’t ever know just how much it missed us, but the fear of the harm that could have come down on us will still possibly linger.

We will begin again like people coming out of their safe shelters after a tornado has ripped through the area. Looking around at the damaged landscape, we will want to know what is gone and how we are going to rebuild.

In the literal and figurative sense, we have gone through many “wars” and “storms” in our lives. It is just a part of life to go through difficult times. It’s not that I have a crystal ball, but by our past experiences and looking at history, we have had ups and downs, so it makes sense that we will have more “good” times, and somberly, we will have more “bad” times.

Now, with a virus striking the world, we are safe as long as we distance ourselves from others and mind the order to “Stay-At-Home” as best as we can. But the truth is that I don’t feel safe. We are fighting something that we can’t see.

It is a guess to know how to completely protect ourselves and others, especially if a “new normal” means always watching out for this unseen enemy, and it’s something that we don’t know that much about. I am sure that we have made mistakes and will continue to take some faltering steps as we learn.

We have a hymn that has for the first line, “I walk in danger all the way.” The hymnist writes how Satan and our very own sin can cause us troubles. But there is also another unexpected place that we can encounter danger. In another verse, we see, “In patience I must bear each day. The cross of God's own sending.

We, as Christians, have a certain burden, a cross of a kind, that we must always be bearing. As God sent His Son to the cross to die for the sins of the world, He sends us to bring the Gospel out into the world.

Although Satan and sin are defeated, they sinisterly loom around every corner trying to create as much chaos in the world as they can, and we have to admit at times that this world can be a tangled knot. But this world is where we have to walk.

So, we take a deep breath and go to preach the Gospel knowing that we will go through conflicts of every kind, get close to violence, see disease, poverty, and injustices, and we might experience persecution.

The Gospel reading for the Sunday after Easter is the same every year, so we’ve heard and studied it many times. Mostly, the theme for this Sunday is something about Thomas and his doubts about Jesus’ resurrection.

But I’m always looking for something new in a text, and maybe because of the “Stay-at-Home” order, the first thing that I noticed when reading the text this time was the locked door.

The disciples were fearing that what the Jews did to Jesus might be their same fate as his followers. So, they found a place to hide, and they locked the door. But if the Jews were to find them and come and get them, they would have come in a mob as they did yelling at Jesus’s trial, “Crucify him.” Any locked door could have not stopped this contemptible crowd.

As Jesus’ followers, they should have been out in front of the mob and preaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection that gives victory over all that wants to harm us. Instead, the disciples hid out in fear behind a locked door.

To be clear, the disciples would get out in front of crowds and preach the Gospel. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to them, they did get the courage to go out and tell others about Jesus, even if it meant risking physical harm.

But before they found the courage to be the disciples that Jesus had trained them to be while he was with them, Jesus had a few more lessons to teach them after his resurrection. Without unlocking the front door, Jesus came to them. He showed them his hands and feet.

By showing him his body that had been whipped, beaten, and had suffered from nails in his hands and feet and a spear that pierced his side, he was able to affirm what he had said when he was with them-he would die and then rise on the third day.

The disciples did put it all together and believed in all that had happened to Jesus because they had been eye-witnesses to everything. But Jesus had all generations after the disciples in mind, including us today, who were not eye-witnesses of his resurrection.

Faith is believing in something that is beyond ourselves, especially in something that we do not see. In order to have faith in God, we have to give up complete control. And we need to acknowledge that God is in control.

When we have faith, we are willing to go out to edges and to be dangling by strings. We go off into the dark or walk with blindfolds. People of faith leave themselves to be vulnerable. When it comes to many situations, Christians act paradoxically. If a person should strike our cheek, we offer the other cheek to strike as well. We do not attack our enemies, but we love them. In meeting a hard-hearted person who acts badly towards us, we return with acts of kindness, so many acts that they pile upon him.

As we go out into the world and preach the Gospel, some people will love us and others will hate us for it. Those that hate us might even persecute us. If we are persecuted, we count it as joy as the disciples did when they were persecuted after Pentecost because they found that they were suffering as Jesus had suffered.

Looking at our faiths, we want them to be genuine. In order to know if our faith is the real thing, it must be tested. This testing comes through trials and tribulations. As even a strong faith can slip back to weakness, faith must always be tested.

So, we get in uncertain times as we are in now. Here we are waiting in these days when time is moving so slowly; listening for the word, and then finally, when we hear the call to continue, as usual, we will breathe a sigh of relief.

But, this breathing of a sigh of relief is a false idea that we are out of the woods. For as long as we live in this world, we will always be experiencing something that is testing us. If it’s not this virus, it will be something else.

Right now, it is this virus. We might be fearing our own health, the well-being of loved ones, and how we are just going to pay our bills and provide for families.

We are living with a lot of uncertainty. The world is hanging by a string, we are walking close to the edges. The road ahead is dark, but if we look closely, there is a light that Jesus is holding up in front of us.

And I would rather be blindfolded with Jesus holding my hand and leading my way than for me even to have a little bit of my sight that is taking me in the wrong direction.

I know it sounds strange, but we are living in very consoling times. Just when the world gets all turned upside down, and it’s hard to make sense of anything, it’s this time of uncertainty that can bring us the most comfort.

The world is out of control, but we still believe that all is good because we trust that all is going to a plan that is far above any ideas that we might have. It is in this time of so many troubles that we can walk with no fear.

What we need is something that the world cannot give. Only God can give us what we need at this difficult time. And that is why it is called faith. Our comfort comes from believing that God in Christ fought against everything that wanted to harm us and defeated them when Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day.

Jesus walked into the upper room, and knowing that the disciples were in fear, Jesus gave them what they needed and what only he could give. He breathed the Spirit into the disciples.

Then, Jesus told them that they had work to do in starting the early church. Today, we call Jesus’ instructions to the disciples the Office of the Keys. This teaching is the forgiving of sins to repentant sinners.

As we look for purpose and meaning when we are suffering and in complicated times like the present, we are always to be talking about repenting of sins and the forgiveness that God gives us by His grace in Christ.

T.S. Eliot wrote his poem about April in the shadows of World War I. We are in April in the complexities of a virus that is making many people sick, taking lives, and disrupting the normal routines that we count on to provide for our families.

April is a complex month with tensions as flowers bloom, but then snowfalls and chilly winds blow. As it is hard to know what life is always bringing to us, we can know that we will make it through as we have always made it through by God’s grace in Christ. We just trust in what we believe to be true although we do not always see it at the time.

Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, a man came and asked him to cast a demon out of his son. “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” “If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”…

This is an awkward statement as it has both belief and confession of doubt, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” This mixing of faith and doubt is honest and true. It’s what we can expect from a sinful human who is also trying to do better with understanding his God.

On our own, we can’t be sure how we will get through these days. I am not sure we can figure it all out to get back to our lives that we once knew. I mean this is not the first time our lives have been altered, but I pray for some kind of normalcy.

We don’t get all the answers to our many questions answered, at least as not as we would like, but we believe that we will get through it by the grace and power of God in Christ.

As much as we want to “figure” this all out, it’s not the time to lean on our own understanding. It’s all a paradox, but that is why it is called faith. Let’s only believe that Jesus can do everything, and for this reason, we believe that all things are possible, even in the most impossible of times.

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