Our first reading from Acts seems so different to our Gospel reading from John. Both give an account of Jesus’ disciples gathered together after his death and resurrection – but what a difference there is in their character. In Acts we read: With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. In John’s Gospel we read: the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. What is the difference? Why in one setting are the disciples depicted with great power giving testimony to Jesus and yet in another they were behind locked doors huddling in fear? The difference will be noted in 50 days when at Pentecost the Holy Spirit, the power from on high, will come upon them to free them from their fear.
Look at our Acts reading and what that freedom from fear has produced in them apart from the ability to testify to our Lord: The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. The removal of fear allowed them to put their complete trust in God to provide and not in worldly possessions. And that’s what fear does. Fear locks us away from freedom to live trusting God and freedom to enjoy life. Without fear the disciples were able to not only testify boldly about Jesus but they didn’t need to worry about worldly concerns. The people supporting the disciples weren’t worried about whether they would have enough to provide for their own needs – they gave to the disciples so they could spread the word of God.
And the disciples weren’t worried about where their next meal would come from because they knew that the people around them would provide for them.
We live in a world where fear dominates our lives and changes our behaviour. Wherever we go now our lives are now affected by fear. When you go to a public event, bollards are erected for fear a terrorist might drive a car through the crowds. We have metal detectors run over our bodies to make sure we’re not carrying a concealed weapon. Our bags are checked and our personal effects are laid bare for all to see to ensure we’re not carrying anything that might harm someone. The list of items being banned from air flights is growing. Children no longer walk to school but are dropped off in large SUVs because they make us feel safer on the roads. We have rules and regulations that make it so hard for people to volunteer because of fear. Teachers and pastors and others in leadership are afraid to show any sort of personal care for fear that it might be misconstrued in 20 years’ time as inappropriate contact. Fear prevents us from welcoming the stranger including those from different cultures looking for a new land where they can feel safe. Luther wrote in his Large Catechism when explaining the First Commandment – whatever you run to in time of fear – that is your god. People today run to where they can find comfort and security: in their bank balance – in their superannuation balance – in their share portfolio – in the equity of their home. As a result we protect them vigorously and rather than trust that God will provide we trust that they – and only they will provide. Look how fear also affected the disciple Thomas. He couldn’t even trust his own fellow disciples who shared with him that Jesus had risen from the dead and come to visit them. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. These were his closest friends and yet he trusted only himself.
How has fear affected you? Has fear stopped you from trusting God to provide you with “your daily bread”? Has fear stopped you from trusting God when you pray “your will be done”? Has fear stopped you from forgiving as you have been forgiven? It is human nature to doubt like Thomas did but faith enables us to trust in what we cannot normally understand. As the book of Hebrews says: Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Sometimes we do not see clearly what is ahead, and we are tempted, like Thomas to live our lives saying “unless I see” rather than “I trust God”. Fear can limit us to living only by what we see and not experiencing the fullness of what God provides by faith in him. As Jesus says to Thomas: Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That’s what we call faith. Just look at what fear has done to our society and the way we live our lives today. Our lives are just like the disciples in John’s gospel – locked away for fear of what might happen. Faith, however, allows Jesus to walk through those locked doors of fear and allows us to live the lives that God has planned for us. It allows our mission not to be tied down to what we can afford but to where God needs us. The Christian faith would not have grown into what it is today if the disciples had kept themselves safe.
Going out of that room and into the streets was not really going into a safe place but it meant that God was able to use them. They would be persecuted – most would be put to death because of their faith. As we step out in faith we may face difficulties – we may face setbacks – we may face rejection – we may face uncertainties – even persecution and ridicule. But God works with these difficulties. It’s like the poor widow who had 2 small copper coins. God would have understood if she kept them both to herself. God would have understood if she kept one for herself and one for the offering. But she chose to give it all to God and allow God to use her faith instead of the copper coins which probably would have bought her one last meal and then nothing. But God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
We need to trust that weakness and not our strength. It can be daunting to take that first step out of the locked room where we feel safe. But feeling safe is restricting just as we see in society the freedom that feeling safe has taken away from us. Stepping out in faith means we are not stepping out alone. We are stepping out with our Good Shepherd who promised “I am with you always”. We are stepping out with our Good Shepherd who promised – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear – for you are with me. Fear affected Peter’s life – he sank instead of walking on water – he denied knowing Jesus – he refused to follow Jesus to the cross. But once filled with the Holy Spirit he changed. He boldly proclaimed Jesus in the marketplace even though he was threatened with imprisonment defiantly stating “We must obey God rather than any human authority”
That’s what faith in God can do for you. Faith in God can release you from your fear to let God lead you and use you where he needs you. Faith can bring you greater blessings than feeling safe and secure as Jesus says: ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing.’