Strength of Faith

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Hope Is Here! It has been so encouraging to gather as a church and uncover all the ways that our faith is strengthened when we find hope in our relationship with Jesus and each other. We have learned that there is hope for the weary because we don’t have to carry our burdens on our own. There is hope for the broken because forgiveness is offered to us in love. There is hope for the underdog because with God we can do anything. This week we deal with a special subject, with one of the hardest. Is there hope for the doubter?

The gospel illustrates a concept that can be very difficult for us: That service and the attitude of a child is the way to the Kingdom, and that suffering is the prelude to glory. St. James tells us what he learned at Jesus’ side: That we must walk in purity of spirit, gentleness, mercy, constancy, and sincerity as cultivators of peace. This raises a problem of doubt, doubt that those things, that way of living, can make us victorious. Can it?

James’ illustrations of the world’s way the way we are to live presents a juxtaposition. We get that, but still doubt because the worldly seem to be doing so much better. So, I doubt, ‘Can Jesus’ promise be true?’

Each walk has markers. Each of them leads a person on a different path. One is a disordered path with disordered loyalties and desires. The other is well ordered with loyalty to God and a desire only to do God ordered things. One is a life with finality, the other life without end. But, can that promise alone ease my doubt? 

Doubt has become a common occurrence today. People have failed us. There is so much false information out there. Covid-19 has overwhelmed us. Each of these caused doubt and we wonder where God is. Certainly, the disciples must have doubted as Jesus spoke of the road to Jerusalem and the outcome He faced, death and resurrection. They probably doubted that being last and childlike would work out so great. We are there with the disciples and struggle against doubt.

There are many struggling with their faith. They may have lost hope that Jesus is who they thought he was. How does Jesus respond to them, to me when I doubt or struggle? He would welcome the questions, the conversation, the wrestle. He knows that honest doubt will find honest answers.

So Jesus left us, the Church, to listen to those who doubt for what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. Where does the doubt come from? Where is the hurt, pain, and struggle? We are so blessed to be that congregation who is willing to listen and provide hope to the doubting. We empathize and express compassion. We allow ourselves to feel others’ hurt, pain, and struggle, and that equips us to meet needs and build a bridge for the doubting back to faith and hope. The answer to doubt is providing Jesus Who is hope for all. What we do here helps us and all to see Jesus as the antidote to doubt.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of a trip where his ship encountered a terrible storm. In the dark belly of the ship, the passengers were frightened and worried. They were filled with doubt. One of the men finally ventured out and to the upper deck, where he saw the captain quietly on the bridge. With a tranquil face, he looked out across the sea and gave orders. He turned to the man and smiled. The man made his way back to the cabin where the other passengers were huddled together. In response to their questions and doubt, he comforted them by saying, “I have seen the captain’s face, and all is well.” That is what we must say.

Yes, hope is here for the doubting for Jesus is here with us. Looking into the face of Christ and holding onto each other we know all is well. We have peace.

The
knowing.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

On this Fourth Sunday after Christmas we hear the testimony of John. In the gospel, John twice says: “I did not know him.

It seems odd for John to say such a thing. Afterall, John and Jesus were cousins. It is true that they lived in different towns, and transportation was hard on foot. Based on Church Tradition, John lived with his family in Ein Kerem, an eighty-mile, three-day journey on foot from Nazareth. Yet, it is highly likely they did know each other. It was common for larger Jewish family gatherings to occur, especially during festivals, as well as in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So why would John say: “I did not know him?

Remember, that this Epiphany season is about revelation, Jesus becoming known. What John experienced following Jesus’ baptism was a deeper knowing of Who Jesus is. He was no longer the cousin I knew back when. Actually, I probably knew Him better in my mother’s womb when I leapt for joy. Now, I really get it. The Holy Spirit has helped me to see; I see Jesus in fulness according to the Spirit.

Like John, seeing and experiencing the Lord in the fullness of His being and then acting upon that knowledge is the grace of God working in us. It is the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It is also a call to look beyond mere appearance and to see each and yes, every person, as the image of Emmanuel, the image of God among and with us.

John acted on his knowledge and spoke of it to the crowd. He pointed to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He spoke of what happened in his life. He is literally saying that his work, there by the river, was about making Jesus known.

As the faithful, we are called to make Jesus known. I would ask that we think about this work in a slightly different way. Christians often approach those who do not know as those who do not know, in other words, uninformed. What we might miss is in the saying of: “I did not know him,” they like John already do know. They exhibit the traits of one who knows Jesus, in their goodness and love. They are created in His image. We, in our work, just need to help them see the fulness of what they already know.