Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Imagine the following scenario. You come home from a long day at work or at school. You are the first one home. You are looking forward to sitting down to a nice meal, watching a little television, talking with someone you love, reading a good book before falling asleep in your comfy bed. But when you get home, everything is a wreck. You can pick your own nightmare. Maybe a fire started, and as you turn down your street you see the trucks putting the last of the flames out. Or maybe it had been a very rainy day, and when you walk into the door you come to the realization that you have a horrible leak in your roof—or your basement. Everything is ruined. Or, like a couple of years ago, you come home to discover the sewers in the neighborhood had backed up into the basement. Or, you come home to a door slightly ajar and everything of value in your house is missing. Or, even worse, you enter while the burglars are still there. What do you do?
No matter the scenario, it doesn’t take much for these possibilities to get the adrenaline pumping. Our fascinating bodies are wired in such a way that when we feel threat, we are equipped with a natural survival mechanism. We tend to enter fight or flight mode. When I began working at Voc Rehab, they were just beginning the transition from paper files to electronic files. A new computer program was designed for everything we would have to document. Oh, the consternation! It seemed everyone was angry at the change, and we fought it every step of the way.
A few years ago, when we still had a band and contemporary services, we took a six-week ‘sabbatical’ from the group-led music in worship. One family was so distraught over this temporary situation that they simply left and never returned.
When our way of life is threatened—when our reality and our truth is subject to challenge—when our values, priorities, and passions are on the line, we tend to respond in one of three ways. We may fight back—with angry words, letters to the editor, facebook posts, physical weapons, or relationships. We may run away—physically, emotionally, spiritually. Often, regression and multiple personalities are forms of running away in order to protect. Fight and flight are natural, instinctual methods of self-preservation. Of course, a third option is to freeze. That’s the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ response. It generally doesn’t end well.
But there is a fourth response—a response available to those who trust a resurrection reality—and that is faith.
After Jesus’ arrest, the disciples fled. Their lives were threatened just by association with him. Even after news of his resurrection, they stayed hidden behind a locked door. In fear of death, they were denying themselves life. Then, in walked Jesus, bringing the breath of new life, the Spirit of Faith, the promise of Hope. And in a few words, everything changed: “Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you. That is God’s response to human fear. “Do not be afraid,” the angels told Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. “Do not be afraid,” the angels told the women at the tomb. And now, Jesus tells us what replaces that fear—peace. “Peace be with you.”
Now Thomas is different than the rest of the disciples. Thomas seems to be a fighter, not a flee-er. Rather than cowering in fear, he is out and about. Maybe he was running errands when Jesus showed up. Maybe he was spying on the opposition. Maybe he was stirring up trouble. But he’s the one who, when Jesus said they were returning to Bethany because Lazarus had died responded, “Then let us go, too, and die with him!” Thomas is a fighter.
It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t afraid. It just means he responded to the threat differently than the others. It also meant that he wasn’t going to be easily convinced of false hope in the resurrection. He stood his ground, arms crossed and said, “Prove it.” It’s not that Thomas had more doubt than the others. He is just one who pushed back at things. He is a fighter.
And again, when Jesus shows up for Thomas, he begins with, “Peace be with you.” And then Jesus says what has been translated as, “Do not doubt but believe.” Perhaps we might understand that to mean, “Do not fight against or flee from faith…but trust what you’re witnessing here.” Do not be afraid—and we’re right back with Mary and Joseph and all the others. Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. Receive the gift of faith.
It seems to be a three-fold process that the gospels lay out for us. You can’t just tell someone, “Just believe.” If God meets us where we are, then God always meets us in our fear. Whether we are fighting, fleeing, or freezing, God says, “Do not be afraid.” But God doesn’t leave us there. As we watch God work through the faithfulness of Jesus and of those around us, we can begin to understand what it means to hear, “Peace be with you.”
Peace does not mean that we deny that which we fear. Peace means that our anxieties and insecurities are not in charge of our responses—that we feel neither the need to fight or to run. And yet, it is also not the petrifying response of the inability to move or think or respond. Rather, peace gives us the strength to call it what it is—to recognize that which gives us anxiety—and to not be afraid.
And finally, faith is the gift that allows us to look beyond that which scares us to see where God is at work. Faith is where we find the power to respond as disciples of Christ. As resurrection people, the Spirit moves us from fear to Peace to Faith and into Action.
As many of you know, this Saturday is Earth Day. Every year, communities across the nation take a closer look at the brokenness of our planet and seek to educate and inspire action that will counteract the damage we have done and continue to do with our lifestyles. Throughout the conversations, we can see this system of fear, fight, flight, and freeze alive and well.
Ecologists, scientists, and people of faith watch the demise of various ecosystems in creation and do their best to inform and inspire the world to live differently. The numbers are frightening. The reality is frightening. The demand for change is frightening. Many in our community argue that it isn’t real—that the numbers are elevated to create fear. That would be the fight response. Push back against that which is causing anxiety, concern, and a challenge for change.
Many in our community simply turn off and turn away. They don’t want to hear about it. It isn’t that they don’t believe it. It’s just simply too scary. This is the flight response—living in passive denial of the problems before us. And a good many are simply frozen. Deer in the headlights. It’s overwhelming. What do we do? What can we do? We can’t convince others if they don’t want to believe it or don’t want to hear it. And now, if the EPA is defunded and disbanded, there is no federal inclination to push for change. We’re frozen in fear.
But there is another response—the response of faith. First, “Do not be afraid.” Fear clearly will not lead to any solution worth pursuing. Fear seeks immediate results and easy answers. And fear breeds fear. Do not be afraid.
“Peace be with you.” We can stand in the midst of this brokenness with peace. And in peace, we will find the time and focus we need to really see—see the problems, see the systems, see the potential and various solutions and their complicated consequences. Peace breeds peace. Peace be with you.
And finally, we are ready to respond in faith. Faith, then, is not centered on our accomplishments or successes but in God’s presence within both the small and large movements made toward a goal of life. We have faith, not in seeing the completion of our work, but in knowing that the work will continue long after we are gone. We have faith, not in the systems that thrive on fear, but in the One who created us for love, compassion and mercy.
Once the disciples finally left that room together, their faith and their witness to the good news of Jesus the Christ changed the world forever. We wouldn’t be here if they had remained bound to fear. Instead, they proclaimed the gospel everywhere they went. They encountered opposition, imprisonment, and death—but that didn’t stop them. They started faith communities. They welcomed Paul—a persecutor of the Church—into their midst. They disagreed together. They sang together. They studied together. They ate together. They died together. They never saw how far and wide their witness would go. They never saw the scope of damage the Church would do. They never saw how much good the Church would do, either.
They left their fear behind in that room. With the words “Peace be with you” resonating in their hearts, they began the lives of faith that would lead to unimaginable stories of courage and hope in a very broken world. So today, this second weekend in the Easter Season, this day of celebration and hope for all of creation, I leave you with God’s call:
“Do not be afraid.”
“Peace be with you.”
“Go in faith, for Christ is with you.”
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church