Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!
My nephew Thomas recommended a book at our family Easter celebration. His pastor Jeff Kinkaid has recommended it to his congregation. The book is called YOU LOST ME by David Kinnaman. It's all about the 18-29 age group that have jumped ship, the church, that is. Many are spiritual, believe in God, but don't see the need for community or church, others have been burned or grew up being told that one cannot and can never doubt anything or else "you’re out." Where is the love and mercy of Jesus?
This weekend we will hear of Thomas the Apostle who absented himself from church community that first Sunday after Jesus’ Resurrection. Can you imagine the joy when the disciples encountered the Risen Christ Jesus?! And perhaps the sadness that Thomas missed him! Where was Thomas? Doing his taxes? We do not know.
Anyway, Thomas refuses to believe the other disciples when they inform him that Christ Jesus has been raised. He says he won’t believe it until he himself can experience the risen crucified one for himself.
The following Sunday as the disciples are gathered for weekly worship, Jesus again appears to the community and Thomas is present. Thomas is greeted by Jesus with "Peace". Jesus doesn't scold him for his unbelief. Christ is not afraid of human doubts. He extends peace. Again, it is an opportunity for an invitation to faith, and Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus then says, "Peace be with you." "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Sound like we have some forgiving to do (Forgive as I have forgiven you) and then if we retain sins, then they are retained - and this affects us (just as much it does for those we do not forgive). And this being Mercy Sunday, let us pray we hearken to the Master's words: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Mt 5.7).
People are most often tortured for their lack of forgiveness or willingness to forgive others their sins… often these people refuse to forgive others… even though they themselves have been forgiven or have asked forgiveness for the same kind of sins. Some (many?) experience physical ailments when they will not forgive or who hold grudges.
How many times did our Blessed Lord forgive someone who was physically crippled, paralyzed, withered, bent over, and when they were forgiven (we would hope they also then forgave any grievances) and then they got well.
(Do not confuse these with the exorcisms where a demon caused the illness, although I am sure demons enjoy it when we hold grudges or refuse to forgive, but that is a different topic).
So I imagine the early Christian community described by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles is an enormous response to the Lord's Mercy! Look at how those Christians love one another! Real or imagined, the Church (Christianity) has an enormous PR problem. Real or imagined, the church is viewed as hypocritical, judgmental, and irrelevant by many.
Many of the 18-29 yr olds feel - real or imagined - that the Church left them behind, one said, the way church is done was "damaging my relationship with God." Another wrote "The church was not a safe place to ask questions or hospitable places to express doubts.
Granted, we are not going to change the truth of the Gospel nor can we, but the question for us to wrestle with is how are we going to present the eternal truths of Christ and the church to a digitalized culture.
Many want to do the faith and not be hearers only, many are spiritual and experience God, but feel disconnected to the institutional church and the "talking heads" (the authors words, not mine). Disciples cannot be produced or made like consumer goods; they are hand-made, one at a time, one relationship at a time. NOTE that Jesus singled THOMAS out and called him to himself. It is a beautiful grace-filled scene. And Jesus didn't judge him. He simply called him to experience His wounds and to believe. Thomas exclaims “My Lord and My God.”
Faith formation is so needed. So many of our people are already halfway out the door, Christmas and Easter Christians only, and I can only imagine the kids who do not attend church regularly.
The Church cannot be an insular society that turns its back on the world and dwell in the "upper room". No, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and “Go make disciples....” It is an awesome task and a great privilege! But we cannot wait.
Our culture demands seemingly "mindless conformity in exchange for belonging," (David Kinnaman, the author of YOU LOST ME), but Jesus calls for a kingdom centered community.
I'll end with Kinnaman's research: He says there are three categories of those lost: the NOMADS, they walk away from the Church, but still consider themselves to be Christian; then are the PRODIGALS who lose faith and no longer consider themselves Christian; lastly are the EXILES who are still invested in their faith, but feel stuck between the church and the culture.
So when Luke relates in the ACTS of the APOSTLES that: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them...." (Acts 4:32-35), now that is a Church we can believe in! But are we willing to BE CHURCH?
Oftentimes, those who doubt are the ones who truly want to believe. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!
In Mark 9:17-29, Jesus is approached by a man whose son was possessed by a demon: "Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.”
Let us pray and fast that all those who feel lost and alienated and have wandered away from Christ's church community may find Christ's merciful presence once again in his disciples, as Jesus has called us to be His Body here on earth.
May the Church of Christ be as Christ the Good Shepherd and mercifully seek and fnd the lost sheep and restore them to the fold.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!