"Yes, We Fear Change"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 31, 2002
Acts 10:34-43; John 20: 1-18
Initially the disciples had a
problem making this leap of faith just as many of us do. This
morning I want to spend some time thinking about what caused their
collective experience to falter immediately after Jesus' death. How
could eleven disciples virtually collapse under the pressure of what
had just happened? Was this one of those moments where their
commitment to his teachings was not strong enough to inspire them?
Or, did the failure come from their complete dependence on Jesus for
Have you ever noticed how
being in the presence of a highly skilled person creates an
environment of confidence for everyone? Most of us have experienced
this. In a marriage, for example, there is usually one person who
is incredibly gifted with dealing with telemarketers. When callers
contact us at suppertime, generally one spouse has no trouble
saying, "No." They are equally talented at avoiding the savvy, time
tested verbal hooks that are used to keep people listening to their
Another example is how
confident an entire family becomes when Dad has the technical skills
required to build an addition to the house, one with a big stone
fireplace. He knows everything from carpentry and drywall to the
masonry and electrical tasks. He can do it all just like the
experts and the financial savings are enormous.
Sometimes it is the wife who
knows how to receive bids from various contractors and it is she who
brokers the building of the best family room for the money. Then
like a hawk, she reviews the blueprints and observes the quality of
products and workmanship being used during construction.
Contractors know that it can be very challenging to work for a woman
who is most particular about details.
We could illustrate the display of such confidence in nearly every walk of life, from working for a skilled corporate executive to appreciating a principal in our children's school who exudes excellence at every level of his or her administration. When a skilled person is in our midst, everyone's life becomes easier.
This happens because our
confidence relies on a source outside ourselves.
We can coast through life with feelings of security for years without
realizing how dependent we have become. This is why we experience such a
shock when rapid and unexpected change eliminates the source of our
With the entrance of Jesus into
Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the stage for such a tragedy was set. His
followers could not help but feel confident and bold, as long as the one
riding the donkey was by their side. After all, it was he and the
stories about him that brought the people into the streets. If the
disciples were known by anyone, it was only by a few. It was Jesus who
excited the curiosity and imagination of the crowd, not them.
During our Thursday night
service, many of us witnessed again the disbelief of the disciples as
Jesus revealed that he was going to leave them. They were shocked when
they learned that one of their own friends would betray him. It was
inconceivable to them that the person who was supplying their inner
confidence and faith would possibly be exiting their lives.
Take yourselves to the site of
the crucifixion. Try to imagine the absolute horror of the disciples as
they watched the soldiers carry out the execution. Listen with them as
religious leaders taunted Jesus with their words. Try to sense their
same realization that life, as they had known it was over. There would
be no miracle this time. The one who performed such wonders was now
dying on a cross.
If we have not experienced such a
dramatic change in life, its arrival is inevitable. As with the
disciples, sometimes it will come through the death of a dear friend, a
spouse, a child, or a parent. Sometimes this kind of change comes when
a marriage dissolves. Sometimes it comes when employees learn that
their retirement security has vanished as their company filed for
bankruptcy. Yes, we fear change when so much of who we are is
attached to what has left the stage of our drama.
We can only imagine the
individual response of each disciple following the crucifixion of
Jesus. Most of us have asked similar questions during such moments.
"How could the loving God Jesus talked about be present and not
intervene? What are we going to do? How can we go on without the
security that we never questioned?" Yes, we fear such changes.
Many of us have a great need to
preserve what we know. We do not want change to occur to our familiar
life-patterns. Only the very secure are capable of greeting change with
enthusiasm and excitement. Not everyone, however, has arrived at this
level of awareness. We can easily become immobilized. Our fear of the
vacuum created by the loss makes our aloneness appear insurmountable.
The confidence within the
disciples on Palm Sunday had gone. Suddenly nothing mattered to them
now. It did not matter that Jesus had found them worthy to join him in
ministry. It did not matter what Jesus had taught them about a loving
God. It did not matter what mission Jesus had commissioned them to do.
What held their collective imagination prisoner was the thought that
the person who had given them purpose and meaning was gone.
For Jesus' ministry to survive,
the disciples had to grow up spiritually. Peter had to get beyond the
fact that three times he denied knowing his best friend. The others had
to cope with the awareness that they lacked courage. The bickering among
themselves had to cease. They had to teach others the lessons they had
Think about this. Would each
of you live your lives differently, if you were given positive proof
that your life will never end? The Easter message is that our
eternal nature is a given inheritance from God. We cannot earn it and it
does not matter what anyone believes about it. Our wide range of
beliefs cannot affect the realities of creation.
With that said, does such an
understanding have relevance to the dramas that take place in our
lives? Does our infinite nature matter when it comes to dealing
effectively with the unhappiness we experience in our jobs, or with our
resistance to the aging process, or with the way we cope with the
unresolved conflicts in many of our key relationships?
Remember, knowledge and
beliefs alone cannot equip us to do anything. We know how to be
patient. We know how to extend courtesies to those who have not yet
learned how to be pleasant. We know how to let go of hurts and move
beyond them. Why is it that such knowledge appears to leave us at the
precise moment when we need to use it the most?
What was it that caused the
disciples to overcome their fear of change? What caused them to give
without counting the cost? What enabled them to rise to a high level of
faithfulness they did not have immediately following the crucifixion?
Their ability was restored when they saw for themselves the evidence
that God is in charge of all things. Experiencing the risen
Lord returned the confidence they were afraid they had lost.
God whom they believe had failed to show up in the hour of Jesus' greatest need was now viewed much differently. This one insight into God's total faithfulness allowed the disciples to become the primary pebbles nestled deeply in the foundation of a thought system that one day will save the entire human race.
The disciples realized that
nothing could prevent the unfolding of God's will. What might happen to
them from the authorities no longer made them afraid. How effective
they were no longer concerned them. Each of them now understood that the
tomb was nothing more than a thoroughfare for arriving at the place
where Jesus now stood to greet them. There was no death. It was this
truth that effectively motivated them to embark on their mission.
According to traditions
circulating in the early church:
Yes, we fear change. But as we
know, fear can be replaced with confidence. When we know that God is in
charge of all things, there is no need for us to resolve every problem
we encounter. By our standards Jesus and his disciples failed. They
failed miserably. Immediately after their deaths, nothing changed in the
world. Everyone in the world's population at that time died without
realizing that something of great significance happened.
Into humanity's cycling themes
that embody fear and aggression, the thought of "love one another" had
been strategically planted. From that moment, humanity ever so slowly
began to move in a different direction. It was from the seeds sown from
Jesus and his disciples that enabled us to place so many of the
keystones into the infrastructure that form the basis for societies in
the free world.
What is our mission? We cannot right every
wrong. We cannot stop others from being who they are. A number of
people will always be successful at crucifying us with their words, at
flying aircraft into buildings, at destroying the Internet with
viruses, at spreading anthrax, at giving AIDS to unsuspecting lovers
and at becoming suicide bombers. Such a listing is nothing more than
a modern version of how people perceive and act without love.
Nothing is different from similar lists in more ancient themes but the
vehicles of delivery.
When Jesus said, "Follow me," he was asking us to sow our seeds of love as we pass through our life-experiences. We are infinite beings, well protected by the love of God. As it was for Jesus and his disciples, the deeds we do in the spirit of love provides God the visibility to shape a world we will not live to see -- not from this side. But we will see! We will see! Absolutely nothing in creation can prevent that from happening. Happy Easter!
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
O God, we know
how easy it is to disburse the darkness of Good Friday with the bright
colors of Easter. We know how to celebrate with food and fellowship.
We are grateful that our sorrow can be turned into joy, our despair into
hope and our defeat into victory. Help each of us today to experience
resurrection from the tombs we have built. Liberate us from the ghettos
of our mind that produce selfishness and price, skepticism and
prejudice, fear and doubt. Enable us to experience the sunlight of
truth when we choose to live according to Your Will. Open our minds and
hearts so that your love and grace may be displayed through what we do.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, what a joy it is to be here
today, surrounded by a colorful array of plants, by loved ones and
friends, and by the glow inspired within us when your love is felt and
When we dwell on the resurrection of Jesus, we ponder the infinite and the promised inheritance you have freely provided to each of us. We confess that there are times when we separate ourselves from you by the tombs we build. Just as you liberated Jesus from that garden tomb, so liberate us from the cocoons we so unwittingly spin around ourselves.
Inspire us to a purity of love that gives
for the sake of giving, that encourages because others need it, that
communicates enthusiasm because it is contagious and that inspires
stability in others because that is the object of a search preoccupying
so many. Enable us to be instruments of healing in a world that is tired
of seeing the results of hatred and fear. Allow the spirit of Jesus to
remain alive in our world by being visible in us. May his spirit fill
us so that every doubting Thomas may come to know that, indeed, he
We pray these thoughts through the spirit of
Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they pray . . .