I went to Colorado on backpacking trip this summer with 10 other Lutheran youth leaders from all over the US. We could only bring what we could carry on our backs into the Rocky Mountains. This wasn’t my typical camping trip where I rough it with wifi, a hot shower, and a convenience store only steps away. This trip was a bit outside my comfort zone. My cell phones didn’t have any signal, I didn’t have any electronics, I couldn’t have Chipotle or Cane’s chicken for a week, and without going into further details I guess you could say the world was my restroom. But what that week in the woods encouraged our group to do, was connect with each other. The normal walls that are put up when we are only meeting people for the first time, came down almost immediately. Sure we had a lot of things in common with our vocation, but there also wasn’t much to distract us either. And with these distractions out of the way we bonded with one another. By the end of the week, I felt like I knew more about these people than I did about many people I call very close friends. Throughout the week we shared our hopes, and dreams, and fears for ministry and life. There was something about that wilderness experience in Colorado that wiped away the façade that normally accompanies my interactions. And there is something about getting to the place where you are candid about what you are afraid of or what you doubt or the things you struggle with most in your life. Where it removes lots of barriers and heads us into that place of commonality. Common struggle but common dreams; common fears and even some common hopes.
You know if you looked around on a Sunday morning you would see things as they appear on the surface. Most of us look like we have our lives together. We come in these doors and put on our best façade. It reminds me of going to church as a young child and my brothers and I misbehaving in the pews and my mom would keep a smile on her face as she grabbed my hand tight while looking ahead and whispering out the side of her mouth to my brothers and I that we were in trouble when we got home if we didn’t settle down. But what would happen if we pulled back the curtain just a little bit on our lives what would we discover? It’s like that image of a duck floating on a pond right. On the surface the duck looks calm and almost like there is no effort keeping it a float, but then you look below the surface and notice that duck is moving it’s legs like crazy to keep above water. What kind of fears would we see just below the surface? What keeps us from getting to the place where we can be candid with each other? I believe what keeps us from that place is fear. Fear of how we would look in the eyes of others if we shared something that showed our own brokenness, fear of how we would look in our own eyes, Fear!
The disciples have that same fear in the gospel text this morning. They are a close-knit group as well, but they are still afraid. They are afraid to ask Jesus any questions. Jesus has now told them for the 2nd time that he will suffer death and rise again. And the disciples just don’t get it. It is hard to blame them because this dying and rising thing has never happened before. But instead of being candid and admitting that they don’t understand they are fearful of the Jesus response if they tell him they don’t get it. Maybe they are afraid Jesus will replace them with disciples who get it. So they stay quiet. The disciples keep up the façade that they know what is going on.
The question for us as a community of faith is will we have the capacity to God’s radical gift of unconditional love and grace and then will we have the capacity to give it. And the implications if we don’t can be staggering.
My wife’s cousin Jeff is into his late 20’s now and he has nothing to do with the church. Jeff grew up in a great Lutheran home. He sang in the Lutheran kids choir when he was growing up, he did confirmation, he was baptized there, and his family did all the right things on their journey. My cousin Jeff now has nothing to do with the church. A couple of years ago, we got into a conversation and I finally asked Jeff give me a sense of why you have nothing to do with the faith community that was so important to your parents and family growing up. Well he told us a number of different things and one of the things he began with was this. I was in confirmation, and all the sudden I was thinking oh no not the confirmation story, and Jeff’s father was an engineer. And Jeff has that same analytical mind. And what Jeff would do was press into every concept, every thought, every miracle, and the more he pressed the higher the walls got up and what he ended up with in his questions and his doubts was well that’s what the church teachers, that’s what it means to be Lutheran. My wife’s cousin Jeff has nothing to do with the church now. Now it’s not just because of that confirmation experience.
I think I can safely say for him or for those that are wondering about this thing that we call the church that there is going to be a direct relationship between the capacity for a faith community to allow people to express and live into fear and doubt and questions and struggles with the vitality of any faith community in the future. We don’t have the option of just saying that’s the way its always been said or that’s the way its always been done or that’s what it means to be Lutheran. We need to have a limber enough spirit to really enter into people’s lives and then wonder and walk together as we make our way through it. We need to allow space for these doubts and questions and fears.
You see what’s ironic for me, is that too often faith communities have locked down and said this is the way it is to be part of this community. And yet look at Jesus reaction when they don’t get it in this text. Instead of chastising them because he seems to sense they don’t understand. Jesus shows them what it means to be a servant of love. If the disciples could imagine that there is nothing Jesus’ wants more than to share their questions, their struggles, and their doubts so that he might help them understand his teaching and in this way draw closer to God. Perhaps if they had asked, they would have understood more quickly and easily that greatness does not lay in power but in compassion and is not achieved by status but by service.
What Jesus didn’t do was be there to answer all their questions, what Jesus didn’t do was say there is no reason to have doubts, what Jesus did was tell them what he was about to go through; to suffer death on a cross and rise again after three days. In some ways I think what Jesus was simply saying to his disciples was this. I know. You are going to be people who struggle with things. You are going to be people who have fear. You are going to be people who have doubts. You are going to be people that have a difficulty getting rid of that façade. I know. You are going to be people that don’t get it. I know. You are going to be people who wonder if in your own soul if you have what it takes to do what you have been asked to do. I know. That is why Jesus tells them about the suffering, and death and resurrection. Even though the disciples do not want to admit that they don’t quite get it, Jesus is still going ahead of them to the cross. God is still at work through the life of Jesus and in the lives of these too proud and dimwitted disciples. Just as God is at work in our lives and continues to be present with us in the midst of our fears and doubts and questions.
If Jesus’ kingdom is understandably difficult to apprehend, then we should ask questions. If Jesus’ death seems meaningless or his resurrection hard to accept, we should ask questions. If we wonder how Jesus can be with us or where God is when it hurts, we should again ask questions.
When we don’t allow these questions to put up walls but rather tear them down, the curtain is pulled back in our own lives. Because that is the kind of community that Jesus wants us to be a part of and Jesus wants us to create. A community where we don’t have to put up a facade. That we don’t have to feel like we are powerful and in charge when we come together as God’s people because obviously we aren’t. And that’s part of it. Can we be people that somehow find a new courage as we experience compassion? A new hope as we enter into this life with greater humility? A new vision for our life as we live in the vulnerability of love? Amen.