Can we persevere during times of doubt and disillusionment?
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; Revelation 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19
One of the experiences I often have as a Chaplain is encountering those who have been disillusioned by their denomination of faith or doubt the presence of the Divine because of their disillusionment or illness. I often find myself recalling times when I doubted my faith or became disillusioned with the denomination I had been raised in and later ordained in. Disillusionment and doubt are part of our spiritual journey and remind us of the fact that who we are today and what our image of the Divine is today will and should change. When we put people, places and things and maybe even our self on a pedestal and think we have all the answers and we made it then we find that doubt begins to creep in. We often begin to see things as they are and become disillusioned. These moments of doubt are moments when the Divine is calling us to deepen our awareness of life and the Spirit’s power within.
Moments of doubt can either be a gateway to a deeper sense of the Divine in us or those moments can drive us away deeper into the desert of doubt and despair. If we have been taught and still believe that the Divine is some other body occurrence in a faraway galaxy who controls and manipulates us, then when we humanly doubt, we will become despaired. The reason is we do not believe in a Divine presence who is journeying with us as we encounter for the first time whatever we are doing or feeling. If the Divine is not outside us but within us, we can experience in the doubt and disillusionment the presence of the Divine who brings new awareness and self-knowledge to the event and therefore we begin to feel hope. Our image of God will determine how we see and experience the world.
Today in our readings we are faced with the disciples who have had an experience of doubt and disillusionment when Jesus was killed, and they scattered. It was their ability to regain their faith by trusting in the Lord and their experience of him that brought them closer as a community and deepened their faith in the risen Lord whether they saw him post resurrection or not. Their faith was strengthened in their doubt and disillusionment by the knowledge of the risen Lord so much that they preached Christ way of love and living even in the face of the Sanhedrin. They did not let others stop them from being a community or doing good works in the name of Christ even if it meant they would be imprisoned or for some killed like Christ for what they believed in. The early community persevered no matter what because they were a community of believers and supported each other.
The early church community knew that the Divine was infused in all of creation because the Divine was the source and summit of all creation. Like the book of Revelation states in our reading today the Divine is all encompassing of everything we are and will be. If we believe in the Divine and follow the way of Christ, then we will be strengthened in times of doubt and disillusionment and not get stuck in the feelings or disappointment. Disappointment presumes that we are expected to have or get something that we have earned or is promised to us. In our faith in the Lord we have everything we need. We are saved and forgiven by the Risen Lord and so we are to call others to this experience by our example of persevering in times of trouble knowing that the Divine is with us and will never leave us.
The gospel gives us an example of how the Divine treats those who doubt and even betray their faith. Jesus being fully aware of Peter’s denial of him three times asks Peter if he loves him three times. Each time you get the sense that Peter is either annoyed at Jesus or begins to get hurt that he would ask him. We humans have a way of rationalizing things that we do and forgetting how we have hurt others in our betrayal of their trust and love. Each time Jesus asks Peter to confirm and commit to his love he calls him to service. True Christian love is owning up to the times we move away from the Divine and others in selfishness and confessing our selfish acts to the community and Lord so that we may be strengthened to serve others. Service of others is the true act of love that Jesus calls us to. By serving others we bring them and us closer to the true meaning of Christianity and faith which is community. Community as messy as it is, is where we will find our meaning and the meaning of the Divine within us.
The other aspect of the gospel which is interesting is that Jesus or the Divine meets us where we are at and usually not in some remote place that is not of our ordinary experience. Meeting the Divine in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, jobs and faith communities is where the Lord, the risen Lord dwells. The Divine is present amongst us and within us calling us to experience more deeply love and service and love to others. Like the disciples in the gospel we often do not recognize the risen Lord in our midst but once we connect then our ordinary becomes extraordinary and our lives are changed.
The disciples were not able to see what Jesus saw when they were fishing because they were distracted. We too get distracted by all the people, places and things that we have going on in our life. We must take the time in prayer and meditation however we do it and where we do it to acknowledge the Risen Lord in our ordinary busy lives. If we are waiting for the right time to pray it will never happen, we must make time and stop even for a moment and be mindful of the presence of the Lord in our midst. A young man recently said to me I am so anxious and no matter what I think and do I cannot get rid of it. My response was to stop and be mindful even for a moment and allow that peace to fill his life and heart. His response was I cannot do it for 20 minutes and I said try it for two minutes and when you experience the difference you will find and build on it. If we do not take time to be mindful each day then our lives begin to become so busy and filled that it is easy to be disillusioned and doubt the Risen Lord and miss the many opportunities in our ordinary lives that the Divine is present.
Let us pray to be able to persevere in times of trouble knowing that the Divine is with us and allowing the Divine to strengthen us in our doubt or disillusionment knowing it is not coming from the Divine but is part of life. Let us also pray for our faith communities that they be places of comfort and places that allow for people to grow and develop their relationship with the Divine in a safe space.
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