“Why are you troubled?”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 4:8-12

1 John 1:1-2:2

Luke 24:36-49

It is difficult for us to imagine just how deeply Jesus’ death affected His disciples. If you have lost a close loved one, you have some understanding of their grief, but that is only part of what they experienced. Couples who have gone through the joy of discovering a pregnancy, who have been

thrilled with the anticipation brought by hearing a heartbeat and even feeling the movement and “kicks” of the child, only to have their dreams shattered by a miscarriage, have a better idea of the range of emotions. Very literally, the fondest and most joyous hopes of the disciples were nailed to that cross, and died there. Those couples who have lived through what medical science coolly calls a “spontaneous” abortion also have a good understanding of the reluctance of the disciples to “get their hopes up” when the news of Christ’s resurrection first began to spread.

In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we read about Thomas’ hesitance. This Sunday’s lesson reveals that not one of the disciples was very anxious to jump right in and believe the Good News. When the women returned from the tomb that morning reporting that Jesus’ body was not there, and two men in dazzling apparel telling them He had risen, the disciples did not believe them. Jesus’ closest friends were afraid to hope. They thought the women were talking nonsense–an “idle tale.”

I once read an article that implied these men simply wouldn’t accept the word of some women. That author apparently didn’t read the next part of Luke’s story. When the two male followers of Jesus who had met Him on the road to Emmaus gave their report, the disciples were still reluctant. Even when Jesus first appeared to them, Luke reports that they thought they saw a ghost. Jesus showed them His hands and feet and side. “Touch me and see;” He said, “a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Then He did one more thing that apparently turned the trick. He ate a piece of broiled fish.

Jesus’ first words to them after “Peace be with you” were: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds?” I’m sure Jesus knew why they were troubled. It was that business of “not getting your hopes up” after you’ve had them smashed to bits. Jesus was pointing out, just as He did more sharply to Thomas later, His disappointment over their failure to believe their friends and family. (I have this picture in my mind of my mother’s reaction if I thought her words were an “idle tale.”)

Sunday’s Gospel lesson concludes with Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to all that the Scriptures had said about His suffering, death and resurrection. He also told them that they were to be His witnesses, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, a mission that you and I are to continue today. Then He told them to stay in the city until they were empowered by the Father’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, with shattered hopes and without the Spirit, the disciples couldn’t respond in faith even to those of their own fellowship.

Sunday’s second lesson reminds us of the importance of our fellowship. In rather clear terms, fellowship with God implies a fellowship with other believers. As a matter of fact, unless we live on a deserted island, fellowship with God demands fellowship with others. A not-too-well-known preacher named Earl Feddersen once put it this way: “If you are a Christian living on a deserted island, move!”

It starts with fellowship with God, and that starts with forgiveness of sins. People who never admit they are wrong don’t have many friends. I guess part of the problem is that the rest of us do make mistakes, so we get uncomfortable very quickly with those who think they don’t. Add to that the fact that “non-sinners” are quite ready, if not eager, to point out our errors, and even to blame us for whatever goes wrong.

There are several popular ways to evade this thing we call sin. The “Richard Milhous/William Jefferson Method,” which seems to be the hands-down favorite in political circles, is to simply deny everything, and insist that no sin has been committed. Then there’s the “Broken Leg Logarithm,” which insists that none of this would have happened if it weren’t for this or that unfortunate circumstance. This is by far the favorite of drug addicts and alcoholics, who blame their behavior on their substance. If pushed about who took the substance, they will quickly revert to the “Blame-on-Mame Method,” started by Adam but dearly loved by all of us. This one is practically the only excuse offered by spouse- and child-abusers. Then, when all else fails, there’s always the “Flip Wilson Way”–“The Devil made me do it!”

Sunday’s reading from First John reveals that any of these forms of denial results in two lies. The first is obvious: “We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” The second is a bit more of a shocker: “We make God out to be a liar!” Self-deception is always a walk in the dark, but most of us seem willing to risk it at one time or another. If we knew we were doing it, however, I wonder how many of us would look into the eyes of the Almighty and call Him a liar?

Certainly, our denials and evasions do not fool God, but the lesson goes deeper than that. God always approaches us in grace and forgiveness: He relates to us as sinners. Our fellowship with Him is rooted in His mercy–not our innocence, and certainly not our faked innocence. Our companionship with God begins with a very costly offer of forgiveness. It never comes about if we deny any need for it. That is the worst kind of walk in the dark.

I find it hard to believe that God would take any pleasure in my company, but that seems to be precisely the case. I am acutely aware that God can fully handle the affairs of His universe without my help. Yet, for reasons entirely unknown to me, He loves me and calls me to serve in His kingdom.

Feddersen’s Fables has the story of the wealthy man who gave his son an annual allowance on the same day every year. One day he realized that he only saw his son once a year, so he decided to divide the amount by 365, and give it to him each day. After that, he saw his son every day and they grew quite close. God desires to have His sons and daughters around. I guess that’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us ‘this day’ our daily bread.”

You have heard the expression: “Hope springs eternal.” It is true in its fullest sense only for those who have eternal hopes. Without the faith inspired by the Spirit, the disciples lost their hope when they thought they had lost the One in whom they had placed it. While we are lost without Him, we can never lose Him! Our faith and hope, however, come to us in little pieces–in a bite of bread, a sip of wine, a Word that we hear or read. It also comes from our fellowship together–not just our conversation, but our consolation as well–the hug, the help, the listening, the empathetic tear, the “cup of water in His name,” the warmth, love and friendship we share. We feed each other’s faith.

I remember when my congregation’s new church building was constructed. The concrete floor was poured in two sections. The first large section was in the area with no sinks, bathrooms or drains. It was poured, to all intents, “flat.” Now, in a great big area, “flat” is basically impossible, so there were a few low spots. When it rained, water stood here and there in puddles. After the walls and roof were up the puddles quickly disappeared. A puddle doesn’t stand much of a chance of staying wet inside a church. In precisely the same way, a Christian doesn’t stand much of a chance of staying faithful outside one.

LCMS missionaries plant churches and educate leaders for those churches. That way the church grows primarily from the witness of its own people. A missionary recently wrote about two former Muslims who were being shunned in their community because of their Christian faith. The missionary was amazed by their joy in the Lord and he helped by continuing to share the Good News about Jesus with them. The two men supported each other with prayer and companionship. They also encouraged their families by teaching them Bible stories, etc. But through it all they longed for a fellowship of believers to which they could belong. They are of a different language and culture than the present Lutheran church there.

Pray that, together with the missionary and others of their own language group, these men would plant a new church. Pray that it becomes the beginning of an outreach in Guinea, West Africa, that touches the largest, mostly unreached people group in that area. “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48).

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