Midweek reflection APC Thursday 16th April 2020
Introduction and Welcome
Good morning everybody. Thanks for tuning in for today’s midweek prayers and reflection. This Sunday we will be reflecting on the encounter between the resurrected Jesus and the disciple who history has nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” because he said he wouldn’t believe Christ had risen unless he met him in the flesh.
Over the last few days I’ve been doing some background reading on Thomas in preparation for next Sunday and the more I’ve read, the more I’ve realised that to do this man justice on Sunday, I needed to share a few more thoughts with you in between.
What I’ve discovered, is that the label ‘doubting Thomas’ is, as most labels are, grossly unfair, when his encounter with Christ is viewed within the wider context of all the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, including the reactions of the other disciples.
To understand Thomas more accurately, and to discover the gems of truth contained within his experience, we need to go back to the beginning of Holy Week. There we find Jesus and his disciples discussing about what their next move should be. But before we read the passage that describes this event let’s take a moment to pray…
Lord Jesus Christ, you call us as you called your first disciples, to follow you- not simply to believe, not merely to declare our faith and confess you as Lord, but to keep on following wherever you lead.
Help us to follow you eagerly, faithfully, devotedly, seeing where you are at work and staying close to you.
Help us to follow in your footsteps, pursuing the way of love and accepting the road of sacrifice and learning the lessons you want to teach us.
Help us to follow after you, letting your presence fill our hearts and trusting you so completely that your love shines through us.
Help us to follow through the life of discipleship, not allowing ourselves to become distracted, or to lose heart so that we wander away from you, but keeping faith to the end
Lord Jesus, you call us, as you call all your people, to follow you. Teach us what that means and by your grace help us to respond and be followers of your way.
Lord Jesus, help us, for we ask it in your name, Amen.
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Reading John 11 v 1-16
“The Courage of Thomas”
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
“Thomas, a second look…”
Not long before this conversation, Jesus and his disciples had to leave Jerusalem because through his teaching, Jesus had frequently challenged the power of the Jewish leaders. This had caused such a stir that he and the disciples had only just escaped with their lives.
But the sad news had reached them that their great friend Lazarus was gravely ill. He lived with his sisters Mary and Martha in Bethany which was near Jerusalem. Jesus new that the time of his planned death in Jerusalem was fast approaching and it would be important to pay their respects to the family of their friend. So he turns to his disciples and says, “Let’s go to Jerusalem.”
Despite the fact that their good friend was so sick, from a human perspective all of the disciples knew that to go to Jerusalem was foolish and reckless. They were wanted men. To return now to Jerusalem would mean almost certain arrest and possible death.
So naturally they tried to dissuade Jesus.
“Rabbi, don’t you remember that only recently the Jews tried to stone you to death?”
After reminding them that time is precious, Jesus tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep and that he needs to visit to make him well.
“Don’t worry Lord, if he’s sleeping he’ll get better.” His disciples reply.
Jesus turns to them and says,
“Look, I don’t mean he’s just resting, I’m trying to break it gently to you - Lazarus is dead!”
Even though they now knew that their friend was dead and that they ought to pay their respects, there is more than a hint in the dialogue that the disciples are still more concerned about their own welfare than they are about their grieving friends and the safety of their Master.
We can just hear them.…“Don’t go Lord, it’s for your own good! You know it makes sense..”
The truth is so often we’re just like the disciples. We’re quick to decide what’s best for other people and to tell them. On the face of it, it looks like we’re being helpful. But so often, deep down we’re really only saying that because it happens to coincide with what’s best for us…
So can I ask you, as I’ve asked myself….
Who are the people in your life that you are trying to advise about what’s best for them?
Now take a deeper look at your own motives. Is your advice really for them or because it suits you?
In what situations currently would you be better taking a step back and allowing others to make their own choices?
To be fair to the disciples, knowing the dangers, this is a big ask from Jesus. Earlier in John Chapter 6 (v 66-68) we read how many other people had stopped following Jesus because his teachings had become too difficult for them to accept. It was then that he’d turned to his disciples and said, “What about you, would you like to leave as well?” Peter had responded with the famous reply, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
Now again they are faced with a hard decision, should they go with Him knowing what that could mean? Their first reaction is to try to change his mind.
Again, we see ourselves in the reaction of the disciples. So often we pray for God to change our situations rather than accepting His plans and asking Him for the wisdom and grace to learn the lessons where we are.
Of course it’s not wrong to ask God to change circumstances. Abraham famously asked God to spare the city of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of his nephew Lot. St Paul asked God on several occasions to remove his thorn in the flesh. It’s right for us to cry out for God to remove the threat of Corona virus and to do all we can to make people well again.
But in life and as His disciples we never get our L plates down. There is always something for us to learn, areas where we can develop and grow. There is an old Arabian Proverb which says, “All sunshine brings a desert”. It’s a poetic way of saying that sometimes the greatest fruits of character and attitude only develop in our lives during the most difficult times of life.
Like you, I’m finding this a difficult time. Being a priest doesn’t make you a super hero. I’m just as human as you are. I found myself taking a bit of an emotional dip when the latest lockdown extension was announced. But reading this interaction between Jesus and his disciples has given me fresh inspiration to see that however difficult this time, there is an opportunity in it to learn the deepest of lessons and to grow in my attitudes and character. Lessons that no amount of good days and happy times would ever help me to consider…
So let me ask you,
However difficult you are finding the current circumstances, what lessons do you feel God is trying to teach you?
Are you allowing yourself to grow?
One way that I have grown through reading this passage is in my understanding and appreciation for the disciple we call doubting Thomas.
Jesus has made up his mind. “I’m going to Jerusalem.” The disciples are hesitating undoubtedly as much out of concern for their own safety as anything else.
And in the midst of the conversation who steps forward?
It’s Thomas, also known as Didymus which translated means “The Twin.”
“Let’s go too. So we may die with him.”
Hacksaw Ridge is a movie which tells the true story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to bear arms during WWII on religious grounds. Doss was drafted and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life -- without firing a shot -- to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.
The courage that Thomas shows here is right up there with the actions of men and women like Desmond Doss. If this was the only snapshot of his life we had he might well be remembered as “Fighting Thomas” or “Courageous Didymus.”
When all the other disciples hesitated and even contemplated turning back, Thomas was the one who stepped forward and said, “Either we stay here and let him go it alone or we go with him. I’m going to Jerusalem!” It was Thomas’ bravery that encouraged the others to follow and the rest is history.
Reading this story about Thomas coincided with me also reading a chapter from Rob Parson’s book called Parenting Teenagers What every Parent needs to Know.
In that Chapter Rob Parson’s was advising the wisdom of taking a step back and taking a second look if and when you are faced with challenging teen behaviour. Instead of only seeing the things that are problems or that might need to change, including the floor-drobe, he encourages parents to see the positive things in their teenager’s life. That might be a loyalty to their friends, a deep concern for the environment or a generosity of spirit to the homeless.
As I read Thomas’ words, “I’m going with him!” I was immediately reminded of Rob Parson’s advice to take a step back and take another look!
When we first think of Thomas we only see the man who refused to believe…the doubter. But when we take a closer look we see so much else. So much that is positive and good. So much to be admired and emulated. Not least because he was a man of deep courage and complete commitment.
Whether it’s your teenager, your parent, a work colleague, a neighbour or even someone that you’ve read about in the newspaper or who you’ve heard others talk about, let me encourage you to take a step back and take another look….
Remember, every person, however marred, is made in the image of God.
So let me ask you,
Who are you judging and feeling deeply negative about?
As you take a step back and take a second look, what good, what hope do you see in that person?
Prayers for Young people
Lord God, especially today we pray for the young people of our church, our country and our world. Young people with so much to offer, so many gifts, so many fresh ideas, so much vigour and enthusiasm, yet faced today as never before by all kinds of pressures and demands and temptations.
We pray for the young people of our church families and whom we know. Help us to appreciate them, to be open to their insights, to use their gifts, to nurture their faith and to care about their welfare. Guide them in their work and studies, protect them from all that may harm them or lead them astray, encourage them in all they are doing among us and show them your way for the future.
We pray for the young people of our town, our country and our wider world, so often maligned on account of the few. We pray for those in our schools and universities, those from broken or needy homes, those whose gifts lie wasted through unemployment, those faced by the temptations of alcohol or drug abuse, those burdened by the problem of debt, those coming to terms with the complex world of human relationships, those who are denied the resources they need to realise their full potential and those who because of hunger and disease will almost certainly never reach adulthood.
Lord, please help each young person to find the support that they need from family and friends during this season of lockdown. Through that support may they maintain their emotional and physical health. Give them comfort and courage and help them to learn lessons which will stand to them in later life.
We pray especially for those who are experiencing uncertainty about important exams. Calm their fears and motivate them to continue with their studies. Help those who are sitting online exams to have technology which will be reliable. Lord, despite the current difficulties enable each person to still achieve their fullest potential.
Lord of all, give guidance to all who work with young people, those in our own church, in youth organisations, in schools and colleges, in organisations dedicated to childcare. We pray especially for teachers and university staff trying to help students through their normal lessons and in preparation for exams. Give them wisdom, renewed enthusiasm and may they know that everything they do is greatly appreciated. Please help all parents at this difficult time, especially those who are having to care for children while working from home without their normal facilities of childcare. We think especially of those parents who have just welcomed new babies into the world in these anxious times. Grant them all the support they need and keep their children well. We pray that there will continue to be plenty of money for organisations that seek to care for young people after the Covid Lockdown ends.
Loving Lord, we thank you for young people. Through our giving to and receiving for them, help us to make that gratitude real.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Thanks for tuning in again today. There’s plenty of food for thought here to keep you going for a few days. It’s been great having time to talk to you all on the phone as well. I hope to do more of that over the next couple of days as well as putting some thoughts together for Sunday. In the meantime, don’t forget to look at our church website or on our Facebook page for latest information. If you’d like to record a little message of encouragement or a fun clip of something you’ve been doing, please don’t hesitate to send it on to Dave Hendry or myself. Do keep everyone in your prayers and look out for anyone you can help. So let me close with a benediction after which, as always, I invite you to join me in saying the grace together…
God, go with us on our journey of faith- revive us when we grow weary, direct us when we go astray, inspire us when we lose heart, reprove us when we turn back. Keep us travelling ever onwards, a pilgrim people, looking to Jesus Christ who has run the race before us and who waits to welcome us home.
So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever more. Amen
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