Sunday 19th April 2020 APC
“Thomas meets the risen Jesus”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Sunday morning worship. Today is known as Low Sunday. Although the origin of this name is uncertain, it has perhaps been called this to contrast it with the high festival of Easter which we celebrated last week. Having said that, the good news is, every day is an Easter day because Jesus is alive and He is with us always and everywhere.
Today is also known as Thomas Sunday and it’s the Sunday in the Christian year set aside particularly to think about the disciple who had the courage to be honest and to ask difficult questions.
Earlier in the week we witnessed the bravery of Thomas as he encouraged the other hesitating disciples to follow Jesus to Jerusalem even if that meant death. Today we will see his honesty in questioning the reality of the resurrection and only believing when he saw the evidence for Himself…But before we read about that, let’s take a moment to bow our heads and pray…
Sovereign God, we thank you for the realities of Easter which we continue to celebrate today, realities that make such a difference to life – the victory of good over evil, love over hate, life over death; the turning of weakness into strength, fear into courage, doubt into faith; a new beginning where it had seemed like the end, new hope where there had seemed despair new confidence where there had been confusion.
Teach us to live each day as your Easter people.
Sovereign God, we thank you that Easter is not just about events long ago, but about life now, not just about others but about us not just about one thing but everything!
Teach us to live each day as your Easter people.
Help us, we pray, to live each day in the light of Easter, with its joy bubbling up in our hearts, its laughter shining from our eyes and its message always on our lips. So may others seeing the difference it has made to us discover the difference it can make for them.
Teach us to live each day as your Easter people, to the glory of your name, Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.
John 11 v 16 “Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, let us also go that we may die with Him.”
John 14 v 1-6 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.
2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 20 v 24-29 “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
A few years ago, I met a man who I’d never met before. He was a very pleasant individual. In the course of our conversation I discovered that he used to be a Catholic Priest. He had given up being a priest years ago and in fact had given up on religion altogether. He was now an atheist, fully convinced in his own mind that God did not exist. When I asked him why he no longer believed in God, he explained that when he saw some of the suffering in this world he could not accept that if God was real that he could allow those things to happen.
If we are honest, the truth is that at some stage in our lives, like this man, we will all experience doubts about God. For some of us, those doubts begin when we witness the seemingly needless suffering of hundreds of individuals following a devastating natural disaster. For some of us, those doubts will arise when we see large scale injustice in the world or the hypocrisy of the institutional church in different spheres of life over the years. For some of us those doubts will start when we experience intense personal suffering and God seems to feel more like a distant relative than our closest friend.
I know the global pandemic we are currently experiencing has given rise to many mixed spiritual emotions. There have been many people who have begun to speak to God who have ignored Him for years. There are amazing stories online of how God has answered prayers positively for people who have been close to death. But what about the people who have died despite the prayers of family and friends? And the longer this pandemic goes on, the more we’re tempted to become weary in praying because it doesn’t seem to be making any difference….
So let me encourage you this morning. If you are doubting the love and care of God; if you are wondering if it’s really worth following him, if you are even questioning his very existence, you’re in good company. You are no different from every other honest human being that has ever walked this earth. That is why Tennyson said, “There is more faith in honest doubt than half the creeds,” and why a man who had been one of Jesus’ closest friends for 3 years turned to the other disciples at one point and said, “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and can put my hand in the wound in his side, I will not believe that he has risen!”
I also want to encourage you to be honest about your own doubts, and to face them honestly. I want to encourage you not to ignore them but to talk about them and wrestle with them. You may just find that through that struggle that the muscles of your faith will be strengthened.
But why do I say all this? Well, because that’s exactly what we discover when we look at the experience of Thomas.
One of the things I love about Thomas is that he was the one in the class who wasn’t afraid to put up his hand and ask questions. That’s why in John 14 when Jesus tries to explain to his disciples about his imminent departure and return to heaven, Thomas interrupts and says, “Sorry, Lord, but we don’t understand what you are trying to say. We haven’t a clue where you are going, so how can we know how to get there?” His use of the word ‘we’ suggests that he was bravely being the mouthpiece for the rest of the disciples.
You see, Thomas wasn’t afraid to look stupid or to be thought of as a troublemaker. That’s because deep down he knew he was neither, and so did the Teacher. Thomas was genuine. He was determined to use the mind that God had given him to understand. If he wasn’t sure about something, he wasn’t going to pretend or just go along with it because everybody else was. But once he knew that something was true or the right thing to do, Thomas would commit to it 100% without fear and with the determination to see it through. That’s why I admire the faith of Thomas.
The problem was, what he’d predicted had come true. Remember how he had courageously encouraged the hesitating disciples to go with Jesus to Jerusalem, “Let’s go so that we may die with him.”
Sure enough, Jesus had died, in a most terrible way. Cruelly crucified as a blasphemer and common criminal. Thomas was devastated, along with everyone else. Everything they’d believed in and worked for over the last 3 years had evaporated overnight. Thomas’ way of dealing with his grief was to lock himself away. He wasn’t ready to speak to anyone. Unfortunately that meant that he missed the first meeting in the upper room. There, Mary told the rest about seeing Jesus in the garden. Two of them said they had also chatted with him on the Emmaus Road. Then suddenly without warning, the risen Christ appears among them. It wasn’t until Jesus had left that Thomas arrived.
It’s not surprising that Thomas didn’t feel like joining the rest, but as a result he really missed out. If he’d been there, his sorrow would have turned to joy, his questions to answers.
You know, I can understand there are many legitimate reasons and pressures why we can miss joining our fellow travellers for worship together, whether that’s on Sunday morning or at the bible study during the week. But the truth is, when that happens, we really miss out. Learning about God online, praying to him on our own is good, but nothing compares with worshipping Him together. I can’t explain it, I don’t know why it is, but God seems to ‘enter the room’ in a special way when we meet together in His name. And if we’re not there, we’re missing out. So when things are back to normal, let’s make it a new priority to meet together for worship and if you’re a teenager I want you to know that you are especially welcome!
When Thomas arrived, everyone was excited. “I met him at the garden!” “We spoke to him on the road.” “He was with us in the room!” It was amazing! “He’s alive!” “Oh Thomas, everything he tried to teach us before he died is true!”
They’d all seen him, Thomas hadn’t. He was still bewildered and defensive. It didn’t make sense. He just couldn’t bring himself to take their word for it. He’d had all his hopes and dreams shattered before. He wasn’t going to let that happen again. “I’m sorry, whatever your experience, unless I see the nail prints in his hands and put my hand into the hole in his side, I will not believe!”
You know, like Thomas, many people need more than our words, our faith, or a sharing of our experience, in order to believe. They need to meet the living Christ for themselves. That can include our children, our spouse, or a colleague at work. They may have many questions and there may be occasions when we should try our best to answer. At other times, it will be best to listen and to honestly say, “I don’t have an answer for that.” But the most important thing we can do for these people is to stay close to God ourselves and ask Him to help us live a transformed life. That will be a greater witness than all the answers in the world. The other equally important thing to do is pray- Ask the Lord to introduce Himself to them, to show them His hands and allow them to put their finger in His side. To reveal Himself in a way that they will be left in no doubt of His reality and His love.
The truth is that even for those of us who are convinced that God is real and that Christ is who He said he was, like Thomas, there will be times in our faith journey when we too will feel bewildered and as if we’re hanging on to faith by our fingertips. Often this is when tragedy strikes, when we encounter personal suffering or when decisions of the church seem to contradict everything we have been taught about God. It may be the death of a child. It could be the development of a chronic illness. It might be a hurt that has been caused by someone else in our parish or a decision of our denomination that we cannot in all conscience agree with.
For what it’s worth, if this describes how you currently feel, then let me assure you I know exactly how you feel. Listen, I believe that the bible is God’s word. I believe that it is a record of how God has revealed Himself to humanity right from the beginning of our world. I have even signed documents publicly to say that and to promise to the best of my ability to share its message honestly and truthfully with everyone who will listen. I love God and I love His church with all my heart. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times, like Thomas, when I find it hard to believe. I have questions that this side of heaven I don’t think I will ever have answers to. Let me give you a few examples.
I remember, watching a movie in the Queen’s Film Theatre about ISIS. At one point in the movie the ISIS leaders are standing in a circle around a young couple whom they had obviously caught in some form of intimate embrace. This young couple were buried up to their necks in the sand. As the leaders lifted rocks to throw at the couple the camera quickly switched to the next scene allowing you to fill in the blanks for yourself. I came out of that movie and as soon as I stepped out of the darkness into the brightness of the evening sunshine, I looked up to heaven and inside I said these words, “Lord, when was that ever ok?”
Yes, I know that we are people of the New Testament as well as the Old and that people are no longer punished in such a way for adultery. I know that adultery can have very, very serious consequences and leave relationships and a lot of people damaged for the rest of their lives. It’s not something to be taken lightly. But at the same time, I still cannot understand why at one point in history we read that this was God’s way. That thought still jars with me when I look at Jesus and how he treated people.
Also, I still can’t get my head around the examples of what can only be described as some form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that we find in parts of the Old Testament. Some have argued that the people who did this simply attached God’s name to the record to justify their actions. But if that’s true, I’m left wondering –“well which bits of the bible can I trust?” Others have suggested that the practices of the nations who were eliminated in this way were so evil and so barbaric that in the long term, for the greater good, it was a necessary action. I suppose a just war theology is somewhat similar. Even this explanation doesn’t sit comfortably with me, especially when I consider that among these nations there must have been those who were innocent of such crimes.
I have other questions and things that I hold in deep tension.
So what I’m saying is - you are not alone if you are a Christian who wrestles with many questions and who struggles with tension and doubt.
That’s why I am convinced, that as the church we need to recognise that the room is full of people like Thomas! People who are genuine. People who are honest. People who have sincere questions, even doubts. People like me! And I believe that as a church we need to create an environment where people feel free to articulate their fears and their questions. Eddie Askey puts it like this – “Is the church only for people who are perfect or is there a welcome for those who are struggling on the Way?”
Well, I think the next part of the story gives us the answer.
You’d expect Jesus to be cross with Thomas especially after everything that Thomas has heard from all the other disciples. I mean, does he really think that they are all deluded or all deliberately leading him up the garden path?
After a week of silence and no recorded appearances, Jesus again visits the disciples in the upper room. This time, Thomas is with them.
I can’t imagine what Thomas’ initial reaction must have been when he first sees the Lord. I’m sure every emotion under the sun was flooding through his veins from guilt and foolishness to utter relief and excitement!
And as he looks him straight in the eye, Jesus opens his mouth and says, “Shalom!”
This is translated ‘Peace’. We could do a whole study on this word alone but basically, using this word, Jesus was saying to Thomas, “I only wish you good and contentment in every aspect of your life!”
No mention of disloyalty or disbelief, just an affirmation of love and acceptance.
And as a physical expression of these things, Jesus reaches out his hands and says, “Go ahead Thomas. You wanted to see my nail prints - there they are. You want to see the scar on my side, look here it is!”
And then surprisingly, but I’m sure spoken gently, the words, “Stop doubting and believe!”
I take comfort in the knowledge that God welcomes my questions, that He’s strong enough to cope with my tensions and hesitations of faith. What I’ve also discovered is that while He allows me to research, and while He listens patiently to my prayers, God doesn’t always give me the answers. Instead I hear him softly whisper, “I’m the Way.”
And that’s what keeps me keeping on. Until the day I die I will have unanswered questions about parts of scripture and about the church, about the events that I see happening in the world around me every day and about myself. But in those moments I do two things. I turn to the world around me – the sunsets and mountains, animals and trees all remind me that there is a Creator. The fruits, nuts, vegetables and water show me that He loves and provides. But above all, I turn to Christ. The one for whom there is more evidence than Julius Caesar. The one whose books containing his life story are undeniably reliable sources of literature. The one those reliable sources describe as- healing the sick, raising the dead, stilling the storm, casting out evil spirits, forgiving sins and the Son of God. The one who died and who must have risen again - for what else could have changed the disciples, including Thomas, from people who had given up, into people who gave everything to tell the world the good news. But above all, the one whose presence I can experience every day. The one who I know makes me a better man when I talk to Him….
And in that moment like Thomas, I say again, “My Lord and my God.”
Prayers for others
Living God, we pray for those wrestling with difficult and demanding questions – those facing complex matters of conscience, those struggling with confusing moral decisions, those wrestling with controversial social issues, those coping with challenging theological concerns. Grant to all in such situations your wisdom, and help them to find the right way forward.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
We pray for those who are faced with awkward yet important choices, between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, love and hate, between the way of the world and the way of Christ, the way of self and the way of service. Give to all faced with such choices the courage to take your way.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
We pray for your church. Save her from naïve fundamentalism, from judgemental attitudes, from dogmatically believing it has the answers to every situation. Grant to your people everywhere the humility to recognise that asking questions is part of faith.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Living God we pray for ourselves as day by day we are confronted with the need to choose. Sometimes the choice is clear, sometimes confusing, sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes mattering little, sometimes much. But help us whatever the case, to gladly accept the responsibility for choosing, recognising that it is a privilege of being human.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Help us to decide wisely, seeking your will and responding to your guidance. Help us to admit our error when we choose wrongly and be ready to change our decisions when necessary. And help us remember when we go astray that you are always there to help us start again.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
In the name of Christ, Amen.
Again it’s been my joy and privilege to serve you by leading you in worship this morning. Thanks for logging on. I hope you’ve found this time to be encouraging. Please remember to tune in again during the week when I hope to post another midweek reflection. Next Sunday we’ll be walking the Emmaus road and eavesdropping on an amazing conversation between the risen Jesus and two of his unsuspecting followers. Don’t forget to look at our church website or on Facebook for latest information. 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…
Gracious God, shed your light on this day: may the things we touch become your gifts to us, the people we meet brothers and sisters; may work be service and what we suffer turn to offering; and, dear God, may love keep breaking through until your Kingdom comes.
So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.